Monthly Archives: April 2013

#30: The Last Poem of April


The Last Poem of April

April was only cruel in that it exacted from me
31 poems, whether I liked it or not,
but mostly, truth be told, I liked it,
and I moved freely and by choice
through the month, writing a poem
every day until today,
the day on which I write
the last poem of April.

I wrote, in no particular order,
of foolish pranks, a dead squirrel,
presidential fibbers and performance poetry.
I wrote about self censorship and then
I wrote a poem I did not publish
about having a thing for women’s shoes.
I wrote about drumming, drinking beer, taking it easy,
mowing the lawn and surfing the web.
I wrote about teenagers and teachers
reading Ancient Chinese poetry,
Walt Whitman, and Edgar Allan Poe.
I wrote about perfect days gone bad,
make believe encounters on monkey bars,
the owls against the Cyclops,
my mother, my son, my rejection
of Christianity and my admiration for Buddhism.
And finally, I wrote about writing about all of these things.

In conclusion, I wrote 31 poems and published 30
of them in a single month and I would do it again.
I can’t say that I became a better poet,
only that I did a thing that I wanted to do
and was motivated to follow through simply
because April is, for some reason, the month
of poetry (nothing cruel about that),
and because I saw a blog-thing about
writing a poem a day for each of the 30 days.
No one held a gun to my head, no one harassed me,
no one checked in to see if I was being honest,
no one gave me a grade or a cookie,
but there were visitors, some friends,
mostly strangers, who came to read and were silent
or they liked it or they followed it, mostly without comment,
only an occasional blip, two, or three in my stats.
But that was enough to keep me going
and I feel a deep gratitude for them all.

Poets don’t ask for much, it seems–
a reader or two, a blip in their stats,
a kind word here and there,
and a helpful suggestion strategically placed
on a website some good writer-person
set up for the occasion.  That’s all.
A little encouragement could be habit forming
and who knows, somewhere some poet
will write a poem a day for an entire year.
Look at all those poems lined up side by side!
How many times could we get to the moon and back with our poems?


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#29: After Teaching the Ancient Chinese Masters, the American English Teacher Considers Buddhism Through an Exploration of the Four Noble Truths


After Teaching the Ancient Chinese Masters, the American English Teacher Considers Buddhism Through an Exploration of The Four Noble Truths

Life is suffering.
Not the physical pain of suffering,
a burnt hand, a broken limb, an illness,
but an uneasiness, a dissatisfaction,
a desire that comes not from a dream or a goal
but from an overwhelming sense of scarcity.

Suffering has causes.
And they are all right between my ears.
Whatever makes me feel disgusted with life
comes from some stupid thing I think I need
in order to be happy, and if I understand
those unfulfilled desires and the thinking
that enables them to haunt my waking hours,
I am half way there.

It is possible to end suffering.
Really? I don’t have to go on
wallowing in self pity or jealousy or envy
or desire for whatever it is I don’t have;
I can jettison regret, guilt, embarrassment
about the past and wild grasping and hand wringing
about the future?  Sign me up.

Suffering ceases through the practice
of the Eightfold Path: right view, right intention,
right speech, right action, right livelihood,
right effort, right mindfulness, and finally,
right concentration.

In my adulthood I have learned
to reject most everything about religion,
but here, after teaching the poems of Li Po
and Wang Wei to high school students,
and finding it necessary for contextual purposes
to introduce them to the Four Nobel Truths,
I find myself without argument or criticism,
humbled and awestruck by this little bit,
by these touchstones of Buddhist practice.

Such an elegant prescription,
I’m tempted to say simple, even,
but I know that is not remotely true,
or at least, not easy. Simple in its
straightforwardness, in the absence
of dogma, in its pure, undeniable wisdom,
but a difficult and complex practice.
I’m not sure I have the stamina,
the discipline, the honesty, the selflessness
to ever become a true practitioner, or,
what might be considered a good Buddhist.

But just having them there
on the page and in my mind,
these Four Noble Truths,
as clear as any prescription by the greatest
psychologists the world has ever known,
gives me a great deal of comfort and, perhaps,
the only and best kind of compass I’ve yet
encountered since abandoning the faith
of my youth, my family, and my culture.
I know I’ll wander off here and there,
meandering, getting stuck in the thickets,
but it’s a path I can follow, imperfectly,
the Middle Way leading me home.


