Friday, July 29, 2011

Two Classes

This week I have an early class and a late class. We are moderate types. Texas would label us liberals and France would see us as back-wards thinking backwoods hicks. But we are graduate students at a college that sends people to fancy British schools like Oxford and Cambridge and Edinburgh. Each class has ten students who make sounds when the professor says something stimulating. Keyboards beat rhythmically. Pens find the edge of mouths. Thoughts bubble and ferment. Early we analyze the Victorian ideals on gender, romanticism, and sports. Late we read the Midrash and ask what makes words poetic. The monikers of each get reduced: The Sports Class and The Poetry Class. It’s a small college, and these classes don’t get confused with others. My pride in my school, and colleagues is frustrated on some level by the facts: there is one woman in The Sports Class, and two men in The Poetry Class.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Within You

The kingdom of God is within you.
Luke 17:21

Within me?

Well, more like in your midst.
It takes an understanding of
Greek syntax and particles,
but in you is a fine translation
you get the jist.

But I want to get

What do you mean:

Why are you being so frustrating?

Well, let me put it another way.
It’s a lot like

Stop. Whenever you start sentences like that
I get confused.

I like you confused.

I’m sorry I asked the question.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


[I realize this is a lot of posts, but I just got too many poems kicking around my head and a need to share them.]

I grew up in flannel-graph
With Moses and the parables:
The Sower, The Prodigal;

Crawling under pews,
Collecting sanctuary dust,
Singing Father Abraham.

I was supposed to set these aside
After Sunday school
When I left for University,

But flannel graph is sticky,
That’s how it works—and
The songs were too catchy.


“The first one emerged red, like hairy mantle all over; so they named him Esau.”
Gen. 25:25

After a bright red brillo pad
came out of such a tender place
no wonder she favored the smooth son,
no wonder she stopped after the twins.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Wings vs Short-ribs

It went bad
and beer
was prescribed
but the
was still
and the lips
missed the
pint glass
and the waitress
asked questions
about the alright-ness
of the patrons
and eyes
dropped on
and mind
would not
stop to
the benefits
of wings vs
short ribs.

Retirement Party

It’d be great
we could get a cake
and have toasts

with myself
the butt of
many jokes

and inappropriate
stories told

and gifts
like putters
with brochures
for nursing homes
hidden in the card

nostalgia and
an open bar
and questions
like “what are
you going to do now?”
with canned
answers followed by
sympathy laughs

and a few
farewell hugs
that linger
to discomfort,

but I’m not
sure where to
find the paperwork
for retirement.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Seahawks and the New Jerusalem

I always imagined
it would be like
the Seahawks
winning the Superbowl.

The impossible
become reality
people flooding
the streets
showers of beer
tears, laughter,
and pig piles.

Doors opened
strangers welcomed
as long lost relatives:
drinks bought
before names
are learned.

The victory
and celebrated
into eternity
as if it were present.
The win lived
as continuous
the Fourth Quarter
forever just finished.

But then I remember
when they lost:
the injustice
and depression
setting in
growing as
the game progressed;
impotence made

The loss became present
in every game played since:
the hope forever disappointed.

If it’s like winning the Superbowl
I wonder who lost.
How is the victory ours
if it was watched on television?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hobbiton and the Global Crisis

(Here's my paper on The Lord of the Rings and environmental stewardship, it's just a first draft, but there's a very real chance I won't get around to revising it, so I thought I'd post it. It's not a poem, but I still think it's entertaining and worth a read. The formatting turned out weird, but I'm no wiz with that type of stuff so I'm just letting it be.)

In his book TJ Gorringe notes the global population grows between 75 and 80 million people per year; to feed this many people, the grain harvest has to increase 21 million tons per year. The problem with this is that only ten percent of land is arable, and that number is shrinking due to desertification, overgrazing, and urbanization.[1] The potential for significant food shortages is one of many weighty problems lurking in the near future. The Earth is in very real peril. Climate change, soil degradation, deforestation, and over-fishing are only a few of the calamities humans are currently causing the planet. These problems are closely connected to many troubles impacting the human population: overcrowding, slums, disease, and malnutrition. The big problems facing the world are intimidating; the impotence one feels when considering them can be debilitating. The question is: how can humans start to solve these problems and not lapse into apathy and cynicism? I believe what is needed is an abundance of creativity and imagination.

