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The Hidden Thoreau in Anton Chekhov


If you come to an Anton Chekhov short story looking for a plot, you’ve come to the wrong place. If you read Chekhov and fret that nothing happens, you’d best reconsider your definition of “nothing.”

These thoughts reoccurred to me as I finished the Richard Pevear / Larissa Volokhonsky translation, Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov. I found it good medicine, especially for a poet, to swim in the Russian master’s pool.

Chekhov is a perfect example of my pet theory about literature: almost all of it is a riff on Henry David Thoreau’s famous line, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I even used Henry’s line as an epigraph to my first poetry collection, The Indifferent World.

Less literary but surely related to Thoreau’s line from Essays on Civil Disobedience is a title from the Irish band U2’s song: “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” To my mind, they go hand in hand. Man searches as if there is something — some source of happiness in life — missing, but it is always somewhere ahead of him, just out of reach. It is, in fact, the source of his quiet desperation.

This afflicts even the characters we least expect it from. Contemporary story writer Peter Orner considers “The Bishop” to be Chekhov’s best story, and it is the penultimate tale in the collection I just finished.

And yes, even the bishop, a respected and revered figure in the Russian Orthodox Church, is visited by doubt in the night. Even the bishop is bedeviled by both the past and the future while musing on the present.

It seems we can find a paragraph like the one below in most any Chekhov short story. The moment of truth. Let’s jump into the mind of the bishop, who is listening from his sickbed to the singing of monks in the church. As notes to the story explain, the songs he hears are “words from hymns sung during the services known as ‘Bridegroom services’ celebrated on the first three days of Holy Week.”


In the evening the monks sang harmoniously, inspiredly, the office was celebrated by a young hieromonk with a black beard; and the bishop, listening to the verses about the Bridegroom who cometh at midnight and about the chamber that is adorned, felt, not repentance for his sins, not sorrow, but inner peace, silence, and was carried in his thoughts into the distant past, into his childhood and youth, when they had also sung about the Bridegroom and the chamber, and now that past appeared alive, beautiful, joyful, as it probably never had been. And perhaps in the other world, in the other life, we shall remember the distant past, our life here, with the same feelings. Who knows? The bishop sat in the sanctuary, it was dark there. Tears flowed down his face. He was thinking that here he had achieved everything possible for a man in his position, he had faith, and yet not everything was clear, something was still lacking, he did not want to die; and it still seemed that there was some most important thing which he did not have, of which he had once vaguely dreamed, and in the present he was stirred by the same hope for the future that he had had in childhood, and in the academy, and abroad.

“They’re singing so well today!” he thought, listening to the choir. “So well!”


I love how the abstract musings are bookended by the actual moment of singing. And how Chekhov hits on our habit of laundering our own pasts of all its ills until childhood seems like the perfect world it surely wasn’t. And how a man of faith in a high office is left, like the rest of us, with stark questions about the afterlife and the purpose of our existence.

In short, this bishop still hasn’t found what he’s looking for and never will, because that, Chekhov seems to say, is what life is all about. That is the quiet desperation we each inherit and wrestle with when we dare engage our thoughts with such thoughts.

You might be tempted to brand Chekhov a downer and say all these desperate characters are the products of a decidedly cynical man, and yet story after story provides glimpses of life’s beauty (see above, where moments from childhood are called “alive, beautiful, joyful”).

And then the ends of the stories come, often with inconsequential, quotidian observations about the setting or with a banal point about goings on around the character. Life goes on, Chekhov tells us, but neat endings and bow-tied resolutions are rarities.

And yes, we will be forgotten soon after we’re gone. And yes, others will experience the same joys and quiet desperations we did, but how many would trade the journey away?

For Chekhov, ultimately, life is worth its tribulations. It was also the wellspring of much of his art.

Random Thoughts, Election Cycle


It’s been a while since I’ve given the green light to one of my occasional random thoughts posts, probably because I’ve been preoccupied by things political, and this blog is supposed to be more about writing and poetry and (insert British accent) LIT-er-a-chuh. I’ll try to keep it to a minimum, then, but if you are a fan of orange mold (as in forgotten refrigerator leftovers or tenants in the Accent-on-White House), you might want to skip on to the next blog.

