Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category


Roses are red

Tacos are enjoyable

Don’t blame immigrants

Because you’re unemployable

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The Circle of Life

Lately I have been reminiscing about decades gone, and loved-ones passed, and poems written and hidden.

When June passed away more than ten years ago, she didn’t know she’d be my mother-in-law one day, and neither did I. But I cared for her, and I missed her. I wrote a poem for her and recited it at her funeral ceremony. And then I stored it away.

It deserves to be out in the open.

In Honor of June Livziey, December 22, 2007


The Circle of Life

She passed away on Thursday night,
Much sooner than we thought.
But she knew she was going soon.
I could tell by the length
And the strength
Of her last hug
The night before.
She just did not want to let go.

She went
Comforted by the words
And hugs
Of her daughters.
“It’s ok to let go, mom.”
“It’s ok.”
She knew they were there,
The last day,
The last hour,
The last minute.
They were there.

Just like they were
When they were little girls
In Hawaii
And she took care of them
When their father was at sea
Or at war.
The three of them.
Mother always in charge.

I could relate to her
From the first minute we met.
She was so much
Like my own mother,
Who also still mends clothes and darns socks,
Makes home cooked meals,
Cans fruit,
And thinks of family as the highest value
Of all.

She was a giver,
Who talked by giving
And loved by giving.
By writing a check
For a graduation gift.
By crocheting a baby blanket
For someone’s great granddaughter
That she would never meet.
By cooking chicken noodle soup
For me,
And freezing it
In Tupperware,
So there’d always be some
In my refrigerator
For when I have a cold,
Like right now.
I don’t think
I want to thaw
That last batch.

She was a giver,
And a lover.
I am sure
She is loving right now,
The pain finally all gone,
In peace,
And comfort.

We are all here,
Thinking about the things we should have said
Once more,
But didn’t.
Friends, family, celebrating her life,
Her legacy,
And remembering how she lived,
And how she loved,
And how she touched us all.

She taught me
To value the moments more.
To call my own parents more often
Than I used to.
While they are still here,
And I can still call.
She taught me that.

At our Thanksgiving table
She toasted to us,
Pledging to fight
To be with us at Christmas.

It was not to be so.

Her house is a scrapbook
Of her life.
Every plate, every photograph, every gift,
Is a memento
A record of her moments.
She had to leave her scrapbook behind,
As she had to leave everything.

When I walked in her house,
The first thing I saw
Was her purse.
Not one of her nice ones,
But her work purse,
Her shopping purse,
Her everyday purse.

There it sat, on the couch, as it often had,
Her key chain attached to the handle with a ring,
Her wallet in there,
Her camera,
Her Costco card,
And undoubtedly all the other stuff
That she was always rummaging for,
In her purse,
Left there,
On the couch,
Never to be picked up again,
Completing the Circle of Life.

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Euclid and 9th

I spend much time in Ohio these days due to a project our company is deploying. So naturally I think about Ohio and the times I have visited there throughout my life.

Many years ago, on a business trip to Cleveland, I remembered that the maternal grandparents of my children first met there, and started their lives together. They had told us the story many times: They met because they both worked in the same building on Euclid and 9th. So I went for a walk that night to explore, and when I got back to my hotel room, I wrote a poem, saved it off and then never published it anywhere.

I have always been fascinated about fate, and particularly how specific moments in time can have massive consequences. Two people meet by chance, and an entire family tree is created, giving life to sometimes dozens of others, who would never have existed, if it hadn’t been for that one simple twist of fate.

I wrote the following poem that night many years ago. Today it gets to see the light of day:

Euclid and 9th

I step out of the front door of the Hampton Inn
Downtown Cleveland
Right across the street from the cathedral.
Whose yellow and light orange stones,
Its majestic facades,
Reflect in the glass towers,
That dwarf the house of God on all sides.

I turn right, heading south.
It’s early October,
A stiff breeze whips up East 9th Street
And chills the back of my neck and ears.
I look at myself in the reflections of the shop windows.
A middle-aged bald man wearing bifocals,
In need of a hat to keep warm.
Faded blue jeans, white sneakers, red T-shirt,
Huddling in a brown corduroy jacket
That is a bit too thin for this cold wind.

