Expectations | Kenneth Koch

One of the great things about April (in addition to rain showers) is that it is National Poetry Month, and you can sign on to receive a fine and beautiful poem every single day. Beats heck out of a marketing newsletter, and leads you to writers you’d either never heard of or long since forgot about.

Kenneth Koch edited the first book of poetry I ever owned. Today I found a lovely and complicated poem that Koch wrote about his own father, “To My Father’s Business”. It illuminates how parental expectations, for better or worse, can play into our career choices.

I thought I might go crazy in the job
Staying in you
You whom I could love
But not be part of
Read the whole poem here.
My own father actually has had a lot to do with how I began writing–precisely by not pushing me, he left me room to evolve. Thanks, Dad!

Changing Forecast

Brilliant bloom in Joshua Tree National Park

Look how the sun has emerged, despite

expectations and the wringing of hands.

A new warmth arises on the April wind.

I am here again at an old crossroads:action

at odds with intention. Accomplishment sacrificed

to the short-term pleasure of just being here.

–Barbara Swift Brauer, from “Changing Forecast”

West Marin Review, Spring 2008

Do pardon my ridiculously long hiatus. What kind of devoted blogger just up and vanishes like that?

I vanished, alright. One day I was in East Point, Georgia, and the next day–poof! I was gone. For some reason, I thought I would manage to keep blogging throughout this latest relocation (yes, my second cross-country move in eight months). Over the last few weeks, I packed up everything I own and drove it over 3,000 miles to Petaluma, California.

After a brief affair with my native South–not to mention extra poundage primarily attributable to The Flying Biscuit–I feel lucky as hell to be back land of milk and honey (and all around healthier cuisine) known as California. It was touch and go there for a few months, as my partner and I hemmed and hawed over the prospect of an international relocation to Denmark. Ultimately–and no doubt to the disappointment of travel hungry friends and family–I decided that the San Francisco Bay Area feeds my work and life in a way that no place else can.

En route, I thought that I’d be able to pound out enthusiastic blog entries from, say, the scuzzy motel where we stayed in Henryetta, Oklahoma. War correspondents can write from Basra, after all. But I guess I’m just not hardcore like that. After a 10-hour shift at the wheel, anything I had to say was bound to be an incomprehensible stream of mush. Just ask my partner.

Continue reading

Astonishment | Mary Oliver


I referred in my last post to a type of inner work that, for me, trumps the prospect of a permanently nine-to-five existence. I think Mary Oliver knows what I mean (but then, there’s little that she fails to grasp).


My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

Mary Oliver

Limbo | Laurie Sheck


“Teohare: to be suspended between two different places.

And yet it seems the remembered home home is not one home but clusters

Of otherwise and absence, reeling, and ever-changing. Nor is one single here.

How I the constantly crumbling yet still stands.

We pass south of the river. I count oak trees, birch trees, beech.”

–Laurie Sheck, “The Eleventh Remove”

To create a newer and better situation is–yes–liberating, but also potentially upsetting in the unfamiliarity it brings. C’est la vie. Laurie Sheck’s new book of poetry Captivity is some kind of godsend in that it captures this perfectly. If you’re feeling trapped in any way, this book deserves your attention.

As for me, I’m starting to feel that all the commotion of breaking out of my current life (i.e., packing and moving) is robbing me of what’s recently become dearest to me–writing time. I promise to get back on the full-blown, essay-style blogging wagon soon, but as you can see from the picture above, I’ve got my hands full at the moment.


Inner Child | Delmore Schwartz

Cherry Bowl Drive In

This is the poem that I would read myself when I was twelve and thought I was “getting old.” Later, as a painting student, I illustrated it as a young adult poetry book (yet unpublished, of course). I later found out that back in the 70s, Barbara Cooney had also illustrated it as a kids book, which seems confusing … little kids don’t need to be told to be “new”. Adults do … I do, anyway.

Anyway, the poem always makes me feel like I can do anything I want.

I Am Cherry Alive

“I am cherry alive!”the little girl sang. Each morning I am something new:
I am apple, I am plum, I am just as excited
As the boys who made the Hallowe’en bang:
I am tree, I am cat, I am blossom too:
When I like, if I like, I can be something new,
Someone very old, a witch in a zoo:
I can be someone else whenever I think who,
And I want to be everything sometimes too:
And the peach has a pit and I know that too,
And I put it along with everything
To make the grown-ups laugh whenever I sing:
And I sing: It is true; It is untrue;
I know, I know, the true is untrue,
The peach has a pit, the pit has a peach:
And both may be wrong when I sing my song,
But I don’t tell the grown-ups: because it is sad,
And I want them to laugh just like I do
Because they grew up and forgot what they knew
And they are sure I will forget someday too.
They are wrong. They are wrong. When I sang my song, I knew, I knew!
I am red, I am gold, I am green, I am blue,
I will always be me, I will always be new!”

-Delmore Schwartz

Fear and Joy


Seven years ago, when I first arrived in the city–in the midst of the same type of huge transition I’m diving into now–I was lucky enough to see the poet Robert Hass read at a special event. It was one of those memorable nights when I just couldn’t believe that I was really in the sparkling city of San Francisco–and in the presence of literary greatness to boot. Praise is one of my favorite of the poet’s collections. It begins:

“We asked the captain what course

of action he proposed to take

toward a beast so large, terrifying, and

unpredictable. He hesitated to

answer, and then said judiciously:

‘I think I shall praise it.’ ”

The idea of being not only curious about the fruits of the unknown, but wholly devoted to them, gives me the shivers. How brave…! Further into the book is a poem called “September”, which I cannot help but excerpt in light of my coming departure.

How I will miss this place!

“Here are some things to pray to in San Francisco: the bay, the mountain, the goddess of the city; remembering, forgetting, sudden pleasure, loss; sunrise and sunset; salt; the tutelary gods of Chinese, Japanese, Basque, French, Italian and Mexican cooking; the solitude of coffee houses and museums; the virgin, mother and widow moons; hilliness, vistas; John McLaren; Saint Francis; the Mother of Sorrows; the rhythm of any life still whole through three generations; wine, especially zinfandel because from that Hungarian vine-slip came first a native wine not resinous and sugar-heavy; the soudough mother, true yeast and beginning; all fish and fishermen at the turning of the tide; the turning of the tide; eelgrass, oldest inhabitant; fog; seagulls; Joseph Worcester; plum blossoms; warm days in January …”



I’ve referenced Edna St. Vincent Millay here before, in a now-imploded page of this blog. We can always afford to hear more from her, as far as I’m concerned. Most literate Americans know her poem “First Fig,” but I reread “Second Fig” recently and saw it with new eyes.

“Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:

Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!”

Risk can make life more beautiful.