Halloween II

Now this may be the hardest thing of all,
to look at your own singular face,
not through the masked perspective of
someone who used to be younger, used to be cuter,
used to weigh less or have a better tan.
This is the work of grace and forgiveness.
When you are able to look at what is real
and say yes, those are my ruddy fat cheeks,
oh so similar to a harvesting squirrel’s.
Yes, those are deep and earned wrinkle lines.
Yes, I have droopy hammocks for eyelids.
Yes, my lips are thin and have not kissed
enough people. Yes, one eye is smaller
than another, and they both look tired.
Yes, there are many chins under that sweatshirt,
jealousy and dreams screaming in that spine.
hot grief and relentless courage fighting
in that belly. Yes, you say to the only person
you seem to greet with equal uncertainty and hope.
Yes, this is who I am and I will not pose
as anyone else anymore. Not even, you say, to myself.


Dare, if you wish, to be a swash buckling pirate.
Draw a lightening bolt on your forehead.
Cut out felt scales. Look, you’re a purple and blue fish!
Get a friend, then sew yourselves into a pair of mittens.
Brush on a mustache, thicken your eyebrows,
carry a paint palette with a monkey on your shoulder.
Put stacks of Monopoly money into your breast pocket,
have a corn cob sprout from the top of your head.
This is the month to stuff yourself into your
next life, to dream bigger, hold out a bag
to complete strangers and ask for something sweet.
What? You want to become a writer in New Mexico.
Say it, trick or treat. You want to drive Rt. 66
with a teardrop trailer. Say it, trick or treat.
Whatever you want – walk right up to it, hold out
your pillow case, smile, then ask for what you want.


My dad did something pretty damn amazing – today I received a Halloween card. That alone would be cool enough, but in it I found a check and this note: For your candy fund. It was a big check too. Dad does this a couple times a year. Out of the blue, sends some unexpected money. Pure generosity.

This and several other things made it a pretty great day. I awakened to shouts from next door and a trumpeting episode I may tell you about tomorrow. Made a good save when my class was tanking. Some kids dropped by for lunch. Went to the pool to exercise and all of us were laughing about the riddle the lifeguard asked us to solve. (If Teresa’s daughter is your daughter’s mother, who are you to Teresa?) I went to an amazing movie, Bridge of Spies.

But I made two big mistakes. One was just dumb, super dumb, and it had a rippling effect on others. The second was just inconsiderate, something I shouldn’t have done.

There was a line from tonight’s movie when one character was showing respect for another and calls the first a “Standing Man.” Kind of like an upright citizen, an upstander. It’s a phrase that’ll stick with me a while. I hope forever.

Today, I chose not to be a Standing Man. Not when I made the stupid mistake – that was just careless. But during the inconsiderate mistake, I sat right down, sat down deep.

And now, as is my modus operendi, I’ll go to sleep with guilt as my bed partner, not delight. The Halloween card’ll be shoved to the back of my brain while I get all mangled up in my wrongdoing.

I wish I could get a check in the mail that said “for your forgiveness fund,” not with a dollar amount scribed on the check, but some absolution. Or I wish I could go trick or treating and people would drop a note in my pillow bag that read, “It’s okay, everyone messes up.” That would be a treat I would hungrily swallow.

I know there are others of you out there who do the same thing, swap guilt for grace. Tell me, how do you loose yourself from shame?

Premium Lounge

I took my car in for service today and spent some time in the customer lounge at Motorcars Honda. Oh my god.

There was this table, pictured, that is set up for wi-fi with USB ports, chargers, and outlets. These flowers. A huge big screen tv. A fireplace inside and another for the outdoor patio, which had the deliciously soft easy chairs. There were high tables, low tables. Sturdy upright chairs, cooshy sofas. There were complimentary ice cold beverages – sodas, ice tea, water, juices — and cookies warm from the oven. The coffee bar had an assortment of flavors. It was by the spotlessly clean microwave and mini-fridge. And, you won’t believe it, there was a concierge.

I told Rita that I was just going to come back and hang out in the lounge. She said, come anytime. We are open until 3 am.

Motorcars lounge is the slickest place I have been to in years, (which says a lot about my life, I guess). High-end everything. Contemporary finishes. Tasteful. I want to rent it out for my 54th birthday!

