I Am a Ghost

I am a ghost.


Sometimes I drift through the city

among the living.


I observe them

going through their motions.

They can't see me.

They hardly see each other.


It is lonely to haunt,

to see and not be seen.


But, ah! the thrill of encountering another ghost!

The relief and longing fulfilled

as our eyes meet,

crossing the distance in less than a blink!


We move towards each other

through the crowded graveyard.


At last to be seen!

And by such a spirit.


One who saw the dream behind the illusion,

One who wasn’t strong enough to submit

but had all the courage to rebel,

One who smashed their tight shell,

One who cut off their Earthly anchor

for freedom to pass through walls

and see the other sides,

adventuring through worlds and times!


How sweet it is to have found each other!


we ghosts can no longer become anchored,

even when we want to.


Knowingly, we drift our separate ways.


But we are eternal
and we look forward to meeting again

and again.

No Rest

We can’t be present for the bliss

of blessed self-forgetfulness.


We can’t savor even a peep,

awake in precious nightly sleep.


And release from Earthly grieving

arrives just as mind is leaving.


Who Are These Artists?

Who are these artists

that work so hard to

make their ideas into objects

or print or performance or sound?

What do they want?

Why don't they do something else

with the possibilities of their brief existence?


How many will look back on a lifetime

of wasted efforts, wasted time,

opportunities lost,

potential selves, life paths, and loves sacrificed

as they find themselves

old, poor, and alone

surrounded by their “art,”

monuments of their failure to actually live?


How many will be saved

by sacrificing their idea of being an artist?

How many,

instead of trying to make a whole life from art,

will make art by trying to live a whole life?

She Was Glorious

She came into the coffee shop around 8:30pm.

I think she was about 70 years old.

She had put in effort to look nice,

with a beret, cocked off to the side.


She was looking for dinner but

this was not really a place to do that but

she didn’t know.

She struggled to understand her choices

and asked questions about what sauces might be available.


I understood her disorientation and embarrassment

and grasping for anything to help her figure out

which way was up and which down

and where the ground was and

how to appear competent.


I remember moving to the big city,

a rural, working class kid feeling small and panicked,

intimidated and uninitiated, ashamed

in the bourgy, cosmopolitan coffee shops

trying to figure out how to order “coffee.”


The barista was cold and impatient and

entirely lacking compassion,

unable to sense the woman’s feelings and needs,

unable to put her at ease and simply

feed her.

She didn’t understand.


I understood this woman.

I know the kind of stale


apartment that she lives in,

which nobody visits.

I know the suffocating stillness and changelessness.

I know the fucking miracle of courage and defiance she mustered

to determine to go out into the world,

to put herself together

and look nice and

put on her beret at a snappy and stylish angle

and walk out

into a public space in a city and a world

that she once knew so well,

which she had spent a lifetime nourishing,

which used to have smiling, familiar faces and conversations, and

warmth and it was home

but now it has moved on and she is lost,

just trying to figure out how things work

as she walks into a cafe

seeking plain food that she understands

and this barista

is incapable of helping her feel the ground under her feet,

a simple, human connection in her face,

and just get her some food that she would like to eat.


Ma’am, I don’t know your life.

Your life is not my life.

But I know something of your sadness and

I LOVE you and

I am here in your world with you!


We know the feeling

of quiet, understanding acceptance

of hopes snuffed.

We know the feeling

of quiet, understanding acceptance

of all the calloused hearts.

And we know that the barista is lonely and anxious too.

And we have compassion for us all.

And the tender, sweetsad love

that took anger’s place years ago

when it burned itself out.



knowing we all struggle with loneliness

and self-love,

do we not embrace each other?


do we distract ourselves from tragedy

instead of helping,

or even add more misery,

to an already too-mean world?


are basic love and connection,

the most human of all things,

so scarce and guarded?

Little Beauties

Find little beauties.

Take a closer look.

As your attention narrows

the object expands

beyond measure.

What was once a discrete object,

limits defined,

is now a world without end,

just as Earth is a neat, little sphere from far away

but on the ground it is an intricate plane

stretching off into infinity

all around you.


Wander across the vast, vast


It could take weeks to explore

all the way

from tip to stem.

To travel all of its roads

could take a lifetime.


Hike the peaks and valleys

of the texture

of a paper.


Everything is strange and wonderful!

...except for the little room of ideas you live in.

The deadness you see in the world

is only the deadness of those ideas

reflected back at you,

which you mistake

for the truth.


Clean your eyes

and let them receive

the vitality and intelligence

of the endless and alien

construction of the cosmos

on display

in all the little beauties.

