Sunday, December 20, 2009

Burnt Hills, Round Lake


A flash of light, a sudden quake
none sensed the signs—
burnt hills, round lake

A piece of the sky fell at daybreak
spelling the dinosaurs’ decline
a flash of light, a sudden quake

Day turned to night at a fearsome rate
beasts, rocks and mud entwined
under burnt hills, by a round lake

Now, all is calm at this namesake
watchful trees along the faint crater’s side
no flash of light or sudden quake

Somewhere in my bones, a Jurassic ache
Northbound lights shine
driving home to Burnt Hills or Round Lake

Pearls on a string, traffic stretches from Exit 8
Silver on green, I suddenly see the sign
a flash of light, a tiny quake
as I exit at Burnt Hills-Round Lake.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tea haiku

Be like rooibos: steep
as long as needed, as it
won't become bitter.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Down to the water


A. and I went to Wales. I was curious to see the country of my ancestors, maybe more so than some people, due to my adoption. I’ve never seen a blood relative. Would I spot a resemblance? Maybe I was after something even more subtle, like a feeling, a sentiment, a vibe. It was my first trip to another continent, and I was happy to be doing it with someone I loved.

We camped in St. David’s, a small, old city on the coast. It rained quite a bit, but that added to the enchanted quality. We met an ancient man in a pub, who indulged us and spoke Welsh. It sounded incredibly foreign, elfin, something straight out of Middle Earth.

On our last night in St. David’s, we walked down toward the water. There’s a scene there that hangs in my mind’s museum, a random moment that fits a frame, a strong composition, dark, with painterly points of light. The last rays of the sunset are coming over the water, a thin, magenta line merging into the blue-black above. Stars hang overhead, familiar shapes from home. The road slopes downward toward the water. There is a sense of openness, with the land slanting away, the stars drawing our eyes upward. I don’t know why my mind’s shutter opened and closed around this moment, but there it is. We were probably holding hands. I hope so.

We never walked all the way down to the water. I remember wanting to. We probably had an early bus to catch the next morning. Something practical like that. We turned around and walked back to our campsite, which was nothing more than a soggy field, really.

A. and I came close—became close--in many ways. Lots of verbal riffing, cooking shared meals in our bright kitchen. Poetry readings. Tending our small yard. Travel. We had an ease with each other: two language mavens with pretty good comic timing. From the outside, our relationship looked idyllic, carefree. It felt that way to me, for quite a while, too.

There was, however, some reluctance, some insurmountable wall, some steps too far. I remember her declaring, in a matter-of-fact way, that she never wanted to be married. "Okay," I replied. She followed up with, "I don't want to have kids." "Okay," I repeated. Looking back, I'm not sure if I was scared or relieved. I remember just checking off those question on a mental list. Never mind that I didn't really consider my feelings on either of those subjects. If I had, I would have found fear and curiosity, I'm sure. I didn't have the words at the time. I've learned that issues of magnitude demand questions, not statements and acquiescence. Furthermore, statements may have varying half-lives: I found out a couple of years later that she did marry. Someone else, of course.

Carefree becomes an insidious trap. What is not an advance, a step forward, becomes a retreat. Without plumbing of emotional depths, there is backward movement, even when one appears to be still.

I'm thinking now of that visual illusion that happens when running through an advancing or retreating tide. I want to remind myself to go to the water, all the way down, to look up and out, to find the words in these moments and not years later, as in this blog I humbly send out, a scrawl in a wax-sealed bottle, bobbing in a cyber surf.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dad


Dad would have turned 82 today. He almost made it to 79. There’s something in the light and the air at this late-autumn time that makes me think of him. I wish he’d made it farther into his own winter, in good health and clear mind. Still, I am thankful for what was. Those peaks that rise, still visible over my childhood dropping below the horizon.

Dad rescued me more than once, after a cycling misadventure. These days, I carry tools while cycling: spare tubes, wrenches, a CO2 inflator. I have a phone, too. Back in the years when my silver Fuji ten-speed first made my world bigger, I’d call Dad—those were pay-phone days. Whether it was a flat tire, the bent crank on City Line Avenue, or the cracked frame in Manayunk, Dad would come, his large Lincoln a welcome sight. The trunk would swallow the bike. Not even Lance has a team car like that. We’d ride home, his arm draped over the seat, the car rocking softly over curves, the radio playing classical music, Dad humming along.

Dad had a piano. He got it while living in Center City in Philly, and he’d have friends over who would sing and play. Dad never tried to play until his later years, and he did his best to keep it a secret from Mom and me. Still, he taught me to love music. An only child, I’d spend a lot of time in my room, with my little plastic folding record player. I had picked out an eclectic selection from Dad’s record collection: Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, My Fair Lady, Never on Sunday, Rossini’s William Tell Overture, Lord Buckley. (Google that last one. Really.) He bought me my first instrument, a plastic clarinet, and later financed a couple of my guitars. The guitar, naturally louder, fulfilled my need to be seen and heard, but I always felt a bit sheepish about my taste in rock music. Dad was never critical. I hope he was proud.

I owe whatever handiness I have to Dad. I’d accompany him to our rental property in the city. I never minded being the assistant, since I knew there would be a cheesesteak in the deal. I started out as the man with the broom and the mop, but eventually graduated to painting. There were always tools around the house, and I guess I just followed Dad’s lead of simply fixing whatever needed it.

Dad always provided, even after I moved out of the house. I’d be back in town to visit, and, inevitably, leaving became quite an ordeal as Dad lined the kitchen counter with grocery bags full of food. Perishable items were surrounded by frozen things. Everything was double-bagged. I’d lift the hatch of my rusty Honda and fill the back. Once I said, jokingly, “You know, Dad, we have grocery stores in Albany.” I was a bit embarrassed by it all. It makes more sense to me now: Dad’s Depression-era upbringing, his reserved nature, his sweetness and love shown by what he did rather than simply what he said.

Thanks, Dad, for all of that, and these things too: Lionel trains that taught me about electricity and geography; music playing constantly in the house; your laughs coming up from the living room; your ways with words, whether in conversation or on a Christmas present tag; your healthy contempt for stupid advertisements; putting up with band practice in the basement; your voracious reading; your knowledge that ran broad and deep; your kindness and generosity that ran that way, too.

Happy birthday, Dad. I love you and I miss you.

A Letter to My Students

I don’t say it enough, but I care about you. Each of you. That’s why I’m here. It’s too much work to do it for the money, so there must be ...