  • First things first, WordPress, my longtime host, has switched their software or something, and count me as a definite NO vote for the new methods of posting. Supposedly clicking CLASSIC makes it like the old set-up, but who are they kidding? It’s a different animal. A wild one. Showing signs of rabies.
  • My daughter is encouraging me to jump to my own site with my own name as the domain name. All the writers are doing it, she says. Well, then, if all of them are doing it, who am I to walk to the beat of my own drummer? (Just don’t tell Thoreau I said so.)
  • Meaning: You’ll be the first to know if I move to greener (and more self-absorbed) pastures.
  • Speaking of self-absorbed, Amazon sales statistics turn authors into so many paper towels. They can’t absorb enough of those lower-is-better numbers on the statistical sales tabulations.
  • Pitiful, no?
  • Yes.
  • Good news: my third poetry book will be out in the summer of 2021.
  • Bad news: the pandemic fall and winter will be long ones.
  • Every time I read about Trump’s campaign for “Law & Order,” I add an asterisk and the words “* Except when the laws apply to him.”
  • Writing is not for the faint of heart, true, but it’s REALLY not for the elderly of heart, as in 80- and 90-somethings. “The wait,” one octogenarian told me, “on submissions will be the death of me.”
  • That’s dark humor, by the way.
  • Wasn’t it delicious to see the Snowflake-in-Chief run away when he stepped onto the Supreme Court steps to supposedly honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg? A chorus of boos from the crowd followed by chants of “Vote him out!” sent him running for the exits ipso fasto, so used to screened audiences of adoring enablers is he.
  • Purple and pink. You might consider them a little girl’s favorite colors, but I stepped outside and noted purplish clouds with pink tinges at the edge due to a light fog and a rising sun.
  • As Ernie once said: “The Sun Also Rises.”
  • Nota Bene: He stole that from Ecclesiastes.
  • Spark Notes hint: God’s favorite colors? Sometimes purple and pink!
  • Grammar maven hint: Do NOT italicize the book title if it happens to be the Bible or any of the books within the Bible. (I should know. I just looked it up.)
  • In the last great pandemic in 1918, the second wave — so much worse than the first — came in October. It can’t be good that today is September 27th.
  • One good thing — no, two good things — about October in New England: foliage and apples.
  • Trump has announced that he will not observe the peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election. I figured that would about do it for those saying they’re voting for him, but the polls haven’t reflected that.
  • So I said to a Trump supporter: “Doesn’t it alarm you when, for the first time in American history, we have a ‘man’ who says he will not follow democratic norms, but instead will seize power from the winner? What’s more important to you: your country or your party?”
  • The answer I got: “My party is my country.”
  • You see the problem. And if you once wondered how so many Germans could fall for the likes of Hitler, wonder no more.
  • When patriotic Americans tell me, “If this tinpot dictator wins re-election, I’m moving to Canada,” I have to remind them that Canada won’t have them. No country will, anymore.
  • Book idea: Sartre’s No Exit.
  • Say… isn’t that the book where Hell is other people?
  • This is why you have to lie down, breath slowly, and don earphones to listen to Ravel’s Daphnis & Chloe, Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam, Benjamin Britten, or Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. (Just remember to get up in time to vote.)
  • Writerly goal for Oct. 1st: Get through the upcoming month without paying a single reading fee. If you have to pay people to read you, you’re not writing very well.
  • Readerly goals for Oct. 1st: At least two uninterrupted hours of reading daily after at least 30 minutes of exercise (walking is fine!). And keep a pen and journal by your side as you read. Good writing often gives birth to good ideas!
  • Final thought: Town police forces and national military budgets soak up a lot of taxpayer revenue. Therefore, as a taxpayer, you should never trust a draft-dodging tax evader who refuses to share his tax returns, especially when he claims to love the police and the military and the flag (but is too cheap and venal to pay the taxes required to support them). Follow his actions, not his words, and you’ll get the real story.
  • See? That wasn’t bad. Only one or two political thoughts. Or three. Or four maybe.

Of Masks, Poetry Contests, and the Quarantine Fifteen


It seems I’ve been missing dates with this blog lately. You’d expect that in the busy season of summer, but not in a Covid Summer where one is supposed to be holed up in the heat (or ac) more than usual.

Thing is, summer this year is conflicted in its way. On the one hand, a lot of people are doing the same things they do every summer. “Bubbles” have expanded to Herculean size. Friends and family are considered safe by dint of the simple fact that they are friends and family. This is less science and more Fox News in logic, but it’s part and parcel of “Covid Exhaustion,” which takes more chances than its more reticent cousin, “Covid Fear.”

On the other hand, going to the supermarket is strangely unique from past summers. Everybody looks like they’re ready to stick up a bank or perform open-heart surgery. Masks, masks everywhere. There’s a certain comfort to wearing a mask when everyone else does, too. After a few minutes and the usual confusion of “choice fatigue” in the cereal aisle, the masks become invisible.

I live in a Jekyll-Hyde state and travel between the personalities fairly regularly. Maine has but two districts — the heavily-populated small one to the south (color it blue) and the sparsely-populated one to the north (color it red). In the southern towns, you can expect near universal compliance to the governor’s rules regarding Covid. In the more conservative, Trump-friendly north, the record is spottier.

District 2 compliance depends on the store. Many smaller ones do not require masks, so if you walk in, some folks are belligerently mask-free so you can better see their belligerence (they’re like walking, all-CAPS Tweets in that sense). For all I know, some of them think Covid-19 is a hoax and fake news, two of their fearful leader’s favorite terms. If anyone has masks in these stores, it is more likely women, the fairer and more intelligent sex. The men, apparently, feel threatened by it, as if wearing a mask were akin to donning a tutu.

