Saturday, December 3, 2016

Sunrise, Mumbai

Halfway around the world,
is pulling
your eyelids

Halfway around the world,
is throwing
its gemstones

Halfway around the world,
is nudging
the curtain aside

Halfway around the world,
your lips 
softly lift
speaking her name

Halfway around the world,
you bounce
out of bed
with the sun
in your stride

As you race
full pace
toward Siddhi
this night—

Where darkness
will gather
her head
toward yours
and everything
is a wide
open book

Halfway around the world,
in despair's old haunt

Like a touch 
from a friend
on a star

Aniket and Siddhi, married this day

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


(Photo by Saul Leiter)

A strange thing
has me
in its hand.

I feel a palm
consider my shape

how its arm
adjusts to the weight

I watch its knuckles
reflexively stretch

hear the sound
of history's give.

Bone on bone—
the bubbles

until I'm naught
but skin
with teeth.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Midnight in America

("Flag" by Jasper Johns)

The world is bleak today. It is one thing to mourn a person, it is a different thing altogether to mourn a country. To see your own grief magnified by millions, most of whom have more to lose than you do, and most assuredly will. 

We have survived dark times before. I remember feeling something like this in 2004, when Bush was reelected. But while we knew he wasn’t a good president, and that he was sure to do worse by us in the next four years, there was still the girding stability of a semi-functional American democracy there to guide our path forward and see us through to the other side. 

Barack Obama was waiting for us there. 

It is hard not to feel like the light has gone out. It is hard not to feel that we are living in a different America now, and traveling blindly. We elected a goon on Tuesday. We elected an unqualified, hate-spewing demagogue whose sole selling-point was that he was authentically evil instead of merely moderately bad. We did this clear-eyed and soberly, ignoring the woman who was imminently more prepared, more credible, more deserving of our faith in her, because some of us felt she was too experienced, too calculating, too tainted by “scandal.” 

The media told us this. They told us so many times, it turns out a lot of people believed them.

My own parents believed it. 

My father, a lifelong conservative, hated Trump, but he hated her more. This is what he screamed at me on the Sunday before the election—his face beet-red, finger jabbed at my face—when I tried to talk him out of his vote. He believed she was more of a threat to our institutions than the orange clown who said, through all his words and actions, that he was. He voted for this charlatan. My mother did, too. I will never forget it. They can attempt to rationalize that decision to their graves. My mom reassured me that they have more life experience to make such a choice—in other words, we liberals are naive chumps to believe that people don’t leech off of government, that people aren’t inherently looking for handouts and shortcuts instead of dignity and opportunity and fairness in their lives. I am not reassured. Conservatives may have more years under their belts, but they stubbornly refuse to stretch themselves and see the people floundering on the margins of their vision. Their myopia is unrepentant, their self-delusion catastrophic. 

But by all means, let’s lower taxes for the lot of them. 

How bad is this? I would do anything in the world to have George W. Bush back in the Oval Office right now. That’s how bad. 

As for Barack Obama…I can’t. I just can’t. We failed the man. We failed him so hard, and so spectacularly, that my eyes—dry from a kind of benumbed sleeplessness—have started leaking again. We failed Michelle Obama. Their legacy won’t be erased entirely—their example will remain in our minds like a childhood we wish we could return to—but the impact of this conman’s election will be devastating to the good, hard, painstaking work they’ve put in the past eight years.

Millions will lose their health insurance because of our failure.

The Supreme Court could be lost for a generation. 

Climate change will accelerate past the tipping-point.

The privatization of Medicare and Social Security are being quietly negotiated in back rooms. Paul Ryan’s honing in on the right, Orwellian language to sell it to the American people, his bland, boyish face the perfect shape of banality and evil. 

Banks will grow too big to fail again. 

As for foreign affairs . . . I shudder to think. This man? In charge of matters of war and peace? No no no no no no no.

And then there’s the matter of our civil liberties. Freedom of the press. Freedom of religion. Freedom from hate and bigotry. Freedom from fear. 

The silver lining in all this? People are awake. People are staggeringly, stupidly awake. The best of us, anyway.

But the darkness is here. It is swimming through our veins. We are living it now. 

I have new eyes today. They’ll need to adjust fast to their surroundings. 

I'm done with the privilege of my own illusions. I'm sick of them. 

I'm ready to see, and fight. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

4 More Days

(finding the path to 270)

Just an anecdote, as we grind through the last few days before the most important election of our lives: 

Our son told me that his sixth grade class went around the room yesterday, telling what they were grateful for. I'm not sure what the context for this was, but I know the talk quickly became political, which shouldn't be a surprise, since our children have been as caught up in all this as we are. 