Being there, and interacting with my topnotch service manager, made me think about customer service. How that institution goes out of its way to make clients happy in a seamless way. I want to be like Motorcars, someone who goes above and beyond. I want to do things that ease others burdens and makes life better. Thank you, Honda, for realigning me to plumb. You taught me that small perfect gestures add up.

I also thought about luxury. How it is perfectly fine – even wildly beneficial — to treat yourself. Buy the best chair. Stock the fridge with your favorite drinks. Get a flower arrangement. Put a bright orange daisy on a blue table. Pay a little extra for a custom-made computer table. Splurge, if you can, every once in a while.

I know that might sound obvious. But I know far too many people who sacrifice pleasure for fiscal responsibility and are more hospitable to others than they are to themselves.

Be kind to yourself. Eat a sugar cookie. Buy the high-end faucet. It’s ok to enjoy life, it’s okay to put your well-being ahead (or at least beside) the need to buy eggs or pay the electric bill. It’s okay to do something that makes you feel good. It is, it really is.


Leaves are tumbling, but just a bit.
Far away, I hear a lone chirper chirping.
The moon is quiet, the grass is quiet,
clouds are floating by as if they’re
on a secret mission. I only hear
the sounds of the earth being the earth.
Let me not clutter that perfection
with the din of easy words.


I should write a long poem about Zak,
how he is one of the coolest kids
I’ve ever met, and that really means something,
given I have met nearly three thousand kids.
He’s turning eleven today, and I wish
I were there to eat a burger with him.

If I could blow out his candles I’d wish
only one thing: that his heart stay open.
I used to think his extroversion and charisma
were something native to his age; he just
didn’t know any better. But now I’ve realized
he’s just magnetic, without any pole.
Attraction from the north, attraction
from the south. Repelling is not in his nature.

John, my minister, often uses a phrase:
going from grace to grace. That’s Bean.
Grace to grace, friend to friend,
fun to fun, game to game, love to love.
He moves from one form of goodness to the next,
as if every goodness is expected. Not due,
mind you, but always available. What,
if for just one day, we thought the same?
Reached out with pure belief, that the only thing
ever coming back to us would be love?

Happy birthday, Zak. May you have many, many more.

Not the canopy this year

Dare to walk right into the forest,
see how light makes translucence.
Remember when you were a child,
how you shone the flashlight
through your fingers, how you
noticed even solid things can
be transformed and set aflame.
Draw near to the flaws, the anomalies.
somehow, up close, everything is beautiful.

Eleven reasons why jack-o-laterns are better than pumpkins

1. A pumpkin just sits there on the front porch doing nothing, much like I was doing. Nap, eat, napping away the day.
2. I got an invitation to come over. I love getting invitations, especially to go next door.
3. The Sweeneys’ dining room table was draped with plastic bags and they had already pulled out their carving tools which far exceed the paring knife/bread knife carving I attempt to do. They have this scraping tool, too. Lordy, it’s magic.
4. Sheridan helped me pick the design and then was my number one advisor while I was carving.
5. For no reason at all Fiona strolled over and gave me a kiss.
6. Somehow ice cream cake was involved.
7. When the candle was tested with the flashlight, everyone roared their approval. Including me. Actually, I cheered the loudest.
8. When I needed a big candle to put inside the pumpkin, Sheridan went with me. She did the price checking, the self-check-out, the paying, and the carrying. I like to make her feel crucial to the process, because, really, she is. The best part of shopping with her is the we are involved in an exchange of love, the best good and service in the land.
9. Pumpkin seeds. Just the right amount of butter.
10. Fiona walked around with a moving box on her head. Tavish and Cullen threw an orange around the dining room. We talked about paint colors, window treatments, how Thanksgiving will be catered by Heinen’s and served at the new house. I am invited for any and all of the celebration.
11. Tonight, I finally understood, truly believed. They are leaving, but not leaving me. Our jack-o-lateen carving days are not over, just moving to a new location.

Hard to pick

Gluttony. I have had a gluttonous load of good fortune today. Some days I sit here for quite a while trying to figure out what to write, but today I could chew your ear off with stories.

I could tell you about math workshop, how the kids were spot-on, focused, and the class worked like a dream. I love co-teaching with Crystal.

