Wednesday, August 31, 2011

in the throes of autumn

Summer is beautiful
If a little garish
Maybe more than a little garish
And more than a little full
Blue sky
Blue water
Green grass
White clouds
Visually crisp
Like the air in autumn
Like the leaves in autumn
But not like autumn
Stunningly beautiful
In a subtle
Layered way
That can only belong something in its last throes
Of hope
Saturated with color
Filled to the brim with color
So full
That it’s hanging on by a thread
Embracing every day
When the sun still has some real warmth and
There is still a little garishness left in that sky
That bright

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

and God laughs

If there is a God
I think he or she would agree
That it is very funny when my daughter sings
“Teddy Bear Teddy Bear, say your prayers”
And pulls down her pants so that she can point at her underwear
What other response could there possibly be
I wouldn’t want a God that couldn’t laugh at a five year old
And a two year old
Playing the piano and pulling down their pants at the same time
I’m certainly not going to feel guilty that she is five
And when presented with a Teddy Bear who says his prayers
The best explanation she can come up with
Is that the bear is checking his underwear
His ‘pairs’ of underwear
I’m really not worried that so far her exposure to God is
Singing God Bless Africa and
Reading a book about Rosh Hashanah
Mostly because
In addition to hitting her brother and pulling his hair
She hugs him
Tells him she loves him and
Looks out for him when his dad isn’t seeing to his needs in a timely fashion
And because I am betting that if there is a God
He or she has a great sense of humor

Monday, August 29, 2011

lying down on the job

He says “good night daddat”
“Time go sweep”
Or some equivalent
And I try to count to three
Before he asks the next question
This morning most of the questions are about electricity
And what gets plugged in
Things like clocks and televisions
And what doesn’t
Things like closets
This morning neither the closet
Nor the clock
Nor the light
Is helping me
Figure out how many more questions I should field
I know it was twenty to six when I came up
But I have no idea about the passage of time since
Other than to say that there’s been time for several big gusts of wind
And time for me to attempt to explain electricity to a two year old
Luckily he isn’t connecting the wind to the lack of electricity
He isn’t really sure how or why he got carried downstairs in the middle of the night
He isn’t sure why we are now upstairs lying on sissy’s mattress on the floor of Sissy’s room
He doesn’t know the progression hi mother and I went through last night
From hurricane to tornado warning
From they’re ok upstairs in their beds
To she’ll be ok away from the window in the middle of the room
To what about him under the window
Through visions of trees crashing through the roof from every direction
To the late night transfer he doesn’t remember
He just likes the glow in the dark stars on sissy’s ceiling
And he likes it when I sing ‘This Little Light of Mine”
He even likes to pretend to sleep next to me
Almost as much as he likes to ask questions
Which is why he says “good night daddat” so often
And why I count to three

Friday, August 26, 2011

Love Hurts

He kissed my nose today
Practically cleaned out my nostrils with his tongue
Last Tuesday he head butted my groin
And it wasn’t the first time
He’s poked my eye
Bit my shoulder
Stepped on my leg hairs …
Which you can laugh about if you want
You can also have it happen to you next time
His newest thing
Has been to try and pull out my beard
One hair at a time
All the while talking about how he wants his own
Apparently he is going to get his own beard
One hair at a time
He doesn’t always pull the beard hair
Sometimes he runs his fingers along it
And he frequently does the same to my hair
Especially when he is sitting on my shoulders
Feet dangling down
And kicking me in the collar bone
The truth is
That I love every moment of it
The truth is
Love hurts

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Earthquakes and hurricanes rattle some folks
But not me
When the whole east coast was shaking
I was lying down
To the left of two
And occasionally fighting
I didn’t feel a thing
I haven’t even acknowledged the hurricane at all
What choice do I have
After I was done reading her
Hurricane by David Wiesner
And Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey
My daughter would always ask whether we had hurricanes in Levittown
And I would say no
Which is
What I said about earthquakes
No I’m not rattled by earthquakes
Explaining the world to a child, however …

