Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Invisible Goat

The Invisible Goat

            We were visiting some sort of historical farming re-enactment with our granddaughters. Kim had wandered off with the girls while I leaned on the wooden fence of an empty pen. Soon a little boy joined me.

            “What are you doing?”

            “I’m watching the invisible goat.”

            He nodded and came over to stand next to me. Soon he pointed and said, “Look, there’s another one.”

            “Thanks, I didn’t notice that one before.”

            Our pointing attracted several more kids. One of them said, “I don’t see any goats.”

            “That’s because they are invisible,” my new friend explained to him.

            The parents soon appeared, gathered up their kids, and hustled them away, some with worried looks over their shoulders.

            Then it was just me and the goat.

No Rules Chess

No Rules Chess we call it
my young son and I frowning
across the board like
his big brother and me
sliding our men in turn
lining up captives
at the edge but not too
often or the game ends
too soon.

He joins the class, uninvited,
after lurking outside the door
for a week in ill-fitting
clothes then appearing sudden
as a bounced check.  He struggles
with his chair to join us then
mutters and proclaims with wild
hands and troubled skin.
He apes us all.
help me I can help you
inside my poems are so
lovely like mushrooms
in rhyme I want you all
to hear my orphan poems
help me let you hear them
or I will shoot you I
awoke and was no longer
one of the patients I
was in a nightmare
surrounded by 30 screaming
inmates here I am home
We applaud, nod, thank him.
We ask him not to come back, saying
Come back.

I’m not sure how the story and the poem fit together, or even how the two parts of the poem fit together. If anyone can up with a profound explanation, I’d be delighted to hear it at

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


            Autumn has always been my favorite season. I’ve always enjoyed going back to school, whether as a student or a teacher. Though the season is typically associated with dying, with the falling off (thus “Fall”) from the ripeness of summer, for me it’s more about starting than ending. This from a poem I wrote about going back to work:

      First Days

At school first days always shine
like new keys I carry over the polished
floor to the scramble for old friends,
all pros, tan and telling of bears, novels,
the lake up north, painting in Umbria,
a wedding or two.  And above the sink
just down the hall my face caught by the
institutional mirror glows simple as pudding.

            And, of course, John Keats celebrated the beauty of autumn in his “To Autumn,” which I recommend in its entirety. The poem begins: “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” and it goes on to describe the abundant ripening, though with hints of mortality as winter approaches: “the soft-dying day,” “the small gnats mourn” and “the light wind lives or dies.” Summer ends. Those of us living in northern Michigan know this.

            Keats is approaching the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. Robyn Griggs Lawrence describes it thus:

Broadly, wabi-sabi is everything that today’s sleek, mass-produced, technology-saturated culture isn’t. It’s flea markets, not shopping malls; aged wood, not swank floor coverings; one single morning glory, not a dozen red roses. Wabi-sabi understands the tender, raw beauty of a gray December landscape and the aching elegance of an abandoned building or shed. It celebrates cracks and crevices and rot and all the other marks that time and weather and use leave behind. To discover wabi-sabi is to see the singular beauty in something that may first look decrepit and ugly.

Wabi-sabi reminds us that we are all transient beings on this planet—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in frayed edges, rust, liver spots. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the melancholy found in these marks of passing time.

In other words, the awareness of our transience actually enhances and deepens our experience of beauty. Melancholy rocks. The older I get, the more I appreciate wabi-sabi.

            Which  brings me to another take on autumn, written years ago when I thought 50 was old:


“No Spring, nor Summer Beauty hath such grace
As I have seen in one Autumnall face”  –John Donne

You accuse me when I say I wish
I had known you then, when you were young,
and I admit it, yes, and I think it
more often than I say it, but never add,
slim and beautiful, as you accuse,
nor think your autumn any less than spring:

Your beauty grows: When I study those
old photographs that make you young again,
your wedding, with your kids, your modeling pose,
when you tell stories of your hippie days,
wild and shy with other men, those Kims
only layer and deepen who I love:

the Kim I touch with an eye caress
across the table, the Kim my brain and blood
explore when I pause and stare at nothing
in my office, the Kim whose skin and voice
I consume in the dark, back to back,
the sole of your foot on mine, sole mate:

just as in passion I long to hold you
entirely in my arms and search with nose,
tongue and kisses every inch of you,
to know as much of you as sense can know,
to inhale, devour the every Kim of you,
so do I love the every when

of you alive in your electricity:
When I enter you I enter all the pages
of your scrapbook, enter all your lives,
and I become your lovers—cowboy,
matador, some Hollywood types,
pilot, teenager learning how.

Can’t you see? Fall has always been
my favorite. Leaves golden on the trees,
the structure of trunks and branches
emerge in their strength, and textures
growing on the ground celebrate
temporary blooms of summer, now.

