Swan Sang


Photo: Tom Berthiaume

In early January of 1972, the poet John Berryman jumped to his death off the Washington Avenue Bridge – the upper deck of which serves as the pedestrian walkway between the West Bank and East Bank campuses of the University of Minnesota.  Seventy feet below the structure, the Mississippi River slumbered under ice.  Although I grew up living in Minneapolis, news of his death eluded my attention.

Two years, eight and a half months later I made my maiden excursion across the Washington Avenue bridge, stopping midway to look over the railing and watch as a portion of the Golden Gopher crew team rowed out from the shadow of the bridge, a cross between a water boatman insect and a centipede.  I would discover I was at approximately the place where the poet and professor ended his stay on earth.  I never really understood suicide; certainly never understood the motivation to jump.  Often the question of death, of suicide came up amongst my fellow students.  Filled with beer and early twenties angst, the conversation would turn to, “Have you ever considered…?”  Most often I would smile and say, “I’m more likely to kill you…!”  We would laugh, continue shelling peanuts, scattering the husks on the floor, and move on to the struggles of writing.  Or of dating.

On the spring of my senior year, the Mississippi crawled up out of its bed – a gnarled, angry creature poked to vengeance by a heavy snow melt and heavy rains.  Crossing the Washington Avenue Bridge was not a problem.  The river below was deep always, and did not flow over any terrain.  I walked the long way home down the St. Paul side of the river, and crossed on the downstream side of the Ford Parkway Bridge.  Just below the bridge is Lock and Dam Number 1.  The river was up and over the dam, the water raging, pulling.  As I began to cross, I felt the pull.  I heard… no, felt in the flood waters, the thrilling pull that spoke to something deeply hidden within me.  It took me nearly twenty minutes to walk the bridge, holding to the railing, staring at the walkway.

One never knows what
Ice for the poet failing
Flood that sobered me


It’s Haibun Monday at dVerse Poets Pub, and our bartender is keeping a tab of our fears: What I would like for us to write about today is fear and how we overcame it, how something frightened us, how something still frightens us. So please, write about something real that actually frightens or frightened you. It can be as simple as the nightmare you had last night or something as complex as phobias – insects, being outside, cats, black cats, dogs, chickens, red cars, the number 13….It can be as simple as walking home in the dark one night and all the night sounds around you. It can be as complex as being afraid someone you love will die. Fears are often not logical. But then, neither is joy! I mean, why should a butterfly make me smile but frighten another person into gibberish? I do not pretend to know.


Seeking Shelter

dark pond

photo by Charley

Shards of wind shatter
the surface of the pond once still;
Sandblast seed ripples
broadcast from the sower’s hand.

Urgent gusts, dancing gales shape
the painted watercolor of life at this level.

The deeper beneath the canvas I swim,
diving with tanks of reflection’s air,
the less of movement and moment I feel.

Only the deep current of healing moves.

Chronographs (Coldplay Remixed)


The tapers snuff’t, I’ve outpaced rescue’s reach.
Ebb’d ocean’s current I have challenged
And found me dropt to the stance of yield.
O, alms I ask, alms I ask and pray,

Hide no longer behind unspoken truths
Face me the challenge of bow and fruit
Unlabeled turmoil
The feral cat awaits chair and whip,
serenading… Thou exist, thou exist

Chaos of one’s mind never-ending

Constricting ramparts, the pulse of the chronograph shall
Return anon and transport you where you reside
I am without means to cease, you know’st,

Venture upon the deep that is mine
Fortunes through my fingers jinxed.  Perchance I
Serve as a portion of healing
Or mayhaps a portion of the malady,

Thou exist, thou exist
Thou exist, thou exist
Thou exist….


Meeting the Bar: Pop Sonnets

Okay, so I’ve already said that I don’t follow directions well.  As I said to my wife just recently, “I can’t color inside the box.”  To which she replied, “And you don’t live inside the lines….”  So, it’s not a sonnet.  Which, yes, it was the challenge.  Sigh.  Anyway, it’s the lyrics of a reasonably recent pop song.  Good luck!

A Bop Till You Drop


The sun is setting;
all too soon setting.
I don’t want to lose
another day to feeling
like all I do is work;
that life is only this.
God be merciful and send me a time of wool-gathering sloth!

My work is trying.
Sixth graders I discipline.
Okay, well, I refer
them to in-school suspension,
out-of-school suspension.
I only labor when they misbehave.
When was the last time you were around sixth graders?
They misbehave as if it’s mandatory!
God be merciful and send me a time of wool-gathering sloth!

Each morning I arrive
early, hoping to ruminate and write.
The paperwork towers,
the email glowers,
the stomach acid flowers,
my eyes shedding April showers!
God be merciful and send me a time of wool-gathering sloth!

In response to the NaPoWriMo prompt, I wrote a Bop: 6 lines and a refrain, 8 lines and a refrain, and 6 lines and a refrain.  Somehow, in some strange, slightly twisted sort of way, it reminds me of church… high church.


A Portrait of the Travelling Poet, Charley, As He Fakes a Quadrille-Lateral Pass

A onesie, a twosie!
Sportin’ my blue suede Addidas Shoesies.
Hedden shoulders, blow yer nose.
Thrust out tushie, grab yer toes.
Drizzle!  Mention Drizzle!


A day at work in middle school
is like orange juice without sunshine.
We all are beasts of burden.


Something happens when I write for dVerse Poets Pub.  Tonight the prompt is write a quadrille (a poem of 44 words) including the word drizzle.  Then there’s the NaPoWriMo prompts… something about a portrait poem and a traveling poem.  So, too much stress?  I don’t know.  It is what it is… whatever it is.

Cardinal Rules

Scarlet brushstroke hastily cast across the canvas
of our backyard.

Beautifully contrasts
with the summer greens.

Wobbly child.
Faded hues.
Unsteady flight.
Unsteady feet.
Hops through the grass, seeking.

Up north I thought
of them as
snow flowers.




it starts dark as night
nine gather to meet
in a circle tight
softly do they chant
swirl ‘neath growing light
to swelling applause
sway to left, then right
and shuffle their feet
dazzle!  quite a sight

(for Pluto)


It comes too rarely and passes too quickly.
We sit across the room from each other
and talk and share as we are seldom able,
given the restraints of job and the clock.
A stream of steam rises from her yellow cup
and lifts my panicked heart to a higher plain.

With the early sun behind her she is beautiful
as always.  The white wicker rocker frames
her, and her auburn hair catches sun’s fire.
We laugh and smile, play with our little white dog.
A stream of steam rises from her yellow cup
and lifts my panicked heart to a higher plain.

She has much to do, as do I; but we are refraining.
we have the day before us, and tomorrow as well.
Later we’ll work.  Still later we’ll play.  Ride bikes
in Celebration.  Eat sushi.  Go out late and carouse.
A stream of steam rises from her yellow cup
and lifts my panicked heart to a higher plain.

Too long we lived without being together, and
too often through the week we are forced apart.
She knows I carry her heart with me as I labor.
I know mine beats within her as she toils hard.
A stream of steam rises from her yellow cup
and lifts my panicked heart to a higher plain.