Wednesday, August 30, 2017

My Head Hurts

I'd love to close out my day
with a poem: something
pastoral or lyrical or political or important,
but my head hurts.
My daughter wants me to read her a story,
but my head hurts.
My wife wants me to watch TV,
but my head hurts.
Life hurts my head hurts my children hurt me I hurt myself I hurt them they hurt each other.
Everybody hurts by REM.

I want to be present and happy,
but I feel as though my children beat the happiness
right out of me; discarding my velveteen
body, worn from laundry, bedtimes,
shower arguments, homework, yelling,
lots of yelling, and they
throw me

And so I will get ready for bed and sleep and start again
tomorrow because I love my family,
I love my children, and
I love my life.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

My Own (draft #2)

I sign their names, as my own
underneath their poems
as if they were my own.

I claim that their words are my own
their memories, emotions, are my own
Because I am too scared to write
my own.

Perhaps this is a poem
a thought in time
that someone else can write down
when writer's block sets in
as their child interrupts because she poked herself
in her eye and needs a hug
while their spouse is upstairs
watching YouTube instead of talking.

Perhaps we all need someone else
to tell us what we are
who we are, and how we feel.
Perhaps we need to live vicariously through other people
because our own lives
are too clumsy, difficult, painful, mundane.


Monday, August 28, 2017

He is a Writer

I helped my son write an essay last night. He’s eight.  He struggles with writing.  In fact, he hates writing.  It took us 35 minutes to write four sentences about a girl named Hannah getting ready for her birthday party.  Four sentences.  It was painful.  He hated every minute of it.  He does not see himself as a writer.  He looks for any excuse to pause or stop writing altogether.  It was difficult for me to watch him struggle through this assignment.  He focuses so much on the minutiae of writing: the size of the letters, spelling, finger spacing, capital letters, handwriting.  It is excruciating to watch him struggle.  

He is a writer.  

How do I know?  Because he can ramble on and on and on and on about a story that is as outlandish as it is believable.  He creates fictions that are ridiculous and funny.  He has a gift for lying and telling stories, which gives him a leg up on most writers today. Sometimes, I have to take a step back, press pause, and actually listen to his creativity.  Instead of being frustrated that he is listing the reasons why he is not responsible for spilling his water bottle all over the carpet, I need to listen to how he draws me into his world.  He may struggle with the mechanics of writing, but that is temporary.  

He is a writer.

I don’t want him to grow up and think that writing is effeminate and only for the smart kids. I don’t want him to think that he only has to write about flowers and his summer vacation and the book he had to read for school.  I want him to know that writing is communicating and when performed well, is powerful!  Words have power.  With great power will come great responsibility and I know he will listen because he thinks his is Spiderman.  Outside of school, he believes that he can conquer anything.  If I do anything successful as a parent, it will be to teach him that he can conquer anything, even school, because school isn’t where learning happens.  School isn’t where the real writing happens.  School is the day job he will need to keep in order to fund his writing life.  School will pay the bills and writing will amplify his soul, energize his spirit.  

He is a writer.

When he is ready, I will induct him into my secret society for boy writers.  

Who will go drive with Fergus now,
And pierce the deep wood’s woven shade,
And dance upon the level shore?
Young man, lift up your russet brow,
And lift your tender eyelids, maid,
And brood on hopes and fear no more.

He should not fear his lack of confidence.  I will help him lift up his russet brow, wipe away his tears, and tell him that he is a writer.  Tell him that his words dance upon the level shore of the blank page.  

And no more turn aside and brood
Upon love’s bitter mystery;
For Fergus rules the brazen cars,
And rules the shadows of the wood,
And the white breast of the dim sea
And all dishevelled wandering stars.

He is a writer.  He will not fall between the cracks.  He will rule the shadows of writer’s block and one day, I will pick up a book of his short stories, or see a preview for a movie adapted from his bestselling novel, and I will know that he knows he is a writer too.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

I couldn't find a poem, so I wrote one

Mary Oliver wrote poems while walking outdoors:
among the Moccasin flowers, moths, landscapes,
turtles and sunrises and dogfish and white fields;
wandering throughout houses of light,
unflinching in the rain.

I spend most of my days indoors:
a permanent resident of the land of the cubicles.
It is uninspiring.  Climate-controlled.
Artificial light, sound, breath, time.
I must create my own inspiration
build a house of light
design an engineering notebook, write a magazine article,
create a learning experience that will change public
education forever.

Or, I could check my email, take a phone call,
and stare outdoors into the bright parking lot:
the asphalt blinding me from direct viewing.
It's not all bad, just unpoetic.

Does poetry lie in the mundane?
Do verses hide among the myriad banalities?
Can I spot the imagery camouflaged within
the officescape?

Worth a try.

