23 December 2011


So it's been a while since I wrote something.

I'd like to say I've been thinking deeply and writing until my hands bleed...but I haven't.

I've been feeling sort of burnt out, distracted, kind of in need of a break from just being myself.

So I saw "The Muppets" and it reminded me of who I was, a long time ago. A kid who identified with Kermit, someone who it just wasn't easy being, but believed that rainbows connected him to dreamers and lovers.

I remembered how much I used to long for things. Not material things, but those romantic things that Jim Henson believed in.

I remembered how sad I was when Jim Henson passed. It was the first celebrity death that really mattered to me.

I remembered why I got into poetry to begin with: the longing.

Every poem I read had some kind of longing in it, seemingly driving it to be written, driving it to be read.

Some poets long for justice, or to understand their place in the universe, or to connect with nature or God. For a long time, I longed for love. So I became a love poet.

And then I fell in love and poetry stopped not because I wasn't writing, but because I wasn't longing.

You try it, you read a poem and tell me if there isn't an element of longing in it somewhere.

In the meantime, here's a poem that a dear friend of mine helped me discover. I think it shows what Rumi longed for, a connnection to everything:

Don’t go anywhere without me.
Let nothing happen in the sky apart from me,
or on the ground, in this world or that world,
without my being in its happening.
Vision, see nothing I don’t see.
Language, say nothing.
The way the night knows itself with the moon,
be that with me. Be the rose
nearest to the thorn that I am.
I want to feel myself in you when you taste food,
in the arc of your mallet when you work,
when you visit friends, when you go
up on the roof by yourself at night.
There’s nothing worse than to walk out along the street
without you. I don’t know where I’m going.
You’re the road and the knower of roads,
more than maps, more than love.

14 November 2011


*for April

Whenever you think of her,
tell the world you think of her

because she is thinking of the world
and how she sifted through it

to find you, thinking of her,
wishing for her, missing her.

And the world might say, we sent you others.
Reply: But the others weren't gifted.

And think of how you delicately unwrapped
the bows and ribbons, unfolded the paper

and lifted the lid as if not to let her all out at once.
The others weren't a gift you enjoyed unwrapping.

Whenever you think of her,
tell the world thank you.

07 November 2011

The Angel Axis Intersects The Three-Dimensional Human

Who I wanted to be is not who I am.
Who I am is not who I wanted to be.
         The great ethical dilemma: free will versus fate.
It is not one, but both. And therein lies betrayal, the deepest of sin,
and longing, the emptiest of delight.
         To acknowledge both have equal claim on your soul
is to cast your vote with one or the other.
Which am I going to let my life be lead by?
is what you will ask at each turn.

And you will answer according to your experience.
And there will be betrayal if you answer wrongly
and longing for the "what-ifs" if you answer correctly.

I am fragile as glass,
an angel lost to the depths
on my way home,

a beam of broken light
shooting outwards in all directions
with no direction or destination.

20 October 2011

Questions are the most important things to have.

I've been trying to figure out what my father would have wanted for me. I mean of course he wanted me to be happy, but what version of happiness, how did he want me to make myself happy?

Truth is, my father's inheritence will allow me one of these paths, but not all of them. And so I'm struggling not to sing with angels anymore, like in the poem that I posted in September by David Meltzer. Instead, I am struggling to hear the thoughts of a ghost, a ghost I knew so well, but not enough.


1. My father wanted to be a forest ranger; he ended up an oral surgeon.

I wanted to be a poet; I ended up a teacher.

I could take my inheritence and pay for a PhD in Rhetoric and Composition. And a PhD would allow me to teach full time at any university across the country, allow me to do the thing that makes me happiest: teaching English composition.


2. My father was a great father. Not well understood by most, and often times, isolated from his family because he didn't want to be judged, criticized, or questioned. He hated confrontations and avoided them at all costs.

But he and my mother, despite all the codependency, somehow managed to parent me and my sister pretty well and I think I would make a great father too.

April and I deperately want a baby, but we don't seem to be fertile. This inheritence could pay all the fees and help us prepare our home (or trade up in a home) to adopt a baby. And what a gift we could give a baby who would have no parents, the pair of us who would love a baby so hard.


3. My father was a big game hunter and after he'd hunted the big game in the lower 48, he hunted the big game in Alaska, and after that, he went on to conquer African big game and Australian big game. I am sure, had he been healthier, he would have hunted other places.

We haven't been on a vacation yet. April and I have struggled to just pay bills from month to month. That's what you sign on for when both workers in a household work in non-profit.

I want to take April to Utah to show her where I grew up. Just like I want to see where she grew up (don't tell her though-I give her a hard time about being from the South). I want to take her to New York, Disneyworld, Hawaii-or someone tropical, Japan to see our godddaughter graduate, and Europe.

