William Pitt, My Blind Grandfather

He was blind, his eyes suffocated
Into silence,
In his grief, imagining,
His body’s stark opposition to
The innocent flow
Of children in bow ties
And full pink skirts,
Or an aging oak’s
Craggy shreds of skin
Once seen by the
Boy he used to be,
Eyes wide open,
Squinting against
An orgy of sun
His pupils knew
Could not absorb.

But now, in old age,
His eyes cannot remember
What they saw yesterday,
Austere, naked emptiness,
Burglarized by time,
Bargaining with his body
To hear more than
He could endure

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Only $3,000 Down

 

As a classical recitalist, it is impossible to get through a Schubert song cycle without encountering the word “Sehnsucht,” (longing or desire).

Buddhism’s second Noble Truth tells us that “craving” is at the root of all “suffering,” which is the reality the First Noble Truth informs us is the malady every human will experience in life.

And desire certainly drives advertising in Western culture—in magazines, in newspapers, on cable tv, on billboards, on metro busses, on the radio. Even if we didn’t know we had the desire for that SUV, a tv ad will energize that desire into a purchase, for only $200 a month and $3,000 down.

In the alcohol and drug worlds, desire becomes a deeply entrenched craving, enhanced by a chemical dependency, that seeps into our bodies and minds, taking over our lives. That over-arching control of every aspect of our lives is certainly true for other addictions—food, sex, gambling, relationships, cars, shopping, among others

So, whether it’s romantic longing, an addiction, or an impulse to buy something we don’t need, the common denominator of desire, with all of its variations, is a part of our humanity, at least our modern humanity. And we can add to those modern forms of desire and cravings our finger-driven daily obsessions with Facebook and texting, not to mention the addictive need to scroll our way through our emails everyday.

Aside from addictions or the repetitive actions on our smartphones, both of which have multiple psychological and physical components, desire often arrives because something is missing in our lives.

That absence may be the lack of positive feedback at my job, of a positive image of myself that goes back to my childhood and adolescence. Or I may have had a week in which the second-floor toilet overflowed into the kitchen, my car’s muffler fell off in the Wegman’s parking lot, or one of my kids had a projectile vomit attack in the back seat of the family car in the middle of a traffic jam.

On my way home from work, do I want that new flat screen or smartphone, because my boss gave me a mediocre evaluation? Or just because I need to “come down” from all the craziness of my week.

Desire, I have found, often arrives as a form of emotional compensation. I may buy something because I think I need a pay-back from overwork. I rationalize the purchase saying to myself, “I deserve it; it’s been a rough week at work; the boss has been on my ass all week about my underperforming.”

Or my life sucks; I feel under-appreciated or left out; I can’t stop gaining weight; I fucked up another relationship; I offended somebody again.

Ordering a large pizza and streaming a favorite horror flick on Netflix can be just the right recipe to make us “feel good” in that escapist, prophylactic world where our bodies and minds just numb out the pain of feeling bad.

At the same time, the effect of acting on the desire makes us feel worse. That’s the second level of suffering.

The first level, of course, is that some painful experience enters our life (a shitty week with a boss, a client, a student, a relationship, at home), and we decide to binge.

The second level of suffering is a kind of buyer’s remorse, a regret, because now we’ve put on more weight, food binging. Or we have a huge credit-card bill after purchasing the entire series of “Six Feet Under,” “Breaking Bad,” and “Dexter.” Or we wake up with a person we’ve never seen before in our lives.

Just some thoughts in sobriety…..John

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Mary Magdalene

 

Sometimes she’s there,
Tall as a giraffe’s neck,
Wondering, on her lunch break,
Whether it was the right thing
To do, but then
Agreeing with herself
That another child
Couldn’t bear
The night’s solitude,
Fearful as a street corner
Without a light,
In old age, a crossing guard
Shuffling somebody else’s kids
To safety.

Better to rescue
With a fast exit
From the sure pain
Of unraveling yesterday’s mistake
Inevitable as her last week’s lover.

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Six of One

Actor you’ve always been,
Wheel-chairing your way
Into your impoverished look,
Pants, with empty pockets,
Thin, liver-spotted hands,
Dry feet, hair, coarse
As a horse rope,
Eyes duller than
A kitchen knife.

You will recall
The stone bridge
Over the village creek
Where I chose
To feel the fever
You said started
As soon as you
Walked out the door
Of your summer cottage
To meet me.

Every August.

“It was never enough,
Like a bowl full of fruit,
When all the kids were home,”
You said.

But I never told you
It was sufficient,
Like today, when
I made another choice
To see you briefly
And leave you
To over-smiling nurses
And the sad odor of urine.

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Time Flies

Mark would have loved Sarah
When it was time,
But he waited too long
For a shower and a shave,
Basking in another
Random thought
About an altar
Decked in wet white roses
And every-shy lilies-of-the-valley.

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If You’re New In a 12-Step Program

Feelings of Worthlessness

I’ve been in a 12-step recovery program for many, many years. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people describe themselves, in one way or another, as a “piece of shit.”

Much of this self-degradation comes from the guilt we feel over our behavior when we were actively using: infidelity, disappearances, credit card debt, emotional/verbal/physical abuse, stealing, or, one of my favorites—emotional withdrawal.

Recovery, for many of us, involves taking responsibility for those actions and behaviors. Over time, through meetings, doing the steps, and being emotionally transparent, we learn a better way of living.

We stop having secret lives. We learn to be honest. We start owning up to our faults. And some of us learn to be more humble, especially if we hid behind our arrogance in order to protect ourselves during our drinking days (As someone in the rooms so poignantly said about himself, “I tried to be one step ahead of everybody else so I wouldn’t be hurt”).

But what about those of us in the recovery rooms who have a difficult time believing that we are worth anything? Continue reading

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Choices

I suppose I could choose
To sing right now,
Maybe even dance,
Listening to the breaths
Of stale woodwinds
Which have no lives of their own,
Packed as they are
In attic cardboard boxes
Next to my grandmother’s
Lace shawl and my brother’s
Stained love letters.

No, today I will just sit
On the couch and stare,
Remembering Eleanor Winnowicz,
Who sat on her summer porch,
Repeating her favorite phrase,
“Goddamned dogs
Never amounted to anything,”
Every time Bess Swarthmore
Walked by with her
Two leashed Siamese.

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Life As We Know It

In their routine lives
They do not stalk caution,
Immunizing themselves
Against Invention,
Mystery, foreign as a refugee.

Certainty, their burden,
Quick assertions or denials,
A habit played out
To mock doubt

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Holding On

You said you loved me once.
I believe you in the morning,
Then let the day saunter into night,
Incredulous that your welcoming arms
Could drop so firmly in the suffocating dusk,
Like all petalled flowers, too tired
To explain to an uncaring sky.

But I hold on, like any glazed fool,
Devoid of absolute hope,
Which keeps me hostage
To my own sultry interests.

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The Rhythm of Love

I could keep that side of you
That’s been missing,
Store it, try to return it
As if it were mine.
But you, for whom hesitancy
Has been a practiced art,
Would prefer to defer
Until the moment it suited you
To give me more
Of what you’ve hidden
From others—-
A willing hand on my mouth,
A tongue that might melt
My own resistance
On days that I have chosen,
Of my own accord,
To sit on the beach and read,
Or change the lightbulbs
In the basement,
Playing the same game
Of a lover’s phone tag

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