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Jordan never complained
Never got underfoot
He just sat back
Tail curled around his body
And waited
Waited for Wally
The Siamese
To wail and moan
And generally drive me crazy
Until I broke down
And gave them food
Wally’s been gone more than a year now
And Jordan has stepped up
He follows me around
Plaintively meowing
For hours until he gets fed
Determined to have me feed him
Or trip over him and fall to my death
Every time he begins his hunger driven rampage
I think of my son
Waiting quietly
For his sister to stop talking

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Space Exploration

At kindergarten orientation
After the striking teachers had abandoned their picket line
After the kindergarten teacher had finished telling us parents
All about what we could and should be doing
To make her life easier
Without having said more than a word or two
To the students themselves
And after we had taken the tour
Led by a first grader
Who was cute beyond words
Or cute before words
Talking softly as she walked ahead of us
Her back to us
After all of that
My oldest daughter
The five year old
The kindergartner to be
Rode a bus
All by herself
For the very first time
It was meant to be a practice run
For the kids who will be taking the bus in the fall
My daughter’s a walker
So I don’t know what it was for her
But she waved
She waved a lot
She waved as the bus sat still
As the bus drive out of sight
As the bus drove into sight
And as she disembarked
Then she gave me a big hug
I don’t know what it was for me either
Beyond a parental milestone
I thought I wouldn’t have
Come to life
An opportunity to calmly and in passing
Remark upon the passage of time
While at the same time watch my two year old son
Run around me in ever widening circles
I don’t really know what to make of any of it
But I know that thinking about that bus ride now
Makes me think about the planets
Revolving around the sun
And the stars
And meteors
And asteroids
And how from earth
It all seems so much simpler
So much more mysterious
So much more beautiful
From a distance

Monday, August 22, 2011

when in doubt ... say thanks

A red car sweatshirt
Has driven in
And now out
Of our lives
It’s only been a few hours
But I’m already not sure of much beyond the fact that it was red
And had a picture of a car on it
I know there were words on it
But I’m not really sure which ones
Was it car
Red and car
Don’t even ask about the size
Because I don’t remember
It was somewhere between 18 months
And 2T
Or 24 months
But I don’t know for sure
And I surely don’t know what the difference is between 2T and 24 months
Is it like the difference between a gift and charity
Both are free
Just like this red sweatshirt
Was for us
And will be for a little boy in Michigan
I suppose both can be passed on too
Or is it on to
I’m not sure
I’m not ever sure
Currently I’m not sure of enough to tell a story
About a red sweatshirt
Of indeterminate size
With some sort of connection to cars
I’m just barely sure enough to
Be very thankful
And be able to write a poem

Friday, August 19, 2011

Gift Exchange

A kiss on the cheek
That’s what I gave to him
As I held him in my arms
On the way out of the restaurant and
Into the rain
For his gift to me
He rested his head on my shoulder and
Closed his eyes
For a moment
As if we were dry and alone

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Give and Take

Grandad and Grandma arrive
To hugs
Jumping and
Endless sharing
Red pencil case
Pre-school scrap book
Jewelry box
Thomas the Train
Drawing after drawing
Homemade books
Musical performances and
Lots of stories
Nonstop stories
Many of which require translation
But nothing else
Except the occasional smile
Which is fine by me
Sometimes its good to take rather than give and
All I want to do is take it all in

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Tease

“I no nap today”
“I don’t want nap”
“No sleep now”
Spoken with a hint of a whine and
Pursed lips
Of the kind that should accompany a furrowed brow

“Why not?”
Hands in motion but
Eyes focused on the clean diaper
Lower lip trapped between teeth

Followed by eye contact

“I teasing”
An emergent smile
Connects with a slight narrowing of the eyes and
More besides