Personally, cynicism is my natural reflex to these types of issues. Creativity and imagination help to counter cynicism because they expand the possible. Stories and pictures are key aids to creativity and imagination. In thinking about the current global ecological problems I have found J.R.R. Tolkein’s epic The Lord of the Rings (hereafter LOTR) particularly stimulating. Tolkien’s creatures and landscapes offer pictures that both critique the global situation and offer interesting alternatives. In this paper I hope to use images and characters in LOTR to argue for a particular vision of what a proper relationship between people and their local environment ought to look like.

In addition to stimulating creativity and imagination, using LOTR in discussions of such somber issues also brings a crucial element of fun. I am not unaware that character attributes of Samwise Gamgee to critique industrial modes of production is a little silly, but I think these discussions could afford to have more thoughtful silliness.

Before moving on, it should be noted that in the paper I will be assuming a certain level of familiarity with the LOTR. Given the enormous success of the films as well as the books, I feel confident that this assumption is warranted.

One potential difficulty with using a fantasy novel in a paper on stewardship is hermeneutical one. There is the real danger of using this story and it’s characters as allegorically, and painting the author as an environmental activist who naturally agreed with every point I make in this paper. Such an approach would see the character Saruman as Tolkien’s rebuttal the industrial militarism and its effects on the environment. In the prologue to LOTR Tolkien discusses how to interpret and use the novel:

Other arrangements could be devised according to the tastes of views of those who like allegory or topical reference. But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.[2]

This paper resides in the freedom of the reader (myself). I will be drawing on my own thought and experience, as well as the other thinkers to apply this story to global ecological and human problems. The usefulness of Tolkien in this paper does not reside in his purposing LOTR to aid in thinking about these problems; I am not sure how immediate these issues were in his mind as he wrote LOTR. Rather, LOTR is useful in that it is a well-told story, and creates a stunningly expansive world of surprising depth.

Within the LOTR universe the character whose story most mirrors the global moment is Saruman. Saruman is a traitor Wizard bent on power and domination. The ways in which he works to achieve this power and domination wreak havoc on both people and the environment in ways which parallel many of the problems facing the world today. Saruman illustrates three general types of problems worth analyzing: destruction of the environment, “global” thinking, and extractive economy.

In The Two Towers Treebeard (a tree-creature known as an ent) explains to the hobbits Pippin and Merry the offenses of Saruman. He summarizes the mindset of Saruman, saying “He has a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for growing things, except as far as they serve him for the moment.”[3] In the story Saruman’s industrialism is at the cost of the local environment. Imprisoned atop Orthanc (the tower in center of Isengard), Gandalf looked out over Isengard and noticed the formerly pleasant and green valley was now barren and marred by pits and forges; over all this hung a dark haze of smoke.[4] The ‘metal and wheel’ represented by the forges and pits of Isengard led to the destruction of parts of the ancient forest that grew near him. Treebeard goes on to describe Orcs under the control of Saruman cutting down trees to fuel the fires, and some even cutting down trees and leaving them to rot.[5]

This environmental destruction was not limited to Isengard. Shire, under the domination of Saruman, also experienced a degradation of the local environment. Upon returning to Shire after the destruction of the Ring of Power in Mount Doom the four hobbits (Pippin, Merry, Sam, and Frodo) find a reordering of their home. They notice an “unusual amount of burning” and a cloud of smoke coming up from the midst of Shire.[6] When they get to Hobbiton they find that whole rows of trees have been ripped up, and to Sam’s particular horror, Saruman’s men had hewn the Party Tree.[7]