Or I could tell you about writing a story with B at lunch, how he chose to eat and work with me instead of hanging with his classmates. He said one of his characters died because he was on a cliff and his favorite bowling ball fell out of his car and when he went to grab it, he tried to grip the grill of his car but his fingers gave out. Lordy.

I wish you could’ve been there when a third grader was struggling to answer a math problem and, with tears in her eyes, she came to me for help. I turned to her, so that I could look her right in the eye. I was sitting, as I often do these days. And instead of standing close, like most kids do, she just went for my lap. Sat right down, tucked herself in for my assurances. That has never happened in my teaching career. Kids draw near, will drape themselves on my shoulder or arm, but she clearly needed a lap, which made me think we all need a lap sometimes. I know I do. I am awed by her brave vulnerability. For doing what she needed to do.

I could tell you about the birthday party I went to for Sheridan and the third grade friends she’d invited. I’d imagine they’ll be up until 1 or 2 tonight. Sleeping over, how fun. I gave her fabric and a Joann gift card because she is the most talented seamstress I know. Has an eye, my Shroddy, for the perfect color combinations.

And I loved being with Anne and Cullen and Jim. I don’t know how many more nights I will have with them next door, but I didn’t let that cloud the event. I was present and thankful.

Or I could tell you about where I was the last couple hours. Hanging out with the Sadlers, Ryan and Matt, two former students, their mom, Sue, and her husband, Mark. Ryan texted me this evening saying he was town from California and asked if I would like to hang out for a while. Would I? Hell, yes. What an honor it is to see boys grow to be men, still the same as they always were, only deeper.

And this: yesterday I thought about putting a challenge in my weekly IB minutes. I’m sure, most weeks, the minutes go unread, so I was wary to ask staff to bombard our new teachers with reasons why they are loved. I pushed “send” anyway today at 4:03, hoping someone would see and respond. Within an hour my email box was filled. Dozens of emails with lists and lists of reasons we love our new faculty members. Funny stuff too. Of all the things I contributed to school this week, this was the most important by far. After all, what could matter more than affection, than building and energizing the team? I love my people, and love that my people so easily showed their love. We say we are the Fernway family, and today it showed.

It matters what we do — the good lesson plan, the impromptu lunch date, the openness of the lap.

They matter, these small gestures – the nickname, the attentive gift, the big slice of birthday cake.

They lift and gird us against our apathy, these gifts of kindness – the drop-by invitation, the perfect Chipotle bowl, the stories of ping pong and MRIs.

I loved everything about today. Every single thing. I am filled to brim with thanks. Tonight I will go to sleep happy and feeling loved. And, even if I dream good dreams – the best dreams I have ever dreamed – none of them will equal the generosity of this day.

Thank you, all of you.

I mean it.

What nature teaches us

Yesterday, I plodded my way down E. 105th to the Walker Building, where I took the elevator to the 13th floor. There, I waited for twenty minutes until my psychiatrist could meet with me. I cried about the changes and losses I feel I’m enduring, then, as she always does, she nodded and refilled my prescription for – as she calls it – “a baby dose” of an anti-depressant. Growth? Nope. A new understanding? No, not really.

Today, I was outside helping Fiona get onto my scooter and I noticed that my Japanese maple has not yielded to its fiery red color, but I snapped this picture anyway. I liked the way the leaves are starting to turn and the way they seem surrounded in a halo of light.

Then, shoot, the tree spoke to me. Bashed a new way of thinking into my head. I don’t know why I have not learned this lesson sooner; fall is, by far, my favorite season.

Today this tree, my tree, reminded me that change is beautiful. It is natural. It transforms. It illuminates. It is something to look forward to. This tree taught me more about my emotional state than that prescription ever could.

I have been seeking greengreengreen, and have been afraid of anything that might alter the good gig I have going on. But this – the first glimpse of orange – is a balm tonight. A calm tonight. Surely, it tells me, beautiful things – no matter what – are still coming my way.

Telephone lines

I remember being very young and learning the magic of telephone wires, how the sounds of voices were traveling through that thin filament. One voice heading west, the other east, two people talking, meeting in the space between.

Honestly, a lot of my communication goes in one direction. To the kids, to the teachers, to you who are reading this. (And, even more honestly, I wish sometimes someone would write back, let me know that these words are being heard on the other end.)

