Monday, April 30, 2018

"Each Moment a White Bull Steps Shining into the World" by Jane Hirshfield

This has been a great National Poetry Month, with lots of superb works by poets as well as songwriters in the Poetry of Rock n' Roll series. Let's celebrate the close of this year's Poetry Month with a penetrating piece by Jane Hirshfield (previously here) called "Each Moment a White Bull Steps Shining into the World."

Each Moment a White Bull Steps Shining into the World
by Jane Hirshfield

If the gods bring to you
a strange and frightening creature,
accept the gift
as if it were one you had chosen.

Say the accustomed prayers,
oil the hooves well,
caress the small ears with praise.

Have the new halter of woven silver
embedded with jewels.
Spare no expense, pay what is asked,
when a gift arrives from the sea.

Treat it as you yourself
would be treated,
brought speechless and naked
into the court of a king.

And when the request finally comes,
do not hesitate even an instant—

Stroke the white throat,
the heavy, trembling dewlaps
you’ve come to believe were yours,
and plunge in the knife.

Not once
did you enter the pasture
without pause,
without yourself trembling.
That you came to love it, that was the gift.

Let the envious gods take back what they can.

Friday, April 27, 2018

"Parity, Or Its Equivalent"

In honor of National Poetry Month, I have posted work by myself each Friday; for this final Friday, here is a piece called "Parity, Or Its Equivalent."

Parity, Or Its Equivalent

“In the mirrors of a modern bank,
From the window of a hotel room…”
--Joni Mitchell

The light reflected should be
equal to the light approaching but
sometimes it’s not the right face,
it’s not who I expect to see.

I catch a flash of a suited man,
gym-sized in pointy collars, silk tie,
black eyes, a look on his face like war.
He is a certain type of successful:
his pointy collars say so.

Turning in time to see my face,
weary, older, out with friends,
pausing a moment, perhaps in Shubert Alley
after leaving the restaurant, flushed from
wine, hand brushing back hair and a
smile that says he is tired of gravity.

In the blue world on the other side,
a blond one, a child, or a
man who looks like a child,
head hung, eyes averted, darting,
working out where the next attack
will come from, calculating a way
to slip away unseen.

Not future, not past.
Not maybe, not lost, just now—but changed.
Everything turns in the same spot,
the axis, the trunk supporting all branches,
so when the question comes:
Are you the center of the universe?
our answer must come back:
Yes, of course.

After the impersonations,
most shocking when it comes,
just a view of sky, clouds.
He is already gone.

©JEF 2016

Day of Silence 2018

I am not sure how many high school or middle school students stop by "Oh, By The Way," but if you are a student, please consider joining the Day of Silence today. And if you are an adult who knows a teen, especially a gay teen, who might benefit from this, please pass it along. The event is also observed on college campuses.

The Day of Silence is a student-led national event that brings attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying, violence, and harassment in schools. Students from middle school to college take a vow of silence in an effort to encourage schools and classmates to address the problem of anti-LGBT behavior by illustrating the silencing effect of bullying and harassment on LGBT students and those perceived to be LGBT.

The Day of Silence started twenty-two years ago as a way to protest bullying, harassment, and attacks on LGBT students in schools. The destructive Radical Christian Agenda has attempted to thwart or stop this student outreach, essentially claiming that it is their religious right to harass, harm, and attack human beings for being gay or trans. Because of this (and because we now have a government that promotes, enshrines, and legislates homophobia and transphobia), it is even more important to counteract such hurtful, hateful, backward beliefs. A religious freedom is a personal choice, not a ticket to ostracize, punish, intimidate, shame, or attack (mentally, psychologically, socially, verbally, OR physically) another person. In this country, anyone can observe their own personal religious rules but no one has a right to impose their religious rules on another person.

