What Is the Future?

desksIt’s the end of summer in the academic South, and I’m working on syllabi for my fall courses: Spiritual Autobiographies and Beginning Poetry Writing Workshop. I’m creating the schedule, weeks 1 through 16. I’m filling in the dates, 8/17, 8/19, 8/24…11/23. I’m sequencing the assigned texts: Darling to Dharma Punx; Incarnadine to Night of the Republic.

I’m imagining the writing exercises, the first one an object poem, where the objects are one, five, and ten dollar bills which I’ll hand out in class, and they’ll write, and then we’ll read Howard Nemerov’s ”Monday: An Introductory Lecture,” and I’ll let them keep the money. In Spiritual Autobiographies, the essay based on interviews of parents, grandparents, former teachers, or other adults with whom they interact, about their spiritual lives. In draft form, these essays will be used as another course text. What can we learn about spiritual experience from the lives of those with whom we speak? [Read more...]

The Mystery and Terror of Retirement

3461974640_6abc5773c7_zThe day after I let my wife know that we had enough money to pay for our son’s college education—he was a sophomore at Carolina at the time—, she let me know she had decided to retire in the fall. Our daughter was pregnant. The baby was due in November. After retiring at the end of October, my wife would head to New York to be with our daughter for the final weeks of the pregnancy and the first weeks in the life of our first grandchild.

For a few years, she had been gathering information and planning for her eventual retirement. Still, we hadn’t discussed, after I told her we had college covered, whether this was the time for her to retire. To me it seemed that she left for work one morning, made her decision during the day, and came home and informed me of it. Done deal. [Read more...]

Morning Prayer and The New York Times

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Summer morning routine: a cup of Awake tea, the Opinion page of The New York Times.

What am I looking for to get my day going? Information to spark the brain? A needle to inject righteous indignation into my sleepy heart?

The flag is coming down. You know which one. I read columnist Nicholas Kristof’s “Tearing Down the Confederate Flag Is Just a Start.”

“America’s greatest shame in 2015 is not a piece of cloth. It’s that a black boy has a life expectancy five years shorter than a white boy. It’s that the net worth of the average black household in 2011 was $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household, according to census data. It’s that almost two-thirds of black children grow up in low-income families. It’s that more than one-third of inner-city black kids suffer lead poisoning (and thus often lifelong brain impairment), mostly from old lead paint in substandard housing. More consequential than that flag is…” [Read more...]

His Murderer and His Keeper

326044514_cedf60b870_mSome days I can’t remember: Am I Abel or Cain?

Blackberry soda in the afternoon sun. I talk with a friend who recounts her anger and, before she meets with those who aroused it, it’s softening. Blue heart of flame, her eyes purify the avenue, its commerce, its air. I am alive. I must be Cain.

Once, I was a shepherd. Now I am reduced to this: a symbol. My brother discovered his black heart when he heard me in the field, singing, offering the best of my flock. God loves my poetry. In response, my brother stoned me. Because back then no one knew when the soul leaves the body, he pummeled me beyond necessity. Even to this hour he continues, pelting me with rubble, rockets—whatever’s at hand. An innocent man, dead. I must be Abel. [Read more...]

Self-Hating Jew: A Love Story, Part 1

Untitled-1In response to “Never Again: Netanyahu’s Holocaust Cliché,” a recent post of mine on Good Letters, an old girlfriend messaged me on Facebook.  “It was the first time in a while,” she wrote, “I felt proud to be an American…I wonder why the writers of our times don’t instead write about the speeches of some of the truly worrisome leaders of Iran, ISIS, Hamas, North Korea, etc.”

Then, this: “Self-hatred is so destructive.”

Am I self-hating Jew? [Read more...]


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