Thursday, August 20, 2015


There’s a boy at the water’s edge,
laughing and splashing, wet sand
smeared on his face, chest, arms
having the time of his life, no doubt-
is what we always used to say.
I want to tell him to keep it up,
don’t stop jumping into the waves,
swim under the water, stay here,
never leave and soak it all in.

You’ll look back on this as a man,
as a father and husband- you will
need this when you have a bad day,
a particular challenge, or hardship.
You’ll think about the smell of salt air,
the breeze in your face, the coolness of
the rising tide on your ankles and shins,
your eyes darting across the ocean floor.
as you point at minnows, sand crabs, shells.

These memories will keep you afloat
is what I want to shout, because I think
someone should explain this to all of you.
But the children of the beach wouldn’t listen.
So instead I just grin and nod. And the boy?
He runs away. I turn to look to the horizon,
the Atlantic, nothing has really changed
it’s the same view from forty years ago,
only the children at the shoreline are new.


Mind you, I’ve never been
west of the Mississippi
but each night this summer
in my bed I’m listening to
a strange bedtime story-
thanks to modern technology.

There’s a light blue glow
on the ceiling of my room
as I lay still and soak in the
lullaby of each Dodgers game
especially if it is his voice-
the sound of seasons past.

I imagine drinking Coronitas
in the parking lot while radios
blast the songs of Sublime.
I wonder if there are statues
to honor the great Sandy Koufax,
Jackie Robinson, or Kirk Gibson.

I dream of sitting in the bleachers
in Chavez Ravine without a jacket
or hat knowing the chance of rain
is just small talk, a bit of rumor.
I’d eat a Dodger Dog as the sun set
over the infamous Freeway traffic.

Without fail, after a few innings
I begin to fade away to sleep.
My wife come up to yell at me,
“Turn that off, you’re sleeping,”
she says and I roll over knowing
I’ll check the score in the morning.

Tennessee Education, 1992

To think that I could forget windrows,
why it’s important to put hay up dry,
where to hook a chain on the truck
when you’re pulling it out of the mud.

To think that I could forget tobacco barns,
how to sort the brights, the lugs, and tips.
The sweet smell of it hanging in the rafters,
a need for moisture and the foggy mornings.

To think that I could forget black coffee,
the taste of JFG brand, no milk, no sugar,
Family seated on tall chairs at the counter,
when they got up, they’d say stay with us.

To think that I could forget winter evenings,
the heat of the fire from a Franklin stove,
the laughter of Papaw in his big chair telling
stories about logging camps and driving trucks.

To think I could forget how biscuits are made,
soup beans, slab of onion, chunks of cornbread,
the squint in Granny’s eye when she spoke of
the one’s she despised or told of their stupidity.

To think I could forget how crops and seeds
must be planted during the full moon or as he
used to say, “when the sign is in the head”
Sixty eight days from planting to picking.

To think I could forget about cows in the field,
Black Angus, Charolais, classic red and whites.
riding the fence line, doctoring a sick heifer,
gathering young bulls in the barn on the hill.

To think I could forget about the hunting,
how running rabbits made the old guys
lament a pack of beagles and basset hounds,
how sadly men spoke of the long gone dogs.

To think I could forget which exit to take,
how odd roads run north to south and even
run east to west or the names of the rivers to
cross over, the Pigeon, Nolichucky, or Holsten.

To think that I could forget those words,
when you come here you get that dirt in your shoes.
No matter how far away you go or how long you leave,
you can always come back home to these mountains.


Another trip to the hospital
she coughed too much,
moaned in pain, didn’t know
she was fighting to stay on Earth.
Didn’t know her or her story,
her diagnosis or her name.
We feel guilty now, for hearing
her take her last breath as she
passed from this world.

We sat nearby, as the nurse tells
the husband how she has died.
I shouldn’t have seen his face as
he stared blankly the silent body-
his wife for more than fifty years.

Can I call your children for you?
We never had any.
Does she have a brother or sister?
They’re all gone.
Is there anyone you’d like me to call?
I don’t think so.
You let me know. Are you ok?
I just don’t know how I’m going to tell the dog.
He loves her so much and she loved him.


It stunk like somebody dying dozens of eggs,
the children shrieked when the baking soda
plopped into vinegar and the balloons inflated.

He stacked weights on bridge models made of
notebook paper, cardboard and drinking straws,
they cheered loudly as it collapsed and crashed.

“Will it sink, will it float?” with an old fish tank,
“Waves in a Bottle” with cooking oil and water,
amazed at how it always goes back to the top.

They laughed at riddles about the elements,
glued Fruit Loops, Cheerios, and Apple Jacks
on neon colored poster boards to show atoms.

After a week, the water was gone, salt left behind
and it was time for them to put away the books.
The materials and mess are what really mattered.


for the sting on the top
of my sunburned foot.
You sent me to the water,
made me get up and
leave my beach chair.
After all I heard that
sitting is the new smoking.

Thank you waves
for sending me these shells
to gather and take home
as a reminder of my trip.
A strange custom, yet
no one seems to find peculiar.

Imagine strolling a trail,
gathering the bones
of woodland creatures-
a white tailed deer’s femur,
a jawbone of a raccoon,
strolling a trail,
picking up those tiny fingers
of a gray squirrels.

See what I mean?


After a while, it will happen- swing a lot, drag your feet,
puddles form below swings, but only if you use it a lot.
There’s a photo somewhere of me and the girl next door.
A snapshot from 1969, bundled up babies, a chilly spring.
We’re staring with beady eyes, no smiles, serious faces,
small hands clutching cold chains, no idea of the future.
Flip it over, all the white bordered photographs of the time,
have names, dates, places, and sometimes little sayings.
Words written in blue ink, a mother’s perfect cursive writing.

