Seamus Cassidy is an American poet. Born in Chicago in 1943, the fourth of nine children, he grew up
in a colonial town in New Jersey, where he enjoyed yearly summer visits from his Irish-born
paternal Grandmother who was, like her son, his Uncle, a born storyteller.
During his high school years Cassidy lived on a small truck farm with milk-cows, pigs, chickens,
honeybees, an apple orchard and vineyard—all of which he helped to tend. After finishing college and
university he embarked on a career as a teacher of History and English in junior high and high school.
Cassidy is now a retired redhead whose editor-mentor describes him as "looking like a happy Robert
Frost." He has recently completed writing a soon-to-be-published book of dramatic monologues based
on historical characters, with accompanying biographical sketches written by his editor
friend, Mark Orrin. Anne Marie Shea, Cassidy's wife and mother of their two children,
daughter Erin and son Sean, has provided line sketches of each person profiled in the book.
(for my brother Bobby on his birthday)
I walk out the garage door.
Orion's dots in a cloud-scarce sky
spell a small hello.
For nights, shy Moon's been
on a diet. She stares back at me.
I turn toward comatose mountains
careful not to awaken a giant.
Sun sneaks up surprising no one.
Even blind faces smile at his warm kiss.
I return home with my homework
completed, having crammed for finals.
PASS A SPLENDID TORCH
Live a love story based on giving
all you can to bless other people.
Learn, at the same time, to let
others share their love with you.
Decide to allow every candle
on your birthday cake
to enkindle a more intense flame
to warm and enlighten other minds and hearts.
George Bernard Shaw embraced our chance
to be magnificent: "Life is no brief candle to me.
It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of
for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly
as possible before handing it on to future generations."
SEE YOU DOWN THE ROAD
down both cheeks in tandem,
drop like acid, scorch my open heart.
Still I flash back a smile when I imagine
your stunning smile igniting this matchless dawn.
Soon your face fades.
Loneliness looms like a horror film,
projected over and over.
Pausing on Halfway Bridge
I peer back aware I'll never kiss
you again in this world.
See you down the road
when all separation ends
in a land where only tears
of joy fall to feed the flowers.
GLASS HALF FULL
Tragic loss propels you
to awareness of your own fragile mortality.
Choices pop up on your horizon:
grieve over how little time is left,
or sparkle with joy in the dark night.
Yes, as Mark Twain tells us:
"The secret source of humor
is not joy but sorrow."
Practice soothing sorrow
by laughing at life's absurdities.
Clink your half full glass of sparkling water
against mine. Toast this golden sunset
with compassion. Shout for joy!
Smile sunshine into the lives of strangers.
Celebrate this unrepeatable moment,
with gustos of gratitude.
Create a masterpiece of art
with your life. Wise Pablo Picasso
guides us: "The purpose of art
is washing the dust of daily life
off our souls."
(for Siddhartha James)
Now! Now! Young man
just be still...not on the lookout for sound!
Look into yourself. Intend to fall awake.
Open your mindscape, soundscape
and your heartscape...all your thoughts,
feelings. Cultivate intimacy with your deepest self.
Expand your awareness to become your breath,
your heartbeat. Practice loving kindness
toward yourself and all living things.
Die to the past and future
to be born again and awake
to this moment.
Become the stars, the moon,
the dawn, the sunset, the bird,
the rabbit, the child, the homeless person.
Allow your field of awareness
to expand out into the infinite.
Gaze in the mirror of Now
as you fall awake
and reclaim yourself--
body, mind, spirit--
becoming alive Now.
Living in a drainage ditch
which I have to abandon
when heavy rains come,
gives Me protection from some
who may wish Me dead.
Most often people are kind,
though some refuse to see Me.
Even when I stand in rags right
before their eyes, I remain invisible.
. . .
I smell and you give Me shampoo
I walk in rags and you give Me
used clothing and clean socks.
My stomach aches for lack of nourishment
and you give Me food and drink.
I'm lonely, or in jail, and you visit Me.
I'm sick and you are at My side.
I die and you shed tears for Me
and comfort my widow and children.
I'm addicted to drugs or alcohol,
and you welcome Me and show Me the 12 Steps of Recovery.
. . .
Whatever you do to these, the least of My brethren,
you do to Me.
BOOKMARK OF SAINT TERESA OF AVILA
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing frighten you.
All things are impermanent.
God's Love alone is eternal.
Patient, potent acceptance accomplishes everything.
Whoever lives in the Presence of the Infinite Energy
of God's Creative Love lacks nothing he truly needs.
God's Lightning Resource is absolutely abundant.
(Translated from Spanish by Seamus Cassidy)
SIMPLE MATH OF GRATITUDE
Simple math teaches lessons
aimed at your heart.
Add up your blessings,
problems become of no account
as joy subtracts sadness.
Divide your doubts,
believe in Eternal Love,
happy moments multiply Here and Now.
Fill your pockets with miracles,
fears fall out
as you travel lightly.
A SIMPLE SMILE
("We shall never know all the good
that a simple smile can do."
I choose to pave
my daily journey
with miles of smiles.
Smiles cost me only small pieces
of self-centeredness which I shed
as I convince strangers
I love them just the way they are.
My spiritual fitbit calculates kindness
as I walk with God's Love
beaming a light of His Love to others.
Funny how smiles become contagious.
As my path widens and narrows I find
joy waits for me around every bend.
Being surprised by joy has a compounding effect
on me as I find many know this morse code of love.
Infants are expert smilers.
Just peer into their smiling faces.
You'll be embraced by their simple joy
as you laugh out loud.
How lucky they are to know
they are loved and can love!
Smiles are the silent language
of love which whisper to others:
I love you just they way you are.
