A Special Christmas in 1958

I was seven
Though big for my age
Still believed in Santa Claus
That wizardly wise, white-bearded jovial old man
Gifting the world each Christmas
With toys, candy-filled stockings, other things
Of which childhood dreams are made

We lived at 919 Indiana Street
In Martins Ferry, O-hi-o
A large two-story tan and gray house
With an old coal furnace
Warding off winter’s frigid bite
Belching smoke and soot
All about the snow-covered roof and yard

Christmas fell on a Thursday in 1958
So Santa made his long-awaited visit
On a Wednesday night
Prayer meeting night, as we knew it in my family
A special late night candlelight service was held
Honoring the Christ Child’s birth
That went on well past 11 PM

I was deathly afraid Santa would skip our house
On this particular Christmas Eve in 1958
For Dad’s blue ’52 Ford wouldn’t start
In the cold, snowy, now empty church parking lot
The old V-8 refused to turn over
That onerous clicking sound
Only a dead battery can make

My sister Diana howled in tears
The very thought we’d miss Christmas
Mom mad as a hornet
So many loose ends to tie before Christmas morn
Dad’s frustration showed in his face and hands
His dark hair blown in all directions
By the blustery winter wind

At precisely twelve midnight
Dad proclaimed we must walk home
Back then, no cell phones to call a friend
And so we did
We walked and walked
One dark street to another
All good children fast asleep in their beds

At first I thought I was hallucinating
The sound of sleigh bells
Bright lights coming directly our way
Mom exclaimed it was an apparition
A sign surely we’d die this unbearably cold Christmas Eve
Dad hushed us to be quiet
Look past our fear, see reality he said

No sooner had our outbursts stopped
When a horse-drawn sleigh pulled to the curb
A tiny little man, no more than five feet tall
Descended the sleigh, calling out to us “Merry Christmas”
I watched the two large horses’ frozen breath
Spout from their large flared nostrils
As Dad talked with the strange little man

Then with a single motion of his hand
The little man waved us all into the sleigh
Where a heavy burlap blanket awaited us
Which we promptly pulled over our heads
The little man, it turns out, a widower
No children to his name
Asked us to call him “just one of Santa’s friends”

I peeked from under the blanket
Catching an occasional word or two
That either Dad or the little man said
One thing I remember was their talk about real gifts
Those one man gives to another
No expectation of anything in return
All for the joy of just giving

Fifteen minutes later
The sleigh pulled up to our house
Our tree lights still shining in the front window
The neighbor’s cat perched on our front porch
Dad tried to give the man some money
He refused, saying give it to someone in need
Someone who needs the money

As Dad opened our front door
I watched the magical sleigh drive away
And as I fell fast sleep that Christmas Eve
The little man, his horses, and the sleigh bells
Danced through my head
Somehow I knew, deep down inside
I had already been given my best Christmas present

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

November Sparrow

Hear me read this poem (click here).

See the photograph inspiring this poem (click here).

So small, delicate
So full of November
That something making you
Fit perfectly into the whole
That I so desperately seek

It’s so easy for you
To be yourself
Not worrying what others think
For somehow you know
Who you are without trying

You, the November sparrow
Just happened along one day
I saw the sparkle in your eye–
The sparkle of life
As the sunlight fell upon you

There was music
No words
But life’s sweet melody
Drifting from you, through life
Touching everything about you

You make life seem so instantaneous
So there
Within reach
Approachable
Sadly believable
For all us nonbelievers

You, the November sparrow
Sitting meditatively still
Your hush overcomes me
My heart fills
Overflows with emotion

I am angered to think
That for so many years
I have hurried through November
On the way to Thanksgiving, Christmas
And all these years I have missed
The blessing of November

But for this moment
Because of you
I am filled with November
Her barren trees
Faded gray skies
Earthy browns and rust

My dear November sparrow
I thank God for you
My sweet reminder
Of November’s beauty, grace, charm
Because of you
November is a special place inside me