SeaWorld, South River

There’s a commotion down at the bridge tonight,
the one by the plumber’s and old comic book shop.
Yellow and black crime scene tape drapes the trees,
a part time cop sets up plenty of orange safety cones.

There’s a dolphin swimming near the bridge tonight,
he took a wrong turn, went up into the Raritan Bay,
continued up the creeks and waterways to this place.
And all of the experts don’t know what they can do.

There’s a lot of people standing at the bridge today,
entire families, all with cameras, iphones, and ipads.
The poor creature surfaces for air, they take snapshots
and videos of him jumping like the football team’s logo.

There’s an ABC-TV news van on the bridge tonight,
capturing shrieks, squeals, and wows of the onlookers.
They tell a reporter it’s awesome, quite amazing to see.
I saved a ton of money, didn’t have to travel to Florida.

There’s a dead dolphin down by the bridge this morning.
he washed up on the shoreline, confused and exhausted.
This was no place for him, too many cameras, no way out.
This week’s casualty, the ongoing story of Man vs Nature.


Tonight I sit inside a noodle restaurant
it used to be a Mexican burrito place and
before that, in the 90’s it was a Wendy’s.
It gives me the same feeling I have when
I sit in my living room in my big brown chair
a place I’ve lived for about a dozen years.
Others lived there before, sat in the same spot
watching TV, arguing about paying the bills,
raising kids, putting up Christmas trees,
painting the walls their favorite colors,
rolling out carpet to make it warm and cozy.
In another twenty years, someone else will
call this place their home and they’ll paint
the walls their favorite color and buy a new rug.
They’ll be out front watering the hydrangeas
that I planted along the driveway and raking
up all the leaves the way we used to each fall.
One day, when I’m gone, the postman will deliver
a piece of mail with my name on it, somebody will
glance at it, read my name, toss it in the trash
and say, “must be the guy who lived here before”.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Forgotten Muscle Car

thunders by on Route 18 South,
neurons fire, my 50 year old brain
searches for the word on the car.
Look close, a metallic logo confirms.
Drive on, beside him, behind him
remembering an old guy’s lament-
back in the days before computers,
street legal, slant sixes, big blocks,
4 barrel carburetors, a story always
laced with numbers, V8, 383, 426,
street legal, slant sixes, big blocks.
Secret codes for those who lived it.

Never saw these, even in the 70’s,
Chargers, Firebirds, Mustangs, sure.
Something ugly about this one, long
in front, squared off grill like a mouth
of the fish a Detroit guy named it after.
This one’s dull gray with a white roof.
I’d paint it purple, make the roof black.
Must be headed down the shore with
Historic QQ Jersey plates. Bet he plays
that old “Heart” song as kids walk along
the rows of cars with parents and say-
It’s kind of cool, what’s the name of that?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Wait

Ropes and stanchions keep the lines in order
as if the people are going out on a Friday night
to see the latest blockbuster at the Regal Cinema.
Women at the front desk sit in their little windows
like the workers at Motor Vehicles, only they smile,
speak in quiet, calm voices to ask if you need help.
Dozens of people fill the expertly arranged chairs
like an airport terminal but no one has baggage.
They wait patiently to hear their names called by
sweet voiced young women in pastel scrubs who
remind me of the hostesses down at Olive Garden.

In the back, the machines await, its 21st Century
medicine at its best- sonograms and mammograms,
CAT scans, MRIs, your basic x-rays machines too.
By this time next week, the waiting room people
will know if it’s a boy or a girl, if a lump is dangerous,
why they have frequent headaches and blurred vision,
what kind of operation will their knee require next,
or how bad is the blockage in the coronary arteries.
For now, all they know is that they must wait for
their names to be called, wait and fill out the forms,
wait for the technicians, wait some more, and worry.

Friday, April 3, 2015


how pink smells like pretty flowers,
how it feels like butterfly wings or
that it tastes like cotton candy and
it doesn’t remind her of Barbie’s car.

Instead she writes hers about a ham.
It is pink, cooked with yummy pineapples,
honey and sugar stuck all over the top.
I tell her she kind of missed the point.

Later, as I collect papers from the class
she tells me why her poem is about ham.
No one ever made a meal that I asked for.
This Sunday, my grandmother is making
ham because I told her I like it so much.

I don’t see my mother much anymore.
My parents are really my grandparents.
The others all have moms and dads, so
I never told them. I tell her it was the same
for me growing up, but it was my father
who I never saw. Smiling now, she tells me-

“And I always thought I was the only one”.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Shake the Salt on When She’s Not Looking

to avoid her high blood pressure lecture.
If she sees his red eyes, she’ll say it’s a sign
of a health condition. She’ll insist on making
an appointment for him, he’ll say he’s fine-
Those doctors always find something wrong
and I’m not ready to hear bad news just yet.

He thinks they’d try to give him a prescription
and he’s afraid he’d have to go back every few
weeks to piss in a cup or get stuck by a needle.
Lately, he’s had tingling in his toes, now and then
there’s been those sharp jabs in his right side and
sometimes it’s like there’s a weight on his chest.

He’d agree to go in for a physical but knows
they’d tell him how he needs to lose weight.
Maybe he’ll go this summer, he’d consider it
if she makes sure the appointment is with the
big heavy doctor, you know the one who’s always
in the parking lot smoking cigarettes by his car.