The Past

Our minds have grown around the past
like a tree that swells over a boulder
as its leaves push upward and outward.
The seasons pass,
the sap runs black,
the old trunk groans,
until the two are one—
though sometimes weaker for it.
Then, in some blissfully distant fall,
an evening wind may blow just right
stressing the tree along this fault
or ending the work the boulder began;
and were it to be removed by some
misguided arborist (or therapist),
the entire trunk would crack
and tumble to the grass.
No, we cannot ever escape the past.

a question

are poems ensconced somewhere inside my mind
like some hidden treasure I’m trying to find

or demons we summon with blood sacrifices
an addiction we feed with the rest of our vices

from erudite sex after months of gestation
or some kind of socially safe masturbation

are they sculpted completely in only a moment
or are we shaping slowly and don’t even know it

is a poem a seedling becoming a tree
or some captive bird that we have to set free

for some, I suppose, it’s a source of contention
but I think that most poems start out as a question.

Gwiggle Pie Soup

First you take a giant pot
Then fill it with water, piping hot
Combine with two whole ears of corn
And half a t-shirt that’s been gently worn
Taste with old can on a broom for a ladle
Then mix in tomatoes smashed flat on a table
Add orange and apple pie juice to the broth
Then stir the whole mess with an old stiff washcloth
You throw in you sister when the water is cold
Plus three-year-old cheese that is covered with mold
Then spill the whole gwiggle pie soup on the floor
Take the can off the broom and sweep it all out the door
Then sit back and relax, my good chef, you deserve it
Your work is all done before you even serve it!
For you know the best part about gwiggle pie soup?
You don’t have to eat it—because it eats you.

This was a fun poem to write because I didn’t do it alone. My silliness rubs off a lot on my kids, and my three-year-old started telling me about this crazy idea she had for a thing called “gwiggle soup.” The “pie’ part came later, as I egged her on, asking her questions and taking notes of the ingredients on my phone.

Two little girls

Two little girls went out for a walk
in the chilly autumn air,
and they gathered handfuls of leaves as they talked,
and the leaves were as gold as their hair.
They followed the path that cut through the park
and wound with a slow little creek.
They never minded the frost on the bark
or the cold wind that bit at their cheeks.
They fed the ducks leaves from the withering trees,
but the ducks didn’t seem to care
I said with a sigh that ducks didn’t eat leaves,
but the girls only wanted to share.

Belief – A One Act Play


Man 1: A young scientist

Man 2: An older scientist, whose hair is graying at the temples. The age difference should be obvious, but not overly done. It would be apprpriate for the actor to be wearing a cross.

Computer: A computerizes voice that says a few system warnings and a countdown


[The stage is set so that monitors line the walls. There are two chairs, in which the characters are seated. In center stage is a door or a casket-like chamber. Lights, wires, and displays litter the scene. Man 1 is on stage right. Man 2 is on stage left. They work on separate consoles, looking away from each other.]

Man 1: What is it you hope to see?
Man 2: I think we both know the answer to that question.
Man 1: (Laughs) Do you really think it would work?
Man 2: The machine bends time and space. Theoretically it should. You’ve done the calculations yourself –
Man 1: (Waves the comment aside) I mean: would you find what you’re looking for?
Man 2: (Shrugs) Science has fueled the faith of many.
Man 1: (Pauses) And taken it from many more.
Man 2: (Turns to face Man 1) I don’t see why science and religion have to be at odds with each other.
Man 1: (Turns) Fact will always oppose fiction.

[They stop working at their consoles to argue. The conversation gets more heated as it progresses.]