That Kind of Friend

I have some great friends,

people I actually relate to.

They’re always available.

They never get possessive or jealous.


They are extraordinary people,

one-in-a-million kind of people.


My friend,

Carl Sandburg,

has been telling me all about Chicago

and making me fall in love with it.


My buddy,

John Reed,

has been telling me all about what he saw

during his days in Russia

when the workers and peasants

took power from the rich

and started forming their own government.


My new acquaintance,



you'd just have to meet him.


But as much as I love these friends,

these people I connect with,

they can’t help me

when I really need a hug,

when my skin needs to feel

someone else’s skin,

feeling mine,

feeling their’s.


They’re not that kind of friend.


That kind of friend

is so hard to find.

You can’t just pull them off a shelf

when you want them

and put them back

when you’re done.

They have feelings

and needs and desires.

They deserve accountability.

You have to earn their trust

over time

before they really let you see

what’s behind the cover.


Why do I have so few of these friends?

Do I lack patience?

Am I too quickly bored or disgusted

by the introductions?

Am I too suspicious

they will try to stitch me into their binding,

like others before have?


At the beginning of my life,

just after I learned to walk,

I learned how to read.


And yet after all these years

I still feel hopelessly bewildered

and ineffective

at finding and enjoying

human companionship.


How to Write a Poem

You want to write a poem?

Then you will fail.


If you try to write a poem, you will be unconsciously imitating a concept of poetry.  You will be contriving an approximation of your idea of what a “poem” is. To create your empty imitation, you will probably use language that is “poetic” according to more preconceptions, and its insignificance will be made more unsightly by wearing gaudy words, drab cliches, and knock-off banalities.


Sorry, I know that sounds harsh but it’s the plain truth and you might as well understand it clearly and right away.  I’m telling you this because I care.


Also, if your goal is to write a poem, you might want to question your motivation.  I’ll bet there’s a hungry ego behind it. I’m not judging you; we all have hungry egos.  But a hungry ego will never be satisfied by any of your achievements or the attention they get you.  Dealing with that ego requires a better strategy than trying to feed it.


So just forget about writing a poem.


But keep on reading this if you would like to:

*explore the mystery of your Self;

*access and feel suppressed emotions and ideas;

*fully experience the meanings of your life;

*make a social justice issue more understandable and poignant to an audience;

*release pains you’ve been carrying;

*just cry a bunch;

*learn better ways to live;

*and have a written record of these powerful, inner experiences so you can revisit them and provide signs that others might follow towards a similar experience.


True creativity starts with a profound, subjective event.  It could be an insight, an intense feeling, or a compelling vision, anything that makes you say, “WOW.”  If it didn’t make you say, “WOW,” or, “Ah!” or, “Ha!” when it occurred to you, then it will never become art.  It should be a meaningful surprise to your own consciousness. Then you have to actually create something with it: paint, sing, dance, act, sculpt, or write.


I think of it this way.  I’m constantly processing my life and thinking about the things that matter to me.  It’s like I have a big, complex, tight knot that I urgently want to untie. I keep looking at it from different angles and tugging on this or that part of it but nothing moves.


AndThenAllOfASuddenSomethingSlipsLoose!  You know that feeling!  And pulling that one bit apart opens up a few more little bits of the knot if you keep working on it.  And finally you get stumped again. That’s the end of a poem.


My point is that your starting place must be your own, natural, inner workings.  When a powerful idea happens, you can write it down. When you start to write it down, more details and powerful feelings and mysterious insights are revealed in your imagination.  Keep writing and watching your imagination until there’s nothing more. Wasn’t that amazing, watching something profound unfold inside of you?! Wow!  You didn’t mean for this to happen but, since you used writing to get deeper into yourself, you’ve now got a poem!


I always edit my work for accuracy of expression and various aspects of style and affect.  I recommend doing this. Those decisions are totally personal and depend on what you want but I will share a few thoughts about this topic:

*Reworking your writing will probably help you find words that more clearly capture and express that inner experience you had.  Bring the experience back from your memory and see if you can convey it more exactly, with more precise language as well as pacing and tone that more exactly match your experience.

*Nobody is impressed with needlessly fancy words.  For example, “azure” should probably never, ever be used in a poem ever again.  Ever.

*Metaphors and similes are the common stock of poetry.  But don’t just grab one. It’s going to be trite. Good poems only use metaphor and simile because some person had an inner event so profound and unprecedented that literal language was incapable of expressing it.  That person had to get really creative with words--out of necessity--and improvise with language to capture that experience.  Understand this and you will understand the true source and form of poetry.  (I actually think cliches are important to use sometimes but they require special considerations and that’s a topic for another essay).


