Reflections after Louisiana, Minnesota and Dallas Summer 2016

I’m drawn into the voices that share their passionate grief and anger for the many innocent black people who have been killed by police sworn to protect them. Its really nothing new, but it is more visible even if it is less prominent than in the past.  It still is awful and needs to be erased from our public life. And now I’m moved by the anger and sadness of many voices about the killing of police officers who were indeed trying to protect innocent lives.

But I worry deeply that passion is not enough, and that it carries us in the wrong direction. I worry deeply that the passions of these many voices reaches other like minded voices who feel sad or mad but do little more than resonate/agree.  I worry deeply that we are divided into hostile camps that do not trust others outside their camps to listen. I worry deeply that within our own camps we don’t even trust each other, because we fear to disagree with each other to tone down the arguments, provide nuance, try to seek solutions.

To be more specific, there is racism here, in the police and in our society at large. There is also unwarranted poverty and insecurity. Protest illuminates it, gives us a discussable topic. But we need to trust each other enough to discuss it long enough to seek and find solutions. People who say such things are criticized, even though they may be right. Our president is criticized because he is supposed to bee too remote, dispassionate,  not tough enough on people who do wrong. His is a moderate voice in a time of immoderate voices. It is hard to look for the wisdom in his measured voice, debate with him when it is so much easier to give way to anger and critique.

We need to see that we've become addicted to anger and mistrust. They are easier and become self fulfilling prophesies.  We feel unsafe around others. So, we buy more guns because we can. We tweet more times to those who agree with us and each other. We build gated communities.

I think the only way out of this morass, the killings, the polarized climate, is to put trust and caring first. Their absence is lethal. If we don’t, there is no way out. Hillary, who I don't trust enough, nonetheless said it right when she said we need to listen to each other first. If we don't put that first, there is little to be done except for one group to dominate and exclude the other. So, the willingness to trust is central to our democratic ideals.

We won’t listen to others if we don’t trust them to hear us or care about us. By the same token, others wont listen to us unless they feel we trust them enough, empathize with their humanity, care about their well being.  So, the keystone is to figure out how to turn around the lack of trust and caring. It will not be done quickly, but if we all declare that as a sense of common purpose, optimism can begin to grow again. Some ideas:

1. First and foremost, we need to see that things are going very badly and getting worse, for us all. We have inequality, polarization, rotting infrastructure, unemployed millions, and our incivility towards one another is making it worse, not better. If we don’t stop the fighting, where no one will win, we will all suffer and continue to suffer.

2. People in our government must admit that the lack of trust they have in each other and the people have for them is a central issue which they inflame with their bickering and thoughtless agendas. In congress trust of the people is at an all time low and it's killing the country.

3. For democrats, beginning with Hillary, admit again, loudly, that she has eroded peoples' trust in her but do something visible about it. Take counsel from wiser heads, not just Bill. Say you regret past errors like your emails and say authentically that you are sorry for so often acting like a weasel. Stop cutting corners as you did with the emails, the Clinton Foundation. No end justifies untrustworthy means in these times. 

4. For republicans and democrats, too many of whom are solely interested in staying in office, not governing: Throw out the NRA, if only to say that you're independent enough. Throw out Citizens United and Gerrymandered districts so that money and self interest doesn't rule who gets into office. Invest in better education so that people are better prepared for the future; invest in mitigating climate change so there will be a future, invest in infrastructure, the roads, bridges, railroads, airports we need and which will provide so many needed jobs. The key is NOT smaller government, it is wiser government.

5. For all of us; throw out Donald Trump; repudiate what he stands for and the anger that fuels his rise to prominence.  What ever the merits of some of his thinking, character and experience are crucial matters in a President.  Hillary Clinton has made herself less trustworthy than she should be. She can and should correct it. Donald Trump cannot correct his gaps as a leader, because they are too big and he doesn’t admit that he has any gaps. He can be trusted to do what he thinks is right and to be open about it.  But what he thinks is right is ill informed, fueled by a terribly inexperienced man who never thinks beyond his own self interest.  He is selfish, naïve about his inexperience and too thin skinned and volatile to be our president. 

