My poem would have

Remembering a Jim Daniels poem from the mid-eighties that articulated who I met and loved while working in kitchens. Still love the last line. Never put her down.

May’s Poem

“I want to write a poem
about something beautiful,”
I tell May, the cook.
On my break from the grill
I stand against the open kitchen door
getting stoned.

“That shit make you stupid.”
May wrinkles her forehead
in waves of disapproval.

“I don’t need to be smart
to work here.”
The grease sticks to my skin
a slimy reminder
of what my future holds.

“I thought you was gonna be
a writer. What about that
beautiful poem?”

I take a long hit
and pinch out the joint.
“You’ll end up no good
like my boy Gerald.”

“May, I’m gonna make you
a beautiful poem.” I say
and I turn and grab her
and hug her to me
pick her up
and twirl her in circles
our sweaty uniforms sticking
together, her large breasts
heaving in my face
as she laughs and laughs
and the waitresses all come back
and the dishwasher who never smiles
makes a noise that could be
half a laugh.

But she’s heavy
and I have to put her down.
The manager stands there:
“Play time’s over. Break’s over.”
Everyone walks away
goes back to work.

This isn’t my beautiful poem, I know.
My poem would have no manager
no end to breaks.
My poem would have made her lighter.
My poem would have never put her down.

Critter log: April 14, 2016

Happy to see that Marcus the groundhog has survived the winter. He has either cloned himself, fathered a fully grown groundhog, or imported his long lost brother, Quartus, to his roadside domain. Not a lot of green grasses to munch at the moment. Conspicuously missing from view this spring is Caecilius, the wild turkey that, for two years, has traversed the ridge as a lone crusader. Has he made nice-nice with the flock? Is he their new storyteller? Or is he still solo and on some spring walk-about?

RIP Jim Harrison

Before social media, we had influencers who often took the shape of music and book reviewers in magazines, a monster heap of paper called the Sunday NY Times, an occasional interviewer like Charlie Rose, Dick Cavett, or Bill Moyers, as well as our own classroom teachers.

For my friends at Interlochen, one of our main influences was Michael Delp who was animated by his own genius, but deeply inspired by the writer Jim Harrison, who therefore became a favorite writer to a generation of us. Harrison was a Michigander who had a worldly appetite for food, knowledge, people and literature. He was ours, but he was always bigger. He gathered things abroad and packed them into recipes and stanzas until you weren’t sure if he was Midwestern or a European titled noble who had left the abbey for the Lascaux Caves in search of wine casks lined with beetle shells. Basically, Harrison made you want to grab for history, biology, geology, and geography textbooks. He also didn’t appear arrogant, as he hung an arm over his head to keep his burning cigarette near his ear. He ate headcheese, he paddled kayaks with Brokaw and the founders of Northface, he drove free Subarus for Subaru because they wanted him driving a Subaru. He knew his philosophy, his plants, he could care for wild and domesticated animals.

Best of all, Jim Harrison was the guy that Delp helped us immortalize. We all loved a one-eyed, Bordeaux-stained, story-maker who hid out in his granary, preferred the company of dogs, and who wrote some of the best literature of his generation. So I am sad that Jim is gone, though this is a great excuse to read everything again, but I’m grateful, profoundly grateful, that Delp gave us this soul to ponder, worrying as I do, that the current high school generation risks a steady crap diet of Kardashian.

Skeptical about the enterprise

“Here’s what I love about Dylan – he was exactly as you’d expect he would be… Finishes the song, steps off the stage … comes up, shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin and then leaves. That was our only interaction with him. And I thought, That’s how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don’t want him to be cheesin’ and grinnin’ with you. You want him to be a little skeptical about the enterprise.” ~President Obama

James Baldwin

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” – James Baldwin

Homemade Mamool Cookies

Evidence that we have choices every moment to choose the way we live in the world. From Naomi Shihab Nye:

After learning my flight was detained 4 hours, I heard the announcement: If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.

Well—one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.

Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she did this.

I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick, sho bit se-wee?

The minute she heard any words she knew—however poorly used—she stopped crying.

She thought our flight had been canceled entirely.  She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the following day. I said no, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late,Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him.

We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and would ride next to her—Southwest.

She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.

Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends.

Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering questions.

She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts—out of her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate.

To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California, the lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.

And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers—non-alcoholic—and the two little girls for our flight, one African American, one Mexican American—ran around serving us all apple juice and lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.

And I noticed my new best friend—by now we were holding hands—had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,

With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, this is the world I want to live in. The shared world.

Not a single person in this gate—once the crying of confusion stopped—has seemed apprehensive about any other person.

They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.

Not everything is lost.

Provincetown Post-script

Goodbye Provincetown: neighbors with five pound Brillo pad dogs, beaches with spotted seals, galleries with palette knife nudes, restaurants with Bulgarian summer staff, old sculptors, garden-toilers, bench sitters, accordion players, used books, shady dunes, grey-shingle, white-fox, t-shirt, flip-flop, mailbox, crop-top, post-script, miss-this.


This morning I had a chance to lead an unofficial Great Books workshop at my daughter’s school. I saw thoughtful, attentive, creative kids, plus their wonderful teacher, Diane. This was my first classroom teaching experience in eight years. This is what I felt happening in my head and chest before, during and after: the planning of the workshop was developing two train trestles: 1) the subject area (what stories/what skills should we cover?) and 2) the students (what experiences/what growth do we desire?). Then the train on the track: all aboard, are we listening to each other?; does everyone have a comfortable seat for this conversation?; is everyone sure what the next stop is?; how are we doing with our schedule, do we need to slow down or speed up?; is anyone pulling the emergency rope?; is that the engine or my heart clanging?; what are we seeing out those windows?; what are we noticing about each other inside this car?; who needs help?; who are the doctors onboard?; is the train conductor clear and concise?; is anyone else excited about that whistle?; are we picking up speed?; are we moving?; do you feel dizzy?; are we the same people that we were when we got on this train? And while we can all pretend that the rail itself has a fixed geography, shouldn’t we hop the tracks and do some off-tracking because of that great thing that he said or she said? Also, isn’t it frightening and wonderful to travel with students when the world is outside the car making all of those discoveries and grave errors and explosions and confusion and racket? And isn’t this an impossibly difficult job? And aren’t I grateful to my former teachers and to my friends who teach everyday? Yes.