Man 2: Well now, that’s a matter of opinion.
Man 1: And what isn’t?
Man 2: Truth.
Man 1: What is truth?
Man 2: Truth is something you can live your life by, something that never changes. Like a law. If followed, a truth will always yield the same result. It’s really quite scientific…
Man 1: [Mocking] The same result? Scientific? Ha! How many versions of Christianity are there again?
Man 2: Yes, but the basic principle of each is the same: faith.
Man 1: Faith? Why have faith when you can know something? Wouldn’t you rather be liberated by knowing how things really are?
Man 2: Well of course: “the truth shall set you free.”
Man 1: Truth? Religion was the science of a primitive world; Myths and legends to understand what primitive minds could not explain. Science has proven unpopular religions to be false because no one cares enough to support them. No one says “Greek religion” anymore, it’s “Greek mythology.” What makes their beliefs any less valid than yours? Why do you accept the science that kills their gods and reject the science that kills yours?
Man 2: That’s different. We know what causes the wind; we know what the constellations are; we know what the sun is –
Man 1: And we know that the earth is not 6500 years old.
Man 2: According to who?
Man 1: Science has proven it! Radiometric dating proves beyond a doubt that the earth was formed 4.7 billion years ago. Your Bible says that God made the earth 6,500 years ago! That absolutely cannot be true, and so your god did not create the earth.
Man 2: Carbon dating cannot kill my God.
Man 1: But it can prove that he exists, right? You will accept any science that confirms your faith and reject anything that debunks it. What’s scientific about that? If archaeologists found a giant wooden boat that carbon dated to around the time of Noah you would say that it proves Noah existed, but the same science that could prove that proves the earth is billions of years old and you reject that knowledge. How can you do that?
Man 2: If there was science that proves God exists, would you not reject it to confirm your belief that he does not exist?
Man 1: I… I don’t know.
Man 2: Regardless, I don’t think science has all the answers, especially when it comes to spiritual matters. I believe that the scientific method is a valid way to solve problems in the physical world, but I think there is another world too, one outside the realm of scientific discovery. A spiritual world.
Man 1: What if there’s not? What if it’ small a lie? Would you rather live a lie your whole life than know the truth?
Man 2: (Thinks for a moment) Honestly, if it helped me understand my purpose in life I would. I would rather convince myself against reason that life has a purpose than know beyond a doubt that it does not. You have to understand though: I am not deceiving myself; life has a purpose. That I firmly believe.
Man 1: And why does one have to believe in God to believe life has a purpose? Can an atheist not live as full and as good a life as a religious man?
Man 2: He may, but he can never die as good a death.

[They sit for a moment. They go back to their work. Some time passes.]

Man 2: You know, we’re really not that different: both of us cannot deny what we firmly believe to be true –
Man 1: But in my case that “belief” is based on empirical evidence that can be replicated and scientifically proven.
Man 2: [Sighs.] The real difference is that I can allow you your belief.
Man 1: [Clearly frustrated.] I just can’t understand how you can believe in God when you have no evidence that he exists.
Man 2: But I see it differently. I cannot understand how you cannot believe in God when you have so much evidence that he does exist. Nothing I have ever seen has given me any reason to doubt his existence.
Man 1: Which brings me to my point: could anything convince you that God does not exist? If this machine works and you’re able see back in time and see the world being formed without the help of God, would you then admit that he does not exist?
Man 2: What about you? If you saw God creating the world would you then believe?
Man 1: Of course I would, provided we had ruled out all other possible explanations for what we were seeing. But that would not necessarily make me a Christian. now I’ve answered the question that you dodged: Would it “shake your faith” if you saw that God wasn’t there? Better yet, would it shake your faith if you saw that the world was over six thousand years old? Would it change your mind if you saw our planet being formed 4 billion years ago?
Man 2: I really don’t think that’s going to happen –
Man 1: [Angrily.] But if it did?
Man 2: Why would it change my beliefs?
Man 1: Because Christianity hinges on the veracity of the Bible, and the Bible says that the earth is not 4 billion years old! If the Bible is wrong about the age of the earth then the account of God creating the Earth in 6 days is wrong. That means that Adam and Eve were not created the way the Bible says they were, so there was no time when man was with God, meaning there is no need for a Savior to create reconciliation.
Man 2: That would be one interpretation of the data, but it is possible that Genesis is not a literal account.
Man 1: I’ll say.
Man 2: Look, religion offers us an explanation of the meaning of our existence. Science cannot tell us why we are here.
Man 1: That’s just the point. There is no “why.” we are an anomaly, a cosmic accident in a random universe. That doesn’t mean we can’t live meaningful lives, it just means that there’s no higher power pulling the strings telling us what that purpose is supposed to be.
Man 2: Science is supposed to help mankind. What does the idea that we’re an accident do to help anyone?
Man 1: It tells them that they don’t have to bind their lives with the burden of religion.
Man 2: Or morals.
Man 1: There is, by association, a release of certain morals, but not all morals. I don’t believe in God, but I am an outstanding citizen. I don’t steal, I don’t commit murder, I obey the speed limit…
Man 2: ‘By association’? By design! Is not that liberty science’s greatest quest? But its greatest folly is its pick-and-choose mindset. If intelligent design is not true then, yes, mankind would not be bound by certain morals, but you can’t pick and choose: mankind would not be bound by ANY morals. How could there be any benefit from such ‘knowledge?’
Man 1: An ethical code is a necessary part of all functioning society, but science is things as they really are—
Man 2: (Getting frustrated) According to people who put their trust in man!
Man 1: There is no one else to put their trust in. ‘The truth will make them free.’
Man 2: What is truth! 600 years ago almost everyone knew the world was flat.
Man 1: Right. And science proved that was not the case. The difference is that science welcomes attempts to disprove it and evolves from those attempts. Religion resists disproving or damning evidence by saying we can’t understand or measure spiritual things.
Man 2: Well, the machine will settle all of that, won’t it?
Man 1: On that, I think, we can agree. But listen, (he steps closer) I’ve agreed to let you go first, but I want your word – as a Christian if you will – that you will believe whatever it is you see. None of our instruments have been able to record anything, so we have to rely on what we see, at least until we can figure out why our instruments aren’t functioning. I want your word that you will tell me what you see and not try to cover anything up. I want your word, as a Christian, if you will.
Man 2: I know what I will find. You have my word. Soon, both of us—and the world—will know the truth.
Man 1: Yes. Yes we will.