A new favorite poem

Pray for Peace: By Ellen Bass

Pray to whomever you kneel down to:
Jesus nailed to his wooden or plastic cross,
his suffering face bent to kiss you,
Buddha still under the bo tree in scorching heat,
Adonai, Allah. Raise your arms to Mary
that she may lay her palm on our brows,
to Shekhina, Queen of Heaven and Earth,
to Inanna in her stripped descent.
Then pray to the bus driver who takes you to work.
On the bus, pray for everyone riding that bus,
for everyone riding buses all over the world.
Drop some silver and pray.
Waiting in line for the movies, for the ATM,
for your latte and croissant, offer your plea.
Make your eating and drinking a supplication.
Make your slicing of carrots a holy act,
each translucent layer of the onion, a deeper prayer.
To Hawk or Wolf, or the Great Whale, pray.
Bow down to terriers and shepherds and Siamese cats.
Fields of artichokes and elegant strawberries.
Make the brushing of your hair
a prayer, every strand its own voice,
singing in the choir on your head.
As you wash your face, the water slipping
through your fingers, a prayer: Water,
softest thing on earth, gentleness
that wears away rock.
Making love, of course, is already prayer.
Skin, and open mouths worshipping that skin,
the fragile cases we are poured into.
If you’re hungry, pray. If you’re tired.
Pray to Gandhi and Dorothy Day.
Shakespeare. Sappho. Sojourner Truth.
When you walk to your car, to the mailbox,
to the video store, let each step
be a prayer that we all keep our legs,
that we do not blow off anyone else’s legs.
Or crush their skulls.
And if you are riding on a bicycle
or a skateboard, in a wheelchair, each revolution
of the wheels a prayer as the earth revolves:
less harm, less harm, less harm.
And as you work, typing with a new manicure,
a tiny palm tree painted on one pearlescent nail
or delivering soda or drawing good blood
into rubber-capped vials, writing on a blackboard
with yellow chalk, twirling pizzas–
With each breath in, take in the faith of those
who have believed when belief seemed foolish,
who persevered. With each breath out, cherish.
Pull weeds for peace, turn over in your sleep for peace,
feed the birds, each shiny seed
that spills onto the earth, another second of peace.
Wash your dishes, call your mother, drink wine.
Shovel leaves or snow or trash from your sidewalk.
Make a path. Fold a photo of a dead child
around your VISA card. Scoop your holy water
from the gutter. Gnaw your crust.
Mumble along like a crazy person, stumbling
your prayer through the streets.

If the Buddha had a blog

The Happy Buddha’s Blog          

“I’m like so into Buddhism; it’s my only religion.” Anonymous follower


It’s nice having a whole religion named after you

but you’d think someone would ask What’s he really like?

If he lived a life of contemplation and deprivation

how come he’s fat in some pictures?

Of course I look content, after all Nirvana is Nirvana.

But I know what you’re thinking

why not take the middle way

not let myself get overweight?


You know what it’s about?

People come to me

give me love offerings, lots of them. 

I get flowers, berries, fruits and nuts

veggies raw and cooked

bread and cakes

oh those cakes, every day.

Who am I to say no?

People bring a cake

you don’t say No. That’s not my favorite cake. 

You eat it.


So I spent years meditating and teaching

and eating. 

I made it to Nirvana.

I’m here now, very present

so there’s a lot of me here and now 

but people don’t ask about the whole me. 

They see the grin, they want to get here too.

If they’d ask about my weight I could explain

I’d feel like they knew the real me.

I guess I have to let it go.

Even in Nirvana I still have work to do.

That Dharma Path

full of surprises.


The Trumpeter Swan

Donald Trump will be running to be president. He is a reflection of how both parties, but especially the Republicans have "played" the people, not represented them. They have neglected people so that jobs have been lost, income has stagnated, roads, schools, bridges have been neglected, college is still unaffordable.  Instead congress has catered to rich people and companies, whose interests are expressed in big donations that clearly buy them undue influence. There really is no conservative party or liberal party any more. There are just beggars for donations. That's why approval ratings for congress are so low and there is so much willingness to vote angry, i.e. choose Trump as a candidate.  