The best moment I had today, besides the cupcakes Sheridan snuck over to my house after she showed off her new birthday jacket and scarf, happened after school. There were five of us in the room trying to write a new central idea for a new unit. One idea binged into the next. Doubting, suggesting, summarizing, questioning. Ideas strung from one stake to the next, a web of wires connecting us, tightening and lifting the thinking.

Thank you, colleagues, for being the grace of the day. How rewarding it is to link my voice to yours, and know that our voices together build the circle of learning.

The moth, the butterfly

I have written a thousand poems
about the light. Seeking it,
leaning into it, being assured
it will come. Today, I watched
a moth batter itself into
my screen door as if my living
room held a meal, a mating partner.
It was too needy, the moth,
rampantly starving for glint
and flicker. Now, it’s inside,
attached to the gold of the
computer room, realizing
the wall is not the sun,
like I do so many times feasting
on quick or false bright.

Earlier, when I was at stopped
in traffic, a monarch flitted across
the lower edge of my windshield,
swept up the driver’s side,
then flirted with my window
dipping towards me, then away.
It turned and darted to the back,
making a circle around my car.
I don’t know why I cried, but
I did. And now, seeing the moth,
its second-cousin, trapped here
in my home, I know why. Light,
with all its allure, pulls you
to it, demands your allegiance.
Freedom, wily and generous,
allows you to find your own way.


  Do not ignore the shells pressed into the floor.  Wonder where they came from, how they ended up here in the airport under the feet of the travelers.  Stop to acknowledge their journey, cracked and polished in the sea.  Think about water.  How it moved the snail.  Softened the conch.  Forced anenome to shift direction and speed.  Think about your shell, the beliefs you carry with you, the fixed conception you have of yourself.  Ask yourself what would the best sea.  Take off your good clothes.  Remove your good shoes.  Step into the water.  Begin again, eager to be cracked and polished too. 

Corner of Brickell and SE 3rd

 I’ve been in major cities, but none like this. I’m used to limestone and sandstone, materials pressed over centuries in deep dark places.  This city is made of glass, a liquid that is still moving.  When I crossed the street tonight, I was struck my the beauty of this sight.  The reflection, the implied movement.  

Look, this building screamed at me.  Look at your dour face, your heavy stride, Jean.  I am the mirror you need right now, only I will cast what you see in green.  Not just any green. Not the naive green of spring, of children.  This is a blue green.  I am here to remind you that change is the outcome of struggle.  A new beginning will be born of your sadness. 

And here, the Metromover shouted, not wanting to be ignored.  Here is the rail, the path.  It’s not as hard as you think to be swooped out of your current state.  There are escape routes above you, beside you, near you.  Find the stop, buy a ticket, Jean.  Wait for the automated doors to slide open, and step inside.  

Coconut Grove

  Tonight an Uber ride down US 1 to Coconut Grove, which was a little sleepy when we arrived.  Blackened shrimp salad.  Gelato in an open air market, Cuban music playing while a boy danced in the walkway.  I bought a sunstone in a shop; the clerk said it would bring be a greater sense of optimism and positivity.  An Uber ride back up US 1.  The driver said stone crab would do the job too.  “They make everyone feel better.”  Sunstone, crab, sunstone, crab? (I’ll keep you posted.) And, oh yeah, I learned a lot at IB training too. 

Bernoulli’s Principle 

  I know Bernoulli said a liquid moving fast creates low pressure. I know this tube of humanity is kept aloft because the slight hump in each wing and the way air is forced to move more quickly over that arc. I know Bernoulli’s principle probably works for us too – if we just keep moving over the things that hurt or trouble us, the pressure will ease. 

At one point in today’s flight from Charlotte to Miami, I realized that all of these people had responsibilities and that this plane was not just loaded with the weight of our bodies and luggage, it was able to lift our concerns too.  I started praying, which is unusual for me.  Not out of fear, but generosity.  To you, the man next to me traveling from Cincinnati to Pittsurgh to Charlotte to Miami.  May your bills be paid, your children be healthy.  To you, the older woman applying lipstick midflight.  May your smile be seen, that mouth be soon treated to a good meal.  To you, seatmate, may your life be balanced.  May you realize and rest in your good service to others, all of those who benefit from your labor and love for your work.  And for me, this is what I prayed: may your curves be wings. May your slow pace be fast enough to lift you. May you find yourself again home in the sky and stay lofted even when you touch down. 