A couple of the kids said they were grateful for America. One of them seemed especially fervent and, according to our son, rather scolding about it. In other words: you'd better be grateful for America, because we're the greatest nation on earth, etc. 

Which: okay. But also: that's too easy, isn't it.

When it was our son's turn, he said he was grateful for his family, his house and his dog. Then, he added (in a small voice, I'm sure, and with his eyes cast down, because he's rather shy): I'm grateful for America, too. But I'm sorry we're going through such an awful time right now. 

He didn't say he was grateful for Hillary Clinton. (Someone did. Another scowled.) Instead, he acknowledged a greater truth: it is possible to love one's country and hate what's happening to it. Not just hate it for your own sake, but for everyone's. Even the people who disagree with you. 

Patriotism has always come easy for Americans, at least since I've been alive. It's been easy enough for people to fly the flag and reproach others for not loving that symbol the way that they do. It's been easy to take boring things like journalistic integrity, tolerance and civility for granted. It's a wake-up call when you see those norms fly out the window, and not enough people seem to notice or care.

There's a tear in that flag. The threads are showing. I think a lot of us feel it. And, even if my candidate wins on Tuesday, I have no confidence it can be repaired. That's what this election has meant to me. That's what it has so miserably laid bare. How much I love my country. How much I fear it, too.

I am proud of our son for what he said to his peers. I think if we're going to be saved, his generation is the one to do it. 

I just hope we can wait that long. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Disillusionment isn't done with me yet

I want disillusionment
to follow me
the rest of my life

I want always
this sore
and unworldly

that people
are just
when given
the chance 

and a cynic's
is his iron

Monday, August 22, 2016

Shine shine shine

Fog on the hillside
and running through my lungs

The sun spokes through
the wings of a sparrow
as it beats a bright path
across the field 
spilled open with dew-dappled
like a pirate deciding
his treasure
was ours

Shine shine shine 

Later, a red leaf
takes off on a lark
and gambols downriver

and I am the only one
wise to its stumble,
its easeful incision
into a current

peopled by pond skaters
saving their best dance
for light

A fawn
pokes its nose
through the brush
alongside me

to look,
with alarm


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

From time to time

(Screenshot from Tarkovsky's "Stalker")

"It's been so long since I wrote pure dialogue."

"Then let's get started."

"I—why don't you tell me what it is you want first."

"Me? I want silly things. Romantic things. Things that have nothing to do with the body and everything to do with the space between. I want the moon. And why not the stars? And how about a creek bed at sunrise with a nice topsoil of fog. And maybe—maybe just—a tender phrase, from time to time."

"It's important to want those things. It's important to remember to want those things."

"You'd forgotten?"

"No, but I wanted them only for myself. I trusted only myself with them."

"There's poetry enough in solitude."

"Yes, but hold on."


"No, I mean it—the kids are in the other room, arguing. Hold on."

"I'll go."

"No—don't. Please. Don't leave."

"A tender phrase, from time to time."

"Yes, but—"

"A creek bed laid from skipping stones."


"The stars."

"The stars."

"The moon."

"The moon."

"A thousand eyes alongside."

"A thousand  . . . "

"What is it? Your voice just dropped."

"That's what scares me anymore."

"What? The eyes?"

"I feel—I feel exposed. Especially lately, with all the rejection. I feel so terribly exposed. Which is, in itself, embarrassing. As if people were actually watching me. As if they had anything invested in my success or failure as a writer. It's madness. And yet—"

"I can't hear you. You're mumbling."

"I said—it doesn't come as easy anymore."

"Then open yourself wider."

"How wide?"

"Wider than embarrassment. Deeper than self-consciousness can stomach."

"How—how's this?"


"Okay. I have to go now. The kids—"

"Go on, then. Get out of here."

"Just one more thing."


"Come back?"

"All you have to do is ask."

"Come back."


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Good morning

Maybe there's not much to say about turning 40. 

Maybe it is what it is, like it is for everyone, and will be for me again, if I'm fortunate.

Instead, here's a picture of a fawn, come to drink from the lake, which has a clarity only morning can muster. 

Isn't she beautiful? 

Wasn't I lucky to capture that?

The world gets more beautiful, not less, with time. I think so—if you keep your eyes open. Maybe that's why aging hurts so much. It's not all sadness or the yearning for a youth gone past. 

It's the exquisiteness of having, when all of life is positioning you toward loss. 

