Friday, December 2, 2016


I hope we go to the same Nowhere when we die that is the source of the first few lines of a poem that arise in the back of our minds.

And I hope when we arrive that it tugs at us like those first lines do to follow It, and work out to completion what was only the first spark, or that at least we want to follow where it leads us--

Even if it's obvious we can't sustain the feeling any longer than is needed to complete it.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Tomorrow, too

This morning it was 50 degrees out and I went for a slow run on the trails around our house. The days are past when the leaves fall like rain but a few were still dropping  and a thick layer of them crackled under foot with each step. Against the gray sky, their reds and yellows blazed. There never was a more picturesque fall day.

By afternoon, the temperature had plummeted, and the rain fell half-frozen. By tomorrow, there will be snow. A lot, they say. It sounds incongruous but I knew of it already by the way the sharp winds cut across me in the morning here and there. In the warm breeze there was a current of a different season sneaking in already.

The moment you step out of doors, the world begins to speak to you. It strikes up a conversation with you about itself. It tells you what it did yesterday and what it wants to do tomorrow. And it asks after you too. It notices how you carry yourself, how you move upon the ground, the way your shoulders respond to the wind. The world wants to know you and to be known by you. It wishes for you to linger.

The older I get, the simpler I want to become. I want these easy conversations, this lack of complication. I want it today and tomorrow, too.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

If you look for it, you'll always find a meaning.

One day when my eldest daughter was in second grade, I wrote her a note and tucked it into her lunchbox. She liked it so much that she asked for one the second day. On the second day, I made it a silly poem. She wanted one again and again. My first theme was the animals we would encounter in our yard- deer, moles, nesting geese, crafty mice, stray dogs, the neighbor's cat who keeps vigil over our house like a hungry wraith, the ephemeral butterflies who haunt our most humid days and seem to be swimming like rays. None of these short verses would take me more than two minutes to write. It became my rule for them to be quick and- whatever the opposite of deliberate is- as fleeting as these childhood days. They help me to notice her more- it's strange how hard that is- to continually notice someone. To notice with due wonder.

She's in fourth grade now and still wants these poems- the fact that she hasn't tired of them seems so strange to me that I feel the desire for them to contain more meaning. They have grown abstract and I'm not sure where I'm going with them. The one I wrote her yesterday read:

They say everything happens for a reason,
And if you look for it, you'll always find a meaning.
But I am happier just counting on the seasons
Changing just as naturally as you or I breathing.

Occasionally she gives me some feedback on the poems. All the kids she eats lunch with read them. One of the more boisterous girls tears it from her lunch box every day when she opens it and reads it before she does- a fact that amuses her. She told me last night that the other kids thought that one didn't make any sense but that she thought it sort of did.

Today she had a friend over to play and we were putting together a couple soccer nets for them to use. We had a couple of pieces of the PVC pipe used to construct the frames swapped and couldn't figure out what we were doing wrong for a minute. Then in a flash she realized what we were doing wrong and corrected me. "Oh!" I remarked, "Now it all makes sense!" I was delighted that she had figured it out first. And I was even more delighted when she said, "It's just like that poem that you wrote! 'Everything happens for a reason!'"

I don't know how much of the poem she really understood; I was just floored that a line from it was rolling around her mind in search of its meaning. I don't know what these poems are but they feel like a vital thread, something to keep exploring as a means of communication.

I always think of myself as connecting to her with my mind and her little sister with my heart. They are each beautiful connections, but so incredibly different. These poems feel like they broaden that connection just a little. So I will keep dashing them off as I am running out the door. Most of them are ridiculously cheesy but they preserve something. I think it will always be through our use of words that she and I share a little something otherworldly.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Two Wonders

There are two basic concepts that baffle me-- concepts so fundamental to existence that their meaning should be obvious, but I don't think they ever will be. Not to me. The first one is the simple truth of Death. The departure of a soul from the flesh to which it was wedded- and particularly so when its departure unfolds slowly- is impossible for me to regard without wonder. It strikes me now like all the small discoveries of this earth struck me as a child- the veins in a leaf, the way a body passes through water. Our first and most fundamental nature is that of wonder and we regain that sensibility as we pass through different worlds or watch others do so.