("We are all in the gutter,
but some of us are looking at the stars."
I greet Orion this morning.
He returned shortly
before I got up to walk
Long ago I placed
my Dad, my older brother
and his Son―all Bob's―
on his belt...their light
and love for me is Eternal.
His companion, Sirius,
eyes me with the affection
my 15 dogs all had
and reminds me of my Mom Viv,
who loved them too.
Nancy's been the guiding light
of Venus now for five years.
She taught her final lesson--
how brave saints
twinkle a final smile
in the eclipse of death.
("Rough winds do shake the
darling buds of May
And summer's lease hath
all too short a date."
Light lamps more dark time
as warm winds wake the lark
and set him singing to himself
like a man in a shower.
Three months at best will come
to cold conclusion as Spring's nest
clutters the ground and blue shells
of June's chicks shatter under foot.
Wisdom's wings carry a feathered wren
atop boughs of high pines upon hills
where his mother once chirped
and loved life enough to give him birth.
Soaked to the Skin
("I don't consider myself a pessimist.
I think of a pessimist as someone
who is waiting for it to rain.
And I feel soaked to the skin."
Tears seldom trickle from a single eye.
Tandem tears' sad torrents
Goodbyes gather momentum
as grandfather years gradually gain ground.
Raincoats don't protect
from life's drenching losses.
Soaked to the skin,
I learn to let grief drip earthward
one drop at a time.
Carpe Diem Manana!
for my Son Sean
Seize the day tomorrow!
If I stack all my tomorrows
in a row I go a whole nowhere.
The Future is a wish
darting off like a fish.
I cast my fly toward the future
while a fish lies under today's rock.
A life worth living
is one second
loved after another.
God Has More in Store
Sunrise is a surprise.
Did a dream convince me
my heart stopped?
My friend the Mockingbird
sings solo atop
our pine tree.
My smile thanks him.
Happy with my delight,
he favors me with an encore.
His joy is contagious
as I skip and hum
an old love song.
Hold Me in Your Heart
Eternal One, Your Heart
is addicted to creating Love.
The Universe changes every moment
fueled by the Miracles
of Your Creative Energy.
You hold me in Your Heart,
my only true Eternal Home.
I learn to imitate You
and hold all those I love
close to me within
Your Heart, our True Home.
My Favorite Place in the Universe
for Bobbie at Christmas
Books are fine and so is wine
but not for me, you see I knew
what I truly needed I'd never find
on a page or in a bottle.
I'm so glad I could read your
heart when your lips told me
you wanted me to be safe.
As I stared into your pure eyes
you sent me a message. My heart
decoded it meaning and I moved
immediately into your sweet heart.
Witness the Wonder
for Alex Cherup
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
Witness the truth with your words
and the Universe will echo and amplify
your voice until it reaches the Heavens
which shout back Yes.
Yes is the Great Amen which confirms
the wonder waiting to be seen, embraced
and loved in all creatures large and small,
rich and poor, near and far.
Witness the wonder with hearts
that seek to heal the wounds
of women, men and children
all over a hurting World.
Listen with compassion. Speak
the truth that only love discerns.
Act in accordance with your true nature
as a child born to love and embrace
Drown Your Sorrows
"I tried to drown my sorrows,
but the bastards learned how to swim."
I sweep my problems
under the carpet
to disguise their pain.
Too bad, I trip
on the Rocky Mountains
my rug became.
Maybe I'll kill their pain
a different way:
one drink at a time
I'll drown my sorrows
then lament my solution
in pitiful rhyme.
Run for your life!
A tsunami of problems
doing the breast stroke is headed
straight for my heart.
Out, Out Brief Candle
How do I avoid cramming pain
inside my mind, heart and gut?
If it worked I suppose
that might not be a bad
but with time comes
the inevitable volcanic explosion
of anger left to fester within.
First comes smoke and sparks,
followed by flames and molten language
flowing out of my mouth.
Name calling is part of the destruction
heaped on those unlucky
enough to be in the vicinity
when Mount Saint Jimmy explodes.
So, here's my new practical plan
of action: Instead of stuffing
the turkey I am with hurt, I will
pray it out, I will listen it out,
I will write it out, and talk it out
with a wise friend.
This will keep me from passing
on the hurt to another by acting
It does me no good
to be out of touch
with my real feelings
and, in denial, believe
hurt feelings will simply
heal themselves if I ignore them.
"Knowing your own darkness is the best method
for dealing with the darknesses of other people."
I see how addiction to things, alcohol,
speeding on the streets, sugar and carbs, name calling,
profanity, all of which impact my life, help me to understand
how flawed we all are.
Coming out of denial and applying the principles
of the 12 Steps in all my affairs, frees me
from the bondage of self.
I'm wise when I decide to take all my addictions
through the healing process of the 12 Steps.
My Ego is never my amigo. Addiction is out
to steal my joy and enslave me to selfish
pursuits which destroy a life worth living.
I surrender to God my Creator
and let His Love and Power
recreate me in His Image.
I join in a joyful journey
with Friends who accept
the gifts of recovery.
We share a Life Together
allowing God's Dream for us
to come true as He gives us
a life beyond our wildest imagination.
Too Much of Nothing
for Gil Canlas
"You have made us for Yourself,
and our hearts are ever restless
till they rest in You."
Once I get all the things
I want, they disintegrate
in my hands. As the winds
blow them away, I forget
what they were and why
I thought they'd make me happy.
Being is what I really crave;
having is a poor substitute.
Too much of anything
ends up being too much
of nothing worth anything.
Although I can't calculate kindness,
I know it is extremely valuable. Only
the things that cost the most,
can never be paid for at all.
As The Little Flower, Saint Therese
of Lisieux said: "Love can be
repaid by love alone."
