Saturday, November 30, 2013

Just a Different Release

Maybe I've been going about release the wrong way. Perhaps it's about what it is that I can release—or we all can release. That won't do. If the word belongs to me then release also belongs to me. I can't look at those out there and decide what they should let go of.

I've been honing in on one particular release and ignored others. Who can't look in the mirror and find habits, ways of looking at the world, ways of being, that need some refining or even tossing aside?

Who hasn't been bound to particular habits, ways of doing things?

My family doesn't do a good job of keeping in touch. When we're together everyone is totally connected, enjoying the moment—but when we go our separate ways months go by without any exchange of words. Because of geographic distances our visits are separated by long intervals.

I guess we all like it that way—independence and busy lives. Perhaps I can release some of my own aloofness by writing an occasional letter. Emails and Facebook have their place, but a letter written while sipping a cup of tea equates to intimacy.

When I write a letter I think about what it is I want to say, the words I use, and how it will sound to the other person. A letter takes more time. Emails are short cuts.

And isn't it fun to receive a letter—something you can hold in your hand, fold, take out again and again and reread.

I imagine if I scoured the surface I could find a number of things to release—

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Way to Mark

the men pounded wood sticks
in the ground, setting them
high enough for a plow to see,
the men set gravestones
in as markers to make it
easy for the living
to find their way
to those gone

what about a way to mark
a path, a road leading
to a mending, a bridge
between any gone
separate ways

what about the release
of all stones and stubble,
husks and shards
that stand in the way

Thursday, November 28, 2013

An Unconventional Feast

The year my father died my mother bought a cut-up turkey. Actually the butcher reassembled the turkey, so that it looked ready for the traditional slicing. That year we celebrated one week late. The week of Thanksgiving he was in the hospital.

My mother served all the traditional fixings including my father's favorite dessert—apple pie—just one week late.

Yesterday, a dismal rainy day, was our day of turkey and today we celebrated a non-traditional Thanksgiving at Legal Sea Food. Unless you made a reservation, at least a week ago, no times were available until 7:30 pm.

While we studied the menu we wondered who went out for Thanksgiving. Who bucked the trend of traveling, of a large family affair, of hours in the kitchen, of the American Thanksgiving.

Tables filled up with a variety of permutations—from single people seated at the bar to large groups. And every age—a toddler standing on his chair, college age students, adults from twenties up. We looked like a cross-section— a bit of this and a bit of that.

My family is spread out—literally all over the atlas. Making a phone call often means figuring out when to call because of a six hour or twelve hour time difference.

I sometimes wonder what it would look like if we all managed to be in the same time zone. My table—even when extended—couldn't fit fourteen people. Even counting the collapsable metal chairs I can't round up fourteen chairs appropriate for dining.

But that's all unrealistic—some paths have been covered by undergrowth and brambles.

So on this Thanksgiving I release into the prayer highway thoughts for those twelve who celebrate elsewhere. Perhaps someday our tracks will cross at the same time and we will break bread together. When that happens it will be a day of Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What's Wrong With this Picture

Unless our congress acts soon people who receive food stamps will see a substantial cut. A family of four receiving $688 a month now will see that amount dwindle down to $432 dollars. It may take a year—but I expect that's no consolation.

According to government statistics 83% of the people who receive food stamps exist below the poverty level.

Money Watch notes that , "Today, more than 1 in 4 children live in a home that gets food stamps." "Nearly fifteen percent of American families, or 18 million households, lacked enough food at least some of the time to ensure that all family members could stay healthy."

Are we attempting to reduce the deficit on the backs of poor families?

Forty-One percent of people receiving food stamps have some sort of a job. Nearly half of the families with children have parents who work. The working poor.

The minimum wage doesn't provide enough money to allow people to have decent housing and sufficient food—especially if they have a family.

Recently a Walmart store in Canton, Ohio opted to hold a Thanksgiving food drive. Managers encouraged their hourly workers to give some of their wages to other hourly workers who were having difficulty making ends meet. Does Walmart look in the mirror and question their wage scale, their reliance on part-time jobs that allow them to limit benefits.

