Sunday, December 28, 2008


One wonders how many journeys
Ostensibly of self-discovery and definition
Are intended as such by the searcher
Setting out to become more than he is

Odysseus went to Troy for glory and honor
Then merely wished to return home
To the comforts of Penelope and court
Never the tests of sirens and Scylla

What, ultimately, is discovered
Is no truth he can recognize
But the stranger living within
Unbidden and rarely welcome

The voyage of acceptance
Of what the razor can reveal
Of what the eyes can take in
Of what the heart can sustain.

Monday, December 22, 2008


The holiday comes early If it comes at all
Seen vaguely through a fog
Of Benedryl and ocean-borne snow
The rituals carried out
To keep the old normal in sight
As a new normal covers the world

Symptoms of the new present themselves
Falling snow, falling hair
White on black, stark and definite
The tide beaten back
By the engines of modernity
IV lines and snowblowers

The tree erected haphazardly
The gifts exchanged quickly
A holiday observed self-consciously
Moments of illusory clarity
As lights blink steadily
Vital signs of what we've become

Sunday, December 7, 2008


At 4:15 p.m. on a cloudy Sunday
I sign the lengthy release forms
Skimming through the paragraphs
Finding the parental line
That says I trust them
These well-meaning, well-pierced
Twentysomethings with their abs
And their way about a rock wall

As reluctant holiday shoppers
Move by with aimless purpose
We sidle up to the plastic tower
With its contrived footholds
As real as anything pulsing
Through my veins and glands
As certain to find the mark
As we are to grab the rope

I help my youngest son
Into the harness and climbing shoes
All to release me from worry
To reassure him that nothing
No harm will come to him
That all risked is reward
That fathers and precious sons
And would-be heroes never fall

With 11-year-old nonchalance
And a side glance for reassurance
He pulls on the rope with his all
Planting feet on the first holds
Hearing the spotter urge him on
Straighten the leg...reach
Take a breath and think
Hear your own voice

Two stories up and two thirds there
He can go no further
The next hand grip beyond him
The left knee bent and locked
He asks if he can come down
What do you think?
Another breath, another pause
The left leg straightens

He slaps the top of the pulley
And begins his triumphant slide
A moment to carry us home
Out of the REI store
Down the Pike and 128
Oblivious to snowflakes
And the tailights of the aimless
We see our exit and take it

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Outside the oncologist's window
Eighty feet below my new world
The Charles transforms itself
From a meandering country stream
To a turbid flurry of foam
Sheer rock walls and a tumescent island
Channel the water down the Lower Falls
A small relic of the Industrial era

Cars pass by on Rt. 16 like flies
Passengers oblivious to the turmoil
Staring ahead and rushing
To Starbucks and beyond
The old falls yesterday's news
The building above it
An anonymous box of nothing
But for the turgid cells inside

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Bravado, like innocence
Bleeds into the blue sunlight

Winking like a harlot

Calling like a siren

The time of posing
Assuming a will of iron
A Lance-like determination
Is exposed for what it is

The intruder is sentient
With its own brilliant design
Co-opting gene, cell and marrow
To its truly iron will

The host has been awakened
The interloper revealed
In lumps, scans, and slides
For the quiet, genius of its plan

It speaks to me now
In even, measured tones
Of mutually assured destruction
Of its own inevitable death

As my counterattack forms its lines
Each cut goes deeper than the last
Biopsy, marrow sample, mediport
Pain a direct line of communication

There is no victimless war
No surgical bombing campaign
The casualties will surely mount
And all my treasures will be at risk

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Sitting in the corner room
Of the Inn at Castle Hill
Where we celebrated liberty
Over lobster hash and jazz
Where we celebrated marriage
Over asthma and divided children

I can look straight ahead
Out the west-facing window
And watch the sun set
In rose-colored harmony
With the azure sky
And the steady channel waters

I can turn to my left
Feeling the lump on my clavicle
And look to the southwest
At the black clouds of evening
Swallowing the bruised sun
Into a wine dark sea

Vantage is everything
We can marvel at the rose
We can grieve the bruise
We can live with both truths
Of what is changed and lost
Of what is possibility and gift

Monday, November 24, 2008


There are moments in our lives
Of contrived or manufactured transition
The wedding, the prom, the New Year's party
When things might change forever
Or they might offer more of the same

