Category Archives: Poetry

#285: A Poem Against Nothing


During meditation practice today I wrote some words and phrases on two notecards in response to the following three meditative prompts: Nothing, Form, and Intention. As a writer, I live in the world of specificity, concrete detail, or in ideas expressed explicitly and with clarity. Sometimes I struggle with some of the more esoteric aspects of the practice. I had a real hard time today with these meditations and my mind was interrogating the process through the entire hour–until the end, when it became about something else, something palpable, embedded in the messiness that is life and loss as human beings. Anyway, the material on those note cards became a poem. And the strangest experience to date with my meditation group turned out to provide the greatest gifts, the least of which became the following piece of writing.

Poem Against Nothing from Two Notecards

No thing ness

I cannot describe what is not.
There is never nothing.
There is never not something.
There is always the thing
that came before the thing.

Once, there was
the generative void.
I think I understand
that, and it continues
to generate forever
and ever, but even before
the anything
there was something.
You can call it
whatever you like.

But in the way that
I can’t or won’t play piano
because I don’t know how,
I cannot see, hear, or feel nothing.

It’s all form, baby.
There is always form.
Even a thought–
even in the before-thought
when there is no thought,
there’s thought.

Creativity even comes
from a place.
I didn’t know I would sing
those words but now I am
singing those words
and it may feel as if
they came from nowhere
but you would be
wrong about that.

I do understand
intention, and I value
it over the default–
but that’s the point:
less auto-pilot,
less fear,
less self-sabotage
more intention,
more integrity,
more truth,
more consciousness.
And none of that
comes from nothing.

And we are not changing
from one thing to another,
but becoming what we already
are—and that’s something.

And love is another matter.
Given freely it multiplies
like weeds. Never out of
nowhere. Never from
nothing. It emanates.
It moves, is moving.
Right now. In this room
with relative strangers.


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Filed under Poetry, Self Reflection

#284: The American English Teacher Tries Not to Be Afraid While Doing His Job


Two nights ago I woke up at 3 a.m.
and could not go back to sleep.
It was not a nightmare that woke me.
Just some disturbance in the force
that momentarily stirred me from slumber.
Immediately upon opening my eyes, though,

a waking nightmare:

I was thinking about those kids in Florida,
and I was thinking about those kids in Newtown,
and I was thinking about those kids at Columbine,
and my heart raced, thinking of my own students
in my classroom in a similar situation, or my son
in his teacher’s classroom, in a similar situation,
and I could not sleep.

Even my morning’s meditation, while I worried
that my lack of sleep would find me
dozing off on my cushion, resulted in this
kind of thought-struggle: the focus on the breath,
in and out, in and out, fighting against the thoughts
of making sure both doors into my room were locked
and lights were out, of huddling with students
inside a darkened classroom, of listening
for the signs of safety or of imminent danger,
wondering if I could take the risk to open my door
to let other students in, wondering what I
would do, what I could do, if a shooter
somehow entered my classroom.
These kinds of thoughts would have been
inconceivable to me in my first years
as a teacher in a public school.
Now they are ever-present, hiding in
the shadows of every waking moment.

I walked into my schoolhouse yesterday, a place
that I love, a place I consider another home,
a place that houses over a thousand
human beings that I love, young people
and adults that I consider another family,
as I have done every day since Columbine,
and I try not to be afraid while doing my job.

When I’m there, in that building, doing the work,
it’s easy. I’m immersed. I’m present. These young
people bring me the gifts of their minds and their
personhood, their presences, and I do not feel alone
and I do not feel afraid. It’s when I’m not there
that the fear kicks in: in the middle of the night,
in meditation, at meals, on a walk, and in particular,
reading the internet news, which seems invented
for the sole purpose of cultivating fear.
My only complaint yesterday morning was that
I was exhausted from sleep deprivation,
but I was having fun with my students talking
about Hamlet, and then it began to snow. The district
decided, as a safety precaution, to close down the schoolhouse
two hours early. And as much as I wanted to see
my fourth period 10th graders after an extended absence,
I was happy that I could go home a little early to rest,
and heartened too by the news from Florida:
these kids have had enough of our shit and are fighting
the good fight for the future of our nation and for the
safety of our young people: one and the same fight.
I have more faith in them than I have ever had
in the Republican Party, in any Party, to send us on
the right path, away from harm, away from fear,
toward something like real freedom, a thing that
nobody else seems to recognize any more on either
side of the aisle. Our children are reminding us
about what this word means. They have to be
our heroes now.

They are rising to the occasion.

