The Other Option

He was asked to write
A love poem,
His former words of
Scorched barns and
Frogless ponds
Carried too much doubt,
Their darkness weighing in
On lives used to
Commuter drives,
Passing lanes,
Parking ramps,
Slammed car doors,
Disgruntled bosses,
Hurried lunches,
Clocks that moved
To the rhythm
Of a tired old violin.

An apparition arrives
Right before closing time,
Of a young woman,
Shy, with uneven teeth,
Small breasts,
A scientist’s hands,
Walking across the hill,
The seduction of innocence
And a school uniform
That spoke to him
Of poems, earnest questions,
Beach blankets and novels
Of women torn
Between men who wrote sonnets
And men with ample bank accounts.




Making Exits in Our Lives

AA’s Third Step is more often portrayed as a step about all the deficiencies of self will. But self-will embodied in all kinds of control over everything in our lives—relationships, jobs, goals, medical issues, family, and, of course, addictions

Today, at a third-step table, I realized that much of my adult life was about exits, getting out of relationships and avoiding personal conflict, especially with another person in my life or family.

Whenever I got out of relationships, I often just left in silence. Or, I created some kind drama. Or I just said, in one form or another, “it’s over.”

I vividly remember one night many, many years ago, packing a small suitcase, coming down the stairs, and saying to my ex-wife, “I’m leaving.”

I came to the conclusion, today, that those exits were a clumsy way of taking control. Or avoiding a mature, compassionate response to someone who cared for me. I did that a lot when I was in my chronic alcoholic state.

There were other issues related to that kind of behavior, certainly. However, my drinking just made it easier to keep avoiding reality, especially with intimate relationships.

The twelve-step program opened me up to a whole new world of deep friendships and trust, two issues that were very much at the core of all dysfunctional exits I made out of many relationships and groups.

The program and the fellowship also enabled me to further open up to many communities that I belong to, communities in which I can now make exits that are mature, thought-out, and rational. And, more importantly, without hurting others.

Just some thoughts



There was a time in my life when fatalism had more appeal to me than optimism.

Lately, the old cyclical narrative of abandonment has reared its ugly head.

Sometimes, writing is my own secular form of exorcism.

But sometimes the old devil watches me start to write and steps out on a coffee break, comes back, looks at one of of my exorcism poems and says politely, “a reprieve, my boy. I’ll be back.”


His mother left him once when he was a child,
Would she exit again in another form?
Yes, he decided, in all the lovers he scrapped
For hanging around too long,
Being far too modest in their passion,
Or clinging like an abused dog.

Tragedy would wrap its arms around him
On days when the sun offered solace,
Possibility escaping him every day
As his new friend leasing out
Only the bad news, his best seller.

Someone dying on stage,
Another host’s deliverance,
The happy ending, his Cinderella
In a head-on collision
On the way to the senior prom.




He couldn’t decide
Whether he liked the mornings
Or the evenings.

The sunrise, if it did arrive,
Offered promise, another chance
To get it right,
Maybe pay the rent on time,
Prepare a statement for the bus driver
That she looked better
After her knee operation,
Keep his eye drops in
For five minutes, instead of three,
Leave cat food on the porch
For the three stray cats,
Read the headlines,
Make sure the vodka was in the freezer.

But the evenings could herald
Another finish line,
That his boss called in sick,
His ex-wife finally divorced
Her second husband,
He didn’t lose his keys,
He payed the rent,
The cats were fed,
The vodka required no ice,
He finished another chapter
Of a mystery novel,
He missed the
Eleven o’clock news,
His hips got their
Strength back.












Here Today


She could not be more herself today,
A simple woman of vetted tastes,
Brash afternoons dusted into plainness,
The two romances she hurled herself into
On the Cape last summer
Shifting into sullenness.

One, a concert pianist choosing
To fan himself with the rhythms
Of another century,
The other, a plumber,
Who counted errors
In steel and iron daily,
The concubines of his
Off-hour interests.

She would settle this fall
For an elderly poet
Dizzying her with words,
That would dance and sting
On the flower of who she once was
In the steady arc
Of a younger lover’s interest.


