Thursday, January 31, 2008



[Totally Optional Prompts this week asks us "Why You're Alive" and this, I suppose, is part of the answer.]


Stubborn as an untreated red wine stain
on a white cotton shirt,
baked in over time,
fated to stand out
no matter the occasional desire to blend in,
changing the very purpose of the shirt
from a proper buttoned-up affair
to a casual, ok-to-get-messy-in favorite,
a presence that transforms,
altering perceptions that echo,
rippling out into the world.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Baklava Baby


Baklava Baby

I'm nutty with a little spice,
I'm flaky, but I'm sweet.
I stick to you like honey,
but I'm really tough to beat.

I have layers like an ogre*,
a most complicated mess.
Sometimes I even scare myself,
I fear I must confess.

I'm nutty with a little spice,
I'm flaky, but I'm sweet.
I stick to you like honey,
but I'm really tough to beat.

At first I look quite fragile,
as though I will fall apart,
then you find I am quite solid
more a sum than any part.

I'm nutty with a little spice,
I'm flaky, but I'm sweet.
I stick to you like honey,
but I'm really tough to beat.

* In Shrek, the title character tells his companion that "ogres are like onions" because they both have layers.

Math Poem


[Read Write Poem prompted us to incorporate math into a poem. As I was thinking about math and how I learned it, the following came to me. I think it may be the longest poem I've ever written, but don't let that scare you away. Check out the other mathematical poems here.]

Intersections of Math and Life

Advanced Math class with mostly seniors
was taught by a quiet man
who was also the athletic director
and occasionally had to take a phone call.
I sat behind a farm boy with startling blue eyes
that captured my imagination,
though I never captured his.

Smart kids, with fierce humor,
we used an 8-minute phone call
to re-arranged the room 90 degrees,
moving the teacher's desk to face the windows
and pivoting our columns to rows,
making sure we were all
head-down in our homework when he returned
to stand stock-still in the doorway.
Neither he nor any of us said a word
and the room stayed that way for weeks.

In 1979, we learned math while
6712.7 miles away
66 people were taken hostage,
13 released the same month.

1 more released the next summer
3 months after
8 American soldiers died in a failed rescue attempt.

In 1980 I was one
of seven tracked seniors
in a Calculus class taught by a young woman
who was our student teacher the year before.
Six of us would go to college,
one would not,
but I am jumping ahead - skipping steps -
something I always had trouble with
in mathematic proofs.

We studied limits and derivatives,
and then the integrals that measure
the area under a curve.
We called them "cockroach problems"
because imaging the line as a bug's path
was much more entertaining.
Across the hall, the chemistry teacher
had a free period and was mystified in the quiet
by the occasional cockroach conversations
until we finally clued him in.

Five of us were in band.
Three girls played sports.
Two were boys.
One girl had an after-school job.

Laura and I had the same yellow shirt
and we tried to wear them
in series not

Yellow ribbons covered the country
tied to everything you can imagine
and some things you can't,
a visual vigil for the remaining 52.

They made me think of the POW-MIA bracelet
that a classmate had worn in grade school,
but softer.

The newly-hatched teacher
learned teaching
as she taught math.

Our friendship was strengthened by
dinner at Debbie's house one night,
and pizza at the teacher's place another time,
complete with a spirited game of spoons,
always one fewer spoon than people,
so that the set of those "out" grew
as those "in" dwindled.
The houseplants did survive the night,
but it was a close call.

November's election lined up a new president
and the outgoing one lined up a hostage release.
After 444 days of being held
52 people were freed.

Our tests took time to grade.
The more tangled our logic,
the longer it took to figure out
if we had arrived at the right solutions,
or merely exercised ourselves
in a muddled mathematical morass.

The spring test on integrals was long.
Day 1 - no one finished
and the teacher collected them
to hand back later.
Day 2 - two of us finished early,
then another later -
3 done, 4 still working.
By the end of Day 3,
everyone had finished,
and Miss S began grading.

Every day we asked if she was finished.
She would smile, say, "Not yet," and
move us on to the next topic.