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

full of shit

Moist and tussled hair and
Sticky forehead
Leaning against my shoulder
Sweaty little hands
Touching my skin
Heat building up between us
Just as the moan is building
Just as the pressure must be building inside of him
He wants me to change his diaper
He thinks that will draw something out
I want him to eat raisins
In between grunts and
Bending in half
He asks me why I keep talking about raisins and
Tells me he doesn’t want them
He never
Stops asking questions
Voicing his opinion
Refusing to eat non- dairy products or
Hugging me
That’s who he is now
Wet head and all
Wet hands and all
Empty diaper and all
He’s full of shit and

Monday, August 15, 2011

The River's Source

Words fall out
Like water over a cliff
Sometimes they trickle over the edge
Like a light drizzle
And early in Spring
Sometimes they fall fast
And loud
Like the faucet in your tub
On full blast
And steamy

Who knows for sure
Why it is one
Or the other
A long snowy winter
Heavy Spring rains
Sandbagging upstream
A long dry spell
Natural or otherwise

Kids are kind of like sandbags
Piles and piles of sandbags
Kids are like two months of sun
Ninety four degree sun
Heat index well over one hundred
Kids are like a really big Chinese style hydroelectric dam
All shiny, new, and effective
Kids are all of this and more
Sometimes on the same day

The truth is that these days
The words come faster and looser
And louder
Than I would like
More often
Than they probably should
The sandbags
And dams
Take some blame
More than they should
Because sometimes
When the water is roaring over the falls
I forget
That I control the headwaters

Friday, August 12, 2011


The US Army Corps of Engineers diverted the Wolf River in 1960
Turning the old mouth of the river
Into Wolf River Harbor
Setting the scene
For Jeff Buckley to drown
Thirty seven years later
Before his version of
Would rise up the charts
It was written by Leonard Cohen
So he sung it first
John Cale covered it first
It’s been sung in Spanish
Covered by a Norwegian quartet
Appeared in Shrek
Which used Cale’s version in the movie and
Rufus Wainwright’s in the soundtrack
If you know who Tim Minchin is
You might be surprised to know that he’s covered it too
Maybe even with a canvas bag but
Everyone’s covered it
Even Bon Jovi and K.D. Lang
When my daughter asks for Lula
It’s Buckley’s version she wants
She doesn’t care about
Biblical references or
Multiple Hallelujahs or
Who wrote it first
Or who is the funniest
Or got the most money from DreamWorks
Or is a lesbian
She likes the one I played for her on YouTube
She likes it when I sing it
She likes it when we cuddle and
I sing Lula and
So do I
Even though
I hear Buckley’s voice in my head every time I sing it and
I can hear the cold and broken hallelujah and
I can picture Wolf River harbor
On the night of May 29th
I just rub her back and
Sing hallelujah

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Maybe hell has frozen over ... Maybe it's just juice

The background is
That juice is strictly a pre-nap drink
Candy is illegal
We’re trying the war on drugs approach and
War isn’t far off from the truth

The story is
That tonight
Mom had some juice
Right before pajama time and
He saw it and
He wanted it and
He wailed about it
For a good fifteen minutes
Crackers and
Shoulder rides and
Dance numbers
Had failed
The offer of the gummi vitamins we’d forgotten about at dinner
Offered up a glimpse of a long forgotten seizure and
I want juice was replaced by
I want candy
I want candy lasted until an Ice pop surfaced
An Ice pop is
Frozen juice

The moral is
Part Sisyphus
Part David Copperfield
All trial and error
The messiness of life on the frontlines
The reality of being a parent

