Sense of Wonder

At the heart of humankind stirs an ever-present unquenchable need to tap into its own creative power.  This manifests in ways both peaceable and destructive.  Nevertheless, we yearn yearn yearn to push beyond the aches, pains, phlegm, blood and gunk of mortality and the visible world known to us.  No wonder we enjoy star-gazing so much: we have a desire, be it conscious or unconscious, to explore and experience cosmic energy.  Many of us feel as if splinters of that energy are hooked into us.  Couple this desire with the unavoidable recognition of our stunning insignificance, and you have before you the Sense of Wonder that has been endlessly pondered by countless humans over countless lifetimes.  It can go either way, I suppose – you might feel energized and awakened by it, or you might adjust the rope and kick the stool out from under your feet.

I think that in the most exciting circumstances the artist within us springs to life, even from the most dormant state.  The artist incarnation of ourselves then goes to work, producing something that has the ability to inform or inspire others…and in many cases it continues to inform and inspire long, long after our departure from this world.

Solutions (And Other Problems)

The thing is, there are no solutions.  One man’s solution is another man’s problem, and vice versa.  It’s all just a cosmic stockpot of thoughts, perceptions and judgments – a sort of existential gumbo.  The more you think in terms of problems and solutions, the more you find yourself grasping at something that can never really satisfy, never truly reward.  Yet it’s difficult, in our world of duality, to let it all go.  Our rational minds thrive on thinking this way, kind of like an academic measuring of poetry – trying to place some measure of control on something that exists outside its realm.  But that’s just it, you see: our minds think they’re running the show.  They’re not.  We are driven by something much deeper than intellect: our heart life, our spirit life.  Turn away from what’s really inside of you and yer gonna go bonkers eventually.

It reminds me of my great-grandfather.  Bound to a wheelchair by a stroke and colon cancer, he continued to radiate joy like some sort of strange Buddha.  I recognized it as a boy, but not until now did I make the connection well enough to explain it.  He would grin his great toothless grin at me and exclaim “Coon…tastes like roast dog!”  Then an enormous wheezing laugh would rise from his chest as he took another puff off his Santa Fe brand cigar and blew smoke rings that would rival Gandalf’s from “The Hobbit”.  His hair stuck up in bedraggled patches, and he loved doing magic tricks almost as much as he loved drinking Sarsaparilla and watching Hee-Haw.  There was something about him, something he understood about life, something beautiful.  After all, he was in his mid-nineties.  Far, far beyond the “looking for a solution” stage.

Maybe once you’ve been hit with enough problems, you just see stars instead.

Grandma, Food, and Cancer

I grew up in a food stamp house, allergic to milk, with a vegetarian mother and no television.  Books, cats, and a hugely-overactive imagination were my entertainment.  Once a week my mom would take me to the library and I’d check out so many books I could barely carry them all.  I’d lounge around reading for hours on end, picking sadly at my salad garnished with home-sprouted lentils and fenugreeks.  Oh, I had my soy cheese, my Rice Dream “ice cream”, and my trusty jar of unstirred Adams peanut butter, but it just couldn’t match Grandma’s house.

Grandma Ruth’s house was a little slice of heaven.  She had everything I deemed to be most important in life: every Dr. Seuss book, a pool table, an awesome collection of old 45’s, a television, and a fridge full of meat.  She would fry me kielbasa for breakfast (which she called Oktoberfest sausages), give me liverwurst for lunch, and feed me pot roast for dinner.  Then I’d collapse onto the couch – or as she called it – the davenport, and watch Dukes of Hazzard and the A-Team.  Just everything a growing boy needs.

Grandma Ruth always had a twinkle in her eye.  She’d make herself martinis, dance around to old boogie songs in her robe, and whoop my ass at billiards.  “Not enough,” she’d always say, referring to a lack of English applied to the cue ball.  She drove a little yellow Porsche convertible, and she drove it with a heavy foot.  There were racing goggles and (imagine!) gloves in the glove compartment, and a little silk pillow on the dash that said “Baby Ruth” on it.  Sometimes she’d drink a pot of coffee and then fall asleep in her chair, snoring fantastically.  And don’t think she was afraid to use the shotgun in the closet when a mole went to work out in her yard.

Then I’d go back home where there was no meat, no TV, and no money.  I didn’t mind though.  I loved my mom; she was one of my best friends growing up, though I despised my rainbow suspenders, hated my bowl haircut, and resented the cowlick in my hair.  Even a wet hairbrush only kept it at bay for a few minutes.  I guess I didn’t hate being the only hippie kid in a three-classroom rural school, but I was certainly aware that I was the only one, and it irritated me.

