Happiness is Easy; Contentment is Hard

Striving for happiness,

we worry so about

the then and when

that now’s forgotten 

in the world’s swirl.

Like a child’s top,

we wobble wildly

gaining balance,

losing equilibrium,

forgetting the moment

the top gyrates

into a stillness;

it seems unmoving

even as it spins,

and spins, and spins.

(February 21, 2023)

Note on Writing

“to combat the resistances of language you must keep talking”

–Anne Carson

I write most everyday. Since the end of last August, I have filled up two 150-page notebooks, completed close to 80 short poems.  I have written, if not so obsessively as now, since I was 15. I write poetry, with the occasional venture into essays like this one. I have trouble with narrative, one event leading into another befuddles me, as does conversation between people.  So I do not write fiction. Yet, I do have an interior running commentary on the narrative I am living, snipes and admonitions on my life as it unfolds. To push back against this cruel eviscerating voice, which adheres tightly within my skin, I write. I write to explain the world to myself, to explain myself to myself, to resist the world, which is lain upon me by the world. I write to resist the temptation to settle into myself without a thought. I am uncomfortable in most social situations. It’s discomforting when others try to define me, or attempt to interpret me from my writing. Yes, I am aware that all writer’s expose their minds in their writing. Even writers of fiction expose themselves through their fictional characters. Nietzsche wrote that in the end we only experience ourselves. Yet, I believe there is also a separation from oneself, a leap into the universal other, which occurs when one writes: a transubstantiation of individuality into a larger third person narrator, who watches and observes with more objective, more just, eye. Of course, I also know this is pure bullshit. I am as clotted with my biases and situation as anyone. But it is through writing, through the transformative nature of writing, where a third space can open, and one can enter along with whomever can follow into a changed world, a different, perhaps better place, if only for the time it takes to read the poem. And to keep from being defined, trapped even in these new spaces, I continue to write, to find a way to exist with myself.

(February 28, 2017)

There are No Demarcations to the Heart

My friend’s mother loved

to draw lines for people

to differentiate forms

of love; to justify

the margins; to define

what was proper and allowed

in the eyes of her god who

said to love one another.

So many words she used

to hone the finer gradations

of such a simple task:

an act of empathy, love

your neighbor as yourself;

We only have each other.

(February 19, 2023)


I’m trapped 

in broken brambles 

awaiting the wolves 

approach. I hear 

my shadows,

forms within forms,

ripple slowly 

through empty trees, 

like dry leaves

on an absent wind.


to inconsequence, 

I hover on the edge 


as I had a part beyond 

this tacit whisper.

These walls contain 

all the ghosts who speak 

of love and duty:

like dead lover’s memories, 

dark conversations ensue.

(February 16, 2023) 

the walls of the asylum

I know where I am she said

just look out the window 

I know I remember

the bricks of the wall she said

I’m not crazy she said

not like old Uncle Rudolf

I remember him there

I remember the walls she said

I was just a child she said

but I knew what’s what

I know where you’ve put me

I know where I am she said

The State hospital she said

I am not crazy I know

I was there once as a child

I remember the walls she said

I want out of bed she said

I want to go home she said

I’m tired all the time she said

I remember the walls she said

I remember the walls

I remember the walls

I want to go home

I remember the walls

(February 3, 2023)

Nothing to Fear

A mouse skitters along

the baseboard, stops,

then waits, apprehensive;

her whiskers alive

to the slightest air.

Shadows blossom on the walls.

Fear pads through the room,

aware of nothing but itself

growing inside others

like a worm in a rose.

What with so many cuts

and small pricks upon

our faces and fingertips,

fear bleeds into the air

like flowers from god’s mouth:

fear flourishes on nothing,

feeds on nothing, blooms

from the nothing we carry

like bags of broken glass

spilling into our hands.

The mouse sits still

surrendering to the fear,

surrendering to the waves,

knowing she will lose herself,

knowing she will drown.