Her First Christmas Without Him

Hear me read this poem

At the window she stood watching
Waiting for him to meet her
As they had met so many times before

This hotel
Once filled with their happy moments
Times they had spent
In each other’s company
Sometimes just talking about small things
Only mattering because these things they shared

It was just before Thanksgiving last year
They had had a quite lunch
At their corner table
Their spot away from the world
Where they held hands
Where he looked at her
In that special way
Only he could look at her

She felt beautiful in his presence
She felt loved
He felt safe from his demons
Those he lived with all his life
And besides himself, only she understood

Nothing lasts forever
Not the happy times, nor the sad
Not even the demons
Even the memories fade away
Like paper-thin clouds
On a breezy summer day

He had been gone nearly a year
It had taken her that long to return
To their corner table at the hotel
The same three men were hanging the Christmas ornaments
A sight they had shared together
So many times before

They always closed their eyes
Until the last wreath was hung
At the window overlooking the square
Only then did one of the men turn on the lights
Only then did they open their eyes
And again their dream came true

She waited till the last wreath was hung
Before she walked to the window
Then she closed her eyes
Letting her tears fall
Like they never had before

She kept her eyes closed this time
Not quite ready to let him go
Maybe next year
After her first Christmas without him

A Sunday Morning Reflection on Nothing Special

White satin flowers
Azure summer sky
Gone for now
No need to cry

Wispful thinking
Maddening dreams of hope
November morning
Life’s unending scope

Seasons change
One to another
Watch your window
Thank Earth Mother

Faint gray-white clouds
Paintbrush sky
Leaveless trees
Oh my my

Easy going Sunday morn
Nothing to be done
Take it easy
Walk don’t run

No Words

Sometimes no words are needed
To say what the heart feels
Sometimes the words simply aren’t there
Perhaps they never were, never will be

At times like these
We can only share what we feel
Through a quiet hug, a knowing smile
A hand’s gentle touch

They’re never easy–
Fragile moments like this
Ever so beautiful flowers
Waving in a summer breeze

It’s hard saying goodbye
To the golden orange sun at sunset
Or the full moon casting shadows
On fresh fallen snow

And when we feel the melody so deeply
There are always tears
Those reminding us
It can never last

A Wednesday Afternoon Metaphysical Rant

Here is a poem I performed back in September. I have posted the poem with the prompts (found in caps and parentheses) I used in its reading so you can see how I approached the poem on stage.

Prefer to listen to me read this poem? Click here.

(GAZE OFF & EARNEST TONE)
Each moment, a piece of it all
A fragment, flash on the screen, an echo
An engagement of our most sacred being
If we REMEMBER, something reminding us
Who we are, who we’ve become
IN BETWEEN good looks in the mirror (PAUSE)

(SHIFT: SHAKE HEAD & SERIOUS) Growing up, I NEVER liked my hair
Too thick, too curly
Not flat and combable like my friends
(EMPHASIS & LOUDER, PAUSE, SHOCKED FACE) NOW LOOK AT ME!
Silver-white hair
Too thin
My Dad’s BALD spot at the back of my head
(SLOWER) Now I wish I had thick curly hair (PAUSE)

(SHIFT NORMAL VOICE My annual physical is next week
I’m not looking forward to it
Ten pounds heavier than last year
THOUGH I’ve been on a diet ALL year
Well, not the one those CLINIC doctors put me on (PAUSE)
(EMPHATICLY) Mine instead
Much easier, FAR more satisfying (PAUSE)
An extra dollop or two of mashed potatoes
Ice cream once a week
REAL ice cream
Not that low-fat stuff tasting like frozen wallpaper paste (PAUSE)

