For Cheryl

Here’s the poem I offered – and briefly messed up – at Barry Barton’s dance performance.

For Cheryl

Your father took the poison pill
Of hate for self
He swallowed it and went away
Was struck dumb and then could not
Speak on your behalf or his
He did not wield his pen of truth for you
When they served to you the same sick drug
Toxic with their shame and pain
They saw your lovely innocence
And tried to claim it for themselves
They carved in it their names
“If I scar it, then it’s mine
Let me leave a handprint on your face
Or a mournful dream of your small hand
Placed on me against your will”

But the twisted trying there
To wrest from you your life, your love
By those who loved so wrong, so wrong
Could not quench your fire, your self
The would-be spirit breakers did not know
What spirit truly is – nor saw your soul
Or they would have touched you not those ways
For fear your angels would have struck them down.
The gold of that sweet soul was not destroyed
Just melted and formed new again
Nothing burned away but dross
You wanted gone so long

And when you felt your most alone
And when you were the most at risk
Of saying yes to that last dose
And lying in the fitful sleep
Of those who dream when they were real

And when you felt your most alone

And when you felt your most alone

Your truly faithful dad – long one with you
In the bonds of suffering and fierce love
Somehow coughed up his toxic wad
Smiled his warm and human smile of old
And said to you, his precious child
“Don’t swallow, darling girl of mine
You must not follow me
Into this silent truthless place
I need your words so bad
They are my legacy
Perhaps tomorrow I will find my own, but now
Rage at what they’d have you eat
You are my little queen
All the forebears of your mother’s and of mine
Salute you as you spit this back”

And so with raging, potent, loving words
You gather to you us
All of us who hold our own
Toxic dose of pain
Carried still in pouch of silk
“When all else fails eat me
I will kill you fast or slow
But I am all you really know”

You say to us with loud ferocious tones
Give me those precious pouches now
This whole sad pharmacy of fear and lies
Place all these pills together here
On this basement floor within
Flush them with our healing tears
And we who have been sick but have not died
Shall come away the stronger still
And make a pact to grasp those pills
Wherever they be found
And give that purge to all the lost
And bring the de-pilled people home
Into our sacred tribe
And love ourselves and our poems
And each other – and the children we create
And our parents too, who need it most

“Because I say so
And I am Cheryl
Triumphant and alive
And innocent and good.”

Who am I?

I presented this poem at Jubilee on Sunday.  Audio, with beautiful keyboard accompaniment by Chris Rosser, can be found at

Intro: About 15 years ago, I participated in a weekend workshop that was modestly called  the Enlightenment Intensive.  The primary activity in this three-day workshop is round after round after round of sitting opposite from another participant, who for five minutes asks you again and again, “Who are you?’ – and you give whatever comes to mind.  Then you return the question to them for five minutes.  Then you move on to another partner and repeat the same process.  For three days.  Two days after the workshop, this poem came through.

The title of the poem is,

Who Am I?

Who am I?
What the hell kind of question is that?
Do I not know who I am
After all these years of fumbling around?
I might as well give up the ghost….

….No, I don’t have an answer
I don’t know who I am.
Am I this bewildering array of thoughts, perceptions and sensations
Warring within my brain – pulling me this way and that?
Each grabs me and wants to own me –
I hope I am more than them.

You look at me so sincerely and ask me who I am….
Am I the reflection of me I see in your eyes?
I think I might like it better than my own view.
Am I the current I feel flowing between us
As we sit and look at each other?
I feel so connected to you – am I you?
And yet I feel separate somehow….

There are so many things and people that I want –
Am I them?
Am I the wanter?
Am I it that is observing the wanter?
Am I whatever is noticing the observer?
Or is that the same observer, observing itself?
How deep does this go, anyway?

….Am I the calm silence that
Has floated up in me since those questions exhausted themselves?
Or am I the “me” in which it has floated, the field in which it lies?
Or am I the thoughts and questions
Nibbling at the edges of this sweet silence?
Or the gentle mother voice shushing those thoughts
“Later, he’s resting now.”