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Another day in the life

Through the monitor at six in the morning
Comes a call and response
The volume goes up
Down a little
And then up some more
But the refrain itself is constant
Turns out my son was saying yes
And his stuffed turtle was saying no
After barely enough time to get the yes no story straight
The other one comes awake
With a moan and a wail
As usual
Before everyone is even dressed
The cat throws up
No three times
No four
And I’ll need to wash that compression stocking
Once everyone is seated
I check with him again
He affirms he wants chex
I check another time after I ask if he wants milk
And warn him that unless he eats this he won’t be getting anything else
He begins to eat
I go to collect my own breakfast
And before my rear end is in my chair
He has pushed the bowl of chex all over the floor
He wants cheerios
I wonder if he realized that this was the only way he would have gotten cheerios
Without having to eat the chex
He picks at the cheerios
And is ready to watch television
When sissy is done they watch television
And I almost get half an hour to shower
If only Curious George hadn’t been so scary
The first half hour of the morning goes by quickly
We travel to Rome
Head up and down the Spanish steps
And then go to Venice
And travel around on a queen size air mattress
Er … a gondola
After we fight over who gets to sit where
We choose to take separate boats
And converse using the tin can phone
A little bit of tempting fate with markers later
And we find ourselves at an early lunch
And then a play date at the park
Adult conversation
Playground fun
And only one foot in the lake
Things are starting to move fast
Because nap is on the horizon
It seems like I’m hardly done negotiating book selection
And she is giving me my after nap hug
Practicing her letters
And travelling through the alphabet
Attaching something African to each letter
L is lion
N is N’kosi sikeleli
Which he sings the rest of the evening
Starting with the trip to feed the neighbor’s dog
Through leftovers
And right into sissy’s gymnastics
And a trip to the playground
She is annoyed
Now that he is into the song
She is over it
He isn’t over choosing books
Eating shark crackers
Or drinking something out of a cup without a top
So I make a lot of trips up and down the Spanish Steps
Before I can give hugs and kisses
Exchange I love yous
I love you daddy
Practically hear her fall asleep as I close the door
And listen to him end his day the way he began it
Bargaining with the turtle
With most of the day complete
I grade papers
Paint the bathroom
Talk with my wife on the phone
From Iowa
Write this poem
And look forward to doing it all again

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Coping With Kindergarten

Creative writing
Video games
Calls home to mommy
Hugs from your daughter
Who is about three weeks away from kindergarten
I suppose they are all options
When facing life altering change
Like your first born’s first day of kindergarten
For now I’m good with hugs and poetry
But I’m not ruling anything out just yet

Monday, August 08, 2011

two and a half and summer

Winter coat
Ninety degrees
A smile
Who other than a two and a half year old
Could bring all that together
Actually insist on bringing it all together
Albeit with a red face and a lot of sweat
Actually make it work

Sunday, August 07, 2011

I wish I was a lilly

The heat of the sun
And a week's vacation
Have conspired to annihilate the lilies
Limiting them to resurrection
As their only hope of
Following winter
With spring

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Intelligent design

A birthmark
Or two or three
A cut above his eye
A cut above his other eye
One bruise on her leg
Or two
Or thirty seven
And now she’s afraid of
Death and
New people
And suddenly I feel
Just as I felt tonight
In the backyard
Surrounded by
Plants in various states of distress
And weeds
And not as much grass as there should be
I can’t tear everything up and start again
Go inside
Or move away
I’ll finally have to develop an eye for
Beauty marks
Patina and
Intelligent design

Friday, August 05, 2011

You're My Daddy

She doesn’t say I love you as much anymore
What she says
In a slightly too childish
Sing-songy voice
Usually while hugging me
“You’re my daddy”
“You’re my only daddy”
Sometimes she looks me right in the eyes when she says it
Tonight she said it right before I sang the good night song to her
And she wanted me to cuddle with her as I sang
It’s true
She doesn’t say I love you as much anymore
But for now
That’s OK with me

