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Happy Holidays and Thank You!

Happy Holidays and Thank You!

Almost a year ago I posted “Santa” as a single sonnet to celebrate the season and yesterday it became part of a book.

An Accidental Diary has been published!

Now Santa is 1/52th of “An Accidental Diary: A sonnet a week for a year.”

I am both surprised and extremely proud of my unusual book.

Yesterday, I got notice that the hardback and Kindle editions are now for sale on Amazon. The e-book version, I understand, can be read right away. The hardback is also available now, but will be delivered in January.

https://www.amazon.com/Accidental-Diary-sonnet-week-year/dp/B09NGXSVM5/

(If you’d like a personalized signed copy, reach out to me by email.)

As an old geezer I have no fear of repeating myself, so no matter what your religious beliefs may be, I offer you this my self mocking repeat, yet again to make you laugh and yet again to say thank you to each of you.

Santa

Like a massive multicolored parachute
His boxers have collapsed upon the floor
Slightly south of a wrinkled Santa suit
That was left just outside the bathroom door.

A bunch of imagined elves in repose,
Smokin’ cigarettes, feet on the table,
Hangin’ and laughin’ ’bout Rudolph’s nose
Are lovin’ life as only elves are able.

Another Christmas is, at long last, past
As the fat man shampoos in the shower
And thinks of golf and summer thoughts at last.
Who’s this metaphor for redemptive power?

An old fat guy driving a sled with gifts?
A father at midnight is what it is.

There Is Something Wonderful About Random Spontaneity!

There Is Something Wonderful About Random Spontaneity!

I am learning to trust and believe in random spontaneity!

Although I have been blessed with many friends, since I have committed to writing full time I have been painfully aware that I have few friends who are poets with whom I could converse.

The stars aligned perfectly last week when something wonderful happened. And then things just kept getting randomly better and better…

I had just gotten five copies of the final draft of my first book of poems, An Accidental Diary, from Kerry Sharda, my wonderful book designer. All of a sudden, the prospect of publishing became very real for me. So last weekend I took action.

I booked an impromptu trip to Boston to get advice on the book from a friend and two professors I adore about publishing this first book of poems. I then quite unexpectedly got to meet two poets I had previously never met but greatly admire.

I also had been waiting throughout the pandemic to congratulate Belinda Rathbone on her new book,
George Rickey: A Life in Balance, about the life and work of the famous kinetic sculptor.

I called Belinda hoping to meet her and get her advice but she told me that she was on her way to Scotland. After I told her about my mission, she told me that I should meet Lloyd Schwartz and Gail Mazur, both frequently published and very well respected poets, both of whom were her friends.

I jumped at this unexpected opportunity. How could this be getting better and better? I had their books and decided to bring along the most recent books of new and selected work, Who’s On First by Schwartz and Land’s End by Mazur, in the hope I could get them autographed.

We agreed to meet at Harvest, a restaurant in Harvard Square. I decided to be early but recognized Lloyd from his book cover photographs as he entered the restaurant and said, “I figured that must’ve been you because you were carrying all those books.”

Shortly after we were seated, Gail joined us and we talked for over two-and-a-half hours. We had an amazing link: We had all known the poet Elizabeth Bishop. I had only been her student once but they knew her well and Lloyd had written his PhD thesis on her and was a scholar of her works.

In addition, during our conversation I revealed that Robert Pinsky’s translation of Dante’s Inferno was a favorite of mine and Gail and Lloyd both told me they knew him and that Gail’s late husband had done the remarkable artwork for that book.

After the lunch crowd had emptied out and we finally left, Gail offered to walkover to The Charles Hotel to show me some of her husband’s works that were prominently on display as complete panels on the walls. They were as amazing as the illustrations for Pinsky‘s Inferno.

This was a remarkable weekend for me because though I love my friends I have painfully few friends who are poets.

To be surrounded by these wonderful creators as we freely talked about overlapping themes was overwhelming for me. The two were longtime friends and both agreed that creativity requires interchange and friendship to nurture artistic endeavor.

We agreed to meet again when I next came to Boston. I felt welcome and included and re-dedicated to this, my new and ever exciting profession.

It was all a spontaneous accident, which I come to believe more and more is what art and life is.

I have so much more to do.

Chum in the Water

Chum in the Water

This is the story behind one of the sonnets in my upcoming book.

Sometimes you have to be far above a mistake before you acknowledge that you made it. In my case, it was flying from Belize and looking out the window more than 25 years ago.