Am I the sorrow I feel at being so many unharmonized voices
The sadness and shame at being a house so divided
A mind so mindless
A self so out of touch with itself…?

Yet there is still something else
I can’t see it or hear it, but I feel it…
A watcher of the watchers
Yet softer than watching
Not a voice, but a presence
Not words, but a warm radiance.
And now that I notice it, I realize
That it was present in every other level
Obscured by the noise, the action – but there.

I feel joy in its presence
And want only to sit here with it
To soak in the peace, the at-homeness I feel.
For truly, in the presence of this benign, tender something
Which I can only inadequately name “love”
I feel no distance,
No judging of it by me or me by it
No finger-pointing or name-calling – no identifying at all
No need to protect myself
Or to stay separate in any way.
And the question “Who am I?”
Slips easily into dust.
From here I can see nothing that I am not.
I am, I simply am
And will be, even when I forget.

And from here the only thing I want
Is not to forget.

What does this guy want?

It was a tight parallel parking spot, but doable. I still have some of my Chicago parallel parking skills, though they honestly are pretty rusty. So this had me slightly stressed.  But there was more:

  • I’m parking near the County Courthouse, so I can go to the sheriff’s office – cops, eek!  I’ve had so many good experiences with cops over the years, including spending six months teaching stress management to every cop on the Syracuse, NY police department – and still I have a stress response to them.  Actually I just a few years ago had a very bad experience with a sheriff’s deputy who was assigned to transport me from the Mission Hospital ER to the psych ward at Rutherfordton Hospital because there were no beds at Mission.  This guy treated me like I as a criminal who needed to be watched and controlled at every moment.  OK, so cops still set off alarm bells for me – there’s some trauma there that’s not healed yet.
  • I was there to drop off all of Monty’s medication to the sheriff’s department – quite a lot of pill bottles.
    Monty's son, when he was clearing out his dad's apartment, asked me to drop Monty's meds off at the sheriff's department.

    Monty’s son, when he was clearing out his dad’s apartment, asked me to drop Monty’s meds off at the sheriff’s department.

    Medication – I’ve been taking psych medications for about 15 years and they mostly have never helped.  My current optimism about my new med’s is so unprecedented that I don’t know what to do with it.  So here I have a big dishwashing tub full of meds.  All these meds are  stressful to me in and of itself – but they also speak to how fragile Monty\was in his last months.

  • Monty is dead.  That’s what this whole errand is about, is that my 35-year best friend died about four months ago.  This is not a neutral errand.

And then there’s this guy.

This young guy is headed towards my car.  I immediately go on the alert.  If I knew how to put my psychic shields up, I would have.  His shirt is only half-buttoned and he’s coming up to me fast.  We’re right near the courthouse – what was he there for?  He does what I feared he would do – he comes right up to my car.

I do what my instincts tell me not to do – I roll down my car window.  He says, “My car is two spots up ahead here.”  (He wants a jump – or for me to take him for gas.)  “I’m pulling out and there’s about two quarters left on my meter, if you want to park there.”

So what do I do with this?  This guy who I was sure was trouble actually comes to me with a gift – an act of well-wishing that I would not likely think of if the roles were reversed. The trouble was not in the guy but in my own suspicious mind.

A missed opportunity

Bertha at Charter Communications – the cable company – missed a chance today to give me a good feeling about their company.  I was returning Monty’s computer router.  Whe she asked why I was returning it, I said that he had died.  That was the moment where she could have reached out for some genuine human contact – just a sincere “I’m sorry.”  I like to think that I do that consistently, even if someone is referring to their loved one passing a long time ago.  It pretty much always seems to create that human touch. But Bertha stayed buried in her computer screen, typing away.

It could have been a customer service slam dunk - anything like a human response has me leaving their office feeling better about the company.