So, yeah. Similar but different. Meanwhile, waiting for a vaccine is like waiting for Godot, at least for now, no matter how  you pronounce the word “Godot,” which apparently sounds different in French and English.

Poetry-wise, life goes on. Are the markets slower to respond? Yes. This summer, I’ve also pondered the merits of poetry contests. I’ve tried a few, but am beginning to see them as mirror images of the regular submission process.

Make that fun-house mirror images of the regular submission process. You’re more likely to be rejected, as is true with competitive markets that attract the work of established poets (who have a scorched-earth policy when it comes to taking up bandwidth in paying-market presses), but the contest game is more expensive by far.

What does this mean? It means you’re really making a charitable donation. You’re supporting the purse which will eventually  go to the winner, and you’re paying the poor staff that has to wade through all of these submissions, many of them poor.

Do you feel noble doing this? Maybe you do, but do it enough and you will no longer be a member of the noble class. At $25 to $50 a pop, these contests will bleed you like George Washington’s doctor (who many think killed the father of our country — and you thought the butler did it).

What you want, then, is a contest with less competition. One fewer poets have heard of. But just try finding one. You put your ear to the ground to hear its hoof beats and all you get is crickets. If a little-known, well-paying poetry contest falls in a forest, does it make a sound? That is your koan for the day.

Finally there is the issue of weight. Everyone keeps talking about the “quarantine fifteen,” the trouble being that quarantines seem forever ago yet the fifteen remain quite current. I’m lucky in this sense, only carrying around a no-longer quarantining (or rhyming) five. Getting rid of it is doable, if more difficult during ice cream season.

Did you know that New England is the number one ice cream consuming area of the country? You might expect the South or the Southwest, but if you did, you’d be sadly mistaken. This is the place to be if you are addicted to ice cream and have a phobia about bathroom scales, so enjoy.

Then write a poem. Then write a weighty poem about it. Just don’t enter it in a contest. Your wallet will lose a quarantine fifteen. Or twenty-five. Or fifty. Ipso fasto.

How Do You Like THEM Apples?


There’s nothing quite like the quiet after a storm. Thus my love for the Fifth of July, waking early, hearing only birds and wind through tree and leaf. It makes me feel so, I don’t know. Independent of noise.

Thank you, God.

Yesterday was a passing strange day for this blog. Holidays are slow days for online traffic. Notoriously. I only put my poem “It’s the Fourth of July” up because, well, it was the Fourth of July.

But a lot of people must have been home and on the web because a lot of people visited “Updates on a Free-Verse Life.” Most the site’s seen in over a month, in fact. And from all quarters of the Internet.

No one bought a book, which, ironically, was the prime reason for starting the blog so many years ago, but hey, poetry books usually sell only when they come out. Period. Two years later? It would be like Lourdes, where you’d have to separate the mirac- from the –ulous to find readers willing to take a chance on you.

Plus there are all sorts of myths (truths?) about sales and poetry books. One is that only other writers of poetry books buy poetry books, but even that has limits. As a poet, you can only extend your fiduciary kindness so far.

Two is that established poets outsell still-establishing poets (“Here, Peter Quince!”) by a country mile (“country” being Russia, east to west).

Three is that poetry books cost too much. Yes, there’s that. Though you can also argue that poetry by its nature is richer reading than prose because it holds up to rereading and, like music, offers greater pleasures through the act repetition (think “refrain” instead of “refraining from reading”).

In any event, there’s no getting around the fact that parents advise their children to grow up and become lawyers and doctors, not poets. “My son is a doctor,” women will say to their golf party at the club, never, “My son is a poet. How do you like them apples.”

Oh, would it were so. Just to see the expressions on the faces of ladies wearing lime-green skirts and visors before they tee off on the absurdity of it all.

Happy Fifth, folks. Enjoy your barbecued leftovers or, if you’re not American, enjoy the all our ironies from afar. (Assuming you’re bored with enjoying your own!)

