Category Archives: family



Not so long ago, I inherited a coat that had belonged to a far-flung relative.  I learned a lot about him from what I found in the pockets.  The more I learned, the more I appreciated the man.  I wrote this villanelle in his honor.



The coat is surely from his east coast days
those years in Boston no one talks about
when he untied the strings a thousand ways.

I find a matchbook from the nightclub BLAZE
unopened in a pocket – without doubt
the coat is surely from his east coast days.

I think of him on stage, the thick-breathed haze
above his head and how the crowd would shout
when he untied the strings a thousand ways,

so far from home, a farm boy in that maze
of all that drugs and rock n roll could spout.
The coat is surely from his east coast days

and now I smile to think of all the ways
he honored her along that sacred route
when he untied the strings a thousand ways.

I treasure every unstruck match that says
some people love home best by getting out.
The coat is surely from his east coast days
when he untied the strings a thousand ways.




One of my best childhood memories is of my dad buying flowers for my mother.  He loved to do it.  He taught me many things with his words, but some things he simply taught by his actions.  Thanks, dad, you old romantic…

written for Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides.



I brought you roses from the street seller
at the corner of archway road just like
my dad used to buy flowers for my mum

always to mark a special occasion
sometimes for absolutely no reason
except that she loved fragrance and colour

and maybe I’m hoping you are like her
though I don’t realize it yet, maybe
I’m just trying to be as good as him


The truth about Klondikes


My latest listener commentary for our local NPR station, WVPE.  True confessions of just where I draw the line on telling the truth to our children…

Click here to listen.


Echo Taps

Today is Memorial Day here in the USA.  For the past couple of years, a local group has taken  part in an effort called EchoTaps – making a line of bugle players across town, from one cemetery to another, playing a chain of “taps” one after the next.  They do it in November for Veterans Day, but to me it would be just as appropriate for Memorial Day, remembering all those who have died in war, and all the families and friends who have a hole left in their lives.  It is always a moving experience to stand out on our street and listen.  I tried to catch a little of last year’s event in this poem (the form is a bop).  Here it is, for all who remember today…

Echo Taps

All the way to school, we see the small flags
stuck in the ground, each with its own number,
planted with dignity in stony soil,
anonymous integers adding up
the cost of sacrifice – a mother’s tears,
an empty room, a raft of nights wide-eyed

each one unique in this unbroken line.

Flag number thirty-nine is on our block.
I clutch my arms around me in the breeze
and watch a kid dressed in his Sunday best
hold his horn, fingering it nervously.
From some distant point, taps is echoing
towards us, from one player to the next.
A car pulls up, and the driver gets out.
We all listen, heads bowed, to the bugles,

each one unique in this unbroken line.

At his appointed time, our young man plays
the aching beauty of an elegy,
gone far too soon, swallowed up in the wind.
This singular loss is enough for me,
a tiny glimpse into the greater pain,
and pride, of every family that serves

each one unique in this unbroken line.


A Thousand Dollars Later

About twice a year, I go into a home-improvement frenzy. Nothing is safe from my fatal attraction to all things not nailed down. At such monments, my family has only half-jokingly begun referring to me as the “angel of death.” Of course, everyone is always grateful afterwards for the fruit of my labors – at least that’s what I tell myself. Here’s a meditation on home improvement, written to a prompt on “enough” over at Poetic Bloomings. Sharing today with friends visiting from the dVerse Poets Pub. Cheers.

A thousand dollars later

As summer approaches, you will decide
that the kitchen island is a tremendous eyesore,
and needs to be refinished. Accordingly, you will
drag it into the back yard, ready to strip the peeling
paint. While you are out there, you will notice
that the lawn is looking pretty long and you will
decide to mow the grass, except that the mower
no longer works. So you will go to Home Mart
to buy a mower. And since you are an ecologically-minded
soul you will choose an electric model this time,

which means buying a 100-foot power cord.
When you get home, you will realize that
you do not have a grounded power outlet
on the outside of the house and so you will
call an electrician to come and put one in so
you can mow the lawn. But he will be busy
until next week. And while you are standing at the
calendar in the kitchen talking to him, trying to
set up a date for the work to be done it will occur
to you that the kitchen walls are very dark

and could really do with repainting. So that by the
time you get off the phone with the electrician
you will have decided to return to Home Mart to
purchase bright new paint for the kitchen. Which is
all very well, except that once at Home Mart, you will
see a color swatch that looks perfect for the bathroom,
and before you know it you will be walking out of there
with enough paint for both rooms. Upon returning home
you will go to the basement to find your brushes and
rollers. The twenty minutes it takes you to locate these

items will convince you it is time for a good old
clean-out down there, and for the next day and a half
you will find yourself putting your painting aspirations
on hold while you move all the furniture around
and carry three truckloads of junk to the curb, some of
which will be immediately set upon by neighbors eager
to help with your mammoth recycling project. At some point
in this process, you will begin to realize that you are not
sleeping well, and that every sentence you say begins with
“Maybe if we just…” Your family will cease speaking to you.