The most important topic of this essay is unpacking and writing an intense inner event.  How do those events happen? Are they random? Can we do anything to have them more often?


Inspiration is like getting struck by lightning but you can become a lightning rod.  Rather than trying to stimulate these events into being, I recommend removing obstacles in their path.  Here are some things to remove or partially restrict in your life:

* Watch less TV, listen to less music, read less, and put the phone away (you’ll be OK . . . really).  You can’t observe the unfolding patterns and emergent phenomena in your mind if you are constantly imprinting your mind with patterns from the outside world.  Remove inputs and distractions.

* Once your precious distractions are gone, you run the risk of actually experiencing yourself!  Oh no! Anxious and obsessive thinking will rush in. Now you will have to deal with these painful obstacles but you will get lots of powerful moments, maybe the best ones, from this process of healing. You can begin a disciplined habit of mindfulness meditation, seek therapy, and/or get deep into self-help.  Whatever you do, be on an all-out quest for clarity, the truth, the meaning of your existence, uninhibited feeling, lucidity.

* Drink less and do less drugs.  It’s true that being intoxicated can bring out strong thoughts and feelings.  I have had plenty of drunken walks home when I shouted things skyward like, “Bleak universe! Deaf to our prayers for total annihilation!!” or, “Earth! Inhospitable womb!!!” But these things won’t turn into insightful, revelatory experiences worth capturing in a poem.  You’re drunk. You aren’t functioning. It’s that simple. What are you doing? Go to bed. And hangovers? You’re not going to see anything profound all day. Get sober.


As you remove these obstacles, you will become more in touch with your inner self.  That’s really the point of all this, remember? If you’re really doing the work of developing a healthier inner state you will begin having profoundly meaningful moments.


If you’re having a day where not much is erupting inside, you can go seek a stimulus.  First get really grounded and lucid and then just walk around, ride the city bus, etc. Note: This only works if you’re not mesmerized by your phone, listening to music, reading, or drunk.


If you have gone all day without anything stirring inside you, I recommend doing some writing about absolutely anything.  No, it won’t be inspired but it’s the disciplined work of developing your craft. Craft is the midwife of your ideas. Work, whether you are inspired or not, and develop skills so that when something is trying to be born you don’t kill it.  Just as a visual artist will go sketch things when they’re uninspired, go sketch with words. You probably won’t make anything you really care about but it’s the process, not the product, that really matters. The end result of your life, the grand finale, the final product, is a corpse.  Focus on experiencing each moment just as it is. Be there for it.


These practices have radically changed my life.  I hope my ideas here will help you live more deeply, truthfully, and meaningfully.  If you end up with some poems, that’s cool too.


Originally published at The Good Men Project:



I can’t always feel cool

but I can always be authentic.


I can’t always feel attractive

but I can always strive to love myself.


I can’t always get a hot date

but I can always respect consent.


I can’t always find the comfort of human connection

but I never have to settle for people who bring me down.


I haven’t always made a decent living

but I’ve never taken advantage of someone to get paid.


I can’t always stop people from controlling me

but I can endure as I strategize my escape.


I can’t always get what I want

but I can always abstain from selfishness.


I can’t always avoid frustration

but I can always be kind to the innocent.


I can’t always be happy

but I can accept necessary suffering.


I can’t always avoid mistakes

but I can always be truthful with loved ones.


In every situation

we can choose

shame or honor.





The Young Construction Worker

The young construction worker

asked the older construction worker,

“¿Al lado?”


Ah, I was jealous.

The young man,

just becoming a man,


His honorable work.

He and the older man had a familiarity with each other.

There was a hierarchy

but the hierarchy itself

hinted at a deep and loving bond

larger than two men.


The young man was deferential and humble to the elder,

which did not indicate weakness

but rather made the youth more venerable and dignified.

It indicated his path,

rites along a definite road to maturity,

learning how to be part of something bigger than himself,

something alive but older than any living individual,

something that he is gradually taking responsibility for,

ensuring its patterns

of love and survival

will continue to be woven,

long after his body has dissolved.


The young man

looked so bright and hopeful,

earning a living,

maybe in love,

maybe excited to start a family,


a most precious piece contributed

from each of two ancient families,

who are now moving together,

gathering around as a new living shape is born

into the great mosaic,

lawfully shifting the sacred geometry

of family and eternity.


I was so happy for him but,

ah, I was so painfully jealous

as I walked past them

on my way home