Everyday Poems #22, “Listening to the Summer Presto”


Listening to the Summer Presto

I was listening to Anne-Sophie Mutter
play the Summer Presto.
And with all it’s naked beauty and vigor
I realized –
this was nothing like the summers I know.

My summers are more like the adagio
from the Clarinet Concerto
or the one for two violins.
or Racing in the Street.

Take your pick.

Our southern bourbon dusks in waxing June
sound more like Satchmo to be completely honest.

Everyday Poems #21, “Get Your News From the Poets”



Get Your News From the Poets.

Instead of the surgically altered
made up. Dressed up.
Go instead
to the wrinkled brows
and the bent and broken backs
of Halls and Berrys,
Dantes and Dickensons.
Dive deep
into the Karrs and Kenyons.
Go instead
to the old homes
of Heaneys and Frosts
and not
those who shine like cellulose
in a canopied circus
of teleprompted stars
breaking, always breaking
in more ways than we know –
breaking into the entertainment,
of which we can no longer
tell the difference anyway.

Everyday Poems #20, “With Lassos Folded”


What is so staggering about the poems Miklos Radnoti is not just the clear-sightedness of them but the context. I love/hate the story of his wife finding his final poems. He had been a prisoner of WWII in Hungary. Though a Christian, he was still a Jew by birth, his wife and he converting later. He was shot in Hungary on a “Forced March” and buried in November of 1944. When his wife had him dug up after the war, she found some poems in hi clothes.

miklos and wife

Even translated his words are powerful:

I write, what else can I do. How dangerous a poem is – if you only knew – a line, however delicate, whimsical: there’s courage in these also, do you see?

He’s right, you know. There can be danger, I suppose. Plato wanted to banish the poets from the ideal republic. The poets were valued there, though. In the modern day west, Beyonce and Kenny Chesney are valued. And whatever those songs are, they are not in the country of poetry.

The dangerous poetry is the kind that looks at the world and see things as they are. At least more so than the average person walking around. A veil is lifted. And those who grasp at money and control prefer the veil. They want to hold onto…well everything.

“With Lassos Folded”

With lassos folded
and placed in your account,
they will break you.
Like the horse watched
from the fence
by onlookers with hats tipped.
Them whooping –
you frothing,
missing the green pastures of yearlings

Everyday Poems #19, “The White-Knuckle Grieving”


When my brother called to tell me Mom had been rushed to the ER, I could hear it in his voice. We were watching a Cardinals game, I think. And while I was glad my mom went on ahead of us and was with Dad, it was sad to know she was alone when she took that last breath. Of course, to say she was alone is to deny the reality in which she had daily walked. We are never alone.

My brothers and I and my Aunt sat around my mom’s cancer-racked body in the ER. They gave us some space. We laughed and we cried and prayed. No parents any longer. I remember looking forward to sleep but not looking forward to waking up.

Jane Kenyon is one of my favorite poets. I do not know if I have read a poem of hers I did not like. She is far too often known as the wife of Donald Hall, another of my favorites. And she also died far too soon of cancer. I’d like to include one of her poems here because it’s honest and sad and beautiful all at the same time. And everyone has been through something that colors the most ordinary events.

The Sick Wife

The sick wife stayed in the car
while he bought a few groceries.
Not yet fifty,
she had learned what it’s like
not to be able to button a button.

It was the middle of the day—
and so only mothers with small children
and retired couples
stepped through the muddy parking lot.

Dry cleaning swung and gleamed on hangers
in the cars of the prosperous.
How easily they moved—
with such freedom,
even the old and relatively infirm.

The windows began to steam up.
The cars on either side of her
pulled away so briskly
that it made her sick at heart.

The White-Knuckle Grieving

It is true, joy comes with morning.
But more often than not, years later –
after the soul’s dark night mourning –
after the years level-best thieving –
after the white-knuckle grieving.

Everyday Poems #18, “With A Few Clicks”


“Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth.” – Philip Larkin

Of course, what Larkin meant was that inspiration came from being deprived of something desired. And poets, time out of mind, agree. Larkin, like many 20th century poets was a jazz music fan and critic, which I think you can hear in his poems. He also eschewed fame and did not enjoy it. He even saw that as a deprivation.

In “Aubade” he contemplates the inevitability of death and how everyone must face it. It’s a dour piece of writing but then at the end, he points out more often than not, the ordinary requirements of our work rouse us from such thoughts –

“Work has to be done.”