It could have been a customer service slam dunk – anything like a human response has me leaving their office feeling better about the company.

I have heard a lot of criticisms of Charter.  This was a chance for Bertha, in this one instance, to soften that impression. Now why did Bertha not respond with human touch, in a situation where that would be so natural and appropriate – and where there was no apparent time pressure (no one behind me)?

  • She may actually be under some time pressure – lots of these computers can time a call – or, I’m sure, a face-to-face encounter.  I had a job as a call center operator where my supervisor consistently said, “You’re great with the customers – tops – but you’ve got to speed up your calls.”
  • She may have recently been told by a supervisor that she’s too chatty with customers, that she should keep it more to business.  This also happened to me on another job.
  • She may be having a migraine that is making it hard for her to even stand up.
  • She may have lost a loved one lately – or is on the verge of losing one – and my mention of a deceased loved one really triggered her.

I could go on and on – there are so many reasons that a customer server could be unresponsive to us.  And so many ways this could be helped.  It’s a truism that customer support people tend to treat customers as they themselves are treated. Give them respect and compassion and they tend to give it to their customers.  That’s not the whole story – there are some bad apples out there – but it’s a good place to start.  Helping your managers and supervisors treat others with more respect and compassion has got to be a win all around.

Learning to grieve

I have about a dozen topics in my “Real life posts” file.  Some of them are just titles of posts I want to write (some of these have handwritten notes strewn throughout three notebooks I have had with me at work), some of them have a little outline, a couple are mostly written.  None of them make sense to me right now.  In the last couple of days, I started to write two others – new ones – but couldn’t complete them.  I would get to a certain point and just stare at them.

Monty died ten days ago -  part of me still doesn't get how he could be gone.

Monty died ten days ago – part of me still doesn’t get how he could be gone.


It’s happening again – I am lapsing into numbness, just staring at the computer screen.  Let’s see if I can push through this time.  This time I am expecting nothing of myself but to write what’s going on.  I have a voice in me that says, “Enough of this personal stuff – get back to the grocery store.”  My friend Johanna said to me some weeks ago, “If you don’t write when you are down, it will have no integrity.” Some of my readers are liable to say, “He thinks he’s got losses.”

I haven't cried over Monty yet.  I guess it will happen when it's meant to.

I haven’t cried over Monty yet. I guess it will happen when it’s meant to.

A few weeks ago, my target was to post every morning.  I have now missed two mornings and am at risk of missing another.

People keep telling me how well-written this blog is.  I think this post will be a little incoherent.  I have to live with that.

I have an appointment in about two hours with a CarePartners bereavement counselor.  I have a voice in me that says that I have no right to use a bereavement counselor.  Monty was not family to me, just my buddy – my 35-year best buddy.

I've gotten some good hugs in the last ten days, but they're tending to not get through.

I’ve gotten some good hugs in the last ten days, but they’re tending to not get through.

And what about other recent losses?  My dog died 15 months ago.  I thought I was well over that one.  Back in September, my stepbrother Joe, my  roommate from three years previous Avtar and my dear friend Nina died within a week of each other.  In the last many months, three people from church with whom I was not intimate but with whom I had real relationships (Laurie, Sandy and Carol) have died.  I’m trying on a new concept (to me), that some or a lot of the depression I experience on a regular basis (including now, the last three four days) is really grief – grief at the loss of the internal light, of my good feelings, of my self-confidence, of my capacity to see connections in the world.  And that this accumulates, showing up every couple of weeks.

I feel alone whenever I'm depressed - how is this different?

I feel alone whenever I’m depressed – how is this different?

Maybe I have an accumulation of old griefs that pile on when I have a current (kind of enormous around Monty) grief in real time.  Maybe I am short on skills for grieving.  Maybe if I go through the CarePartners six-week bereavement class, and then maybe join a bereavement group, I will get better.  Maybe posting this – taking my grief to this community – will help.