The obituary in the local paper

merely stated that he as

“a member of the faculty”

at the high school.

On Monday a substitute teacher

walked into our classroom

and asked what chapter

we had reached in

The American Story: Liberty and Justice.”

No announcement came

from the principal’s office.

Whisperings seeped through the hallways.

Details were imagined,

expanded upon, modified.

A week later curiosity expired.

What everybody wanted to know

was if the basketball team

could win five in a row.


Where have they come from

I ask the instructor

before they arrive.

All over, she says.

One by one they tell,

squeezing out

mangled pronunciations,

replying in semi-sentences,

skittering across slippery syntax.

Ecuador, Nepal, Taiwain, Eritrea

While I, English speaker only,

sit here astounded by

their hopes,

their commitment,

their courage.


To be one means you are almost

but not quite the winner

like Henry Martzall my teammate

who in 1958 wrestled his way

to the 103 pound final

in the Pennsylvania State Wrestling Championship

I was there

It was an exciting bout

Henry and his opponent were evenly matched

He lost

He was runner-up

My weight in 1958 was 103

Henry Martzall was my opponent every week

to decide which of us would represent our team

I never defeated him but once or twice

I came close

which means that I can claim to be

the runner-up

to the runner-up

to the winner

of the Pennsylvania State Wrestling Championship


One of the benefits

of the pandemic

is a new understanding

of Hero

Previously a hero was someone

who saves the life

of one or more fellow-humans

by a single courageous act

risking his or her life

to do so

Now we know

that heroism

is also – and more so –

the hour-after-hour


efforts of those

who continue to show up

as grocery workers


and countless others

who expose themselves

to deadly possibility


I could, if I needed to

or wanted to, go online

and learn the identity

of each one. I’ve been

tempted to do so,

to name the source

of each twitter, each song.

tweedle tweedle tweedle tweedle tweet

is the delightful serenade

that greets the sun’s climb

over the backyard oak

where the anonymous songster sits

and sings and sings and sings.

No name needed.


I could sweeten it.

But I don’t and haven’t.

For decades.

Maybe because I want the slightly

bitter taste to prepare me for a day

that will, like every other day,

include flavorful hints

of delight

and disappointment.


Despite our best efforts,

even our not-that-great ones,

hurts that should be healed

often are not.

Or at least not as quickly

as we had hoped.

We must persist

but do so in faith that though

“the arc of the moral universe is long”

— or if you like —

that the arrival of the Kingdom

that the one from Nazareth announced

and that we pray for

is heart-breakingly delayed,

it does indeed

“bend toward justice”

— and mercy and love.


That was her name which,
back then was,
I supposed, simply the name
of the man she had married.
She was new, fresh out of college.
She’d convinced the powers that were
that she could encourage
a few high schoolers
to enhance their love of learning
(I’m guessing she tossed in
that dear-to-educators-hearts phrase
with a diminutive smile)
by adding to the curriculum
a class to be called Creative Writing.

They consented.

And off we went
scratching in our notebooks
her enthusiasm for fiction and poetry
engendered by the priceless gift
a word she spoke with
a paradoxical blend
of excitement and reverence.

“Let your imaginations soar” 
she implored us.

“Remember,” she said, “use your words
not to tell but to show.”

We could not claim her name
but we culd aspire to become
the kind of writers
she hoped we would become:


The formal way to get it
is to stand up and say
“May I please have your attention.”

Attention is what nearly all of us crave.
Our need for it 
	starts early, baby early,
	doesn’t end with the terrible twos,
	spikes in the terribler teens,
	prods us to marry,
	persists into dotage.

Our days are marked with silent [Ahems].


We stood in the necessitated six-feet-apart line,

a dozen customers waiting our turn,

grumpiness etched on each face.

eggs were scarce

frozen beans scarcer

toilet paper non-existent

The man ahead of me

placed his items on the belt

(a twenty-something Pamela

— according to her name tag —

whose friends most likely called her Pammy)

So . . . are people being nice to you?

Her reply: Most of them

Her questioner’s eyes smiled.

Okay, add me to that list.