Returning to the place I started
after thirty years. Wish I had
good memories, but all I have is
this: the image of my mother
driving through rain with the Uhaul
swaying behind her Country Squire.
Green shag carpet, palmetto bugs,
cokehead pilot neighbor, Peeping
Tom in my window, Sunday papers
by the pool. Thyroid cancer,
Twyla the PE teacher blowing
her whistle screaming at the kids.
The Pickle Stop neighborhood store,
a race riot, Kenny who could not read.
The smell of hot after a storm,
the smell of hot before a storm,
the smell of hot in January.
Publix grocery store, Wham,
an accident on US Route 1.
My dining room furniture,
an aluminum outdoor table
and two plastic chairs.

And this: a plumber named Alan,
the most handsome boy I had
ever seen. White cargo shorts,
tan torso, muscles made of work,
not pride. He asked if he could
kiss me, and like I said to everything
else in Miami, the answer was no.

It’s as if there is a map

There, north, the State of Eagerness.
On the coast, Courage, which is a few
hundred miles downstream from the
River Vision and its tributary, Hope.
The capital is called Allegiance.
It used to be a bustling city, but it’s
been gentrified by some skepticism.
The interstates are wide, linking
the valleys of Adjust and Adapt.
Honestly, the speed limit is too low.
On good days, I crank it up to fifty,
and even then, I feel uneasy.
In the middle of the map, this bridge,
named Confidence, capable of moving me
from one state to another. I built it
years ago, but am now hesitant
to cross over, especially in the
passing lane, though others whiz by.
The legend has a symbol for tolls,
they’re everywhere, the price to pay
for things done and not done,
chances taken and left ignored.
The western region has not yet
been explored, but make sure
you visit the east, home to
the rising and loyal sun.
There are wide plains, shouldered
by roiling rises and landmarks.
The first, a ledge called Regret,
too high to scale down from.
And, Esteem, an arch carved and eroded
over thousands of unforeseen events,
beautifully smoothed, made of
burning red and golden stone.

This one

Sometimes, Fiona, you’re like a puppy.
Walking over to me, to others, nuzzling
in for a hello. I can’t tell you how
I feel when you approach, press in
for some love. It’s just too big.
I used to shout a greeting, then
hug your brother and sister when they
were three, like you are today.
Then lift them over my shoulder,
playing our sack-of-potoatoes game.

But you are in charge of your relationships,
you decide how close you want to get,
(and, thank god, it usually is close),
you decide how to engage. Yesterday,
you climbed onto my lap and tugged onto
the neck of my shirt while you leaned back,
your braid dipping to touch the porch floor.
We did it twelve times until you were sated.
I counted, praying it would last forever.

Sometimes, often, after you tuck into me,
you say “I love you.” Those words make me
feel blasted with light, bounced higher.
I don’t know a child who hands out love
like wags, like free water. I always feel
like I’m coming home to you, Fiona, I do.

I’m stone silly stupefied by your smile,
by your movements, the way you skip
and slide through your days, never still.
You are embedded in my happiness, I am bound
to yours. Years ago, your parents asked me
to be your godparent, but I need you to know
that you have taught me more about
the abundant joy and immeasurable love
of God than I will ever be able to teach you.
How did I get to be so lucky? Thank you.

After you move, I will be there for you.
When you are ten and don’t understand division,
I’m your gal. When you want a dinner date
coming home from college, call me up.
When you find the love of your life,
or lose it, you can cry on my shoulder.
When you climb the mountain I know you’ll climb,
please send me a picture from the summit.
When I am old and you are grown, even then,
I know one glance from your sky blue eyes
will cause mine to open wider, to fill
with love, to see the world with your wonder.

I will love you always, Fiona, and then some.
Happy birthday, sweet girl.


I’m clutching my insurance card,
waiting for an angry call from the stranger
who drives this black Kia Sorento.
My bumper hit this bumper pretty damn hard,
and while it would easy to bash myself
with guilt, frustration, it just is what it is.
I won’t have to take my special anti-anxiety
medicine tonight or cry myself to sleep.
What can I do other than to raise my hand,
admit my fault, say I’m sorry, and plan
to pay for the damages? Mostly, I feel sad
this person’s night was changed, that he,
or she, will be burdened by my dumb mistake.