I’ll Fly Away

I’ll Fly Away

These mornings had more promise
Than the ones she slept through
Last year.

Today an old hymn
In her head.

“I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die”

Yes, transport herself
Through the rubble
Of another chemo treatment
Still refusing to be confused
By road maps and Triple A bus tours,
Holding a steady wheel
And a firm accelerator
On the Queen E,
Always ready for a stop
At a Tim Horton’s.

Solid grey hair and blue eyes,
Her Descartes’ luggage abandoned
For a new find
In robins and seagulls
Escorting all the power-point words
From her college notes
Through the camp of her wrinkled arms,
Her torso coming alive
Two years ago on a gurney
And a doctor’s promise
Of a few more years
Of burnished sunsets
Driving an extra pulse of a new memory
Through her thin wrists.


Ohio Born

I am thinking about my father tonight,
Ohio-born in crevices of stern Lutherans
Packaging their desires
For a later time
When some would leave
The summer night’s fireflies
And the smell of hay
Or move to another part of town
That had a public pool.

Conversations were slim
About firecrackers,
Two drunk uncles,
Chinese porno cards,
And grandmother’s pregnancy
Before she met my grandfather.

The steady fires of Hell
Were never discussed
And Heaven, a Sunday word,
Out of the realm
Of possibility for the
Housewives and railroad men
Who knew the hymns
But lived their lives
Here and forever.


Vive La Différence


That gap existing between the strains
Of who we are or wish to be.

You wanting to be as still
As a twelve wheeler
Out of gas on the Interstate
In a blizzard,
Me in the large craving
To be heard
Explaining the plot of
Just another story
Someone else wrote,
A second edition
That improved upon nothing
To begin with.


Les Mémoires

In her old age
She had a cat,
Comfort against her aching hips,
Bruised by long walks
On the beach.

She strolled, according to a neighbor,
To drain herself of two memories,

Her seven year old child
Pinned against an oak tree
When a car veered onto the sidewalk,
A drunk driver still celebrating
His birthday party.

A husband drifting away
In a hospice room,
Whispering a last kiss,
A familiar rattle
In a night’s dream
On their honeymoon
In the Catskills.

Loss, what is it really?
Something gone?
An object on a treadmill
Receding in a rear-view mirror,
The blue-shadowed mountains,
Like once-willing breasts
Deciding not to stay,
Or an attic crèche
Carried down the stairs
Every Christmas,
Made of the same wood
Standing firm
On the hills of Golgotha?


Second Step

The Higher Power as the “Spirit” of Transformation

Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity

That power for me is the power of transformation arrived at through service, self-reflection (4th and 10th steps), shared recovery stories in the rooms, silence, human connections, trust, surrender, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, community, listening, surrender, and humility.

Silence can take the form of meditation, or for traditional believers, it can be whatever kind of prayer works. My form of prayer is the Tibetan Buddhist practice of “tonglen,” which is a breathing exercise of breathing in somebody else’s pain or suffering (even my own) and breathing out relief and kindness. It is an altruistic, humanitarian, compassionate extension of love.

When I’m at a meeting where the Christian “Our Father” is recited, I stand silently to absorb the mantra-like connection I internalize from the group in that prayer. I find it very nurturing.

And I say the “Serenity Prayer” to remind me to balance my behavior between doing the right thing and acceptance when I can’t change the inevitable, an outcome, or somebody’s behavior ( I”m right now in the middle of trying to accept somebody’s need to proselytize and control in a group I’m in)

That acceptance is also a form of surrender. But I have to know that surrendering to dysfunctionalism, tragedy, or the inevitable doesn’t mean I get off the hook. I have to also surrender to the pain that comes from that surrender.

Surrender can also mean I can’t always control some of my faults and inadequacies. Sometimes I need guidance from others and/or a counselor. And I also need patience in accepting the process of an active Step Program and sponsorship to do their “Refiner’s-Fire” work on those faults.

That power greater than myself I often refer to as the “Spirit” of transformation. In my experience it is expansive, loving, engaging, and inclusive.

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