The second is the nature of Time and the simple fact that it passes and as it does, we change. The strangeness of time is never more apparent than in moments when we are warned in advance that we will have to say goodbye to someone whom we have loved. The knowledge of a soul's imminent departure, whether it be from this life altogether or just from ours, inspires us to try to bend time, to try to spend every moment we can with the beloved, to shore up moments of togetherness to be our solace in the future loneliness we imagine for ourselves. Of course we cannot save even a second of the present for the future, for love only ever happens now, today. And yet it is almost instinctual to try to do so. If we enjoy the memory of those moments in the future, it is only as memory, and never as a moment which unfolds with the force of the present. In the present moment, we never know what will happen next; the act of living is deeply wedded to our abiding sense of anticipation. Memory is drained of anticipation; unless we have misunderstood and must therefore reassess it. Then it takes on new life. 

Death and Time are mysterious twins whose shadows lend to our days a sense of urgency. Their cast grows longer as the earth tilts away from the sun. They make of the earth a mirror for all that dwells upon it, their reflected image the obverse shape of their own coming darkness. They make us walk the earth in wonder. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

In love's mouth, the darkest truths are songs

You were never one for poetry,
But I like to think you saw it in the simple things,
Because you walked the woods that made me wonder as a child,
The ones that made me dream.

And the woods are made of spaces between trees,
Just like a poem is made of spaces between words like these,
And life is made of spaces between people just like you and me--

Spaces through which wind blows and where rain falls
And where people walk at nightfall.
It was in that space I heard you call me home
One final time to tell me what I needed to know:

That alone among all the truths I knew,
There was one like a thin and unsupposing tree that grew
A little taller than the rest and drew
The sun's first rays,

And that was that love can outlive every wrong,
And in love's mouth the darkest truths are songs.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

New Wine

I followed your footprints out to the curb
Instead of making my own set of tracks
In the snow. And my feet are smaller than yours,
So they fit exactly into your path,
Like the cork that was snug in the bottle
Of wine til we sprang it the night before.

I suddenly understand what it means
To be new wine poured in old skins,
To drench old leather to the point of bursting.
If I wander outside your tight path of prints
And get in my car with wet feet,
I'll drive home singing.


We poked our bare shoulders
Underneath the bedroom curtain
To a pink sky at six in the morning.
Sailors would've taken warning,
But in this landlocked city
Where the only water comes from the faucet,
Every dawn looks sad and pretty.

Three years later, I woke up
Tossing and turning
To the first morning without you,
Still mesmerized by the sad and distant sky.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A poem about the basic terror of being mortal.

I woke up with a peel of thunder
Ransacking the sky.
Deep inside my dreams I wondered
If I was going to die.

Every night since I turned thirty-five
I've gone to sleep with the thought on my mind--
Oh my God, I'm going to die
When it's my time, when it's my time.

It's not an urgent matter, but
All other thoughts still scatter
But this one that keeps on reasserting
This basic knowledge stirring in me--

It isn't even worrying me,
But comes each night to carry me
Into the world of dreams from which
I usually wake unseen and stripped

Of every thought, except today.
The sky was shaking as I was waking
And something slipped between the worlds.
My fears forgot to wait their turn,

And there I was, awake with fear,
Alive, but once, to feel.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Nonverbal Communication

For my entire career until two months ago, I worked in an office where I knew everyone and there were never more people in the office than I could count on my fingers. It has been a long time since I spent any significant amount of time in proximity to a large group of people whom I do not know very well, but see on a very regular basis. I encounter strangers all the time in public, but those encounters are a constant stream of new faces whom I likely will never see again. I think the last time I spent a large amount of time amongst a fairly static group of virtual strangers was in college. I had forgotten what that is like.

I am amazed at how much information I can draw about my coworkers while knowing next to nothing about them. The way they carry themselves and their mugs of coffee and stacks of papers; the way they peel their yogurt lids at their desks and talk to clients on the phone and pick misfed sheets of paper out of the copier all communicate so much information about who they are. In these chance and brief encounters, I already know who I would like and not like, who could be a friend, and to whom I should give a wide berth.

I have heard that the vast majority of communication is nonverbal, and believe that to be true. Yet it is a lesson that keeps repeating itself afresh, as if a new revelation. The last time I remember noticing the depth of nonverbal communication was when my children were babies and our bonds- some of the strongest I have ever forged- formed wordlessly. This new environment has given me a similar reminder of how much we learn of each other from the simplest of actions.