Do Less Than Before
The World's business model
tells me to do more
and I'll possess success.
This translates into having
Now I can build
to separate myself
You tell me: do less,
be more aware
of what I do and how.
The cost of being busy
is to be less conscious
of Your Presence
in the Here and Now.
Listen and Silent
with the same letters.
When I listen in silence
I hear You
as a rose opens
while a poor man shivers
in the shadows.
Each Sunrise whispers
this is. Twinkling Stars
tell me I must Be In Love Forever.
Do less than before.
Be More Like You.
Hear You disguised
in the tears of the needy
in the Here and Now.
You Bet Your Life
"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
or what's a heaven for?"
My half-hearted attempts
to live a soaring life leave me lost
in the mud puddles left behind by life's storms.
If I flap my spirit's wings
with all my might, I gain
to get off the ground.
Once I experience lift-off
and gain altitude
an attitude adjustment
takes place as my perspective expands.
Now I let go and allow God
to take me where the wings He provided allow.
I go for broke in life,
as I throw my whole heart,
mind and soul into what
He chooses for me.
When I adopt a constantly increasing
attitude of gratitude, my life
pulsates with passion.
Enthusiasm is my favorite word
for why not be filled
to overflowing with God?
Hey, am I a risk taker?
Certainly, but all I have to lose
is a life worth living.
You do the math.
I hope you see
the odds are in my favor.
So I choose winner takes all,
and you bet your life,
I'm loving it
as God and I co-create an abundant life
in the Eternal Here and Now.
God's Car Wash
for Tony keep coming back
On my journey along the Road of Life
I pick up a lot of grime,
dust and soot.
Life's Storms bring rain
to clean off some of my
outside paint job.
feel that's all the detailing
they'll ever need.
Once I become a classic vehicle
I begin to realize there's no shame
in being what some call a cry baby.
My Master Mechanic
says as my speedometer
gains massive mileage I must
turn in my classic vehicle,
get an old pair of roller skates
and an orange crate and
nail them both to a two- by- four.
As I revert to my Kid's Car
my Heavenly Father
throws me the Keys to a
turbo- charged model
that will get me to His Kingdom.
He gives me the gift of tears
at His Inner Car Wash
to make me Road Ready.
Tears are God cleaning
my eyes so I can see better
as I travel Happy, Joyous and Free
along His Road of Happy Destiny.
Angels with Only One Wing
"We are each of us angels with only one wing.
And we can only fly embracing each other."
―Luciano De Crescenzo
I look at you and see myself―
wounded and frightened
by the tragedies of life.
I know I can't live
a life worth living
all closed off and
centered on myself.
I need to move in the direction
of my Eternal Source.
To be creative I need to keep
in close contact with the Power
that gave and sustains my life.
I can only be lifted toward my Eternal Source
in the Here and Now by Living a Life Together.
Life Together is a life full of joy,
hope, inspiration and uplift.
I never need to go through life alone again.
Even when I am the only person in a room,
I am surrounded by the love
and care of those living and dead
who share the life of the Spirit
with me in the Eternal Here and Now.
Look with Your Hands
My senses help each other
to know you in ways beyond
what they can hear or see
or touch, or taste or smell
Often the best way
I can see you is with my hands
reaching out in the tender dark
to touch your soft skin.
When you walk ahead
as I leave for work
I touch you with my eyes.
Joy allows me to feel
you present with me ...
all I need to do is
close my eyes.
Finding the Focus of a Butterfly
for Mom and Dad—married 76 years ago today
How joyful this day is revealing itself to be,
bathing me in beauty most souls never know
until they die!
A Monarch butterfly knows the right moves
to view the complete beauty of a hillside garden
in one fleeting, free afternoon.
How does a complete palette
of ever-changing sea and sunset sky
get splattered here and there
all over this green glen?
Oh, many an untrained eye
can't find the focus of this butterfly
as he bounds from rose bush to clinging vine,
never taking time to stop and look behind—
pure as a poet lost in the language
of his own winging love poem.
Blindsided by Blessings
for Bobbie Kay
You came to me unannounced.
No signal appeared on my inner radar screen
allowing me to detect your sudden presence.
Sure I knew of your kindness, beauty,
and serenity, but these existed
in a world I never dreamed
I could intimately enter.
You welcomed me
into your heart
by telling me simply
that you wanted me to be safe.
Now I depend on you
every day as we live
a life beyond my imagination.
Oh yes, I know God
sent you as an angel announced
when you blindsided me
by the blessings of your beautiful
heart and bountiful spirit.
Bonded in Brokenness
for Bobbie Kay
My wounded heart
can only bond
with another wounded heart.
into intimate communion
when we trust enough
to push beyond our painful wounds
into the safe and sacred sanctuary
of each other's compassionate, open hearts.
Surprised by Joy
for Bobbie Kay
You glide on silent angel wings
while alone I watch a sad Sun
drown in bloody waves.
Dusk endows your feathers
with golden treasure
to ransom my captive heart.
Grief lets go its greedy hold
as I find shelter in sea green eyes
whose compassion sees me as I am.
Till There Was You
for Bobbie Kay
Dawn birds brave
to my deaf ears.
I know how He
must have felt
as the cave rock
rolled aside to end
His deadly isolation.
allows you to listen deeply
and with compassion,
helping me push away
the rock sealing me
in my cave.
As you sleep
with the songbirds' chorus
chanting the miracle
of being loved by an angel.
Your Einstein Eyes
for Bobbie Kay
Your green eyes
capture Dawn's rays,
storing them in your heart.
As I watch,
you radiate beams
that blast away afternoon shadows.
Your stored light energy
ignites the evening stars,
dispelling the dark night.