And yet—isn't she beautiful?

Wasn't I lucky?

And don't you just love it when you're in your own skin and the silence surrounding you— 


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Two thoughts, scotch-taped

Hats and Beards by Martel Chapman

it feels
like silence
is truth

and I am
on the cusp
of holding
it near

But once
its face
to the mirror

silence turns

like anything


I don't remember his name, but there was a jazz pianist playing in Harlem during the 1920s who'd routinely battle it out with other pianists over who was the best. They'd go on for hours, banging it out, like the Lost Boys that Ragtime wrought—holding the world at bay with the curve of their wrists. So that his wife would have to come down there to fetch him, taking the subway to Harlem from Queens, because he had lost track of time, so absorbed in this jazz they'd begun to call "stride." He'd lost track of everything but the press of the pedals against his feet and the sweat of the chords sliding out from his fingertips. What a feeling that must have been. No wonder he lingered, no wonder he lived for the ivory. 

I imagine his wife walking down the streets of Harlem back then, stopping and listening every time she heard some piano plinking, or crashing, past that brownstone's curtains. Think of the number of pianos being played back then. Seriously, think of it. The range of talent one heard on any given day in Jazz Age America. How many people bucked boredom, or hunger, with their music in this manner. It's staggering. We can hardly imagine a world like it today. But there it was, playing itself out, like it was no big thing. Just another Saturday, in Harlem. 

And this woman—this wife—had to listen carefully, in order to single out the right piano, because she never knew where her husband might end up on that particular afternoon, and which particular people he would put in awe of him. She had to know intimately the timbre of his sound, the bounce of his beat, the chime it sang through the ears outside. She had to know him the way birds must know other birds of their type. There was a whole language there, built up over all the Saturdays preceding it. Her feet would slow, she would listen hard. And then she'd hear it. 

I think I can imagine how she felt just then—the immense exasperation undercut by tenderness. For there must have been riding underneath her impatience, after she finally stumbled upon his mix of swing and jump—a beam of pride, like the sun coming out. Resentment retracted, if just for an instant, because this was her man. And he was the best.

I hope she was stern with her husband—stern, but not withering. I hope she made him make it up to her later. And I hope he felt her pride of ownership, even while promising her it would never happen again. 

I hope they both knew he was lying but I also hope that she was thinking to herself, silently:

Yes, but it's him, and this is us, and it's worth it, in the end.

Because there is something searching in us that makes us bend toward creation. That lets us treat artists like gods, when they are so far from it.

It's not a bad thing, I think, to believe we are as good on the inside as the most beautiful parts we show on the out.

Illusions have their place in our selves.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Birth of a nation


Yes, it's true:
I want to take
your guns.

No, I don't care
what they wrote
on a piece
of fine parchment
eons ago.

Because—you know what?
I've never worn a petticoat.

Or found myself bound
by a sermon or corset.

I didn't die
in childbirth
and neither did either 
of my kids—
not even the one
with the cord
wrapped around him.

Medicine didn't stop
at leeches or mercury.
Science wasn't squandered
on witchcraft and mediums.

Instead, Einstein stood up on
the shoulders of Newton
and drew us up with him,
where we were new to the universe—
and it was good.

Jonas Salk invented
a vaccine.
Maybe you've heard of it?
Saved millions.
(He gave away the patent, too;
What can I say? The man was a mensch.)

The whole world—
or very nearly!—
wised up and decided that the death
penalty was barbaric and that torture
was a stain on the human condition
we could no longer suffer.

That is our pedigree.
A civil society flowering 
as we grew the technology.
Evolution our Bible,
Darwin my father—
God love him.

It's the reason why roads don't smell
like horse shit anymore.
It's how come you don't have to worry
about stumbling out to the privy
in winter.
That's how women got the vote,
and blacks collectively spit 
on a three-fifth's citizenship.
It's not a bad thing—I swear it.

After all, is progress
not the most American
of traditions?
(Or is this just a story
we sing to ourselves?)

So no.
I'm sorry.

A musket is not
some AR-15 masturbatory

A militia is not
a thing serious
people talk about.

The words "well regulated"—
okay, we can keep that part,
if you like.

the rest of the world
will just keep staring,
shaking their heads
at poor, dumb . . .

And you know what?
It is embarrassing.
Our stupidity is a blight.
I am ashamed—
personally, I mean,
at the idiocy we condone.

But what the world might not know—
and what I hang my hope on today—
is that the majority of Americans
overwhelmingly agree.