Just a block up ahead is Euclid and 9th,
The heart of downtown Cleveland.
She told me Euclid and 9th,
That’s the best I remember.
I look for a building that could have been there
A long fifty-five years ago.
It can only be the north-east corner,
The Huntington Bank Building.
All others are newer,
But then perhaps,
The building might no longer be there,
Replaced by a glass tower long ago,
Without any trace.

I step between massive stone columns,
Push through a heavy glass circular door
Into the lobby of the Huntington Bank.
Hushed quietness swallows me
And I am small and out of place in my blue jeans.
I should be wearing a suit and a briefcase full of cash.
Glorious giant columns hold up an arched ceiling
At least five stories high
That belongs into a church, not a bank.
Marble all around.
The lobby is off to the right.
I breathe in the silence of the building,
I sense the passing of years.

This must have been the building where they first met,
More than half a century earlier,
On Euclid and 9th.
And even if it was not the very building,
I see the streets out front,
The people,
The traffic.
The cars look different today
Than they looked in the forties.
But it was in this space,
Generations ago
Where a meeting of two strangers
Turned into courtship, then love
And then marriage.

They had three children
Now all around fifty in age.
I married the youngest,
We had two children,
Who are now alive,
Because two people met so long ago,
Near Euclid and 9th.

The lovers can never come back to this spot.
Their children never visited here,
Only heard the stories,
Many times over.
The two grandchildren will never come here.
They have not heard the stories,
And do not know their origins.

Only I stand here
A bystander, really,
A happenstance contributor to their offspring,
And I wonder how many other lives were created
In this building
By the coincidental meeting of two lovers.
The building is still here, royal, important.
Lifetimes in its memory,
Because I am here,
And I remember
That important things happened here,
On Euclid and 9th.

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In my childhood I studied Latin for six years. Toward the end, I was able to read and enjoy Latin poetry. I was particularly entranced by its rhythm and beat. That skill has faded. I know some words, but I could no longer translate a single sentence.

To this day, however, I have friends how are deeply involved with Latin. One of my best friends (PG) is a professor of Latin and French in Germany. When we get together, we don’t spend time with Latin or French, but we do compare our paintings.

I have recently picked up a stimulating correspondence with my first Latin professor in school, who taught me the first few years of fundamentals (WI). Today we communicate about literature. This is a man who recently worked through reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace – in Russian! That’s what happens when you dedicate your life to language, linguistics and literature.

And finally, there is a friend of an entirely different background (JCV), who was, 40 years ago in college, for a semester, my professor of Introduction to Philosophy, who now, apparently, translates Latin poetry to English to pass the time. Here is a poem he send me this morning.

To the few readers of mine that like the classics – and the study of Latin – enjoy!


Exegi monumentum aere perennius
regalique situ pyramidum altius,
quod non imber edax, non aquilo impotens
possit diruere, aut innumerabilis
annorum series et fuga temporum.
non omnis moriar, multaque pars mei
vitabit Libitinam, usque ego postera
crescam laude recens, dum Capitolium
scandet cum tacita virgine pontifex.
dicar, qua violens obstrepit Aufidus
et qua pauper aquae Daunus agrestium
regnavit populorum, ex humili potens,
princeps Aeolium carmen ad Italos
deduxisse modos. sume superbiam
quaesitam meritis et mihi Delphica
lauro cinge volens, Melpomene, comam.

Horace: Odes, Book III, XXX (c. 23 BC)


I have erected a monument more lasting than bronze,
loftier than the royal landmark of the pyramids,
which neither ravenous Rain, nor wild Wind can destroy;
nor the endless passage of years, nor the flight of time.
I shall not perish entirely: a large part of me will evade Death,
as long as I thrive refreshed from ensuing praise,
while the High Priest climbs the Capitoline with a silent vestal.
It will be said of me that where the raging Aufidus roars,
where Daunus ruled over his rustic people in an arid land,
I, from humble roots empowered,
first committed Aeolian song to Italian verse.
Accept the proud achievement of those who merit praise,
Melpomene, and with the Delphic laurel freely grace my hair.

Translation by Jean-Claude Volgo

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Ok, here is a poem trending on Reddit this morning. One user recommended to read it while listening to the piece below. Enjoy life!


Desiderata – by Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.