I have been so encouraged and inspired by the young Parkland shooting survivors, by throngs of young people across the country, and the idea that protest and calls to action are not dead, and that they can make a difference. Your voice can be heard. And this is how the world changes: one person at a time.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Poem In Your Pocket Day 2018

Every April during National Poetry Month, one day is set aside for Poem In Your Pocket Day, a day when people take a favorite poem with them through their day to share with the world. This year, the event is today, April 26th, 2018. Today I will be sharing the delightful "If a Poem Could Walk" by Lorna Crozier.

If a Poem Could Walk
by Lorna Crozier

It would have paws, not feet,
four of them to sink into the moss
when humans blunder up the path.

Or hooves, small ones,
leaving half-moons in the sand.
Something to make you stop
and wonder
what kind of animal this is,
where it came from, where it’s going.

It draws nearest when you are most alone.
You lay red plums on your blanket,
a glass of cool cider, two sugar cubes,

knowing it is tame and wild—
the perfect animal—
knowing it will stop for nothing
as it walks
with its four new legs
right off the page.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Poetry of Rock n' Roll: "Wichita Lineman"

To observe National Poetry Month, once a week every Wednesday, I have featured lyrics of rock n' roll or pop songs that also double as exquisite poetry.

Yes, I know this classic song is considered country/pop and not rock and roll, but the lyrical end result is the same. Called the "first existential country song" by journalist Dylan Jones, this portrait of devotion and yearning, yet ultimate solitude and loneliness was written in 1968 by Jimmy Webb (who was famous for writing The Fifth Dimension’s “Up, Up And Away,” and Glen Campbell’s “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”) and recorded by Glenn Campbell the same year. The contrast and tension between the tasks of the lineman's job and what is on his mind is achingly beautiful.

Wichita Lineman
by Jimmy Webb

I am a lineman for the county
And I drive the main roads
Searching in the sun for another overload

I hear you singing in the wires
I can hear you through the whine
And the Wichita lineman
Is still on the line

I know I need a small vacation
But it don't look like rain
And if it snows that stretch down south won't ever stand the strain

And I need you more than want you
And I want you for all time
And the Wichita lineman
Is still on the line

And I need you more than want you
And I want you for all time
And the Wichita lineman
Is still on the line

Monday, April 23, 2018

"Diving Into The Wreck" by Adrienne Rich

In honor of National Poetry Month, here is "Diving Into The Wreck" by Adrienne Rich.

Diving Into The Wreck
by Adrienne Rich

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Friday, April 20, 2018


In honor of National Poetry Month, I am posting work by myself each Friday; here is "Black," a recent piece from a series of color poems.


That summer, we rented a house on a lake,
a two-story clapboard with a wrap-around porch
hugged by pine trees and a path to the water.

That summer, no phone, no television, an old floral sofa,
a carved wood dining table, two Captain’s chairs.
On a built-in bookshelf in the living room,
a first edition Game Of Life and two books:

That summer, we walked the pine path to the beach
where we found a row boat. Each day after lunch,
we took it out but dark clouds rolled across the lake,
sulked, threatened, forced us to turn back.

That summer, it finally rained. Our last night, the dark clouds
kept their promise. Warm water washed the windows,
flooded the porch. We stuffed towels under doors.
Thunder rattled our plates, the power went out,
lightning dazzled our eyes. The house pulsed with
electric white for brief seconds while we
fell asleep to the boom and flash.

I woke in the empty attic, alone. At the far end,
a single window, no glass, no mullions.
Something seemed wrong.
I walked to the opening but couldn’t see
the pines, the path, the lake, the clouds.
Just black. Blacker than I’d ever known.
I pushed my hand across the threshold:
no temperature, no air, just
nothing. No, I said aloud,
not this time, not now.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Poetry of Rock n' Roll: "Wise Up"

To observe National Poetry Month, once a week I am featuring lyrics of rock n' roll or pop songs that also double as exquisite poetry.

Singer-songwriter Aimee Mann's simple but chilling "Wise Up" was featured in the P.T. Anderson film "Magnolia" to great effect.

