What We Try to Leave Behind

Fresh out of high school,
I left home–
the place I knew best, and loved most,
with a heavy broken heart.
The break-up with my high school sweetheart
was the obvious reason for taking flight,
but truthfully, I had wanted
to get away from what I was
for a very long time.

I will always remember that warm summer morning when I left.
Just two days after July Fourth,
and just two days before Mom’s birthday.
I remember studying the Greyhound bus ticket,
and thinking of John Denver’s song, Leaving on a Jet Plane.
I felt like crying, but my anger wouldn’t let me.
Somehow the break-up, a summer job in Tucson,
and my deep-seated desire to see the world–
all seemed to fall into place,
and so I got on the bus.

Traveling sixty-eight hours on a bus across America
gives you plenty of time to reflect on your life.
My high school love was not completely forgotten,
but the sight of so many other beautiful young ladies,
like a couple of straight-up vodka martinis,
helped to ease my pain.
I re-read her last two letters,
and kept returning to one thing she had said:
What we had was real, but so are our dreams
to make something of ourselves in life,
and that we should not sacrifice.
Otherwise we are likely
to blame ourselves and each other forever.

While the hurt stun deeply,
I knew I wasn’t willing to give up my dreams.

No mental or emotional conclusions to my questions
during the long hot bus trip, but somehow
I felt like I deserved better in life.
That the life I was given,
but really I had created,
was not good enough
to match the “I am somebody” self-image
that quietly grew inside me
over my first eighteen years.
And yes, the “I am somebody” image
is just a cover for my real self-perception:
“I am nobody.”

I remember looking up the meaning of narcissism
in Mr. Sharpe’s English class, and thinking
I wasn’t narcissistic, because
I was sacrificing my dreams
to be what everyone else wanted me to be.
Upon reflection, that is exactly what I was.
I was consumed by my own will and desires.
I could think of nobody but myself.

I wanted to move on to another life–
in another place, and maybe even in another time.
I thought I could do it; that is shed the life I had,
like a man throws away an old hunting jacket
because of the blood stains
that won’t wash out.
So the Ohio Valley and all it meant to me
became a memory–
left to rust away, like the local factories
that once supported so many men and their families.

For packing so light,
my suitcase seemed so heavy.
Much heavier than I ever realized.
I guess that’s the way life feels,
when it’s filled with blame, anger, and sadness.
And all along,
I thought I had left those parts of myself behind.
Just for a fleeting second,
I felt the tiniest hint of regret.
But that was washed away,
as the bus door opened, emptying us
into a dingy bus terminal just outside St.Louis
for a restroom and snack break.

I never turned back,
but for a long time looked back over my shoulder
at the ghosts that seemed to be following me.
Eventually, I stopped looking back,
and the ghosts disappeared–
into my dreams, awakening me often as shadows,
where the unknown and forgotten
always seemed to linger and dance.

There is a lesson in all this, and that is:
No matter how hard we try,
we can never live happily until
we claim all parts of ourselves.
No matter how hard we try,
we can never forget,
nor go back and change,
what are lives really were, and still are.

I realized all this some time back
while rummaging through some old things
in a trunk in the basement.
I found that old hunting jacket.
I slipped it on.
Surprisingly, it still fit,
but mysteriously, the blood stains were gone.

Click here to hear me read this poem.

(Warning: Sorry, but this is a very big file and it will take 3-5 minutes to download, BUT I think you will enjoy hearing this one.)

On Spotting a Red Fox in the Tall Grass

I saw a red fox today,
and watched it stealthfully wind its way
through the tall grass on the edge of the forest.
Its bushy tail, with a distinctive white tip,
swayed back and forth,
as it carefully made its way toward a nearby thicket.

It didn’t take long for the birds and chipmunks
to spot their cunning predator,
and scurry away, abandoning their lunch
to avoid becoming the fox’s midday snack.

Nor did it take long for the fox
to sense my footsteps closing in on him.
The rusty red canid froze in the grass,
hoping I would lose sight of him.
Then, without warning, he bounded off
into the forest depths,
leaving me only with my footsteps.