Random Thoughts for Another Midsummer Night’s Eve


  • But two days left to spring and then the longest day of the year on Sat., the 20th. Only why do they call it “Midsummer” (as in “Night’s Eve”) if it’s the first day of summer? I’ve always wanted to ask a learn’d astronomer that, but they all went into hiding after the Walt Whitman poem. Just, meet deserts!
  • Read in the paper where an epidemiologist said that “Covid-19 is only in the 2nd inning, yet people are behaving as if the ballgame is over!” Human nature, I want to say. I mean, people went three whole months without a haircut or manicure so what do you expect! Is it any wonder they have come up with their own ad hoc conclusions? Is it any wonder a few picked up their Second Amendments, stormed state capitals, and whined, “Don’t Tread On Me!” and “Liberty!” (Insert eye roll here.)
  • Speaking of ad hoc conclusions and Midsummer, Saturday also brings the prospect of thousands of people in Tulsa, Not OK, exposing themselves to each other and the president at a political rally that’s about as necessary as mosquitoes.
  • Funny how the president once cancelled bombing raids on Iran because there’d be “too many body bags,” but now is full steam ahead on creating Covid’s favorite conditions (crowds in close proximity shouting and cheering and laughing at horrible jokes) among his fellow Americans, which may lead to body bags (and one would be one too many). Honestly, I hope no one gets seriously ill due to this stupidity, but the collision of irony and ignorance is beyond frustrating.
  • In 2018, I wrote a poem about Blueberry the Duck in Lost Sherpa of Happiness. This duck showed up near my legs as I stood in the water picking from a shoreline blueberry bush (she was patiently waiting for “droppers,” which she promptly scooped up). Today Blueberry D. returned, only with 8 ducklings in tow. I was on the dock reading Carson McCullers when I heard a quack on the dock behind me. There she stood halfway between me and the stairs into the water where her charges were cleaning themselves fastidiously, four ducklings to a step. No other duck would have been so comfortable. Only a duck with blueberry memories, I figured. When I turned in my seat to look at her, she simply looked back with that bill of goods of hers. You know. The kind that says, “S’up? Seen any blueberries lately?”
  • Back in March, I was despondent over the loss of televised March Madness due to Covid-19. I was sad to see Major League Baseball’s spring training disappear, too. Only now, some four months into this mess, I’m not missing baseball (or much any other sport) in the least. Who says pandemics don’t change people? The only question being, is it for the better? (And if more time for reading and writing means “better,” the answer is apparently “yes”!)
  • Today I ate a raw rhubarb stalk for the first time. The leaves are poisonous. The stalks are safe. And sour. Really sour.
  • Also today, the deer fly arrived. When you do a daily four miles in the Maine summer (as is my wont mornings), deer fly are happy to accompany you all the way, constantly buzzing your head and landing where opportunity offers. Deer fly bite. You can read that two ways.
  • Hot black coffee on a 90-degree day oddly cools at about the same rate as it does in a 65-degree house in winter. I think this was a Galileo experiment in the Tower of Pisa (coffee leaning in the mug).
  • Today I received a reply from a prospective poetry publication the same day I sent my submission in. The editor said he was turning it back because, after listing in Submittable, they had been inundated with submissions. I replied, “Why not take the listing off Submittable, then, so as to not waste other writers’ time not to mention yours?” I said it nicely. Really. And like to think he took it that way.
  • But probably it was an auto reply and he never took it any way.
  • An adolescent snapping turtle has moved into the neighborhood. A few years back it was a Northern Water Snake. I’m not sure which is worse, but I’m sure my naturalist friends would tell me both play an important part in the local ecosystem. More important than me, they’d add.
  • It’s always sobering to be told you rate somewhere below amphibians and reptiles in the scheme of things.
  • The further north you travel in Maine, the fewer masks you see in stores. Like New York, Maine has an upstate identity quite different from its southern one. In Massachusetts, its the west (Berkshires) vs. the east (Boston area), but in that case both enclaves are bluer than blue. Not so New York and Maine.
  • I saw a baby mink this week. If you thought puppies and kittens were cute, you haven’t seen a baby mink.
  • This used to be the time of year school ended in the northern U.S. No sooner does summer vacation commence when days start getting shorter. At the time, it seemed like the new play, A Midsummer Night’s Dirty Trick: Shakespeare’s Sequel.
  • What? Friday already? As you age, tempus has a way of fugiting more and more.
  • I’ve heard some older folks grump about 18 months of their lives lost to this damn pandemic thing as they are forced to hunker down, live like hermits, and not have fun or get to see the grandkids, to which I can only logically say, “I hear you and sympathize because I hate it, too. That said, 18 months is better than eternity if you let your guard down and catch this thing. Maybe you haven’t noticed, but E=MC Squared (Eternity = Months & Centuries Squared)!”
  • Somehow that is of little solace. Meanwhile, we await the 3rd inning.

Bobby Kennedy for President


My wife was away a few days, and I was doing the bachelor thing where you eat supper in front of the television. Usually I’ll do that with sports, but sports have gone viral, so I researched online for possible Netflix worthies.

I stumbled on a documentary with the odd name of Bobby Kennedy for President. Maybe it was the present tense (even though there’s no verb in the title) vibe, as if Bobby were still running 52 years later, that struck me.

As he was born in 1925, Bobby would be long gone by now anyway. Still, people who get gunned down at age 43 stay 43 forever. Watching video makes them appear alive and viable again.

The biopic comes in four parts. The first was mostly “Bad Bobby,” or the sharp-elbowed, go-for-the-jugular guy who served as calmer brother Jack’s attorney general. Bobby made lots of enemies in those years, none more durable than Lyndon B. Johnson, the man who would succeed his slain brother.