As I walk down my office stairs
Down to the streets of Brockton
I know I will never return here
The same man in mind or body
That part of me will go no matter

I am already a member
Of a new class of people
Even before I take on
The familiar talismans of disease
Yellow wristbands and shaven heads

Billboards and radio spots cry out
The siren calls of my new brethren
The survivors and the fallen and the families
Like proud, fellow owners
Of a new car I just bought

What I can save of myself
And what is worth saving
What will return to this building
And what must fade away
Is the essence of the battle

Friday, November 21, 2008


The perfect cup of coffee
The kind with the leaf
Etched implausibly in the foam
Sits drained at my table
And I almost grieve its passing

Leaving the tiny Cambridge cafe
I pause at the door too long
Protecting this indulgent interlude
As I do each solitary drop
Of fading normalcy

But it's all interlude already
And it's all indulgence
The notion that any moment
Can be seized and held
Is both illusory and arrogant

I follow the highway south
Familiar landmarks sail away
And strange rooms come into view
In buildings that replace the known
With conjectures of destiny

The labyrinth of hospital wings
Navigated confidently
With subconscious efficiency
PET scan films collected
An exit with speed and stealth

Bifurcation and ambivalence
Are the rule of the day
Holding back the passage of time
In one moment
Only to will it on faster in the next

Monday, November 17, 2008


I was born on the Feast day
Of my namesake
Another reluctant hero
Whose name meant crown
Stephanos said the Greeks

I imagine his reluctance
In the way he wore his crown
Cross askew and awkward
Eyes set in sadness and disbelief
At the barbarism of his people

Yet there he stood firmly
At the gates of Vienna
At the dawn of the second Millenium
And defiantly told the Ottomans
You shall not pass

Even the pagan Magyars
His flesh and blood
Who resisted conversion
Were worthy of his protection
And ultimately, mercy

Who is to say of what I'm made
Merely by dint of a name
A birth date, not a birthright
Yet here I stand at my own gates
Worthy in my defiance.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


A new use of an old and trusted word
That conjures images of fireplaces
Of winter nights and marshmallows
Of picture frames and garlands
Dinner parties and solitude

Or a part of the Earth
That seems imaginary but isn't
The protective layer
Between crust and core
Keeping us from melting

Or perhaps it should be
A garment of power
Worn by feudal lords
Cardinals, popes, and knights
With entitlement or reluctance

Now a cell among many
Fueled by rogue genetics
Assuming the purple mantle of power
Between my crust and my core
With entitlement, not reluctance.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Conjures images of battleships
With HMS and carved figureheads
Pendants and signals flapping gallantly
As she cuts a steady path
Through the chop of some foreign sea

Fear nothing
Is what it means
In that uniquely British way
Of dressing up something difficult
To sound noble and innate
Like stiff upper lips

Dread mortality
Is what my mind tells me
Through the pit in my stomach
And the look in her eyes
The squeeze of my doctor’s hand
As he bid me good luck

Fear ignorance
Is what I must live by
Not fear of what I know
That all things pass
Even and especially me
Except what we give to others.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Trudging through the woods
Limbs bent over under the new snow’s weight
As if bowing to some unseen god

Certainly not me, barely competent in snowshoes

I lose the trail again, or it loses me
And I trace the power lines down to the open field

Flinching at the crackle of each breaking branch

Past the defrocked priory I pick up my pace

Swinging my arms rhythmically

I approach the first approximation
Of the Stations of the Cross

Although there’s little sign of suffering here

Only silence and spooked deer

Descending to the river

I follow them, unsure of the trail

And the future that awaits

Trusting in the truth of the river

Black and alive as it flows

Ice clogged to Wellesley and beyond
I break my gaze and let it let go of me
Steeling myself for another ascent.


November light bathes the trail in artifice
Illusory brightness and warmth
Deceiving the hopeful journeyman
Into fantasies of life and health

When a 4:30 sunset is all that awaits him

Standing before the shaving mirror

He could imagine he merely sees jowls

The price of middle age

Rather than the swollen lymph nodes

Now riddling his body from neck to groin

Is it the power to trick himself
Imagining an early sunset is not inevitable
Or is it the power to compartmentalize

To bathe in light now rather than fear darkness

That will save him from himself