Wednesday, September 21, 2016


In September of 2016
I caught a spotted brown
trout in the Davidson River
just south of Ashville.

I was using a dry fly,
they later told me. We
had been fishing near
a hatchery. The water
was clear but slow.
The river, it seemed,
was crawling. Among
the stones and logs,
we could see several
fish darting in and out
of pockets of light.

I flicked the thin rod
to my left and right,
setting the end just
up river of a nice 20”
sleeper. She moved to
the right as the hook
drifted by. We played
the same game three, four,
five times, and she, like as though
choreographed, would move aside.

While watching the monster
of this Pigsah forest stream,
my hook and tippet drifted
down river to a  small covey
of spotted brown trout.

As I saw the striker dip
beneath the surface of the
water, I pulled up on the
top of the pole. The hook
set, and the fish swam
quickly upstream. I held
the slack of the line and
pulled her under control.

Her track became smaller
as she swam to my left
and right. My friend
slapped me on the back
as he dipped a net just
beneath the snagged fish.

I reached in to take the
fish with my bare hand.
I lifted it, and it fell back
into the net.  I took a picture.
I tried to work the hook
out of its lip. The line broke.

With help, I took the hook
out before setting the fish
back in the river. The
fish, a delicate creature, I
was later told, did not move.
I saw it turning its soft
white belly to the light.
Another friend, a river guide
from Montana started waving
the fish in the water from
his left to his right. The
movement, he said, would
get oxygen to the fish’s
gills, revive her so that
she could swim again,
and she did. And then
she stopped. He once again
moved her in the water
until she started moving
on her own. She swam
upriver, and I lost her among
the light and the fallen leaves.

My friends assured me that
she would be fine, and while
small, to pull a fish from
a North Carolina stream
with a fly pole was a
worthy victory. Later, my
friend, the river guide,
sent me a trophy picture.

The fish looked small
in my hulking hands, the
unflattering pullover I wore
distorted my chest and
stomach so that I looked more
like a monster than a man.

My beard and my hat
framed a disbelief in my
eyes, and an apology pulled
my shoulders to the muddy
river bed. I prayed for the
fish like a prayed for the
dove I shot when I was 12.

I prayed in hope that my
friends were right, that
the small 8 inch trout
was swimming upstream,
recovering, telling stories of
her thin escape. Or swimming
but unaware of why she
feels something that she has
never felt, something that
we would call pain, something for which
she does not have language.

And how many times are
we too caught and thrown
back? How many times do
bare hands slide against
our skin? How many times
are we held up for pictures,
gasping in the autumn air?
How many times do they
try to take the hook out, leaving
it in as we fall back into
the net, ripping our lips
as they pry off what we
once thought was food.

How many times are we
set back into the river,
gently moved left and right,
so that we gain a little
momentum.? How often
do we not have the language
to say to others what happened,
what’s still happening?

How can we avoid the
hook when we have no
word for it? How can we
explain the pain when we
have no memory?

How can we leave the
river when there is no
word for river, no article
to suggest it is a specific one,
no verb that means “to leave?”

And how will she know,
as she swims among the stones and
dappled riverbed, that
I wrote this for her, that
I too fear being caught, that

I too, know fear is not the word?

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Dream Defeated

A friend of a friend
won the Stegner fellowship.

In a couple of months, he will amble
toward Stanford and begin a two-year
commitment to write poetry.

The world does not care. Only the
MFAs with pedigree are eligible 
and only the ones with influence
are chosen.

It is a Publisher’s Clearinghouse
and they bought their way into the raffle.

The fellowship itself is a course in masonry
where they teach promising poets to wall
out what does not sound like they are writing.

And so they gather and mortar and I
am left here, typing on a blog for an 
audience of one.

I can’t help but think that between
the geometry tests I am grading 
and the Ludlum book I have yet
to finish, there was a moment
I too could have held a spade.

Great regrets are not taking advantage of opportunity.

Our greatest regrets are the moments we thought the opportunity was ever ours.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Prepare your heart

They told me to prepare
my heart; so, I bought
a store brand marinade
and 7 bell peppers.

I made an incision just beneath
the ribcage, reached into
my summer garden of a chest
and plucked it like an heirloom tomato.

I set it on the drain board
and covered it with cumin.
I sliced it into 14, quarter inch slices.

I put them in a bowl,
added my father’s Polish herbs
and soaked them in the marinade.

My heart is now in the fridge
beside a jug of milk
a 7 brightly colored peppers.

They told me to prepare my heart
Another, I suppose, will cook it.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Diana Nyad

She drank water no tongue
has touched, above orcas
and eyeless lobsters. She
saw sun sink in water that
was warm then cold, that
opened like a grave, that
spoke secret words of
regret and retreat.  She held
two countries in white
hands.  She pushed and pulled
her way to Florida. Her heart
is full of jellyfish, her skin
a soft legume.  When I am
old and grey and barely
awake.  I hope I have the
strength to say "The sea
waits for me."  I hope I
have the strength to be
blue and bloody, to hold
discouragment by the throat,
to drink redemption like wine.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Misogynist's Lament

It is because I think they’re
dumb and biting and
cynical and weak.

It’s because their conversations
are the tired d├ęcoupages of failed or
failing loves.

It’s because they sell their
limited stories too often and
for too cheap.

It’s because their best is so
often our middling.

It’s because birth and decoration
are their greatest achievements.

It’s because they have fought for these rights,
and they have frittered them away.

It’s because of Pinterest and Facebook and Twitter
and Weight Watchers and Starbucks
and toy dogs and salads and eyeliner
that I am so disillusioned.

It is because they are the moon and the earth
and they settled for a spray-on tan.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Our Fathers

We are not our fathers
with their apple throats
and burlap skin.

We are not our fathers
with their thick tongues
and monstrous hands.

We are not the young
men they were,
the sons of Vietanm
and segregation.

We are not their
moon-eyed faces,
looking up as Americans
filled the sky.

We are not the social
conservatives and union
sympathizers, the
cigarette-lipped children
of immigrants.

We are not reckless
and dying.

We are not our fathers,
but we are their shadows,

and we stretch
tall from their
steel-toed boots.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Developmental Mathematics

I teach developmental mathematics.
In the 1990s we would have called it
remedial. In the 1790s we would
have called it cutting edge.

My students are the leftover students.
I teach the prom queens who no longer
have a kingdom.  I teach the tattooed
and the pierced.  I teach the veterans
who hold their pencils like detonators.

My students are non-traditional students,
students who have nine to fives,
students who leave my evening class
and stock the local Wal-Mart until
the sun rises.

In my class we factor, distribute, solve,
and simplify. We do math that, for many,
was done alongside puberty.

My students did not get it, or, more often,
they were not given it. And so I hold
them by their mathematical hands,
and we walk into the world.

My students think they are stupid.
They have been told as much by faculty,
friends, family, and every news report that
compares America to China.

My students think that I am smart
because I can divide, multiply, add,
and subtract fractions without so much as
moving a pencil.

Other people like that I teach developmental
mathematics.  They say that I am a good soul.
They say that I should be lauded for my effort.

I think other people like the fact that I teach
developmental mathematics, because
they like the fact that they aren’t enrolled.
They like that there will always be cashiers
at Taco Bell and people to change their oil.

What they don’t know is that one
by one I am building a small army.

What they don’t know is that the
prom queen is about to find her crown.

What they don’t know is that the
Wal-Mart stocker just factored a trinomial
without so much as moving a pencil.

We’re all climbing ladders here.
My money is on the ones who were never told to stop.