This inheritence would allow us to travel. All we need is the time off. I can get it pretty easily, but she's a bit trickier.


When my father died, a friend of mine provided some comfort to me be reminding me how much my dad loved and respected me by letting me be different than him. He learned early on that I would never be a doctor or a hunter and I think he suspected that I would wait to become a parent. And I always felt guilty for that, like I had let him down. And for a time, I thought his isolation was him punishing me for that. When I realized that he was letting me become a poet, and a lover, and a working class bleeding heart, I regretted the conversations I missed out on. And by then, he'd married, he'd collected some stepchildren and a huge group of friends, who just didn't let him be who he was, but took from him whatever he was willing to give.

His generosity was unlimited.

And I can pay him back for all of it by becoming the man I want to be. But is that a world traveler, a father, or a teacher?

14 October 2011

Poem of the Week: 14 October 2011

Each week I post a discovered poem for you to read, share, and comment on.

This one is from a poet named Paul Zimmer and I am not very familiar with him, but I like this poem and several others that I've been reading of his. His newest collection is called The Importance of Being Zimmer.

What Zimmer Will Do

The earliest color photographs were called autochromes (1904-
1930), formed on glass plates using a layer of minute grains of
starch dyed red, green, and blue and coated with a panchromatic
emulsion. When viewed closely, the finished images are like
miniature Pointillist paintings.
I am looking at an image of two young French women sitting
           in a garden around 1906,
and I become the great bird of love again;
crazy with spring, I swoop down
into the middle of the belle époque,
skitter and flop on a gravel path at the feet
of these two unsmiling French girls who sit
with their hair pulled back over eyes of shade.
I will make them blush and laugh
in their pink, summer frocks as I fly up
and dart between their wicker chairs
over beds of primroses, fan plants
and columbines, to an open window
where picnic hampers have been placed.
Then the three of us will ramble
Into sunlight and droning grasses.
I will circle their lovely, oval heads,
Gently plucking at their barrettes until
They laugh, "Zimmer, l'oiseau absurde!"
You crazy bird! And toss me
Bits of bread and boiled egg.

--Paul Zimmer

10 October 2011

Poem of the Week: 10 October 2011

Each week I share a discovered poem for you to read, enjoy, share and comment on.

This one was written by a friend who I went to school with. This poem always haunted me, especially the part where Joseph Stalin says, "Why sad?" To hear it read in David's voice, there is a deeper peace in that phrase, as if a person could live in that phrase. As if I have lived in that phrase.

Difficult Snow

by David Cheezem

I am walking in difficult snow,
my boots gnawing the white

ground, and everything I know
is here. The alders, shivering,

are here, and the memory of devil's
club stinging last summer

is here. I am alone,
but Joseph Stalin is talking to me.

He is saying, "Why sad?"
and I tell him: I am

trying to write a good poem
about terrible things,

and I can't seem to find
a place in the language.

And Joseph Stalin laughs,
wraps the wool-clad arm around

my shoulder, and says,
"Ahhh, David, why make things

so difficult. All I have to do is speak,
and twenty thousand people

become my imagination,
and I don't see them any more."

The alders shiver;
the trail disappears.

I am walking in difficult snow
and I am alone,

but everything I know is here.

04 October 2011

How do you eat a whale?

Piece by piece.

I'm currently working on a book about a lot of what I've been writing about, but it also mixes in some fictional elements, parts of the imaginative fantasies I had as a boy that seem as real as anything else that has happened to me.

I began working on it shortly after I got married to April, 5 years ago. Chapter One is complete, Chapter Two is nearly completed. Chapter Three is mapped out. It's only going to have three chapters. Dante was fine with his master work being three pieces. I'm happy with this.

I've never been able to focus on something like this for this long, which is why I have tried to stick with poetry and to be honest, working so long on it, now that I see where it's going to end up, I am having a really rough time accessing the voices I need to roll the rest out lately.

Perhaps because I'm not expecting anymore surprises, and manufacturing surprises for the reader just seems so...fake to me.

I need to go back to it though. I think that's why I took a break from this blog recently. Kinda re-establising my footing, finding a new hold on this piece I'm working on.

After a while, the taste becomes horrific and sometimes you think you can't swallow another bite. So you take a break from the whale. Let the digestion processes learn new things and then come back to the whale.

Hopefully, it won't take me as long as it took Melinda Mae to eat her whale.

27 September 2011

Another poem from me

I get very quiet and rarely speak at all

Do not mistake my silence for a treatment
or an anger that rises like a drum roll
from an orchestra. It is a hold
I use to keep my thoughts on the pavement.

Do not mistake my inaction for surrender,
a throwing up of hands. I only give
up to the trail I walk, to this love
that guides my hands that write each letter.