Saruman’s destruction of the local environment under his control is too recognizable for comfort. The current approaches to environmental stewardship echo the mechanistic and utilitarian approach of Saruman. Though Saruman counted himself as wise, his actions showed otherwise. David Abram notes a parallel in the current civilization. He points out that this civilization has forfeited any kind of kinship with the Earth and understands truth primarily as static instead of acknowledging a relational element to it. This is fascinating in relation to Saruman, because before he began construction on pits and forges and the destruction of the forests, he used to walk and speak with Treebeard.[8] There was a relational element to his knowledge of his environment. When the relational element was abandoned he began the destruction of the Isengard’s forests, and eventually hewing trees in Fangorn Forest. Abram puts this type of destruction in opposition to authentic knowledge: “A civilization that relentlessly destroys the living land it inhabits is not well acquainted with truth, regardless of how many supposed facts it has amassed regarding the calculable properties of its world.”[9] Wendell Berry comments on the results of civilizations and economies which do not have a relational understanding of their environment, and understand in mechanical terms, writing “When the industrial principles exemplified in fossil fuel production are applied to field and forest, the results are identical: local life, both natural and human, is destroyed.”[10] It is an ominous fact that Saruman’s loss of relationship with his local environment, and his underestimation of the power of it, is what led to his downfall.[11]

Saruman’s attempt to persuade Gandalf to join him illustrates his own global thinking. In his speech Saruman waxes on the growing of a new power, and the rewards of joining with this new power:

As the Power grows, its proved friends will also grow, and the Wise such as you and I, may with patience come at last to direct its courses, to control it. We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order.[12]

The language Saruman uses prioritizes the large over the small, the global over the local. The ‘deplorable evils done by the way’ are acceptable because of his ‘high and ultimate purpose.’ This ‘ultimate purpose’ is control of Middle-Earth in the name of ‘Knowledge, Rule, Order.’ The ‘ultimate purpose’ ends up being nothing short of domination of the weak—as evidenced in Saruman’s scouring of Shire at the end of the LOTR. One wishes that Gandalf had quoted Wendell Berry to refute Saruman’s “knowledge”: “Praise ignorance, for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed.”[13] Berry’s own thinking about the global in relation to the local is counter to Saruman’s. Berry argues: “In order to make ecological good sense for the planet, you must make ecological good sense locally.”[14] Saruman’s seeking of a ‘high and ultimate purpose’ for Middle-Earth came at the expense of the one corner of it which was under his care—this for Berry would illustrate the non-sense of Saruman.

The economy of Saruman not only leads the destruction of the local environment but also the exploitation of the people of the surrounding country. As Saruman began seizing control of Shire, its economy began to change. As Farmer Cotton explained the happenings in Shire to the well-journeyed hobbits he noted that much of the best “leaf” of Southfarthing (a region of Shire) was being exported out of Shire, and eventually other goods, so that there began to be shortages. Saruman’s men began carrying off goods in wagons to the south (towards Isengard).[15] Under Saruman’s control there were even more food shortages even though the harvests had been good.[16] The relationship between Saruman and Shire is paralleled in many ways by the relationship between producers and consumers in the current global economy. T.J. Gorringe notes that less than ten percent of the retail value of coffee actually stays in the places where it is grown.[17] The Kenyan study shows that the current trade agreements under the World Trade Organization benefit wealthy nations at the expense of poorer ones.[18] In the global economy it seems that wealth is being extracted from poor nations. Those producing the means for wealth are not in a position to enjoy, just as the hobbits who grew the pipe-weed were unable to enjoy it under Saruman’s rule.

Against the Sarumanic injustice of the current world order, David Orr argues for an increased agrarian consciousness. Orr understands agrarianism as being rooted in the land, respectful of its limitations as well as its properties.[19] Orr argues this type of consciousness is opposed the “market-driven industrial mentality that perceives no natural limits and treats the land as mere raw material.”[20] Orr echoes Treebeard’s complaint about Saruman. The fight between the agrarian consciousness and the ‘market-driven industrial mentality’ seems to be a mismatch, with the latter winning out the majority of the time. It is difficult for a largely urban population to grasp the agrarian mindset, and this is where I believe LOTR proves particularly helpful. When one reads LOTR one cannot help but fall in love with Shire. It captures the imagination. As one follows the story through LOTR Shire is always kept in the back of one’s mind. Mordor is made more distasteful and evil in comparison to Shire and the comforts of the Green Dragon, hot tea and cold beer. Shire and the hobbits bring a romantic picture of agrarian life into the mind of an urban reader, and this is a very good thing.

