Tuesday, October 30, 2018


Sometimes I ask you,
as if you are here to ask,
Where did you go?

I am looking in a drawer that is still full of your stuff —
scraps of paper with phone numbers or notes or aphorisms, receipts, stuff that was yours —
and your absence once again throws me off kilter and into the terror of absolute loneliness, loss, and oblivion.
The Pit, Sheol.

I look at your unfinished painting I hung on the wall, so your beauty is always with me.

These are the days of the dead, late October, early November, when we visit the catacombs and look at the skeletons of loved ones.
These are the days when we make sugar images of that which we fear most and children put on masks and costumes of their fantasies of desire or terror,
and all of us enjoy the colors of death on the trees.

Are you in nature, in the sunset sky you stared at as you were so long in dying?
Almost as an infant stares at the world, you stared at the world you were leaving.
Did your breath really return to that which made it possible to begin with? To life universal? The breath of God?

I remember and I can never forget when your breathing stopped and your sister tapped me, she was taking your pulse and it stopped while I was kissing your forehead.

These are the days of the dead, and we tend to our shrines or tell ghost stories or watch the parable of Linus in the pumpkin patch.

Linus, who stopped the show to read from the gospel the meaning of Christmas, and then started his own cult, projecting his messiah upon a fat orange figure, and doesn’t Linus now become a symbol of the evangelicals who revere a hollow jack o’ lantern whose candle will one day sputter into the void? 

But today is not that day, 
because these are the days of the dead.

These are the days that grow shorter as the darkness spreads, and grow cold and frozen.
In weeks to come we will gather together to keep each other warm and to have our harvest feasts, and ask the Lord’s blessing, and light Advent candles, but now I am still looking for the gloves and caps and scarves, and it hasn’t started snowing, yet, but it will soon. 

You and I watched a movie where the living dead came out of their graves, following an inscrutable demand.
One day I will wake up from that nightmare
and turn off that horror movie, but not today, 
because these are the days of the dead.

Why did I dream of you last night?
Why were you so young and beautiful and dancing in the yard?

“The ghost is nothing but a stick with a sheet on it,”
you said.

You, who drank the darkness.

Friday, October 05, 2018

'ell if I know

We should be able to agree on facts, empirical facts, but if we cannot even agree that there is an elephant in the room, and that the elephant is shitting on the carpet, and eating all the food, and breaking things, and is feeling cramped in my apartment, into which he was not invited, and if the problem here is that YOU are the elephant, we’ll have to sedate you and remove you to some place out doors where you’ll feel comfortable and free-range, free from primate interference.

But when the elephant in the room says, “There is no elephant in the room,” he is speaking correctly, because he is in truth a rhinoceros.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Man of constant sorries

I’m sorry about the time I called you the C word
and I’m sorry about that time I called you the B word
and I’m sorry for that time I said "F word you" to you in front of your kid

and I am sorry I scared you that time I broke a window with my fist

and I’m sorry for those times I didn’t pull my own weight with housework 
and I’m sorry for being such a slob

I’m sorry I stared at your breasts and your ass and I’m sorry I touched you inappropriately 

I’m sorry for stringing you along, for leading you on, misleading you into thinking I and only I could give you what I and only I knew what you needed
and I’m sorry for not knowing what you needed and and not giving it to you

I’m sorry for my existential cowardice and I’m sorry that existential cowardice is an issue for me

I’m sorry for giving in to despair so readily and attacking myself and turning into the black hole that you stumbled into

I’m sorry for when my self-righteous rage burst out at you while I slashed your self esteem to pieces with my words

I’m sorry I didn’t ask you what contraception you were using or brought my own condoms and I am sorry I was often unprepared and too often impotent and I’m sorry for my immaturity and irresponsibility and confusion about sexual ethics and sexual politics and lost in the galaxy of feelings and needs that arise in the erotic encounters and I’m sorry about all that porn

I’m sorry I did not have the confidence that I had or could acquire the skills to be a husband to you and the father of a child