Christmas Eve, Iraq 2009
for Corporal Jack Williams, IV, USMC
Tonight’s snow comes as a relief.
I’ve shivered almost constantly
during the last twelve hours
of soaking rain.
I’ll move the truck.
We can spread out our tarps
on the dry spot.
Quickly, I’ll place my clothes
between my tarp and my winter
sleeping bag so they'll be warm
Nearly naked now
I zip myself in and finally
begin to warm up.
I’ll save this last cigarette
to celebrate Your birth
before I get out of my bag.
Did you feel this cold
in Bethlehem wrapped
in those swaddling clothes?
A Man Who Lives in Memory
reflections on a line from W. B. Yeats
"Were I but there and none to hear
I'd have a peacock cry,
For that is natural to a man
That lives in memory,
Being all alone I'd nurse a stone
And sing it lullaby."
Driving to Santa Barbara
I cry listening to Vivaldi's "Gloria"—
hearing your voice clearly singing
along with its polyphonic chorus
as I also sang in San Marco in Venice
to Mozart's "Ave Verum Corpus"
with the choir visiting from
Raleigh, North Carolina.
I follow an excellent driver
who skillfully cuts through
the traffic and makes the drive
go fast as I sing my song without words
Two years ago I began
to sing it to you
and now out-of-nowhere
it comes to my mind
and I lullaby my broken heart
wherever I am, to its tune.
My email to our friends
and family announcing your death
was titled: "Nancy is singing
with the angels." Baby, I miss
you and can't get myself to go
to Church when your choir sings.
All I can hear is the absence
of your voice.
Instead of nursing your tombstone
I just gave Maya a bath
followed by a cookie,
and danced for her
as her bunny with a yellow raincoat
and matching umbrella sang
(a la Gene Kelly) "Singin' in the Rain."
Tonight Maya and Papa Jim
danced with her Bunny
who wears a yellow raincoat
and matching hat and umbrella
(after she took her bubble bath)
while Gene Kelly sang:
"Singin' in the Rain."
Then she picked up her "Curious George:
What Do You See?" book,
the one with mirrors
on each page opposite
George or one of his friends.
Maya looked at each picture
and at herself in the mirrors
on each page
and kissed her reflection
in each mirror.
Today in a book
on the life of Saint Francis of Assisi
I read a quote
from Dante Alighieri's Inferno:
"Art is the grandchild of God."
It's funny how Maya
understood in a way
how she's made in the image
of Goodness. Her parents
have done well by her,
teaching her that she's
an original blessing—
an artistic masterpiece
straight from God's palette.
"C" is for Cookie
I've been working with Maya
on her alphabet.
We made a lot of progress—
"A" is for apple,
"B" is for banana,
then everything came
to an abrupt halt
with "C" is for cookie.
Maya has dug in her heels
and is staying with "C"
at all costs.
Only God knows
how long she'll dally
on "D" is for dessert!
Wake Up, Buddha
for Michael, my brother
As a child
I'd sit beneath trees
with pad and pencil
sketching their leaves, trunks
and branches in black and white.
... Hours pass
while I entertain myself,
aware of only
what captures my eyes
as I draw from nature ...
Now I look over
those monochrome sketches
smeared by tears
that fell in tandem
with sugar maples' spent leaves.
Winter's storms soon coated
these trunks with snow and ice
into dancing ghosts
when North winds blew.
Apple trees' white and pink
blooms were my obsession,
on those long-ago April afternoons
as I competed with addicted bees
to not miss a flower.
... One early May morning,
asleep under a cherry tree,
I am awakened when petals
fall on my eyes
and I begin to paint in color ...
Make a Place for Love
Why do senile seas loose memories
of foaming waves that dashed
against your freckled feet
as we kissed on Moon-lit sands?
Your sweet love's receded
with summer tides beyond breakers
my winter arms lack strength
to reach your mermaid renaissance.
How's love to find a way
out to where you dwell
with schools of silent whales
whose speech is deaf to landlocked men?
Conceived as calves in salt and surf
they hear affection's rush and roar
and know what mortal fools learn late—-
love and loss are everyman's fate.
Now west winds blow my fragile bark,
please help me tack a safer course
to crystal coves where I can care
and harbor in consoling love.
The Best of Both Worlds
Now that you've awakened to eternal life
I'm experiencing the best of both worlds.
Nancy I can be in your presence
as surely as in God's—-
all I have to do is talk to you
and listen to you...
such simple things to do.
I made up my mind a long time ago
not to fall victim to Aldous Huxley's dilemma
which I repeated to you often:
"I was born wandering between two worlds—
one dead, the other powerless
to be born; and in a curious way
I've made the worst of both."
In Las Vegas I'm surrounded
by the many warm-hearted, intelligent friends
we've cherished for years.
In Santa Barbara and Sparks
I'm surrounded by our children and granddaughter;
I go there to be with them often.
I'm determined to empower
myself by living in the present
where you, God and my friends
and family all live
in my own best of both worlds.
The Loss of Teardrops
Nancy at the Mass of the Resurrection
in your hometown in Massachusetts,
the visiting priest from Poland
said that all spiritual things are eternal...
zeroing in precisely on your authentic
living out of your deeply held beliefs.
I'd told Sean and Erin
that I was not going
to cry at your Mass in Las Vegas
or Northboro because it was a time
to celebrate your life with our community
of family and friends.
Well, After Sean carried your ashes
into Saint Rose of Lima Church
he sat right next to me,
flanked by my brother Michael,
and when the soloist sang so movingly
the Ave Maria we both loosed
many a teardrop. We talked
about it later and agreed
some tears are beyond our control.
I'm a child of the Sixties
as you knew marrying me in LA.