Two weeks later
we got our graded tests back.
To the corner of each was stapled
one yellow ribbon.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Blue Roundel


[In response to this weeks Monday Poetry Stretch at The Miss Rumphius Effect I present my try at a roundel. Check there later this week to see what other folks came up with.]

Blue Roundel

When daybreak's sky is red
bad weather may ensue -
or so the sailors said -
unlike when morning light is blue,

that frosty, early hue,
when night has barely fled
and day is overdue.

Arising from my bed
I watch out for a cue
of the trace of pink I dread
unlike when morning light is blue.

Sunday, January 27, 2008



[One of the prompts at Cafe Writing's January Project gave us this quote by Marcel Marceau: "In silence and movement you can show the reflection of people" and asked us to write a poem about reflection.]


When I looked in the mirror this morning
I saw I was very tall -- taller than usual.
I smiled and straightened my shoulders
and lifted my head a little more upright.
My strides were longer, and each footstep
felt solid where the shoes touched the floor,
and even my keys came quickly to my hand,
when I reached in my purse to fish them out.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Oy Vey, Tateh!


Oy vey, Tateh!

When our words fail us we sometimes will hum,
showing our faith through our voices in song.
Perhaps we forget, or the mem'ries aren't strong,
but we offer up praise with a ya b'ba-bum.

Singing these sounds with a trust they become
(on their path to God's ear, be it fleeting or long)
rearranged and transformed from a mess that was wrong
into unrivaled psalms far surpassing their sum.

We use the word tateh as heartfelt we pray
to the almighty "Daddy" who watches and hears.
And then taken by spirit we sing and we sway
as we ya-ba-ba-bum and we try to convey,
past our everyday worries and hunger and fears,
how we savor the blessings that come each new day.

I must say that what little Yiddish I know is only a few phrases and the rough translations of some songs I learned way back in my camp-counselor days. When prompted by Totally Optional Prompts to write a sonnet, and by the Monday Poetry Stretch to write a poem with words from two languages, one particular song came to me.

This song from the Hasidic Jewish tradition begins with the words, "Oy vey, Tateh!" For those who don't know all that the Yiddish expression "oy vey" can mean, I will send you over to Wikipedia. It is "Tateh" I want to introduce you to. This means "Daddy". It is what a little child might use when addressing his father. It is close to the heart.

Yet the song is not something sung to an earthly father. The daddy in the song is God. The Hasidic philosophy includes the idea that prayer should be fervent. It is more important for your feelings, your intent, to be conveyed than for you to "get the words right".

In fact, there are a lot of songs where the words are some variation on "ya-ba-bum" or "bim-bom" or "birri-birri bum." Those are not Yiddish words that mean anything - they are just sounds like tra-la-la or doo-doo-doo. And this song has very few other words, it is mostly ya-ba-bum.

Thanks for reading this mini-essay.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I'm Still Here


I don't write about my work here, but budget season came early this year and my muse is currently buried under a pile of folders and spreadsheets. I'm visiting when I can and hope to have things to share soon. Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Traveling Companions


[Read Write Poem prompted us to write about Traveling Companions. I'm pretty sure there's another poem in me on that topic, but this is the one that wanted out tonight.]

Snow Companions

I turn onto the last major street before my neighborhood
and despite above-freezing temperatures
the banks of snow along each driveway
shine under the streetlights.
I like the snow.

I smile again
and so does the 5-year-old me on little skis
shooting down the Colorado mountain
like I had been born there.

I feel the snow
against the back of my four-years-ago self
icing strained lumbar muscles
while snow-shoeing in Adirondack woods.

The 12-year-old me smiles
while shoveling the driveways with my brother,
having turned it into a game, creating a maze
in the waist-high white.

As I smile
so does the college me
playing in the snow that cancelled
the semi-formal dance,
building snowmen outside the dorm.

I like the snow.
We all do.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Going to the Movies


[Sunday Scribblings prompts us this week to write about "The Date." I found my thoughts wandering about, thinking of things one might do on a date and when I thought of going to the movie theater, this true story about my mom came to mind.]

My mom grew up in the Depression. She says that they didn't know they were poor because pretty much everyone in town was in the same condition. In those days most fun and entertainment had to be homegrown and cheap. But somehow Mom scraped up enough money to go to the movies nearly every weekend. There was one movie theater downtown (keep in mind that this town had only about 5500 people in it, so it wasn't a big place) and the marquee announced the movies to be shown each week. There were usually two afternoon shows (matinees) and then evening showings as well.