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Writer's Life

My summertime indulgences of effortlessly reading poetry and easily finding time to write poetry every day, have sadly passed.  It is now just over a month until the Autumn Equinox, however, in terms of academic school years, we are well on our way to the start of a new Fall.  I enjoyed my reading and writing summer.  I slept in.  Drank tea in the morning and whiskey and wine in the evenings.  I read some amazing collections of poetry.  I took some creative risks and submitted some of my poems to various literary journals across the country.  It was wonderful.  Now that school has started, I am in the process of figuring out how to maintain some semblance of that summer writing life throughout the chaos and time commitments that come with work.  

Over the summer, I read Stephen King’s book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.  It was a much needed wake-up call and pep-talk mixture that told me to take the act of writing seriously.  He's right.  Of course, he is right: he’s Stephen King!  My history with writing was that I wrote as a distraction, not as a serious craft that I am honing.  When that happens, I hold back, attempt to pen poetic phrases instead of just saying "Fuck it!  I'm lost and pissed off."  Some of my best writing (at least the prose I enjoyed writing, where I felt I actually said something) came from those times when I sat down with a strong purpose and something to say.  At the beginning of the summer, I floated around, reading book after book after blog post after Twitter feed after poem after poem after poem, looking for something to grab my attention and say, "Adrian, this is important!  Write about this.  Tell us now!" Once I committed to writing every day, it worked.  I just sat down and wrote!  I discovered that my creativity wasn’t dead or hibernating or too ill to get out of bed.  It was just waiting for me to get busy and do some actual writing.  I just needed my pen and the guts to write down what I actually think.  

And then came Bright Dead Things by Ada Limon. Distractions are a regular part of living a writer's life. Hell, distractions are a part of any life! When I discovered Ada Limon, I discovered a gravel, Kentucky road, a few tire tracks imprinted from the summer before.

"Before the road
between us there was the road
beneath us." --Before from Bright Dead Things

I found this road and never looked back. I wanted to be a terrific writer, too, and the signposts she left for me gave me hope that greatness was a possibility!

The charged political atmosphere kept me inside most days this summer. Sure, I ventured out to the pool to watch my children swim carelessly, but I was worried about how to marry my words to my emotions. Clint Smith sat me down and shared his intensity and captivating poetic narrative. Together, we traveled from New Orleans to Cambridge, revisiting Duke Ellington and James Baldwin.

"Because isn't
this the problem? That we must write the most exaggerated versions
of ourselves to show them something they have already chosen not to
see? How can they think us more human if we don't' write ourselves
as such?" --Counting Descent

Clint poured me a whiskey and sat me down on the playground to chat about race, power, privilege, and the occasional cicada and the Charles River.

On my way home, I bumped into Megan Stielstra. I stopped because she reminded me of the essay. The great, crazy-difficult-to-write, inspringing essay. I hadn't read an essay in years, and she cornered me to discuss Kafka and diapers, and being a good parent. I was so happy to hear that we all struggle with the same demons and insecurities. So I read and read and read and read. I'll be honest, it is going to take me a few more passes at Kafka before I can feel comfort in his stories. Once again, Megan reminded me that writing is as important and your life because writing is your life. It is my life. I may doubt myself as a writer, but I never doubted Megan's coolness: she can quote the Pixies. I can't wait for The Wrong Way to Save Your Life.

So, am I a writer?  That is where I find myself today.  The self-identification of being a writer and living a writer’s life is a big step.  I have always wanted to be a writer.  I love writing.  I love teaching students how to write better.  I love sharing my love of writing with students.  So, am I a writer?  I journaled almost every day this summer.  I wrote a handful of poems.  Last year, I wrote a handful of educational blog posts and articles.  I decided to send out some of my poetry to literary journals and magazines.  So, am I a writer?  Is this the writer’s life?  

I am a writer.  Thanks to Stephen, Ada, Megan, Clint, and a dozen other writers long since passed, I started identifying myself as a writer, adding that to my list of identities: father, husband, educator, coach, friend.  Now, writer.  So, why is it so difficult to continue writing now that the year has started?  The truth is that each of these roles is dynamic and varies with the amount of time and energy needed.  Sometimes, my role as a father takes precedence (actually, it always does).   During the day, my role as a coach and educator can take over.  So, here I sit, trying to figure out ways to balance my varying roles.  I want to continue writing.  I want to continue reading.  Not just emails and Twitter feeds.  I want to continue developing this fledgling identity.  I am a writer and I will do the work needed to be a writer.  My writing life may not be the same as others, but it will be my writing life and I will write.

I am a writer.

Friday, August 18, 2017


Earth is strong and can take it
fading to the color of smoke: blue
boiling smoke outside.

Dead leaves shine of rust and butter.
I feel it in me: the end blanketing the room
as humankind tweets unkind

human beings considered collectively.