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Filed under Education, Poetry, Teaching

#283: I Dream of a Song


It was crazy.
I dreamed
I had written
a song
fully formed
and recorded
about my mom
and then my dead
friend called me
on the phone
and wondered
about copyright
permissions because
I think she wanted
to use it for some
other purpose.
I wish I could
remember the song,
the lyrics, the tune,
why my dead
friend wanted it.
All I know is that
I felt it was a
very good song,
maybe my best,
and it was about
my mom who is
very ill and it reached
my friend on the other
side and she called me
on the phone.

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#282: On the Last Day of National Poetry Writing Month, The Poet Speaks of Things that Happen Over and Over Again

Days go by,
and they keep going by
constantly pulling you
into the future.

–Laurie Anderson.


For starters,
days go by
one right after
another, but today,
during meditation,
I held my father’s
hand one last
time before they
wheeled him
into surgery
on the eve of
his last day
on the planet
7 years ago
last October.
That was unusual.
And while I
was momentarily
it was not with
sadness, but with
gratitude for fathers
and sons, for my
father, and my son,
and as I walked
through the construction
site across the way
and saw my home
from some distance,
intact, old, encircled
by gigantic oak trees,
another wave
of thankfulness
came over me as
I realized how
truly lucky I am
to be who I am
and to love who
I love and to have
what I have.
The future tugs.
The past sometimes hugs
perhaps too tightly.
Even the present,
with it’s absurdities
and rank abuses,
so much like the past
and yet so much more
absurd and abusive,
for now, I hold it
at bay. I will fight
that in my way,
but for now,
walking the dog
again, seeing this house
again, and anew,
and finding myself
inexplicably happy
and sober, I praise
this day, this Sunday,
with a kind of reverence
no number of churches
could fathom or contain.

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#281: Gin


This might be me in 9 days. 

Today, from napowrimo, the suggested prompt is to take a favorite poem and find a very specific, concrete noun in it. After choosing the word, put the original poem away and spend five minutes free-writing associations – other nouns, adjectives, etc. Then use the original word and the results of the free-writing as the building blocks for a new poem.

Perhaps my favorite poem of all time might be John Berryman’s “Dreamsong 14.” Here’s the line from which I will pull my concrete noun:

And the tranquil hills, and gin, look like a drag

And from this lovely line I will choose the word “gin.” I couldn’t begin to tell you why this particular word strikes my fancy at this time. #whole30.

Here’s a brainstorm on “gin.”

Gin rummy
Gin and tonic
Gin martini, dry, with an olive
Cotton gin
gin with a hard g, slang for going
or “one more ‘gin,” as in once more again
Sloe gin, Cold gin, the rock band Kiss
no drinking for 30 days
my first drink after 30 days
It’s day 21
Gin sounds like Jen or Jenny
Rhymes with din, fin, sin, begin
slight rhymes: men, been, ben, again,
john Berryman
the farmer’s market

Okay, enough of that. Let’s write a poem. Here’s an attempt at a formal structure that totally breaks down at the end. Sorry.


In 9 days I will be able to drink gin
according to some dietary regimen
that prescribes 30 days without sin,
at least of the alcoholic variety.

Who’s to say my first drink will be gin?
–as there are other choices, bourbon,
to be precise, a fave, gin coming in
a close second, a balance of dark and light.

It’s not like I’m counting down to gin.
I think I might live beyond 30 and again
another 30 without a drop of gin.
But this is not what I want.

I am looking forward, that’s all.
I don’t think that juniper brew,
that olive on a stick, that action
with the shaker and the dash

of vermouth could ever seem
to me a drag. Gin, like the tranquil
hills: Let there always be
comradeship between us.

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#280: A Mostly Unrhymed Food Dipodic at the Close of Teacher Appreciation Week

This week for teacher
they bring us junk
to eat, like chips,
and candy, bread,
pancakes, syrup,
none of which I
can eat, sadly.
Yesterday, kids
wheeled in wagons
full of goodies
into classrooms
from which I could
only choose bottled
water. Somehow,
this week I don’t
quite feel the love;
is not for me
in the midst of
this Whole 30.

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#279: The English Teacher Reveals the Writing Prompt for the Day


The English teacher reveals the writing
prompt for the day and tells his students
to start writing and one student doesn’t
have his notebook and while it’s supposed
to be quiet another kid tells the kid
without a notebook that he saw him
leave it inside the lunchroom and
the notebookless kid doesn’t believe
him and for the first three minutes of
the quiet writing time these two boys
are arguing about whether or not the
one kid knows where the other kid
without his notebook
left his notebook.

The English teacher tries to shut
them up so that the other students
can have quiet time to write but
the argument between the boys is
so distracting that words begin
to fail him as he repeats the instructions
in a way that sounds to him incomprehensible
but nevertheless engages his students
in a fury of feverish free writing.


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