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Here is one by my favorite L.A. poet:

[click to enlarge]

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Ocean Majesty

In Hawaii, the ocean is never far away. Life is dominated by the ocean. Its power, its grace, its eternity is overwhelming.

Recently a friend (WI) sent me this poem about the ocean by Lord Byron (1788 – 1824), from “Childe Harold,” Canto IV.

Here in Hawaii, this rings true, every minute, every day, all the time:

THERE is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.

Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean,—roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin,—his control
Stops with the shore;—upon the watery plain
The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain
A shadow of man’s ravage, save his own,
When, for a moment, like a drop of rain,
He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
Without a grave, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown.

His steps are not upon thy paths,—thy fields
Are not a spoil for him,—thou dost arise
And shake him from thee; the vile strength he wields
For earth’s destruction thou dost all despise,
Spurning him from thy bosom to the skies,
And send’st him, shivering in thy playful spray
And howling, to his gods, where haply lies
His petty hope in some near port or bay,
And dashest him again to earth:—there let him lay.

The armaments which thunderstrike the walls
Of rock-built cities, bidding nations quake
And monarchs tremble in their capitals,
The oak leviathans, whose huge ribs make
Their clay creator the vain title take
Of lord of thee and arbiter of war,—
These are thy toys, and, as the snowy flake,
They melt into thy yeast of waves, which mar
Alike the Armada’s pride or spoils of Trafalgar.

Thy shores are empires, changed in all save thee;
Assyria, Greece, Rome, Carthage, what are they?
Thy waters wasted them while they were free,
And many a tyrant since; their shores obey
The stranger, slave, or savage; their decay
Has dried up realms to deserts: not so thou;
Unchangeable save to thy wild waves’ play,
Time writes no wrinkles on thine azure brow;
Such as creation’s dawn beheld, thou rollest now.

Thou glorious mirror, where the Almighty’s form
Glasses itself in tempests; in all time,
Calm or convulsed,—in breeze, or gale, or storm,
Icing the pole, or in the torrid clime
Dark-heaving; boundless, endless, and sublime,
The image of Eternity,—the throne
Of the Invisible! even from out thy slime
The monsters of the deep are made; each zone
Obeys thee; thou goest forth, dread, fathomless, alone.

And I have loved thee, Ocean! and my joy
Of youthful sports was on thy breast to be
Borne, like thy bubbles, onward; from a boy
I wantoned with thy breakers,—they to me
Were a delight; and if the freshening sea
Made them a terror, ’t was a pleasing fear;
For I was as it were a child of thee,
And trusted to thy billows far and near,
And laid my hand upon thy mane,—as I do here.

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Twenty sixteen is nearly gone
Good riddance, I can’t wait for new
It’s really time that we move on
Of happy thoughts there were just few.

We’re stuck in endless war and strife
With no way out anytime soon
The world needs help and cherish life
But we elected a buffoon.

Let there be hope, we now need light
And thoughts that we look forward to
Let our days ahead be bright
Start twenty seventeen anew!

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I Come Upon a Golden Tower


On a cold and wintry night,
I come upon a golden tower,
Stand there and marvel at the sight,
The trappings and the show of power.
Police and barriers everywhere,
I am in shock, I want to weep,
And turn away from all the glare,
With miles to go before I sleep.
With miles to go before I sleep.

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The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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Poem: Your Seventeenth Birthday

Here is a poem I wrote more than ten years ago for my son’s 17th birthday:

Now that you are almost grown,
With arms more strong than mine,
You’re not quite eighteen yet and gone,
Let’s celebrate one more time.

I don’t know what to give you, son.
But gas and clothes and food.
You take your time, be with your friends.
When you are in the mood.

Let’s have some fun, let’s eat some cake,
Together while we can.
And celebrate your seventeenth,
Soon you will be a man.

Here is some money, use it well.
Just one thing I’ll make clear:
I’m proud of you, and you’re still mine,
For one more real short year.

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Here is a video of a German language slam poem with a powerful impact. There are no English versions that I could find. The title is Behind Us My Country. If you know German, you must listen to every word. If you don’t know German, you should play a minute or so to get the cadence of the poem, and how the two speakers alternate.

Below is my translation. You can see the speaker on the right and the one on the left. Both tell their stories.

This is a powerful explanation of the complex sentiments of Germans toward refugees, that an American will likely not be able to understand.