I looked up some stats for Walmart—market value of $260 billion, $17 billion profit last year. Walmart says that the average full time salary is $25,000— but watchdog organizations say that the number is closer to $15,000-$20,000.

The Wall Street Journal has a section in one of their weekday papers called Mansions. Magnificent homes are highlighted where people spend millions of dollars on renovations, hundreds of thousands on kitchens, where indoor pools are considered necessities and some closets are one thousand square feet.

When I worked in New York City a number of my students lived in housing that was way below acceptable standards. Rats, poor plumbing, insufficient heating—were common problems.

My bottom desk drawer contained a large jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread—hungry? Make a sandwich. My father initiated the breakfast program in the New York City schools. I recall him saying, "You can't learn if you are hungry."

Companies need to make money, CEOs need to be paid—but how much is too much. When the United States Government releases their poverty guidelines—too many Americans fall below the acceptable level. And most of those who fall below are working.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Keep Talking

give thanks for words,
words that glint on paper
like stars wrapped in satin,
words that offer forgiveness
words that meet halfway
words that release the past
from playing the same melody

Monday, November 25, 2013

If and Then

Then Gideon said to God,
"Do not be angry with me.
Let me just make one more request.
Allow me one more test with the fleece,
but this time make the fleece dry
and let the ground be covered with dew.
— Judges: 6:39

When Gideon said to God
if this happens then
I'll know what goes down,
I'll know what you want from me
He didn't worry about turning
to stone or becoming mute
He laid his fleece on a threshing floor
God will need to answer me
with a paper towel
on the kitchen floor
God, I'll say, I got this one prayer,
been saying it for thirty years
If you want me to practice
patience and continue,
then give me a sign
or release me from
thinking you're answering

Sunday, November 24, 2013


trapped inside a body
moving like a marionette
hands unable to stay still
legs hanging down
words left unformed,
wheeled from place to place,
no release,
smiling she grasps
a hand and smiles

trapped in a bed
after a stroke
the words left,
faces became blanks,
now she remembers
her daughter, friends
and words came back,
not clearly as they
spilled out, "I'm getting
better," she said,
her hands held fast
to another hand

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Once Upon a Time

First snow,
just a dusting
like a fine dew
Not enough
to leave footprints
or roll a snowball,
Just enough
to release a memory
of sledding down
a backyard hill
The kids went first
on plastic saucers
spinning crazy
patterns before
they spilled out
like puppets
I followed on
a sled, avoiding
ruts and icy patches

Friday, November 22, 2013

In An Ending Is a Beginning

Winter approaches and I stack up on books, art classes, photo exercises, and exercise DVDS. I want to be prepared to weather out a storm or a day when the wind chill plunges us into an arctic freeze.

The metal peacock changes his landscape from the deck to the slab of stone in front of the loft fireplace. The colorful metal frog hides under a table.

We're ready. Leaves blown out of the gutters in anticipation of snow.

It's not that I hunker down, but I do find myself becoming a bit more meditative. I find that the shorter days act as a metaphor for our lives. Time keeps pushing my boundaries, refusing to
change it's pace.

My mother impressed upon me the need to respond , if not immediately-- whether it was an invitation, a get well card, a congratulations card, or a response to a letter.

How about those letters or phone calls asking for forgiveness? By the time one gets around to the letter it may be too late-- figuratively or literally.

Winter is a time to release the collection of "didn't 't have time" to dos. Watching the darkness descend I think of endings and beginnings. There are beginnings embedded in endings.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Time Wasters


Maybe it's just me, but I find that when I sit down at the computer to do one thing I am suddenly engulfed by a huge Draconian beast intent on sending me off on myriad paths. And each path has a series of splinter branches that propel me further and further away from my original task.

Tonight when I wanted to do a simple task I did not have the correct password even though I was certain that the one I had written down was correct. "You'll need to authenticate yourself."

Why is a machine telling me that I needed to vouch for myself, justify who I was, give myself a rubber stamp of approval, validate "me".

An hour later the email allowing me to document myself—lost, I expect, in cyberspace.

