Writing in Concert

We sit in folding chairs
and set our elbows on the plastic tabletop.
Its bumpy surface doesn’t slow us.
The mah-jongg game in the next room
erupts in loud laughter.
Still, we are not deterred.

Pens scratch.
Hands swish across smooth sheets,
pages are turned, paper rattles.
We hold our breath
or sigh.

Sip coffee.
Or rest our foreheads in our hands,
eyes closed, thinking.

There is companionship in writing alone
Our thoughts are secret
but our output obvious.
We start together with the same prompt
then wander separate paths,
secure in the knowledge that
each step is worthy of its effort
and will be celebrated.

Celebrated, whether spoken or
Celebrated by our fellow writers
in the chamber music of creation.


Does worrying about the world get you off the hook?

If you’re compassionate, does that mean

you can let your own work


If you focus on the big picture,

can you ignore the niggling details

on your desk?


What if there are hungry children?

What if there are bombs and floods

and haters and extinctions?

Really, what about the hungry children?


Are you to blame if you haven’t stopped the wars

or staunched the tides

or fed the children?


Or are you to blame if you

neglect to tell that story and sing that song?

Ask Yourself

Now is the time

to reckon with time’s


There are no endless strings

of days to spin,

no heaps of months,

no piles of years.


Someday, some child

will search your files and drawers

and wonder.

Why is this sentence unfinished?

This sweater unraveled?

This plot unresolved?


Take a bottle of cobalt glass

and toss it on a stony beach.

First the shards are sharp.

But sanded by waves and time,

they soften to sapphire nuggets.


Now is the time, if you want,

to knot the yarn

and finish the tale.

But ask yourself


What is the one thing

your time is worth?

Do that.


You can leave the unfinished



Now is the time.

The Only Antidote Is Truth

In America, this story goes,

cowboys vanquished pesky Indians.

Pilgrims bravely crossed the Atlantic,

found religious freedom, and served turkey.

Workers, imported from Africa, made jazz,

great background music for parties.

Railroads were built by industrious Asians

so we learned to use chopsticks.

Smart men became rich drilling holes,

harnessing rivers, creating code.

Coming home to delicious suppers,

compliant wives, dutiful children,

they donated their extra cash

to libraries, museums, and universities.

Anyone could become president, right?


This story leaves out

the scars of the whip

slashing through families, tearing apart

self-esteem and hope.

This story neglects the part

about mass graves, lynchings, vicious prisons.

About women killed for wearing the wrong dress

or sold for an hour of another man’s pleasure.

It is deaf to the cries of children,

screams of anger,

moans of despair.

It leaves out

the snuffing of entire cultures,

denigration of ancient knowledge

and denial of dignity.


In America, this story is an essay

formed of lies

steeped in blood.

Blood seeps from between the pages of its book.

It drips from fingers as pages are turned.

It spews from the mouths of those who tell it.


Tellers and listeners

are both sickened.

Slick with blood

they slip farther apart,

away, distant, opposed.


The only antidote is truth.


Tell the true stories

of America’s holocausts.

Admit the sins of

supremacy and profit.

Embrace in love those once




Only then

can the blood be staunched

and the wings of our people

made free to fly.

Be on the Watch

In March in this exotic place,

The songbird trills in the pecan tree,

The calico cat lies curled in the fountain.

Jasmine and honeysuckle perfume each inhalation,

And the wind blesses my hair.


Back home the snow has landed again,

The wind not gentle but fierce.

It’s white all around.

I’ll go back there and bring this warmth,

My mind calmed and rested.


Back home I’ll be on the watch

For the crystalline glitter of the snow,

The comforting scent of fresh coffee,

And the chatter of chickadees and nuthatches.

I’ll shovel a path to the car

And rush to meet and talk and make music.

I’ll be on the watch for warmth.


I spoke that story.

Stood before the crowd.

Read the words.

Watched heads nod, eyebrows rise, eyes lower.

Heard sighs at the end.

Wiped that story out of my mind.

And embedded it into theirs.

What Seeds Do I Hold?

I am not a vessel.

I do not hold the seeds of change.

I cannot fix this broken world.

What seeds do I hold?

Only these:


The sun casts warmth

and the bud unfurls.

The rain fills the curled leaves and

earthworms scribe the dirt.

I do not make it so.

I only delight in its happening.

And spread the word.

Just Hold On

Hold on to what you cherished as a child

for that love came from an unfettered heart.

Hold on to the wildness you find out of doors,

even the slight scent of balsam or the quiet of snow.

Hold on to the physical sense of your life

even the itch of a bug bite on your sweaty arm.

Hold on to the noise of the world around you

though the honk of a car hurts your ears.

Hold on to the brothers and sisters you argue with today

for tomorrow they will say something you don’t know.

Just hold on to that noise of music and stories,

for silence is the worst kind of loneliness.

Praise Song (after Lucille Clifton)

to shy Miss Parker

who stood up to the school board

and demanded in her wavering voice

her students be allowed to read

that book.

Praise her bravery.

She believed in me even if I didn’t—

oh I thought I was smart but I wasn’t


She was, though. She ignored the slights

of foolish teenagers and ignorant parents.

She plowed right past the sly laughter and grumbling.

Praise the books that gave her strength.

One afternoon in summer we brought an unwashed ungrateful

through-hiker to her mountainside home.

She took him in for the night.

Praise her open heart.

Can you see her, her ancient mother, and the hiker

sitting round the kitchen table,

eating homemade bread and soup?

Praise the lamp that encircled them in light.


I learn by going where I have to go.

The wind directs my pace, the sun’s my coat.

Tomorrow I may stay but now not so.


Beyond the hills my eyes discern a glow.

Upon the sea there lies an anchored boat.

I learn by going where I have to go.


Loud voices jam the wind, yet still it blows.

I read to calm myself these words I wrote:

“Tomorrow I may stay but now not so.”


It seems so safe to follow what we know.

But here’s a bridge, yes, walk across the moat!

There is a world beyond and I must go.


My life is like a wave, all flux and flow.

Set free the tethered boat, just let it float.

I learn by going where I have to go.

Tomorrow I may stay but now not so.