But it rings true for me personally, as I am the son of a refugee myself and as my entire life, the person I am, is shaped in many ways by the experiences of my father who often might have said himself: Behind Us My Country.


Behind Us My Country

Everything I am was born there

Everything that was home to me

The square, where we children played

The smile of my first love

The apple tree in our park

And the little lake hidden behind the mountain

The hot tea on the tin tray

Creased story tellers

Laugh wrinkles decorate their faces

Chattering on the way home from school

Night was until the parents slept and then out again

The squeaking bicycle of my brother

The poems of Rudas

And the smell of wet lawn

Radios that despite tortured tuning still carry out the melodies

The singing of my sister in the morning

My mother, my mother with her eternal money worries

And I don’t know why: Ladybugs

All that was my home

All that way once my home

But I could not stay anymore

Behind us the war

The fresh grave of my parents

The last clump of dirt is still rolling off

It hasn’t found it final spot yet

So fresh is my mourning

And nothing has been digested

I could not stay any longer

The spoke of us as the living dead

Our people forced into trains that slid along in the smoke of the locomotives

Our doors smashed

Shopping windows in shards

Our parents intimidated, our siblings abuse

Cruel news from friends that were still there

Most had disappeared

It was impossible to stay, not another day

The next step in my city is the last step in my country

And the worst step then onto this rusty boat

Next we turn, then we hold on, and then it will sink

Turned over to the sea

In the ocean, without consolation

The moon hides behind the clouds

The night so dark, you see nothing

For hours, nothing

And when I close my eyes in the dark

I hear the voice of my mother

Around us the lord is only the sea

As if our boat was the heart of all things

I open my eyes and gaze toward the sky

Prayers are our sails

Life vests will take over the rest

But the hope they cannot carry

A man swims toward me

Here, take him, I can’t go on anymore

He is one year old and his name is Berstin

His father slides out of the vest into the eternal dark blue

That’s how I became father the first time

In the ocean

He handed him to me

The man in the vest gave me his inheritance

Arrived in exile, I learned quickly

the most important words are permit to day, sorry, and thank you

Arrived in exile I saw a family reunited after a long time

How the father wimpered out of good luck

Deep from inside with the shame of a man who seldom cries

I followed that family step by step

But only with my gaze

Arrived in exile

But the earth of home comes along on the soles of our feet

I am from there, and I have memories

I was born like people are born

I have a mother that loves me

And it breaks my heart

In the letters that she writes I can see how meanwhile her hand has a tremor

When I say homesick, I say dream

Because the old home hardly exists any longer

Do we stay here, do we become beach again?

Not quite sea, not quite land

Do we stay here, we become beach again.

Not quite sea, not quite land

Arrived in exile, a man welcomes me

The other waves foreign flags

Sometimes one feels the love, sometimes one feels the hate

They look at your head scarf

They look into my passport

But don’t be angry, forgive them

They forget the love, they forgot the love

I wish them peace

On the contrary, show them, stand up

Tear off our legs and we walk on our hands

Tear off our legs and we walk on our hands

We will make the best of our lives until our lives end

And who know, maybe one day I return home

I not everything will have changed

Perhaps I’ll see our old apple tree

Or the square with the brown rusty fence

And I hug my siblings and kiss my mother

And luck bites its little tooth into my heart

My name is Achmed Yusuf

Father of Berstin

And I am a refugee

I fled Syria

My name is Daniel Levie

I am a refugee

I fled Germany

The year is 2015

The year is 1938

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In my book purging efforts, I came across a book of poetry titled From the Berkeley Hills by George P. Elliott. My friend Michael T. gave it to me on Christmas Eve 1976 at 11:00pm, as he signed the book inside the cover.

From the Berkeley Hills

He gave me the book when the author was still alive. We were both boys only, just out of high school. That day, when he gave me that book, was likely the last time I ever saw him.

Yet, the friendships we form at that age last forever, and the books we sign for each other stay with us, until one day when we’re gone, our children pick them off dusty shelves, open the covers and wonder who “Michael” might have been. Then they might open up to page 46 and find:

At Midnight

My hemisphere puts on
Duncely dark again.
And what was it to me
What the world wore
So long as I had a girl
With a bed to her naked back?
So long: not long enough.