I write because I have to
for me, for you, for us
amidst the smoke outside
as vulgarians clumsily tramp down the
frosted grass sleeked with freezing drizzle.

America is strong and can take it
blooming again next month(?)
stronger because of the system 
we are forced to live learn love lie laugh laze lessen liberate
to die in.

Wars of words swirl 
a belief concerning death
for me, for you, for us.

To become aware for the first time,
bringing myself to light:
refracted rays of sunlight;

Grabbing at its tail,
slipping through my fingertips,
I glisten in the warm glow.

We are what we know:

to know more
to be good, and
to do good
is all we have to do.

I create this space, this silence
for me, for you, for us.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


I place books around my house
the way others place home
accents.  A throw-rug under this table.

A math book on my nightstand.

Alexander Hamilton near my office window
overlooking suburban Americana.

Mary Oliver in the kitchen
watching the bird feeders swing gently:
an abandoned swing-set.

Dylan Thomas in my liquor cabinet.

Education books in my backpack.

A Don Quixote audiobook in my car
(George Guidall commuting with me)
driving Rocinante to work each day.

I wander around my house picking up
and setting down books during these
long summer days.

My literary accessories heighten the semantic style of each space:
Instead of a white globe on a gold stand, I read Gulliver's Travels.
Instead of driftwood and blown glass bowls, I read James Joyce.
I have no need for a Mehndi hand, painted wood; I'd rather read
Rumi and Tagore and Kamala Das.

Saturday, August 12, 2017


until my head aches.
Close my eyes.

until it soothes my aches,
my sorrows,
my being.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017


The house where she lived (or continues?)
grew cold after she passed.
I can only imagine the intense heat,
blinding, sweaty stinging in my eyes, of the crematory.
Now, I sit by the gas fireplace and
get a chill down my fragile spine
as the skin on my back heats slowly (I feel no pain).
I sit and bake and think of my mom.

The primer is still on the walls of the entryway;
her Martha Stewart attempt at interior design.
I stare blankly at the line where she stopped,
the blinding white juxtaposes the melon green,
staring back at me as if to say "This is when that
tumor debilitated my arm."

I can feel the cancer when I enter the door.
I can see it on the walls, and feel it in the air.
It stinks of emptiness, loneliness, death,
making it easier to weep.
The cold, white kitchen-tile stabs sharply
at the balls of my bare feet.
I feel dead all around me in this morgue
(and half expect to see frozen bodies:
eyes shut, skin cold and damp--like raw chicken)
in the drawers
where my father now keeps his knives.

The bedroom is the worst by far.
Walking in, I imagine the mortuary in MT
where I had to view my grandfather.
The carpet was a deep burgundy and
matched the backing of each pew.
Row after row, the pews (with all their hymnals and bibles)
gently led me toward the front.
I marched manditorily and tried to avert my eyes,
but his cold, dirty, blue skin froze me still.
His hands were swollen
from the embolism.
My father grabbed his hand quickly as if to
catch him from falling deeper into death.
He thurst this hand in my face, but I only
winced and stared at his suit: neatly pressed
and freshly smelling of mothballs and chloroform.

Nearing the waterbed where my parents slept,
and made love that one night I walked in,
I want to see my mother,
cold and pale.
Her urn distracts me.
The shrine my father has made scares me.
Her ashes are so close to that bed and
I feel nausea seeping through me and
it feels like the disease.

Our house feels haunted, but its not.
She cannot be a poltergeist, and phantom,
the urn is sealed tightly
and filled with ash.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Lucy and her Diamonds

Lying face down in the grass,
my face is moist.
Dew collects on my hair;
I am sweating.
I breathe now, not having
done so for some moments.
The grass smells of summer.
The blades scratch my face.
I open my eyes:
cannot see.
I am disoriented:
How long has it been?
I roll over:
cannot move.

My mind is processing movements.
My body is dumb.
The fresh air fills my stagnant lungs.
The sun warms my back.
At least I can feel it now.
I melt in the sun and slowly move.
Pain seizes my joints,
but I face upright.
I see my reflection in the sky
next to Lucy and her diamonds.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017


Her naked back,
silhouetted in the darkness,
is relaxed.

An odd shape,
pools of white
reflect my image, my stare.

Surrounded by the ashen forest,
a clear meadow
shines in the moonlight.

The bright light
blinds me momentarily,
for I need to stare,
but remain in the shadow.

Shielding the delicate,
it is powerful
and makes her strong.

Sloping toward the shades of gray,
I cannot tell which side is up,
or where to begin searching.

I am intimidated by the sheer
face of the cold slope.
I begin my climb,
but cannot finish.

Sliding down her spine,
I cannot control
my movements.

Heat radiates
and she begins
to glow.

The ridges
of her vertebrae
are stacked like building blocks.
I want to play.

Still and cold
her stone
collects snow in patterns.

Water running
over her shoulders
collects at the nape.