Thursday, October 28, 2010

Behind the Stars

Stars and dreams have been in my thoughts lately; sometimes waking, sometimes sleeping. There's no coherent story to tell about them, nothing with a singular event or a narrative or even a cryptic conversation, so I'm appealing to poetry to make some sense of what might otherwise be difficult to convey. To me prose and poetry are the difference between orchards and gardens; when I can't labor for the fruit, I walk among the flowers.

Behind each star may be a dream
So though dark and void may seem
The sky at night like blackened ice
Still flicker phantoms of delight.

Behind each eye may be a fire
Consuming, never ending, lost desires
Rooted in hearts like imprisoned light
Flaring vast beyond the reach of sight.

Past all lights and fires, past all dreams
Past all that sleep or waking seems
I must pass, must pass alone someday
Beyond what all reason or fancy may say.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Following the Messenger

We have a little roof deck. It's about eight by eight and sits up at eye level with many of the buildings that surround us. There's not much of a city view, but there's a fine view of the stars at night.

Sometimes, when it's been a rough day, I'll go up after supper and sit in the arm chair and look. I'll look and breathe and look, thinking much the same way that a child thinks that their parents have always been there and always will be there, that those little points of light are untouchable by harm or time. They reassure me.

And very recently, there's been one star thats become very bright in the eastern sky. The star happens to be the planet Jupiter, and when I saw it's moons through a pair of low power binoculars I was so excited, that I ordered a real first telescope.

I have to admit that I know next to nothing about astronomy. About the closest I got to studying the subject was a history of science course I took at college. We learned about the early astronomers from Aristotle to Copernicus to Tyco Brahe.

And we learned about the modern master of those who know, Galileo.

"I see a planet Daddy," my daughter said on a recent night with as much excitement as she did when she first saw fireworks, "I can see the moon."

It's amazing to me that the two of us can stand together, thousands of miles and hundreds of years from where Galileo stood and see the same moons circling Jupiter. It's kind of the same excitement that you feel when you're tuning into a short wave radio and pick up a transmission from a great, great distance.

"This must be what he saw too," I found myself saying out loud and my little girl, looking cute in her jean jacket and sherpa lined crocs, looked up at me quickly to see who I was talking about.

"Galileo," I said, and told her a little about why he's one of my heros.

I think the most remarkable things about him, was that with the mind he had, and in the time that he lived, he chose to write in the vulgar; that is, in the language of the people; that is, for those of us who could easily have been shut out - and got himself shut in (under house arrest) in the process.

But it was that very same work that got him into trouble, The Starry Messenger, that I think of when I look out at the sky. I think of Galileo setting up late into the night watching first one moon and then another and another circle Jupiter. I think of him seeing those moons circle and begin to deduce away the great imaginary cathedral walls that had until that time risen all the way to heaven. I think of him standing there just as we are standing here and I feel closer to his thought than to any great scientific mind in the ages that have passed between.

"Can I look one more time," my daughter asks, and although I'm sleepy, I say yes and let her look.

We're only looking at the near sky objects right now. I know there are more remote, and possibly more stunning things to be seen, but even if I had the equipment, I'm not sure it would be any more fun than what we're doing right now anyhow.

It's a wonder to be gazing at the same wonders that he looked at long ago. It's a wonder to be seeing the same planets that he discovered. It make me think that of all the great minds his seems to shine the brightest, not the least because he drew close enough to us to be observed.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


After working nearly forty hours non stop between yesterday and today - New York can be a rough town - just trying to get my son's weak left arm into a coat sleeve seemed like it was going to unstring me.

The little guy kept thrusting his hand down just inside of the coat or catching just his thumb on the sleeve, which forced his elbow out sharply. And the sight of him like that, like he's been winged, is too much for me; it's a reminder of all the things I'm afraid of. It went on like this for a long time; a little like trying to coax a bird that's inadvertently flown indoors back through an open door without hurting it.