We're just not allowed to matter,
not yet.


Because this is where we've been dragged:

Beholden to ignorance.

Married to a terrorist organization.

Shattered by the whim
of the meanest will.

Emptied of words,
carved up by suffering.

Sticking our victims
to graphs 
with bullets
where they will stay
the same age—
always, and forever.

Seeing in the face
of a good man
and President
a reflection of the carnage,
an allergy for platitude
a nausea of loss.

So yeah—
I'm going to take up my pen
and write the scumbags
who brought this upon us—
all those NRA brides
offering others' blood up as dowries
who've been trained, in their money,
to roll over like dogs
and hold them over the coals of their cowardice,
until the halls of our Congress
are howling with rage, boiling over with grief,
until they're all history
like the Redcoats and the Rebels 
before 'em—

Until we make them
move to our side.


I want your guns. 

All of them.

I hate too now, see.


Everytown is a great organization to support and give money to. So is the Brady Campaign

Saturday, June 4, 2016

17 years

17 year cicada, newly hatched

The cicadas were everywhere. She couldn't take a step without squashing one or having a bug fly at her, often just missing a collision—other times landing on her chest, neck, or shoe, content with being there until she hurriedly brushed it away, heart pounding. One time, she watched a sparrow snatch one out of the air, with a fly-and-chopsticks precision she applauded. The birds and squirrels were the triumphant gluttons of that summer. Even her dog snacked on the bizarre backyard intruders, when there was nothing better for him to do.

The invasion of cicadas happened every seventeen years, for as long as six weeks per brood and region. It took them that long to molt from their nymph state, to woo and mate, before the entire lifecycle turned over, and their progeny spent the next seventeen years in a dark dormancy beneath the earth, sucking on the paltry nutrition of tree roots to sustain them during the births, deaths, retirements and divorces up above.

And, for some reason she couldn't articulate, she found the whole thing electrifying.

It could just as easily been scary. Or at the very least, gross. These bugs were big, with red, alien-like eyes and erratic, whirring wings. Back in the summer of '99, when she had been in her twenties, she'd avoided them. She remembered a vague alarm surrounding that June. The racket they made was almost deafening, especially in certain spots uptown, and on the university's campus, where they took the place of vacationing students rather naturally, and with less destructive results, in whole.

But for her—and for this brood—the insects' buzz built a frisson in the blood. She felt some new excitement pounding within. She wanted to write like she had, before. She wanted to take the chances she hadn't taken, then.

She wanted to know that in another seventeen years, when she was deep into her fifties, she wouldn't regret a thing from that summer.

And that meant him.

When next she saw him, he was smiling at her. He was always smiling at her, but she didn't know what it meant, not for sure. As she drew nearer, a cicada flew blindly at their faces, coming to rest on his right shoulder, where it stayed.

"You have a friend," she said, pointing to it.

He looked down. "So I do."

He didn't brush it off, but let it stay. They watched, without moving, to see what it would do.

And as their eyes met, it stayed.

And when he leaned in to kiss her, it stayed.

And when she pulled back to look at him, it stayed.

It stayed.

For seventeen years, she thought. It might just—stay.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Ver Klimt

I wake
from my sleep
with a song
in my head
and your lips
on my neck—



Feel the kick
of my blood
as the dream
takes shape

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

VerseWrights Poetry

Today, I'm very happy to have some of my poems published by VerseWrights, an online community of poets assembled by Carl Sharpe, who is a retired teacher and a lifelong poet.

My poems are posted here. I'm grateful to Carl for the invitation and for his personal kindness and enthusiasm for the work. It's an honor to be a part of this project.   

I'm looking forward to diving in and discovering some new voices on the site. I hope you will, too.  

Friday, January 22, 2016


("The Clown" by Henri Matisse)

Cut me loose!
cries the muse

Let me run

down the page
spilling ink
from my veins,
flinging fear
from your brow
like the foam
off a wave

But please,

before I'm bled—

Let me linger here

on a period.

Roll back and forth

on your fat, unctuous

Get squinched by

an em dash

Don the crooked crown 

of your assonance

If only for one

more line break
or spasm—

Until I've been drained

of all form and substance,
run off the cliff of your
crumbling courage

Where I will collect my 

bones in a sacred 

To put them up on 

a shelf in your

So they may sit

and shift



For you

And you alone

Sunday, January 3, 2016


Calling Birds

Her daughter had gotten into the habit of calling her back to her room, long after bedtime, with the sole purpose of putting impossible questions to her mother. 

"Mom, what's the point of life if there is no God?"