Do not mistake my life for my breath.
Do not mistake my quiet stare for a swallowed tongue.
I do not eat or breathe the diphthongs
I create. They are rare and precious.

26 September 2011

Origins: The Turning Point

A friend was having a bad day this weekend. She wanted to destroy something so she could feel better, so she could see something as broken as she was feeling, so that she didn't feel so alone in feeling so broken. I found myself calmly telling her something that I'd learned over the past few years about how ineffective that tactic is. How the more we want to destroy something, the more broken and disconnected we become. I told her:

Accept that the world is going to be as beautiful as you allow it to be. Just as it allows you to be as beautiful as you are.

I learned this lesson about three years ago. The hard way. When I was separated from my wife.

I was feeling disconnected and abandoned in my marriage, I felt like not only were we but that I was somehow broken because despite all attempts to be happy in my marriage, I wasn't.

So we separated and it was the hardest thing I've ever done, to try to learn how to connect to the world without her.

During this time, I learned about who I was in relationships. I watched myself from the outside as I investigated where I had gone wrong in my past relationship. I watched myself build a new relationship and was surprised at what I discovered.

I discovered that by breaking my marriage I discovered what had been missing in it: me.

And I connect it back to the coma again. How when I woke up from the coma, I walked around always expecting to wake up again. My life felt like a dream. The coma was like this reset button on my ability to connect with people and I walked around with this invisible wall all around me. No one felt safe because everyone seemed temporary. And even when I thought I might have been connecting, I was merely observing them as through glass in an aquarium.

It didn't help that we moved around so often when I was a child. I never stuck around long enough to make any lasting connections or really learn how to make those connections.

My wife and I reconciled, but decided that marriage counseling would be best for us.

In counseling, I found myself talking a lot about myself and my insecurities and my fears of abandonment and being alone and I realized that I had been trying to destroy the marriage because I didn't feel safe in it and that I had felt abandoned again. My self-defense system was destruction, was dissolution, was burning bridges. It was in allowing the feeling of abandonment to become the reality.

But working through this with April--and April has her own set of issues too--taught me that abandonment doesn't have to be the reality. Disconnection and destruction do not have to be the response and in fact, when people choose this response, it is usually because they need the very thing that is symbolized by the thing they are destroying.

Accept that the world is going to be as beautiful as you allow it to be. Roque Dalton believes the world is beautiful and that poetry like bread is for everyone.

Take your slice, enjoy it, share it, and make more of it for everyone.

23 September 2011

Poem of the Week: 23 September 2011

Shabbat Shalom!

Each week I post a discovered poem for you to read, enjoy, share, and comment on.

This week's poem is a previously unpublished poem from Shel Silverstein in a new post-mortem collection called, "Everything On It." I love Shel Silverstein! As a boy, I found his poems and drawings all at once sweet, humorous, sometimes a little wrong, accessible and well-crafted. "Where the Sidewalk Ends" is probably one of the best modern collections of poetry ever. Poetry seems about as natural to Shel as breathing.

Years From Now

Although I cannot see your face
As you flip these poems awhile
Somewhere from some far-off place
I hear you laughing–and I smile

-Shel Silverstein

21 September 2011

A Sacred Daily Act

I am always hungry now.

Two and a half years ago, I got my insulin pump and has been wonderful. But before I got my insulin pump, I rarely ever felt hungry. I just decided to eat at roughly the beginning, the middle and the end of the day. Now that I'm running normal blood sugars again I have started to feel hungry. But lately, it seems like I'm always hungry.

My stomach aches but I do not appease it. It isn't time, I tell my body. Don't you know anything? We have a schedule: 12:30-1:30 is our lunch break, it has been for the past year and a half, and that's when we eat.

And then around 3:00, I get all hollow again and I'm like Dude, gotta wait. Dinner is at home and home comes at 5:30.

So I push off eating until it is time. Well, those of you who know about eating disorders know what happens next...I gorge at that time. I eat past my fill and I don't often care what it is I'm eating.

Writing is like that too. I push it off until it's convenient and then when it's time I write too much and it all just kinda sits there in loose bundles of thought like one sorts laundry. This is all the ideas I have on my father (dry clean only), this is everything I'm working on regarding me and April (delicates), and this is the coma (whites). There is also a fiction and verse pile, and of course, these are the colors.

...I think I'd like to go wash my clothing in the Ganges one day.

But I think I need to learn how to eat and write in smaller pieces. Snack all day, not really have three big meals. You know, haiku it up a bit over three or four sittings versus a spewing of prose over an hour. Maybe do my laundry in pieces too. Instead of putting off the chore, make it a sacred, daily act.

20 September 2011

Dante Quixotic and the Rainbow-Colored Crap Sandwich

This is the first time that I am not really enthusiastic about writing something.

