My Desperate, Careening Near-Fall, In Eight Steps

I   The Bump
The front of my shoe into the root-raised sidewalk, in the early morning dark, immediate forced lurch and lean, gravity at play, my body a sudden projectile.

II  The Stutter
Left foot down hard, short and choppy, seeking a base, body and brain electric, woke, as they were not the barest moment ago.

III The Thrash
Alarm, surely going down, hard, fast and sprawling, on concrete, drive it, drive it!, right quad fully engaged, firing with everything it has, a millisecond’s wobble, oh no! push push, hang in, oh Lord, a severe rise in the sidewalk just ahead, damn these unkempt, insidious trees!

IV  The Veer
Faster still, a running back at 20 degrees, struggling for yardage and a smidge of stability, momentum forcing my body suddenly right, leaving the sidewalk, toward the sideyard morass, if rocks or roots await there, my ankle is toast.

V   The Stumble
Crashing the weeds, shrubs, indistinct ...

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A Halloween Tribute to Hermann Hesse’s “Steppenwolf”

“O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,” wrote T.S. Eliot in a poem that was not about Halloween but maybe should have been. (It might have helped lighten Eliot’s mood.) Eliot was writing more about the encounter with non-being, rather than the relatively jocular invitation to explore the dark side of human nature via America’s second most commercially prosperous holiday (trailing only Christmas in economic activity.)

Sure, Halloween is rampantly commercialized and mostly a bonanza for the candy companies and costume stores. But it also reflects a rich tradition of human beings who are not only aware of the shadow side of life, but welcome it. Even though it takes the mostly light-hearted form of costume parties, house decorations and candy for the kids.

Halloween is a chance for our alteregos to get a little attention. To take a walk on the wild side.

Spending a lot of time on the East Co...

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Outliving Ernest Becker and “The Denial of Death”

In his 1973 Pulitzer Prize-winning work “The Denial of Death,” cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker wove together major threads of psychology, philosophy, anthropology and religion in positing that the central motivating force of human life is the fear of death, which compels us to live in its denial. We do so by not thinking or talking about it much, by drinking and drugging too much, sleepwalking through life as if it were giving us all the time in the world, embracing eternal life doctrines of religion, and by pursuing any number of immortality-seeking “hero” projects in our jobs, sports, the military, hobbies, and private obsessions. (Climbing Everest, making beautiful pots, writing a book, getting rich, becoming a philanthropist with buildings named after us…)

Becker also placed great importance on our embrace of culture—our affiliations with family, community, nation, race, tribe an...

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Beauty and Banality in Jane Kenyon’s “Chrysanthemums”

With a first line stating “The doctor averted his eyes,” we sense that whatever the title suggests in this crystalline Jane Kenyon poem, it will not be a rapturous ode to flowers. Then comes the second line containing the word “diagnosis,” and we know we will likely be traversing some troubling ground, ultimately revealed as a series of snapshots coalescing around her husband and fellow poet Donald Hall’s colon cancer in 1989.

Nevertheless, chrysanthemums do play a role.

Hall, 24 years older than Kenyon and her professor at the University of Michigan before marrying her in 1972, survived his first bout with the illness that Kenyon chronicled in this poem, then fought off its return three years later when it had metastasized to his liver and doctors gave him slim odds for recovery.

Four months ago, he died at the ripe age of 89, a former poet laureate of the United States and a well-respected professor, ...

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Loss in the Tribe

A Saturday night of edenic silence in the early dark of fall, the season’s first halting, feathery rain seeming to muffle every sound save for the second-by-second tick of the clock hand on the kitchen wall, reminding that this quietude, so reminiscent of the timeless heavens, is itself bound and must stake its own claim for whatever eternity it can muster. I can hear neither car nor cricket nor neighbor near or far; even the refrigerator is joined in the solemnity of this hour, its motor soundless and bowed. Dog to the left of me, cat to the right, our threesome forming an obtuse triangle punctuated only by the silent rising and falling of torsos, accepting without rancor the insistent, intrusive breath that moves the world...

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