Wise Up
by Aimee Mann

It's not what you thought
When you first began it
You got what you want
Now you can hardly stand it, though
By now you know
It's not going to stop
It's not going to stop
It's not going to stop
Till you wise up

You're sure there's a cure
And you have finally found it
You think one drink
Will shrink you till you're underground
And living down
But it's not going to stop
It's not going to stop
It's not going to stop
Till you wise up

Prepare a list for what you need
Before you sign away the deed
'Cause it's not going to stop
It's not going to stop
It's not going to stop
Till you wise up

No, it's not going to stop
Till you wise up
No, it's not going to stop
So just give up

Monday, April 16, 2018

"Remember" by Joy Harjo

In honor of National Poetry Month, here is a lovely, animistic poem by Native American poet Joy Harjo titled "Remember."

Everyone and everything has a story.


Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.

Friday, April 13, 2018


In honor of National Poetry Month, I am posting work by myself each Friday; here is "Purple," a recent piece from a series of color poems.


His body, an atlas, a map
of all the impacts,
a record of each elbow,
fist, boot, rock,
physically altered but
secretly touched by god.
They never knew each blow, each
break infused him with more and more
knowledge, grace,
compassion. Yet each one
a not-forgetting.

Now, no more bruises,
the purple has faded,
no more pain,
just smiling
and laughing
and dancing
and swaying, he can feel
his arms, his legs


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Poetry of Rock n' Roll: "Up On The Catwalk"

In honor of National Poetry Month, I am continuing a feature from years past: The Poetry of Rock n' Roll. Here are the dense, engrossing lyrics to a song by Scottish group Simple Minds called "Up On The Catwalk." Lead singer and lyricist Jim Kerr has always manifested oblique, thought-provoking stories in his lyrics.

Up On The Catwalk
by Jim Kerr

Up on the catwalk, a big wheel is spinning
And Dollars to Deutchmarks, and pennies from heaven
And up on the catwalk, there's one hundred million
With letters from thousands that say ``Just who are you?''
There's one thousand names that can spring up in my mind
But you'd call it blackmail and that's just not my kind
And up on the catwalk, up on the catwalk
And I don't know why

I will be there, I will be there, I will be there
I will be there, I will be there

Up on the catwalk there's street politicians
That crawl in from Broadway, say then who are you
And up on the catwalk there's one thousand postcards
From Montevideo, say that I'll be home soon
Get out of Bombay and go up to Brixton and look around, to see just what is missing
And up on the catwalk, girls call for mother and dream of their boyfriends
And I don't know why

I will be there, I will be there, I will be there
I will be there, I will be there
Tonight, under the crystal light, I'll tell you everything I need
Tonight, under the crystal light, surrender everything to me

Up on the catwalk, and you dress in waistcoats
And got brilliantino, and friends of Kim Philby
You float through the night time, like manna from heaven
But what do I know, and just what do I know
And up on the catwalk, in sweat that glistens
And I don't know why and I don't know why
I don't know why

I will be there, I will be there, I will be there
I will be there, I will be there
Tonight, under the crystal light, I'll tell you everything I need
Tonight, under the crystal light, surrender everything to me

Ah ha,
One thousand names that spring up in my mind
One thousand names that spring up in my mind
Like Deodata, Michaelangelo, Robert de Niro, so many others
Natasia Kinski and Martin Luther - there's room for others, away from me

Up on the catwalk, up on the catwalk, up on the catwalk
I don't know why.

Monday, April 9, 2018

"I Haven't Called You Since The Election" by Steve Edwards

In honor of National Poetry Month, I am featuring special poems by special poets each Monday. Here is a timely, relevant piece by author Steve Edwards.

I Haven't Called You Since The Election

because somebody else’s son
got deported & sleeps
tonight in a concrete cell;
& somebody else’s son
got denied sanctuary
from a war he didn’t start
or want, & what’s he tell
his wife & kids?; & because
somebody else’s son
died in a raid
the guy you voted for ordered
over dinner like a round
of drinks. I guess I thought
it’s what you wanted,
my absence—how otherwise
explain a choice that does
to somebody else’s son
what you wouldn’t want done
to yours? & imagine
what this note would say
if instead I’d been your daughter.