But I have to. I promised to myself I would write daily because, poetry, like bread, is made fresh daily.

I originally wanted to write about Dante and Don Quixote, about how of all the classical literary figures in history, none stick out more as my guiding figures than Dante, the pilgrim who travels through the afterlife for love, and Don Quixote, the knight errant/wandering fool who is mocked for romanticizing everything in his life but somehow manages to turn out to be a hero.

And I have been thinking about how I follow a vision, a romanticized version of my life that has an imaginative element and I've been looking for ways to bring realistic value to that imaginary element.

But no, it isn't happening. Maybe my blood sugar is out of whack, maybe I'm not feeling confident or stimulated. Maybe I'm just in a funk. But there's a point though where the bright side grows dim and you realize you're just not getting your share of the happy.

There's a giant crap sandwich that I'm eating and the power of imagination is not turning it into rainbow sherbert.

I mean this figuratively, of course. No faecophilia going on here.

Dante was less of a romantic then Don Quixote was. I mean Dante came face to face with the suffering in hell. He never said "it could be worse." In fact, Inferno and Purgatory are both gut-wrenchingly horrible when it comes to images of human suffering. Purgatory, I find far more moving because the humans there WANT to purge their ability to sin, they choose their suffering in hopes that it will end. The humans in Hell really just choose to suffer because they know no other way of existing.

Dante manages to keep his hope and faith despite all the pain he observes. And yes, it is filled with Roman Catholic dogma and doctrine espousing the sovereignty of Jesus Christ, something I'm none too sure about as someone is Jew-ish.

But still, he keeps the only thing that we can truly take with us, even after witnessing all that suffering. And that is why I read Dante.

Maybe the crap sandwich will always be a crap sandwich. But maybe, one day, it'll really turn into rainbow sherbert.

19 September 2011

The silence, it is deep.

There is a lot to be said for the music in poetry. I mean most of all poetry is some kind of lyric, guided by the cadences and rhythms of verse, the rhyme scheme, and the play on words and sounds.

Take the Shakespearean line:

Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard

It takes its musical cues from Old English prosody, a system that placed a heavy emphasis on alliteration and balanced lines.

Borne / on the bier / with white / and brist/ -ly beard

Bolded letters alliterate, underlined syllables are accented. By the way, the line refers to someone old being carried away in a coffin.

And the line's ability to control the sound through prosody, alliteration, rhyme and other sound techniques is all in service of the one soudn that the poem leads up to.

The ending silence. The silence you reach at the end that allows the poem to resonate back through your mind. Though the poem has ended, you still hear the voice of the reader echoing the last few lines.


As if you were in a cavern.

This is the pay off, this is where we sense the depth of a poem in that resonant, deep cavern when the speech goes silent, but it starts to echo back.

At first, you don't recognize that the poem has ended, that the speaker has stopped speaking. But when you do, you're hit with both the silence and the echo. The poem turns into a ghost and it haunts you and then it settles in a moment and is at peace.

It is not unlike the silence instead a coma. Only in a coma, the settling doesn't happen in a moment. The settling doesn't happen at all. You sleep in it, and you wake in it. And it and the dark penetrates you. It is like being in an unnatural cavern where there is no echo, there is only silence.

And it is deep and menacing because you become the tree that falls in the forest that doesn't make a sound because no one is there. Not even you.

The coma erased me, erased the first draft of me. And it becomes clear to me why I've been writing so much about the coma.

I want the first draft back. I want it to be returned to me so I can exist again. So I don't feel like my second draft self has been abandoned here on this planet, in this body that will one day be "borne on the bier with white and bristly beard."

16 September 2011

Poem of the Week: 16 September 2010

Each week I post a discovered poem for you to read, enjoy, and comment upon. I encourage you to discover your own poems and share tehm with me.

I don't remember when I discovered this poem or how I discovered it. I only know that somehow it came to me and it had such an impact on me that I don't remember a time when this poem wasn't with me. Even though I know I must have read it sometime in college, it seemed to reverberate back into my history and set up camp there and flash like a lighthouse in the dark.

This poem is called "Like This" and it is by Rumi Jelalludin, a Persian Sufi mystic who met a wandering dervish named Shams Tabrizi who would teach him to experience the divine by living life like a poem.

Shams was with him only a short time, but Rumi began writing poetry after his departure.

Before I met my wife April, I had my own Shams. His name was Roody. He taught me to appreciate myself and find joy in being myself and to live as if I were a poem. He would have wanted him to be thought of as a Jack Kerouac kind of guy. But, no, I believe he was more of a Shams kinda guy. After I met April, he disappeared, in much the same way that Shams did. But he left a lasting impression.