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#28: Did You See The Moon?


Did You See The Moon?

More luminous than your computer screen,
shining in through the window of your study,
full, full of fury, brightening the night sky
like nobody’s business.

Landing on the moon
was not nearly as special
as it was to look at the Earth
from that vantage point.

Just as, perhaps, the moon
is more interesting to us
as seen appearing to glow in a clear night sky
from the big blue marble we call home.

A nice place to visit, you wouldn’t want
to live there, but you need to have this glimpse
from time to time of this beautiful space rock
orbiting the Earth, illuminated fully.

Did you see it?
Did you see the moon?

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#27: Eggs In Your Beer


Today’s assignment from the NaPoWriMo website was to use a search engine to look up some common proverb or phrase and to use the results to make a poem. This is one my mother often used anytime someone became petulant and demanding. Not much of this poem comes from my search engine results, only the lines conjecturing the etymology of the phrase.

Eggs In Your Beer

What do you want?
Eggs in your beer?
We’re always dissatisfied about
something or another.
Nothing is ever good enough
and we are never quite happy.
Always a hole to fill,
always an empty spot
where some thing or some one
should go. Always a thing
we want to be doing
that we’re not doing,
always a thing we want to have
that we are not having,
like an egg
in a beer–
some time ago
believed to be a kind of
aphrodisiac, but then,
after world war two,
the phrase
came into common
usage as a commentary
on shortages and rations,
particularly of eggs and beer.
I think of my mother.
She used the phrase
on us whenever we
complained about anything.
Today, I use it on myself
inside my head
over and over
as I struggle with and try
desperately to let go of
all of the ways in which
not good enough
resonates in the empty chambers
of my heart and head.
Too often I want eggs
in my beer whether
I need them or not,
whether I deserve them
or not, despite the fact
that everything in my life
is qualitatively and quantitatively
absolutely enough.


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#26: Meditative Mowing

Here’s something new for the poem of the day, with only four more days to go: an audio performance!  I’m reading this poem into garageband using my Blue Yeti microphone.  I think it turned out pretty well.  Let me know what you think!

Meditative Mowing

Pay day was two days ago, and now,
bills paid, we’re already broke.
Mowing the lawn, I breathe in and out,
but not too deeply;
it’s a gas-powered mower after all
and it’s noisy and it stinks
and it hurts my hands
but I mow and breathe in and out
and try not to think
about how broke we are.  A big lawn,
it takes me an hour and a half
of mowing back and forth
and back and forth, around this tree
and that tree, around that stump,
from this section of the yard to the next,
carefully crossing the gravel drive
so as not to blind myself or cut myself
with flying debris.  I breathe in and out
and try not to think about how
broke we are.
Instead, I focus on the engine’s rumble,
trying to make straight rows
at perfect angles,
paying attention to dog shit
I may have missed, buried deep
in the grass I’ve let go too long,
all the while concentrating on
my breathing in and out
but not too deeply and
trying not to think about,
this early in the month,
before the new month actually
begins, how broke we already are.

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#25: The American Teenager Has A Theory About Walt Whitman


The American Teenager Has A Theory About Walt Whitman

Looking for inspiration for
his own portrait of the poet,
referencing a famous drawing
of Uncle Walt,
hand on his hip, in a gesture
of confidence, I’d say,
with a kind of challenging
and quizzical look in his
handsome, young face,
the boy says,
Was Walt Whitman gay?
And I say,
Well, now that you’ve
drawn a broad stereotype
based on a single pose in a drawing,
based on a single image of the poet,
the truth of the matter is that, yes,
he was most likely gay.
The boy’s portrait turns out
to be a nightmare,
homophobic and offensive,
Walt, rather impressively drawn,
but adorned with lipstick
and eye make-up,
wearing a nurse’s cap.
I’m angry, and displaying the
work to the entire class,
I explain why this one
won’t be on display in
the classroom, how it
is wrong on so many levels,
even getting the stereotype backwards,
assuming gay men must really want to
be women, but worse, attempting to make fun
of the poet’s sexual orientation
by turning him into some kind of clown.
But what truly amazes
me is the boy’s good natured response,
as if in a moment he could actually see
something he couldn’t see as he was feeling
so clever about his apparently accurate theory
about Walt and giddy about his ingenious artistic
representation. He could see
for a moment the wrong turns
of his thinking, the assumptions he was making,
and suddenly for him “weird” became just “different”
and of absolutely no threat or consequence
to the way this boy chose to live his own life.
And in that same moment
I felt I had actually done some teaching.