I’m sorry I will never be able to tell you how important you are to me and how grateful I am that we were together

It is easy to correct my politics and easy to talk women’s equality women’s health women’s right to choose and to read Betty Friedan and easy to express outrage about sexual violence and sexual harassment and chant Her Body Her Choice outside Trump Tower,
and the political personal is the personal political, 
but person to person you and me could be so complicated and painful

we were once so simple and happy 
face to face in a holy space we know is real
and I’m sorry we didn’t stay in that place
and let it slip our minds and forgot
and I’m sorry we became so estranged from ourselves
and I’m sorry I became so strange and 

I’m sorry I’m so, so, strange

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Letter to my father

My mother died on Father's Day, eleven years ago, and my father died a year later, on July Ninth. I last talked to him on Father's Day, 2008.

Dad, I will try to call after I write this letter, but I want write it first.
Today the temperature is supposed to go over 100. It is now 10:37AM and supposedly in the 80s, but there is a breeze coming through our windows. I am organizing my studio, sorting through piles of paper and photographs. I need very little of it but have trouble getting rid of most of it and I wonder why. I have a box of letters from you and Mom and it is easy to understand why I keep them. I think all of this stuff is a kind of memory bank. When I sort it out and look through it I am reminded of places I lived, places I worked, people I knew, things that happened.
I haven’t even opened the boxes I brought up from Florida after the last visit and I’m not sure what is in them, since I packed them last year. I know I packed some old newspapers Mom saved that have headlines about Kennedy’s assassination, Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, ML King’s assassination, Watergate, Moon Landing. She got me started on that practice — I have headlines about Reagan getting shot, the first Gulf War and the 2000 election. I don’t “need” all these newspapers but I like to look at them once in a while (every ten years or so).
Anyway, my plan is to exhibit some of my paintings in my studio and bring people over to look at it. I am restoring and “renovating” paintings and also doing new ones. It is very slow going.

Betty told me when you moved to the Lake Placid facility. I wish I’d known about that change earlier and could have timed my last trip to help with  the move, but it was rather sudden.

June 18 4:45AM. I get up at 4AM Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and make a breakfast of coffee, toast, and raisin bran. No sha-sha. I usually read, and often write, until some time around 5:00. Between 5 - 5:30 I leave (after kissing Lori goodbye) and make a 15 minute walk to the subway station. Once I saw a raccoon a block from the building, digging in some garbage. It is usually a pleasant walk and I like to see the stars and the moon in the morning. The train is on an elevated track in Brooklyn and crosses the Williamsburg Bridge. If you look, you can catch a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. Once across the river, the train goes underground.

April 6, 2009. I am ashamed and saddened when I see that the letter stopped 3 weeks before you died and I wasn’t able to finish it. I felt that it was becoming too trivial — a description of a typical work day. I don’t know what it was I thought I should say but I couldn’t say. I was afraid to talk to you about my lack of faith in the core doctrines of the Gospel as you and Mom understood it, although the real core of it, I thought we did share. I still think that the “real core” of Jesus’ teaching is that we love God (and know we are loved by God) and that we love one another. I think that the love you and Mom had for God and for each other, and for me and Betty, and that you sought to share with others, was the message you were sent forth to give to everyone. You found God’s love in scripture and in prayer. You put scripture to music so we could remember it, and you prayed every day. Mom wanted me to know, above anything else, that I could take anything to God in prayer, and talk and commune with God, and be in God’s presence whenever I needed to. This faith was at the center of your world view and the way you approached people, wanting to share your faith in God’s love, and to share the love with your generosity and your concern.
When I saw you and Mom next to each other, holding hands, I wanted to be the kind of husband you were, and now I’m afraid I haven’t been and I’m afraid I don’t know how to give Lori everything she needs  and to provide for her.
Lori is a very beautiful and spiritual woman, and her love and generosity is very much like yours and Mom’s. She also believes in the gospel of Jesus and she is seeking spiritual healing and power to deliver her from the pain and fear and unhappiness she was born into. I love her very much and hope I can become the strong and loving man she deserves.