The Blue Hole of Belize is a prehistoric giant crater which is over 400 feet deep and 43 miles out to sea from Belize City. From Ambergris Key, an offshore island east of Belize City, depending on weather conditions, it is about a 2 1/2 hour rough ride in a small Boston Whaler.

The Blue Hole was made famous by Jacques Cousteau in 1971 when he brought his ship The Calypso to the Blue Hole to chart its depth and explore its history.

Almost 30 years later, in the summer of 1997, an expedition of cave divers went in to document its underwater stalactite caves and search for its bottom depths.

Around this time, I went with several expert divers. We found it was pretty much empty of sea creatures and very cold as you descended ever deeper into it. We went down 150 feet to the nitrogen limits for 2 minutes. Our flashlights beams dimmed into the nothingness in that dark. If you looked up, far above us, the sky was like a distant open manhole cover and was our only meaningful light. After listening in the silence to our breathing for the two minutes, we ascended slowly with our bubbles to avoid nitrogen build up in our blood stream. It was very dark, cold, claustrophobic, and dangerous. Other divers had reported the same thing. After that dive I decided: “Well, been there, done that; never again.”

A few years later, when I was again in Belize to dive the outer islands, two Ambergris Key teenage brothers with a little Boston Whaler bet me a case of beer one night in a beachfront bar that if I went with them the following morning, it would be the most amazing dive I’d ever done. I refused and refused until I took the bet. This was a very stupid thing for me to have done.

In December 2018, 20 years later, two small submarines were sent to map the Blue Hole’s interior. At the bottom they discovered the bodies of two of the three divers who had gone missing while diving there over the years.

The Blue Hole in Belize

Was I the fool of this sinkhole of the sea
Or a pupil in this aqua ocean?
As I fly home it looks back at me
Without memory or emotion.

Three days ago, while taunting me, Miguel
Said: “You’ve dived it but not with me before.
I dive it deep. I dive it right to hell.”
He took my money but wouldn’t tell me more.

Off the boat, with Miguel still behind,
We checked our gear and descended into cold,
Deeper, darker, to fear of a different kind:
Sharks. Hundreds of them. Darting from the shadows.

At the boat Miguel offered a helping hand,
Laughing.” You understand? We chummed it man.”

From Before the Beginning

From Before the Beginning

The great thing about being a geezer is there are moments when you actually existed before history.

Last weekend, Head of the Charles, the world’s largest two-day regatta, with 11,000 American and international athletes in over 1900 boats competing in 61 events, was held on a three mile course (4,800 meters) on the Charles River between Boston and Cambridge Massachusetts.

On that beautiful fall weekend, more than 225,000 people gathered to watch the races either on the banks of a clean water river or shoulder to shoulder on both sides of the six bridges under which the crews travel. The race has increased in participants and prestige since its beginnings in 1965.

Now I know what you’re thinking. I am going to claim credit for something. I’m probably going to brag that I was there at the beginning or something like that but I’m not.

I was there before the beginning!

I was there back when nobody dared gather on the banks or bridges because they might fall in. Back when The Standells recorded “Love that dirty water (down by the river Charles)” in a pop hit in the ’60s. Back when I had decided I liked girls but I really hated school and was discouraged about myself and I was trying out for crew to row on a polluted river.

High School Crew

In the early spring, when I turned fifteen,
My choices were baseball, tennis or crew.
Between Boston and Cambridge I had seen
Rhythmic oars of singles, eights, fours and twos

Beneath the bridges of the Charles River.
I was appointed stroke. I paced the boat.
Like a surgeon’s stitch our sharp blades suture
The shell’s trailing razor cut as each stroke

Drives us through the smooth and glassy water
And leaves no scar. The coxswain pounds out,
On the gunnels, the rhythm of my order.
Tin cans and prophylactics float past the boat.
Our smooth and perfect rhythmic mantra broke
Beneath the bridges, into echoes: “Stroke. Stroke.”

I like these little prehistory events. They show me if I start from before the beginning, rather than in the midst of some turmoil, I can see how much has changed for the better.

Learning to Accept Love

Learning to Accept Love

Today, August 24, is my father’s birthday. He was born in 1909 and died in 2013. Somehow my love and respect for him continues to grow. It happened over time but it is much like what Mark Twain said:

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.“

Imagine how “astonished” I was by “the old man” after I had continued to witness his learning as he passed 100. He set the standard. He told me one time, “I love you, but I don’t respect you.” He was right. He was always razor sharp and I grew to want his respect.

