Parenting, Poetry

Side Way


Tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

– William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act ii, Scene 1

In case of paralysis, break glass. Out there
is here. Stairs, a whining thud, fat-bellied
cicada trapped in a breezeway
flings itself from wall to wall
until it surrenders
to defeat, so much like gravity.
Even with its trident of five eyes,
it is blind to the way through.
Corridor becomes vault. Had it been born
a bluebottle butterfly, it might stand a better chance,
its photoreceptors detecting
a million colors
more than those five eyes,
and far beyond what our feeble pair perceive
(and so believe). We are as wary of spectrometers
and their evidence of hidden hues
as we are of quantum wavefunction
and infrared snapshots of the Kuiper belt. Continue reading “Side Way”

Creativity, Mindfulness, Music, People Watching

Beat Through

Unlike the other members of the band who splice the set together with self-deprecating anecdotes, the dude on piano and bodhran is a potty white-haired fellow who never speaks or cracks a joke. I have him pegged as the invisible base that holds up on 4/4 solid legs the tone and flourish that the fiddlers and singers — the real artists — splash across score.

The last song swells to its finish, the crowd cheers, the other musicians walk off. They leave him there lost in something as he messes with his drum. He looks up and glances around like he just noticed everyone else is gone. After a few confused and awkward seconds, he starts to tap a stick against the skin of the drum. It takes a few seconds for the audience to realize that something entirely new is happening.

The next 6 minutes are this with 6 years of mastery added:


The 2015 Martin O’Neill plays on stage alone, handling the drum with such precision that he’s making a melody from it. It’s skittering over scales, almost singing on top of its own rip-cracking beat. Then it shushes down, down before curving around what feels like a moan.

My heart is galloping but can’t keep up.

The beat topples all my assumptions.

A little skin stretched over a frame, balanced on one knee and worked with two expert hands, somehow produces how many thousand tones?

It’s humbling to find out yet again what a poor guide my judgment can be,  how very little I know about anything at all.

It’s exhilarating to let this new flavor fill my blood, to know how much more is waiting to split wide my husk of certainty.


Choices, Love, Relationships

Sky’s Limit

There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love.

Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving

Nowhere in the Odyssey or Iliad will you find the color blue. Homer’s sea was dark as wine, his sky fingered rose. Indeed, the word itself is missing from the whole of ancient Greek.

This defies logic. The vast canopy envelops us in blue. What blindness could obscure those coruscating waves as the bolt of silk billows open to the day? Sapphire, azure, cobalt, cerulean. We see this now and maintain it must always have been so.

But this too: What name was glass when those first Mesopotamian beads fell from the fire? What did we call that handful of thatch when we ventured out from the cave and found ourselves in need of a roof? The people of Atacama never have foggy memories. And you, city dweller, suburban native, may live a whole lifetime without capturing in words the clank and groan of the pumpjack as it drinks up oil from under the broken steppe.

To know a thing is to name it. We describe what becomes familiar as our mind splits it from the mottled everything and our senses fight to trace its shape into being.

When a thing is everywhere it is nowhere. Sky becomes blue when we develop the capacity to make blue and the concurrent desire to trade in it. Indigo velvet, lush royal moire. Now we grind a once exceedingly rare pigment out to its dizzying extremes. Now we call up a spectrum of descriptors for the field across which the sun and stars make their journey.

Indeed, we have dozens of terms where we used to have none. These words pin our eyes to ever-finer slices of hue, and we discern every shade as a distinct and almost solid thing. It is impossible to un-see what’s fixed now on the canvas, so we assume these shades were born with the world.

We believe we name what exists, when really, we birth what we name.

Ask this: what might the sky be without lapis and cornflower? To the ancient Greeks, it could have been a copper valley laced with honeyed streams, or herringbone and almond root, or blood seeping through sheared wool. From dawn to dusk and around again, petal and wing and wine and jewel. The sky holds anything given a name.

But only that, and nothing more.