Do I now walk through life, at least on the computer, as a fraudulent character searching for an identity? How many roads will close, drawbridges rise leaving me on one side?

I need a release from this purgatory of incorrect password—do not proceed. Step back.

Soon I shall declare a free zone—no computers, no wireless. Evernote sent me a message—my Adobe password may be compromised. I don't have one so I can't be thrown off balance by this dire circumstance.

I shall rid myself of passwords—eight spaces long and must contain at least one numeral, two uppercase letters, and one symbol.

In retrospect I don't want to go where I'm not wanted. I wave the white flag. Soon I shall declare my freedom and take out my fountain pen and bottle of ink. I shall eschew anything that requires a password.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Not a Revision

If I listen to your memory
of how things happened,
of words said, the way
they echoed through years
If I ask you to listen
to my story, not to prune
your history, not to rewrite,
just to spread a backdrop,
the tableau behind
the actors on stage
If we both release
old footage
do you think
we can

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Finding a Common Narrative

Fifty years. How is it fifty years since the assassination of JFK? Our country changed.

On April 14, 1865 the assassination of Abraham Lincoln changed the course of history.

July 2, 1881 Charles Guiteau shot President James Garfield. Garfield lingered until September 19th when he died of blood poisoning.

A scant twenty years later on September 6, 1901 Leon Czoigosz shot President William McKinley. McKinley died on September 14th.

But there were also attempts that didn't succeed on Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan's life.

Who can ever forget Martin Luther King, assassinated in 1968.

Then there are leaders from other countries who have been assassinated, many quite famous,—Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was shot as he was getting ready to address a prayer meeting. King Faisal of Saudi Arabia was shot by his half-brother's son. More recently Benazir Bhutto was killed in 2007 as she was waving to crowds.

The list goes on and on—the famous and the infamous.

Let's not forget religious leaders—murdered, assassinated.

The CIA involved itself , either directly or indirectly, in plots to assassinate "persons of interest".

The U.S. Justice Department attempted to profile the type of person who attacks a public figure.

The released results confirmed what many people thought—no single profile.

It's not that there aren't other ways to alter history, change opinions, make life better—but they require real changes in people.

There are people who believe that we need to listen, really listen, to the stories we tell. They believe that we need to be present—we need to "practice radical hospitality".

Would that help if we really listened to the stories of those whose tales differ—whose stories rub up against our beliefs? Is it possible for two different stories to find a common narrative?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Children of God

If we 're all children of God
how come some folks
set up a pecking order--
not you nor you they say
That ladder leading
to where the angels sing
has one set of rungs
My words to those folks
who put people in boxes
Dismiss the notion
of who is in and who is out
Release the blinders
We're traveling the same road,
ruts, slopes, hills, and peaks

Sunday, November 17, 2013


In today's sermon I heard the word brokenness. It's a difficult word to embrace.

"God uses broken things." writes Vance Havner. "broken soil to produce a crop... broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength."

I have played with the word, turned it around, looked in the mirror and looked through the window.

Twenty-five hundred families live in deplorable conditions in Cateura, Paraguay , an island that has only one business—recycling trash. According to a UNICEF report more than 1500 tons of solid waste arrives every day. The people of Cateura comb through piles of garbage looking for items to recycle and sell.

Favio Chavez, a music teacher, wanted to teach the children of Cateura how to create beautiful music. The purchase of instruments—impossible. So Chavez asked a local carpenter to construct instruments he had never seen nor heard. Chavez supplied pictures, templates and a chance to hear the sound of the instrument.

Two carpenters scoured the trash to find items to recycle—to repurpose. String instruments, woodwind instruments—all created from trash. And Favio Chavez taught the children how to play—an orchestra emerged. The music —beautiful.

Trash, raked and picked over to find the right items to repurpose. The two men knew what they needed for each instrument and searched until they found exactly what they required.

They rescued dirty, broken trash and these pieces, when put together by two men, turned into musical instruments. A cello, made from a rusty oil can produced sonorous sounds.

"The world sends us garbage, we send back music," says Favio Chavez. The release of a video of their orchestra pinged from one person to the next person—over half a million people listened to their music.

