IS Poetry

I told her she doesn’t recite poetry, she IS Poetry.
She smiled so I could see all of her teeth –
Held out her hand and I traced the wrinkles
until I hit a timeline I could relate to.
Poets, more than regular folks, share a
common history. We walk through our blood lines
just like anybody else, but we have these highs
and lows that you can trace on our hands and on
our faces. I know she got called “nigger girl” on the
bus. I know she had to force a man off her young body.
I know she wishes that one, particular pain would end,
but she doesn’t know where she’d be without it. I talked
smooth like sandpapered wood and acted like I could ease all of her trouble
but once she got wise to what I was doing, she
said, “Fuck off” – almost like she blew a cigarette in my face: her eyes
said I don’t care how many people are at this bar, I’ll stab you in public.
IS Poetry can remove her look quick, like mascara on a cocktail napkin.
Her smile is a front and her patients, thin. She is militant and radical.
She doesn’t belong to country clubs or frequent gala affairs.
She’s my winnowing heroine.
As she left, she kissed me on the cheek and whispered,
“Try and tame me again, and I kill you.”

Replacement Parts


I’m wearing my dad’s shoes now and giving him advice. Or is it his necktie? I don’t know for sure. Boys will become fathers and fathers will become boys. Mothers will cry to their sons for hours on the telephone and sons will cover up the receiver so their mothers don’t hear them crying. Because now they’re the man.

Sons will leave long pauses in conversations. Thinking of chess boards. They will look right past you, through you, to the house where they grew up. They will be distant.

They will have trouble sleeping. They will realize some things about marriage. Mostly, it is choosing to love.

Sons will fumble through prepared speeches basically written on note cards to their fathers. They will say things like, “I hope you know…” and “I’ve been thinking…” and “For now…”

I hope you know I can’t bear to hear my mother cry like that. I will die before I let that happen again.

I’ve been thinking that you probably feel like you’re under a microscope. I know it will feel forced and awkward. Nothing you do will feel right.

For now, you got to get back to even. For now, you have to learn to be a man.

For now…I guess I’ll have to do.

Hard Ship

Race. Persevere. Endure. Overcome.
All of it on a continuous loop.
We are all part of a Great Big Story.
One I believe that God is telling.
This is it.


The branch on the tree in the small park

On a clear December night, when all the trees stand with their colorful past at their feet, you can see a certain tree. It’s not especially tall or stout or memorable at all really. But it has a ghostly aura around it – particularly a branch that looks as though it could carry a great weight. One of literal and figurative proportions.

It’s in a very small park, on the west side of Cincinnati, this tree, with its significant branch, the one I’m now bringing to your attention. The park, like the tree, is easily forgotten and does not get many visitors – perhaps that’s why I picked it.

If you happen upon this place, you may not immediately know or think anything of it. But if you stay long enough, I’m sure you will find – or feel (more accurately) – something unmistakable. The branch, hanging from the tree in the small, forgettable park, is where I hung my former self. He gave quite a fight and I’ll spare you the un-niceties, but he’s dead now. What was left of him clung to the nearest living thing – the tree.

Sometimes, I go visit the tree, bringing with me things it will need to grow tall, but it may be a losing battle – the tree is becoming sickly. You might think traveling there scares me a great deal, but it doesn’t. I can’t fully explain why, but suffice it to say that I feel happier now.

He was always very good at bringing me down and ensuring that I didn’t accomplish my goals. He often thwarted my dreams and called them “unattainable” and “impractical.” He’s much better at being a ghostly aura then he ever was at being a man.

Maybe, I go back occasionally to confront him and look at what he’s become, but mostly, I think I go to remember.

This last time, we parted amicably. “Onward and upward, ole’ chap,” I said tipping my hat at him. As I turned away I said quietly, “well, at least for one of us.”

God with a lowercase “g”

They swear worse than hockey players and sailors. There’s not that many of them, but the whole warehouse is somehow filled with their insults flying back and forth, damaging each other. They only let on like they’re slightly damaged. Sometimes, they let on more than that.