For recently myself
Have donned like a dunce hat
Doubt of the monstrous works
Twirling toward day. I,
Who could fall those mortal nights
Ignorantly into sleep,
This mortal night cannot.


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Memory Lane

Memory Lane

Everyone has memorable or favorite songs. When we hear them, we are instantly transported back to a time in our lives, sometimes to a specific period in our lives, like the senior year of high school, or even a specific day, like that first night with that special girl by the camp fire.

I noticed that when I hear such a song, I instantly mind-travel back to that period, or season, or day, when I first heard the song, or when it was popular on the radio. Some of the associations are so vivid, I can smell the air, I can see where I drove when I heard the song, sometimes as long as 40 years ago.

So I did something that I could not have done only ten years ago: I made a list of 50 songs that had special meaning to me. Predictably, many of those were songs that were popular in my youth and younger years when I tended to be more into music. To refresh my memory, I sampled collections of hit songs in some of the target years, and favorites jumped out at me that I had forgotten about.

Then I went on iTunes and bought the collection one song at a time (unless I already had it on CD somewhere). There are no artists with two songs on the list. I just picked the top 50. I called the playlist “Nostalgia.” When I play that list, in random order, I can literally mind-travel, jump around over the years and decades, and imagery of long past events flash bright in front of me, feelings and moods come to life, and the people of those days are suddenly around again – copies of their former selves, of course.

My mind always ponders mathematical implications. I realize that my list is unique in the universe. If a million other people all picked their own top 50 favorite songs and called the list “Nostalgia,” every list would be different. I’d venture to say that if I asked any random person about their list, I might not find a single one of my songs on their list. Yet, every one of us would have those unique, personal experiences when mind-traveling down memory lane.

Why can music do this to us? How is the melodic word, propped up by rhyme and rhythm, able to create such powerful associations in our heads to recreate the smells, the feelings, the places we lived when we were first imprinted with these songs?

Modern human evolution covers only a very short time span, perhaps 200,000 years, perhaps much less. Until very recently, like only a few centuries ago, knowledge and experience had to be transmitted from one person to another, from one generation to the next, by spoken and most likely sung words. Music and poetry may well have evolved to be so important in our experience now because it helped package knowledge and experience by creating associations. It’s easier to remember a poem that rhymes and is associated with a melody than it is to remember just spoken words. Those of our ancestors that were able to make those powerful associations and benefited by surviving and passing on those skills were the ones whose tribes survived through the ages. That’s probably also why we have songs that get stuck in our heads. We call them earworms.

Our brains are not good at remembering strings of numbers or words. But they are excellent at recognizing patterns, like seeing faces in tree bark or angels in clouds or animals in the stars of the night sky. When smells, images, feelings about people and places, come together with sounds, rhymes and rhythms – in short music – then magic is created.

That magic can now fuel the trips down our memory lanes unlike any generation before us could – because we have playlists to arrange them, iTunes to buy the songs from, and YouTube to trigger our memories about periods or things we have forgotten. The Nostalgia playlist is like the shoebox of photographs in the attic on steroids.

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Your Bed is Gone

I am looking forward to a rare visit by my daughter tonight. She and her boyfriend will stay with us for a couple of nights. That reminded me of a poem I wrote the night she moved out of the house into her first apartment for her second year in college on August 26, 2004. Here it is, almost 10 years old:


Your Bed is Gone

Your bed is gone,
Your big girl bed,
That we bought when you were
Just eleven years old.
It is now in a strange apartment,
In another city,
In another life.

You needed help moving,
But you directed the effort,
Made sure we wrapped things
So they didn’t get scratched.
You have a credit card now,
To buy your own books,
You are taking care of yourself.
I have done my job well.

We had breakfast this morning,
All four of us together,
With all four beds still here in this house.
It was the last breakfast
With you as a child,
Forever to remember,
Just as the first
Breakfast ever with you.

Now I know for myself
The pain I brought to my parents
When I left at eighteen,
To a distant place,
On the far side of the world.
It took this long to learn.

The evening sun casts its shadows,
Disappears in an orange glow.
Without my permission,
It takes away this August day.
A new era starts.
I am still here, but you
Are in another life.

Your bed is gone,
Your big girl bed.
I am done as a dad,
And now ask for the honor
To be your friend.

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