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Opening Prayer 2 of 4









Lauren and I were married in New York. My day job of copywriting turned into a career that eventually supported a family. At the time, however, I wanted nothing of it. I felt cheated. I thought about teaching in workshops, but decided against it. I had already spent most of my 20s in academia, and I had the hunch that if I returned to the classroom, I would keep writing the same book over and over. So I gave up. I knew I couldn’t be a creative writer and work fulltime on Madison Avenue, writing brochures for IBM.


Then, oddly, something happened. The obstacle, the stumbling block, became a stepping stone, a kind of permission to stop writing what I thought were “poems” and start writing about money, jobs, paying the rent, and trying to keep the soul-spark alive in a corporation. The problem  of what we now call the work/life balance became the subject of Success Stories. My style grew plainer and at times (some readers would agree) crossed over entirely to prose. If poetry had been a religion for me, my faith was failing.


Was the book true to its title? Considering the irony of what I meant by “success,” I guess it was. Everything my wife and I attempted in New York fell apart, and yet after 11 years, we were still together, still very much married and now with a prayed-for son and another child on the way. I had come to New York for what I could get, but the book follows what I had to give up, a via negativa, a way of subtraction not from our true selves but from the ones that we make up, the egos that constantly fret, compete and compare. The book ends in silence, as close to the Truth as I could get at the time, standing on the other side of the glass. Failure. Surrender. Some kind of blessing.


In the middle of life, I find myself still waiting

outside a library deep in the woods.

I stare through the window: tier after tier

of books bound in white leather, and I understand

now that the books are empty, nothing

but soft, blank pages. I press my hands

to the cold glass. This is my heart,

this silent building in the dark fir trees,

and the lights are left burning all night long.


“Ground Hawk”

Web_Ground Hawk






Pastel on distressed paper. I spilled a can of black graphite on the paper but managed to make something of it. (Actually it started as a tree, but I turned it upside down because it looked more interesting, even if a bit oppressive.) Somebody said that it had a Renaissance Fair feel to it.


Reaching Out







Hmm. We seem to have an agitated spirit here. Or maybe a map. This is pastel and ink on paper that was stressed (crumpled up in a ball), then spread out and pasted on birch panel. I like the way the wrinkles created a totally random pattern that was randomized again when I pressed the paper on the panel. I worked within this randomess as carefully as I could. Such is life. Yes? No?


656 baba ashes small file





This week, I’ve been thinking of ashes. What they represent. Here’s something I wrote in memory of my father-in-law after helping to scatter his ashes off the coast of Seattle.


John Lacher, 1928-2010


Heavier than you’d think

if you think of ashes,

a man’s worth

tucked in a box now

passed from one

relation to the next

as we scatter what remains

on Puget Sound, though

“scatter” is too light

a word. These ashes

plunge, I say

plunge into the cold,

clear water, bone chips

and bits that even the straight

blast of the furnace couldn’t finish.

If you had known this man,

even from a distance,

you would have felt

how hard he burned

himself with blindness

and sturdy rage,

with the diligent weight

he carried in love for others.

And if you had loved him,

even from a distance, you

weren’t surprised how the dust

behaved like stars,

the million particles trailing

clouds of milky smoke

like galaxies, as beautiful

and constant as anything else

burning in the sky.





Christmas Stories

Our favorite Christmas stories often revolve around death, unhappiness, and the possibility of a painful, even tragic, loss. This is odd since we also think of Christmas as “merry,” a season of bright lights and jolly good cheer. But in their darkness, these stories tell us something important about Christmas and how we can prepare, through Advent, for the coming of Our Lord.

Christmas tales can be, in fact, pretty grim. In Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol,” Scrooge sees his life as three different kinds of death—past, present, and a possible future, complete with his own funeral, horribly cold and lonely. In the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey literally stands on the brink of suicide, on a snowy bridge in December, staring down at the black waters where he once saved his brother from drowning. In “Miracle on 34th Street,” little Natalie Wood loses her faith in Santa Claus. In “White Christmas,” the warmhearted General Waverly is in full danger of losing his country inn and all his life savings to boot.

The theme of loss is found in children’s books as well, with a Grinch who steals Christmas, with “Christmas Lost & Christmas Found,” and with a little boy in “The Polar Express” who is heartbroken when he loses the reindeer bell that Santa gave him, the “first gift of Christmas.”

None of these stories end in tragedy. They take us into the darkness and sometimes to the very brink, but they always bring us back. They have a double movement, turning and then returning. Both darkness and light are necessary for the plot, and we cannot understand the season without passing through a quiet darkness—including the darkness inside us—that leads to Christmas.

This is why Advent makes all the sense in the world. Advent helps us to slow down and ease into the darkness. Like Lent and Good Friday, Advent reminds us that Christianity teaches the deep wisdom of Lost and Found, that as human beings, we cannot appreciate, in fact, cannot even understand any gift that we have not lost or been in danger of losing.

How many Christmases have gone past us without understanding? How many times have we ignored or given slight notice to the quiet darkness of Advent? It’s a good thing that Christmas comes every year. Like Scrooge and George Bailey, we, too, get another chance. But our Christmas stories also remind us that there’s always a catch—we have to believe. And with this belief comes understanding that Christmas is a brilliant miracle, a gift from God, even at the darkest time of the year.