"God uses broken things ..."

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Lowell Mill Girls

They came from farms,
a release from a sure road
to babies and hard work
on hardscrabble soil
to work in the textile mills

ten hours a day they
listening to machines
pare down their health

Sarah Jane Eddy Page
wrote her friend,
"I don't like it at all
I don't think I shall stay here
my life time if I do
it will be short."

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Book Club

they dissected the book,
the author's slant,
what he included
or what he left out--
trying him for not
writing a different story,
releasing all the facts

Thursday, November 14, 2013

After A Funeral

How can a life
be contained
in a small wood box?
How can it hold
the remains of someone
who once left
an indentation
when they got up
from an overstuffed chair?

How does someone
release life?
How does life
release a person?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


I've lost release. I know that the path is out there, but wandering off the path is also out there. Yet, I think I've managed to get further understanding the concept of release than when I began.

To explore release means deciphering what you need to release. That's the rub.

Digging deep means holding up a mirror and looking. And if you see something—ask questions. It's that simple.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Reluctant Cook

This is not a complaint. I know rampant starvation exists in many countries. I understand that clean water is unavailable in large swaths of land. Despite this knowledge I will persist in airing a pet peeve.

You cook a meal and then it's eaten and you're back to square one. Even if you figured on left overs or cooked enough to put several meals in the freezer the inevitable will come-- you need to do it all over again.

Paint a picture, throw a pot, write a poem, take a photo and it doesn't disappear into the thin air.

Cook food and it disappears. Yet what remains is what spins around the meal-- breaking bread with others.

The food may release its aromas, but the savory taste to the food comes from those around the table.

Monday, November 11, 2013


One neighbor keeps ahead of the leaves and if they fall too quickly he's outside creating piles of leaves.  One  neighbor lets the leaves pile up on her deck until they are elbow deep.

I recall jumping in piles of leaves and walking on a trail in the High Knob area of  Gambrill State Park--listening to the crunching of leaves. And who hasn't collected leaves—for their colors?

When I look at the bare branches—save for a tenacious leaf or two—I am aware of how quickly things change. The bright red and orange leaves turn brown and a blustery wind loosens their grip.

That's how things happen. Turn away for a brief spell and the landscape alters.

It's a cycle. One event releases the energy of the next event.

One word releases a reaction and that reaction, that ricochet, depends upon the preceding words—and the landscape changes.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


At this time of year dusk arrives quickly, almost on tiptoe. It's there and I never feel quite ready.Darkness haunts dusk, hurrying it along, ready to release a new landscape--a chiaroscuro .

I believe the drama appears as a lesson, but it takes years to read the caution written into the lesson.

Days disappear into weeks and years. You look over your shoulder at the train of years. Now the road narrows and time moves rapidly. Stop, don't hurry. Tarry a bit.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

A Too Tight Fit

Our mail person believes in persistence. He manages to push the oddest assortment of packages into our mailbox. The other day he outdid himself when he squeezed a rectangular hard cardboard box into the box. This wasn't the type of cardboard that bent easily. The Great Courses Company packs their DVDs in the sturdiest packaging. I believe I could stand on that box without causing any damage.

No matter how much I tugged on the package-- it didn't move. The front end refused to give enough for me to nudge it beyond the opening. The mail person loads our community mailbox from the back end. The front end has a rim running around the edges of each of the twelve individual mail boxes--unlike the back end of the mail box. 

After my wrestling match I went inside and armed myself with a screwdriver. With my own persistence, I used the implement to bend the edges of the cardboard inward. After a few minutes the mail box released its hold. Not that the box slipped out, but once the bulky front got beyond the rim, I thrust my arm into the mail box and pushed the package out.

Perhaps my mail person didn't want to walk to my door, perhaps this person desired to present me with a conundrum-- a problem to solve. If I believed in conspiracy theories there's a story to be woven from my encounter.

Perhaps I am the richer for relying on my latent mechanical abilities. 

Friday, November 08, 2013

A Conundrum

Carnivore. Gourmand. Possibly a glutton. A trencherman.