"Mom, I can't sleep. Because I'm going to die one day and then I'll be asleep forever."

Or this doozy, tonight:

"Mom, I've been thinking a lot about the insignificance of humanity."

She couldn't help it: she laughed. Her daughter looked wounded. She would be a teenager soon, and was getting very good at that.

"I'm sorry. It's just--geesh, honey. Do we have to talk about this now?" 

With her daughter, the answer was always, emphatically yes

The girl squeezed a stuffed marmoset to her chest. The eyes on the thing were huge and vacant. 

"But this is when it bothers me most. This is when I'm alone with my thoughts. And I can't help having my thoughts when I have them, can I?"

"Hmm. Another interesting question. But all right. Why the assumption that humanity is, as you put it, insignificant?"

Her daughter shrugged. "The universe just seems pretty random and meaningless to me. And because we're human, we feel it in a way that other creatures can't." She shuddered. "It's kind of awful, really."

She had a point. Always, during these late-night existential crises, there was a struggle in the mother between honesty and a mushier mollification. Yes, life's inscrutable. But a lot of people do believe in God and some kind of grand design to it all. Just because I don't doesn't mean you can't! 

But the words wouldn't come. Because she knew they wouldn't land.

The truth was that the nature, and degree, of her daughter's obsessions scared her. And whatever was said tonight would likely be discarded tomorrow, anyway. But she was a parent and had to say something. To inhabit a wisdom she didn't feel.

"When I was at the store today," she started slowly, "I tried an exercise that made me feel a little better about the world."

"What?" her daughter said.

"I took a single, distinguishing characteristic of each person I saw, and building on that quality or quirk, I gave them a kind of--I don't know--a super identity, I guess you could say."

Her brow crinkled. "What do you mean?"

"Well, for instance, there was a stock girl with a small chin and pointed ears, so I imagined she was an elf. Easy, right? And later, there was this guy who strutted out of the store wearing only a t-shirt, in spite of the cold and snow, and in my head he immediately became a kind of dumb superhero named Impervious Man."

She puffed out her chest comically. Her daughter didn't laugh, but she was listening, at least.

"The cashier who checked me out had a rather unfortunate case of acne. But in my head, just for that moment, he was transformed into a mighty warrior. That flimsy, grocery-store vest of his was armor. His pimples were battle scars. And the only reason he didn't meet my eyes was because he was just so weary from fighting."

Was she rolling her eyes yet?

No. Still good.  

"And the lady working in the floral department--well, that one was harder. I admit, she looked so sad and lost to me."

Her daughter waited. Finally, she asked, "So? What was her story?"

"I don't know. Maybe you do."

Her daughter thought for a minute. When she spoke, her voice was dreamier, and distant. "The love of her life was killed in a duel with the cashier. Now she brings her flowers to his grave every day and sings to him all night. The sweetness of her voice is the thing that makes her flowers grow, and her sadness is what colors them. And so the colors are the purest colors in all the known and unknown worlds."

Her daughter smiled up at her. She smiled back and touched her on her cheek. 

"See? You've given her meaning."

But just as suddenly, she lost her smile. "None of it is true, though."

"Not the exact details, no. But I bet she's loved, and lost. And I bet she still appreciates the beauty left to her in life. Not all the time, but often enough."

Leaning in, she kissed her daughter on the forehead and pulled the blanket up to her neck. "So. Did I do my job? Is humanity significant again?"

"Maybe a little bit."

"Good. Better keep looking for more, though. Just to be safe."

She walked to the door and turned off the light for the second time that night. 

"Mom?" Her daughter's voice sounded small again.


"What's my special quality or quirk?" 

She looked at her girl, ensconced in a gaggle of stuffed animals that she'd be rid of soon enough.

"Your eyes, honey."

"What about them?"

"Well. You have these great, big, nocturnal eyes.You always have. Except, you're still learning how to use them. And right now, what you see most is all the different shades of darkness. I think that's why night scares you. There's so much darkness out there to absorb before you can make out all the things still breathing and beautiful inside of it."

She flipped up the switch in the hall, bathing the doorway with light. Her daughter squinted and held up her hand, until her mother adjusted the door just right.

"But when the brightness hits you, I promise you: it will be just like that.'" 

She blew her a kiss as the clock on the nightstand turned 12:00 and walked down the hallway, thinking and worrying, and thinking some more. 


My "New" series began in 2008. There are also entries for 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2015. Why no 2014? I can't remember. But it must be Aniket Thakkar's fault for not badgering me enough that year.