Drinking Songs

Is there “self-pity”, self-grief here? Yes.  I have shed tears over the little boy, more than once.  I am no macho man, nor was meant to be.  I am soft:  a poet.

Let me tell you the memory that led to this poem: I am maybe 8 or 9 in it, having my clothes for the next week pitched to me by a nun from a room with a large mound of fresh laundry  – unpressed, sized by eyeballing.  It’s the one time during each week when I felt most invisible, without identity. In that period I came to understand that I was purely fucked.

It was only much later, after that long stretch of living a degraded life was far in the past, that I realized that the bad time had lasted so long  that I would never be able to completely escape  it; and also became willing to risk compassion for the little boy.

I had to choose back then, though, how to think and what to do to try to get through the days and weeks, with the uncertainty of an abandoned child, and the subconscious wonder whether I could make wise choices.  I understood that life had not been fair, that my friends I’d left behind lived entirely differently and had  parents who could protect them. Yet I subconsciously understood too that, fair or not, if I couldn’t get it done it would not happen. An early fire to choose to face, or to turn from.

To say it unmistakably:  this is the little boy in the midst of his crippling.  But he is only one of incalculable millions, all magically invisible.  The human mind is perfidious beyond all imagining.


In the Orphanage

Little boy, little boy,
standing at the clothes room door
catching others’ cast-off garments –
if they don’t fit, wait a week.

But will there be a life?

(Could there be …… love?)



Tried By Fire

Fire has its uses.

Wood, it destroys;
steel, it tempers;
gold, it refines.

Does the wood know,
or the steel,
or the gold
what the result will be
when brought to the fire?

And what one would go
into a fire of the spirit,
not knowing?

The strong ones
face the fire
as it tries them.

even they
must turn away…)



The Price of Peace

Looking back
I see:

For many years
I was drink-drugged –
a dead man.

I choose this way
over that

for now




In grave frustration and despair
of ever reaching out,
touching, being touched
deep down,

I use my head!
(To bang against the wall;
or press upon the ground
so tears flow upside down.)

If I were this smart,
but stable too,
what would my life be?
(Would I miss this instability?)

My drinking helped me see.
It gave me, in a way, stability!
(It deadened me.)

And how wretched to behold,
should someone see
what’s wrong with me


(Rhyming’s not what’s difficult
for me,
you see!)


But We Are All Skaters

I have fallen through thin ice
on which I’d skated for a while –
heavy with the sodden wraps
in which I’m clothed,

sinking slowly
struggling little

looking back

growing cold




I am cast away.

How did this happen?
Is there a way out?
Is it lighter
or darker

over there?

Can I squeeze
between the rocks?

And have I
the will
to try?



Shall I be a spider,
darting out from my corner
to sting
regretfully, but for food?

Or be a man,
and go among men?

A spider, then?


given voice,
still won’t cry out
when sick or dying;

they’re perky,
chipper as can be,
until they fall, and die –

fearing otherwise
the predators will know

and come



had not the goodness to submit
when I first pursued it

yet I persevered
chasing it in a small room
odds unfair
‘til I succeeded…

then it would not die well,
guts sticking to everything



I have been witness
to a prairie burn:


green shoots




Two by Tennyson:


For years, this was my own  North Star:


Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield! – Tennyson’s “Ulysses”


Fifty-five years later, hubris has flown, serenity descended:

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
………………………………– Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar”



O my children!
Dance. Dance. Dance.

after me.

Go more gently.

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