I've never been ashamed of crying
in front of other men, women
or children but now I save my
times of intensest grief
for private moments
when I'm alone with you,
my beautiful Sweetheart.
When we talk
I tell you how much I miss you
and I hear you say
how much you love me.
Nancy, I remember
a comment you made to me
several times over the years:
"Jim, life is full of goodbyes."
Since you've gone
you've told me many things.
Recently you advised me:
"Jim, embrace my resurrection
by letting go of my suffering.
All that pain allowed me
to let go of this world
and my loved ones
to let me go. Now it serves
no useful purpose.
I am safe, I am at peace,
I am happy.
Be safe, be at peace, be happy, Jim.
I love you."
Thousand of Dreams Deep
Mom, you told me
for ten years after Dad died
you dreamed about him every night
until the white wings of death
took you away.
Nancy, we were married
close to thirty-nine years
which calculates to about
fourteen thousand nights.
My beautiful Sweetheart,
the biggest surprise
of your death for me
has been how easily
we still talk with
I know you remain
close to me—
thousands of dreams deep.
Living with Ants
The Buddha certainly knew
a lot about human suffering.
He seemed to see it
as the common denominator
between all living things
on Planet Earth. Because
we can identify with the pain
of furless and featherless bipeds
and all living things
we can experience compassion.
Here's the rub.
I'm living with my daughter Erin,
a world-class recycler.
When she was staying
at my home (where recycling items
are picked up every second Friday)
it took me ten minutes
just to haul all the stuff out
to the street on Thursday night.
All manufactured products
are automatically suspect
It's verboten in their condo
in Carpinteria where the weather
makes humans fall in love
with coastal California.
Unfortunately little bity ants
seem to love the place too.
No insect spray ameliorates
our predicament of living with ants.
Now if the truth be told
these little guys are not
at all greedy and tend
to just go after little crumbs
Maya and I leave from our
daily dose of everything bagels.
I do feel very guilty
when I summarily execute them
with my fingertip
without benefit of legal counsel,
charges, trial by a jury of their peers,
or some interminable appeals process
while they await execution.
In my defense I do
not murder them in plain sight of Erin or Maya.
My son-in-law Evan
has a twinkle in his eyes
as a matter of habit after living many years
with a takes-no-hostages ecologist
like my daughter.
In all honesty
I really do have a liking
for these little industrious guys,
and the many little bits on my feet
attest to their fondness for me
(growing up in New Jersey
my family never had to apply
insect repellant if I was outside
with them at night, as all the mosquitoes
would be busy biting Jimmy).
A little dose of formic acid
never hurt anyone
and it gives me something
to scratch when I run out
of things to occupy myself with
while watching Curious George
for the seven hundredth time
the last six months with Maya.
We took Maya to the Santa Barbara Zoo
for the annual Halloween extravaganza
"Boo at the Zoo." I think I may have found
an organic solution to the McDonnell's
ant invasion. I hope I can afford
to rent one of their captive anteaters
to stay a week with us, but
I can't help wondering if this
will really work.
Will the anteater only dine
on females leaving me
to deal with the certain-
The Peace of Santa Barbara
My almost three-year-old granddaughter Maya
by mutual consent with me, her maternal Papa,
has sealed a treaty henceforth to be called
the Peace of Santa Barbara.
We waived lengthy negotiations,
grants of land, property,
and privileges and got right down to basics—
respect for inherent power arising
from our mutual estimates of one
another's strong sense of self.
Her initial shyness
masked a wise stratagem
as she sized up her Papa's
strengths and weaknesses
ultimately deciding: "I can't take him."
My tactics ran along
similar lines, once I became aware
of my precocious toddler's mature take on reality
and capable negotiating skills
(quite independent of parental advice).
I've seen Maya enter complex mazes
of human relationships within her large
extended family and arrive quickly
at a central understanding
of adults' assets and liabilities.
We've earned each other's respect
based solely on a mutual recognition
of the status quo ante bellum,
namely an accurate assessment
of Papa and Maya's strength of character.
From this mutual perception flows
deep trust in each other's ability
to make wise choices in how
we deal with one another's time,
talents and personal possessions.
This agreement's non-verbal character
makes it even a more binding foundation
for a just and lasting peace
between two generations.
Announcing this detente
to her parents was unnecessary
as both Erin and Evan had already noticed
the cessation of all adversarial interactions
between Papa Jim and Maya...
as white flags went up
(one an unused diaper, the other a hanky)
simultaneously on both sides
of a No-Man's-Land in what is now
referred to as the preliminary
Truce of Carpinteria,
soon afterwards to be ratified
by executive orders issued
on both sides.
Maya climbs the stairs with her bunny
at bedtime and gets into bed
only then to be tucked in by Papa
before he closes the door
for the night, without a whimper
She places a black and gold mat
on the floor when Papa
needs to change her diaper
without the need for him
When Papa Jim
draws a bath for her
she merely pulls the plug
(after he sings to her
about her duckies, fishies
and the mermaid with the red hair
that looks a awful lot like Mama)
letting the water out
when she's finished;
she then stands erect
as he hands her a towel
to dry off.
United States Secretaries of State
Madeline Albright and Hillary Clinton
would recognize a kindred spirit in Maya,
as she negotiated this pact
between Papa and herself
with not a single toy gun
being drawn on either side.
Weep No More My Lady
Dawn came too early today.
Its crimsons gushed from your mouth
as you exhaled your last breath.
The final vigil hour
I produced portraits taken by you
of Erin, Evan and Maya
and Sean and Suzanne and me
for your wide-open blue eyes
Maya sitting next to the pumpkins
got a rousing: "How adorable!"
from you, followed by "How cute!"