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#24: I Love and Hate You, O Internet


Because I could not find inspiration in today’s prompt from NaPoWriMo (a challenge to make an anagram poem from my name), I submit the following instead.  This is an animal called an apostrophe.  An apostrophe is a figure of speech that addresses an audience that cannot respond, either because it is a dead person, a faraway person, a bunch of people, an animal, or a thing.  Poets have been known to stretch out this particular figure of speech over an entire poem. Here is my apostrophe love/hate letter to the Mighty Interwebs:

I Love and Hate You, O Internet

O Internet,
I both love and hate you.
I love you because you have
made it possible for me
to cancel cable
and I hate you
because high speed internet
is more expensive than it should be
and all of that money goes
to the cable company.
I love you because
you give me any piece
of information I desire
for a few key strokes
followed by an emphatic
return.  I hate you for the rabbit
hole experience–the labyrinthine
loss of hours that the rabbit hole sometimes entails.
I hate you for free porn and
think you are changing the brains
of young men, not in a good way.
I hate you for your insecurities,
for your spam and your viruses,
for your predatory users,
for your ready use by corporations
as a weapon of influence against hapless
potential consumers.
Most everything I desire of late
is perhaps something I saw
or heard about or read about
in your infinite webs, and
I hate you for that.
And I love you for it, too,
because that’s where I found
my pants, my coat,
the bike of my dreams,
my new favorite band.
You bitch. You angel.
I cannot help but think
I would be a better man without you.
Go away.  Don’t go.
I hate you.  I love you.
I love you.  I hate you.


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#23: On Trying to Read Moby Dick Again (A Triolet)


Moby Dick has become my white whale, not that it’s bitten off my leg, but that it haunts me, taunts me, torments me, because this novel by Herman Melville has the distinction of being the ONLY book I truly love that I have not finished reading–after repeated attempts! It baffles me, because every time I go back I thoroughly enjoy myself.  It’s such a radically inventive and lively thing.  But something always happens to me about 130 pages in, duty calls, some more pressing affair distracts me from my purpose, I set this beautiful thing down, and then–it will be a year or two before I return.  And I always go back to the beginning!  And, so far at least, I always and only get about 130 pages in!

The assignment today was to write a thing called a triolet. It’s an 8 line poem in iambic tetrameter which employs a repeating couplet at the beginning and the end and a refrain line almost in the middle.  I cheated here and there on the syllable count but otherwise stayed true to the form.  Here’s my triolet about not being able to finish Moby Dick.  

On Trying to Read Moby Dick Again

I’ve never finished Moby Dick,
I’ve attempted it again and again.
It’s not, for me, that it’s too thick–
I’ve never finished Moby Dick.
Perhaps commitment is the trick,
I love what I’ve read to no end.
I’ve never finished Moby Dick,
I’ve attempted it again and again.


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#22: It’s Earth Day


It’s Earth Day

and I rode my bicycle to work,
but that’s a thing I do almost every day.
I allow myself a little smugness
for making more than the obligatory nod.
I can pat myself on the back for making
the decision to live in the neighborhood
in which I work, so a thing like bicycle
commuting is an easier commitment to make.

And yet,

my house is big,
I have grass to mow, and there’s lots of it,
so a push mower is out of the question.
There’s too much shade to garden,
and we’ve not been composting like we should.
We can’t figure out what to do with all the dog shit.
All the kid’s stuff is packaged in plastic
or made of plastic and will eventually end up in a landfill.
And what about all of these electronic gizmos,
televisions, stereo receivers, speakers, computers, radios,
old refrigerators, cheap-ass coffee makers, and the like?
I’m kind of ashamed of my cd collection.
Even the most conscientious of us collect this crap
and it’s no good for the Earth.

Recently, I’ve become afraid.
I don’t know what kind of world
we will leave our children
but I hope its a habitable one,
or better than habitable.
And I wonder: Do people have it in them
to transform their lives
and reverse the damage done,
make amends to the planet?
The Earth will likely survive us in any case;
but whether it continues to support the species,
–that is the million dollar question–
and whether or not we love our children
and our children’s children enough
to somehow get the thing right
before it’s too late.

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#21: Evil Fortune Cookies

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