(January 31, 2023)

What I Remember of my Stroke (Almost 20 years ago)

The med-tech said the MRI showed I had had three events— I remember two. A friend asked me a few months later if I had forgotten anything. I asked, how would I know? Another, whom I met for the first time months and months after the events, asked if I had aphasia since I was always searching for words as I spoke. If I had always done this, or was it a result of the stroke? Again, how would I know? I don’t remember being at a loss for words in the past— does that mean I have memory loss, or that it did not happen? I could ask people who knew me before, but then that would be their memories of me, not my own.

This is what I remember of that night. My in-laws were over for dinner. We were seated around the kitchen table. I don’t remember the children there, but they would have been, or should have been. I vaguely recall a roast pork loin in a cream sauce on the table, but that could have been another night with different people talking about different things. I was drinking a margarita. I had just taken a drink, savoring the salt and tequila as I placed the glass on the table. It was then that the first event I remember occurred. I felt odd, out of sequence somehow. My vision blurred briefly, as if I had just woken up. The world looked as if I was peering through a smudged lens of a camera. I rubbed my eyes, but my vision remained gooey.

I still felt odd. So, I excused myself, and retreated to an overstuffed chair in the living room. Very quickly my vision cleared, and I felt normal again. I returned to the table laughing about how weird the whole thing was, and finished my plate. After dinner, Lisa and her parents went outside to sit on the porch. I cleaned up a little, then went into the front room and sat down in the Lazy-Boy in the corner. As I sat there the words from Pound’s Cantos we had painted above the front door: “To be men, not destroyers” went from one line to three as if I were looking through a prism. That was more than a little weird. 

Lisa called the nurse line. And after we described what had occurred, he said it sounded like a stroke, but not too bad of one since I felt normal. He said I should come in to the after-hours clinic in the morning and see a doctor. I wondered if I would wake up in the morning.

The hospital was a comedy of errors. The after hours doctor sent me there as soon as she heard my symptoms. We arrived, talked to a receptionist, who sent us up stairs for a room. The floor nurse had no idea why we were there, and sent us back downstairs. Finally someone in the ER escorted me back to a bed. They stuck wires and tubes all over and in me. Lots of machines beeped and blipped. Then they sent us home. 

Over the next few months I had a series of tests: my heart, my blood, my head (MRI), my arteries. I saw the amounts the insurance company shelled out rise to the tens of thousands. Luckily I had insurance through teaching, or we would have been hard pressed to pay it all. Then after all of that they sent us a letter to describe what had happened. Lisa demanded that we see the neurosurgeon who signed off on the letter. We went in; and according to all the tests, and the gobs of money the insurance company paid, he told us the results. Yes, I had had a stroke. Yes, I was really young to have had a stroke (45). No, they did not know what caused it. Yes, it could happen again. No, there was nothing I could do to prevent it. Take a baby aspirin everyday. That was it: take a baby aspirin everyday. Like the punch line to an ancient joke that no one laughs at anymore: take a baby aspirin, and don’t call me in the morning. 

(January 29, 2023)


We could not see the Mediterranean 

sky from the dive bar off the alley.

A neon-blue sign on the wall flickered

and flowed over us in pulsating waves.

We willingly began to drown, tangled

in the laconic kelp strangling

our naive hearts in a nascent love.

The twins behind the bar laughed 

at our tumbling and fumbling;

as, like sea glass on a foreign shore,

we danced in the neon-blue light.

(January 22, 2023)


Rising each morning,

he finds himself

falling into memory

and its patterned rituals.

Most days do not cohere;

stories slag off as he walks

unsteadily down the stairs.

He does not fragment,

like a shattered mirror,

so much as crumbles

like cheap concrete

into piles of disaggregated

data— isolated numbers 

floating in the air. The dust,

briefly, rises into the sun, 

then settles like a benediction

across a landscape of sin.

He finds comfort in his ruins,

where the darker horror hides

in the ashes of the mundane.

(January 21, 2023)

Loss of Synchronicity

My gravity slipped,

as she moved from time.

a radio signal wavered

one degree to the side.

The song grew static,

then solidified,

reinserting the melody

before vanishing

like dusk into night.

(January 20, 2023)