I pray, right now, that there is a second car
in the family, a second adult, a mama or papa
that goes with the carseat in the back,
someone to help drop the car off
and pick the driver up. That there is a
repair shop nearby, a easy quick fix.
That every inconvenience that comes
with this kind of shitty surprise
is less inconvenient than normal. And,
while I am at it, the praying, I hope
that this mistake jump-starts my attention,
makes me more vigilant and responsible.

Somedays, there is no waxing poetic,
there’s just work, an hour of exercise,
and a call to place a take-out order
thwarted by a good dose of stupidity
and carelessness. I have a new motto:
Backing up is more important than
ordering cajan chicken salad,
light on the cajun, with blue cheese.
It’s a little long, the motto, but,
damn, I sure will remember it.

National Coming Out Day

I think it’s important
I let you know a few things:
I do not like swimming in lakes,
nor do I enjoy rides at amusement parks,
especially the ones the spin,
they make me throw up.
I have just learned to enjoy
runny yokes, and, yes,
I am willing to admit
I watch the Bachelorette.
I go without socks too long
in the fall season, my feet stink,
and, so, too, do I after I eat garlic.
I say I cheer for the Browns
when they are not playing
the Steelers, but I never do.
I cry too easily, and, while I
used to say I was okay with it,
it’s growing embarrassing,
Especially with doctors, when
they are just trying to be helpful.
Speaking of helpful, I could
really use a cleaning service,
as my windows and bathrooms are,
well, filthy, as my mom used to say.
Filthy. I can swear like a sailor,
the word I chose is far worse than “shit.”
I am afraid to get on my bike again,
the seat seems really, really high.
I’ve never been high, not once,
and I didn’t believe Clinton
when he said he did not inhale.
Silly man. I am growing to believe
I can’t really trust any president,
and that sometimes makes me feel fatalistic.
I need to strengthen my vocabulary;
use words like fatalistic more frequently,
but not too frequently as it’s off-putting.
Though I used to strive to be smart, now,
I really just want to be happy,
no matter what that means. Last night,
when we were walking home from a concert,
I held my sweetie’s hand, right there
on Main Street, Michigan, and, honestly,
I don’t give half of a flying fuck
about what that could mean to anyone
anymore. It was chilly, her hands
are so soft, how could I not hold one?

Doing the laundry

I fold and sort my laundry on my couch,
sometimes it sits there for a day or two.
I have to apologize to people who drop by.
Here, can I get you something to drink,
and, oh, sorry about my underwear.

The only time I remember my mother freaking out
to me about me — there were other
explosions — was when she started yelling
in the basement. Turn, she shouted,
your goddamn clothes right side out. Shit.

Not only did she have to sort the clothes,
she washed, folded and carried them
back upstairs to put them in our dressers,
all like an elf. I had no idea of the
amount of redundant hard work, until I was grown.

That day, the fact that I just pulled
my clothes off any which way, put her
over the edge. I stood there and she thrust
a shirt at me – see. A pair of pants – see.
A sweatshirt. See the extra goddamn work I have to do.

This morning, I was similarly pissy. All of my clothes
were outside in. See, see, see. I could hear mom, the silent
shouting skittered through me and flipped my stomach.
How long do we seek forgiveness. How long, I wonder,
do our memories beg to be refolded and sorted?

The wind

was blowing so hard from the northwest,
it was if I could feel everything coming my way.
Ryan’s laugh from Minneapolis, Lisa’s red boots
smacking the sidewalk, Rebecca reading her writing,
her voice so strong I could hear it here
as I pumped my cheap gas. There, a gust of
Grace zooming in from Chicago. The Iowa writers
ringing with their newest stories, Montana ranchers
hollering in the cattle for the night.
Even you, way over there in Washington
singing in a cover band, your coffee breath
making it all the way to East 55th and Kinsman.

I only cried twice today

Once when the doctor who will replace my knee
said that he did five surgeries yesterday
and will do four more tomorrow, but he knows
what it feels like to have this be new, scary.

Second, when Anne went in to add matzah balls
to her soup. I had been okay until then,
asking her about the new house: the floors,
the countertops. But as soon as she left, whoosh.

I used to label my tears as good or bad,
but now I think they come from the same well,
and their purpose is to keep washing me with
the reminder: you will be fine, you will be fine.

