November Third


Bending neither to the rain
Nor to the wind
Nor to snow nor to summer heat,
Firm in body, yet
Without greed, without anger,
Always smiling serenely.
Eating his four cups of rough rice a day
With bean paste and a few vegetables,
Never taking himself into account
But seeing and hearing everything,
And never forgetting.
In the shade of a pine grove
He lives in a tiny thatched hut:
If there is a sick child in the east
He goes and tends him:
If there is a tired mother in the west
He goes and shoulders her rice sheaves:
If there is a man dying in the south
He goes and soothes his fears:
If there are quarrels and litigation in the north
He tells them, ‘Stop your pettiness.’
In drought he sheds tears,
In cold summers he walks through tears.
Everyone calls him a fool.
Neither praised
Nor taken to heart.

That man
Is what I wish to be

Miyazawa Kenji (1896-1933)


A funny thing or two happened on my way home from a reading last week. After spending the evening with two of my favorite people in the world, having dinner and listening to poetry and music at the Bowery Poetry Club, I got on the train to go home and looked at my phone. An old friend had sent me a link to the video for a song from the 1980s that began as a “scribble on the back of an envelope on a wintry New York street” according to the songwriter. I listened to the song and then visited another old friend’s Instagram. I know her page is private and I wouldn’t see her pictures, so I’m not sure why I went there but, for some reason, her page was not private that night.

photo by @heath_antonio

The next day all the thoughts and feelings from the night before settled themselves in my mind and came out in this poem, Tripping:

I tripped up the stairs
on the way to the stage last night
My glasses went flying
My feet are too big
or maybe the steps are too small
My heart beat too much
the way it sometimes does these days
but there was love in the room,
for me and more generally
so everything turned out fine

On the train ride home
a brother sent me a song
that helped me see a larger portion of the moon
I looked at some pictures of
a beautiful family
out in a field picking apples
and I felt lucky for
love’s twisted pathways
and even luckier to know what love is

I’m lucky for all of the things I was born with
and for the magical people I’ve known
I wish I could put all that luck in a ball
and roll it to everyone I see
but I trip myself up
That is no metaphor
I do not mind all of this tripping
as long as I am tripping home to you

A Reading

Last Sunday I fell on my face. Not figuratively, which would have been worse, but literally. I was taking the stage at Bowery Poetry when I tripped on the stairs and fell down, my glasses skittering off into the shadows. That might explain the slightly stricken look on my face.

photo by the wonderful @heath_antonio

Here is the poem I read, written last September on the day someone I love died, titled Drawing:

I thought I might do a drawing today
and maybe you would pose for me
You don’t need to reveal anything that makes you feel uncomfortable
I can see all that I need in the skin under your eyes
and the positions of your fingers
and the width and length of your lips

Instead, a person I love died
and my eyes won’t work that way today
I won’t see fingernails or eyelashes
I won’t see the geometry of your crossed legs
or the devastation of the sunlight that rampages through your hair

The things I see are in-between this world and another one
The one that comes before and also after a world
that embraces both stages of infancy

His cold breath is on all our necks
He wears a watch that tells no time
that only ticks and does not move
that bruises and stretches and breathes heavily

This morning I felt the sun on my chest
like it didn’t know summer is over
It lit a new path for my feet to follow
and offered plausible explanations for
the lies I tell myself
about how I will draw you in stuttering sunlight
and ask you to tell me everything,
like I don’t know summer is over