In winter I’d build a fire in the woodstove before I left for school, so when mom got up there would be some warmth tip-toeing through the little house.  In the summer I’d sit out on the front porch and eat granola with juice in it.  I got tired of soy milk and rice milk, so I tried it with juice: orange (not bad at all actually), apple (a little weird), and grape (yuck).  Having such limited food options has definitely had its effects on my eating habits over the years, and is probably a big part of why I became a chef.  When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I answered “a food taster”.  One time we ended up with one of those big round tins of Christmas fudge, and I ended up being at home alone with it.  Me and the fudge, we became pals.  I slowly and methodically ate the entire tin – every last piece – all the while telling myself mom wouldn’t notice or care.  I was incorrect in my thinking.  I also puked on a shrub and it died.

My mom and I spent a lot of great times together: movies, swimming, hunting for seashells on the beach, driving around at Christmas looking at the lights and singing songs.  But when she got cancer everything changed, then changed again, and again.  Cancer is mean-spirited that way.  It makes you think things are getting better, gives you glimmers of hope.  Then it bounces back into the center of the ring and knocks you out cold.  I was really mad about it for a long time.  Mad at her, mad at cancer, mad at life and the world.  But as I stood on a high cliff scattering her ashes over the Pacific Ocean, I was sorry I’d ever wasted a minute being mad at her, wishing instead that I’d used every scrap of time and energy to get to know her better, and understand everything I could about who she was.

“I was permitted to hear an incredible music…I heard the gestation of the new world…the sound of stars grinding and chafing, of fountains clotted with blazing gems….Music is planetary fire, an irreducible which is all sufficient; it is the slate-writing of the gods.”

-Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer


The McKenzie Brothers

In the early 1800’s, the Willamette River Valley of northwestern Oregon was publicized as a “promised land of flowing milk and honey”, but for me it’s just where I grew up.  Though a place of grand beauty stretched out between the Cascade mountains and the Coast range, to my mind and heart it’s more a place of childhood memories that have become tangled up like necklaces stored together in a little box for a long time.

I lived there with my mom for about five years – a long time considering how much we moved around.  Though a cheerful kid with a farmer’s tan and freckles splashed across my face, there were many things I hated about my life during that time.

Rivaling for first place in the hate category are the McKenzie brothers.  Three sons of a farmer and his wife, the McKenzie brothers came to Oregon from Indiana when their parents decided to move there and purchase a piece of property with an extensive apple orchard on it.  They lived down the road from the three-classroom school we all went to, and I rode my bike past their house to and from school each day.  I rode past fields, farms, a Mennonite church, railroad tracks.  But I came to dread riding past the McKenzie house.  A couple times I stopped to watch, mouth hanging open, as they shoved firecrackers into the mouth and ass of a dead animal.  When parts of the corpse exploded, so too did the McKenzie boys explode – with laughter and glee.  I mean, they were always doing something that was just awful.  They would lash one another with switches cut from the trees of their daddy’s orchard.  I mean, take their shirts off and really lash.  And they were always shooting each other with BB guns, and their mom would pick the BB’s out.  There I would be, streaking past on my bike, pedaling madly, hoping not to get shot.  Their idea of a game was making their stream of pee touch an electric fence and see who could last the longest.


Here is one of three poems published online currently at Wilderness House Literary Review.  To read them all, simply visit their website and find my name on the list.




When the wheel of circumstance turns again,

when your brain is back inside its breast

and your heart is in its head,

stroll past the temple, don’t worry.

You left the chests of gold behind,

you didn’t splice your Oneness.

You were fluid in your thinking,

now the beggars have invited you to their table.

Don’t be so hard on yourself.

You were fluid with your money,

for money comes and goes.

You were careful with time,

for time passes.

You chose.

Who cares what they say?


We’re all so eager to strive,

leap, let go, hold on, be still,

shout, sing, float, rhyme,

be noticed, go unnoticed.

We jump at the chance

to thrust out like rapiers

our views, our narratives,

approving of anyone who pays attention.

We adore our thoughts, love love love them.

It’s so easy to mistake circumstance for choice.

Only sacrifice remembers that chaos is master,

striking at random,

electrifying us,

compelling us to examine the ground

beneath the stone we stand on.

Who has strength enough to leave stars alone

and not reach for them?

And in not reaching,

go further than you could have otherwise gone.