The life of a hobbit is lived in stark contrast to Saruman. They are local to a fault, ignoring the happenings in the larger world around them. They not only know their land, but have a kindly affection for it. Hobbits are also peaceful. Many of the problems caused by the “market-driven industrial mentality” which has enjoyed nearly free rein in this global moment would be diminished, if not solved, if more of the world emulated hobbits in their lifestyle.

Tolkien comments that Sam’s knowledge of geography was limited to the twenty-miles around of Hobbiton, but extended no further.[21] I take Sam as a representative hobbit: a hobbit’s hobbit. He exemplifies the description of hobbits given in the prologue of the LOTR, and in the appendix of LOTR, Tolkien notes that he was elected Mayor of Michel Delving (one of the only official position in Shire) a record seven times.[22] It seems reasonable to take Sam as a model hobbit, and his geographical knowledge as representative of hobbits in general. Sam’s knowledge was such that a day’s walk from his home in Hobbiton he knew specific trees.[23] After Saruman’s domination and ruin of Shire, Sam went around Shire planting trees in places he remembered particular trees which he thought beautiful before they were chopped down.[24] He illustrates an impressive knowledge of the local environment, and I think shows a rooted-ness in a particular place. David Orr comments that agrarian thinkers have always seen this type of rooted-ness in land, and respect for it, as key to stable and decent organization of human affairs.[25]

Hobbits not only knew their land, they loved it. Affection for the actual soil which one lives on is a key part of the agrarian mindset. This affection is illustrated in Sam and Frodo’s return to a deeply marred Hobbiton: “This was Frodo and Sam’s own country, and they found out now that they cared about it more than any other place in the world.”[26] Fondness for ones home marks the hobbit’s outlook on life. Norman Wirzba points out that this type affection for land is a necessary precursor to ethical use and treatment of the land: an ethical relation to the land can only exist when there is a certain amount of love, respect and admiration for the land.[27] The delight in the land comes before the right treatment of it. Saruman had no love for the his local environment, or Shire. He did not delight in Fangorn Forests or the rolling hills around Hobbiton. As a consequence he treated these places harshly. In contrast hobbits love for their land led to their delight in “good tilled earth” and a “well-ordered and well-farmed country-side.”[28] That is to say their delight in the land led them to cultivation and stewardship of that land.

This love of cultivation and land is part of another peculiar attribute of hobbits, their peaceful nature. Throughout their history hobbits were never prone to war.[29] Faramir, when speaking to Frodo and Sam, I believe hits on the reason for this peaceful lifestyle. His farewell to the two he remarks: “Your land must be a realm of peace and content, and here must gardeners be in high honour.”[30] The astute captain links the high regard for gardeners to peace and content. To put it another way, the cultivation of the earth is linked to peaceful living.

The difficulty in the current global moment is that it seems the world is still under domination of those who would follow Sarumans lead. The Earth is, like Shire and the regions surrounding Isengard, being exploited for it’s resources. Population growth and uncheck free market philosophy have pushed this exploitation of the land. The results have been environmental degradation, food shortages, global warming. . . Up till now this paper has been concerned with showing the parallels between the global crisis and LOTR, and what a what a better relationship to the Earth would look like, but it had little to say about how to begin to set things to right. I believe the last chapter of LOTR offers an inspiring picture of what setting things to right could look like. Central to this picture is the anti-Saruman figure: Samwise Gamgee.

Early in the novel Sam is given a precious gift from the Lady Galadriel. He is given a tiny chest with dust from her own orchard, which was blessed by her.[31] Sam’s own personal horror at the felling of the beautiful trees of Shire, he began to fix. He began planting saplings throughout Shire, wherever he remembered a particularly delightful tree, with a sprinkle of dust from Galadriel.[32] At this point I will lean heavily on the freedom of the reader: I believe in planting these trees Sam was acting as a guerrilla gardener. In his book Guerrilla Gardening, David Tracey defines this practice as “gardening public space with or without permission.”[33] Tracey argues that guerrilla gardening causes a shift in posture, from passive to active:

When you’re a guerrilla gardener, you’re an active participant in the living environment. You’re no longer content to merely react to what happens to the spaces around you. You’re a player, which means you help determine how those spaces get used. And when you’re in tune like this, every plant counts.[34]