Herbivore. A fruitarian. A gastronome. A bon vivant.

What about the person who consumes books? A bibliophile, a bookworm, occasionally smitten with bibliomania.

While I don't spend my days searching through bins of used books or online attempting to locate a rare volume or first edition, I am known to never leave a library without a book. Even when my bookmarks stick out of three or four books I can't pass up a book that catches my fancy.

Libraries intoxicate me, lure me with promises of undiscovered authors, opening sentences that wrap me up and force me to ask what now? I am entirely at the mercy of enticing titles.

Today I went into the library to take out one specific book—but in order to walk upstairs to the fiction section I needed to walk past the shelf of new non-fiction. Impossible. The books drew me in—flowers to the bee, nectar .

Yes. How could I pass up a book about a Mennonite woman who fell in love with a swaggering muscle bound  man who worshipped at a Pentecostal church?  ( I gleaned that from the inside cover).

Sometimes I yearn for a release from this penchant to bring home an armful of library books. But I do love all the possibilities they represent. At the moment —a decades old murder, a missing person not reported for two weeks, espionage in 1942, a book about the psalms, the Mennonite and the Pentecostal, and Doodling with Patterns.

The last book represents an enigma. To doodle is to scribble or scrabble, to reside in an unfocused state. Yet patterns exude structure, prototypes, models. Perhaps the book will allow me to bridge the gap between the set in stone pattern and the art emerging from the bending of the shapes.

The question:  how to span, to cross—in both directions—in order to create something new. An embryonic creation.

If I didn't stop to scan the spines of books,take them out, skim or read them—I'd never ponder the most arresting questions.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

The Raw Places

Ministers often speak about brokenness. I'm not certain that I've heard the word in common conversation, but we all use so many words to describe the human condition. And don't we all desire accentuating the upbeat.

But the more I really listen to people the more I think that we all have aspects of our lives where that word is applicable. That doesn't mean walking around with a millstone dragging us down. It doesn't mean always being aware of the part that is broken.

But if you listen to the talk beneath the surface, the places that need mending, the times that we wish we could repeat again and change, the words spoken that can't be erased, expunged, forgotten-- then you're aware of the broken places. We carry them around, ask for forgiveness, are forgiven and perhaps gain a measure of empathy.

I don't think that there is anyone who doesn't have some exposed nerve, some broken part. Just talk to someone for a spell and a piece of the past falls out-- a piece that cries for release.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013


loss—a shawl
loosely draped
then released
an assemblage
of stitches, gussets,
hinges and sutures

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

After the Vote

A condo meeting
A place to create
a camel from a horse
A bit of bickering
Accusations fly
Mismanagement says one person
Perfect management says another
Pulling the wool over our eyes
Clear open communication
says another
A microcosm of the world
How about releasing the rancor
and telling the truth
rather than telling it slant?

Monday, November 04, 2013

Waiting 2

Is there anything too hard for the Lord?
—Genesis 18:14

When God said to Abram "Look now toward heaven." if you can count the stars- each one— "So shall thy seed be."

Then began a time of waiting. Sarai did not conceive—so she offered her handmaiden Hagar, an Egyptian woman, to Abram. Perhaps that would work.

When Abram reached old age the Lord added letters to his name. Abram became Abraham. Sarai became Sarah. God promised to make Abraham a father of many nations. At this point God made a covenant with Abraham. Still no son.

Then God promised to bless Sarah, "and she shall be a mother of nations." Still they waited.

When three men appeared to announce that Sarah would indeed bear a son she laughed. After all her skin sagged, her menses had stopped decades before this announcement. "An empty womb," that's what old women carry.

Then God simply said, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?"

When I walked out of the house leaving behind my pots and pans, dishes, and the bookcases I built in a room I called my Virginia Wolff room, I wiped my feet on the sisal welcome mat.

Then I counted the years I stayed in a marriage that never worked. I carved out my own life within a lifeless house of parallel lives.

When I told people they wondered what took me so long, "Inertia." "Children." With both in college the empty house echoed with a cultivated silence.