The young ones all the way up to the old men, rip and cut and shit talk. They’re professionals, at least at something. Yeah, well fuck you toos and holy shits and Dammit! I hate waking up so goddamn earlys. It’s like a chorus. Or maybe it’s a refrain. All of it rises up to god.

Not the God you’re thinking. This god wears a hard hat and stands 60 feet tall. Well, that’s how tall the lift is. He sways slightly when he shifts around and you can’t really see him, except for his hands.

He hears all the weak ones below him. He works quietly and diligently. His motions are swift and efficient. Now, this guy is the fuckin’ professional. And he knows it too. He lets the underlings bicker and banter and when he’s had enough, he lowers the arm and descends slowly. The clouds hover, suspended just above his head and his glass ceiling.

He comes close, but still towers above them. Calmly, without raising his voice he says, “Get back to work.” And then he’s back up where he belongs; his head makes a home with the clouds.

10 Books

Books that inspire me.

1. Sum – David Eagleman


You will read this book in one sitting. A look into 40 possible afterlives that are not meant to be taken literally and instead allow us to reflect on what makes this life valuable and magical. Eagleman is a neuroscientist at Baylor studying the brain’s many secrets. It’s the most fun I’ve had reading and I laughed at the end of each chapter in amazement and disbelief. I keep giving this book away only to realize that I always need it on hand … so I’ve bought it many times. 

2. No More Prisons – William Upski Wimsatt


Hip hop. Urban life. Self education. Hitchhiking. The Cool Rich Kids movement and philanthropy as the greatest art form. Wimsatt, a graffiti writer and grass roots organizer, talks his slick style through many social and economic problems, but this book is more about solutions. 

3. In persuasion nation – George Saunders


A collection of short stories from the Syracuse Creative Writing instructor, now known for one of the greatest commencement speeches on kindness and regret. The stories are dreadful and hilarious at the same time. Sympathetic and satirical, Saunders will display his genius within a few lines. 

4. My name is Asher Lev – Chaim Potok


“As an artist you are responsible to no one and to nothing, except to yourself and to the truth as you see it.” This is what Asher Lev is told as he walks through the challenge of being a painter and a Jew. Potok himself was a writer and a rabbi, and the tension between faith and art for him, was lifelong. 


5. Jesus’ Son – Denis Johnson


There is a short story in this collection that changed the way I think about writing. I feel like Denis Johnson is part of my family. He’s my Vietnam-vet uncle who taught me how to shoot skeet and pick up girls. With a cigarette hanging from his lips, he saunters in to any pool hall and dares meathead, frat boys to mess with him. 


6. Blue Like Jazz – Donald Miller


Donald Miller is a man after my own heart. The things he struggles with. The doubts he has about God. His history with women are all very familiar to me. It feels like my own subconscious is penning the pages. This book seems to reach the hands of young men and women who are having a coming-of-age crisis. Just like all struggling with mental illness find underground hip hop, so do church burnouts find Donald Miller. 


7. The girl in the flammable skirt – Aimee Bender


“My lover is experiencing reverse evolution. I tell no one. I don’t know how it happened, only that one day he was my lover and the next he was some kind of ape. It’s been a month and now he’s a sea turtle.” 

8. and still I rise – Maya Angelou


I love poetry. I write poetry almost every day. I will say I love to write it more than I love to read it. But not when it comes to Maya. Her poetry rings in my mind for days after. In fact, if I am quiet, I can still hear it now. Her work is like a big “Fuck You” to anyone who practices oppression in all its various forms. But this “Fuck You” is so eloquent and elegant that it stings even harder. Kill them with kindness yes, but I would also add: she kills them with hope. 

9. The things they carried – Tim O’Brien


You don’t know war until you are a soldier, but this book is as close as a civilian will get.  Honest, gut-wrenching, thought-provoking, deeply sad, deeply brave all at once. I read this book in high school and the imagery is just as real 10 years later. I was totally heartbroken by a scene, but I am a better, more compassionate man for having read it. 

