The Passing of Grandfather Red Oak

You stood for three centuries,
giving shade and shelter
in the ancient forest,
where so many times
we walked in silence
on warm Sunday afternoons.

You graced us with your beauty,
and we marveled at your enduring strength,
helping us not be quite so afraid
of death’s inevitable knock,
and the chill that forever remains.

You fell with great thunder,
like that shaking the skies,
and left the deepest impressions
the earth below will always remember.

So much you’ve seen
throughout your life,
I cannot begin to imagine.
So many birds delighted
as you held them tight during storms
and in the darkness of the night.

Your leafy canopy gone,
but never forgotten.
Your rugged bark
so many woodpeckers once climbed.
And oh how we loved your rusted leaves
that fell in autumn
and brought back so many memories.

The hole you leave behind in the earth
and most of all in our hearts
can never be filled,
but rest now, sweet Grandfather Red Oak;
for your work is done.

A tribute to a magnificent red oak tree that
stood for over three hundred years in the
Holden Arboretum in the Cleveland area.

Click here to hear me read this poem.

Dad and His Words

Dad always loved words–
long ones, short ones,
tall ones, and fat ones.
He especially adored unique words
ringing in your ears like musical notes.

He minced words every chance he got,
and he still does at eighty-five.
Good-spirited verbal volleyball was his sport.
No crossword puzzle was safe for long
when Dad had a sharp pencil in his left hand.
Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary was his best friend,
and Roget’s Thesaurus was a close runner up.

Dad loved writing poetry.
Not something most millwrights do
in their spare time.
Every morning the muse danced for him, and
there were poems about nature, the Holy Spirit,
and anything else lending itself to rhyme.
Yes, Dad liked rhyming poems best–
those sounding like harps, guitars and pianos.

Each poem, when finished, was always printed
ever so neatly in Dad’s best handwriting
with a blue ballpoint pen.
Much later, of course, he turned
to the old black Royal typewriter
that went clackety clack,
when its silver keys were pressed into action.

Yes, my Dad had a love affairs with words,
and everyone who knew him
knew of his passion for morphemes, collocations, idioms,
phrases, colloquialisms, and euphemisms.
And everyone was surprised
that a man turning wrenches for a living
could turn heads and hearts with his words.

Most of all,
Dad was a man of his word.
His word was never idle chatter
nor meaningless fill for empty spaces
on a page or in a conversation.
Like most men of their word,
Dad opted for silence
over promises he could never keep.

Thanks Dad for teaching me to love words
and for insisting that I live up to my word.

Click here to hear me read this poem.
(Takes a few minutes to download.)

Response to Being Tagged

Kai tagged me and so I must share 8 random bits of information about myself.

Here they are:

1. I love my wife (Mary) and my two sons (Jeff and Jason) very much. How they put up with me, I will never know. All three are important teachers in my life.

2. I was born with an insatiable curiosity and interest in many different things. Sometimes my divergent interests cause me to move in too many different directions in my life. I am easily distracted by these differing interests and must work at keeping them in balance.

3. My real calling in life is spiritual guidance. I resisted it for too long, but began surrendering to it in the early 1990s. I was on my way to being a minister and missionary fresh out of high school, but did an about face when my hormones got the best of me and led me astray.

4. I gave up an academic/athletic (football) scholarship at a small church college in Kankakee, IL to go to the University of Arizona in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I lived in sin nonstop for three years and have never regretted it.

5. Because of my last name, most people think I am a full-blooded Italian, but I am only 25% Italian. The other 75% is 50% German and 25% Swiss.

6. I have worked on economic consulting projects in 41 US states and 13 countries during my career. In the early 1980s, I spent the better part of two years working in East Asia. It changed my life in more ways than one.

7. I love writing. Poetry has been a part of my life since my high school years, but I have only taken it seriously in the past four years. I just published my second book of poetry, which is far from my last. I have published nearly fifty academic and professional journal articles, book chapters, and monographs on economic development and environmental issues. I co-authored a book on economic development in 1999, and currently I am writing a new book on leadership.

