4 Random Poems on Parenting


Parenting is a roller-coaster for sure.
It goes too slowly, and it moves too fast.
It’s also the best thing ever.


Too Much


Today she got the best of me.
All three.


There was no adult in charge.
Just a 51-year-old adolescent
at the stove,
at the wheel,
at unlucky door number 3.
Today she told me not that she hated me,
but that I hated her.


I willed her to my womb,
I grew her in my body,
I fed her with my breasts,


I bathe her,
read to her,
go sleepless when she’s sick.


I bandage her wounds,
I sing her to sleep.
I brush out her fucking tangles
every fucking morning.


I hold her down.
I hold her up.
I hold her in the dark.


God it’s too much.
I simply cannot
in good conscience
recommend parenting
to anyone.



Attention Deficit


Hey Doctor!
Hey Shrink!
Hey Specialist!
Hey Administrator!
Hey Teacher!
Hey California Standardized Box Makers!
Hey After School Square Peg Directors!


Do I have your attention?
Can you focus on this for a minute?
Can you settle your asses down in your seats?




Now take your little tests
And your little evaluations
And your cute little bell curves…
Gather them all up together and put a cute little bow on them.
Then, take your bullshit recommendations
and your bullshit red markers
and your bullshit drugs
that dull my daughter and drown her sparkle
and go fuck yourselves.





You’ve had a fever for 3 days, Esther.
And I don’t like it one bit.
Fever scares me.
It scares me cold.
I’ll never show you that it does, though.
I will never let that cat slip.
I will smile every time I take the reading.
I will smile and wink
and give you popsicles
and ice chips
and stroke your forehead
and tell you how lucky you are to sleep in my bed.


I will smile when I tell you that you don’t have to go to school
and I will cancel my appointments,
and change all my plans – every last one.


To be with you.
To watch you.
To watch your fever.
To watch it rise
and rise again
To wait for a sign.
To wonder.
To wonder.
To wonder.


Why now?
And what did you touch?
How did you get it?
From whom; on what day?
When will it break and what is it, anyway?
Why no other symptoms?
Why nothing?
Why nothing?
Why nothing?
But fever.


Jessie’s youngest had a fever that wouldn’t go away
and wouldn’t go away
and wouldn’t go away
and they finally found cancer in her blood.
Fever with nothing.
It scares me a lot.


So you’ll sleep in my bed and I’ll stroke your forehead.
I’ll bring you ice chips,
and smile.



Second Story


She sleeps in a second story nest
right up close to the glow-in-the-dark stars.
She listens to me read the pictures of a life
lived on the prairie a hundred years ago
and tries to put it together with hers.


One more chapter is closed.
One more night has fallen.
One more dream has filled her head.


She wishes I would hold her all night,
But I’ve grown too old for her bed.

God Somewhere



I don’t understand people
who refuse the hope
that there’s a God.
I mean
kind of God.
It doesn’t have to be of formal conjuring.
Forget all the epistemological arguments.
At the very least there’s got to be a Something that knows more
and is more
and is more able than I.


If I thought there really were
no God at all, well…
why wouldn’t I just slit my wrists?
Look at this world
and the institutions
and the people
in it.
Live long enough and you’ll see.
It’s. Fucked. Up.
There is no one
and nothing
to trust
even if you wanted to… even if you should.


Friends fail
Lovers fail
Parents fail
Children fail
Teachers fail
Priests fail

Governments fail
Churches fail
Courts fail
Banks fail
Cops fail
Lawyers fail
Dictators fail


                                Wives fail
                                Husbands fail
                                Heroes fail
                                Psychiatrists fail


Planes fail
Cars fail
Boats fail
Elevators fail
Dogs fail


        Cats don’t even fucking try



















So, the only thing I’ve really got going on is this hope,
this hope,
that there is a God somewhere
Who has not
Will not

In The Big Bed, Sleeping.



This is another excerpt from the book of letters I am writing to my daughter…


Dear Esther;


You are lying next to me in the big bed, sleeping. I am up late, getting stupid stuff done, winding down, and happy that you are next to me. I’m not sure what it is, but I love the sight of your little body in the big bed. You look so cozy, you look so small; you are at peace.


We have had some hard days lately, you and I, and perhaps you lying close to me reassures me that we are not yet approaching the end of our long goodbye, that our worries and our struggles and our battles are ephemeral; that we are still inseparable.