Samwise was a guerrilla gardener, who cared about the common good of Shire, and believed in the power of trees to inspire aesthetic delight enough to go around planting these trees. Emulated Master Samwise in this would mean that a person sees themselves as part of the environment, a participant with a particular relationship to the Earth and it’s creatures. Wendell Berry pointed out “The real work of planet-saving will be small, humble, and humbling, and (insofar as it involves love) pleasing and rewarding. Its jobs will be too many to count, to many to report, too many to be publicly noticed or rewarded, too small to make anyone rich or famous.”[35] The ‘real work of planet-saving’ I believe will look a lot like Samwise Gamgee’s labors to beautify Shire. Reversing the work of Sarumanic forces in the world will not be done in one outburst like the raising of the Ents. It will not be one marked by epic heroic feats. It will be done by small, loving, hobbit-sized changes to ones local environment. It will be done by many people, replanting many party trees.

[1] Timothy, Gorringe, The Common Good and The Global Emergency: God and The Built Environment, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 190-191.

[2] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Rings (NY: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1987), 6.

[3] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers, (NY: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1987), 76.

[4] Tolkien, FOTR, 273.

[5] Tolkien, TT, 89.

[6] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, (NY: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1987), 280.

[7] Ibid, 283, 291.

[8] Tolkien, TT, 76.

[9] David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1996), 264.

[10] Wendell, Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community: Eight Essays, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1992), 22.

[11] For those unfamiliar with the story, the Ents eventually mustered their strength, attacked Saruman while he had sent his forces elsewhere, and overthrew the wizard.

[12] Tolkien, FOTR, 272-273.

[13] Wendell Berry, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” in Collected Poems, (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1984), 151.

[14] Berry, SEFC, 23.

[15] Tolkien, RTK, 291-292.

[16] Ibid, 278.

[17] Gorringe, 193.

[18] Ibid, 193.

[19] David Orr, “The Urban-Agrarian Mind” in The New Agrarianism: Land, Culture, and the Community of Life, Freyfogle, Eric T., ed, (Washington, DC: Island Press :, 2001) 93-94.

[20] Ibid, 94.

[21] Tolkien, FOTR, 81.

[22] Tolkien, RTK, 378.

[23] Tolkien, FOTR, 81.

[24] Tolkien, RTK, 303.

[25] Orr, 99.

[26] Tolkien, RTK, 283.

[27] Norman Wirzba, The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 111.

[28] Tolkien, FOTR, 10.

[29] Ibid, 14.

[30] Tolkien, TT, 290

[31] Tolkien, FOTR, 391.

[32] Tolkien, RTK, 303.

[33] David Tracey, Guerrilla Gardening: A Manualfesto, (Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 2007), 4.

[34] Ibid, 32.

[35] Berry, SEFC 24.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cops and Condos

The police showed up in “street” clothes
looking like bros at a downtown club
with tribal arm-bands, greased-up hair,
and obnoxious Hurley t-shirts

Their bullet-proof vests fit awkward
under the tight black shirts
badges worn round their necks
just like the movies

The chachi pair stood
looking disinterested
while protesters
explained gentrification
and how they were
being pushed out
of their own neighborhood

I watched
holding a sign
that smelt
like a sharpie

In my head
fair or not
I ascribed to the couple
the type of douchery
I witnessed in the
athletic and tall
assholes on my
high school football team
who used to call me

I wondered
if the cops could
afford the condos
we were protesting.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Gloomy July

or It Should Be Nice Out By Now, Damn-it!

We took a break
to think about
whether or not
we could make it to the top
and whether or not
it’d be worth it.

The forecast had been sun,
but we were in the clouds
and it was cold and wet
and the snow was crunchy
with holes going down
into deep tree wells
and the trail was
difficult to follow.

We stopped to think.
I broke a twig in my hand
flicking bits into the snow.
It was July and all this
was supposed to be gone,
it ought to have been 75
or 80 degrees;
but is was fifty something
and beginning to drizzle.

Things hadn’t gone as planned,
but our bodies were intact
they felt glad with exhaustion
and the scenery had a
eery pretty to it.

