This morning I was stricken by
the need to write a piece
to celebrate the birthdays
of my mother and my niece.
Though two weeks separate their dates
one poem must need suffice
which, like its predecessors,
mixes craft with bad advice.
One may expect nonagenarians
to focus on the past;
while 20-somethings scan the globe
and wonder what will last.
Which be the case for either of you
is a matter of conjecture;
my generation was that of
the Conscientious Objector.
But consciousness gets battered by
the blitzkrieg of deceit
that marks our education,
be it school or in the street,
leaving us to choose between
the numbing of our senses
and standing up for principles,
rejecting all pretenses.
Many were the facts we learned,
our vantage that of miners;
some wayward groundhogs rose to view
the hand of the designers,
which now ungloved leaves fingerprints
undeterred by detection,
confident how to subvert
results of an election.
What power do we have against
the money and the lies
but our inner Alexandria
who cannot compromise?
Well may you ask how I dare
confuse this celebration
of your chronological ages
with the status of our nation.
Each of us has finite time
to better our surroundings.
We’ll run aground this charter boat
if we don’t watch the soundings.
For our time is a gift not just to
us but all encountered.
So why could I not have done more
to stop things heading downward?
To leave an earth behind me
where every child has chances
to live, to breathe, to eat enough,
to sing and make up dances.
And though I’ve loved my countrymen
my love was insufficient
to mollify their fears,
kick down the walls resistant
to the light, to the darkness,
to the healing of their sorrow
that bars their playing forward,
and makes their days so hollow.
But I’ll refuse to give up trying
if you will do the same;
and one day, through this unspoken pact,
we’ll redesign the game.
04 March 2018
This birthday is the first one
when we haven’t been together,
though we both look out on Puget Sound
and have much the same weather.
How this will one day resolve
I wish someone could tell us.
When comparing to some others’ lives
I let myself feel jealous,
Even though I have advised
so many in recovery —
that thirsting after worldly things
will leave us going hungry —
I recall at the same time
how blindly we move forward:
trying to blame the waiter
for not bringing what was ordered.
But is it not ourselves who
in the end must shoulder blame
for moments lacking gratitude,
for joys we failed to claim?
Were we ever making
the best use of our gifts?
And how does one keep pace when it’s
the paradigm that shifts?
Yet, through it all, our partnership
continues to endure;
and with it redefining
what it might mean to mature:
no one point of arrival,
no ideal spot on earth,
but “a friend my soul can’t live without.”
There’s nothing has more worth.
01 January 2018
Monica and I are just returning from a week in MA, north and south shores. We manage to maintain our bicoastal identities with these periodic renewals of old ties to family, friends and localities. The cold snap found us minimizing time outdoors—the weather app confirming my postulate that Alaska would have offered a warmer week.
Frequently I pondered what my life would have been like had I (or we) not moved out to WA in 2009. Our marriage has now reached the point where more of it has been spent in the pacific than in the eastern time zone. How has such inculturation affected my core being, I wonder? Seeing our old music buddies performing at New Years Rockport Eve (a retitling of First Night that absolves from payment to the Boston originators) felt like the Brigadoon story—where months or years in my world coincide with the passage of a single day in theirs. Would I have remained focused on music, frugally piecing together a living? Or could I have reinvented myself without relocating? My sense is that there simply would have been too many factors to overcome—the same friends, the same ‘Y’, the same house in the same village, the same circuitous drive to get over the bridge—to nudge me beyond provincial complacence. In spite of the nurturing rootedness in greeting on the street those whose memories of me or my family go back decades, it can also become the gravity that a satellite must push past to enter into orbit. I cannot, at the same time, dig up my roots and replant them in the NW.
Since having finished an 8-minute guitar solo titled “Refugee Nocturne,” my thoughts have been on refugees. At first I imagined the piece a soundtrack to a refugee journey; but its rambling form seemed incoherent until I reimagined it describing drifting in and out of sleep—when dreaming offers an escape from the nightmare of reality. With this, the sections suddenly coalesced. And what does the refugee dream of but home? This brought back memories of Prospero’s last speech in Shakespeare’s last play The Tempest, which I orated at the conclusion of our Gallimaufry of Gambols production at Cranbrook-Kingswood schools 46 years ago: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on. . .” Here I perceived another connection to my theme in that Prospero was himself a refugee, exiled with his daughter in a coup. Scheduled to perform at Antique Sandwich Co on February 18, I began conceiving a program, culminating in this new work, to include my guitar duet partner, Ken. I have tied the remaining works loosely in around a theme of longing. Reading interviews in which those living in refugee camps express a longing for a home anywhere reminds me to be grateful to have been welcomed not only to a new region but to a new vocation as well. As I don’t have experience performing Middle Eastern music, I reflected as to what music might tap into a time when my own ancestors faced displacement. Most of them being Irish, I am tossing in some Irish songs that Monica says I don’t sound half-bad singing. [poster attached]
My day job is currently working as one of 2600 that staff Sea Mar Community Health Centers, with locations throughout western WA. I technically graduated my Masters in Counseling program a week ago, though I won’t receive my diploma for a couple of weeks. When I do, I can be licensed by WA Dept. of Health as a Mental Health Counselor, making me dual-licensed along with Chemical Dependency. Hopefully my new versatility will be appreciated—two different boxes to think outside of, which I am already pulled to do with my music/education/RC background. This Masters was twice as hard to complete as my MM in Music Composition, though at least ten times more practical. For the past three months I have worked nomadically out of four offices, learning Sea Mar’s duplicitous documentation for both MH and CD. Upon returning tomorrow it has been agreed that I will work four days at 11th St Integrated Program (f.k.a. Healthcare for the Homeless) and one day at Tacoma Behavioral Health (where I will carry a small caseload of “sheltered” clients). Each new experience has been a learning in the clinical sense as well as offering new opportunities to make reparations for my unearned privilege. Everybody, I believe, can benefit from “working a 12th step.”