Like This

If anyone asks you
how the perfect satisfaction
of all our sexual wanting
will look, lift your face
and say,

Like this.

When someone mentions the gracefulness
of the nightsky, climb up on the roof
and dance and say,

Like this.

If anyone wants to know what "spirit" is,
or what "God’s fragrance" means,
lean your head toward him or her.
Keep your face there close.

Like this.

When someone quotes the old poetic image
about clouds gradually uncovering the moon,
slowly loosen knot by knot the strings
of your robe.

Like this.

If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,
don’t try to explain the miracle.
Kiss me on the lips.

Like this. Like this.

When someone asks what it means
to "die for love," point


If someone asks how tall I am, frown
and measure with your fingers the space
between the creases on your forehead.

This tall.

The soul sometimes leaves the body, then returns.
When someone doesn’t believe that,
walk back into my house.

Like this.

When lovers moan,
they’re telling our story.

Like this.

I am a sky where spirits live.
Stare into this deepening blue,
while the breeze says a secret.

Like this.

When someone asks what there is to do,
light the candle in his hand.

Like this.

How did Joseph’s scent come to Jacob?


How did Jacob’s sight return?


A little wind cleans the eyes.

Like this.

When Shams comes back from Tabriz,
he’ll put just his head around the edge
of the door to surprise us

Like this.


14 September 2011

Thought I'd share one of my poems today...

A little over a year ago, some friends of ours moved to Okinawa, Japan. They were not the first of dear friends to move away and I'm sure they won't be the last. It just seemed like they went the farthest away.

All my life, I've said goodbye to dear friends after only knowing them for  a short time. Anchorage is a city that many people only come to briefly, to leave their mark and then quietly escape.

It's frustrating and after a while, even the most understanding frame of mind gives way to a deluge of insecurity and an outcry of abandonment. I wanted to change that feeling that I was having when the Magids left. So I stretched apart the heartstrings and dug down to the familiar glistering speck of hope that they would return that is at the core of my sorrow. And this is the poem that emerged.

An Outbreak of Joy
-for the Magids-

Farewells are a function of love and goodbyes, dreams
of the past. My farewell has not been the poised, deliberate sever.
It is the perpetual lump in my throat, the sick dread that rips
the veil from the illusion, the whispered wordless chant.

Your goodbyes will haunt me: the last time
we share a laugh, a song, a handshake or hug: they will never
forget themselves. They will enrich my days and I will stitch
them into the fabric of my days until we meet again, whenever we meet again—at which point,

I will ask you to unravel it madly, in an outbreak of joy.

13 September 2011

Origins, Part 3, or; The Greatest Thing You Will Ever Learn...

My wife and I had an argument last night.

Which is to say, I was trying to say something that is very difficult to say and she took it personal and got defensive and then I got defensive.

Which is to say, we don't know how to accomplish an equitable resolution when we have a conflict.

Which is mind blowing because in my day job, I teach people how to build healthy relationships with the individuals they are working with. Part of that is conflict resolution. Part of that is conflict resolution with a person who has experienced a significant trauma.

Oh yes, my wife experienced a significant trauma as a child.

Studies show that when a child experiences a significant trauma it leads to neurological misdevelopment, which leads to social, emotional ,and cognitive skill development gaps, which leads to the inability to cope with difficult things which shouldn't be difficult, which leads to developing coping mechanisms that may not be healthy--i.e. alcoholism, drug abuse, self harm, suicide, harm to others, etc.

So for some reason, I am unable to practice what I preach and I feel pretty much like a failure every time we have an argument.

So I try to avoid having arguments.

Which in turn makes it excruciatingly painful when a conflict does arise.

The thing is: conflict is an essential part of life, it is the driving force in many things, including a person's development.

So how do I turn things around?

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn is to love and be loved in return."

That last bit is so much more important... and it should be so easy.

Why isn't it easy?

12 September 2011

My Father's Rifles

The first thing I remember when I pick up my old rifle was its kick.
And then I remember its smell, a mixture of my father’s gun oil and the gun powder used in the bullets and the old leather from the sling. Even though there shouldn’t be a distinction, there is. My gun smells different than other rifles.
Even though I’m in front of my computer now, my right shoulder feels the ghost of its butt and I can still smell it.
When I picked up my father’s rifles I could tell they hadn’t been shot, not in at least 5 years. Once he got sick, he must’ve just stopped shooting right then and there. Not on purpose, of course, but he stopped to get better, but the healing was slow and as weeks rolled out into months, he’d forgotten about that aspect of his life. Something else became his life: staying alive. It was something he needed to do.
So this weekend I took some of them to a gun shop to make sure they were safe to shoot. I thought maybe if I could shoot his rifles, I’d get a little piece of him back. If I could fire my gun again, it’d echo just like it used to all over the mountains of Utah and Idaho and it’d be like I was shouting out to dad again. I’d put his memory back into his rifles.
The inside of the barrel of my .243 Winchester was all rusted out. The guy said it would literally blow up if I fired it.
Figuratively, it did.
When I stopped writing, I stopped so I could focus on falling in love, on learning who I was in a relationship, on solidifying my marriage. And it was something I needed to do. Some things become more important in our lives.
And now that I’m returning to the page, I find I too am rusty and the writer I used to be is not the writer I need to be now.
I must keep my tools clean and well-oiled. I must take better care of them.
As for my rifle, I can sell it for parts and I can't do that on my own. I also don't know if I can do that. This rifle has sentimental value.
I think my dad would want me to get rid of it though. I think he would want me to get my own rifle, one that I can shoot.