It’s Part 2 that got to me. No, that’s not the assassination part (which is Part 3), it’s the story of Bobby’s transformation after his brother was murdered. The video clips, many of them new to me, showed a change that was as much physical as psychological.

His face. It was as if it struggled to smile. His eyes. It was as if they were always brimming with tears. The impact on the viewer is a stark realization that this man never quite shed the shock of November 22, 1963. It was as if the period of mourning had opened into the bottomless years of forever.

And though the Part 2 reels show RFK running as a carpetbagger for U.S. Senator of New York, he seems to travel wherever there is trouble in the U.S. Not just to the riot-torn streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant, but to the striking migrant workers in California and the poverty stricken towns of Appalachia and Mississippi.

Yes, he was still driven politically, but more than one person comments on him as an amazing father: how he often brings his kids on trips, takes time out of his schedule to go home to be with his kids, or stays in contact by phone with his kids.

In one telling clip, he’s on the telephone with his assistant who is in Alabama during a tense time, tasked with confronting Gov. George Wallace who is physically blocking the doors into the University of Alabama so blacks cannot enter.

One of Kennedy’s daughters, looking around 4 or 5 years old, walks up to Bobby’s desk, so he actually stops the conversation and asks his assistant to say hi to Kerry (I think it was), then hands the phone so his daughter can make small talk. Watching him smile at her as she speaks was a small moment that spoke volumes to who he was as a man and how important family was to him.

When visiting regular folks and down and out folks, Bobby displayed more of the same. He connected especially with the poor and with children. He asked them questions because he wanted to learn if he was going to be able to help with legislation in the Senate. He admitted his mistakes. He could be funny and self-effacing. And he never promised miracles or claimed he was perfect, he just promised to do his best.

People who predicted he would simply use the New York seat to campaign for president were proven wrong. He turned out to be a bust-your-ass-for-the-people Senator.

I’ve seen my share of Kennedy clips over the years, but this documentary was a treasure trove, and it struck me how the more things change, the more they stay the same. The divisions between white and black, rich and poor, haves and have nots. All there in 1968. All here in 2020.

But, man. Seeing a guy running for president who actually demonstrates empathy and intelligence. It was so damn refreshing. It brought me hope — only it was a hopeless hope (look again at the cruel title).

This drive to help people, to understand them, to do something for the common good — that alone brought tears to the eyes, far before the Ambassador Hotel scene in L.A. on the night of his California Primary victory.

I had to think about it to get it: The sadness that overwhelmed me was as much for my country as for Bobby K. “My God,” I said to myself, “what we have lost and how far we have fallen.”

John Lewis, the civil rights leader and U.S. Representative from Georgia, is prominent among the interviewed. He breaks down when discussing Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy dying within a few months of each other. He’s weeping so bad he can barely finish his thought for the tape — this decades upon decades later.

And me, I couldn’t finish my meal. But, hey. One good thing about being a bachelor is you can cry a little if you want because there’s no one there to see it. Not that I counted on any of this when tuning into Bobby Kennedy for President, but this is what I got, anticipated or not.

I could blame all this emotion on the pandemic, sure, but I know better. It was something far worse.



A Day in the Life (Non-Beatles Version)


5:30 a.m. Rise and, first and foremost, get water boiling for a carafe of freshly-ground coffee. The first cup is the best. Always. But that never stopped a man from nursing numbers two and three.

6:00 a.m. Before checking the old inbox, repeat three times: “I need some good news today.” Click. See Merriam-Webster’s word of the day only. Well, at least it’s not bad news.

6:30 a.m. Begin writing. The focus has moved in the direction of a YA novel, but some mornings I’m still in the mood to tinker with poems from MS #3, even though it’s out a-courting some nine lucky publishers. I Know, You Know, and Don’t Know (the names of Mark Twain’s dogs, and you can look it up) that, when the manuscript is accepted, these revisions will be allowed through the pre-publication gates, so it is a worthwhile habit.

7:30 a.m. Timeout for breakfast. For me, it’s been the same drill lately. The night before, I take out an 8-ounce Bell jar, put a few raisins and a dash of cinnamon on the bottom, fill halfway with organic Old-Fashioned Oatmeal, then another round of raisins and cinnamon, followed by the second half of oatmeal, topped off with a third and final touch of raisins and cinnamon. Then I slowly pour in unsweetened almond milk (you could use the milk of your choice) until all the oats are just covered. Put on the top, set in the fridge, and know that, by morning, it will be cool bliss. I follow up this cold oatmeal breakfast with a sliced orange.

8:00 a.m. More coffee, more writing. Some days it’s more deleting than writing. Some days I get to show off my addition skills. But more often I find myself tearing down yesterday’s progress, like a little bully boy at the beach who kicks other kids’ sandcastles down. The bully in me = eyes 24 hours wiser.