[The scientists shake hands, and return to their work.]

Man 2: Calibrating time warp field…
Man 1: Compensating for human body mass.

[Computerized voice: “Calculation complete. Power coils at full capacity. System primed for time warp.” The scientists meet in front of the machine]

Man 1: Almost no time will pass for me, but don’t stay too long, alright? We just need see what’s happens to the device when the field is activated.
Man 2: Don’t worry about me. The tests have proven that it’s safe. Besides, I’m not afraid to meet my maker—one way or another.
Man 1: (Laughs, but not in a mocking way)
Man 2: Well, I guess this is it then.
Man 1: We’re about to make history.
Man 2: And see it as well. For the first time.

[They embrace, Man 2 steps into the machine. Man 1 closes the door and wishes him good luck. He returns to his station and presses a few buttons. Computerized voice: “Initiating localized time-warp field in 10…9…8…7…6…5…4…3…2…1…” Lights flash, the machine groans. The intensity increases. Suddenly, the lights go out. There is a loud noise. The lights come back on. “Time warp complete. Field stabilized.” Man 1 rushes over to the machine and presses a few buttons. He opens the machine. Man 2 stumbles out, looking tousled.]

Man 1: What happened? What did you see?
Man 2: I saw… I saw…
Man 1: Here, sit down. Tell me what you saw.
Man 2: Nothing.
Man 1: What?
Man 2: I saw nothing. It didn’t work.
Man 1: What do you mean? The system said the time warp was successful—
Man 2: It didn’t work! Don’t you understand? It doesn’t work.
Man 1: I don’t… (his eyes widen, and he becomes frantic). I don’t believe you! You did see something! You saw the age of the Earth! You saw that God was not there! You’re trying to cover it up so people won’t know the truth! (Walks over to his console and beings pushing buttons) What ever happened to “the truth will set you free” huh?
Man 2: What? No, listen to me, it didn’t work. I didn’t see anything! I never left the lab!
Man 1: I don’t believe you!
Man 2: Look what it did to me! Something isn’t right. We need to re-calibrate the machine and do more tests.

Man 1: (Turns) To give you time to sabotage our work so people won’t know the truth? Never. (Pushes a button)

[“Calculation complete. Power coils at full capacity. System primed for time warp.”]