Dad, I love you and Mom so much and miss you and wish I talked to you a last time and told you these things.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Moon Temple

Last year an atrocious building was put up in my neighborhood and the feeling of my neighbors is that it is a visual assault and insult to those who have resided here for decades and who have lived with the view the building now obstructs. Its stands on two fat legs that are like the two halves of a split ziggurat set apart but joined at the top by a hipbone bridge, an asexual crotch, like a not yet completed figure of an idol of Capitalism or the bottom part of a crypto-Babylonian monster that was severed at the middle, its top half thrown into the East River, yet still it stands guard mindlessly, an architectural obstruction forbidding my view of the Lower East Side and the river.

Miraculously, I like to think, the queen of the night appeared this morning to claim the alien structure as her own temple and shined her All-Seeing Eye through the gaping hole in Moloch’s belly and looked directly into my broken heart.

Monday, December 18, 2017

A Cautionary Advent Tale

Some time ago, long before any of us were born, before TV, before movies and automobiles, somewhere in the vast American wilderness between the Atlantic and Pacific, there was a small desolate town where the industry, whatever it was, had failed, and the crops, whatever they were, also failed, and the people were starving physically and spiritually. Some killed themselves and many became addicted alcohol or to a patent medicine derived from poppies, and these defeated townsfolk loitered in the public square without any hope and full of resentment.

“They call it The Land Of The Free, but we ain’t free. The city folk and foreigners and degenerates and even the slaves are free, but we ain’t free.”

One day, unknown to any of them, a circus train from New York City went off the tracks of the railroad a mile or two from town. This circus might not have been the greatest show on earth, but it was great, it was so great, you wouldn’t believe how great it was, and its main attraction, its star performer, escaped into the woods. It was a rare and rather rambunctious ape of some kind that was covered with remarkable orange hair.

The orange ape wandered aimlessly and free through the woods until it by chance reached the town and immediately caught the attention of the people in the square who had never seen anything like it and who thought it was the biggest man, the manliest man, they had ever seen. The people cheered and laughed at this heroic figure as it howled and swaggered to the center of town. They followed it as it slouched toward the open doors of the church, one of those lovely white country churches. 

The minister had finished his meaningless sermon to his empty church. He was a newcomer and a foreigner and he was much smaller than the ape and not as manly, and when he saw the Beast come roaring in the door he was alarmed. This clergyman was weak in faith, but he recognized an abomination of desolation when he saw one. “God help us all!” he screamed, and fled in holy terror into the wilderness, never looking back.

“What a loser,” the townsfolk cackled.

Meanwhile, the orange ape howled and beat his chest and cavorted around the sanctuary, overturning pews, smashing symbols of faith, greedily slugging down the communion wine, devouring the wafers, and defecating on the altar while the mob cheered.

“BEHOLD!” his followers shouted, “Our Savior will make us great again!”

 Their orange messiah grabbed the big Bible from the pulpit and tore it to pieces, throwing them  in the air,  grunting, “MA-GA! MA-GA! MA-GA!!” 

“MAGA!! MAGA!! MAGA!!” the delighted mob chanted in response
A page ripped from the gospels landed on an Advent candle and caught fire and a burning cinder attached itself to the ape’s orange fur. The flaming beast howled and ran about the church, spreading the fire until the building and the entire town were burned to dust and forever lost from history.
God help us all.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

universal monk in urban desert

This alien planet was getting to be too much for us,
with its stupid politics and insane wars and money gods, and we needed to get away.
We wanted to flee to a desert
and live in a cave and find God and find ourselves.

So I escaped the alien world, and its alienation,
and found a shelter in a rent-stabilized cave in the wilderness of Brooklyn, and I sit in my cell, because my cell will teach me everything,
so I am told,
I sit cross-legged on my futon sofa before sunrise
and stare at the shadow of the candlelit Guadalupe figure we bought,
as it dances on the wall
and contemplate our return to dust,
because it is Lent.

