Wednesday, August 5, 2015


My parents gave me my name. My mom named me after some forgotten member of their church I never met. My dad named me after the trickster, the shittiest family man in all scripture—who somehow was the steward of God’s love for this whole hot mess. I like to think I take after the former. More Jake than Jacob. 

I love my name: Jake Tucker. It fits. It’s in the right key. Lately I’ve noticed some darker harmonies, the bass loitering just under the melody. That name Jacob is sticky. It’s sad and old and meaningful and I can’t shake it. My dad gave me a lot of things that have stuck. Things I’ve wanted to disown. Things that make me proud. And few things I don’t know what to make of.

Some of those things are stuff. I like stuff. It’s hold-able—has weight and color. After my dad died I got a lot of stuff. Stuff saturated in him: smells and stories. Stuff I am reluctantly seeing myself in. Stuff connecting me to him. Relics.

Acoustic Guitar
My dad used to fingerpick minor chords on his blonde Washburn acoustic guitar in his lonely office on wallowing evenings, usually just before Mom came home. My sister and I would watch TV and feel his sadness peak around the corner during commercial breaks and watch us like a gambler at the horse track.

After Hamburger Helper dinners, Mom would watch TV upstairs, Dad would retire to his office, and, on our cordial nights, sister and me would argue about what to watch. Sad lived in the walls and under the floorboards; like a family of rats we all ignored out of lethargy. Mom was angry-sad. Dad was self-pity. Sister and me were anxious. We heard them all scurrying through the walls whenever Mom sighed or Dad picked-up that guitar.

That sad worked its way into me. I think that’s where my predilection for Elliott Smith and Cool Ranch Doritos came from—like sitting in my Dad’s office closet spying and listening to him mumble Kingston Trio songs.

That guitar sits in a pile of miscellaneous mess now in my room. I tuned it yesterday—took me an hour. I picked at the corner of his rainbow “Praise the Lord” sticker, but decided to leave it. I don’t remember him ever singing a gospel song—but I think (hope) he wanted to. I just heard him sing: “Hang down your head Tom Dooley. Hang down your head and cry.”  That chorus frightened me. There was deception in my dad’s melancholy chewing through the walls in a trembling tenor.

That same sadness is still in the guitar—spent and used, like a hurricane turned drizzle. No fright left in it. Self-pity’s trick uncovered—like Leah in the morning, a blessing unlooked for.

I looked up the chords to Tom Dooley today, sang along under my breath, and finger-picked as best I could. I felt the same sadness like family—his story in mine. That guitar has amazing resonance.

Fishing Hat
I caught my first fish on my first try. I left my line dangling with a red egg behind a rock on Troublesome Creek. I skipped stones. Rock-hopped. Explored the chattering stream. When I came back, a fingerling silver and green fish was flopping on my hook. My dad came to get it off the hook; I held the pole while my dad maneuvered the fish free. I lost interest, moved the pole, and the hook sunk into my dad’s thumb. Deep. Blood oozed out, dribbling into the creek. Dark. Dad cringed, winced with a clenched jaw.

That was the first fishing trip. The annual event soon had merchandise—wide-brimmed tan canvas hats, matching t-shirts “I’d rather be fishing with my dad/little buddy.” For some reason we wore the shirts fishing.

We took our last trip ten years ago. My dad got us new hats. I wouldn’t wear mine, said something about the style and fit. Navy blue. Avid Angler Fly Fishing Outfitters logo with ruddy streamer. I couldn’t bring myself to wear it. Wearing it would have said we were ok. By that time, we were not ok.

Every year after, my dad would ask about a fishing trip. And I was busy. The thought of days alone, hours in the car, with him—made me cringe.

When I found his hat amongst all the stuff, I bit my lip, clenched jaw. Remembered all those conversations, busy schedules. Denied requests. His persistence. Ignoring the broke us. His thumb bleeding into the creek, face wincing in pain.

I wear that hat everyday. The crown is fading towards tan. If it still fit, I’d wear the t-shirt too.

The House
My mom sold the house earlier this summer. I drove down to help her move. We slept in the living room after the move. A slumber party with sleeping bags and movies. The house was empty. I took the chance to remember. All the mixed feelings I had were in a quiet mood, tamed by acceptance, nothing to be scared of.

I investigated the scene. The scars on the fir trees that held the tree house dad and I built. The outline of tiny hands in the concrete. The crawl space that kept my dad’s secrets. The lawn swallowed up by moss. This was pilgrimage—following the steps of my dad. His miracles and the stations of his cross.
The stuff of home—trees, grass, doors, patio, guitars and hats—they’re grief aids. Story-telling props. Things to hold and touch and remember. Like storage totes, they help organize the memories into a story with weight and color. Concrete. I like stuff

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Good Things

The mountains—specific,
named: Brandywine, Lions,
Garibaldi and Seymour.

Raven’s barrel rolls, leg’s
gentle burn, meandering
conversations and blue

burning glaciers still
hidden on top ice-aged
shoulders. Unspoiled.

Remember the beer,
cheeseburgers after—
keep them for warm days

in January; when hope
recedes and apathy swells:
hold fast to what is good.