You asked for the Austrian Madonna
holding the Holy Child with a golden apple
in His hand (suggesting apple pie to me)
to be placed right next to you
on the bedside table; then I put your Mom's
and your older sister Evelyn's pictures there too.
I read from Chapter 14 of John's Gospel:
"Let not your heart be troubled.
In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.
I go to prepare one for you.
I will come again and bring you to Myself."
Earlier you had told Erin as
you stared at the ceiling:
"How magnificent! How magnificent!"
With a Mona Lisa smile on your face
you said: "I love you." I put my cell phone
next to your ear as your brother Ed in
Massachusetts said: "I love you, Nan."
That instant you closed your blue eyes
on this world.
Nine Toes Touching Eternity
When I examine the wound
on your ankle this morning
I notice nine sweet toes
Your blue eyes see
through me, gazing
beyond our bedroom
with a wonderful serenity.
I'm aware that I'm
a conversation you've
been having with your Angel.
I resist the temptation
to tickle your final toe
and make no attempt
to hold back my tears.
The Gift of Tears
Nancy's always been gifted
with what her Irish ancestors
call “the gift of tears.”
When we go to see
a “chick flick,” I always know
when to glance over and see her dabbing
at her eyes with Kleenex.
Now I see unshed tears
almost always present
in her blue soulful eyes.
Sure I get her to laugh
at my silly stuff now and then,
but always the same tears
in my eyes' matching mood.
Mother Teresa with a Better Stand-Up Act
Recently I stumbled upon a quote
from William James:
"True wisdom lies in knowing
what to overlook."
when we were raising
our two children and fostering
a number of teenage boys, Nancy told me:
"A wise mother doesn't see everything."
Funny thing, though,
in the process of overlooking
a lot of unimportant problems, etc.,
she'd see clearly through
to the essence of things.
All this is to say:
she has an artist's eye
skilled at putting all things into perspective—
making her an excellent judge
of character—-as she sees
the irony in life and people quickly.
Her humorous observations
often have a "Mark Twain quality"
as she sees naked emperors
strutting down the streets of the 21st century.
She'll gently poke fun
to me privately at their pompous
or dishonest behavior.
Author's note: I've borrowed, with his permission, the title of this poem from
my brother Michael.
He used this comment on the occasion of my mother Vivien's
80th birthday to describe her.
Please Don't Take My Sunshine Away
I place my hand on your back
right at the spot where you
say it hurts, then you
take my other hand, placing it
on your abdomen,
asking me to hold it tight.
Deborah comes in, bringing
you two pills to help calm the cramps
in your belly. She smiles and says
she'll disconnect you from the intravenous
We talked last night
and you said you weren't
fooling yourself, that you knew
just how serious things were.
Tomorrow your oncologist
has another painful bone marrow
test scheduled, so you tell me
you know Anne will get an upset
stomach assisting the Doctor,
but insists on being your nurse
I wrote in a book of the private
journals of Mother Teresa
which we gave Anne when
you were here for nearly five weeks
on your first chemo treatment:
"If Mother Teresa were Irish,
she'd be you," underscoring
the word "were" since I corrected
her use of "was" in a similar sentence
when we were speaking and told
her that was a common mistake
in English usage.
I told her it was
the use of the subjunctive mood,
because it was a "condition contrary
to fact" and wish my lovely Nancy's leukemia
were the same.
Deep Woods' Woven Shade
a reflection on W. B. Yeats
Cloaked beneath night's sinister tapestries
I stumble down deep woods' woven shade;
fearful, I pick my way past ancient fallen trees
shrouded in moss within a wide mushroom glade.
Lost among old blown-down cracked boulders—
hills sent tumbling as Sisyphus lost his grip—
I cease my quest, lacking Atlas's shoulders;
yet despite all my efforts I dare not complete my trip.
Wind's and rain's prophecies oracle a delphic choice
as I wander by streams that murmur, as if from afar,
echoing my mother's well-remembered soft voice,
reminding me that each stormcloud conceals a bright star.
Earthquake: Haiti January 2010
How lucky we are to be livin'
here at the garbage dump
in our cardboard shack!
Not only did we have nuthin' to lose,
but when the stacks of rubbish
swayed, then toppled,
some real treasures stood uncovered
when we went out to rummage
as soon as the nasty after-shocks ceased.
I feel guilty but it's been a blessin'
for us scavengers!
I feel so sorry
for all the rich people livin'
in those beautiful stone houses
who're buried beneath
the walls of their own homes.
Let's pray our soldiers
get them out before it's too late.
I hear the Archbishop's house
fell on him, killin' him instantly,
and President Preval's Palace collapsed
so's he's homeless just like us.
Even "well-to-do" homeless folks
who live in old, beat-up jalopies
got through this a lot better off
than many who had money for apartments.
I remember lots of those
good folks comin' over to bring us
food and clothing and prayin'
with us at the outdoor masses
the American missionary father
says for us on Sundays right here
on top of the Port-au-Prince trash heap.
They always brought some candy
for little Jacqueline and Jean-Francois
and gave Hector and me
a little money to help
Now some of those folks
are homeless too—we'll see them
here soon enough.
I hope they're still alive
so we can help them learn
how to survive on next to nothing.
Author's note: This imagined person would have been
speaking either French or
Haitian Creole, the two official languages of Haiti.
Haitian Creole is a combination of 18th century French, African, Spanish,
increasingly English. In order for the poem to be
understood by English speakers I've
put this dramatic monologue in standard English.
All Saints Day: Afghanistan 2009
Broken boulders are all that remain
of serene sandstone Buddhas:
monolithic statues once carved from the mountains
that watch over Afghanistan's valleys.
Claiming they were sacrilegious
the Taliban dynamited
these ancient enlightened ones.