He is clearly an ignorant, spiteful fool who should not be entrusted with the country's future or security.  But, again, he is what comes of congress' neglect and vanity. I truly hope that come election time, people do not vote their anger; but rather vote for the person who could do the least harm (a very modest goal indeed).  The worst news perhaps is that even if a relatively more capable, less crazy person becomes president, there still will be congress and a supreme court that protects their mania for money through decisions like Citizens United. My greater hope is that we will throw out many of those bums and get a better supreme court with a decent, competent president.

The Campaign for the Presidency - Common Sense and a Sense of Humor

How easily we are losing perspective, getting into fights about he or she is isn't qualified; how terror lurks; how the system is rigged against "us".  All could be true, but maybe not.  How do you keep an even keel, look into the useful stuff behind the shouting?

The key, it seems to me, is to slake the thirst by honoring the screamers and then be guided by a sense of humor. Know the truth and it shall make you laugh; not make you passive and indifferent, but wiser.  Clive James makes the point better than i.

"Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds.  A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.  Those who lack humor are without judgment and to be trusted with nothing.”

Clive James


We're at the beginning of April, 2016.  Its "almost" time; almost starting to get warm, almost time to nominate new people for president, but winter may not be over. There's a cold spell forecast for tonight in the New York area, and the electoral process may wind up with a freeze on new and better ideas about our inequalities, our diversity, our climate. 

So, I wrote a piece called April.  


Central park in almost bloom

trees winter naked start to dress for summer.

Clouds of red and dark green husks

pop from skinny branch tips stretched and filigreed.

No trace of them last week.

Winter mocked us.

Now red and dark green clouds show off their defiance.

Yes, there will be spring

maybe tomorrow when the trees explode

yellow wisps of leaves unfold

breathe like pupae in the new warmth

and we come out to watch, stretch and yearn

to drop our winter layers

like the red and dark green husks.


But we are wary, not defiant

to expose our skins and hopes

into the springtime air

and to each other.

We should go out, burst out

smell the other people

curious like puppies

beneath the sky.

But now the sky’s depleted

a tattered garment worn so thin

a sieve for radiation

from a vast, indifferent cosmos.


We need to cover up, put on sunblock

if we go outside, breathe in deep

the new warm moistness.

We do go out

sniff around our rediscovered peers

maybe even touch a few

but now behind the touches

we are wary ever more

caught up and exposed

a naked, crowded world

moves so fast

we miss the past

when March and April only meant

there would be May and June and summer.

Becoming 75

It helps to have a sense of humor (if you can still do things like remember and count).  Here'a a piece i wrote about the value of that sense of humor.

Inside Jokes                                                

My friend Alan asks me

did you hear the one about?...

I’m always on the lookout

for little pleasures,

trust his offer,

suspend my need to doubt,

hope for a surprise,

allow his story in about

            Three people in a lifeboat, or

            Two Jews walk into a bar, or

            How fat was she…,

then his punch line hits,

a sudden twist,

I have been fooled.

The light pops inside my ear

careens down to my belly.

My breath jumps out.

I’m unaware of time or anything,

just my laugh,

like having sex

but friendlier, less messy.

Lucky us

We have some good friends that share a house they vacation in.  It's in a small town, Akumal, on the Maya Coast, about 70 miles south of Cancun and out of the way of lots of the noise of a busy resort. This is not meant to popularize Akumal further, but just to share how lucky I feel having access to this kind of place. The top pic is their house. The next one is back yard. The bottom one is a local beach in Tulum.

About becoming enlightened

Lots more folks are aiming to become more enlightened, more spiritual in the way they conduct their lives.  I worry about that being another way to become less connected to the day to day world and the people who inhabit it with us. Here is a poem from Jill Stein, a favorite of mine who doesn't publish much, because she doesn't want to for some reason or another.  But when she does, her poems are very worth reading. 

The way I know I’m not enlightened

I want to be specific.

Particulars appeal to me

in all their inconvenience.

For instance, I’d rather struggle

with my collapsing body with its poor design

than melt into the glory of the void

and lose my chance

to camp out on the bed beside you,

every night digging up

old cartoons, sitcoms themes,

Ipana toothpaste, Wagon Train,

Zydeco, Wagner, and Leslie Gore

its my party and I’ll cry if I want to...

resentfully succumbing to

that pull to sleep at 2 am.


Small comfort we’d be swirling

in that same cosmic soup,

two bubbles aglow in a vast scintillating sky.

