Boys Climbing Trees

Click here to hear me read this poem.

Some things always remain a part of you
Like when you were seven
And shinnied up your first tree
Like some starved Colobus monkey
In search of tenderoni leaves for lunch

Sooner or later, every boy climbs a tree
A rite of passage to manhood
Maybe to see the world from a higher place
Or just because the tree was there
Teasing you silly in the hot mid-morning sun

My first a massive sprawling oak
Jutting out our weedy backyard
Into the red brick alley
Where wood frame garages and steel garbage cans danced
On howling winter nights

I climbed high way up
To the big “y”
Where I perched for nearly five minutes
While my friends below
Proclaimed me a hero

While half the tree remained unexplored territory
I reveled in my accomplishment
Tomorrow was another day
A chance to climb higher
Seeing even more of the world’s vastness

Once the neighbor’s cat, chased by a maniac dog
Darted up the big oak, climbing too far too fast
The fire department was called
To retrieve the terrorized calico
From the high branches

We boys gathered to watch the rescue
Lasting twenty long minutes
Because the cat wouldn’t budge
Till assured its canine assailant was clearly gone
And control of the world returned to the cats

Somehow you just knew
That 1958 would always be
A watershed year in your life
Preparing you for higher climbs
Bigger life adventures ahead

Aiden Steven

Some of us don’t need long
to fulfill our life purpose
Nine months, four days
A very short life, indeed
That’s all Aiden Steven needed
before God called him back home

Obituaries are hard
especially those for young children
Aiden, a Gaelic name
meaning fire, and also
a name referring to Saint Aidan
a very old monastery in Ireland

I didn’t know Aiden Steven
My wife read his obituary in the paper
and tears filled her eyes
as she saw his angelic face
Her tears moved me, but
all I could do was write this poem

Purgatory

To some, an in-between place
for the soul’s cleansing
before its final transcripts are submitted
for admission to Heaven

Like one final car wash
getting off ALL the dirt
before you turn in the keys
and stop driving forever

Like stopping in Cleveland
to re-fuel, or repair landing gear
before continuing your flight
from New York to Chicago

Like in football, getting stopped
on fourth down, at the fifty yard line
on a last second drive
to the goal line

Here’s to hoping
your overall GPA is high enough
for immediate admission to Heaven
without re-taking any life courses

Cardinals

Cardinals
Earliest feeders
at morning’s first light
Latest feeders
at evening’s last light

Always an order to their feeding
Males, brilliant red
always dine first, but
females, tan with a tinge of red
are not far behind

Hear their sharp calls back and forth:
“chip, chip, chip”
Once a mate is spotted
we hear their distinctive song:
“Cheer, cheer, cheer, what, what, what, what.”

On this quiet frosty November morn
their voices carry, like gunshots
telling us it’s time
to get out of bed
and be about our day

Santa Claus

Santa Claus
Mythical hero extraordinaire
Innocent enough, on the surface
Deeper down?
He is far more

Santa, a symbolic source of fulfillment
for our child-like psychic wanting
Our insatiable longing
for more than offered us
by any given moment

I’m not sorry I believed
in Santa Claus
He’s one of the reasons
I made more of my life
than I might have otherwise

As a child, I believed
magic could work for me
Know what? I still do, and
I’m not sorry
I still believe in magic

My only regret about Santa
is that he was a night owl
I’m a morning person
Guess that’s why
I still want things in life

What Draws Us Back

Combing the years for answers
Something, helping me find
what I thought was lost
that turned out never to exist
in the first place

This backward-looking
Far more than nostalgia
Closer, perhaps, to an obsession
Clinging to old feelings
still looking for a home

Deep down, I know
there is no going back, yet
even deeper down I know
I want to go back
just to come back around again

What haunts me, drives me–
back to events, people and places
more imagined than real, and
even more ineffable today
than what I thought was real back then

My obsession, an equal longing
for what is deeply simple, within grasp
and what is inaccessible and totally illusive
like the light from a distant star
taking years to reach us

Yet, it is this light
keeping me awake nights
It is this light
coming from so very far
stirring me back in time