10:00 a.m. Take a reading break. Whatever the book of the moment may be (and right now, it’s Robert Bly’s News of the Universe), usually, or sometimes I go to the two “ongoing” reads when I’m in the mood for them: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (and would we had a leader who read it and followed it — or was even capable of reading it and following it!) or the Complete Essays of Montaigne. By now, Marcus and Montaigne are my best buds, a sad commentary on males and their lack of close friends, at least compared to women. Still, in the time of Covid, this lone wolf stuff works to guys’ advantage, no?

11:00 a.m. If it’s not raining, I make a short drive to the beach, where I get out and walk four miles. At the beach, everything is normal and as it ever was: the surf, the sand, the seagulls and all the other S’s. They have no clue what “coronavirus” means. Nor do they care to. I can learn from cheek like that. I get a lot of “writing” done while I walk, too, thinking about that morning’s writing and where it went wrong or could go “righter.” As I logged many years at the ocean’s side as a boy growing up, looking out at the shards of sunlight on the seas’ surface brings me back, too. From your eyes, without being able to see your body, you forget that you’ve aged because, damn, it all looks the same, just like the days when you were young and limber.

11:30 a.m. How is it I never gave white sharks a second thought all those years I swam in the ocean? Now-a-summer, it seems that’s all I think of while in the briny, being vigilant, being ready to do battle with the weapons at hand (read: none). Of course, there’s no telling if I’ll even be able to swim at the beach this summer. It depends on the C-word (for once, not “cancer”) that the surf, sand, and seagulls have never heard of because they never listen, anyway.

12:30 p.m. Home for lunch. These days, not much, because you cannot eat as much after 50, for one, and because lunch is the least interesting of meals, anyway. For me, it’s typically a protein powder shake (vegetable source) with frozen organic strawberries and blueberries and a sliced apple thrown in. And please, don’t get on my case about the “organic” thing by calling me a “foodie” or a “yuppie” or whatever label people like to throw about in our label-addicted world. “Organic” predates the conventional, herbicide- and pesticide-laden fruits and veggies we eat now. “Organic” simply means REAL and CONVENTIONAL because it’s what your granny (or certainly great-granny) ate before all the chemical giants came to the fore in the era of WW II (in that sense, we are all Germany and Japan). So “organic” means “real food,” straight and simple, the way it was from time immemorial. Got a problem with that?

2:00 p.m. Practice on-line French. I took cinq ans of French back in the day but recall precious little (or, as they say in Paris, “petite presciouse“). They say that this, along with learning a musical instrument, is your best hedge against Alzheimer’s. I try to do at least 30 minutes of practice de français une jour.

2:30 p.m. I think to myself: “Remember when people worried about Alzheimer’s? Remember when “going viral” was a good thing?” Then I stop thinking for a bit, at least in that direction. Safer that way.

3:00 p.m. Time for a 30-minute nap, though it’s not a sacred animal for me or an assured thing or even an everyday thing, necessarily. It all depends on how the old insomnia thing was acting the night before.

3:30 p.m. Afternoon coffee, about as late as I dare. This is a small leftover cup from the morning, so nowhere near as good, but still good, and still better than snacking on processed food (again, thank you WW II era). I do this while going through another hour or two of reading the book of the moment.

5:30 p.m. Supper. I’d make a lousy European or cosmopolitan sort, as those folks like to eat at 9 at night or so. Still, there is good new for early suppers like me. The later in the evening you eat, the more likely it is that calories become fat while you sleep. Unless, of course, you’re blessed with one of those metabolisms. You know, the ones where adults can eat like 14-year-old boys and still look like healthy sticks.

6:30 p.m. On bad days, the nightly news, although this almost assuredly brings on a bout of indigestion. On good days, straight to some bubble-brained comedy. Of late, it’s been the six seasons of Schitt’s Creek and the six seasons of Community. Now it’s Netflix movies. This is all Covid-caused. Previous to this homebody-by-force stuff, I mostly loathed the movies and television shows. You know. Like Holden Caulfield did. After the word “phonies,” he probably said, “I hate the movies” more than anything else.

8:30 p.m. Last check for “good news” in the inbox from editors fighting it out for the privilege of publishing my poems (and what a joyful cartoon image THAT is!). Why do these people take so long? Why do I continue to dream that, some day, some editor will happen to read the work I submitted via Submittable on the same day it arrives and JUMP on it before any other editor can? Blame the last thing out of Pandora’s Box. Anyway, after this delusion, I repair to the kitchen to make tomorrow morning’s Overnight Oatmeal (see 7:30 a.m. entry for, ahem, recipe)

9:00 p.m. To bed with the book of the moment. This usually lasts all of 20 minutes before I drop the book on my face, making a literary divot on the bridge of my nose.

2:30 a.m. If I’m lucky to get this far, the first wake up. If I’m really lucky, I’ll get back to sleep within 20 minutes, but if it goes longer than that, it usually drags out for 90 minutes at least, forcing me to witness that most unseemly of hours: 3 to 4 o’clock, the hour that inspired me to write these poems:


Ken Craft

Three is the loneliest number on a clock
when the night can’t save you.