I know it sounds silly,
but I felt privileged having seen the creature.
He made me feel that just maybe
God was smiling down on me today.
And I swear, as I was walking back to the house,
two huddled chipmunks high-fived me
to show their appreciation to me
for scaring off the dredded fox.

I told them they could save their applause.

Click here to hear me read this poem.

Cloverfield

There are many fields of clover,
but just one Cloverfield
that means anything to me.
Cloverfield was a special place for me,
as a boy growing up in Martins Ferry,
along the shores of the Mighty Ohio.

I don’t remember when I first visited Cloverfield,
but I recall passing many peaceful summer afternoons,
lying on my back amidst the sweet clover,
watching clouds pass overhead,
and dreaming of far off places
that someday I would visit,
if only in my words.

I didn’t know back then
that James Wright,
Martins Ferry’s first poet son,
had also discovered this place–
this magical field of clover,
where contented Holsteins fed, and
where poets were born.
Well, at least a few anyway.

I didn’t know back then
that Cloverfield would mean anything to me today.
I didn’t know that all those quiet afternoons passed
watching the clouds and listening to the birds sing
would come to mean anything to me,
but they did.
Oh, how they did.

Perhaps there is a Cloverfield in your life.
A simple place where you feel suddenly alive.
A place that feels like home,
where you’re not afraid to talk to yourself.
A place clouds are allowed to be more than clouds,
and where your voice is yours,
no matter what words you say.
A place where poems, like clover,
grow thick and sweet
without even trying.
A place you don’t mind taking to your grave
because you know
you have found your place.

Dedicated to James Wright, a man I knew only through his words, and Annie, his sweet wife.

Click here to hear me read this poem.

Glorious Springtime Leaves

Once they make their minds up,
the leaves on the trees in the forest grow
at lightning speed in springtime.
Sometimes it takes them a while to get started,
but that’s true for all of us,
as we ready for new growth in our lives.
And for all of us,
including the leaves waving to us from high above,
adolescence is an awkward time–
some say, an in-between time,
when we can’t quite decide
whether to be a caterpillar or butterfly.
Each leaf a magical photosynthetic factory,
giving so much unselfishly to something higher;
something more deeply rooted,
something touching the sky, and yes
something that goes beyond itself
to create a forested world,
sheltering even those without leaves.
So, I too, like many poets before me,
pay tribute to the leaves,
towering above us, but always there
grasping sun drops,
and forever waving hello.

Click here to hear Don read this poem.

Meditation on Highest Callings

Help me linger
in the morning sun.
Help me soak up
its powerful warming rays
that fall like velvet
through the trees.
Help me dance
in unending circles
in the scented breeze
blowing gently
across the yard.
Help me never again deny
the magic
that life sweeps across me
in every breath I take.
For then
I have reached my highest calling
in accepting
what life does bring.

Click here to hear me read this poem.

T-r-u-t-h

Those of truth
live in shadows
like those rarely seen.

Those of truth
try their best
to go unnoticed,
like the last flicker of sunset,
before it turns into night.

Those of truth
have stopped searching,
because they know, they have
all they will ever need.

Those of truth
pause to wonder
because wonder is
even more than it seems.

Those of truth,
last and foremost,
find Scarborough Fair
in all they see.

And those of truth
will always know
the end is near
for all but truth
that lingers long
and wanders wide.

But in the end,
truth we know
can never hide.

A Day Without Expectation

Some mornings, even before
we launch out of bed,
we set expectations
about how
the world should be.

Some days,
we form ideas too quickly
about what we want
from the world, and
in so doing,
we preclude truth’s possibilities,
which can set us free
of the illusions
growing inside our dreams.

Just this morning,
as I shrugged off last signs of the night,
I set demands on this very Sunday,
which greeted me
with cheerful chirping birds
and a slight breeze,
rustling the young spring leaves
in the nearby forest.

Fortunately,
a tiny voice inside
nudged me back to reality:
let this day be what it is, and
may you befriend the surprises
that it brings.