Friday, April 6, 2018


In honor of National Poetry Month, I am posting work by myself each Friday; here is "Blue," a recent piece from a series of color poems.


It was there when I had the Hong Kong flu.
I was three, my head shaved, IV and tubes
attached to the blue veins pulsing in my skull,
the only veins large enough to take the needles.
My parents cried when they saw me like that.

It was there when my father walked
through the damp, blue twilight to the shed
behind the house. It walked with him,
it sat next to him, steadied the rifle for him,
comforted him.

In a different hospital, years away, my mother in bed,
lying motionless under layers of blankets, the television’s
sub-oceanic flicker the only light. In the hush
it was there in the corner, behind a worn vinyl chair,
watching her, watching me.

And now, here I am, on stage, bathed in blue light,
I’m in the center ring, you can’t miss me,
and I say to it, if you think you’re ready, I’m right here,
come and find me,
I’m waiting for you.


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Poetry of Rock n' Roll: "Sweet Bird"

In honor of National Poetry Month, once a week I will be featuring lyrics of rock n' roll or pop songs that also double as exquisite poetry.

To begin with, I am featuring the work of one of the greatest poets in contemporary music, the legendary Joni Mitchell (previously here and here). This song, "Sweet Bird" comes from her album, "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" stuffed full with gorgeous, evocative, poetic songs, starting with the title alone! The album is not a concept album as much as it is a kind of dream infused with certain ideas, feelings, yearnings, motifs, and truths. In this way, it functions as a glorious whole. Joni says, "This record is a total work conceived graphically, musically, lyrically and accidentally - as a whole. The performances were guided by the given compositional structures and the audibly inspired beauty of every player. The whole unfolded like a mystery."

"Sweet Bird" is a simple but rather devastating ditty, alluding to time, its passing, youth, its passing, and, rippling out from there, untethered to our mortal perception of time as a linear phenomena, the idea that time is cyclical. But no, not cyclical...more like fixed pieces that can be moved around...sets of time and location (tied together) that move around, separated by the branes which quantum physics speaks of, the multi-universes posited as part of the mind-blowing structure of reality...that there is more than one reality. Joni sings that no one can ever get close enough to know the veracity of these ideas. We guess. We posit. Granted, they are educated guesses. But no one has ever traveled to another reality and come back to let us know.

It's not an easy task at all, but somehow, miraculously, Joni managed to write an economical, short piece dealing with physics and meta-physics, with the corporeal and the spiritual, with the now and the forever.

As usual, I am presenting this song (and all songs this month) with lyrics only since that is what I am focusing on. But this is a song where the music--a melancholy melody, and a haunting arrangement grounded with Joni's familiar, measured guitar work--is necessary to get the complete picture. Do Google it and give it a listen.

Sweet Bird
by Joni Mitchell

Out on some borderline
Some mark of inbetween
I lay down golden in time
And woke up vanishing

Sweet bird you are
Briefer than a falling star
All these vain promises on beauty jars
Somewhere with your wings on time
You must be laughing

Behind our eyes
Calendars of our lives
Circled with compromise
Sweet bird of time and change
You must be laughing
Up on your feathers laughing

Golden in time
Cities under the sand
Power ideals and beauty
Fading in everyone's hand

Give me some time
I feel like I'm losing mine
Out here on this horizon line
With the earth spinning
And the sky forever rushing
No one knows
They can never get that close
Guesses at most
Guesses based on what each set of time and change is touching
Guesses based on what each set of time and change is touching
Guesses based on what each set of time and change is touching

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Monday, April 2, 2018

"Pentecost" by Thomas Dooley

In honor of National Poetry Month, I will be presenting special works by selected poets each Monday in April. Let's kick off the month with a very special poem of sensual transcendence by Thomas Dooley.


