Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Form of Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving poem might seem a bit on the cynical side, but it isn't meant to be. Really, I was looking at myself and thinking about how I have sometimes looked at Thanksgiving, especially the idea of gratitude on a certain day of the year. In the end, thanksgiving is a year 'round kind of thing and it's pretty imperfect, like the cranberry stain on the linen. Imperfect, yet an "ingredient" that transforms all of life. And that's something that's worth standing for.
Thanksgiving takes the form of a list,
Often if not always. "I am thankful
For A,B,C and a portion of grist!"
"Tick", "check", "yup" and "Oh, me too!" we answer.
List completed, we toss and move on.

Thanksgiving takes the form of reproach
For the pure who want you to know it,
Using words like, "really" and "truly" and
"You aren't thankful enough (you little git)."
Pat, pat, pat on my back and move on.

Thanksgiving takes the form of a rite,
Genuflections before old recipes;
Some families make room for a fight,
Football and mass sofa napping.
Carve up the leftovers and move on.

Thanksgiving takes the form of a life,
Imperfect and American round here.
It shows like cranberry on white linen.
Or like the secret ingredient? "Dear
God, I hope so. Every day. Stand there.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Reading Between the Lines

I'd like a little health care
For free if you don't mind.
It's better far for you to pay
And really much more kind.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Back when my grandfather was young,
The father of two girls, four boys,
He got a pain in his back.
No big deal in the hubbub and noise
Of his Lutheran parish.
Weren’t there many suffering worse?
Didn’t he preside at funerals
And send folks away in a hearse?
He didn’t have time to even know
What the pain was, or even what
It would become, that it would grow.

But with years, the pain started to cut
And scrape his very nerves, it seemed.
So he paid a visit to his doc.
“Syringomyelia” he said,
After much looking through rare books.
“You will experience increasing
Pain for the rest of your life.
And I have a question, does your wife
Work? She’ll need to soon, to support
Your family. You’ll have to retire.”

“What?!” grandfather said, “I can’t do that.”

“This rare disease will conspire
Against every remaining day
And sooner than not, steal you away.”
“I’m so sorry” the doctor said.
“But in a few years you’ll be dead.”

Thirty years my grandfather said “NO!”
And my grandmother with him,
Til mercifully the lights dimmed
And Syringomyelia let go.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Tale of Horace 3

"I require your presence at lunch."

Beltran turned around, expecting to see his friend Horace. No one else would talk like that, after all. But all he saw was Horace's backside as it loped around the corner. Not being a man of much vim, nor vigor, Beltran contented himself to let his furtive friend escape without questioning. "Why must he always be so melodramatic?" was on his short list, however. Beltran offered a tepid "Whatever" just to finish the aborted conversation. He finished changing out his books and headed to class.


Wishing not to be pestered, but unable to ignore the commanding tone, Beltran turned.

"Beltran, what in the world is up with your friend? Horace stood up on his desk first period and started ranting and raving. Something about Gandhi and Chay somebody or other. I have no idea. Anyways, then he sat down and refused to talk to anybody. Mr. Penwhistle-Frist didn't know what to do. He started huffing about making Horace taking a time-out. Then he realized that Horace was already taking one. Weird."

"I don't know what to tell you Ricardo. Horace is just weird I guess."

"Well duh. I was just wondering why. Did he get dropped or something? Did his mom make him sniff glue? No, wait a second. Horace never does anything; he just talks all the time. Something is definitely up."

"Nah. I mean, he reads books and stuff. He was probably just acting out Shakespeare or something."

"Yeah, weird. Well I gotta get to geometry."

Ricardo turned on his heel and walked off, leaving a suddenly pensive Beltran in the hallway. Just what was Horace's deal anyway? Acting different was normal, but standing up on desks? He'd known Horace for a long time, but he'd never troubled himself to act; he just talked incessantly. It was all vaguely disquieting and Beltran really didn't want to think too hard about it. He reassured himself with a "Whatever." Leastwise, he tried.


"Dang, I'm gonna get a tardy slip" Beltran whined to himself. "Oh, whatever."

The Tale of Horace 2

(part one can be read here)

Beep, beep, beep...
Beep, beep, beep...
Beep, beep, beep...

"Oh for the love of all that is good and true, why must I be beset by this infernal cricket in my ear? This electronic nag, this insistent ear-grater? God help me, I've got no cows to milk! Do you hear me? NO COWS!"

Horace was not accustomed to rising before being driven from his bed by pangs of hunger and the lure of cold pizza. At this hour, 6:18AM, the sun had not yet penetrated the heavy black curtains of Horace's window, nor even lightened the periphery. All was dark save the glowing numbers. He was too tired to even be hungry yet. And he was befuddled. Somewhere in the back of his mind, hidden under blankets, was a reason for this invasion of unwelcome sound. Muffled memory told him there was something, but he didn't care to know.

"Drat and foolishness!" A recollection dawned in him. "I'm to be made a slave of the state today, a slack-jawed, drooling yes man for various adult mediocrities. These ludicrous excuses for maturity, these knuckle-dragging toadies, these chalk-choked unionistas and soft-hearted fascists are going to hold me in their perverse hands, trying to mold me and shape me. Their pudgy fingers will grope about and try to make me one of them. My God, they are going to eat my brains! No, I'll have none of it! They may drag me to school by force, but I refuse to let them lay a hand on my mind!"

However high-minded Horace may have sounded in his opposition to public education, the reality was that his desire for personal liberty was rooted in sloth. Teachers were always after him to DO things. And the things in question were never worth the bother, he was certain of that. They were like happy little gnomes serving as functionaries in a Kafka novel. He didn't understand it. Why were they so enamored with his potential, having been so little interested in their own?

"Humbug" he fumed, dressing himself in the darkness. "I declare this day that these self-appointed do-gooders shall be made to pay for their impudence. I, Horace, will be decidedly and persistently unhelpful. Sullenness will mark my demeanor like leprosy. I will be a stinking corpse, a baneful scarecrow, a malevolent toad in their classrooms!"

This path of non-violent resistance decided upon, Horace actually started to feel excited about the first day of school. He imagined himself to be a kind of Neo-Ghandian with meat on his bones. He would thrust himself forward as a leader of men, a valiant fighter for freedom. Horace Pickwick would give them what for.

Thirty minutes later, Horace trudged to school with something approximating joy in his heart.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Tax levies for education,
Conveniently scheduled for off-years,
Are a smelly abomination.
They deserve only "NO" votes and jeers.
Throwing around cratefuls of cash
Is a foolish and wishful waste.
Kids don't need money that is rash,
But parents, and time face to face.
I get so sick of public schools coming to beg for more funds year after year. "If only you give us more money we will do a better job" they say. Not true. Spending more money does not improve education. There's empirical evidence to the contrary. But everybody wants to be on the side of kids and their well-being. Here's my thought: education will improve when adults realize that they can't improve it by throwing money around. You improve education when parents have the time and inclination to be involved, the more the better. Spending money is just an opiate.