Non-Attachment, but not

This table was sanded by someone
I don’t know. The eggs, which are coming,
by a stranger too. The road I drove on
to get here was made by men I’ll never meet,
and smoothed by miles and miles of cars
driven by people who don’t know my name.
This book, moving and challenging me,
was written by someone a friend knows,
but she and I will never cross paths.
I wish they could know of my gratitude:
the carpenter, cook, road crew. The printer,
prose writer, and publicist too.

We are all so essential and still not-seen.
The tree planters, kiwi pickers, the soldiers
and architects who level the land.
The miners, pipe fitters, the seamstresses
who thread machines. What around you
was not lifted by another’s hands?
Only the earth and its reckless prizes.

Yesterday, I felt the pulse of my life
in the choral thrum. Today, while
realizing this about others, I don’t feel
it for me. This morning, a friend
asked us to describe her in three words,
I chose reserved, unyielding, and
generously appreciative, for blessings
and bad. I want to beg for your words,
more desperate than she, but I’m afraid
no one will know what to say. I am my work,
and it dissolves, sweet like sugar in rain.

The right thing to say would be this:
there will come a day of bones and teeth,
when these fingers will do nothing
but lay stagnant then burn to dust.
There will be a day when all that
you have done has melded into
the greater good. How good
and humbling it is to realize that
everything matters and it all floats away,
untethered to nothing but time.
And still, in this truth, sleeps ego,
the one who wants to be assured:
Have I built a table from my life?
Paved a wide and beautiful boulevard?
What from me, if anything, will remain?

Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield looks like a poet.
Those quiet eyes, that crinkled hair.
You can just tell she ate quinoa
for dinner, eggplant and lentils too.
Wiped her tiny mouth politely, never
gulping the water, her wine. I look like
a PE teacher who is about to gorge on
a grilled cheese sandwich with bacon,
have two refills of diet Dr. Pepper,
which is true, but not defining.
I’ve just read ten of Jane’s poems
to ready myself for tonight’s reading.
I especially liked “Rebus” which spoke
about the choices we make, how
they fold in on each other, some like
a ladder, some an anvil, or a cup.
If I were a poet, I would write about
the choices I have not made: The epic
No Thank You of 1981, the Forfeit of Austin,
the Treaty of Dellwood Road. Tonight,
Pluto is overhead. I know this, but forget.
Tomorrow, my skeleton will launch itself
to vertical again, but I won’t feel its strain.
How much of life, I wonder, goes unnoticed,
what if, long ago I would have said yes?
Would, then, the ladder be a symbol of rising
not fear? An artichoke be a tongue not a sword?
If I think about the lives I have thrown away,
the years I spent silent with poems itching
my fingers, I can only wad my hands,
then shove them into my tight pockets.

My plate

My plate was empty, but I was not sated.
Talking about racism, the ability to truly
empathize with another, the range of
experiences sprung from the same event.
We never moved from the dining table
for three straight hours. Mining, we were
trying to extract something valuable
from the deep veins of hard rocks.

Somewhere, years ago, this plate was fired
in a kiln one thousand degrees hot. Kaolin
turned the porcelain white, feldspar
made the sheen. Did you know feldspar
can be metamorphic, formed by a quick
catastrophic explosion, or sedimentary –
stagnancy, stillness, pressed over time?

I felt like I was eating both, something that
could change quickly, and something that stays
the same over hundreds of long centuries.
But I ate, we ate. Forks were raised, cream and sugar
passed. We said please and thank you
as we lifted pick axes, made the first cracks.
We labored together, one hard swing after another
as shards of truth splintered off the surface,
then laid there, dangerous and beautiful.

My porch

This is the channel, the canal,
the passageway between private
and public living. I do not
have to do anything on a day
such as this, when the sky and light
seem to be in cahoots, showing off
for Montana or North Carolina.
I just have to go outside,
sit there, and others come.
Today, seven have visited me
here, on this porch. We talked
about offer strategies when buying
a house, film snobs, paper making,
Mad Max, the best kind of birthday
party when you are 8, 9, and 10.
Hair clippers, long bike rides,
garlic hummus and narcissism.
And with this one: I asked
if we were friends, she said no.
Buddies? No. Sisters, no.
Family, no, with a huge laugh.
We are girls, she said, except
that you are a boy. Then she said
I’m going to flip over again,
you better hold me. This space
always holds me, it is my family
room, my living room, my safe den,
and when I’m about to flip over,
this is the place the world comes
to save me, love saunters up,
sits down for a while, tips
its head back to catch the sun.
And I need not do anything,
not one thing, but watch
and give good thanks.

