Day 7​ of the Emily Dickinson Marathon​

She often mentions bumble bees

And many purple things –

She’s clearly been in love

As she reveals, a time or two.

She speaks of business deals
And such. She must live near
A shipping port. She knows
how ships are lain
and how they trade as well.

She also loves geometry!
And all her threads
On immortality suggest
she has a strategy
for her escape at last.

Day 3 of the Emily Dickinson marathon

I love Emily’s mention of mills –
Of course, the cotton mills all moved
From New England to North Carolina
After the war – where labor was cheaper.
Then the same mills all moved
From NC to Vietnam – after that war.
When mills move, jobs also depart –
And that’s how we know who lost.
We found a 14-liner among the rest.
I dare not call it a sonnet – the experts
Might protest. But it was there,
Plain as day to any eyes that see
Or minds that count. It even had a volta
In its place. “I read my sentence – steadily -“

This poem forms the script of my Soundslide project, “My Occasional Morning Walk.” Week 5 of Digital Storytelling Bootcamp, Summer 2021 session.

Teacher say storytelling and poetry don’t mix.

I started doing this walk after
Returning home from a year in Baghdad,
Boxed and trapped in a cage called the Green Zone.
The walk was a stress reliever and a mind clearer.

Then events in my life took a detour.
I felt betrayed and dispossessed.
Somebody had to take the blame
To protect the Queen and her henchmen.

Passing back and forth through these gates
I renewed my strength, my sense of resolve.
I wanted revenge so desperately
But the only weapon I had was a pen.

That’s Robert E. Lee’s house on the top of the hill.
Well, it was community property
His wife inherited from her
Great grandmother, Martha Washington.

The government seized it after the war
To build a memorial cemetery.
Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee was pissed
Until the day she died. Life ain’t fair.

I compose poems walking along the river
Inside my head. Sonnets, mean poems, sweet
Love poems that I would write down
From memory as soon as I got home.

The Key Bridge was named for the
Famous songwriter, Francis Scott Key.
He owned slaves. Georgetown University
Sits in the distance. The Jesuits

Also owned slaves.
K street is where the high and mighty work.
But it used to be the address of saloons,
Funeral parlors, and whorehouses.

They will never drain this swamp.
The end of the walk passes through
Georgetown and a homeless encampment
Under the K Street overpass.

Random clippings from the cutting floor

A garden shot.
My place of mediation
and communion with Mother Earth.
There is no racial profiling in the garden,
no victimhood and no guilt.
Just cool people who plant seeds
clear out weeds, and watch things grow.

We share the watering hose.
Another garden shot.
Too much shaking of the camera
to use in the final assignment.
Children are playing kickball on
an asphalt court in the background.

The garden also borders
the community pool. When drenched
with sweat from gardening work
I’ve often wanted to take a cool dip.
Haven’t done it yet.

Haiku this week

low information,
high rate of data transfer –
matrix owns your mind.

putting together
a playlist for the next shutdown
that’s sure to come.

if i fell –
never gonna let you go –
all this love.

going in circles –
hurry up this way again –
you are my starship.

gentle on my mind.
If you don’t know me by now –
don’t ask my neighbors.

need a break from news –
views, clues, blues – abuse, confuse;
turn the TV off.

new guitar arrived.
wife say send it back – no way.
baby please don’t go.

Unpacked sonnets

On viewing a painting

November 6, 2020

The painting included a nude subject, a woman of immense beauty, seated at a table having coffee.

The steam slowly rises from her cup (I love how the painter captured that!).

Her left hand holds a fountain pen – she writes a letter – perhaps to a distant lover, maybe to her child away at college.

She stares out into space – a pregnant thought commands her attention. Her thoughts leave the canvas and mingle with my own as I am drawn into her world. She must work out, such tone in her muscular limbs.

I back away – distance and perspective change what I see.


A response to The Pieces I Am – an unpacked sonnet

June 26, 2020

I don’t have a “great migration” story. My folks stayed where they were, where they’d been born.

No one way train rides punctuated life for us: my parents cast their buckets down and made their peace, I guess, with all the lines that circumscribed their lives.

And their parents, and their parents, and their parents, and on and on.

Oh yeah, they ventured forth from time to time, but always came back to the home they knew and loved.

We grew up with the ghosts of generations past. They spoke to us and taught us things not learnable from books, like how to deal with loss, and love’s delay, and death, the ever present end of all.


Confined to quarters – an unpacked sonnet and a farewell to Wilson’s ten-play cycle

May 12, 2020

What must we conclude when the cycle ends? Is there cause for hope, for optimism?

A balm we can surely find in Gilead? Or isn’t all just a wink and a nod, yet another slave narrative that shows the futility of our pleas for peace?

As a teen I thought Robert Redford might someday be President. I mean, Bobby Seale didn’t really stand a chance and Redford was at least a man of action.

But there was no great art in his films, well, except in that spy flick he did with Faye Dunaway – who had been my secret crush forever – where, under duress, she said, “This is . . . unfair!”


A Thursday unpacked sonnet

April 23, 2020

It might be time for a shape shift moment. This kernel of time, wedged between the walls of two more standardized realities only points us backwards on the path of forward growth.

You can write your own poem – this one holds out hope for a revival and a different direction for our dreams.

Old ways benefited the chosen few. Their poets and prophets sing of better days to come. They have playwrights and Netflix producers on the job around the clock, promising to protect the status quo.

