Two Poems at 3 AM

Yesterday’s Pocketful of Pretend

“Promising title”
Says his therapist,
Wanting him
To stay
In the moment,

Not trusting
The title or
The lines to
Really have

It would take
More than a
Few clever words

To wake him
From his
His fiction
He calls a life,
His now.


The Night Growth

Poetry grows
best at night
like the hair on my face —
only to be cut short
every morning
by the light
in the bathroom.

Time to grow
a beard. Time
to harvest
the night growth.

That Poem I Promised You

Let me preface this poem with a bit of an explanation. A couple blog entries ago, I wrote about my time in South Dakota at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. It was a powerful, moving experience that, like many important moments in my life, I needed some extra time to more fully reflect upon. A few days ago, this poem popped out of my head/heart/hand in the wee hours of the day. It might be about my experience in a sweat lodge from South Dakota (read more about what that is in my July 23rd entry). Or it might be about being born. Or it could be about being re-born. Or maybe it’s about all those things.

“If I Had Words”

Never Forget and Always Be Thankful

For years, I have meant to read a book by Chris Bohjalian. He has become a well known author and is Armenian (like me). Besides a few early poems, I had not delved completely into one of his works until now. I found the audio version of The Sandcastle Girls (follow the link for short reviews and a deeper plot summary) at the library and began listening to it in the car a few days ago.


I chose the book, partly, because it deals with The Armenian Genocide quite directly. This is the centennial of those horrific events that my four grandparents survived, but from which more than a million Armenians perished at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. The story deals more with the plight of the hundreds of thousands of refugees, like my grandparents, that were scattered from Turkey throughout the world as a result of the killings. It’s a gripping book, that actually had my eyes filling with tears before I was two hours down the road.

My emotional reaction came mostly from being able to connect what was happening in the story with what I have been told about the genocide (as well as from Bohjalian’s excellent writing style). It’s been awhile since I read Peter Balakian’s Black Dog of Fate (a must-read on the topic) and I think Bohjalian’s characters seem fairly real to me because several of their names are the same as my relatives: Armen, Annie, Nehvart, Garo, and Taleen.

I am proud to be Armenian and enjoy the food, dances, snippets of the language I remember, and the other facets of our culture. I am, however, quite disconnected from the Detroit Armenian community. My extended family keeps me informed of bazaars, which we attend from time to time. Two things that have united the Armenian community for as long as I can remember are to never forget the genocide that our ancestors experienced and to always be thankful for every aspect of our current lives. I was unable to attend a centennial service in Livonia this week, but I heard that those two aspects were emphasized. It was the first time that five different Armenian churches had come together and according to my family members was an emotional and powerful experience.

This year, I felt compelled to share the story of the genocide with my 7th and 8th grade English classes. After reading the book and seeing so much in the news about the 100th year remembrance, I thought they might be interested. I was pleased that they were surprised and curious about it once they knew the basics. They bombarded me with questions and I did my best to answer them. I hope that our short discussion got them talking about it at home and sparks their curiosity about that time in history (check out the additional resources at the end of this post if you are also curious), as well as their own background (which many of them don’t know).

Years ago, I wrote the following poem and it’s been hard to find a way to say it any better; the Sandcastle Girls inspired an additional stanza in the middle.

A Hope Unspoken

Dedicated to my grandparents:
Mardiros and Kagazig Godoshian and Giragos and Annig Kabodian

Sometimes I forget
they lived with the pain of their parents’ murders
no safety net,
no example, no peace
life was of their making
with a daily pain remembered

Sometimes I forget
they were so young and came so far
it could have been any place
but they settled here
led to this more perfect place

Sometimes I forget
they spoke from their hearts
but were not understood
for their words were foreign
this new land distrustful

Sometimes I crave water
but I don’t really know thirst
And I’m exhausted at the end of the day
but my day has never been
A torturous walk into barren lands
at the beckoning of a gun

Sometimes I forget
they coped with little
provided for many
complained minimally
praised the Lord

They laughed, sang, danced, hugged
with a hope unspoken:
my life

Additional Resources:

* Read the prologue to The Sandcastle Girls on Amazon — click on the link on the left that says “look inside” or “listen.”

