Bitterness – #poetry

bitterness

You say someone pissed in your champagne?

Well.
In a sweltering kitchen—
curses and elbows
and the clatter of pan on stove—
patience gets minced,
and kindness pulverized.
Tempers simmer under jittery lids
until it feels like someone has attacked your soul
with a grater soaked in salt and lemon.

Although some romanticize this chaos,
calling it a vigorous dance
or a whirlwind of ecstasy,
it’s more like a knife fight—
a frenetic self-defense against
the relentless assault of little time
and vast expectation.

So, madame,
when you suggest
that someone pissed in your champagne,
I feel obligated to defend the staff,
who have no time for such shenanigans.

And please,
before you protest,
I feel further compelled to point out
that we do not
in fact
serve champagne.

So, with this knowledge,
you may give careful consideration
to the possibility that,
in the end,
the one who pissed in your glass
is yourself.

Privilege is the ability to live with blind spots. How to uncover your blind spots and recognize your own privilege.

Last year I mentioned to a friend that as a college educated straight white cis male born in a wealthy suburb, I have all the privileges except one: Christian privilege. My friend replied that there’s no such thing despite my many daily examples of feeling “less than” for not subscribing to Christianity. My friend’s main point seemed to be that yes

Christian privilege is what makes this an important photograph.

those things were real but it was unfair to paint all Christians with a single brush. Many Christians don’t wield their religion as a weapon.

I replied, “So you’re saying hashtag not all Christians?”

Today people knee-jerk the equivalent of “hashtag not all [insert group here]” a lot. It shows up as #NotAllCops. It shows up as #AllLivesMatter. It started as #NotAllMen when #YesAllWomen became a movement. Sometimes it shows up as a 300-word statement without any hashtags at all.

I was totally guilty of the #NotAllMen thing, and it hurt when some of my best friends beat me down hard over it. I got pretty righteously smacked around, and it took me a while to understand why.

It doesn’t matter that #NotAllMen is a true statement. It doesn’t matter that #AllLivesMatter is a true statement. It doesn’t matter that #NotAllCops is a true statement. What matters is that each of them is a different way of saying, “I am not listening to you. I reject what you are trying to tell me. I won’t try to understand.”

Any time you feel the need to say “yes, but hashtag not all [whatever group you belong to],” stop. Instead of making it about you personally and defending yourself (“maybe there are women who have suffered harassment or abuse, but NOT FROM ME”), listen. They are giving you a chance to see the world from their perspective, to step into their shoes and imagine what life is like for those without the privilege you take for granted.

As a man, I haven’t ever felt at risk of sexual abuse, and I believe I honor every woman’s right to feel safe from abuse. So, being told that I am perceived as a threat by women who don’t know me (#YesAllWomen) felt like I was personally being attacked–I felt like I am being pre-judged based on how I look, not on who I am.

As long as I was in my #NotAllMen defensive posture, I was unable to see the systemic sexual oppression that women were trying to explain to me. My male privilege made it a blind spot. Blind spots aren’t moral failings; we all have them. Defensiveness, however, is an intellectual failure.

When you hear a black person say “black lives matter,” stop hearing “your life does not matter.” Start hearing what the phrase represents: That every black person is suffering some form of discrimination, harassment, or violence every minute of their lives in America. Instead of denying that systemic racism exists because you can’t perceive it, consider that you may have a blind spot. Listen to what black people are saying, then look for examples in your own life where a black person’s experience might be very different from your own.

It’s not hard to do.

All you have to do is realize that any time you feel like answering with #NotAllPeopleLikeMe, you have an opportunity to see your own privilege and learn to understand how people without that privilege experience America.

junior varsity – #poetrymonth #poetry

junior varsity

At the crack of the gun
they lurch and surge
with all the chaos and color
of three hundred
discarded candy wrappers
whipped by a summer gust

they come
glowering
prepared
determined
charged with anticipation
of the pain to come
and the deferred joy
of the finish line
three miles away

We parents
behind our cameras
bark inspiration and optimism
imagining rather than feeling
the ground tremble
under the pounding ferocity
as they gallop past.

Barriers – #PoetryMonth #poetry

barriers

cheap whiskey, neat
in an antiseptic hotel bar
across a broad table
its fake wood grain sticky
with syrupy drips
and saccharine words

secondary colleagues
chatter and whine
about pretentious plenaries
and boring breakouts

glass empty, bill paid
duty complete, I rise
offering feigned regrets
to cover one final glance
at your mahogany hair
and flushed cheeks
and tired green eyes

you catch me
at the elevator
we both push fourteen
and laugh, surprised

on the slow rise
I relish the strawberry scent
of your lip gloss
and ask after your kids (good)
your job (fine)
your husband (oh, you know)

what are the odds
in a hotel with 2,000 rooms
yours would adjoin mine

as we mumble our goodnights
in the dull fluorescence
I wonder if you also wish
that the only thing separating us
was a thin panel of drywall

Final day for free books – March 27

Today (March 27) is the last of a 5-day run where all my books are free on Amazon for Kindle. Get them all here (click title or cover for the Amazon page):

LIFELIKE
For teens and adults
Have you ever loved someone who could kill you with their paintbrush?