On the Last Day the sun will go supernova and whatever is still alive on this planet will be incinerated,
but that is billions of years away and it’s not my problem.
Global warming might incinerate everything first, but I don’t own a car

so don’t blame me, and that won’t be for a while and it’s not my problem.
My problem is that one of us has already returned to dust, a box of ashes.
Is that you? Art thou that?

I hang my questions on the wall where the shadow dances, because the alien world,
with its stupid politics and insane wars and money gods, is here in this cave,

sitting on the futon sofa,
talking to itself and disturbing the silence.

One day, any day, will be the last day
when the sun in my brain goes supernova and my world is incinerated and I am also reduced to dust.

The candle flame moves and the shadow of the holy mother dances on the wall until sunrise,
when it disappears in the light,
as I will disappear in the light,

as you disappeared in the light, leaving me a box of ashes.

My situation is this:
I live in a loft in Williamsburg. I moved in when I got married. I moved my studio into the space that adjoined my wife’s studio and bedroom. I was 52 and she was 47 and neither of us had children. We were the children. When we were kids both of us wanted to be beatniks. We had different spiritual backgrounds and ideas, but we invented our own rituals that centered on our fanciful notions of Guadalupe as a goddess figure.

Lori died of cancer two years ago. She had home hospice care. A hospital bed, oxygen tank and other equipment were moved into her studio, and we put mylar curtains over her big window to keep out the heat of the sun. Many people volunteered to help us in Lori’s last weeks. People brought food, cleaned the studio, and did whatever was needed. After she died, I invited these volunteers, who I called “the sisters and brothers of mercy,” to come to a gathering at the studio. This experience showed me the importance of compassion, the wisdom in compassion, and the need for community.
Last year I came upon a copy of The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton on a bookseller’s table on Bedford Avenue. I’d read it over twenty years ago, during another transitional phase, and I opened it up at random and read about his meeting with the Dalai Lama. I had been reading about Tibetan Buddhist teachings on death and dying and studying Biblical teachings. I thought the observations of this Christian monk on his journey to the East would help me on my own spiritual journey.
In 1968 Merton took his first extended leave from the monastery, his first time out of the country in decades, to attend a conference in Calcutta where he was to speak to persons representing Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Sikhs, about what the monastic traditions of the East and West had in common.
In his talk he went beyond that to extend the concept of “monk” to include people who were not part of established institutions.

Excerpts from Thomas Merton’s View of Monasticism:
“In speaking for monks I am really speaking for a strange kind of person, a marginal person, because the monk in the modern world is no longer an established person with an established place in society.”
“Thus I find myself perhaps representing hippies among you, poets, people of this kind who are seeking in all sorts of ways and have absolutely no established status whatever.”
“Are monks and hippies and poets relevant? No, we are deliberately irrelevant. We live with an ingrained irrelevance which is proper to every human being. The marginal man accepts the basic irrelevance of the human condition, an irrelevance which is manifested above all by the fact of death. The marginal person, the monk, the displaced person, the prisoner, all these people live in the presence of death, which calls into question the meaning of life. He struggles with the fact of death in himself, trying to seek something
deeper than death, and the office of the monk or the marginal person, the meditative person or the poet is to go beyond death even in this life, to go beyond the dichotomy of life and death and to be, therefore, a witness to life.”
“The only ultimate reality is God. God lives and dwells in us. We are not justified by any action of our own, but we are called by the voice of God, by the voice of that ultimate being, to pierce through the irrelevance of our life, while accepting and admitting that our life is totally irrelevant, in order to find relevance in Him. And this relevance in Him is not something we can grasp or possess. it is something that can only be received as a gift. Consequently, the kind of life that I represent is a life that is openness to gift from God and gift from others.”
“And so I stand among you as one who offers a small message of hope, that first, there are always people who dare to seek on the margin of society, who are not dependent on social acceptance, not dependent on social routine, and prefer a kind of free-floating existence under a state of risk. And among these people, if they are faithful to their own calling, to their own vocation, and to their own message from God, communication on the deepest level is possible.”
“And the deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless. It is beyond words, and it is beyond speech, and it is beyond concept. Not that we discover a new unity. We discover an older unity. My dear brothers, we are already one. But we imagine that we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.”