10. The prophet – Kahlil Gibran


Almustafa is set to leave town and knows the ships that come to take him away are close to shore. Before he leaves, the townspeople gather by the docks to bid him farewell and ask him one last time to speak to them about love, marriage, friendship, money, work, death and many other topics. Almustafa answers each of their questions, all the while lamenting that he must leave them. The book is almost like a collection of speech transcripts. With such beauty, Almustafa speaks in poetic language that allows the people (and the reader) to understand complex topics and relate to them with such ease and depth. A book you will finish in 2 hours. 

The nothingness

Flying down the tarmac, head out the window, ears full of Parisian sensibilities.
“What are we doing here?” He yelled to no one in particular.
“The same thing you are!” The nothingness yelled back.
As he put his head back in, he shrugged, thinking little of the exchange, but he did in fact feel, somehow, changed.

Orange Whip

Androids sip orange whips, poolside. They overlook the space station with electronic jazz beats pulsing in the background. “I think we’ve really made it,” one says to the other. “Too early to tell,” the second responds, putting his arms behind his head after taking another drink. “With the human problem solved, what do we have to worry about?” The first asks. “Space worms,” the second says matter of factly. “They’re huge.” The first considers this thought and shrugs, continuing his carefree lounging. After 30 minutes of bathing in the florescent light, they take a dip in the pool. Indoor swimming at the space station. “If humans programmed us, aren’t we, on some level, just like them?” “Don’t worry yourself with thoughts like that. It’s what destroyed them.”

Short Story – Save me


We open at the pier. The light on the horizon is holding on to the day and the water ripples in the wake of small boats heading to shore. Henry puts another quarter in the viewfinder, which starts buzzing, signifying that he’s got a few minutes to look around at the open water. He spots gulls swooping low, trying to catch fish and sailboats racing to get in before dark. Henry stops at the pier every night on his walk home. The walk helps him clear his mind before the next day and the pier is his favorite part.

Much closer to cross beams of the pier, Henry notices something. He squints in the viewfinder to make out what appears to be a man in the surf. Funny, Henry thinks, it’s mighty cold to be swimming. He sees that the man is struggling and then, he disappears.

Henry runs. Sprints up the boardwalk for what feels like ages and stops where he thinks the man went under. Henry is not a strong swimmer. He wishes in that moment that he would have taken the lessons that his mother was always pestering him about. He takes a deep breath and his feet leave the dock. He does a pencil dive off the pier.

Nothing. The sun has now sunk into the night, making it very difficult for Henry to see anything, much less the man he hopes to save. His mind is ticking like the last seconds of the viewfinder and he gasps and dives down into the choppy water. Nothing again. Henry calls for help, but no one seems to hear him at the boat dock hundreds of yards away.

Henry is frantic, hoping for some sign when all of a sudden, the back of a large man breaks the surface by the cross beams under the pier. The tide picks the man’s body up and crashes it into a splintering beam.

All out swimming on Henry’s part; he is swallowing a lot of salt water. His eyes burn as he grabs the man’s body by the midsection and throws a limp arm over his shoulder.

Then comes the real struggle. Henry tries to stay afloat while swimming with the man’s lifeless body at his side. Treading water, Henry trudges through the waves and finally, with his lungs exploding, he makes it to the sandy shore under the pier.

Henry pumps the man’s chest fervently and breathes into his mouth after compressions. The man does not sputter or stir, he simply lies on the beach in common work clothes; motionless.

After 30 minutes of spastic attempts to restart the man’s heart, Henry takes a break and for the first time, looks into the face of the man he has dragged from the water.

His gut wrenches.

It’s impossible, Henry says aloud. He brushes the man’s hair to one side and cleans off the blood from the man’s cheek.

Henry is staring down into his own face.

The man has 20 years on him, but Henry is sure that he is looking down at an older version of himself. There is no way to describe the bewilderment that Henry feels.

Off in the distance, the men from the boat dock appear to be sprinting to Henry’s position with flashlights in their hands. The beams of light are angling in all directions as the men scurry to see what’s the matter under the pier.

Henry panics. He cannot make sense of what has happened. He looks down at the man, knowing that he is dead, and decides to run.