Jewel’s artistic talent is like magic, as if her brush were a witch’s wand, not a simple painting tool. She thinks she could surpass the old masters, if she could only escape her parents’ plastic existence. When she’s finally out of high school, she flees to San Francisco and a fresh start.

What she doesn’t know is that her talent is fueled by an untamed and dangerous magic which makes her an unwilling threat to the people she loves. When a mysterious, alluring art teacher promises to train her to control and harness that magic, Jewel puts her future–and her body–into his seductive hands. She soon discovers she’s not his first pupil, however, and as she learns the truth from the girls who came before, Jewel is faced with a terrible choice: Give up painting and spend her life running away, or risk her life–and her very soul–to destroy the man she’s fallen in love with.

SEMPER – first in the “New Eden” trilogy
For teens and adults
Three hundred years after nuclear war destroyed most of the Earth, Southshaw exists as a lush oasis in a desolate, charred world steeped in radiation. The Ancients were able to keep out the mutants and preserve Southshaw’s mountain valley, establishing a peaceful and thriving community built on faith and simplicity of life. Technology is forbidden, as the pursuit of knowledge is believed to have led to the nuclear apocalypse twelve generations ago. It is Semper’s duty to manage the community and provide spiritual leadership to Southshaw’s citizens.

Dane is in line to become the thirteenth Semper of Southshaw. On the eve of his sixteenth birthday, however, he finds that the ghost stories from his childhood and the frightening tales of mutants in the north are not just legends. But the legends are not entirely true, either. And suddenly he’s faced with a choice he never expected to make: should he take his place as Semper, obeying his cruel uncle and twelve generations of Southshaw Truth, or should he follow his heart and risk exile and death to unearth the real truth? An exotic huntress, a mythical ghost-man, and a tailor’s daughter hold the keys to his answer. And to the survival of Southshaw–and possibly all of humanity–itself.

FORSADA – second in the “New Eden” trilogy
For teens and adults
Lupay isn’t afraid of fighting, but what can one girl do against an army? Thousands of Southshawans, whipped into a war frenzy by a fundamentalist demagogue, are poised to sweep in and crush her home of Tawtrukk, and Lupay is powerless to stop it.

Or is she?

Driven into hiding and pursued even into the depths of the mountain, Lupay and her friends do their best to resist. But resistance won’t withstand the onslaught forever, and ultimately Lupay must choose: flee into the radioactive barrens of the Desolation, or rise up and fight fire with fire, like the legendary Tawtrukk warrior queen, Forsada.

FREDA – final book of the “New Eden” trilogy
For teens and adults
In the aftermath of war, false friendships, failed loyalties, and new alliances make truth difficult to see clearly. The battle for Tawtrukk is over, but the madman that started it all has escaped, and now he has instructions for detonating the nuclear bomb that stood dormant in the Southshaw chapel for thirteen generations. If he can’t be stopped in time, Freda will have to find some way to lead the survivors to a new home over the mountains, into a land she’d always been taught was an uninhabitable wasteland of smoldering radiation.

Cryptic clues left by Southshaw’s Founders three hundred years ago suggest that the land may not be as desolate as everyone thought, but can those clues be trusted? Can Freda unite the bitter, angry remnants of the Southshaw, Tawtrukk, and Subterra peoples? Can she get them to follow the clues when many think they lead to death instead of to the paradise Freda believes they promise?

THE BAD LIE
For 3rd to 6th graders
Jay had hoped to spend the summer after fifth grade at his dad’s in New York, but instead he’s stuck in boring day care while his mom works and his friends bike around and have fun. Jay’s weekly bright spot is the day care’s golf outings at Fair Elm Country Club on Monday and Wednesday afternoons. Although his cool friends make fun of him for being in day care, he likes golfing with Becca, a smart girl on the fringe of the popular group who’s really helping him improve his putting. When his friends convince him to “have some fun” one night with their bikes, things turn bad. Jay’s efforts to stay out of trouble backfire, causing even more problems and almost destroying his friendship with Becca. On the verge of starting middle school, Jay has to choose: He can either lie and keep his popular friends while avoiding punishment, or he can own up what he’s done and win back Becca’s respect.

We shouldn’t have to flatten the curve

I’m a healthy person. I have a healthy family. Only once in 10 years have we even come close to hitting our annual deductible.

