Haiku II


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Keep Austin Real


Where the sheriff tows his horse down SoCo in a trailer behind a three-hundred pound dude with long gray hair on a silver Fat Boy; a skeleton cruises past Lucy in Disguise on a bicycle toward 6th Street, stops at the Blind Pig Pub for a quick one, then off to Rainey Street for a Shiner Bock and a jazz band.

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Trust the Word

“You can’t. You can never be sure. You die without knowing.” – John Berryman’s response to W.S. Merwin when asked how you know if a poem is any good

Poetry is like boarding a plane: you walk through the door, peek into the cockpit, gawk at a hundred instruments and gauges, and then place your trust in the pilot to get you to your destination; or like your first summit attempt of a glacial mountain with enormous crevasses, falling rock and avalanche risks; you place your trust in your mountain guide.

Poetry requires a similar level of trust; trust in the poet and trust in his work. W.S. Merwin has been creating poetry for seven decades, and at 89 he is still writing and publishing. A native of New York City and raised for a time in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Merwin moved to Hawaii in the 1970s. He lives in a house built on an old pineapple plantation where he preserves indigenous plants. His more recent poetry reflects his passion for conservation.screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-8-38-06-am

In one of my first workshops with Philadelphia poet Leonard Gonterak, Leonard said, “You don’t have to understand poetry to appreciate it,” words that shed the mystery from poetry and put me at ease to simply let the words, images, and rhythm seep into my being. Once the barrier between psyche and poetry is torn down, appreciation begins, and in many cases understanding follows. Bill Moyer reinforced this idea in a 2009 interview with Merwin, when he said, “I don’t understand all of your poetry, but I get it.”

In the interview Moyer asked Merwin, “So, what makes a poem work?”

“I don’t know,” said Merwin. “I’ll never know what makes a poem work.” That is because poetry is innate and sensory to the poet, and must be trusted by the reader. If a poet is successful, he will feel his way until it works, and though it may not resonate with every reader, it will touch something deep inside many who tune in. Merwin went on to make an interesting observation adding, “One thing about poetry. And this is different that prose. When a poem is really finished, you can’t change anything. You can’t move words around. You can’t say, ‘In other words, you mean.’ No, that’s not it. There are no other words in which you mean it. That is it. And if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But if it does work, that’s the way it is.”

Listen to Bill Moyer’s interview with W.S. Merwin.

Merwin’s lives simply on his Hawian preservation and writes longhand on paper. I thought about him in today’s world of sound bites, abbreviated messages and ever-shortening attention spans and leave you with this poem:

Merwin’s First Tweet

A bulbous pearl startles the abyss pulling

blood through miles of seasoned veins;

his eyes open at first light

on an island pulsing gold.


A whetted blade pierces gilded pulp,

his tongue exults, and fingers stutter

on plastic pads. He weeps, reaches

for a soiled napkin to finish his song.


Pastel rays reflect from the azure surf,

grilled pineapple and papaya waft

to a symphony of water gliding over a rock ledge

before crashing hundreds of feet below


images unrestrained by convention:

two words too many

two verse not enough

140 characters, blasphemous.


jim brennan


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waking in the middle of the night in an primitive wooden box perched at 10,188′ between the Muir Snowfield and Cowitz Glacier to a symphony of disparate breathing and random snoring; uprooting yourself from eighteen bodies stuffed in sleeping bags, stepping over the unconscious in the dark guided by a mental image of their positions before the sun set, then tiptoeing in the direction the door you entered hours before and feel for a rope handle you vaguely remember. You pull and step outside onto a path illuminated by a moon brighter than any you had ever seen. Every star in the universe is scattered across the sky. Glaciers sparkle like diamonds. If you step off the side of the mountain you will walk on clouds.

It is the first time in your life you are thankful to awaken in the middle of the night to pee.

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It’s not the altitude, but the attitude.


Trail to the Muir snowfield on the lower mountain of Mount Rainier.

Aim for higher elevation.


View of Mount Adams (center) 100 miles south of Mount Rainier.

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15 Years After

Choice of the Falling Man, a post I wrote to honor those who chose to step off the upper floors of the World Trade Center on 9-11, was the most widely read post on the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. To millennials, 9 – 11 is my generation’s Kennedy assassination, or my parent’s Pearl Harbor–everyone remembers where they were the moment the towers were struck.

On Monday, September 10, 2001 I flew to Seattle with a return ticket in my pocket for September 12th that I would never use. I looked at the snowcapped Mount Rainier from the window of my 737 on the flight out not knowing I would hike to nearly 8,000′ elevation that Friday, and never dreaming I would climb to the summit fifteen years later.


Mount Rainier and 9 -11 are inseparable to me. It signifies strength and promise. When air traffic was suspended nationwide after the attacks I was stranded 3,000 miles from my wife and children. Mount Rainier, ninety miles east of Seattle, was visible from just about anywhere I went in and around the city. Every time I looked out my hotel window I felt the mountain was calling me, and after three days on my own I answered the call.

I remember the wildflowers in the foothills when I set out from the visitor center at Paradise, and standing on a glacier, a unique experience for an east coast native and sea level dweller in September. But my most memorable experience was an older gentleman I met near 7,000′ elevation. He pointed south down the Cascade Mountain range and told me he’d climbed the 11,249′ summit of Mount Hood in 1981 at the age of 61.

When I returned home I sent away for a package to climb to the summit of Rainier, but life got in the way; you know, college tuitions, weddings, business travel, that kind of stuff. Now, fifteen years later I pack my gear for the climb and think about all that had occurred since my 9 -11 hike on Mount Rainier–plus five grandchildren, minus too many loved ones to mention–and I realize how fortunate I am after all of these years to have the good fortune to join a team for the summit climb.

Climb to your summit with gratitude. Don’t let life pass you by.


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Words for the Year

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver from “The Summer Day”

Gregory Pardlo’s poem “Written by Himself” from his Pulitzer Prize winning collection Digest recently appeared on the poetry website Words for the Year. “Written by Himself” begins:

I was born in minutes in a roadside kitchen a skillet
whispering my name. I was born to rainwater and lye;
I was born across the river where I
was borrowed with clothespins, a harrow tooth,
broadsides sewn in my shoes. Full poem here.
Words for the Year posts one poem, quote or art selection each day by poets that range from widely-known to obscure. The website is a wonderful resource for poetry lovers, as well as those who’d like to learn about poets and the art itself. Some of the posts include commentary about the poem or the poet.
Christy, who maintains the website, accepts suggestions for poems via her Contact link. Christy makes no money sharing poetry with her readers and asks for no donations. She simply loves sharing poetry and says the best way to help out is to pay it forward. Share a poem.
Try Words for the Year, and if you like what you read, Pay it forward.
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