As parents do, I worry about losing you sometimes, and oh to my dismay there are so many ways of being lost. You are a sensitive girl and so different from your peers. There is an innocence about you that many of your more already-hardened contemporaries will not suffer too much longer. The world doesn’t like innocence. Oh we pretend to like it. We long for it in a wistful kind of way, hoping we might touch once more the sweet, forgotten someone we once were. But really, out in the world, we aspire to sarcasm and quick-witted repartee. We aspire to wisdom, and expertise. We aspire to the answers even before we’ve earned them by our stripes. We fear ignorance and incognizance. We fear being shamed for not knowing, and we fear that shame showing up in our eyes lest someone we want to love appears one day and decides to look deep. We hide behind cunning and detachment, self-sufficiency and cynicism. Oh goodness, the clever ways we hide. But you, my love, are as guileless as an afternoon in early June when school lets out for summer, bouncy and free. And when a person is as bouncy and as free as you are, it makes the not-free people nervous and uncomfortable in their hard, bound skin. So they start looking to find fault for their discomfort, and they look everywhere but in a mirror. They look in the boardroom and the classroom and the bedroom; at the dinner table and birthday parties and on playgrounds at recess. And when a friendly and disarming girl like you needs help with spelling, and you’re a little behind in math, and you’re the new girl at school, well… you are about as easy a target as they come. And I worry, with all that pixie dust in your eyes, you will believe that little shit Kate who says you’re stupid and no one likes you. And I worry that three years from now you will take the pretty pills she offers you in the bathroom after 3rd period just to prove to her and to yourself that you are likeable and cool, and that you “know better.” Oh, how I worry.


I woke up with a start at 1:56 this morning with an awful thought. Esther was not meant for this world… Esther was not meant for this world… Esther was not meant for this world… One day when you have kids of your own, you’ll know how terrifying such a thought is and you will badger God for some explanation. “What does that mean?” you’ll beg. “Does it mean something bad is coming? Is it literal? Figurative? Do You mean in the spiritual sense? What is it? What are you trying to tell me? Answer me please!” And then you’ll realize it is no premonition, it is no sign. It is one more imploring expression of hope from your own heart that you can keep your child safe and well and innocent. And there is no answer except to hold tight while you can, stay close while you can, and keep your arms open.


You are lying here next to me in the big bed, sleeping. You look so cozy, you look so small… And for a moment, I am at peace.

The Moss of Emily Dickinson



This is a poem I want to write.
But it’s just a disguise.
What I really want is a kiss.
What I really want is to collect my two hundred,
buy up the boardwalk,
and flip the fucking board off the table.
What I really want is a get out of jail free card.


This is a poem I want to write.
But it’s just a disguise.
What I really want is absolution for my most mortal sins.
What I really want is adulation for my brilliance.
What I really want is a pair of eyes to swallow me up
and shake me ‘round the ice ‘til I’m nice and pourable
for the cherry in the glass.


This is a poem I want to write, but the poem is fighting me.
It wants my blood.
It wants my flesh.
It wants the lava in my bones,
and threatens to cover my mouth with the moss of Emily Dickinson.
This poem wants me dead
and it’s time I surrender.


This is a poem I want to write.
But it’s just a disguise.
This is a poem I’ve written.
And this poem just saved my ass.

Burning Down The House




For a moment
I thought it would be better
to burn the house down
than to pack it up again
just to move a mile away.


One good thing about moving is
the more I do it,
the less stuff I hold onto.


Soon I’ll be barefoot
with empty hands


I’ll be a pearl
and the world
my oyster
at last.




*** From the cover of Shawn Colvin’s “A Few Small Repairs”





The face of my dead mother comes to me at the strangest times.
The last time was in a yoga class.
I don’t know, maybe that’s not so strange.
Dead man’s pose.
Dead woman’s face.
Dead woman’s daughter in dead man’s pose
spilling over with grief.


My belly didn’t convulse as with my usual crying.
It’s just liquid this time,
like her face in my head turned on the spigot
in my tear ducts.
Little drips of ocean out the corners of my eyes,
onto my cheekbones,
onto my shoulders,
onto the mat where I lie
remembering the time I told her I hated her,
the time I made fun of her behind her back with my friend Rose,
the time I asked my daddy what I’d look like if she wasn’t my mommy
and was disappointed by his answer
that I wouldn’t be me
without her.

I Tasted Death




I tasted death
on the lips of the woman who bore me.
I kissed her cheek.
I held her hand.
I took the candy from her very last breath.
It was sweet and I was surprised.
I sang her to The Gates that night
on the lyric of a song she taught me
long before she forgot my name.


There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole.
There is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.


She is standing by the Rock with her feet in the River,
charming that Gate Keeper with her jokes
and whistling for Eula Mae.
They watch Jeopardy
and know all the answers.
She spins her Wheel of Fortune
and Ed McMahon waits,
with a check made payable in her name.

The Best Sermon I Ever Heard…

Before I became Catholic, I was a Presbyterian, and before that, a Baptist. But after 40 years, I grew tired of Protestants, tired of their protesting, tired of their reforming, tired of myself and my own small wit trying to make the whole conflagration cool enough for the privilege of my presence. So I gave up and turned to the Mother Church where I now sit in the pew, kneel at the altar, eat the body, drink the blood, confess my sins twice a year and call it good. I can’t make the Church better with my lying, cheating self, so I hope to be made better by Her. So far, I’m not sure it’s working.