09 September 2011

Poem of the Week: 9 September 2011

Shabbat Shalom!

Each week I post a discovered poem for you to read, enjoy, and comment on.

This week's poem is not a recently discovered poem, but a poem I like to rediscover over and over again. It's also a poem about discovery and written by one of America's best poets, Adrienne Rich. I first read this as a freshman in college; I had to write a paper explicating its meaning. I don't remember what I wrote but I remember thinking at the time this was a poem I could read over and over again and read something new each time. It is like the scuba dive that it uses for its central metaphor. You can only descend for a certain time and discover only so much, but you will continue to descend to the same place each time for a new discovery. Enjoy!

Diving Into The Wreck

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and away into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

--Adrienne Rich

08 September 2011

The Blank Page

Classical writing techniques suggest that the writer begin "in medias res"--in the middle of the action. Lewis Carrol would say to start at the beginning and when you get to the end, stop. Quentin Tarantino might say to start with the end and then jump to the beginning.

But the blank page can be a frightening prospect and many would be writers worry themselves about how to begin because great beginnings are remembered.

But it's not like the complete idea exists in its entirety in the air at the time you begin writing. It is not just waiting for you to place it neatly on the page. But the page is not an Asian rock garden.

Maybe the page is more like a wild jungle and the idea, carefully hidden, is waiting to be sprung like a booby trap with just the right sequence of moves. And although syntax is often the difference between verse and poem, between a good working draft and a moving final product, this ides still suggests that the idea is completely there waiting to be discovered.

Ideas are formed and matured on the page. Before their life on the page, they gestate in our minds like a fetus, but they are only a fetus, unable to exist outside of ourselves. At least, not yet.

Is the page a no-man's land where words fling themselves over the top in the littlest hope of advancing an idea a few feet? If this were true, writing wouldn't be much fun. There's probably not one person around anymore who experienced first hand the war that changed the face of war. WWI is nearly a hundred years old by now.

I think the page is a factory floor that you can fit the whole universe into. (Yes, I intend to evoke images from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy here.) The word is galoshes and I have to make it a poignant idea, instead of word that's fun to say.
Drafting is by far the funnest part of writing for me. You play with all the possibilities and then you choose one to go with.

For the past few years, I chose the no-mans land, the hopeless shooting match. But as of a few weeks ago, I'm choosing the factory floor.

By the way...

Ambulance Tanka

After the accident,
the street was cleared and water
poured into the rain
gutters and also into
his empty galoshes.

07 September 2011

Origins, Part 2

...So I was a very good reader. The voice I heard on the inside when I read was commanding and in control of his words. That voice was experienced. Of everything I forgot in the coma, I never forgot my reading abilities, never forgot a single story I’d read.

I was reading by the age of 2, able to sound out words that were in front of me and with each new word, I’m told, I was curious about its meaning. By age 6, I was as fluent as someone twice my age. By 12, I had been reading my father’s medical textbooks for several years.

Something about sticking my face in a book made the world seem smaller, more controllable. I wasn’t an asthmatic when I was narrating the story, I wasn’t having trouble making friends because the characters in the book were my friends. After all, they were sharing their intimate thoughts and important events with me.

Even non-fiction read like a story to me. Some all-knowing storyteller sharing information about the world around me and I imagine it unfolding before me and it made sense.

And poetry became like a musical story to me. It sounded like song, it sounded like the emotions I was feeling as I read the story.

The thing is reading isn’t something you do with words. It’s something you do with your eyes. The saying goes, “you can read him like a book,” and that is a skill, I think writers develop: the ability to read people like they were books, to open them up and see something intimate about them that other people just don’t see on first or second account:
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand.... nor look through the eyes of the dead.... nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself…. (Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass)

And that’s what reading is; it is a filter through which you gain experience.
I remember a while back there was all this to-do about James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, not being 100% auto-biographical. And to an extent, I agreed with the controversy around it at the time, though I never read it. After all, it seemed logical to be authentic. It seemed like if you’re going to sell something as autobiographical, it should be autobiographical. You don’t get to make up parts of your life for the sake of selling a book.