Yet conservatively speaking, in premiums alone I’ve contributed over $125,000 to the healthcare system over those 10 years.

Now I’m sheltering in place, can’t see family and friends, can’t travel, can’t go out to bars, can’t watch soccer or basketball on TV, can’t imagine the horrors that my friends with small children are facing with school closed probably until the fall.

By now we all know why this is necessary: Flatten the curve so as not to overwhelm the medical system’s ability to treat people. I’m not an asshole; I don’t want people to die because they can’t be treated.

But it should not have to be a choice between hundreds of thousands of deaths and destroying the economy.

Look, Congress, I really appreciate that if I miss work because I get the virus, you’ll help me with 2 weeks of sick pay.

But what happened to my $125,000 from the last 10 years?

In America, we buy “health insurance.” But there’s a problem: the health insurance industry is not a healthcare industry; it’s in insurance industry. Insurance is about minimizing financial risk, which means eliminating anything that looks like unnecessary spend.

As President Trump famously said, “I’m a business person. I don’t like having thousands of people around when you don’t need them. When we need them, we can get them back very quickly.”

Health insurance is an insurance industry, not a health industry. It’s run by financial people, not health people. It squeezes the healthcare providers until what society gets is minimal acceptable capacity, at maximum allowable price. It squeezes out redundancies and contingency systems for catastrophes because at some level of catastrophe, insurance becomes untenable. It makes more sense for the insurance company to go bankrupt than pay out.

I always hoped I was getting more for my $125,000. I hoped those premiums were propping up the world’s best healthcare system, with the best equipment and staff… and the best capacity. I always thought I was getting something more like the green line:

Notice the area covered by the two curves is roughly equal. Social distancing, sheltering in place, and plunging America into a recession won’t stop people from getting infected. It’s all designed to keep our healthcare system from getting overwhelmed, which would lead to more deaths.

But where did my $125,000 go? And why did my 401(k) drop 30% in the last three weeks? And why are people I know getting laid off?

All because Americans have been frightened into believing the myth that government-paid healthcare will be inefficient and lead to unnecessary deaths, so a private insurance industry can keep their shareholders happy?

America, it’s time for a different system.

one afternoon – #poetry but not #poetrymonth poetry

one afternoon

It rests in the rolling shallows,
this boat that once had a name
and a worthy purpose,
bumping against its crumbling dock
in the absent-minded rhythm
of the water’s eternal rise and fall.
Cracked and clouded windows
stare at us with a vacant scowl
like marbled eyes in the rest home
when other people’s grandchildren
tiptoe past the open door.

You and I meander the trampled grass,
reminisce around rocky inlets,
taste the spiced breeze of low tide.
We stroll along the polished train tracks,
their shiny new gravel peppered with
discarded, rust-crusted spikes.

stillness – #poetry but not #poetrymonth poetry

stillness

The little purple rose,
petite petals gathered
in restrained propriety,
stares all day
out my bedroom window
like an old maid
with her plaid blanket
of rough Scottish wool
smoothed across her lap.

With the patience of generations,
she watches the changeless scene,
her gentle smile turning toward
the winter sun’s waning warmth.

All she asks is
a sip of water
a few kind words
and the rich taste
of her deep-rooted memories.

detaching – #poetry but not #poetrymonth poetry

detaching

A snip, a slice–
One rose past its prime,
its petals turned sepia
and brittle
like parchment
left too near the hearth,
tips and tumbles
to thud in the dust
at my neighbor’s feet.

I watched her all morning
as she eyed the bush
not unlike the way a crow
inspects a squirrel carcass
squished on the street.

Three times her snips rose,
and thrice she relented,
retreating to survey the bush anew.

I finished two mugs of coffee
and one crossword puzzle
watching her seek
the perfect pruning position.

The bush, for its part, never flinched.

This warrior,
with her feints and posturing,
armored in her striped cloth gloves,
and flop-brimmed sun hat,
and flannel yard shirt,
glowered like crusaders of old,
the grim grime of eons
etched in wrinkles
on her face.

One snip.
One slice.
One step toward peace.

make or break – #poetry but not #poetrymonth poetry

Make or break

Stubborn,
snow clings
in the high branches
against the gales
pouring from stoic granite peaks.
A gray day.
Quiet. Tensed.
I twist tight my scarf,
turn my face to the winds.
Only in their sharpness
does clarity come.

If it comes at all.

I’ve walked
up this mountain
through hip-deep snow
for a dozen lifetimes,
and I will walk it
a dozen more,
building footprint stories
erased by time
and the failures
of memory.

Ever bright,
the lights of your cabin windows
gleam in the distance,
like a tiger’s eyes–
both curious
and disinterested.

As I plunge forward ,
I wonder
not for the first time
whether this climb
is truly
worth the effort.