he could have walked
on water that’s why
I followed him

up the hill to pick lemons
for our vodka sodas naked
by the window a smoked

city in drought haloed
my body as he came
to me a tongue

of fire a rummage of wind
in the upper bedroom where
I said I will pour out

my spirit upon your flesh
he smiled and said I think
you’ve had too much new wine

then we rose up the dust rose up
to meet a night rain and the room
became rain falling over

something scorched
the lifting steam a hymn
we would step into and become

part of its plainsong rise up
it sang you don’t have to
walk through this world

on your knees
as the words stood up in me
which is why I’ve come to tell you

where I have been and what I have seen
so you could look on me
and not be afraid

Sunday, April 1, 2018

April Is National Poetry Month 2018!

April is National Poetry Month, sponsored by the Academy of American Poets.

“Poetry is about liberation. It’s about imaginative freedom, deep emotional experience, and it’s a liberating force.”
--Arthur Sze, Academy of American Poets Chancellor (2012–2017)

“It can’t be paraphrased. It can’t be translated. The great poetry I love holds the mystery of being alive. ”
—Marie Howe, Academy of American Poets Chancellor (2018– )

How to celebrate?

Read your favorite poet again.
Read some new poetry.
Find a new favorite poet.
Write some poetry.
Leave poems for people to find in public places.
Read poetry out loud to family and friends.
Dream a poem.

Throughout April, I'll be posting poems, some by me, some by others, as well as a series of lyrics to popular songs that double as exquisite poetry.

And this year, Poem in Your Pocket Day is April 26th! Every April, on Poem in Your Pocket Day, people celebrate by selecting a poem, carrying it with them, and sharing it with others throughout the day at schools, bookstores, libraries, parks, workplaces, and on Twitter using the hashtag #pocketpoem.

Poem in Your Pocket Day was originally initiated in 2002 by the Office of the Mayor, in partnership with the New York City Departments of Cultural Affairs and Education, as part of the city’s National Poetry Month celebration. In 2008, the Academy of American Poets took the initiative to all fifty United States, encouraging individuals around the country to join in and channel their inner bard. In 2016, the League of Canadian Poets extended Poem in Your Pocket Day to Canada.

Happy National Poetry Month!

More Poetry Is Needed

In honor of National Poetry Month 2018...we declare that more poetry is needed in this world.

Sign art by conceptual artist Jeremy Deller

Happy Easter 2018!

Happy Easter and happy spring renewal to all!

Easter developed from the Old English word Ēastre or Ēostre, derived from the Anglo-Saxon Pagan month of Eostur-monath (which roughly corresponds to our month of April). This month was named after the goddess Ēostre or Ostara who symbolized the dawn, spring, renewal, and rebirth of the earth after the long winter.

Now we celebrate by decorating eggs, a symbol of birth and fertility and new growth, and with chocolate rabbits, since bunnies are also a symbol of spring.

When I was little, I always loved Easter time because my grandmother displayed vases of daffodils and lilies, and panoramic sugar eggs around the house. And my aunt hollowed out eggs, cut a window in the side of the shell, and painstakingly assembled pastoral scenes inside using miniature trees and flowers, and tiny ceramic rabbits to make literal panoramic eggs. But the best part was the Easter Bunny who came to deliver beautifully dyed and decorated eggs in a basket full of chocolate and treats; my mom and dad would guide me through the house with clues as to where the Easter Bunny hid my basket (thanks Mom and Dad--I miss you)!

I hope the Easter Bunny brought you some treats! Happy Easter!

Poisson d'Avril 2018

The origin of April Fool's Day actually comes from sixteenth century France. Before the Gregorian calendar was adopted, the New Year was celebrated close to the Vernal Equinox, to symbolize rebirth and renewal. Once the official New Year Day was moved to January 1st, April 1st became known as Poisson d'Avril where people teased those who still celebrated the New Year on April 1st. To this day in France, children try to sneak paper cut outs of fish onto the backs of unsuspecting friends and family. If you manage to get a fish affixed to someone, you shout "Poisson d'Avril!" and scamper away laughing!