Thursday, October 5, 2017


            Kim, as many have pointed out, is heroic. As a hero (I use the word for both genders and anyone in between or beyond), Kim’s journey is taking her on the path Joseph Campbell outlines in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, but of course she’s doing it in her own Kim-ish way.

            Campbell describes “the Hero’s Journey,” a pattern that heroes typically follow in literature and, for some of us, in life. Wikipedia summarizes thus: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

            Further analysis sees the stages as:

            The Call to Adventure
            Refusal of the Call
            Supernatural Aid
            Crossing the First Threshold
            Belly of the Whale
            The Road of Trials
            The Meeting with the Goddess
            Woman as Temptress
            Atonement with the Father
            The Ultimate Boon
            Refusal of the Return
            The Magic Flight
            Rescue from Without
            Crossing of the Return Threshold
            Master of Two Worlds
            Freedom to Live

            Kim has always responded to the Call to Adventure, whether fighting a bull in Spain, kayaking in Lake Superior, or marrying me (that last one is a joke). The latest call, of course, is her cancer diagnosis, and more recently, her discovery that it metastasized to her spine. There was no opportunity for Refusal, as the pain and the risks were so great, and I’m not sure about Supernatural Aid – lots of people said they were praying for her and it was a great comfort to know people were praying, but I’m not a believer in Divine Intervention unless the term means drawing strength from the highest powers within us. Whatever. Our doctors here in Traverse City are all great, but divine?

            In any case, she crossed that First Threshold to become a cancer warrior. It actually feels like we have crossed it several times, as we believed that each treatment defeated the cancer so we could resume our normal pre-cancer lives. Not so.

            Living in the Belly of the Whale means living in the new Reality, with your previous “ordinary” life left behind. We often feel that way with cancer, and cancer treatment, and cancer future, looming. But this stage is early in the journey.

            The Road of Trials is easy to see, with surgery and radiation the most difficult, followed by eating my cooking.

            The Meeting with the Goddess? Campbell describes this divinity as “the Queen Goddess of the World,” which I take to mean the epitome of those qualities that women have but men, unfortunately, typically lack. Campbell talks about a mystical marriage, and he says this goddess is “incarnate in every woman.” We called upon this goddess by Kim’s wearing her Wonder Woman bracelet through her radiation treatments, and I am delighted to say that a number of Kim’s goddess-friends have stepped forward, each in her own way, to join with Kim.

            The Temptress does not have to be a woman. It’s any kind of temptation that could lead away from the heroic quest. Perhaps wine, which does not mix well with Kim’s chemo, is such a temptation. Chocolate?

            By “Atonement with the Father” Campbell refers to the hero’s confrontation with whatever has the most power – traditionally some form of “Father.” The confrontation, Campbell says, leaves the hero “ripe to understand how the sickening and insane tragedies of this vast and ruthless cosmos are completely validated in the majesty of Being.” That may sound like BS, or it may sound like a religious experience. In Kim’s case, I think it’s her ongoing confrontation with nature (Mother Nature) that creates something like “validation,” though I would not use that term, for her love of nature does not validate the obscenity of her cancer. Atonement is a work in progress.

            If and when it happens, the hero will reach the next stage, Apotheosis, which Campbell sees as the understanding that the Everlasting dwells within us and within all things, including “in the groves of the wish fulfilling trees.” Kim and I spend as much time in those trees as we can, and our cottage will give us even more wish fulfillment.

            The Ultimate Boon is the achievement of the goal of the quest. I’m not sure what the goal of the quest is, though it might be worth our time to figure it out. This strage often involves an elixir, a “miraculous energy substance.” So far, we have been working with Ibrance, a chemo from Pfizer, and a mushroom extract from our holistic doctor. Not yet miraculous, and the chemo does have side effects, but we’ll see . . ..

            Time to skip ahead here to the final step, Freedom to Live. This means, as I understand it, the freedom from fear of death, which translates as a freedom to live. How? By living in the moment, neither anticipating the future nor regretting the past. Our hero, Kim, reaches this point from time to time – several times this week, in fact, and just this morning. Freedom to Live? It’s more than her “strength,” and more than having “a good attitude.” She has both, in abundance, but there is something both more spiritual and more grounded going on within her to make her free to live fully in what I call “the dailyness of life.”

            Campbell emphasizes that “the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” Those “boons” are more than the scones she continues to bake. She has a way of lifting those of us who know and love her, and that makes her heroic.

            When I showed a draft of this entry to Kim, she said, “I’m not a hero – I don’t think of myself that way. What I do is get out of my head and keep busy. Genne’ is the real hero.”