8. My career is shifting in new directions that reflect my spiritual path. Poetry, workshops, book-writing, speeches, and life coaching are likely aspects of the next leg of my career. Meaningful work, authentic leadership, creativity, and personal transformation are all reflections of this new path. I try to live up to Gandhi’s advice: “Be the change you want to create in the world.”

Rather than tag anyone in specific, I invite everyone to share their life with others.

This Week’s Best Selling Poetry Books

Which poetry books are selling best? Don’t know? I didn’t know either. The Poetry Foundation provides a reasonably good answer to this question.

What is the Poetry Foundation? The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, is an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. It exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience.

Click here to read about the best selling poetry books in America by the large and small presses, according to the Poetry Foundation.

The top five books for the week of May 6th are:

1. The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems (paperback) by Billy Collins (Random House).
2. Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins (Random House Trade Paperbacks).
3. Thirst by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press).
4. New and Selected Poems: Volume Two (paperback) by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press).
5. New and Selected Poems: Volume One by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press).

You know what is really funny? Billy Collins and Mary Oliver are two of my favorite contemporary poets. I might add that Mary Oliver hails from the Cleveland area.

Lost in the Moment on Erie’s Shore

Like a thirsty dog,
the lake lapped the shore,
leaving driftwood and other minute possessions
for treasure hunters, young and old,
in search of clues,
shedding light on the miracle
we call life.

Sun fell through outstretched trees,
lining Erie’s coast,
adding to the mystique,
luring us to the magical water’s edge.

Just beyond the worn stone breakwall,
silver-white lake gulls bobbed the waves,
occasionally swishing their longish bills
in the steel-gray water.

A pious-looking fisherman,
with a scruffy graying red beard
and large rough hands,
dumped his leftover minnows in the water,
creating a commotion among the gulls,
who quickly traded their peace for a savory meal.

As we rounded the top of the last hill,
looking out over the sparkling lake waters,
we eyed a large freighter in the distance
and heard its bellowous horn.
Only then did we realize,
we had been helplessly lost in the moment
on Erie’s beautiful shore.

Click here to hear me read this poem.

Declaration Day

On this still spring morning
the silence is broken
by twenty-one stinging shots
and the haunting sound of taps
that drifts and lingers
like a ghost
across the cemetery
behind us

Each note
speaking the names
of so many serving
and dying
in battlefields
and on innocent streets
in wars
not theirs
that killed and maimed
so many

Remember those
who believed
in their hearts
they had done the right thing
for country
with their lives

Click here to hear me read this poem.

Click here to hear the sound of a bugle playing taps. (It’s worth it!)

The Battle of Bands on Religion

Religious belief.
Few topics are more hotly debated,
and yet most debates go nowhere
except in closed circles
always meant to be left open.

There are debates between circles of belief,
like Christianity and Islam, and
there are debates within circles of belief,
like what different brands of Protestants believe, and
there are debates within circles within circles of belief,
like what different brands of Christian fundamentalists believe.

Most all appeal to an authority,
which they claim is the highest, but
how can there be any truly final authority,
when there are so many?
There can’t be.

The good news is that most belief systems
point to something higher,
which, in one way or another,
helps us keep our insidious egos in check.

The bad news is that most religious debates
seek to emphasize differences
and ignore what all share in common,
which is that none have the answer for all.

Many have tired of the ranting and proselytizing
of organized religion, and have chosen
to label themselves spiritual.
But I find even the spiritual camp
to be overflowing with debates
about who really knows the real deal
when it comes to the Divine.

And then there is the ongoing raging debate
between science and religion,
which makes me laugh, as now we watch
both using consciousness as a fulcrum
to lift up their ideologies.

So what are we left to believe?
Believe what you will, but remember
that whatever you believe
can and will limit what you know.

As for me,
I am writing this poem,
instead of sitting in some hard church pew
on this Sunday morning.

Click here to hear me read this poem.

This poem was prompted by a recent exchange with one of favorite aunts about religion and spirituality. By the way, neither of us won the debate. 🙂