Then I told a son and daughter. "What took you so long," said my son. My daughter worried about who would pay for school and clothes.

When I left I also turned my back on the local coffee house where I bought raspberry twists and coffee. This is where I went to read a book or write a journal entry.

Then I moved on. One day I waited for my daughter to answer the phone. Her roommate said she'd call back. A week later she called to tell me she was busy.

When the days spanned weeks and then months, when letters went unanswered, when she changed schools, weeks became months and then years.

Then she married and moved several states away. Her brother and I talked. "Give her time," he said. I waited through several winters, summers and fall. Years turned into decades. I still wait.

When I write a letter and send a birthday gift or a check it is not opened. The check isn't cashed. "She's getting closer," says her brother.

Then she stops talking to everyone except her brother. I don't ask why because after decades the answer to why no longer bears any resemblance to the why of years ago.

When I pray now I ask for her happiness and as an aside I wonder whether this is too hard a task for God. This prayer for a time of healing.

Then I release the need for answers— and wait.

Sunday, November 03, 2013



Is any thing too hard for the Lord?
Genesis 18:14

My father gave me a kite on my eighth birthday and said, "Wait until we go to Jones Beach to fly her."

We unrolled the paper dragon kite and followed the directions— taking care not to rip the paper nor break the balsa frame. My mother provided a piece of an old bed sheet to use as a tail. Regal. That dragon looked ready for flight

For two weeks she sat on a dresser in the room I shared with my grandmother. For two weeks the weather never cooperated. Then one day, a week day when my father was at work, the sun and breeze spoke to me. I took the dragon outside.

Our Bronx street sat wedged between buildings on both sides and alleyways.

I attached the string to the kite and ran down the street hoping that the dragon knew enough to fly straight up. I convinced myself that for this maiden voyage I'd fly her only as high as Mrs. Ryan's second floor window. After ten or more times of running up and down the street my friend Annie came outside. Now the two of us took turns running back and forth. Then a breeze caught the kite and she flew—sideways until she tangled with a fire escape and twisted around a stair.

My grandmother knocked on the neighbor's door and retrieved the kite. It never flew. My father never said anything about my not waiting. We repaired the kite and it hung on the wall for the next five years—without the tail.

Later on I learned to wait—for test results, for doctor's results, for things I couldn't change or move or hurry along. I waited in waiting rooms when my father was diagnosed with lung cancer.

I waited in line for gas during the fuel shortage.

Sometimes I think that the Lord is teaching me patience. How can it be that there are things you wait for and nothing budges? You see no movement. Yet, you still wait.

Someday I'm going to pick up the phone and hear a voice I haven't heard in over thirty years. We'll talk as if time collapses upon itself. In time we'll sit down for a dish of ratatouille and release old words. We'll replace those words with new words. A fresh lexicon.

Until then I'll wait.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

"An Iced Coffee" please

The new coffee shop in town pulls in the crowd for opening day. The menu includes vegan items and gluten free bread. A veggie blender mixes up healthy options-- apple and beet juice. I didn't note if they mixed in spirulina.

In one corner a couch and three comfortable chairs add that funky look. Instead of lights to read by lights are dim; probably good for the theme nights. They haven 't released a listing of events.

The older coffee shop looks deserted. We all love what's new. It's not that the old place is run down and only offers a menu of melted cheese and peanut butter sandwiches. And both places feature WIFI.

Who hasn't picked up the pristine book and ignored the highlighted copy? Yet who wouldn't want to read the marginalia left by a thoughtful reader?

Too often our society discards the old for something shiny and new-- no scratches. No graffiti.

Street artists in Tunisia challenge the regime. Egyptian street artists document the conditions in the country. We expunge graffiti because it defaces property. Sometimes what we are covering is social commentary.

Perhaps in time each place will have a particular following--

Meanwhile there's something to be said about loyalty.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Just a Guitar and Mouth Harp

I'm chasing release
Falling behind her
Hanging on her hem
Asking what she wants
'cause it 's getting to dusk
and nothing's too clear

I'm listening to the blues,
jamming and aching,
reaching for soul notes
bent on losing the blues