But I’ve recently been writing a lot about the fictional characters who were my friends, the fictions I told myself as a child to get me through the tough times, the times when I learned so much by playing pretend.

That line seems a little more vague for me, a little less well-defined. What if the fictions in my life were as much a part of my self as the autobiographical events? What if the filter through which I read everything was equally part of my character? What if the reader is really an undervalued character in each story? A quiet character who only traditionally gets his say at the end, only gets to say whether or not it was a good read.
But that’s not how it is. Fictional accounts and stories, not just in books, but also in movies and television and theater, change us. They affect us and make us part of who we are.

The line between fiction and non-fiction isn’t like the line between reality and delusion; it is more like the line between psychology and neurology. Our personalities, our self-images are certainly effected by the electrical impulses that fire in our brain, the memories that reside within, and the genetic code that guides the placement of every molecule.
But the definition of who we are is also effected by our imaginations and our perceptions and those are developed through the things and people we read, the filters we build with a cross-hatching of fiction and non-fiction.

The poet, as far as I know, constructs that filter better than anyone. Their realm is both the non-fiction and the fiction, the real and the imagined. They accomplish in language what others can not.

06 September 2011


I think the traditional view of the poet being a love-stricken, yet eccentric romantic still permeates most peoples' imagination as to what a poet looks like.

And it's obvious that in our collective imagination, we got that image from poets like John Keats and Percy Shelley, Jim Morrison and John Lennon.

Half rebellious rock star, half tortured soul and all they want is to be loved... Right?

The fact is that out of the real poets I know, none are like that. Contemporary poets writing today are butchers, bookstore owners, human resource administrators, etc. They are married and instead of pining for a lost love, they flesh out the human story in so many other ways.

The contemporary poet has love, he has a support network. What the contemporary poet wants really is to be heard. The contemporary poet has a gift with words, has the ability to tell stories, to create dialogue, to, in the words of my mentor, “say the unsayable” and they want to share that because something within that is relevant to modern living.

Sure there are still some ivory tower poets, poets who are good with language, but great with relating to editors, publishers, and critics. These are poets who make their living as poets, who are fortunate enough to be able to talk poetry whenever they want and get paid well for doing so.

But they are so far removed from the working poet, the poet who spends 8 hours a day cutting meat or trying to entice readers to choose spine and pages and brick and mortar to wifi and digital. The working poet shoves papers in one direction and dreams about what he will write about when he gets home.

These working poets that I have particularly in mind are also currently working on non-poetry related projects. One is a playwright who has seen recent success in New York and one has been doing some delightful mixed media visual art.

Even I am working on a larger piece of prose.

So perhaps the profession of poet means adapting traditional pencil and paper, sentiment-based, verse composition methods of the past to the digital, entertainment-focused, prose-preferring world.

The Gutenberg press makes way for YouTube…

And even though everyone has a forum, everyone can write a blog, everyone posts on Facebook, poets still need to be heard.

I think less and less that poetry has to do with language today and more and more about communication.

And when I think about the real modes of communication I practice, it isn’t in the email reminders of who needs CPR trainings.

It isn’t in the notes I take during a meeting or the notes I make when I’m putting together a training or a lecture.

It isn’t even in Facebook posts about people I am missing nor is it really in this blog.

It’s in the consistent messages I send out with every other action I take that tells me and others what I need.

It’s in the promise that I make to myself that I will write daily, if for no other reason to say:

"I am here. I will be heard. You will remember this."

02 September 2011

Poem of the Week: 2 September 2011

Shabbat Shalom everyone!

Each week I will post a discovered poem here for you to read, enjoy and comment on.

This week's poem is by David Meltzer. I don't know much about him, but I discovered his poem in the siddur at the synagogue I attend. It says things that have been truly my daily emotional experience for a long time. Tell me what you think of the poem or pose questions. Also, if you have a poem you've discovered, email it to me at poetrylikebread1999@yahoo.com with a brief description of how you discovered it and how it effects you.

Tell them I'm struggling to sing with the angels

Tell them I'm struggling to sing with the angels
who hint at it in black words printed on old paper gold-edged by time.
Tell them I wrestle the mirror every morning.
Tell them I sit here invisible in space;
nose running, coffee cold & bitter.
Tell them I tell them everything
& everything is never enough.
Tell them I'm davening & voices rise up from within to startle children.
Tell them I walk off into the woods to sing.
Tell them I sing loudest next to waterfalls.
Tell them the books get fewer, words go deeper
some take months to get thru.
Tell them there are moments when it's all perfect;
above & below, it's perfect
even in moments in between where sparks in space
(terrible, beautiful sparks in space)
are merely metaphors for the void between
one pore & another.