An American artist in London
tries to depict in her massive painting
the empty spaces left behind
the vacated Buddhas, only recently awakened.
No American studio's big enough
for her immense canvas.
When completed it will be dislodged
from its stretchers, rolled up and shipped
to New York City for display.
Ironically spiritual spaces are often desecrated,
barren desert areas where every excess
is stripped away to reveal essences.
Saints empty themselves, where others
obsess about filling time and space
Some holy ones keep human skulls—
stripped of all skin and muscle—
on their desks, reminding them of life's limits.
When the Taliban
annihilated the Buddhas,
unwittingly they revealed the underlying emptiness—
the Buddha's true essence.
Saints seek empty space—
letting go of all
to be filled by the Almighty.
Time to Miss You
Gray clouds weep—disguising dawn,
allowing me to sleep late.
Sasha doesn't remember
the last time you petted her first.
Finally pelting rain conspires
with your Estee Lauder fragrance
to lull me out of our trip's exhaustion—
interrupting my dream.
Someday I'll retrace our steps,
pick up your black gloves
from the lost-and-found at the City Diner—
but how many hundreds of miles?
My eyes'll silently scan
the highway for the driver
weaving between three lanes
you pointed out to me cautiously.
But first today we'll
fix the leaky pipe
you noticed dripping in the hallway
when we stumbled in late last night.
be time enough to miss you.
Slow Down, Sunset
When I enter the shower
you're still sleeping
with your pink cap covering
your naked head.
Yesterday when I saw
the hurt in your blue eyes
as I noticed your naturally
frosted red hair
was all gone,
I averted my eyes
when I came in as you got
out of the shower.
Your missing hair
reminds me of what
you said last Friday
about both of us
When I went into the garage
to get Baby Girl some dry dog food
I noticed a soft red cap
waiting in a box for a yardsale.
I put it on the table
in the den and wonder
if you'll wear it.
I hope you believe me
when I tell you
how beautiful hairless babies
can be and how everyone
Echoes of Love Remembered
Amid April's time of males seeking mates
mockingbird soloists from treetop stages
sing cyrano songs from sunset till past dawn.
Each evening star chooses one to promote
and agents its favorite insomniac to the moon
who listens with full zen detachment.
I walk beneath rows of mulberry trees
whose yellow tassels sway in Spring's winds
scenting evening's air with potent pollens.
She listens to my words with songbirds'
accompaniment echoing borrowed lines
I've learned from ancient poets.
But her ears hear a younger lover's distant voice
speaking words of unrehearsed passion
no imitating bird or memorizing man'll ever match.
I Know Not Why
for Nancy on our 37th Anniversary
When I marvel over your face
and see the one best on this Earth,
Love fills me with such emotion
I'll never again need to search.
Love's philosophy's not contained in books
with pages full of arguments logical,
but shines in print your eyes impress
upon my heart and mind and soul.
A Place Among the Stones
Daylight glints off uniform-skins
of salmon schools racing late
to early Spring's lessons.
Some slow their pace
to ponder his seaweed-shrouded body
sprawling on Galway's boulder-broken beach.
They wonder why he braved his boat
to check his father's lobster traps
when full moon waves were rough.
Now uncles carry him on broad shoulders
up steep rock hills
to his mother's thatched cottage.
With his corpse propped in a corner
on an oak plank, neighbors
drink and sing till dawn.
Even his red setter licking salt
off his black boots won't wake him
to take her out to romp in the yard.
After Mass his red-haired brothers bring
the boy's body to a black wound in Spring grass
near a place among the stones.
Washington, January 20, 2009
Slave-built white steps
climb to the Capitol building
where on a platform
at high noon
Barack's black hands swear
on Lincoln's closed Bible.
Obama's oath of office
by the Chief Justice
of a Supreme Court
which once decided,
seven to two, that Dred Scott
and all Africans
residing in the United States
were "considered as a subordinate,
and inferior class of beings,"
not only devoid of all citizenship rights,
but with the official status
of "ordinary articles of merchandise."
Later a majority
of Justices concurred that
"separate but equal" schooling
was good enough
for these folks
who obviously liked hanging out
in the back of the bus.
smile and point
to Malia and Sasha
dressed in their
The girls stand next
to their Dad and Mom
near the place
black fathers, mothers and children
were broken apart
and sold to the highest bidder.
Dreamin' Martin was 80 yesterday.
Hard to believe
someone tried to vanish
his vision 40 years ago.
The Reverend Doctor's
in the President's house
constructed by slaves.
Loud laughter shakes
Abe's bedroom windows
well into the Winter night.
Idiot wet winds
blow up from the South
the day after you died—
contradicting the jubilee mood
below the Mason-Dixon line.
Since you now belong to the ages,
dissecting your cadaver
is an impossible feat.
Doctors choose to remove
the bullet that killed you
and leave the rest of your body
intact—a holy relic.
This fact doesn't stop
from plunging their scalpels
into your tenure as president
discarding your courage under fire
and blaming inexperience
for failures as commander-in-chief.
The train escorting
your remains for burial in Springfield
passes thousands lining the tracks
who do your soul's autopsy.
Word Upon a Windowpane
Variations on W.B. Yeats
The Winter weekend we met
I scratched your name with mine
on December's frost that coated
my room's cracked windowpane.
But I failed to calculate
how my cold calligraphy
would last only 'til January's Sun
erased my finger's script.
If only Cupid carved our names
with his sharp arrow's blade
upon this broken pane of glass
we'd still gleam there indelible.
Your lost love lingers in my heart—
Spring's thaw can't ever erase,
though March winds' scraping limbs
deface our fragile crystal letters.
The Gift of Despair
Without a word
he places my regular
straight-up double bourbon
on a red cocktail napkin
atop the cigarette-scarred bar.