* 100 years, 100 facts — An amazing storehouse of information related to the causes and effects of the genocide

* A beautiful, musical/artistic video representation of the genocide

* Turkish Foreign Minister on CNN attempts to give Turkish side

* Excellent NPR story on the last Armenian village in Turkey

* Katie Couric’s report on the Armenian Genocide

* AGBU (Armenian General Benevolent Union) News Magazine online

I woke up with an idea for a poem

Here’s a draft of yet another rhyming poem; maybe I’m a songwriter and I didn’t know it.

It’s My Addiction, Leave Me Alone

There once was a time
I can still recall
When I didn’t
Need it at all.

I lived a normal,
Public life.
Didn’t crave
My tobacco knife.

Now I can’t stop
I need a stab
Makes perfect sense,
Can’t you understand?

I crave my knife
When I get up,
Just like you
Crave your cup.

There are things
That we all need.
They hurt us, though
We don’t bleed.

Yours is accepted,
Yours is “good.”
When I take a stab
I feel as I should.

It keeps me able,
It keeps me sane.
With my tobacco knife
There is no pain.

So, don’t be a hypocrite.
Don’t want to hear you moan.
It’s my addiction,
Leave me alone.

I said,
It’s my addiction,
Leave me alone.

P.S. Aaron is about to leave Texas. Here’s a link to the map of his progress. Will he slip into Oklahoma briefly or will he dive directly into Arkansas? Only he knows.

Poem for the day

I’m writing a poem a day this month, National Poetry Month. I won’t be sharing many, but here’s a rare rhyming attempt.

Trying to be a Wise Guy

Planning for the future
Is never a waste of time.
It gives us hope and purpose
When our world won’t rhyme.

But live for today,
For each moment is a present —
A unique and delicate flower
Of infinite beauty and singular scent.

Think fondly on the past
And learn from it what you can;
It’s a bittersweet fruit
Of the tree from which we began.

love, that blissful complication

I opened 100 Selected Poems by e.e. cummings and this is what I saw:

if i love You
(thickness means
worlds inhabited by roamingly
stern bright faeries

if you love
me)distance is mind carefully
luminous with innumerable gnomes
Of complete dream

if we love each(shyly)
other,what clouds do or Silently
Flowers resembles beauty
less than our breathing

And somehow it was what I needed to hear/read. Love is that hard to understand relationship that keeps me going. It’s ultimately worth it…and wondrous…though mysterious.

Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan

Dylan is 73 today. This singer-songwriter who confused and amazed me growing up is a survivor. For awhile there, I thought I was supposed to understand every word of his songs. The beauty and metaphor of his writing evaded me until my mid-twenties. I didn’t get it. The more I put time into my own writing, the more I started to appreciate the rhythm of his words and the depth of his thoughts. And my son, Aaron, elevated my love of Dylan by playing his Tombstone Blues over and over until I was telling people “the sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken.” More recently, I read his autobiography, Chronicles: Volume One. His personal story and musings gave some insights and spurred me to buy a book of his lyrics. And just when I was starting to feel like I almost-sorta understood this mystery man, I read Joe Henry’s tribute to him on Facebook today. And I realized that I still don’t get it.

This blog entry is really about Joe Henry. Yes, I went to high school with him, but we weren’t close. And yes, I’ve seen him in concert with Lisa Hannigan and was blown away by them both. Even shook his hand and told him I enjoyed the concert. However, none of that means I really “get” him either. Read on and see if you hear Dylan in Joe’s voice. Read on and see if you can imagine writing/creating this art. Here’s Joe Henry’s Facebook post for Dylan’s birthday. I bow to you, Joe. Thanks.