Now you pull the door closed as you leave.

You take our words, all the ones we’ve only just begun to distill and to weave and — yes, we were almost so bold, we came so close — to conceive.

You, one who was not until he was. In the anonymous swirl, a faceless other. I was as blind to you then as Homer to a 21st century sky. If my language had a word for you at all, it would have been as it is with “bird” until the plangent whipporwill calls down night, with “tree” until sweetgum briars bite tender feet. You were stranger, neighbor, father, man. The general is where things might have remained.

Then I saw you.

I see you.

You are.

Then we have in our hands the material of us, thread and patches, a whalebone form. But what is it? What word do we coin for this new architecture?

Do we even think to ask?

When the sand-burnt debris fell out of the fire, it could have been stone, it could have been trash. Its very existence was determined by the lexicon’s outer limits. Beyond that horizon line, all things embryonic swim in the invisible not-yet.

Until someone picks it up and says, this is something else.

The boundaries shift. The world expands.

Sifting through ash, someone finds it again, shares it, and someone else finds it yet again. They begin to recognize it as an it, to spin it and shape it, and the infant entity takes its place in the vocabulary of civilization.

How many beginnings are discarded or broken, how many — for want of notice — fail to hatch?

How many nameless wonders already walk among us that we are unable to see? What kaleidescopic marvels sing against our blind skin?

We can garnish our curiosity with courage. This ability is our human birthright, and we can let our minds split an almost imperceptible variance from the mottled everything. It is up to us to marshal the tremendous combined force of sense and choice, and to trace the shape into being.

Kinship becomes love when we develop the capacity to make love and the concurrent desire to trade in it.

Love becomes the invention into which we breathe life when we sift it from the ashes and say, this is.

We are.

This is something else.


Brain, Things I Can, Writing

87. Things I Can Exchange: Not for Is

Volunteers in the study were asked to hold a grip sensor as they heard a variety of verbs related to manual actions, like ‘throw’ or ‘scratch’, in different sentence structures. The researchers observed a significant increase in the strength of participants’ grip when words were presented in an affirmative sentence, but no such reaction when the same action words were presented in a negative context, such as ‘don’t throw’.

Writing advice from an unknown source: Replace any negative statement with an affirmative one.

“He does not go” becomes “he stays.”
“The delivery hasn’t shown up” becomes “the package has yet to arrive.”
“I haven’t showered” becomes “I need to shower” or “Let me clean up” or “I’m a fragrant mess.”

It seems simple enough. A game, really. It starts as play then becomes imperative. Then mission. Continue reading “87. Things I Can Exchange: Not for Is”

Living in the Moment, Poetry


It’s that
lifted cheek. Those improbable toes. The scent of raspberry in the fold of a yellow rose. That flourish in bottle blue mosaic, this single climbing vine. That black damp and wingbuzz at the mouth of shuttered copper mine.
This fountain. A canyon. That monarch. Those mountains.

It’s that
way his back bends when he feints low and away from his aim’s first trace. This just-right note down in the smoke and bass. The kiss under apple blossoms, and come to that, the apple. It’s this skin. The juice.

That taste.
You are, we whisper. It is so, you gasp. Make me feel, I plead.

It’s that
jump shot. Midnight walk. That sword of beam and concrete, this tower of glass.
This hot scalp of infant hunger burrowing into breast.
The swell, the salt, the foaming crest.

It’s that
Do you? That have you? That what if?
This yes.

A first spoonful. A last ember. The clasp on the chain at the back of the neck. That creak of opening, this bed of silk. The light biting at corners. A sweet sucking clench at the intake
of breath before

That letting go.
Your masterpiece in oil and the way water cuts channels through

This everything.

It’s that
key in your hand.
Those notes in script
you can’t read yet.
The drawstring, the marble, the button, the pocket.
The jar with no label.
This canvas still wet.
It is so, you say.
You are
I reply.

This is

we claim
It’s this.