The bleached blonde
at the end of the bar
yells to the wino slumped
over next to me:
"Hey, honey, ya wanna party
For an hour
my spirit dissolves
into a full glass
Without sipping a drop
I stumble out at midnight.
I walk down a street
curated on both sides
with galleries of lithographs
etched by the full Moon.
I imagine my life
illustrated by rorschach inkblots
of skeleton trees and empty houses
circled by picket fences.
I pass a strip mall church
with a handwritten sign
lit up behind a piece of plate glass:
"We're not punished for our sins;
we're punished by our sins."
All are welcome.
New Year's Eve: Iraq 2008
Two minutes remain
on the sentry's watch—
ending at midnight.
The Army private recalls
one extra leap second's
being added to this year
to keep clocks accurate,
due to earth's rotation
slowly winding down.
Near his post
guarding the Green Zone,
this invisible moment—
like a weapon of mass destruction—
as a bomb lighting the sky
greets the New Year.
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Waking the dead
creates too many
but my undisciplined mind
still keeps taking a stab at it.
I regret listening
to my Greek tutor's
of Caesar's mutilated corpse.
Because now Julius's scars
fill my dreams
with gaping wounds.
After two weeks fending off
senatorial steel blades under my bed linens,
today I threw a dagger
at my wall map—
making a bull's eye landing
on the Isle of Capri.
I took this as an omen
from Mars pointing me
to a safe place where
He'll help me win the wars
I'll build a villa there
in his honor
and send messages
back to Rome to the Senate
who can deal with the unruly mob.
If I never return
to the capitol's filthy streets
you won't hear me complain.
the last thing I enjoy
is parading around
before these uncouth citizens,
never knowing if an assassin's knife
lurks in their hands for Hadrian, the Divine.
The Dark Does Die
for Harvey Milk
I'm an out-of-the-closet New Yorker
who's found a new life
in the Castro District of San Francisco—
only to drink death threats
with my morning coffee.
Instead of paralyzing me
this daily beverage of mortality's caffeine
perks hope's adrenaline into my blood:
I zest for the challenges of now.
Sure I could
change my name,
move back to the Big Apple,
blend in and
let others fight
for justice's light.
But often for the dark
to die, and the dark does die,
first a martyr's blood
scatters Sunflower seeds.
When they spring into bloom
honest men see:
"No one is free
unless everyone is free."
Shut the Eyes of the Dead
Unable to sleep at 3 am
decides to make a final
visit to a country
his loyal troops still occupy.
Each night he
awakens in a sweat
seeing the staring eyes
of the dead.
over anonymous blood
spelling out a violent vision
on the pavement.
at the putrid stench
of invisible cadavers.
One by one
he stoops down
to pry their dead eyes shut.
Holding a defiant
their lids refuse to close.
The Trance of Scarcity
"Being" and "having"
enter a fierce contest
each dawn when he awakes.
He pits Apollo's Sun
against the Venusian star—
foolishly choosing sides.
The prison of his eyes
calculates what profits can accrue
by shackling them both for sale.
Owning them, thinks this fool,
will bring him such treasure
he'll need not wake till Noon.
Listen how the heavens laugh
as stars fade before he scores them
and the West Wind slaps him from his trance.
Beneath the Cherry Trees
June winds like flower girls
scatter pink petals
over the Capitol's
reflecting pond's surface
Blood from twenty-two victims
and a suicide bomber
dries in pools on Baghdad streets
Beneath Washington's cherry trees
we sit and talk of peace and love
while down the promenade
Congress passes legislation
designed to end the fighting
Like bills not veto-proof
these ornamental trees
produce no fruit
Palm Sunday, Iraq 2008
No procession creeps
through Mosul's streets
this morning with shouts
of "Hosanna to the Son of David."
Yesterday's march to the cemetery
laid to rest the city's murdered Archbishop
wearing his pectoral cross
over his crimson cassock.
The market is deserted ...
except for a young donkey
walking over singed palm fronds
that still smolder on the ground
next to several shredded scraps
of black blood-soaked burkas.
Speed of Dark
Paddy's eyes stare darkly from pine branches
toward the bay as dusk drowns day
Shuttered behind closed windows
lights candles on the oak table;
like a lighthouse they flicker a signal
onto his stone path
His red face like a lobster hot from the pot,
black boots salt-staining a foot off the floor,
his clothes smelling of fresh salmon,
his mouth props a clay pipe
The speed of dark shrouds her linen table cloth
to wrap Paddy's nightly wake
He snores in time to the turf fire
that hisses rhythmic as waves
taking sand back out to sea
Winter rains soaked
down to Spring's roots
as I hit bottom
that third of March
I didn't know
it was my last drink
till months later
when I knew
it to be
water'd done it's miracle—
flowers on stems
came straight out of
Now I see
in a melting pond
my Spring waking
"Taste of that Salt Breath"
Reflections on a verse of W. B. Yeats
So, I'll take my watercolors
and go to where the rocks
reach out like Celtic hands
just in from the fields,
spread for the surging sea's cleansing.
There on promontories that jut out
to where the starving have all gone,
I sit and stare inhaling salt breath
your incoming tide exhales
upon these stones.
I want to taste the salt of seas
invading redhaired Vikings smelled,
remembering as they leaned back
to watch our green shores fade,
longed to return and learned to love our land,
then stayed to give birth
to all my wife and children's fierce red fire.
Now, upon my own head that bonfire
has retired to ash
where white-caps top me,
and I wave toward heaven
wondering when and why I've come today.
Oh, I'll sit and paint on this stillpoint;
let waves outside me crash
and send their white-churning
to bound against the boulders
that fill my breathing chest.