The theater often held special events to attract audiences. They would have door prize give-aways, and sometimes they let people buy chinaware place settings very cheaply with each movie ticket purchased. It was not just entertainment; it was a social event. Even if you weren't going into the theater, you might go to chat with other people who were around because that's where everyone was.

Mom retells going to the early show and staying for the second showing. She watched pretty much whatever was on, since it was only one screen and the good only way besides newspapers to get a glimpse of worlds outside her own.

But over time my mom fell out of the practice of going to the movies. By the time I was a kid, we went to very few, and by the time I was old enough to go on my own, she wasn't interested any more. She said they were too loud, too violent, or too indecent.

There was one occasion, however, when friends talked my parents into going to the movies with them. It was to be a grown-up night out, three couples out to the movies while babysitters watched the kids. The movie that night was an action flick.

Now these adults liked drinking beer better than soda, but the movie theater only sold soda. They decided to bring some anyway. Some of them would put a can of beer in their pocket or purse to sneak it in. And while they were sneaking stuff in, they decided to bring their own popcorn. Why pay movie theater prices, they thought, when we can pop our own at home? So the adults met at our house and Mom popped popcorn with her new hot air popper. They divided the popcorn into little plastic baggies, twist-tied the tops and dumped all the bags into my mom's large, slouchy, leather purse, which she had emptied for the occasion.

Off they went, buying tickets, bypassing the concession stand, and finding seats in the back row. By previous agreement, they waited until the movie's first gunfight before opening the cans of beer. The noise of he gunfire covered the popping of the tops. They were pretty pleased with themselves and I imagine them grinning like little kids.

Now for the popcorn. My mom unzipped her leather bag and reached in for a baggie of popcorn to hand down the row. It was then she discovered a flaw in their plan. The heat from the freshly-popped corn had melted the seam on the little bags and all the popcorn has spilled loose inside the large, floppy bag.

They didn't let that slow them down -- they just passed the whole purse back and forth among the six of them instead. Not what they planned, but it worked!

As for the movie, well, Mom hated it. She said it was too loud and too violent. I think Mom has been to the movie theater maybe 5 times since 1975 and I'm pretty sure she only liked it once. But the movies that she saw as a kid she still loves. She'll find one showing on a cable TV channel and settle in for a good time.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Relax for Limerick Prompt


[Mad Kane prompts us this week to write a limerick or haiku reflecting on "banking on money". I knew how I wanted my limerick to end.]


Whenever I find myself tense
I remember and use this defense:
as my mother would say
when folks got in her way,
all those fools have more dollars than sense.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Pool


[Weekend Wordsmith this week prompted us with a picture. I encourage you to read my post first, then go take a look at the picture.]

The Pool

"...and bring a towel for the pool" the invitation read.
Pool? What pool? They hardly have a back yard!
There was no room for a pool.

When I called to say I was coming I asked, "What pool?"
I could hear the smile in her voice
as she just said, "Don't forget your towel." Was she trying
to channel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?

The day of the party was hot before the sun rose,
the air heavy with humidity,
and I was glad for an excuse to neglect chores and errands.
I brought a chilled bottle of wine -- and my towel.

I went in the front door, though I was dying to see the back,
to see if there had been major excavation.
No the window still looked out on a tree-covered hillside.
"Come on downstairs," she said, "We have the food set up there."

I walked down the narrow steps to the cooler basement,
and admired (and sampled) the buffet table.
I added the wine bottle to the tub of ice
and poured myself a glass of what was open.
Then I stepped out the side door to the lower driveway.

There, beside the asphalt, in the shade of the big oak
was an inflatable "kiddy pool" half-full of clear water.
"Grab a chair," she said, pulling one up to the side of the pool,
"and come on in - the water's fine."
And it was.



[Tricia gave us the following picture to work with for this week's Monday Poetry Stretch at The Miss Rumphius Effect. The photo is one of her own, re-posted here by permission. See her blow for details.]