One of the things I grew to loathe about Protestant churches is the sermon. A 30, 40 sometimes 60 minute long exercise in self-important blathering on the part of someone who thinks his thoughts are original because he went to seminary. Catholic priests don’t really preach. They give a homily that, even if they’re long-winded, lasts 10 minutes. Then it’s on to the main thing. The Supper. The Last One. Every mass is a recounting of those three crucial days we Christians celebrate big at Easter time – A little dinner with friends, a little death by frenemies, a little taste of the glorious resurrection. Afterward it’s a bottle of wine and a Sunday ham, and we’re off to Monday to start it all over again. Frankly, this is why I like being Catholic. Just get to it, you know? Keep it moving. Life is short and donuts are waiting on the patio.


One sermon, though, before my Catholic conversion, almost permanently secured my spot in the protestant pews of Church-dom. It was the best sermon I ever heard.


It is January 2005, maybe a week after the Indian Ocean tsunami that wiped out more than 250,000 people at once. Everyone everywhere is undone, and all the big questions are colliding in everyone’s heads like plastic bottles in a furious, littered sea. How could this happen? How could God let it? Did God let it? Is God powerless to stop it? Is there a God at all, because if there is, he clearly lost his nerve some time before the turn of the 21st century or he surely would’ve prevented it, right? When questions with no answers like these get bandied about, sooner or later someone gets blamed – usually George W. Bush. But the fine churchgoers at Bel Air Presbyterian aren’t big on Bush bashing, and they haven’t as yet concluded that there is no God. They do wonder in earnest, however, how their loving, peaceful Deity could allow to happen such a horrific thing, with such horrific death on such a horrific scale.


“Why?” is the question on everyone’s mind as they await the beloved Protestant sermon from their beloved Protestant pastor. Though a visitor here, I want an answer too, as I’m no longer inclined to blame Bush for the world’s woes, yet not cynical enough to conclude there is no God. “Why?” indeed.


Pastor Brewer reads from Luke 13, a New Testament scripture quite unpopular amongst warm fuzzy Christians. To paraphrase: Some folks are inquiring after Jesus as to why a group of regular ol’ people minding their own business sweeping their dirt floors just got rounded up and pounded to death. An appropriate scripture for the day, I’m thinking. The people asking the question in this passage are religious and expect to hear Jesus say something like “Well, they were taken out because they have offended God! They’re getting what they deserve! They’re paying for their sins! But Jesus answers with just one word: “Repent.”


Oh he’s a sly one, that Jesus.


“Repent” repeats the pastor. I sink my head into my hands. Here we go. Here we go with the proselytizing. I can sort of take it from Jesus, but not from some modern day, BBQ-bellied pastor in a Hawaiian shirt. The Bible lays unopened on the pew beside me, next to it a short pencil with no eraser, the kind I used to scribble with as a kid as I listened to my daddy preach The Gospel all those years ago. A plastic communion “shot” glass lies empty on the floor at my feet, likely missed by an usher from the 8 am service.


“I don’t mean to sound callous,” says the preacher “and I know you all are looking for an answer. You want to know “why,” but I think we’re asking the wrong question,” he says. “Did you know that more than 150,000 people die in the world – every day? I hate to break it to you, but we’re all going to die. Some sooner, some later. The question is not “why?” but “are you ready?“


He does not launch into any kind of accept-Jesus-in-your-heart-or-burn-in-hell altar call. I think maybe this particular protestant preacher may actually, in good evangelical spirit, be talking to the cynics in the crowd, who upon hearing such Christian-ese would just walk out the door. Cynics like me.


“Kay”, I hear someone say from the pulpit, I swear I do, as a fog comes over the sanctuary and razor-sharp clarity steals my breath. “Do the people you love know you love them? Have you forgiven your parents? Your friends? The lovers who used you, scorned you, left you? Have you made amends for all the shit you pulled? Did you say thank you for the sunrise this morning? For your double espresso and your organic half and half? For your marvelous daughter and your steadfast husband? Did you tell the truth when you wrote those poems, or were you just looking to please everyone? Because if you haven’t and if you didn’t, and if you were, I suggest you get a move on and make it right, because you’re gonna die one day. Maybe soon. Maybe today. And to go to your grave with the people you love wondering if you really loved them, while still holding those grudges tight in your fist… To go to your grave with your truth untold, well that’s a particular kind of hell for you and everyone who loves you, now isn’t it?”


“Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” begins the Doxology. The plate is passed as a wave of sorrow crashes over me and day light from the north window clears the fog from my brain. Everyone stands for the Mandate; heads are bowed for the Benediction. It isn’t until the sanctuary is empty that I feel Tim pulling at my arm. “Come on” he says. “We have to go get Esther.” I walk down the steps and out of the sanctuary without a word, my eyes wide open like glass, my heart torn asunder for the monstrous love I’ve left unspoken, and for the vast love murdered and maimed by a deep, cruel, disinterested sea half a world away, sunk in finality at the floor of the Indian Ocean.


Yep. That was the best sermon I ever heard. I don’t much ask “why?” anymore when something awful happens in the world. I light a candle for the dead and the mourning, and wonder, when it’s my turn, if I’ll be ready.


A Beautiful Brain

I’m writing a book of letters to my daughter. On the eve of Esther’s 9th birthday, here is an excerpt.


Dear Esther;


Yesterday, just before you drifted off to sleep, you asked me why it is that everyone in your class is so much faster than you are, why you are so slow getting your work done at school. This question hit me hard. It’s the first time you’ve verbalized any knowledge that you are different than your classmates, and I was worried that you might be starting to doubt yourself and your abilities. So, let me explain something.


It’s a little more complicated than this, but basically, there are two sides to your brain, the left side and the right side. The left side is… well… it’s black and white, it moves left to right, it’s logical, orderly, and analytical. The right side is in full blooming color. The right side moves in circles, wanders around a lot, and finds answers outside the lines. The right side dances with tree frogs and paints with a spoon. The right side is magical and knows you’re a part of everything and everyone. The lines on the right side are squiggly and blurry but sometimes there just aren’t any lines separating anything from anything else. Life on the right side is open and boundless and hops on one foot from gumdrop to marshmallow. You, my little cabbage, are a right-brained girl.


Now it just so happens that you go to a left-brained school, which, frankly, sucks. I mean, it’s a really good school; it’s just not a really good school for you. Most schools are left-brained, and the schools that are right-brained usually cost a lot more money than we have, which is a bummer. If we had the money you’d surely be attending one, but since you’re not, you’re having to fight quite an internal battle to get the right side of your brain to do stuff better suited to the left side. You’re the square peg, sweetheart, working to get into that pesky little round hole. So, the truth is you are NOT slower than the rest of your class. In fact, you are likely working a million times harder than the rest of them and your brain is going a zillion miles a minute. You’re thinking about 25 things while they’re thinking about one! And that’s why it’s so hard for you to concentrate on just the one thing your teacher asks you to. Besides, you’ve got far more interesting things on your mind than writing the answer to 341 minus 267. I mean, who cares about that when there’s infinity to ponder and a unicorn prancing on a rainbow right at the edge of your eyelashes?


You also happen to be a very bouncy girl who hates to sit her bottom in a seat, so a classroom chair for you is like prison. You’d much rather be jumping rope and doing cartwheels and handstands to backbends, right? Well, you put that right brain together with your bouncy body, and doctors and teachers and psychologists like to call that ADHD, and they like to call it “disordered” and they like to “medicalize” it and medicate it and make it out like there’s something wrong with you. But there is nothing wrong with you. You just don’t fit into their left brained, black and white, orderly, logical world. Did you know, Esther, that your mommy is right-brained too? Did you know that when I was little they didn’t understand people like us at all, and that my 2nd grade teacher actually called me stupid? Isn’t that the silliest thing ever? I knew you ‘d think so…


I’ll tell you what else, Esther, right-brained people are the ones who make the world beautiful with paintings and poetry and purple pixie lipstick. And we don’t care about time. What is time, anyway, except an arbitrary boundary some left-brain people decided to place on our planetary experience? For you and for me there is no time, there is only right now. So how are we supposed to solve 50 multiplication facts in 15 minutes? What does that even mean? I’ll tell you what it means. It means nothing. Nothing at all. We can solve those problems, no doubt, but what’s with the clock? Why is that important? Why are only the ones who can finish in 15 minutes called smart? Why can’t we take 3 earthly days to finish? Why does that make us stupid? I know, Esther. I don’t get it either.


So remember, sweetheart. You are not slow; you are timeless. While others live bound by subjective time restraints, you live in infinity, so you’ve got forever to ponder 12 times 9. And when you finally decide to write it down, you’ll do it with your favorite markers and make the answer come alive with every color the world’s palette has to offer. You’ve got a beautiful brain, Esther. And one day, you’ll realize not only how lucky you are to have it, but that left-brain people envy you for it, and are awestruck by it, and wish they could be like you.


Love you, honey…



Everybody’s An Expert


Everybody’s an expert.
Go to a surgeon,
he’ll tell you to have surgery.
Go to a hairdresser,
she’ll tell you to get a haircut.
Go to a bankruptcy attorney,
he’ll tell you to file.
Go to a priest,
he’ll tell you to confess.


If you ask me,
I’d say
announce your arrival;
then have a pint of beer
and get over yourself.