Had it been May,
or even June,
I would have been smiling
taking goofy pictures
commenting on the trees
and planning sequels;

but it was late July
and I couldn’t shake
the thought
of what summer
should feel like
and the frustrating fact
we were going to have
to turn back

Big Rock

My uncle lives on a lake named Big Lake. Multiple times a week he drives down the road and climbs a rock creatively named Big Rock. He’s been climbing that rock sense he was a teenager; taught his kids and nephews how to climb that rock. Knows it completely. I wonder what name he would choose.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Jazz and the Downtown East-Side

or Where is Miles Davis When You Need Him?

One would think
with the amount
heroin addiction
there would
at least be
some good jazz—
but if there is
it’s well hidden.

All I see
is crumbling hotels
and developers salivating
with plans for gentrification
and people routinely being
mistaken for other things.

What Miles Davis would do
to help the situation—
I have no clue,
but hopefully
he could think
of something.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Day Six: Penticton to Chillawack

I Hate You Manning Provincial Park

Every other kilometer
there were signs
warning of bear or elk
crossings—as a kid
and adult I hate these signs:
they raise an expectation
so that every rounded rock
looks like a grizzly with cubs
a fallen snag looks like a big bull.

I grew up watching
nature documentaries,
learning obscure facts about
badgers, bison, and black bears.
The possibility of seeing
wildlife gets me

Seeing nothing
but trees and scrub
wouldn’t be frustrating—
except those damn signs
kept pointing out
that at any point
I could see
something awesome
that normally belongs
on a truck-stop t-shirt.

No one likes
to be reminded
of what they’re missing.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Day Five: Clacier to Penticton

The McRib

Though it was scenic and filled with car-commercial turns and hardly another car on the road—nine hours is nine hours. Energy is drained. Grumpiness creeps in. Decision making is effected. I had a McRib for dinner. This is not an excuse, it’s a warning: there are worse things than McRibs out there—and they’re waiting with smiles and charm.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Road-Trip Day Four: Many Glacier, There and Back Again

Four Poems

Effective Flirting

The waitress paused in believable eye-contact
and fixed the hood of my sweatshirt;
asked if I was staying in town
or just passing through—I confirmed
the latter with some regret.

Environmental Stewardship

What these mountains need
is to have a silly-faced man
pose in front of them
with his mother
and be captured
in a digital image—
in doing this
I count myself
a steward of
all creation.

A Promise is a Promise

The sun shot from the hip
turning the Middle Fork
of the Flathead River
into a shimmering white ribbon.

The trees overhanging
were disco balls.

My mom sat in the passenger seat
tending to a half-dozen blisters
and noticing swollen ankles.

After reflection
she promised
to come back.


The sign reads:

Indoor Pool


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Road-Trip Day Three: Logan's Pass

The clouds hung low on glaciated peaks crumbling slowly into deep valleys. The sun broke through in patches. It was all very pleasant, for the most part, but I was told there would be mountain goats. Lots of them. Climbing impossible slopes. Dancing precarious. Bleating anthems from every cliff in this park. I had driven a long way. With steep drop-offs, narrow lanes, and no guard-rails. My stomach had turned queasy. I had swallowed my fear and needed no breath-mint—but I was promised mountain goats. There are no mountain goats at this visitor center. Only stuffed marmots, an exhibit about global warming, and ugly children throwing snow.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Day Two: Coeur d'Alene to Glacier National Park (3 poems)

Continental Breakfast

I was told to talk to strangers and did.
They were from Michigan and one of them
went to a college I knew people at
the other was his dad and was a missionary
in a country I knew existed.

Both strangers liked the biscuits-and-gravy,
which was surprising to see in a Comfort Inn.
I enjoyed my hardboiled eggs and didn’t mind
that one of the strangers had pink-eye and a wedding band.


The rolling hills
of Somewhere-in-Montana
were deep green
with patches of lavender,
yellow, and sage blue.

We traveled below speed-limits
and a cloudless sky.
My mom asked:
“What do you think
heaven will look like?”

We pulled over
at the first gas station we could
to see if we could find a map.

Inside a man
with red-leather cheeks
spoke with a pony-tailed
Metallica shirt about store business:
“Used to be six packs of Budweiser
were our number-one seller—but
now I’d say it’s the four-pack
of Natural Ice tallboys.”