I treasure the experience of perceiving people wholly in this way. Because it happens wordlessly, it bypasses my rational faculties and taps into a heart-level understanding. It reminds me of getting up in the middle of the night in a strange place and using my hands to find my way to the bathroom in the dark: I have all the faculties needed to do it, but find it strange not to use the sense I normally employ for the task. Just as my body, robbed of its sight, finds a new way to navigate in the dark and thus comes to know the space in a new way, so my soul, in the absence of words, navigates this new world devoid of the conversations that normally narrate each human encounter, and in so doing finds a new way of knowing people. It makes me feel more whole.

Saturday, June 25, 2016


I've spent well over 15 years living in the Buffalo area now. I moved into a little apartment in the city with my best friend when I was 20, and have since lived in two different suburbs. I used to work in Williamsville and now downtown. So the paths I trace in my daily commute have shifted around the area. And in my comings and goings to social events, races and work functions over this expanse of time, I've explored most sections of this area to some extent.

I've always found it interesting how, when you are familiar with an area, you still aren't sure how everything connects until you've seen all of the parts. There may be an entry ramp you've driven by thousands of times, but you never knew where all those people funneling into your partially shared commute were coming from until suddenly, a trip takes you out of your usual course one day and you find that you yourself are one of those people traveling that hitherto unknown path. There is a moment of delight upon realizing that you've made a new connection, that the map in your brain has put a name to one more road. And sometimes making a single small connection of that sort results in linking up two well-known areas in your mind and thereby seeming to double the size of the map. It is similar to what happens when we find the single piece of a jigsaw puzzle that links together two sections we had been working on as separate projects into a whole. That one small connection has a multiplying effect on our sense of mastery.

I am now in my late 30's and this seems to be a period in life where I have made enough small seemingly independent maps in my brain- mental representations, rubrics- that I have long labored over with the misconception that they were separate projects when in fact, they were different sections of a single geography. My small plodding work in separate endeavors are finding their linkages to one another in flashes of discovery which I find surprising and delightful. For instance, this blog has been a creative outlet, a side project, and the only thing I've felt I had enough time to work on in the way of creative writing. My running combines the need for a meditative state with the feeling of physical accomplishment. My job provides a whole host of satisfying experiences but mostly I enjoy the chance to put my writing to utilitarian ends and to be able to observe, from a wonderfully limited vantage point, the life stories of fascinating people from all over the world. All of this is fodder which provides me with creative material, and it is all coming together.

Goddamit, I need to write a novel. Shit.

Sunday, June 5, 2016


Somewhere in the understory of our young forest, an animal recently found a secluded corner in which to breathe its last. The smell emanating from that quarter of the lot tells its own story; it reeks of death, of the earth's indifferent approach to reclaiming the elements that a spirit once borrowed from it. While we can pinpoint the area where the body is based on the stench, the growth there is impenetrably thick. And so this creature found a place in which it could walk through the mortal veil almost without a trace, leaving behind only the most ethereal substance: its scent.

I have always been fascinated by the animal habit of hiding when death is near. And I've felt its first stirrings in myself: once when I was choking, I walked away to a room where I could not be seen to have my near death experience in private. It was a counter-intuitive response. You really don't want to be alone in a room when you can't speak and seriously need help from another person. But there I found myself doing it, without thinking. It was instinctual.

There's something profound about the universal instinct to withdraw from this world quietly, to leave behind our mortal shell in a place where it cannot be found; to transform our bodies into no more than a scent on the wind and float away.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

What Surprises

Another spring, and you are still a child.
This year I find myself walking behind
You in our circle round the pond,
Your hiking boots half covered by your night gown--

Finding dandelions gone to seed
And sucking in our breath on the count of three
To blow the perfect circle to the ground,
Then finding more around

Until we pause beneath a tree that's dropped its buds
And walk the circle finding where they fell,
The white half trodden petals getting crushed
Beneath our efforts to believe them well.

And when we come full circle I'm surprised
To hear myself urging you to go inside
While you are always asking for one more time
And though that's what my heart seeks, I deny it.

Sunday, April 3, 2016


All of the possible pasts and futures
Wrestle for sway with the flesh
The way angels once wrestled with men,
Testing them not for the truth, which they can't see,
But for the heart's agility,
Living, as it does, with partial knowledge
Of what could have been,
What is infinitely possible,
And what coherent narrative demands.

The flesh that withstands this inquiry
Inevitably emerges with an injury--
As Jacob limped after the angel touched his hip
And yet rejoiced that he survived,
So we must strive to bear up properly
Under the weight of what we'll never fully see.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Thresholds of Vulnerability

For each of us, our final act in this life will be to step across a threshold into a world of which we know nothing. 

