I am from strength and salt water
The craggy Maine coast and a cottage called Whispering Hope
The home of my American grandparents
I am from gathered-up seashells and chipped sand dollars
Bright plastic pails of sand and squeaky styrofoam surfboards
The warm smell of slippery suntan oil and the chilly embrace of deep-blue waves

I am from tradition and reverence
The gentle Tamagawa hills and a house on Naramachi
The home of my Japanese obaachan—and the ojiichan I never knew
I am from plentiful bowls of steaming white rice
Hot tea, warm sake, and cool water
The sweet-sour taste of half-moon gyoza dipped in vinegar and soy sauce
I am from unpretentious beauty
My Lake Erie city, a Rust Belt town
Grounded in gritty goodness
Lined with majestic buildings and sturdy homes
Rising once again
And alive with new hopes
I am from every place I have ever wandered off to
Paris, Rome, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Toronto, Chicago
All the airports and roads, street corners and cafes
from there back to here, and
in between

I am from a house filled with music
Chopin, Bach, Mahler, Baez, Cash, and the Beatles
With laughter from the television and around the kitchen table
The whirring of my mother’s sewing machine
Her hands guiding colorful fabric, another new dress for school
And the sound of my father’s voice, calmed by a shot of whiskey
Reading tenderly as we finally fell fast asleep 
Each night our bellies were full, our minds open
Ready to invite in more dreams
More plans for the coming day
I am grateful for having grown up
With all of this, some of that
In love.

I was inspired to write this after hearing the NPR segment, Where I’m From. The original poem, by George Ella Lyon, can be found here.


I walk toward the ocean 
breathing in the briny salt air

The stretch of sand seems much smaller
than what I remember as a child

And yet everything else
feels reassuringly the same

Wispy blades of dune grass sway in the breeze
as clusters of seagulls squawk overhead

White-capped waves join the chorus
crashing gently against the shore

Blue waters rush up onto the sand
and then retreat just as gracefully

The ocean’s susurrations
are a welcome lullaby

Why did it take me so long
to return?

Old Orchard Beach, Maine

The Third of April

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

~ T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

It was chilly that morning.

You woke up early and
Ambled down the long, carpeted hallway
And into the dusty back bedroom
Where you lay down on the old foam mat
Next to the stacks of books and magazines

While gazing up at the textured swirls
Of the bright white ceiling
You moved ever so slowly
Through your daily exercises

Suddenly something
Burst inside your mighty brain
And like a wild river
The blood rushed through you

Your power was swiftly extinguished
Your face swollen and contorted
Your eyes veiled to the wonder and light of life
One arm that had been flailing angrily
Was now limp, next to your bloated side

Who knows exactly when it happened?
Only you, and God.

Perhaps your mind
Had been retracing the details
Of the previous evening
(when, after a lively family dinner,
your granddaughter cajoled you
into watching “Dancing with the Stars”)
Maybe you were imagining the day ahead

No, I think you were privately dreading
The burdensome years yet to come
You resented the blood pressure medication
You ignored the cane
Your expensive hearing aid
Was always left in its case, untouched

To hell with doctors
To hell with growing old

At the hospital, the hours
Felt slow and heavy, as we waited
The hurried steps of doctors and nurses
The beeping of machines, the hum of the lights
Punctured the heavy silence of our fears
I was queasy and lightheaded

Then later that evening, shortly after six
With all of us standing around your bed
We motioned to the doctor
The plug was finally pulled
And in that still, grey corner of the hospital
You slipped away

Even after ten years
It’s impossible to know
Just how to start or to end
This poem of infinite goodbye.

Dad and me in 1983

Kitchen Stories

I can recall the long-ago image of a leftover casserole
meticulously wrapped and stashed in the fridge
only to be ravaged during some nocturnal scavenger hunt.

Our family kitchen became a place to linger,
in the present moment, all hours of the day.

Now when I open the refrigerator door
the light from inside illuminates my memory:

wooden chairs pushed close together
stitched oval placemats and soft tablecloths
the clanging of glasses and silverware
the bountiful dishes passed around
the medley of tastes and temperaments
as we squabble and laugh
and then, hours later, the plates are piled high

Such a glorious meal of abundant love.