Back on the road
I notice the silhouette
of a big horn sheep
on a rocky outcrop.

“Well, I imagine
it will be a lot like here
except different.”

The Geology of Red Sox Fans

The sign by the pullout
explained the geologic history
of Lake Macdonald

Ten thousand years ago
the lake had was a glacier
which left behind a lake

The man with the hat
(and cargo shorts)
reading over my shoulder
was surprised
when I explained
I do not like the Red Sox
and think none-to-highly
of those “people” who do

The man with the hat
(and cargo shorts)
had nothing to say.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Road-Trip Day One: Eastern Washington

The apples we didn’t buy at the fruit stand were from Chile, but the clerk was good looking and I assume that if I had asked her what she was doing after work she would have blushed a little and spoke to me of Ellensburg bars and Big Buck Hunter, but I had an itinerary and so I took my cherries and left.

These places in mid-July normally look like the crypt-keeper, but this year there had been rain and cold and rain into the would-be summer—so now the rolling hills under wind turbines are a mix of green and yellow—like the Sonics used to look.

I drove fast and wished I had read Don Quixote so that I could make some insightful connection between the classic and my unsettled thoughts and the giant white propellers—hopefully leading to some satisfying and beautiful conclusion. But I am not well read and I was in no mood for that level of introspection—so my thoughts returned to the clerk and our would-be Big Buck Hunter date.

Angry Banana Attacks Gorilla

The news
tells a chilling story
of an angry banana
attacking a hardworking
sign-holding gorilla
in Strongville Ohio.

All this
only a couple weeks
after New York
legalized same-sex marriage.

Despite the damage
it would do
to legitimate
Christian witness—
part of me
wished the story included
an interview with a local pastor
with the creativity and idiocy
to make a connection
between the unnatural relations
evidenced by the attack in Ohio
and the New York legislation.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ten Percent

My coaches used to say
football is ninety percent mental
and ten percent physical.

I was a junior in high school
when I realized
I wasn’t going to approach
six feet tall
and this would adversely effect
my aspirations to play middle-linebacker
for the Washington Huskies.

Not long after this realization
I came to the conclusion
ninety percent of what coaches say
is bull shit.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Earth Will Die Tuesday

He thought the earth would die,
Tuesday or Wednesday.
He did not know why or how.
But it would die.

His cat disagreed.
Cats are optimists.
The world would
not be inherited
by optimists.

His chair creaked
under his mind’s work,
cars stereos
left in gutters
forests melting
in explosions
and loudness
children clapping
and watching
with eyes.

He wondered
what would happen
to his collections.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


I felt like there had been a conspiracy with the conspirators feeling very happy with themselves with how the integrity of their intentions was upright and noble and they really only wanted the best for me in a tough situation. But I had been in the dumpster for three hours, waiting. A man’s mind can move in tight spots like that: uncovering the secret plots of those who are too close. I didn’t fully understand what I was waiting for, or how those who were responsible managed to do it. But these were small matters. I believed the shredded bills under my left foot might hold important clues. I was beginning to get hungry and wished I had chosen a dumpster behind the food court.

The Tower of Babel

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves;
Genesis 11:4

We stacked each other on shoulders
totem-pole style—in an effort
to make our own Tower of Babel.
A few of us ended up breaking
important bones, and one kid
got a concussion; but we were
at least partly successful: we made
quite a name for ourselves
at the hospital downtown.


There used to be crowds
outside of novelty shops in the mall.
People would pass the time
staring through the window,
shift their weight back and forth,
squint their eyes real small then
open them as big as they could.
Some stopped blinking.

Occasionally, someone would laugh:
“I see it. It’s a unicorn.”
Then they’d give their friends
confusing directions:

“No, No
you’ve got to
un-focus your eyes
and look behind the painting.”

I’d follow the directions
as close as I could
but never saw anything
besides splotch-color designs.

The whole thing felt rigged to me.
Fortunately, a kid can live
not seeing unicorns in a poster
without too much pining.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Your Eyes Are Big Brown Balls of Sticky: The Video

Here is a video of a David Loti and myself performing a Frankenstein-amalgamation of two poems to make one love-poem song. The video is from a performance David Loti and I did at the Cocoanymph a while back. Enjoy!