There are many moments during this life in which we give over a part of ourselves to preparing for that final act. Often we do so in moments of reflection, or by helping a loved one to make that journey, or simply noticing how much we have aged, how far we feel from our beginnings on this earth.

One way I find myself unexpectedly preparing for that last leap is in stepping into the unknown in this life, in leaving behind a comfortable but stagnant situation in order to take a risk in embracing a complete unknown.  
Every time we cross a threshold in this life into an uncertain future and embrace it with all of our vulnerability, we are readying our souls for the final journey in which we must do precisely that. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

To Have

We are currently in the process of negotiating a lease agreement with a company that plans to build a cell tower on the far corner of our land, near the highway. I hired a land use attorney to help negotiate fair terms and have stayed engaged in the dialogue between the attorney and the representative of the cell tower company. It has become clear, over the (months long) course of negotiations that what the cell tower companies present to landowners initially as a proffered lease is an incredibly stilted set of terms that will operate in favor of the company and subject the landowner to ridiculous liability in the event of any problems. But apparently a lot of landowners hear that they'll get a check every month from the company as soon as they start building the tower, and just sign on the dotted line without challenging any of the terms. (It *is* a pretty sweet deal; you get paid monthly for doing a whole lot of nothing).

I found it intriguing, too, how we were able to work out some more favorable terms. For certain (really stilted) clauses in the lease, the cell tower company actually had stock alternative clauses that were much more fair and which they were willing to substitute, no questions asked, as soon as we inquired. But we had to ask.

Seeing how these companies operate makes me feel so awful for people who don't know better than to just sign these leases without protecting themselves. And it also made me think about the way that business and legal transactions are often designed to punish those who are uneducated or lack the means to decipher and challenge the potential outcomes of what is being offered. Unless you know how to ask the right questions (or hire someone who does), you get the worst possible terms. Our system gives more to those who already have much and takes away from those who already lack. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Wild Horses

I have seen life slip its stable
Like a wild-born horse unable
To accommodate its spirit
To the walls bending too near it,
And gallop out beyond the reach
Of human care, and fall asleep
Alone beneath the wordless sky
Whose stars sing ancient lullabies
Composed of something more
Than words, created from the ache
That stirs throughout the world
In all that lives, the trembling thread
Of hope that gives us one more breath
Before our last and lives between,
Beneath, beyond the words we use
To carry on. The song we know
Before we know is all we know
Before we're gone.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Active Patience

When I was a kid I had a poster in my room that was a picture of a cat crouching in front of a fishbowl, ready to pounce. It read, "The real secret to patience is finding something to do in the meantime." My concept of patience ever since has always been that it is a passive activity, a time of waiting for something that you either want (or dread) to happen. It's a time when you have to quiet your nerves, distract yourself, find something else to do, even as a part of your mind remains preoccupied with the awaited event. It's often required when waiting in a doctor's waiting room, a government office, a grocery store line. And many times, that is exactly what patience consists of; that's why magazines populate all of those spaces. But not always.

There is another kind of patience entirely, one that is more active. Patience is a key part of any endurance activity, even as we are busily plugging away at something that we are just as anxious to complete. Only we cannot complete it as quickly as we would like. This is true for distance runners, of course. I also notice myself developing a similar feeling of impatience when doing things like kneading bread, where it's important to continue the physical activity for a certain amount of time. In those cases, it is not a matter of finding something else to do in the meantime, because you are not waiting for something to happen; rather, you are already engaged in an activity and wishing for it to end.

When practicing active patience-- and it is a practice-- I think it's more helpful to lean into the activity and explore its contours that to distract yourself from it. There is no getting out of it, only getting through it. It helps to notice all the aspects of what you're experiencing, to take a survey of your body and what each part is feeling and doing; to try to heighten awareness of your surroundings through each sense; to pay careful attention to our breath and form; to fully inhabit the moment. Often when an endurance activity feels stale and boring it's because our mind has drifted off; we've gone elsewhere.  While we may mentally check out of difficult experiences as a coping tool, on the assumption that it will make the task easier, it is actually counter-productive as we lose our sense of fully participating in the event.

This kind of patience requires strength and builds strength. It is a mental and spiritual practice that is every bit as demanding as the endurance activities themselves.