He had been first in his class in everything he had ever done and could cut through the fog to get to the heart of an issue with a single lightning bolt comment, but the real reason I thought so highly of him was I saw him choose to live with determined integrity.

During the last 15 years of his life, he lived in a retirement home near where I worked. The other old men on his floor gave up shaving for weeks but I would always shave him before he would leave his room as my show of love and respect. I would visit him every afternoon and wheel him into dinner unless I was in a case or out of town.

In the mid-1990s, in yet another effort to win his respect, I enthusiastically informed him that this new Internet thing would open us to world peace. He smiled and said, “probably not that easy.” He was right and I was flat on my face again. I could only think of what he must have thought of me in my teens during the “don’t trust anybody over 30” period.

I was the worst kid ever. I had undiscovered learning issues back then, and well-developed disciplinary problems. I kept getting thrown out of school and — to make things worse — I would disappear to hitchhike through at least 40 of the states.

One time when I was heading back to Maryland, I called home from a payphone in a Howard Johnson’s south of the Chicago because a driver who picked me up bribed me with food if I would call my parents to tell them that I was coming home. My mother answered the phone and could not stop crying because she said she had been so worried. Despite my misspent youth, my father and mother never gave up on me. I was their son despite my failures. They would do the right thing. That determined integrity was a commitment to love. I wanted to learn that.

One afternoon when he was 94, he complained of pains in his lower abdomen and after an ambulance ride to the hospital he was admitted to surgery.

As I prayed in an empty waiting room very late at night, I thought I was never going to see him alive again. On scratch paper I sketched out a sonnet of remembrance. I wrote it after they wheeled him out of the operating room.

My Father

In the end it’s touch that holds memory.
The other senses are immediate
And defend the present territory.
The other four are there to navigate.

Tonight my father went under the knife
And I waited alone with my cell phone
To see what would become of this one life;
Together, separate, and both alone.

For an hour in the last waiting room,
I remembered him as sound and insight,
Too perspicacious for the cool boxed room
That would contain him in this, his last night.

At ninety-four how could he have survived?
I kissed the forehead of a man, alive.

 
As he approached his 100th birthday, we were talking and he, almost as an afterthought, said, “I admire what you have accomplish with your life. I’m not sure I could have done what you have done.” I don’t think he ever realized that was the one thing I had always hoped to hear from him. Our last years together we’re perfect. He had never withheld love. I just had refused to accept its responsibilities.

Shaving My Father

(From a draft I wrote the day after my father’s death at 104.)

This is the last small room in which he will rest.
Every day I visit him at four o’clock.
We balloon the room with our forgiveness.
“Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped.”

Two men knock on his door then wait like guests.
“Not funny for a man this close to death.”
We share what only dark humor can express.
The Marx brothers, for both of us, are the best.

The electric razor hums in my hand
As it cuts along the cheekbone and the neck.
Like a harvester on pre-winter land
I harvest thistle from earth’s intellect

Across a snow bank of thin paper skin.
They zip their bag shut and leave me without him.

 

An Accidental Diary

An Accidental Diary

Ever since I was a little boy I dreamed that some day I would have the opportunity to write professionally full time, so I practiced.

Twenty years ago, I decided, for practice, to write a sonnet a week for a year and to exchange them with a friend every Monday morning for 52 weeks to keep this discipline alive. After that year I forgot about them. They were just another exercise like calisthenics or running laps. It was just practice.

Recently, I rediscovered the sonnets but they were different. I was surprised to find that because I was forced to write every week I had accomplished something I’d never expected. I had written an accidental diary.

What was wonderful about this accidental diary was that it never was designed to see the light of day. It was whimsical and nakedly honest. In hindsight, each sonnet turned out to be a snapshot of a random thought happening at the given moment that I had to write.

Most were finished late on Sunday nights, written from scratch. One I added latter. A few were reshaped from old stuff if I was short on time.

Each sonnet covered every subject imaginable but together they were a subjective scrapbook of a year of my life. They were little stories written in 14 lines which ended in rhymes and a rhyming couplet to tie it all up.

Now as I turn the pages of that year, I can see how unconsciously I developed confidence and a sense of humor and I found my voice.

It is so wonderful to take the time to look back over your shoulder and accidentally discover what you didn’t know you were. Practice makes pluperfect.