I couldn't help myself. I heard
my voice calling her a painted hussy,
trying too hard to attract attention,
and some of it likely to be the wrong kind.

All the while, she was, in all likelihood,
just being herself, an unfortunate
fish-out-of-water, a cosmopolitan
intellectual, in a poor Podunk diner.

In the Ear for Totally Optional


[This week we were challenged at Totally Optional Prompts to write about sound, "In the Ear."]


Every once in a while,
when the thermostat turns off the furnace,
stilling the drone of the forced hot air,
when the snow comes down thick enough to
muffle the neighborhood and keep cars off the road,
when the power goes out and turns off
all our so-called modern conveniences,
my ears drown in
the tiny hum of the battery-powered clock,
the whisper as I turn a page in my book,
and the thunderous quiet that overwhelms me.



[Back when it looked like Read, Write, Poem was going away, Writerwoman at Poets Who Blog offered a prompt, as a way to keep our hand in while things sorted themselves out. Her One Week Only Poetry prompt was "comfort." Head over there and look at the January 10, 2008 posts for others who took up this challenge.]


You don't need comfort when you are numb,
as you focus on airplane reservations
and arranging time off from work.

You don't need comfort to do laundry
so you can pack comfortable clothes to hide in
and nice clothes to be seen in.

You don't need comfort while navigating
the labyrinth of travel
to the airport,
through the airport,
through another airport,
and another.

You don't want comfort while arguing
with the unfortunate people who tell you
your checked bag will be on the next plane.

You may want comfort while sorting through
the strange food that strangers try to feed you,
until you find a giant bowl of raw vegetables
that one brilliant, blessed person sent,
and the box of bagels and cream cheese from your co-workers.

you want comfort
when reality
tries to seep into
your frozen mind,
slowly dripping
into the cracks
of the paralysis.

You love your family very much,
but nothing is comforting enough.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008



[This week's Three Word Wednesday prompted us to use gossip, naive, and station. This is an American Sentence using them.]

Gossip turns the naive to cynic no matter your rank or station.

January Thaw


January Thaw

An unexpected spring fever
has arrived here in early January.

The drip, drop-drip
of snow and ice
melting off each roof

and the burbling tumble
of water rushing to the storm drains
seems to have sparked temporary insanity.

Pedestrians wander slowly into
the streets during rush hour traffic.

Cars cross lanes more than usual
and bicycles wobble into intersections
seemingly dazzled by the warmth.

[January Thaws occur here in New England, but they are usually moderate, short-lived, and late in the month. Last year and this year, the warm-up has been sudden and early in the month. Last week we had a high of 15 degrees F - yesterday we made a new high of 67 degrees F. I wrote this during a work meeting yesterday where I could see the sunshine through the door to the rooftop - it was propped open because otherwise the room was too hot to think.]

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Over the Horizon


[Writers Island prompted us this week to write about "Over the Horizon."]

Over the Horizon

The weather three states west would be ours
tomorrow, or the next day, depending on the wind.
Weather always made good time racing
across the space ironed flat by ancient glaciers.

From the back seat of the wood-paneled station wagon
the space between me and the horizon
was filled with rows of corn and soybeans
and a few trees here and there with something to prove.

The concrete interstate plowed a pale path
through green fields, due east ten miles to a gentle left-hand curve,
then straight as the crow flies to the middle of the next county,
never looking back.

Decades down the road,
I live past the curvature of the earth
from where I started.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Resolutions for Read, Write, Poem


[I am delighted that Read, Write, Poem will continue under the guidance of ...deb from Stoney Moss. This week's prompt was "resolutions."]


With hand on heart I promise
and do here solemnly swear
to update my outward image
and buy new clothes to wear.

I hereby this day resolve,
dear reader, be my witness,
that I will improve my health
through exercise and fitness.

I give my word of honor
and agree to undertake
the care of my front yard
with mower, hoe and rake.

In honesty I assure you
and consecrate my pledge
to clean house every week
from floor to window ledge.

The vows I make this new year,
each earnest heart-felt vow,
will last as long as ever --
'til perhaps an hour from now!

Saturday, January 05, 2008



[Sunday Scribblings prompted us to write about "New" this week.]

