Back Home.

May 28, 2017 § 4 Comments

For me, songwriting usually begins as a back-and-forth with my guitar. Noodling around, I find a loose thread of melody and give it a tug to see if a song is attached.

Then a bit of lyric comes, the melody choosing the subject it will take for a ride. Little by little, the song reveals itself. The message of the song may be powerful, emotional, but the process isn’t. It is the equivalent of doodling, or casting a line into dark waters to see if anything bites.

But once in a great while a song wells up. It pours out as if from a reservoir I didn’t know I was carrying. This uncontrolled outpouring is always triggered by an emotional disturbance so profound it overwhelms the logical it’s-okay side of my brain.

Back Home is that kind of song. (The title is the link to the video).

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There is something embarrassing about death.

April 2, 2017 § 4 Comments


If you forget to lock your car and it gets broken into, indignation masks embarrassment. You have, in a way, issued an invitation.

Die, and it provokes the question, what door did you leave unlocked? How did you invite death in?

Perhaps the dead look forward only, but if they glance back, that unlocked door is probably easy to see.

Too much sugar, cigarette smoke, a failure to look both ways, a blithely ignored message written into the genes, a job too stressful.

If only…. I sure wouldn’t do that again.

But dead is rather final.

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My catalog of you.

January 29, 2017 § 9 Comments

trike1

Claudia, Chris and my mother.

You and I go way back.

Way, way back.

I know you through a trail of moments that shine like a comet’s tail all the way to the horizon.

Vanished moments, vanished days?  None are really gone. They’re all right here in my catalog of you.

Versions you have outgrown or discarded? Got ’em, right here. Preserved as if in amber. The you of right-now is the hardest for me to see because I view you through the lens of all the yous I have known over the years.

I carry with me at all times, the scrapbook of you–I can open to any page.

Old? You’re not old. I’ve known you young and that’s who you are. What wrinkles?

matthews-classIf you are my best and oldest friend I still see you with chapped knees, waiting with me at the school bus stop up north. Remember up north? We’re still from there although it’s been years.

We don’t see each other all that often. Family and work obligations. You know… We are arrested at some point in the past, back when we had time, back when we were close.

That’s who you are to me, and who I am to you, still a couple of kids at the bus stop, or college roommates, or student teachers at the same elementary school. We could pick up that thread easy, if and when we get together.

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Finding Christmas.

December 20, 2015 § 18 Comments

Walmart, 12/19/15

Weary shoppers leaned on the handles of their carts.

Searching for Christmas at a bargain price they filled their buggies with plastic and polyester but it was easy to see they knew what they had and that it wasn’t Christmas.

Christmas, the genuine article, is one part made-by-hand, and two parts memory.

Mildred's Pound CakeThis is Christmas: my family’s traditional holiday cake known simply as “Mildred’s.”

Mildred was a long-ago neighbor of my grandparents in Congers, New York.

I suspect the recipe came off a can of Crisco sometime in the thirties or forties, but to us the cake is hers, the recipe an unwavering part of our family’s Christmas celebrations.

I baked and shipped a couple of “Mildred’s” this week, late as always in the get-ready-for Christmas department and therefore paying, as always, an outrageous amount to ship Crisco, eggs, and flour.

And so it is Christmas—that pulse that runs through this time of year whether our celebration is religious or secular.

We are shoved and coerced and schooled on how to find Christmas by ads that encourage us to give diamonds and drones and the latest handheld devices.

For me finding Christmas is as simple as opening the annual can of Crisco and setting out eggs so they can come up to room temperature.

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Perhaps memory…

April 27, 2015 § 4 Comments

Long Island Summer.

Perhaps memory is a string of beads

we add to day by day.

My brother has that kind of memory.

Thorough, sequential, detailed.

***

Perhaps memory is an old home movie

Clicking through a projector,

the color shifted

toward gold.

 ***

Perhaps memory is a stone

lying on the riverbed so long

all the rough edges

have worn away.

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The strangers we live with.

June 1, 2014 § 5 Comments

One ordinary afternoon that should, by now be long forgotten, I was sitting with my parents, when suddenly I was looking at strangers.

Two people in their early forties, the man was quite bald, the woman wore an ambiguous smile.

It lasted just a few moments, but for that brief time I disconnected from our all-my-life history, our shared memories, the absolute familiarity of their faces, the influence of our affection for each other and saw them as they were right then.

Wondering, who are these people? scared the daylights out of me.

Dad and kids.But as the narrator of Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It” observes, “It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.”

They elude us, at least in the present, because this moment trails so many others behind it.

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Leaf harvest.

September 21, 2013 § 8 Comments

Virginia Creeper.Every autumn there came a day,

(invariably a Saturday or Sunday)

When the colors peaked.

And my father and mother sat in the front seat

of perhaps the maroon Studebaker with the

I LIKE IKE button on the visor.

In the back, my sister and I held empty paper bags,

for the leaf harvest, my brother and his Tonka truck between us.

My father would drive ’til he came to the railroad track,

a silver zipper down the back of the

gaudy dress of September.

Sassafras Leaves,While Chris rode Daddy’s shoulders

Claudia and I candled found leaves against the sun.

Beautiful, more beautiful, most! We dropped them in our sacks.

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Here is your assignment.

August 30, 2013 § 8 Comments

A glass of ice water.My favorite aspect of modern life is the easy availability of a tall glass of ice water.

You may cast your vote for other advances.

Like TVs that don’t go to a test pattern at night.

Or the companionship of the unblinking bright eyes of appliances ready 24/7 to heat a burrito or send a fax.

Or the always-there-for-you friends who inhabit a virtual cloud, one that will never take the shape of a turtle, or Pegasus, or Grandma Moses.

Still, for me those accomplishments pale beside that glass of ice water, sweaty with condensation on a hot summer day, the kind of day that causes you to sweat too, and check out the Grandma Moses clouds overhead for the possibility of a cooling shower.

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The great intangible.

May 17, 2013 § 10 Comments

At first, happiness was a store window, everything I wanted behind shiny plate-glass, unattainable, but brightly lit.

In my ordinary life I had a lot: a loving family, plenty to eat, other kids to play with. Still, I pressed my nose to the glass and yearned for more.

If I couldn’t touch happiness I could always describe it.

At ten, happiness looked like a pair of black patent leather T-strap shoes, with princess heels of course. The happiness that would be granted by putting on those shoes included confidence, head-turning beauty, a satisfying click as I paraded down the hall—the full happiness package.

Moo.A dog of my own was the happiness I craved throughout childhood until, after college I got one…and another… and another.

The dog of my imagination would love me as-is, would understand me, would not talk behind my back, would not care that I wasn’t popular, high-achieving or cool. Happiness had a wet  nose.

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The Grand Tour.

March 16, 2013 § 5 Comments

London Bridge.In my fourth grade bedroom was a pickle jar, the label covered by a photo of London Bridge cut from a travel ad in the New York Times Magazine.

In the jar was loose change, a crumpled dollar bill; my start on getting from my bedroom at 5 Canoe Broke Drive, Princeton Junction, New Jersey to “The Grand Tour.”

I yearned toward a world I had thus far experienced only as ink on glossy paper.

I got there too. I backpacked across Europe during college with two shirts, one jumper, a pair of pants, and a thin sweater. Coldest summer of my life. I knocked on the doors of Italian relatives who had clearly not gotten the letters my grandfather sent explaining who I was and that I was coming.

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