Pretty Pictures and the Virtue of Graffiti

Let them paint pretty pictures:
unicorns and wealth deserved,
hard work and wise investments,

sidewalk slovens
blanketed in cardboard,
stuffed with balled newsprint,

addiction and body odor,
unfortunate poverty earned,
anchors sinking cities.

Let them paint pretty pictures,
grind your teeth and clinch
your fist, and don’t forget

the old stories: mangers,
pharaohs, gifts undeserved,
good news for the poor,

grace. Don’t forget
the spray can in your hand:
abhor what is evil.

Pep Talks to Myself in the Imperative

(This is the first in a series of poems I wrote as a way of reflecting on Roman's 12, with the scripture as the last line. It's an experiment, so bare with me.)

Finish the thought,
lean-in and listen.

Scrunch your eyes
chew your lip.

Drink your coffee.
Risk the straight word,

yourself: angry or sad,
laugh and ignore

the heavy brow
disapproving eavesdroppers.

Reflect and return
with penance or prayer.

Be honest. Think long.
Be careful, when you can.

Let your love
be genuine.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Bad Poetry

I want to write bad poetry
about you: recycled tropes,
archaic language—let me
count the ways, desperate,
predictable, exhaustive eye similes—
like grains of sand or stars…

I want to write poetry so bad
you become unrecognizable,
not trace of a person: imagined
ideals, undigested inheritance
of solipsist romantic, rose colored
glasses already beginning to crack.

I want to write heartbreak:
shattered and splintered,
preemptive and total, tempting
nihilist conversion, life vacant
and meaningless, alternating
use of lonesome and lonely.           

I want to write fiction: every twist
planned, crafted story-arches,
familiar epilogue, formula
followed like liturgy; rather
than write one transparent and
simple line: humdrum

menu debates, half-smiles,
forced laugh generosity, sipping
coffee in an empty shop
scrawling thoughts, blank stare,
the vacant chair across the table,
wishing you were coming.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Last Tantrum

I lost it on the field.
The little shit hit me
in the back, between numbers
and after the whistle.

I got up in tantrum
tears, snot and curse words,
voice cracking, feet stamping.
Teammates pulled me off field,

where I sat in wet grass,
glared till I was tired.
Then came wave after wave
hopeless embarrassment,

that unsightly naked
feeling. Shame like nausea.
The crowd: parents and worst—
friends and girls, all watching

with a cringe. I promised
to keep these things secret,
hidden from view. To take
refuge behind blank face. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

God and Google

I asked God and Google for guidance.
The secret to grief. 2-year-old articles
in men’s magazines lined with ads for
dating sites and ED meds. And Job’s answer:

were you there?

Pieces of a puzzle half-lost—scattered
amongst junked vacuums, couch crevices,
and partially-digested dried-out piles of dog shit.
Mangled survivors paint vague impressions of the whole:

Barry Sanders retired healthy at 30.
Bonheoffer hung days before Allies arrived.
Jesus wept. Otis Redding, Karl Barth,
and Ken Griffey Jr.

Lodge-pole pines and the 1988 Yellowstone fire.
And your 60 years of intermittent tumult—
estrangement and depression—ended
peaceful sleep in a rocking chair.

Parts enough—not a full picture,
no real answer or address,
but a question and a neighborhood,
a feeling and mood, direction and guide.

The Last We Spoke

The last we spoke, I apologized
for mixing-up the date of his dinner.
He understood, mentioned next time:
a platitude, a half-believed article of faith.

I was a day late. It would have been the last I saw him.
A dinner party olive-branch—a tentative start,
first gesture to begin to mend the relationship;
more than monthly texts about sports and fishing.

But then his heart quit. The roommate found him
in the morning, hands folded in his rocking chair.
I was left with a collection: disorganized
regrets, his knap-sack, and fishing hat.

Codes and memories to be deciphered and filed.
Impossible task, trimming and adjusting a thread:
a baby with square block and circular hole;
furrowed frustration, piecing together cluttered details—

a story to carry  travel-sized meaning.
But the story is unfinished. My dad died
alone in the chair he lulled me in
when I was an infant.

My dad died in that chair, believing
I was ashamed. Now I’m left

Friday, April 10, 2015

Dating and Dentistry

The dentist took a second look,
x-rays are difficult reads. But I knew
the Frosted Flakes and Slurpees
I just kind of hoped to get away with

those few moments—an easy sigh and slouch,
foot tucked under the crook of my knee.
Unclenched and relaxed, savoring
hopeful thoughts on quiet car rides.

But her eyes dropped, digging
a bunker in the sidewalk. I knew
the drill’s grinding falsetto. Still,
the in-between was sweet. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Thunder and Lethargy

Vancouver thunder came in sync
with rain on chimps in Senegal,
David Attenborough reflected on
an orphan accepted and adopted.

Pavement simmered
clouds rumbled into a sigh;
I embraced flannel comforter,
eyed the apes on my laptop.

Lethargy had won, but my loss
was not without consolation.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

To Enjoy Him Forever

Boulders cracked and cluttered
snuggled up in green shag.

Hollow sun-blond cedar
speckled with ruddy lichen.

Quiet eyes explore the quarry;
 fingers wander canyons,

trace their course
up the trunk of a fir.

If there is one, I suppose
this is the why.