Oh no, Its just too big out there.

I might not find you.

I'd rather bump against your separate incarnation

beside me in the darkness,

grumbling about your snoring,

a tugboat bringing me each morning

to the welcoming, familiar shore.

Jill Stein



Happier holidays

Here's to the joys of global warming.  Not so bad in these early years, if you're not a polar bear or live on a low-lying island.  Here's a pic of something we might see on next Christmas.


Off to College

You stand so close

fatless gut, lots of curly hair

I stare outside the window

a maple tree

a summer ripe distraction.

A swallow edges down my throat

my jaws clench tight

tin whistles echo in my ears.

I look down at the floor, squeeze back a whine

self-indulgent sorrows

mixed with earnest benedictions for your future.



Your baby stroller we called Lucy

we amble in the dawn light down our leafy street

underneath the whispers of oaks and maples

I feast upon your sleeping eyelids

follow your breath…

Your white frame bed

at almost sleep time

you beg me for a not too scary tale

of pirates, Inca treasures, hermits’ ghosts

your wide eyes strong and endless

alert to every story turn.


Tonight I read this to your mother

in our den made quiet

neater by your absence.

She looked through me

pursed her lips.

I want him home again

so I can put him on the carpet

and just stare at him.

About guns

Some questions:

What keeps the people who support the second amendment from noticing that if everyone has guns (or there are lots of guns) we get more death from guns?  Are they that blind, or is it just their congress people who are so beholden to the NRA?

If its the people in congress, why do they get re-elected?  Are they that slick and awash in money to buy votes or are voters dumb about them?

How come the people who are trying to be the next president would rather posture about the outrageous shortcomings of the current president than offer him some respect, some cooperation and some better ideas.  It's a shame that instead they disrespect the victims by their screaming to get into office.

Why do we not insist on licensing having a gun, like we do with having a car?  We don't prevent car ownership by licensing drivers.  Related to that; why don't we have laws, rules that limit gun owners, like we do car drivers?  If you go through a red light, drive recklessly, you might not be caught but if you are there are consequences.

Stephen Dunn: A poet I recommend

A Postmortem Guide


For my eulogist, in advance


Do not praise me for my exceptional serenity.

Can't you see I've turned away

from the large excitements,

and have accepted all the troubles?


Go down to the old cemetery; you'll see

there's nothing definitive to be said.

The dead once were all kinds---

boundary breakers and scalawags,

martyrs of the flesh, and so many

dumb bunnies of duty, unbearably nice.


I've been a little of each.


And, please, resist the temptation

of speaking about virtue.

The seldom-tempted are too fond

of that word, the small-

spirited, the unburdened.

Know that I've admired in others

only the fraught straining

to be good.


Adam's my man and Eve's not to blame.

He bit in; it made no sense to stop.


Still, for accuracy's sake you might say

I often stopped,

that I rarely went as far as I dreamed.


And since you know my hardships,

understand that they're mere bump and setback

against history's horror.

Remind those seated, perhaps weeping,

how obscene it is

for some of us to complain.


Tell them I had second chances.

I knew joy.

I was burned by books early

and kept sidling up to the flame.


Tell them that at the end I had no need

for God, who'd become just a story

I once loved, one of many

with concealments and late-night rescues,

high sentence and pomp. The truth is

I learned to live without hope

as well as I could, almost happily,

in the despoiled and radiant now.


You who are one of them, say that I loved

my companions most of all.

In all sincerity, say that they provided

a better way to be alone.

                                                                                    Stephen Dunn

Night Cruller

In their bedroom he and she

would lay still and quiet

on their chosen sides

until they dropped into their sleep


surrendered to their wheezing

cover wrestling

perhaps a snort

preceding mid-sleep interruptions


lurching to the bathroom in a trance

learned long ago

ending when he’d edge

politely back onto his chosen side


except this night

he lifts the cover

slow and careful

creeps across the great divide


feels her, bites her shoulder

soothes it with his lips

wiggles closer

then voila she wiggles back.


Without a word they

twist their bodies into one

this giant cruller

silent in their haven…


He whispers close into her ear

You are my food, my just dessert.

How clever, he smiles to himself

thinks she must be smiling too.