--David Meltzer

31 August 2011

The Light I Travel By

There is a small poem written by Thomas McGrath that permeates my life every now and again.


How could I have come so far?
(And always on such dark trails!)
I must have traveled by the light
Shining from the faces of all those I have loved.

And its companion poem, in my mind, by W.S. Merwyn:


Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

These seven lines entail all that love entails: light and absence. Every experience of love I can think of lead back to these two poems. When you love people and keep them on your path and they love and support you, they light your way, they give you the hope you need to see the rough bits through and they provide you with a group to celebrate all the accomplishments with.

And when they are gone, for a time, everything you do reminds you of them. It is in a tender remembrance that we continue to love them when they are no longer lighting our way.

And we become separated in many ways: divorce, death, disease (why do all the unpleasant things begin with D?).

Moving away too. I’ve lost contact with so many old friends who just simply moved away, they just picked up and left and decided to live their lives somewhere else. Alaska is filled with people who moved here to escape and they stay, but Anchorage is especially prone to people who live here for a time and then get bored or broke and move away. I think I can probably count hundreds of people who I have loved and then moved away and lost touch with.

And it has hurt, every single time it happens it hurts and cuts deeper than it probably should. When you have abandonment issues, you half expect people to leave, to be done with you, and you want to scream, “No. Don’t go. Please stay!”

But you can’t, I can’t, because they all left for something better, and they all promise to stay in touch.

And when it happens over and over again, something  like bitterness sets in, something like low self esteem sets in and it sucks, and it isn’t fair to hold it against people. It isn’t fair to blame myself for them leaving.

Poetry provides a new perspective on this. Poetry, itself, tends to be brief, but deep in sentiment. Poetry celebrates the here and now, the thing that is fleeting, the ephemeral.
It captures the ghosts in our lives and allows us to go back in time and relive a moment that was over all too soon.

Maybe that’s why I’ve written so many poems about my dad and continue to do so. I always  had these brief intimations of him, intimations that showed me who he was, intimations that he didn’t allow anybody else to see, tender moments that I’m still not sure if he wants to me to share with anybody else.

He passed away in April. He was cremated. His ashes were spread this past weekend.

People used to say I look like my dad, I never saw it until he passed. Every step I have taken  has been lit by his face. Everything I do has been stitched with his color.

This is my dad.

30 August 2011

Origins, Part One

When I was six years old, I fell into a coma.

I was out for about two weeks, but when I awoke I discovered several things:
  1. A packet of letters and flowers from my kindergarten classmates wishing me to get well.
  2. A room full of strange doctors.
  3. My memories had disappeared.
  4. My voice had disappeared.
The earliest thing I can remember was being in the coma. It was dark, except for a tiny pinhole of light right in the center.

Sometimes I would sleep a dreamless sleep, but sometimes I would wake up, be aware of myself, and I would be there in the dark space.

It is not like being in a dark room, it is more like being immersed in dark water. It is both claustrophobic and comforting.

My mother tells me that before the coma I was not shy and quiet, I was gregarious, I was naturally very social. After the coma, that changed. My voice didn’t seem to work correctly, I knew the words that I wanted to say, but they didn’t come out right or they didn’t come out at all.

The nurses taught me sign language and I received speech therapy afterwards and I got to a point where I could pass for “back to normal.”

Except I wasn’t, but I didn’t discover that until much later.

These early problems with speech and language making is called aphasia. It is a common side effect after a coma, but at the time of my coma, they did not understand as much about it. Some people do not recover from aphasia as well as I did. Some people’s voices are still trapped inside themselves long after their comas.

Some people’s aphasia also effects different language making capacities. Some people may not be able to write a complete sentence, but they can speak it eloquently. Some can only type letters, but not draw them with a pencil. Some simply replace words or repeat words; others do not speak at all.

This early difficulty with finding a strong external voice made me two things:

1.      Very good at reading (college level at age 7)

2.      Terrible at penmanship and public speaking

And I experienced that all the way through high school and into college.

…Until, I discovered poetry.

You see, poetry’s line breaks teach you how to read the line, when to pause, when to lift your voice or lower it, and I discovered, that through a line break, I could read out loud a little easier. James Scully talks about the line break in Line Break: Poetry as Social Practice. I will certainly be talking more about him later in the blog

And I learned that if I could read a line of poetry out loud easier than I should certainly be able to speak out loud a little easier if I thought of my statements as line breaks.

Of course, these lessons were not being made fully conscious to me as I was learning them, it was only recently that this became apparent of what I was learning.

So I studied poetry in college at the time because it was something I not only did well, but it also challenged me. I learned how to write it, how to read it, how to speak it. And thus, my voice became a poet’s voice.