Letting Go, Poetry

Self Swathing

At the bend where curb meets street,
leaf debris writhes as if trying to awaken
at long last
into sentience.
Alas, no such magic here. Instead, intention
or perhaps merely instinct
compels a worm hidden below
to travel without regard for freight
or sight. Under cover of dust and plum
blossom, mint-brushed helicopter pods
and the laced bottlebrushes
of a doll’s kitchen, she undulates
in her inexorable attempt at progress
towards some primal certainty
of open ground. Laden
with ornament, festooned
like a May queen in her azalea crown
and grass skirt, she twists back into the wall
of concrete, unable to climb. She cannot see
past the mantle she must bear
to retain her precious title.

These pretty burdens
we refuse to shed.
How they slow us down.
How our majesty rivets us
to corners.


Happy 100 Days: 68

“Mommy, did you know shapes are everywhere?”
I am half listening as I pack up our water bottles and snacks for a trip into town. “Uh huh? Shapes?”
“Yes, shapes. Like that light is a circle.”
I see he is staring up at the ceiling. I pause. “Huh. You’re right. It is a circle.” I look around for a minute. “I see rectangles.”
I point. He smiles. “The laundry doors!”
“Can you find a diamond?” I heft our bags and remind him for the third time to put on his shoes. He looks around, sees the slats of the wine rack. “Diamonds!”
Soon, we are in the car and driving on the freeway. The dentist has squeezed me so we have no time to lose. Bug is drifting into a half-nap in the back seat. I whisper that the drive is long and that he should rest. He is almost under, but as soon as we exit into the business district, he rouses himself.
“It’s okay to sleep, kiddo. We still have a ways to go.”
“But I want to look around at everything,” he says. He is quiet for a minute. “I see rectangles and circles,” he says. “The stoplights. And that sign.”
Right now, I am trying to navigate traffic. Still, I can’t help but look.
“What about a crescent? I wonder if we can find any.”
“What’s a crescent again?”
“It’s that half moon shape, sort of like a C.”
We find the letter C on trucks and buildings, but no proper crescent. We have no luck with triangles until we spy the architectural flourish on the roof of an office building. We see a half-circle dome on another. Bug sees more diamonds (pedestrian crossing) and arrows (one way). He sees traffic cones. Octagon stop signs. Stars on the American flag. Square windows in buildings.
This neighborhood houses my office and my daily walks. Tee and I once lived in an apartment here. I cover these same blocks every day on my commute. I have never once noticed this simple fact: Shapes are everywhere.
In the back seat, Bug is making a chart of all the shapes he notices. The catalog grows to 13, then 14, then 15. We park, pay, and head across the plaza. We pass storefronts. “I smell Thai food!” Bug cries. A Thai restaurant, a Japanese restaurant, a hair salon, a gourmet grocer. On one of the doors, the brass handle catches my eye.
“Bug! Do you see what I see?”
He looks then his face lights up. “Crescents!”
Every store in the plaza has half-moon door pulls on the glass panes. “Before, when we were driving, we could see big shapes but we weren’t close enough to see the little ones,” I say. “So we didn’t see any crescents at all.”
“Now we see so many crescents, we can’t even count them all!” Bug hops over the bricks, holding my hand tight.
In the dentist’s waiting room, Bug and I spot one of those plastic shape-sorters babies use. “Isn’t that silly?” I laugh. This is what we have we been doing all day, and here is this toy, right here!”
We turn it over. No crescent. We disagree about the rhombus. Bug insists it is a half-octagon, and we argue about how many sides an octagon cut in half would have. We decide that whatever the shape, we will try to find one outside sometime. I figure this might be tough, but it’s worth a shot. I’m sure western architects abhor the rhombus as much as they, apparently, dislike the crescent.
Does vision exist at the place where classification and determination meet? Perhaps the taxonomy of experience is up to each of us. How you decide to sort will inform the gaze.
Shapes are everywhere. A lot of _________ are everywhere. Fill the blank with your abundance of choice.