Thursday, August 04, 2011

old recipes and new kitchens

Great Grandma’s molasses cookies
Aunt Ange’s ravioli
The tune casserole recipe from
The Strasburg Heritage Cook Book
You want to have them and
Why shouldn’t you
What a legacy
What a great alternative to Swanson’s and McDonalds
The recipe is always so simple
The memory so wonderful and clean
And our existence so dirty and jumbled
There never seem to be more than a few ingredients
Usually stuff like butter and sugar and flour and tuna
No tofu in there
No pine nuts or organic brown sugar
Or free range chickens fed on multigrain toast
Canned mushrooms
Lipton Onion Soup mix
But will you eat it
Every day
What if
Mrs. C. Robert Long (Jean)
Takes her Macaroni and Tuna Bake recipe
And hounds you with it
Insists that you eat it for every meal
Forces your kids to eat it
And berates them when they don’t
Tuna bake for breakfast
Tuna bake for lunch
Tuna bake for dinner
Tuna bake for dessert
And your late night snack
That you shouldn’t be taking anyway
Thank you
You’re welcome
A hug and/or a kiss
It seems simple
Just make them say it
If they don’t
All you need is persistence
And a lot of guilt
And you will have
A lack of ripples on the surface
And if you don’t
She’ll do it for you
What can you do
What can you do with Mrs. C. Robert Long (Jean)
You could tell her that
She never ate tuna bake for every meal
That she had other things going in her kitchen
In her home
In her home
Or maybe you just take a bite
And say thank you
And keep it to yourself
That you didn't really eat it every day
And that when you did
You used fresh mushrooms
Whole wheat bread crumbs
And provolone
Rather than American cheese

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

summer's preludes

A woman’s arm
Sticking out of a car window
Elbow, hand, and fingers fully visible
It’s as much summer
As the outstretched arm of a teenager
Zits barely visible through the glare and pictures of a thousand and one frozen treats
Holding out a waffle cone filled with blue moon or rocky Road
Or the unopened flower of a lily
Any lily
Best appreciated
Completely unadorned
No cigarettes
No Faces
No futures
Just skin
Sheet metal
And wind

Pulling It All Together

Rugged cliffs
Metal and plastic pipes

Blue sky
A smattering of fluffy white clouds
Sprinkled with
Beach chairs
Beach umbrellas
Beach people

Connecting the two
Blending into the sky in the distance
Crashing onto the sand in front of us
Stretched and thinned out by the tide
But still crashing
Still powerful
Pushing around the sand and rocks
Collapsing the cliffs
Exposing evidence of houses long gone
Pulling all of us
And our equipment
Onto the beach
Away from our homes
Our lives

Barely visible behind the cliff
Intruding into the sky
From where it was moved
To keep it safe from the water
At least temporarily

There to be pulled together
And sky
And you

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

I am the shadow

Sleeping Beauty
It’s always about the princess
It’s her shoes we can imagine slipping on
Her bed we awake from
Her ocean we walk out of
It’s the butterflies in her belly that we feel in our own
Regardless of who we are
Man, woman, or child
The prince is a shadow on a sunny day
But hardly the point
Except of course to the prince
He’s there too
He’s scared too
It’s not easy to face a fire breathing dragon
Fight your way through a forest of thorns
Or confront a wicked witch
He’s lonely too
We’re not talking about Arabian Nights after all
He’s not after his fourth princess
If he doesn’t get the princess
He’s still at home with mom and dad
He’s at the mercy of someone else too
He doesn’t know that she’ll wake up
Or choose to give up a watery kingdom for him
Or whether happily ever after really is
I’m not sure I want to slip on his
Huntsman’s knee boots
But I’m not sure I have a choice
I danced with my daughter
While she was wearing a borrowed princess pajama dress
And I heard it
When she turned to her friend
And said
“I got the prince”
I know his pain
I know his joy
And I’ll be the shadow

Staying on the horizon

If it was with us on the beach
It would be the beach
But it's on the edge of the horizon
So far out it's not
Possible to tell which way it's headed
Without more patience than I possess
It's certainly not possible to give advice on
Barnacle removal or
Mess hall protocol
Because it's not on the beach
It's not the beach
It's not my whole life
I can even make it disappear with just my thumb
Unfortunately all grandparents aren't content with the thumb maneuver and
Although we aren't on their beach
There is no place to anchor that is out of sight or
Out of reach

Monday, August 01, 2011

Talk to her

Talk to her
Tell stories
Make her laugh
Fill the air space
Keep her entertained
But if you want to keep her
Or interested
Or around
You may have to take a chance
Risk it all
Ask a question
And maybe even wait for the answer
Just be quiet