But after many, many tries, we finally connected. His arm went the right way at the perfect pitch and I caught his thrust and pulled his little hand home. It felt like catching the express train after missing the local and waiting at the station for a long time.

"T'ank you Daddy," he said delightfully, and looked up at me with the sweetest most pure radiance of affection.

He repeated his thanks when he saw my weary smile, "T'ank you."

It isn't always like that, of course; sometimes I just can't get it right and I have to take a long break, call for help or just give up. But every once in a while there's a spoonful of the sweet to go with the bitter and it goes right to my heart like the warmth of brandy.

Thanks right back at you little man. Thanks a million.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Today was a day where I could see everyone one around me looking at me like I was a normally friendly dog on the verge of going into pack mode. Not good.

I can't say I don't know where a day like this comes from because they tend to happen on Sundays that follow cycles where I haven't had a non-working day for two or three weeks.

"Child. Child. Child! Child! CHILD!" I can hear myself sounding more and more like one of those unreasonable parents at the playground that is so obviously overwrought, but I find almost no way to stem my feelings.

My wife, gratefully, was having a better day, and stepped in where necessary to head me away from the cliff I'm still perfectly prepared to drive right over.

Not that the kids were much help either. Both of them were in ON mode like I haven't seen for a long time.

My boy refused to nap and clung to me like he was trying to set down roots. I love the little guy, but I've got chafe marks from where his little hands were gripping the scruff of my neck. I'm so glad he finally went to sleep.

My daughter, who to be fair is used to me having a pretty fair amount of patience, kept going at my personal space in small ways that ultimately undermined my sanity:

Me: "What happened to my wallet?"

Girl, laughing: "It's not your wallet Daddy, it's a birthday gift for my brown bear!"

Me: "Where are my keys?"

Girl, looking innocent: "I think I put them someplace."

Me, looking like Charlie brown losing his kite to the tree again: "Arrrghhhh!"

Normally, I'd have the patience and this would all be cute and delightful. Today, I'm just glad I'm married, and hoping that the other 364 days of good behavior will convince my family I'm worth enduring.

"I'm overreacting I'm sure .... tomorrow will be better ... there's always those last beers in the fridge ... the traffic will be light going to work on Columbus day ...," there's a long parade of hopes, little hopes coaxing me back.

I just feel when I'm like this more and more like the old line from the country music tune The Bug: "Sometimes you're the Louisville Slugger Baby, Sometimes you're the ball."

Oh boy! I better go to bed.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Not my City

When I wade to the bright city

The city that is closest to me

And swim the deep channeled water

Running outward to the sea.

Lights suspend and seem pristine

Floating skyward and ascending

On slender filaments unending

To the pious city of Augustine.

My city is not that saintly city

And avarice, sin and strife

Live in daily concourse amid

Both dearth and mortal delight.

Men of business, bodily men

Rise and sweat and tend

To pass beneath that which at

Once is both a means and an end.

Heaven I pray as I pass, consigned

To the concrete and earthly light

That I may return home again

And be redeemed to your truer delight.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Happy Alarm Clock

Just a short bit of good news tonight.

There's been a welcome change in my mornings recently. I wish I could say that I was sleeping later, but that's still a distant dream. My son has stopped waking up upset, and has started waking me up by calling my name.

"Daaaaddddyyyy! Daaaaadddddyyyy! DAAAAADDDDDYYYY!"

Ah! The sweet sounds of my little insistent child at 5:30 a.m. Soooo much better than the days of Whaaa and Ahhh!

He's actually happy and standing up in his crib when I arrive. After so long of waking up the other way, it's like getting a dose of setting the clocks back on a daily basis.

It doesn't seem to matter so much that I'm still sleepy when he's sitting down to a breakfast of bananas, milk and Rice Crispy's. It's just wonderful to hear him chatter and gabble away happily.

I hope this is a sign of things to come. I'm dearly looking forward to getting a solid night's sleep again. I feel like I'm coming in from a very long voyage out at sea and have just seen the first shore birds and other signs of a coast approaching.

Fingers crossed.