What To Do When We Are Tired of Talking

Photo by Viktor Jakovlev via Unsplash

Across the street, barbers
do pull-ups under the fire escape,
tattoo artists stand on
their stoop, smoking, staring
at their phones, and cars
drive down Prince Street, deeper
into the city.

A man stands on the corner with his standard-
issue cardboard sign
Driving along the sidewalk
towards him are construction
vehicles worth more than my house. The men
in hardhats stand in a semi-circle, savages
discerning the will of demanding gods,
then peel back the crumbling macadam, lay
the pipes, and cover it with more debris.

Always more debris.

The barbers cheer and count their strength.
The artists breathe in and sigh out their smoke.
The construction beeps its backwards movement.

And in the middle of all this, in the middle
of this city, this construction, this noise, these
sad and weary people, these begrudging
celebrants, these conquering barbers,
these smoldering artists, I cannot get the image
of that refugee boy out of my mind, the boy
drowned on the beach.

Rag doll limp, waterlogged, his face planted in the sand
like a castle, or a seashell, the sound of the waves always
in his ears. I try to imagine him, or the essence
of him, rising up and walking into the water, leaving
his body behind, his hands
gliding over the waves, ripples rolling
outward from his movement.

I am tired of talking.

Cars are always driving down Prince Street, always
driving. There is no end to them.
There is no end to the number of us
who will sleep well tonight on soft pillows, who
will eat too much, watch too much television,
who will wake up tomorrow with that
same gnawing ache that says
nothing is quite
as it should be.

A Friendship: The First Three Billion Miles

Photo by John Sanderson of Sanderson Images

Six years is no small feat.
Imagine, for example,
the distance the earth travels
in one year:

500 million miles,
give or take.

Which technically means
we have traveled
billions of miles together. I guess
that makes sense because who can
measure the distance traveled
when a friend miscarries or
nearly dies, or buries
a stillborn child,
or starts a business, or has a child,
or watches a parent grow old
right before their eyes? How many billions
of miles does it take to
revive a flagging marriage
or decide to move away or
start over again?

I know a hard year can feel
like at least ten million miles.
Pulling out of depression? A few hundred
million miles. Laughing at good stories?
at least a million miles each.

And we’ve done all these things
together. We’ve traveled those miles,
all while huddled around tables
on cold winter nights with ice
on the panes, or melting together on
summer evenings
swatting mosquitoes and watching
the children dance around the
bonfire. We’ve driven home
barely able to keep our eyes open,
fallen into bed full,
oh, so full.

Can we raise our glasses to friends,
to more stories and food and wine,
and even, if we are brave enough,
to heartaches and disappointments
and failures? Can we toast the things
we hated but that somehow
made us stronger, or wiser, or
more forgiving?

Can we, in other words, raise
our glasses high,
on this almost winter’s night,
to another billion miles,
give or take?

This is Why I’m Telling You This

APTOPIX Turkey Migrants

There is something I want to tell you
but it starts when we are far from home.
Stay with me.
Come along.
Don’t get lost.

Sometimes we drive back to our house late
at night, on long straight roads
from a friend’s place
after most people are sleeping.
We enter the city on Walnut, street
lights flashing on the windshield
a slow strobe revealing
our five children
eyes the shape of new moons
mouths agape, breathing in
the light that hits all of us
as if we are planets, spinning.

I try but cannot avoid all the potholes,
and the truck lurches. The kids’ heads
are on swivels,
fall to their opposite shoulder
they lick their lips and settle back
to sleep, mouths drifting open
again. Who knows where they are? What
universe their dreams have dragged
them to?

If we’re lucky there’s a parking spot
in front of the house beside the peeling
sycamore. But usually we must circle around,
park in an orbit
somewhere down Prince, across
from the minor league ballpark where we
sat in the sun just last month, roasting,
gulping down water,
soaking in the summer.

At that time of night,
when we return late from our friend’s house,
our truck is
light-years from home.

Or a few hundred yards. But this
is why I’m telling you this.
Because we wake up the four oldest and
they grumble-stumble
down the cracked sidewalk
past the shadows, past the alleyways, around
the corner, towards home.

This is why I’m telling you this.

Because I
take 1-year-old Leo from his seat and his
arms hang limp, his legs sway like
two separate clocks
keeping the time, counting the seconds
as they drip through the dark night. And
the movement of Leo’s legs reminds

of the little boy carried by the soldier,
his tiny legs swinging at the knees,
his waterlogged shoes
measuring the
seconds in drips, measuring
the time it takes to clear
the beach.

These are the longest moments
of all.