No doubt it is the constellated tug,
a conspiracy of stars, the silent, primal

voice that whispers the uselessness,
that grinds greater gears,

that mocks the hubris of careful plans,
set alarms. Every blanketed life around you

sleeps safe and happy and secure
like nothing can touch them, like change

has made its exception, named it you,
and passed finally over the frosted roof.



Ken Craft

In the dark
from over the water, a rooster
celebrates my insomnia


5:30 a.m. Wake and sing the simple ditty by some obscure minstrels from long ago: “Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head.” And a fine déjà vu to you, too, using something as dated as a comb.

May you all have a great “day in the life” of your own, for today and many more.

Just Another Random Thoughts Saturday

will shake

What? Time for another “Random Thoughts” post? I thought so.

  • Just finished James Shapiro’s Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future.
  • The answer to that title? A lot. Starting with race, moving on to gender, class warfare, immigration, marriage, same-sex marriage, adultery, and left vs. right.
  • I loved the chapter on Lincoln, who loved Shakespeare over all else. I was probably attracted to the fresh air of a president who not only reads, but memorizes vast stretches of great literature, which he wanted to discuss with people.
  • President Lincoln’s Top 5 Favorite Shakespeare plays: King Lear, Richard III, Henry VIII, Hamlet, and especially Macbeth.
  • Being a fan of effective repetition, he liked to recite the “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” speech from Macbeth.
  • John Wilkes Booth loved Shakespeare every bit as much as his eventual victim, only JWB was partial to Julius Caesar and loved playing the role of Brutus.
  • Can you say “foreshadowing”?
  • No surprise: Booth was a white supremacist.
  • Around 10 days before his assassination, Lincoln told close friends of a dream he had: he got up from bed, walked to the East Room of the White House, and found a corpse guarded by soldiers. When he asked who it was, he was told, “The President. He was killed by an assassin.” A burst of grief from mourners woke Lincoln up from his nightmare.
  • Can you say “foreshadowing” twice in one day?
  • It’s May and states are slowly opening up, depending on the state. Here it amounted to barbers and hairdressers, but my hair had already met its match in the form of the Good Wife with clippers.
  • I hope crew-cuts are back in style.
  • On the plus side, I’ve read a lot of books since Pan came to demic all over the place. On the negative side, I’ve also watched way too much Netflix.
  • In a word: “Overrated.”
  • Watching prime time news for my daily dose of depression, I came to this conclusion: “Imagine the money we’d save on prescription drug costs if Congress banned Big Pharma from airing these #*&$%*&@ drug commercials.
  • You know, the ones that include, in rapid-fire voice-overs, warnings about that little side effect known as “death.”
  • For sanity’s sake, people need to get out of the house, apartment, condo every day, even in the rain (which is kind of fun). Nature is behaving the same as it always has. The bonus? You don’t have to antisocial distance yourself from it.
  • Unless you choose the same “nature” (e.g. the beach on a sunny and warm day) that a thousand other cabin-fevered sorts have.
  • Have you memorized a poem or a slice of Shakespeare (ring on deli) lately? If not, why not? As good as remdesivir, I swear.
  • I know weekends and weekdays have jumped in the smoothie together, but if you’re out of work and reading this at home: Have a great weekend!
  • For old time’s sake, I mean.


Taking Stock: What the Pandemic Hath Wrought


Covid-19 is all-encompassing. Every aspect of every person’s life (country borders matter not) has been affected. Some of it I see reflected in newspaper articles, some not. Some of it everyone would agree upon, some not. Let’s take stock:

  • Long hair. The 60s are back, man, as all the barber shops are closed. Men all look like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo (think: shaggy Hair-Doo with a little chin music).
  • Weight gain. Try as you might, or try as you did until Easter treats, you just can’t keep the weight off. You are walking static to the pounds’ lint. The bathroom scale is either overworked or banished. Meanwhile, you employ rationalization to finish that ham, mac and cheese, chocolate bunny and, God save us, box of Peeps.
  • Time amnesia (or “timenesia,” as I call it). No one’s quite sure what day it is, anymore. Tell me, quick. You had to think about it, no?
  • Insomnia. Move over, Seattle. The whole world is sleepless these days. Perhaps it is that lack of movement and physical exercise? Stress? Unemployment?
  • Dreamy. A corollary of being sleepless is the increased amount of REM sleep. This means everyone’s dreaming more. Weird dreams. Really, really weird. But you won’t remember a thing unless you keep pen and pencil bedside and write it down.
  • Back to school. More than one parent feels like they are going through middle school again, small thanks to “online learning,” a term that once seemed harmless. Once.
  • Food, food, food. People are thinking about food too much. What are we having for lunch? How about dinner? What about tomorrow night? When are we going to the supermarket again? Who’s going this time? Are we really having tuna sandwiches again?
  • Bathroom, bathroom, bathroom. A corollary of food, food, food. Some people are actually hitting weird stores like Walgreen’s and Staples and Target in hopes of scoring some toilet paper. Some newspaper articles love to excoriate shoppers for this obsession, saying everyone should switch to bidets, but hey, a good bidet is expensive (including the plumber, if you want warm water), and who wants a plumber in the house?
  • Masks. Overheard at the supermarket this week…Husband: “I hate this f–‘n mask. I can’t breathe wearing it.” Wife: “So take it off and shut up, why don’t you?”
  • Moral of the Story: Family members are driving each other crazy, and the next exit is 156 miles away. (“Are we there yet?”)
  • Skin problems. Hands especially. Rawer than steak tartare. All together, now: Clean, rinse, dry, repeat!
  • I see the light! Blue light, to be exact. It’s a corollary of insomnia, the way people are logging so many hours on their screens and wreaking havoc on their circadian rhythms.
  • Crazy-ass politics. Politicians, in their entirely predictable ways, are shamelessly using a world health crisis to consolidate their power. In the U.S., a president is looking in the mirror and seeing a king. He is also, per usual, pointing fingers for everything gone wrong while claiming credit for anything gone right. Also, in case you’re wondering, every move he’s made has been perfect. None of us claims to be perfect. Ever.
  • Logic None-Oh-One. If a Trump voter’s kid acted like that, they’d send him to his room and tell him not to come out until he’d smartened up. If a Trump voter’s spouse claimed to be perfect and blamed the wife or husband for every thing that went wrong, they’d be thinking divorce. But for Trump to do it? That’s OK, seems. If you don’t believe it, watch the spin doctors on Fox “News.”
  • Creativity. For some, a burst of coronavirus-related creativity has bloomed. Covid-19 stories, poems, books, (ahem) blog posts. Some readers are anxious to read it, others are sick to death of it.
  • Guilt and reading. What to read? Some feel guilt for reading dystopian books (too similar to current events) while others feel guilt for reading escapist books (too selfishly oblivious to current events). Let the guilt go, people!
  • Rising stars. I imagine this is true in many countries. Here in the States, some superstar governors are emerging as the voices of sanity. Of course, contrast works to their advantage (enough said).
  • Social distancing. Some are very good at it. Others not so much. Some talk a good story, but don’t really apply the moral of the story to themselves because (here we go again) “bad things happen to other people, not me.”
  • Opening the economy. Anyone’s guess. Start a pool with dates, why don’t you. Make some money.
  • Vaccines. Somewhere over the rainbow. Sitting next to Dorothy and Toto.
  • Hope. Remember Pandora’s box? Remember laughing at Bob Hope?
  • Socialism. The perennial big, bad wolf of American politics is looking pretty good along about now as Covid-19 continues to expose the rigged economy of the wealthy.
  • Charity. CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey donated one billion (a third of his wealth) to the cause. Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg? The equivalents of a dollar, given their extreme wealth.
  • Celebrities. Anyone else sick to death of TV ads with (also wealthy) celebrities telling us to “stay safe” and serving up clichés like “we’ll get through this together” from inside their swank homes? These ads are little more than self-promotion at the worst of times.
  • Ditto to the networks and cable channels serving up their “stars” with these concerned commercials, which always include the title of the star’s show somewhere on the screen. Bad optics. Really bad.
  • Ad for our Times: You know the one. It resonates now more than ever. Punchline: “What’s in your wallet?”
  • Answer: “Not” and “much.”

Wrapped in Simplicity, An Easter Morning Surprise


This morning, appropriate for our times, it was an Easter sunrise service of one. Two if you count the dog.

Not planned, actually. In lieu of an alarm clock, I now have an old dog who thinks he’s a rooster. At the first gray hint of approaching dawn, he’s outside the bedroom door squeaking like a rusty hinge.

Whining, it’s called in dogspeak.

Eventually he gets his way because the sound is uniquely sleep-unfriendly. So up I got and out we went. Down the street. Past the pond. Over the bridge.

Then, we followed his nose, which followed the usual route into the dewy, sniff-friendly field along the river to the waterfall and the roiling waters below.

There we saw it. That flint-spark atop the still-leafless trees and evergreens to the east. That’s when it dawned on me: Sunrise on Easter morning.

And so, quite spontaneously and while my best friend was otherwise occupied looking down, I looked up and said a nondenominational prayer for all denominations.

The prayer went out in circles like the proverbial ripples in a lake after a pebble falls into its depths.

The circles went so: for my family, my friends, my neighbors, my countrymen, my fellow citizens of the world. For health, for peace, for not only the pursuit of happiness, but its capture. The natural rights of man everywhere.


Didn’t seem like too tall an order. At least at the time.

When the moment finally burst and I was just a man standing in a field again, I tugged on the dog’s leash and we continued our journey into the unknown by way of home.

Sometimes holidays come in odd packages, and sometimes they’re the best kind. No matter what the circumstances.