Which is better: a new sweater, no pills, perfect in shape, colors bright and even? or an old sweater, thin at the elbows and droopy at the hem, faded and splotchy, and a size too big?

Your choice: the book you've been waiting to read, now safe in your hands, spine uncracked, pages white and flat, with every corner still at a sharp 90-degree attention? or the yellowed pages of the book you know practically by heart, with the 3 pages that fall out if you don't take care, and the wavy edges from when it got too close to the bath water one night?

Another option: The sparkling glass bowl, newly freed from its bed of tissue paper to stand scratch-free on the table, waiting to be filled, or just admired, with colors that wait half-hidden to surprise you when the sun catches it just so? Or the earthenware bowl, heavy and dark brown, surface crazed with minute cracks, with chipped edges rubbed smooth over generations, waiting in the drawer to be filled with the recipes your grandmother used to make?

And to top off this post, here is a new poem, just born this morning.


The best place to dig is out behind the school, all the way
at the back, next to the chain link fence, at the roots
of the large oak tree, in the rain-made mud.

I take a stick, a twig really, that the oak
didn't want any more, and stir the mud, mixing
the water sitting on top and scraping up more dirt from the bottom.

With the stick I scrape aside
the mud, pulling it up and out of the hole, smoothing
the sides as I remove the muck and expose
the drier dirt below.

I poke the stick at the hole's bottom, twisting
to make more dirt flake, so that it, too,
can be scraped out.

The stick's bark comes off in my hand, leaving
smooth wood beneath. The fragile tool bends
and creaks with each push
into the dark brown, solid earth, until finally
it snaps and then I have
two sticks.

I rub the end of one stick against a rock
to sharpen it. The new point
carves lines in the bottom of the hole
while the other stick, turned sideways, pulls out the crumbles.

I carve my initial.
I carve a wavy line around it.
I carve a slice across it,
then another and another until I have a multi-rayed
asterisk, shaggy around the edges, and there
is no trace of my initial.

With both hands
I pull the scraper stick across the surface to erase it,
scooping out more dirt, leaving the sides smooth as I try not to miss anything
loose in there, in the hole that is as big
as four of my now-grimy fists.

I look down at the hole, at the whole, noticing
how empty it is, my hole.

I drop two acorns onto the smooth bottom and start pushing
the dirt back in. The sticks splinter and I throw them aside, using
my hands instead, and sometimes
the edge of my shoe, to mound the dirt back
into and on top of the hole.

I pat down the dirt.
I step and stomp on the dirt
so that only I will know
the hole is there.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Friday Fill-In 53


[You can see more Friday Fill-Ins for this week here.]

1. This year, I'd like to
get fewer colds.
2. Not working
is what I daydream about most.
3. My car
is a deep green.
4. I would like to have more time outside
in my life.
5. I love to have lots of trees
around the house. (outside - in case that wasn't clear)
6. Kindness
makes me smile.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to
dinner cooked by my wife who is working at home this afternoon, tomorrow my plans include doing what I want on my own timetable while my wife is at class all day and Sunday, I want to go see a movie (the Golden Compass)!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

To the Editor


[This week's Totally Optional Prompt encouraged us to write a "Poem to the Editor." Here is what I would like to have written some years back when I still took the local weekly. Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect's Monday Poetry Stretch asked for rhymed couplets.]

To the Editor

Dear, Editor, you don't know me.
It's for the best, I think you'll see.

I used to read your weekly then
you made me want to use my pen

to fix bad grammar here and there,
'til I found typos everywhere.

With deadlines you must work in haste,
but don't you follow "cut-and-paste"

with time reviewing every line
to make sure that each comes out fine?

Or do you like to leave a mess
and leave your readers in distress?

I solved the problem myself, its true,
I simply decided not to renew.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year


Happy New Year to one and all. I just wanted to say that as much as I like visiting family, I am so happy to be back in my own house.

My wife and I celebrated New Year's Eve with our traditional homemade pizzas. I believe there will later be photographic evidence of these things over at her blog. I suggest you stop by, but be warned that they looked pretty darn good.

I don't do new years resolutions, but I am hoping that I am much healthier this year - far too many colds for me in 2007.