* * * * *

To find out how your church can help with the refugee crisis in Syria, please visit the website We Welcome Refugees.

Preemptive Love is a wonderful organization providing relief, education, and medical support to refugees throughout the region. Check out their work HERE.

Or find something else to do. We can all do something.

The Long Lines Between Us


Abra walks with me to work
her pink flip-flops flapping the sidewalk
all the way to the cafe,  where she
sits on the tall red chair
huddled behind a swimming pool
of hot chocolate, and cuts out
photos from her magazines
to go with the letters at the top
of the worksheet: M and N and O.

Across from her
in my own red chair
I work with words to help a family
tell the story of their daughter, how she
pulled her hair out by its roots
strand by strand
how she cut long lines in her pale arms
with a broken tape case
how she poured her old pills
into a mason jar
where it stratified, a rainbow
of sand art, documenting everything
that didn’t work.

Abra draws long lines on her
paper, a rainbow of colors
and somehow gets hot chocolate on
her forehead, a dark mark on her
pale skin. We laugh, and I wipe
it off, and we watch the traffic go by below us
on Prince Street. Then, as Abra sits across
from me reading The Moffats,

I spill the words, the story of this tired
young girl, twenty years ago, who wrote her last
journal entry, explained how she would not
make it through October
how the pain was world-heavy
how she planned on walking into the water.

She was a little girl, once.

Life with my Abra is August, and it is hot.
Nothing like that October when the girl
walked into the water, nothing like that.
October has smooth breezes and rainbow leaves.
August shadows are dim and uncertain,  like
underwater lines – October shadows are long and

The cafe windows are clouded with dust. There
is no clear view of the sky.

Abra and I walk home along the lines of traffic,
past cars idling,
waiting for the light to turn,
waiting in the August heat. We walk Prince Street, and
I hold her hand the entire way.

The Secret to a Happy Marriage

Maile and Leo, in his first moments of life. Talk about being found...

Can it really have taken me
sixteen years to realize you can
live in the same house with someone
and still lose track of them?

It’s true.

We occasionally lose
each other, somewhere among
discarded Legos and Everest piles
of laundry, too many words to be written
or deciding the best way to teach
dangling participles
or the size of the solar system. Our words
cross and mismatch and fall,
seeds on parched August ground, hard
as pavement. Is
there a more complicated maze
than the everyday household routine?
Is there anywhere easier to lose someone
than in the daily humdrum of a life?

The two of us
we go from found to lost
in the time it takes to zombie-walk
to the baby’s bed at 2am and fall
asleep on the scratchy carpet, in the time
it takes to nurse a child’s hurt feelings on
the third floor, coming back to bed
only to find the
other has already fallen asleep.

Maybe the key to this thing called
isn’t remaining in love
(Lord knows I love you)
or sticking to those vows
(rules parch and crack and can’t
keep a meaningful thing together)
but maybe
the key is finding the energy
the courage
to keep finding each other again
and again.

They leave us after dinner, all
five children, and we’re staring
the vast distance from one end of the table
to the other, because a family this size
requires a large table, and the distance
from one end to the other
can feel like the span of the Sahara. Lost
and found.

But then one of us moves closer
and we talk quietly while the sound
of their steps rains down from above.
Or we walk this city in which I love you,
holding hands
breathing in the lights
remembering the sweet feeling
that casual ecstasy
of being found again
by someone you have loved for so long.

Maybe the key to finding each other
is discovering ways
every day
that we can get lost
all over again. Maybe the seeds
that fall on pavement can still
find the winding crack
burrow deep
and sprout green life
in this city.

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When I Made My Dad Cry (or, Stopping Time)

Legend has it
my dad (who was the age I am now)
dropped me off at college
then cried the whole way home
watering the length of the overpriced
Pennsylvania turnpike with his
salty tears

While that is probably
an exaggeration
or perhaps he was weeping
at the price of the toll
there is still something about
your children growing up
that causes a deep longing
for the days to stop

When Leo takes halting steps
across the kitchen
I want to rise up
stand on my chair
and call out like Joshua
in the hopes that doing so
will keep the sun from moving

These days are gifts
the kind that wear you out
the kind that leave you exhausted
and drinking large mugs of coffee
at four in the afternoon
but these days are still gifts
the kind you want to hold on to
and sip on a little later

But no good comes of stopping
time or trying to reign it in
because these days will grow cold
if we don’t drink them down now

So once again I walk peacefully into
the river the water the current
and it carries me along
to a place where time is nothing
more than one moment after

or perhaps time is a road
where the toll we pay
is a heavy one
and there will be some mile markers
that we water
with our tears