The Swedish Immigrant

The Swedish immigrant, came at


from the lakes and woods with Gerda Anna, Edwin

Oliver and baby brother Eric,


whose mother died a few years later in child-birth

trying to give American citizenship to a still-born

sister, and whose baby brother


went back to live with relatives never to be seen

again and whose father died of Spanish Influenza

when he was thirty-three and Gust was just




Gustav Edwin Oliver, alone, orphaned, tossed from

Svenska foster family to foster family, went on the bum at




hopping a freight train out of the yard in South Chicago

headed west through North Dakota, with a stop over to

work the fields of Swedish farmers, getting hemorrhoids

because there wasn’t any place to go,


jumping on and off, nearly breaking a leg, sitting by a

fire, taking dumps in the weeds, wiping with leaves,

never bathing, getting attacked by horny guys in the

night on the hay in the moving box


cars, back and forth, from Chicago to San Francisco with

a stop at the 1933 Chicago Worlds Fair and a job as a

captain in the guides, a flush toilet, a bar of soap, a shower,

a uniform, a big photogenic smile on his Gerda round face,


blue eyes, blond hair and a taste of the slice of the

American pie in his mouth and hope for the future

for a Swedish, immigrant, orphan of




who one day would become a Swedish-American who needed

hemorrhoid surgery and six days in the Roseland Community

Hospital on the south-side for recovery,


the same hospital in which he recuperated from a heart attack at




and one year before he couldn’t take one more bite of the slice of the American Pie and instead of jumping on the train just stepped in front of it at




fifty-one years after he left the lakes and woods

for the opportunity of a life-time for an immigrant kid, one he hadn’t asked for,

a slice of the American pie.



Socrates Asked Another Question

Someone asked

him accusingly

“Do you pray?”

“Yes,” he replied.

“Why?” someone

asked. “Because I

don’t have all the

answers,” he said.

“Would you stop

if you did?” some-

one asked. “If I did

what?” he asked.

“Have all the answers,”

someone said. “Do you

think if I had as

many questions as

Socrates had before

someone handed

him the hemlock,

someone would

hand me the hem-

lock, too?” he asked.

“But what if you had

all the answers?” some-

one asked. “What if I

did?” he asked. “Well,

would you still pray?”

someone asked.

“Would I?” he asked


From One to the Other

At a workshop on preaching through Lent

two old friends renewed, reminisced and

reminded. They spoke of times past which,

of course, are now and in the future for

good and ill. One reminded the Other of

the time in class the Other used the wrong

word.  One laughed forcefully; the Other

forcibly.  During now, which is then

and the future, the Other wanted to make up

for years ago and find redemption along

with renewed, reminisced and reminded,

referring to the periscopes of the texts

for the week. The room fell silent and

the professor said, “I think you mean

pericopes.” The Other started to sweat and

wanted to run from renewed, reminisced and

reminded. The One periscoped right in on this

particular pericope, looked at the Other and smiled

forcefully. Is the Other destined to add repeat to

renewed,reminisced, reminded while redeemed

silently, painfully slips through the floorboards away

from the smile of the One?

Summer is Fading

Summer is fading and the Eastern

Hognose glides across the trail on

his way to the evaporating pond for


a refreshing swim. Will fall rains tickle

the open, gaped mouth pond or quench

its thirst till it overflows and rises


along the scorched, cracked earth

seeping into crevasses and down to

where chipmunks have burrowed?


He assumes so but doesn’t know

as he watches a drop fall, land on a

rock near the pond and vanish without


a trace, not even a fading wet spot.


Tears Tumbled

Harrison’s poems of the north country

and way out west

moved me to fish and hike and reaffirm

the outdoors is best,

and Transtromer his few but Nobel words

slight tomes would wrest

me from my literary loquaciousness and

know that less is best,

but Charlotte’s Web brought tears tumbling

to this old man’s chest.