Five or six years ago I was working as a banker. I was the guy who put in loan applications and opened checking accounts. I was not a great banker, at least not at first. I got in trouble a lot for not selling enough financial products.

At one point, those of us who were not selling enough credit cards had to go to a remedial credit card class, in which nothing was remembered except one thing. There was one young man who was very good at selling credit cards. And his “trick” was to call up customers, who had introductory offers, under the guise of just checking in on them. Then he would exclaim, “Oh wow!” and exclaim to them what the offer was.

We had to practice doing that “Oh wow.”

The bank was not always dark. But there was enough soul-destroying moments that I often found myself searching for poems online during work, just to catch my breath. I always felt like it was my own private rebellion. I knew they would not approve. But I would search for one like living water. Often I would print them out and hang it on a cork board to the right of my monitor.

The irony is, by the time I left the branch, I was becoming very successful by not doing what they wanted and by simply being honest.

I never did the “Oh wow” thing.

With A Few Clicks

With a few clicks you built a canal
for your wandering bark,
with unfurled sail. To wonder in
another stream altogether –
away from the stagnant pool
of numbers and bottom lines,
ties and a crease on the leg –
to that land where Heaney reigns
and Auden jests and Berry rails –
where Bradstreet’s lines are fixed
like Eliot’s point. What water
to dive in and swim on through!
But first the dark and dank
of the tepid pool shaken off.

Everyday Poems #17, “Joy?”

dylan thomas

“These poems, with all their crudities, doubts and confusions, are written for the love of man and in Praise of God, and I’d be a damn fool if they weren’t.”       
– Dylan Thomas

Amidst all the funny memes and lists and posts of Bible verses, I am assuming there is a lot of disappointment out there. Lots of cancelled plans. Life coming to an almost complete standstill. You can only binge-watch so much to hold back the emotional tide of loss. Laughter can help, but before long it feels like a band-aid on a growing tumor.

Dylan Thomas said poetry “makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own.”

With a wink he points out that poems – like songs – remind us that in our unique suffering we are not alone. It is ours, yes. But by force of logic, the poet has captured what we have felt and known. “I know that feeling!” We realize the poet has seen what we have seen before we could. The same light dawned on them.


There is much to be had.
This is why the debris field
of broken glass hopes
is so hard to walk over.

We see in those shards –
ought to have been.
Could have been.
But are not.

And so a dream unfulfilled here,
a failure there,
and life cut short
right there at your feet.

You’d kick at the pieces in anger,
but for a shining glint
when the light turns just right
on jagged edges.

If there can be dancing
in a valley of dry bones,
then all these too
can now be made new.

What Good is Poetry? 11 Quotes


April is the beginning of Spring, baseball, and also National Poetry Month. Three things I love. Most people love two of these in the concrete and the last only possibly in the abstract. Many will enjoy a ballgame at some point. And Spring, throughout the season, with a hike, or around a grill and patio furniture. But poetry? Not really. For over thirty years I’ve kinda been alone in my love of poetry. Thankfully, my dad loved to write occasional poems and my parents encouraged my writing of them. I always felt like there was a power in them, I neither understood nor could communicate. That is still true for the most part. Whenever I talk to people who want to write or be a better writer, I always say, they need to read the poets. It can only make prose better. But there is value for non-writers, too. The following quotes – mostly by poets – will, I hope, help some of you see that value.

1. “Poetry is the journal of the sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air.” – Carl Sandburg

2. “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” – T.S. Eliot

3. Such a small, pure object a poem could be, made of nothing but air a tiny string of letters, maybe small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. But it could blow everybody’s head off. – Mary Karr

4. “A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.” – Salman Rushdie

5. “We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.” – William Butler Yeats

6. “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.” – Leonardo da Vinci

7. “Poetry is eternal graffiti written in the heart of everyone.” – Lawrence Ferlinghetti

8. “Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own.” – Dylan Thomas

9. “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. ― Emily Dickinson”

10. The meaning of poetry is to give courage. A poem is not a puzzle that you the dutiful reader are obliged to solve. It is meant to poke you, get you to buck up, pay attention, rise and shine, look alive, get a grip, get the picture, pull up your socks, wake up and die right. . . . Forget everything you ever read about poetry, it doesn’t matter–poetry is the last preserve of honest speech and the outspoken heart. – Garrison Keillor

11. “Poetry is the clear expression of mixed feelings.” – W.H. Auden