Man 2: What are you doing? Stop! Listen to me! Something isn’t right! We need to re-calibrate before another human trial! The field is not stable! You have to believe me!

Man 1: I don’t believe you! (Steps into the machine, closes the door)

[“Initiating localized time-warp field in 10…9…8”]

Man 2: No, no no! (He runs around frantically, pushing buttons. It should be unclear whether he is trying to sabotage the machine or re-calibrate it).

[“7…6…5…4…3…2…1” The same sequence of events as earlier takes place. The lights go out, and there is an explosion. The lights come back on and show the lab destroyed and both scientists are dead.]

[End scene.]

Something in Writing

There is something in writing

                greater than the simple groups of letters

                            through which we meet our restless thoughts,

                            which breathes a vibrant life into the words,

                that transcends sentences of meaning,

that recreates something in reading.

Last Jew in Vinnitsa

An officer shoves me to the edge of the pit.
“Kneel!” he screams.
My knee sinks into the mud at the brink,
and I look in and see death,
twisted and tangled in bare heaps of limbs,
contorted unnaturally on the faces of children,
their eyes as wide and scared and lifeless
as those of the bigger bodies around them.
They were shot in lines that moved forward as one,
sometimes holding hands as the soldiers
took aim and fired.
There is no line for me because
there is no one left to shoot.
Entire families gone.
Entire swaths of the city erased,
the ghettos as empty as their vacant eyes.
And I am the last one.
The last Jew in Vinnitsa.
I lock eyes with a face below me.
We have much in common:
both brown-haired, both Jews, both dead.
I feel a barrel press against my skull.
“Wait, you dummkopf, you’ll get his filthy brains
all over you if you shoot him like that.
Step back, and wait for the picture:
this is the last one, after all.”
“Look up!”
I stare at the blurring face while
the photographer makes a few adjustments.
A breeze plays gently with my hair.
“Look up, Schwein!”
I wonder who will see this picture.
I inhale deeply and raise my eyes.
A flash of light—


Tosha – a poem inspired by Art Spiegelman’s MAUS

It’s the last of her prized possessions:
a plate her grandmother gave to her as a wedding gift.
Her water-wrinkled fingers trace the red lacework around the edges.
She almost smiles.
A staccato of shots rings out through the brick corridors of houses
and in through the kitchen window.
Her hands freeze mid-scrub.
There is screaming in the streets.
Black coats and gold stars rush from the sound of death.
“What’s happening?” she yells to a friend.
“We’re to report to the square immediately for relocation—to Auschwitz!
Tosha… I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you, but
they’ve killed the council of elders.”
The words break over her like a crushing wave
of frigid water, pounding the air from her lungs.
She doesn’t see the friend go.
“Persis,” she whispers,
the hair on the back of her neck standing up.
Only when the runner makes the announcement to her neighbor does Tosha begin to shake.
“They’re sending all of us to Auschwitz!”
Her skin is cold with sweat.
Out of habit she scrubs the dish
and rinses it with tears.
They had hoped it would never come to this;
that’s why they’d agreed to take the children.
They had a better chance here
under the protection of her husband in the council.
Now, the council had been liquidated,
and the rest of the ghetto was next in line.
A picture seized her mind.
A great black oven with red hatch eyes mocks her,
and a glowing, grated grin opens,
the tongue extending and rolling the children—
God, her children!—
into the flames.
She tries to put the plate away,
but then the oven chews them with its fiery teeth,
and the screams…
The plate shatters onto the floor.
The game in the other room ends abruptly;
little feet patter on hard wood;
little eyes find her kneeling on the broken fragments.
“An Tosha, you’we bweeding!”
Yes, they had hoped this day would never come,
but they had planned for it nonetheless.
Her fingers clutch the vial hung around her neck.
“Awe you otay, Antie?”
She doesn’t want to frighten them,
but she won’t let the monsters eat her children—
no matter what.
She looks at each of them,
“Yes, sweethearts,
Auntie just needs to take her medicine.
Would you like to try some?”
“Can we hab shugaw wif it?”
She blinks back the tears and forces a sad smile.
“Of course, darlings.”
They each take their teaspoon,
and the Gestapo find their bodies the next day.