The dog will retreat to her kennel. Somehow, you will
not notice. Twenty four hours later, you will be taking
a shower when you suddenly remember that at some
point you had been intending to paint the bathroom.
You will launch into this project with a renewed sense
of purpose. However, even before the painter’s tape is
in place, you will be struck by the thought that you have
never really liked the large built-in cupboards behind the
bathtub, with their deep drawers, and so you will find
a crowbar and set about that benighted cabinetry like

the villain of a second-rate slasher movie, hacking and
ripping until all thatremains of the orderly drawer and
door combo is a pile of splintered wood, a handful of
nails, and an unsightly hole in the wall. You will feel a
great sense of accomplishment, coupled with a nagging
realization that you don’t quite know what to do with
the space you have just opened, together with a sense
of wied-eyed awe at the view of the basement now
afforded by the gap you have made in the sub-floor.
Your wife will take the kids and move to a hotel. The

dog will remain in her kennel. Suddenly unencumbered
by family obligations or the need for personal hygiene,
you will push yourself to new heights of self-expression,
in fourteen hours repainting the entire kitchen and the
bathroom, leaving the house smelling of fresh paint and
self-satisfaction. Just as you are cleaning your brushes,
the electrician will arrive to put in the new power outlet.
You will pay him with thanks and go outside to mow the
lawn, where you will find your path blocked by a large
wooden obstacle. You will note that the kitchen island is

still a tremendous eyesore and still needs to be refinished.


My old man

To be honest, it’s not clear how you got this job.
Maybe you applied, maybe it just happened
to you like a piano falling out of a third story
window, jingling down black keys of destiny
on your incipient male-pattern baldness.

You try and learn how to love. For a guy that’s not
easy. Mostly all you have known is movies with
explosions and lots of cleavage. And now, all of a
sudden, you’re watching a tiny chest rising and falling,
speechless before one of the wonders of the world.

Over the years, you walk the wire like you own dad did.
Sternly setting your deckchair at strategic points on the
beach, sometimes for well-considered reasons, sometimes
just to prove that you are still bigger and wiser, and
that you do in fact exist and matter somehow in the universe.

But meanwhile there’s the constant undertow. The cloud
of unknowing pierced by unforgiving questions. The realization
that maybe you don’t understand at all. That all you have
succeeded in becoming is a carbon copy of your own father.
And in a way, you don’t mind. As long as the kid is okay.

But then comes the night. And you’re lying awake, listening.
Listening for the front door to open and close. Listening
for voices to tell you that actually nothing is wrong. Listening
to the vast silence. Listening to your baby crying, because
his whole body hurts and he doesn’t understand why.

Written for a prompt over at the wonderful Poetic Bloomings site.

High art

Did we really have to invite Pablo
to do our family portrait again?
It may be great art to you, but to me
it just looks like I have a double chin.

You and your favorite bohemians
will be the death of me yet, I swear it.
Like that time you asked your good pal Jackson
to paint the kitchen while we were away…

I will admit that the senior portraits
you got Mr. Mapplethorpe to whip up
for Bryce were unique – but could we send them
to my folks in Kansas? I don’t think so!

So how about this, Mr. Art Lover?
Next time, we make a trip down to Wal Mart
and let some teenage kid take our photo,
squinting cheek-to-cheek, like normal people?

(…a little midweek musing to share with friends over at the dVerse Poet’s Pub)

Union Church

What if Jesus had been a union man,
and his twelve disciples had all been plumbers?
Or tool-and-die guys, or even
photocopier repair technicians?

Imagine the parables that might have been told
of leaking U-bends, and toner cartridges
found at the back of the supply cupboard,
right behind the post-its and motivational t-shirts.

His mother would have run the show
for sure – along with all the other stalwarts
who had paid their dues over the years.
You know the ones I mean – there’s always one or two.

In the end, the church probably would have been
better maintained, and letters and regulations
would always look just so. But you can be sure
the internal dynamics would be just as dysfunctional.


(a kyrielle)

A shadow hidden at the back
of her dresser drawer caught my eye
the day the movers came. I thought:
we keep things though we don’t know why.

A hundred foreign coins, a stack
of travel documents signed by
some long-dead border guard who fought
to keep things though we don’t know why,

a broken pocket watch, a black-
and-white shot of a compound high
in India, crammed in a box
to keep things though we don’t know why.

Tracing the alligator track
around this lid, I think of my
own collections, what I just bought
to keep things though we don’t know why.

Time stands still in keepsakes. We track
our past with trinkets that defy
every explanation sought.
We keep things though we don’t know why.


My father was a famous astronaut,
A hero from the bright comics I bought
On Saturdays. Sometimes I heard the key
Turn gently in the lock long after we
Had gone to bed. And then my parents fought

Like lovers in my mother’s sheets, but not
Out loud as they might wake the baby. Caught
Between embarrassment and lust to see
     My father was

Still real, I clutched my rocket ship and fought
Back tears. His only letter is what got
Me through those years – to know God and country
Might come first, but he always cared for me
No matter what our friends and neighbors thought
     My father was.

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