(SHIFT) This year they stick that tube with the flashlight up my BEE-hind
(EMPHATICALLY & SHAKE HEAD) Why would anyone want to be a proctologist? (PAUSE)
Don’t get me wrong (PAUSE)
The world needs butt doctors
BESIDES it pays well
But too bad they can’t fix the OTHER type of ASSHOLE
Like Joe Camel, (PAUSE) who flicked his cigarette butt out his pickup truck window
That NEARLY hit the hood of my new Lexus (PAUSE)
(DISGUSTED & SHAKE HEAD) Why don’t smokers put their stink sticks out in their car ash trays?
Every car comes equipped with one (PAUSE)

At times like that
I try to remind myself of what my guru, Swami Kund-a-gaspar said
“EVERYTHING in life is an opportunity to learn and grow (PAUSE)
Even the pigeon crapping on your head is a teacher
The pigeon teaches us to accept what the moment presents”
(EMPHATICALLY) “But pigeon crap?” I asked Swami
(LOW VOICE) His reply: “Yes. We must learn to deal with the SHIT in life
To detach from what we hold onto and mistake for the TRUE way” (PAUSE)
And so, I didn’t lay on the horn, and give Joe Camel the FINGER (PAUSE)
But deep down I prayed a pigeon would drop a BIG one on his noggin

(SHIFT & EMPHATICALLY) This economy STINKS (PAUSE)
(POINT FINGER) I blame that BOW-LEGGED, WAR-MONGERING George Bush (PAUSE)
And yes, Enron, AIG, and the rest of those corporate thieves (PAUSE)
OK (PAUSE), so we ALL share in the blame for our economic mess (PAUSE)
It’s the worst it’s been since the Great Depression
Which I missed, but certainly Dad experienced
He even had to drop-out of high school his junior year (CONTINUE)
To work at Gus McCann’s filling station in Benwood, West Virginia
Dad says it was the best thing he ever did
Ole Gus taught him to play the guitar—
Something that brought true happiness to my father (PAUSE)

(LOWER VOICE & SERIOUS) Dad died last October at 86, nearly a year ago
(NOD HEAD) He kept his sense of humor to the end
During one of my last visits with him, Dad said:
(GRAVE VOICE) “Boy (PAUSE) this economy is bad
I better get the HELL out of here
Before they raise the price of funerals
And up the admission fee to get into Heaven” (PAUSE)
(SMILE) He made it through, before both hiked their prices (PAUSE)

(SHIFT & EMPHATICALLY) I want to do something DIFFERENT with my life
HONESTLY, I am TIRED of working (PAUSE)
That is doing things for MONEY (PAUSE)
DON’T get me wrong, I LOVE money
But REALLY, work ISN’T all it’s cracked up to be (PAUSE)
Mostly I’m tired of the PIGEONS
You know, those people who are forever CRAPPING on you
Because they pay YOU to do something
That frankly THEY should do themselves (PAUSE)

(SHIFT) The older I get
The more KARL MARX’S words ring true to my ears (PAUSE)
(EMPHATICALLY) NO, I’m NOT talking about one of Groucho Marx’s brothers (PAUSE)
I mean the big-bearded, 19th century political economist and philosopher (PAUSE)
Who said (PAUSE): “Work enslaves the spirit and beguiles all goodness in life” (PAUSE)
I guess that’s why I like art—
It frees the spirit, UNSHACKLING us from our own MADNESS (PAUSE)
That’s also why I HATE it when someone says:
(RAISE BROWS) “Your poem or photograph is a TRUE WORK of art”
Art, to me, is the ANTITHESIS of work (PAUSE)

(SHIFT & SMILE) I’m glad I got all this off my chest
I feel MUCH better
MAYBE I’ll even go back to work
And put up with those pigeons (PAUSE)
MAYBE I’ll listen to my doctor this year
And cut back on the mashed potatoes and ice cream (PAUSE)
MAYBE I’ll grow what REMAINS of my hair long
Take up the guitar
Buy a farm and raise pigeons
Register as a Defense contractor (PAUSE)
(LOWER VOICE & SLOWLY) And SELL my pigeons to the Pentagon (SMILE)