I wanted to do this talk, because I wanted to understand why this passage affects me the way it does, why I felt he was addressing me when he spoke of a marginal person living in the presence of death, seeking something deeper than death and beyond the dichotomy of life and death, but also seeking deeper communication with others, deeper communion, and community. And that is what led me to Original Blessing.
Merton says such communion is predicated on persons being “faithful to their own calling, to their own vocation, and to their own message from God” — and this seems to me to be the deep meaning of “Bring Your Own Beliefs,” and describes the practice of these people I’ve been associating with this past year.
Like you, I am concerned about perpetual war, global warming, bigotry in all its forms, economic inequality, equal rights, and other social justice issues, and I need to know what I can do, what I am most suited to do, what my vocation is.

I have never made a living as an artist. I have sold very little of what I made, so I supported myself in a series of low paying jobs. I was laid off from my last job in 2009. In the last years of her life, my wife became successful enough with her work to support both of us. Now, at age 63, I am looking for a place in this world, with its stupid politics, insane wars, money gods, but I am also looking for a place among people who look for meaning and value outside the marketplace. I am not planning to become a Catholic monk, or a Buddhist monk, or a Unitarian monk.
I honestly don’t have any better idea what my niche could be on the alien planet, with its stupid politics, insane wars, and money gods, now than I did forty five years ago when I registered for the draft. I like reading about fourth century Christian hermits, the first monks, who were not at home in the new Christian empire and sought an authentic experience of God, and an authentic transcendent community.
Merton’s last talk was to an audience of Catholic clergy in Bangkok. It is more of a sketch for a talk, or notes for a future work. He speaks of the monk as a person who “takes up a critical attitude toward the world and its structure” and he examines some of the ideas taken up by the counter-culture back in those days. I believe he was on the threshold of a revolutionary message, had he lived long enough to return home and contemplate what he learned in his journey to the East (he died by accidental electrocution shortly after giving this talk).

from Marxism and Monastic Perspectives:
“I think we should say that there has to be a dialectic between world refusal and world acceptance. The world refusal of the monk is something that also looks toward an acceptance of a world that is open to change. In other words, the world refusal of the monk is in view of his desire for change.”
“The whole purpose of the monastic life is to teach men to live by love. The simple formula, which was so popular in the West, was the Augustinian formula of the translation of cupiditas (ambition, greed, lust) into caritas (love of humanity, charity), self- centered love into an outgoing, other-centered love. In the process of this change the individual ego was seen to be illusory and dissolved itself, and in place of this self- centered ego came the Christian person, who was no longer just the individual but was Christ dwelling in each one. So in each one of us the Christian person is that which is fully open to all other persons, because ultimately all other persons are Christ.”

I know not everyone wants to hear that they are “Christ,” and I also know that not everyone agrees on what the word “Christ” or “Messiah” means, and maybe I should go back to his more ecumenical Calcutta talk about an original unity beyond words and concepts. I will call this “X.”

I am waiting for X.
The waning supermoon hangs on the sky, a crumbling white disk in the daylight.
It’s a pretty day in an invisible war,
in the Eye of an invisible storm.
It is early in the morning and I am waiting for X

I perform a mass for X, and contemplate X, and wait for X to speak from the whirlwind
X marks Here or There in my unreliable maps. Here You Are and There is where your treasure is. Your treasure is buried in the abyss.
Your treasure is buried in emptiness.

X holds the fire of creator destroyer
X beats the drum of existence
X says Fear Not, I am unarmed
X indicates the revolutionary situation
X crushes the ideology of power and possession X blows the horn that blasts down the walls

X dances in the temple
X takes a Giant Step into the unlimited

I am watching for X, and I am waiting for X within me, I mean to say within us.
X stands at the Door.