So what, really, are we to make of this bumpkin –this speed-thin freak? This flashing comet circling back to feast on its own tail? This lurking gypsy poet bandit scoundrel demon shaman: hiding in plain site, dangling the very keys to the kingdom yet poised to set them on fire right here in front of both you and your mother?

He: angry and coy, bashful and funny; a cheap date and a most expensive habit; he with the worst taste in wine and the most exquisite taste in boots; he with the beagle in the front seat and hat so wide he needs to leave the driver’s side window rolled down a bit. He with the unwashed teeth. He of the dated maps and the rusting bent blade; he of sworn testament and witness protection; he of the bible and the television, the child bride and the lonesome carney stare, with licorice whips and a clown tattoo; he with the errand boy’s inside story and forged history; with dead parents and a pinstripe suit, with the thick glasses he pretends not to need as he points you out to the captain with such casual certainty that even you yourself do not protest when they drag you below in chains. He on the white mule.

I have been breathing his fumes and eating his dust for decades and can’t stand the sight of him; have been finding his thorns in my mattress for so long now that I have learned to make tea out of them and like it. I who have worked his ruined plantation without pay. I who did not invent the airplane. I who ought to goddam know better and do. I who knew the mustache was a phony and still admired it when he asked me to.

What are we to make of this real-deal counterfeit lawyer with the slinky dancers and an ironclad alibi and a car waiting? And what on earth might we do for him, now that it is his birthday?

Survival Poems


Quieting the voice
In my head
Seems impossible
Until I try.

Tell it to stop
Think of nothing…

Open to

And wait






Open to



Middle School

It’s all about testing…limits.
“Where’s the line?”

At first, they run up to the line
Touch it
And run away.

Just to see what happens,
What are we going to do?
Will we follow through?

Mid school year
The fearless ones cross the line.
Quick-look left, quick-look right
Jump around a bit to attract attention
Then the slow, cool walk back
Behind some convenient façade —
parents, medication instability, the accusation of a peer, or another fiction.

By April, though,
The line has blurred,
Partly because it moves around,
And all that motion attracts them
Like fresh meat in a river of piranhas.
The flood gates open and testing-for-testing’s sake
Occurs daily, pushing “friends” in front of the train occurs randomly,
And some just jump off the border bridge
From hundreds of feet into the
Rocky river below…
What do they have to lose?

It’s funny…
But I wonder if they realize
It happens every year
Every year across the country, the world.
Middle school students
Experiment with the line
Dabble with maturity, but don’t choose it
Their teachers feign outrage
When we can almost predict it
Like the second the bell will ring.

Note: Every class of students is unique, of course.

Earth Day Poetry


Elijah called it a ‘writing train’ I believe. Madison must have been writing on Mary’s back, too, before I walked up. We were outside on a brisk Earth Day, writing poetry. They were having fun, which (these days) appears like a waste of time…but isn’t. I can’t say everyone was having fun between the chilly breeze and being assigned to write observations of the Earth. Most seemed to enjoy being outside and being free to write, though, since they knew what was coming — tomorrow and Thursday are the last two Smarter Balanced pilot testing days. They’ll be in front of computers testing the test, which is the antithesis of writing poetry. I read a recent article about why poetry matters; I liked the reminder that “we hunger for ways to express ourselves that feel the most true, and bend to our most human voices to create new shapes in the world.” That’s what I heard from some of the students when they shared their poems in class later — they were expressing joy and anger and everything in-between. We need to get outside and keep writing those poems…even after Poetry Month.

Winter Construction

Winter Construction
Dedicated to MacDonald Middle School students and staff

I feel like a patient,
Awake during the operation.

I can see what’s going on vaguely
But I don’t understand most of it.

People are moving around industriously.
Walls are moved, too, and added here and there.

At random intervals, I hear loud,
Banging and sawing sounds

And they seem close by, like I should be concerned.
But I’m not. I remember that I’m under mild sedation.

Exactly what they are operating on
Escapes me.

I long to wake up in Recovery
With a nurse, or a warm sun, smiling over me.