Monica and I have continued to provide music for St Ann Convent Sunday Mass (order of St Francis). Early in the Mass one confesses to having “sinned though my most grievous fault, in what I have done and what I have failed to do.” Once I connect the latter phrase with the generations of white U.S. middle-class Christian male heterosexual privilege that I have benefitted from with minimal protest, this penitential rite takes on added meaning for me. My Christmas verse, relating this sentiment, is below.
28 December 2017
And we careen up through grey clouds, ‘tween wings’ miraculous lifting.
Our goal is to renew our vows to family ad finitum;
Though compelled we feel not to appear without some packaged item.
So once again to simplify, while trying to keep it real,
I chose a single gift, I hope, with wide enough appeal,
Which inspires an oration metaphorically rich,
With an ostinato rhythm that has little need for pitch.
Our genetic predisposition to crowd our living spaces
With shoes we’ll one day wear again should we find matching laces
Or hardware once essential to some modern apparatus,
Which since reaching obsolescence has ceased to offer status,
Means that the most thoughtful gifts would constitute the kind
“Like this insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack behind.”
But once I started searching, many options sought my vote.
Some were soy, some paraffin, some came with a remote.
I determined to seek lavender for the calming it provides
(Distressed as we all are by he who in White House resides).
Soon I mused about our lives each burning through a wick;
How some remain aglow so long while others go out quick.
How we strive to illuminate or become illuminated;
Be lamps unto a world already overpopulated.
The next taper to be seated in one crystal chandelier,
Among the many thousands on this fragile spinning sphere,
Will require that the waxen stub that was my incarnation
Be scraped out and disposed of without undo hesitation.
Or perhaps the one who wields the blade might pause with introspection
And contemplate the random shards with broadening perception;
Remembering new candles may from melted wax be formed,
While those disregarding past mistakes, who plunge ahead unwarned,
One day find themselves alone with all their precious acquisitions,
Realizing one by one how they have squandered past convictions,
The needy seen along the way, they thought themselves above,
As they grew up being told to be selective whom they love,
Cry out to a star-filled dome behind electric fences:
Just how could I have missed so much while sparing no expenses?
Then am I just another sheltered soul who now confesses
To snuffing out the unseen flame with gusts of my excesses?
And will it now be possible to render reparations
For harming done behind the scrim for sixteen generations?
Only now do I look in the eye of those who’ve harshly labored,
Their basic wants often denied while those of mine were favored,
Their children’s programs squashed, their prime years spent incarcerated;
So long as we’re in separate worlds we’re both unliberated.
So I ask of you, the wax holder, surveying such blood-letting,
Is to respect what has taken all my life to stop forgetting,
To cast the light enabling injured beings to be healed
And raise our children’s children on a level playing field.
—Jeffry, Christmas 2017
06 August 2017
Once again I strive to meet
A familial expectation.
Though in this smokey Northwest air
I shan’t risk inhalation.
Why I should be here not there
Confounds the mind and soul,
Shattering past illusions of
A life in my control.
The Hamilton reunion did
Require our extracting;
Our journey spanned the daylight hours
For two spent interacting.
For I felt the need to honor
Those flying from out East,
Those flying from out East,
Along with those who hosted,
With whom visits had decreased.
Such efforts beg the question:
How keep we justifying
As somehow fortifying.
What does it mean to stand before
An aging grey relation
Who we have known since the days
That followed their gestation?
When TV sets were black-and-white,
When hi-fis had one speaker,
We said, “No, thank you” not “I’m good,”
And the “Jordan” was a “sneaker.”
It means that I came from somewhere,
A place I can rely on,
With roots that grow as deep
As the most stubborn dandelion.
And from this stem we flower;
May the wind convey our seed
To those who never did deserve
To live in such great need.
And the gift I have to offer,
Seeing value in the other,
Was one of many I received
By grace of my dear mother.