Why I Don't Play Basketball Much

When you’re already a bad shot
and half the shots you do take are blocked
because you’re the height of a twelve-year-old
and pick-up games are much too competitive
and people start yelling and stop passing—
you eventually stop shooting
even open lay-ups,
you start to see scoring
as something other people do
and what you do is rebound, defense,
and all around hustle
and pretty soon other players
become condescending
and talk to you like you were twelve
and you stop playing basketball
because it’s for assholes and tall people
and you start writing poetry.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

How To Sulk on Summer Walks

On bright
summer days
if I stop
and listen
to the wind,

or kids
playing tag,

or notice
the clouds
resting above
green mountains—

I sigh,
my fears quiet
and my worries
don’t seem
quite so large.

These days
when I go for walks
I make sure I keep
my headphones in
my eyes down
the volume up
the sad-bastard-music on
and all the peaceful sights and sounds out.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Fourth-of-July vs The Second Coming

Meat grilling
under a haze
that creeps out
over the lake

Speed-boats bounce
zig-zag across the lake
the smell of burgers and gas
cling to one another

Roman-candles shoot
from tipsy hands
paper-plates red-white-and-blue
laden with potato-salad
rest on laps assembled around a fire-pit

Beer cans collect
under lawn-chairs
a team of balloons
lift a quarter-stick
of dynamite up to heaven—
firecrackers exploding on either side
the drunks stick their fingers in their ears
and wait for the bang

I hope Jesus
doesn’t come down
on the Fourth—
could be hazardous.

Canada Day vs The-Fourth-of-July II

This time it's national!

A few days after Canada Day
the Fourth-of-July seems loud
like France looks big
next to Luxembourg.

I hope Luxembourg has fireworks.

How Ice Cream Makes Things Alright

All is not right with the world:
friends still visit the hospital
multiple times a week;
families are falling apart—
siblings not talking to each other,
parents splitting up,
and all sorts of bad things
happening in dark places;

I have bills to pay
with no source of income;
papers to research and write
with no real subject;
and a persistent case of the lonelies
that flares-up like herpes—

but right now
my legs throb with accomplishment,
there’s a digital camera
full of pictures
documenting an alpine ascent--panoramic views,
group photos, and crazy-carpet rides,
we are tired past the giggle point,
and I have an ice cream cone—

Right now
things are alright.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


So in a recent poem I wrote: "Love gives you intense vertigo then forces you to free-climb mountains," yesterday I learned that pride and love share at least one super-power.

At the base of a peak

of exposed granite

and broken boulders

reaching up

600 feet (100 meters),

my fear of heights

finds its trumpet call.

My nostrils flare,

my jaw clinches,

and my eyes

(hidden under

dark sunglasses)

get wide.

The middle-aged woman

on the side of the trail

lounging beside a rock

to escape the wind

tells us her twelve-year-old

is on the other side of the scramble.

We are five women

and myself.

They charge forward

to conquer the challenge;

under my breath

I let a singular

impotent profanity

drop, then

follow after them.

We crawl through

cracks and crevices

with large drops

under precarious


The ladies stop

for photo-shoots

while I try and think

happy (low) thoughts:

football fields, beaches,

and prairies—things

you can not fall off.

We pass the twelve-year-old,

who is bouncing down the mountain

with a grin. He comments about

the strange population of ladybugs

at the top. I curse to myself.

If I were alone

I would be sitting


on a sturdy rock

staring up at sparse clouds.

But a child

got to the top,

and I’m with five girls

and apparently I still have

some chauvinist in me.


instead of peacefully sunbathing

in the midst of

a picturesque, snow-covered

alpine meadow

I’m biting my tongue

and going up,

when everything in me

wants to go back down

(in a controlled

and cautious manner).

On the summit

I stare between

my legs at

black lichen,

try to restrain myself

from barking at the girls

to be more careful

and back away from the edge.

Here in a “mountain-top moment”

I reflect on what got me to this point

and conclude:

My pride

is harder to

mute than

my fear—

which may not

be something

to be proud of.

This is the mountain we climbed.