The Grief of Dog


When my ninety-two-year-old mother

died (granted we had a strained

relationship), I felt sad that

things could not have been


When my ninety-eight-year-old mother-

in-law died (granted we had an

un-strained relationship), I felt

very sad because it


me of the tragic death of her daughter, my

late wife, over whom I cried three-

hundred-sixty-five days straight

and a gazillion eighteen-wheeler

loads of tears in the

eighteen years


When my eighty-seven-year-old mother-in-law

by my wonderful wife died, we met for

a memorial service eight states away

and enjoyed the


When my ninety-three-year old father-in-law

died, I watched the immediate



Now I sit and watch my one-hundred-fifteen-year-

old Chocolate Lab limp, cough, breathe

laboriously, sleep fitfully and I, in

anticipatory grief,


Ghazal #2

Ghazal #2

My beloved meets me halfway and teases the rest of the way

to my heart.  I lace up my hiking boots and find a way


through the forest, woods, fording along the way

to the place hidden deep in the brush along the way.


Not there. Elusiveness drives me to distraction in a way

and even a compass and topographical map don’t reveal a way


to your heart. So I have decided late in the day just to stay,

come what may, in one place and wait for love to come my way.


But the sky turns dark, the clouds stay with rain coming this day,

And I, the fair weather lover, will pursue my love in another way.

Ghazal #1

Ghazal #1

I’m lost among the shadows of your hesitancy tonight.

You hold back your motives and refrain from sight this night.


I thought you loved me through and through with will and might,

but now I see that your might stands still each and every night.


It doesn’t just mean at night; I long to be understood all right.

And I’ve tried to show my feelings to you every day and night.


I’ve yearned for your closeness through the day and into the night.

I’ve pined for a sign, a burning bush, a walk to Emmaus, a flight


to Damascus. In my illness, still I must go without sight

content in my sickbed as your disciple this very night.

No Self-Made Man But Still Dapper Dan

I did not spring forth

full-grown and fully-


blown into my present

self. It took time – then,


now and in the future –

handed to me by God-


lings. “I was born a baby,

what are these hundred


suits of clothes I’m

wearing?” asked Jim


Harrison. A friend sent

him books of Zen in


his darkness and

“They rattled me loose


from the oppressive, pole-

axed state of distraction


we count as worldly

success.”* I don’t


even fit in the

suits anymore. They


hang in the closet

and I write this at


two p.m. in my



purple underwear,

which is my *The


Shape of the

Journey, pg. 361,


There Were Three Tables


There were three tables at the outdoor coffee

café in a quaint, inland seaside town.

At one sat a solitary figure reading

a New York Times and glancing

periodically in irritation at the middle table and

all the commotion coming from it and flying

just above it.  Several sat crowded around

while Richard Wagner hovered, flying just

over their heads, baton in hand, arms flailing

at the wind, his big hair whipping left

and right with each swing of the arms,

spittle falling from the froth around his

mouth, hitting the ground and just missing

an old Chocolate Lab who lie panting

next to the table. Above Wagner, flew

the Valkyries in a frenzy trying to

keep up with the baton. Swords swung madly

back and forth clashing with sparks flying

and falling on the heads of those who

sat beneath. Their singing formed a funnel

cloud that moved up and down almost touching those

at the table among them Friedrich Nietzsche

who shouted something into Niccolò

Machiavelli’s ear and the two of them

laughed heartily, but no one else could get in

on the joke because of the storm clouds,

thunder and lightning above. At the

third table sat a real Aryan who looked

a lot like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and directly

across from him Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu.

They sipped their espresso and watched

each other very, very closely,

never taking their eyes off of one another not

even to notice what a nice late summer’s

day it was or even the ominous

tornado funnel hovering directly

over the middle table. Just under Wagner,

the Valkyries and the tornado tunnel

of operatic voices, sat an old, nearly

bald, white-haired, jowly white man

with hang-dog eyes, droopier than those of the

lab who sat near him. He wore a short-sleeved

shirt, baggy shorts and flip-flops which

revealed two bulbous bunions. He had

wobbly, knobby titanium knees with big scars and

spindly, varicose legs and arms with skin hanging

loosely down  to his wrists. With one shaky

hand he fidgeted with his to-go cup of

coffee and with the other he checked his I-phone

for incoming calls or texts. A pouty, protruding

ball of a belly was the last sign of  a left-

behind, corpulently indulgent life.

He felt the vibration in his hand, looked at the

phone, flipped the top, held it to his ear and

Thus Spake Zarathustra, “Yeah?” As he

spoke, a hint of last night’s vodka dinner

drifted up to a frowning Wagner. The Valkyries roared

with laughter, the lightning struck, the sparks flew.

The Chocolate Lab scurried under the

table and everyone ducked for cover

including the old, white guy.