“What word sums up your entire life?”
the online quiz asked.

And I thought to myself,
“None, yet. I hope”,
as I started clicking on a series
of mostly inapplicable pictures.

In the end
I got “influencer”
which isn’t too bad
but seems horribly incomplete.

Whom do I influence?
Myself? Others?
What sort of influence is it?
Is it positive, negative, or just is?
What sort of topics?
Politics? Arts? Sciences? Life?
Mundane? Profane? Profound?

So I told my friends
a word I got from
Judge Woolsey
in his opinion about
James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Parchment, from which one text was scraped away
and another text added,
perhaps, also, to be scraped away.

I think of the palimpsest as a tapestry
where you can still see parts of old stories
mingled with the new.
and how old stories of my life
weave into new stories
providing context and contrast.

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A Lenten Discipline

This year, I will focus on creating
and appreciating creation.

It is too easy to be morose,
to think about our frailty and failings,
both individual and collective.
We are reminded of this
on the incessant evening news.

Three young Muslims were killed today.
A tank car carrying crude oil exploded.
The cease fire is not holding.
Congress has reached an impasse.

The soundtrack of human suffering
plays on the car radio
as we commute to and from
the daily grind.

The numbed mind doesn’t see
the beauty of the young deer
foraging for food,
nibbling on branches
in the waist deep snow.

The numbed mind doesn’t see
the high five
the homeless man gives
to his buddy
who just got a job.

I will remember moments in nature
walking home alone
beside the frozen stream
and pausing to look
at the perfect pattern of ice
jutting out from a rock.

I will remember visits to the museum
walking reverently
towards the masterpiece
and standing to soak in
all the beauty someone else
had managed
to mingle with paint
and adhere to a canvas.

I will remember the cathedral moments
of childhood;
transcendence, and wonder,
of something greater than myself
in crowds of people
like me and yet not like me.

I will remember quiet moments
of childhood;
when I was hurt
or failed
and someone said,
“I love you.”

This year, I will focus on creating
and appreciating creation.

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The Seals

Two atoms collided on a small star
in a distant corner
of the Virgo Supercluster
emitting a small burst of light.

Several minutes later,
that light,
along with the light
of so many other such collisions
reflected off the skin
of a large grey seal
basking on a sand bar
at low tide
on Cape Cod.

This reflected light
entered the eyes
of a man sitting
on the sand
next to his wife
at sunset.

He reached out and touched her hand.

The touch,
the smells of the sea,
the sound of the surf
      and the seals,
fired off synapses
mingling serotonin and memories
in her mind.

Her mother had loved watching the seals.

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What is Poetry?

I moved to New York after dropping out of college,
to be a poet,
but found myself writing computer programs
for an insurance company.

I had pieces published in college literary magazines,
but never had the confidence to become
the next Wallace Stevens.
Anyway, I like programming computers.

Three decades later
I compose my lines
as I drive to work
and wonder,
“What is poetry?”

Now, I write my blog posts
and meeting minutes
in a voice not much different
from my collegiate poems.

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Whitman in Fukushima

This evening, the Walt Whitman class I have been taking online comes to an end. As a final exercise, we were encouraged to write a poem in the style of Whitman.

Last night, I went to the opening of "A Body in Fukushima" at Wesleyan. It is a powerful show, that I highly recommend. As I thought about the show, and thought about my assignment for the Whitman class, I thought it would be good to writemy thoughts about the show, al a Whitman.

A Body in Fukushima

Who were you that rode your bike to the train station, now abandoned to the radiation?
Who were you that steamed your rice, in a cooker now too hot with a different type of heat?
Who were you that mended the boats, the boats damaged by the tsunami, the boats that can no longer be repaired?
Who were you that danced by the one ton bags of radioactive dirt or photographed the dancer?

And those of you in years past who helped build the nuclear power plants. You saw Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Did you not worry that those promises of prosperity to your impoverish properties would be empty?

It is all part of a giant dance of survival, the deals we make to escape mind numbing subsistence work. But sometimes, the deals go bad.

Now, the cherry trees, that your ancestors nurtured so lovingly, bloom each spring, but the radiation keeps away the visitors, keeps away the former inhabitants. Their flowers, their smells, their beauty hidden behind the warning signs.

And what can we learn from the photographs? And what will those who come many years hence, after the radiation has decayed, what will they learn?

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