Living alone

Winter is in the air,
Joaquin’s fat belly
has stretched into Ohio.
Sharp pointy rain,
tree leaves flipping over,
the lawn only has one,
maybe two, mows left in it.
Time to rotate the mattress,
change the sheets from
salmon to royal purple.
I will not romanticize
your marriage, but I want
you to know this: a mattress
is too heavy for one,
too bulky. The sheets
go on slowly, this side,
then that, then back
to the first. The dishwasher
gets loaded, unloaded,
by the same two hands.
When I listened to NPR
this morning, the story
about the first reporting
and treatment of breast cancer,
the slave who bargained
to remove the tumor from the
queen if the Emperor would
shift the course of his army,
there was no one to turn to
in the Target parking lot,
no one equally fascinated.
This is the truth of love:
you have two more hands,
you have two more ears,
you have a nod, an agreement.
Someone to lift the other side
of the clean fall sheet
and gently float it down.

The flutter

I was the only one in the pool tonight.
Each of my steps buckled and rolled the water.
One sweep of my arms, in and out,
and I could see a wave gather and spread
all the way down the surface
to the wall twenty-five yards away.
I had a butterfly poster moment,
you know what I mean, that image
that captured your attention when
you were thirteen, teeth still moving
in your head, your innocence ripe and shiny:
a single butterfly flutter in Michigan
will be felt as a tropical storm off St. Barts.

On the way into the aquatic center,
a woman said, “You’ll feel better
in a minute,” seeing my limp,
then she added, “especially if you
give smiling a try.” She did not know
that my resting face is sad and tired,
especially when I actually am sad and tired,
and also did not realize that her slight snark
would ripple out and touch the woman
at the desk who I approached cautiously,
my smile tucked in and furrowed,
and that my interaction with the woman
might cause her to call her man,
be a little sharp, too quick to retort.
He might zip off an email to his boss,
all the way over in St. Louis, saying
the reports were sluggish this week
and when the hell would he receive
reimbursement for his travel expenses,
which might make that man eat
an extra bowl of ice cream, work out
ten minutes less on the treadmill.

It is all connected, every small thing
each of us does leaves a wrinkle, a wake.
I don’t know where my earlier anger ended up
tonight. Chicago? Amarillo, Texas?
Where is the kindness I showed at lunch?
Did it make it all the way to Alliance, OH?
Cross the border into Indiana?
Be gentle, dear ones, for it is hurricane season
and our words and actions can be
the eye or the start of a gathering storm.

Mass mediations instead of mass shootings

This is one of my favorite days of the year – today was the mediation installation assembly and the kids rocked it with their renditions of “Uptown Peace You Up” and “Peace Song,” a remake of “Fight Song.” The kids were confident, filling the packed gym with their commitment and enthusiasm. I hate to say it, in case parents of former mediators are reading, but this really was the best assembly the mediators have done in decades.

On the way home, I read about the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. Seven dead and ten injured. NPR reported that we have had 200+ mass shootings in just about the same number of days. This has become a daily occurrence in the United States and we, as a nation, have grown numb to it. Dare I say, tolerant.

Somehow these two events seem related. Our mediation work at Fernway, where students are expected to take responsibility for their conflicts, feelings, and the resolution of their issues seems crucially important. Life saving, in fact.

We could and should talk about gun control; the same it true for mental health services. But right now, tonight, I want to say this. Let’s raise children who know they will make mistakes, who know they will be engaged in turmoil, and still will have an inclination to seek help. Children who are able to admit to their feelings and know that anger and sadness are ordinary and transient states. Kids who develop the vocabulary and procedures to talk their way out of any jam, who find agreeable solutions through calm conversation. Young people who shake hands at the end of their mediation, released from anger, void of a grudge.

And, as adults, let’s model the exact same behaviors, showing our children the strength in vulnerability, and the justice that springs from personal accountability. We, in our own individual ways, can reshape our cultural norms. Let’s get started.

Ok, I am stepping off the soapbox now.

Way to go, Mediators 2015-16! I’m so proud of you and honored to support your hope and idealism.