I can’t say I wish them ill. Their vision is a museum object, best preserved, mute.

New Haiku

Thursday night haiku

Before the banana republic,
We had a right to swift trial –
A jury of our peers.

Freedom was always
A false promise, an illusion.
Now none can save us.

If you read enough haiku
You begin to write like one –
You begin to be one.

As a consolation
I’m learning to play guitar –
My last breath, a song.

If I had my guitar
I’d write a song right now
With that Haiku.

I hate to end a line
In haiku with a broken verb
Or a preposition.

Not much in the news.
China having horrible
Floods – people dying.

I’m afraid if I
only write haiku, the end
will be near

My mother smoked Salems –
Didn’t help her high blood pressure.

I get a lot more
information on Telegram.
But on Twitter I remain .

is the information battlefield.
Until it isn’t.

We’ll be much smarter
in the second shutdown. We learn
from mistakes and errors.

Midnight Haiku

DC bans menthols –
No more Newports, no more Kools.
Really? All smoke, no fire.

From the archives – subway poem #17

Friday night in middle July

Just finished reading “We,”
My subway read. How does it end?
You know how it ends.
Like every other dystopian story.
Depressingly. Spoiler alert!!
Evil wins. One State prevails.
Big Brother and the Benefactor
come out on top. It’s pretty
fucked up. Totally predictable.
But you keep hoping.
As you turn each page you hope.
And then the end slaps you.
Such suckers we all are.
Cause there ain’t no Superman.

Conversation in the garden: The taste comes from the love (and other gardening poems).

Conversation in the garden

Talking okra plant #1:  I heard his footsteps when he left his house. I knew he was coming to see us.

Talking okra plant #2: ​ ​But how’d you know he wasn’t going to the grocery store just up the street, or the Foggy Bottom Metro station?

Talking okra plant #3: ​ ​He has a different spring in his step when he’s coming to see us.

Gardener arrives.

Gardener: ​ I was here all along and I heard you all chatting. ​Come on now. How do you hear my footsteps? My house is half a mile away. And all the noise from traffic on K Street?

Talking plant #1:​ ​ It’s an underground thing. Our roots tune in to certain frequencies underground. You didn’t know it, but you left your signature frequency here when you first tilled the soil for your garden plot.

Gardener: ​ That was hard work. The gas-operated machine broke and I had to to it the old fashioned way​. Sweat and tears. My, aren’t you all the pretty ones, with the big green leaves and lots of okra budding all over?

Talking okra plant #2: ​ You make love to us with your daily visits, watering the soil around us whenever you come, tapping our flowers, ​pulling the weeds that try to choke us, and brushing away the ants that crawl up our stalks to take a sip of our sap.

Talking okra plant #3: ​ ​​​I feel electricity when you touch my leaves. It’s like a gentle caress. My roots want to reach out and wrap around your legs.

Gardener: Oh, you all ​a​re so kind to me. It’s the main reason why I come e​ve​ry day.

Talking okra plant #1: ​ ​But don’t forget your wife likes the green seed pods we make. Is that what you call okra? For us it’s just seed pods.

Talking okra plant #2: ​ ​She’s only been here once, maybe twice. My roots haven’t quite figured out the sound of her frequency. But I think I like her since you do.

Gardener: ​ ​Today’s harvest is going into an African dish she makes with stew meat and palm oil. The okra you all grow gives it a special flavor.

Talking okra plant #3:​ ​ You tell her the taste comes from the love.

Talking okra plant #2:​ ​ Yeah, the taste comes from the love.

Talking okra plant #1: ​ ​ Yeah, the taste comes from the love.

All the talking plants, in unison: ​ ​The taste comes from the love.

Okra plants in the garden smiling at me.

April 2, 2015

nothing has grown yet
in my one-week-old garden

I wonder will the little seeds
make it through early Spring’s late frost?

did I plant too soon?
was I over-anxious to begin?

I stick my finger in the ground –
it feels warm inside, underneath,

just half an inch deep where my seeds
rest – I think they will survive.

April 19, 2015

the garden is my primary place
for meditation these days,
in these majestic mountains,
in this place of serenity and beauty

I inherit an abandoned plot –
weeds have overgrown
last year’s plantings
and perennials –

preparing the beds for planting
i dig up old carrot roots,
unfound potatoes, decomposing,
and sundry forms of organic life

I crumble the good earth
with my fingers – I feel
the power in the soil
to sustain a new growth

with a shovel and a rake
I turn the old soil over,
exposing its underside
to sunlight and fresh air

then sprinkle a little mulch
in the furrows that form –
spread the mixture slowly,
evenly, to form a flat bed

it’s like an open wound,
exposed, that heals quickly
with sunshine and oxygen –
it’s time to place the seeds –

I punch holes gently, gently
in the heaping, heaving mound
and drop two or three seeds
into each little womb, and wait . . .

weeds grow like, well, weeds,
and must be plucked, removed –
and on dry days there is watering –
& waiting & hoping

weeds grow like, well, weeds,
and must be plucked, removed –
and on dry days there is watering –
& waiting & hoping

today’s meditation is complete –
my body is tired from digging,
raking, bending, touching the soil –
I’ll sleep like a baby tonight.

Gardening I

gardening has given me
a different relationship
with the environment
than what I had before –

weather, mainly.
I fret a bit when it’s been dry –
and I worry when it rains
too long or too hard

or too frequently –
weeds are so much more adaptable –
and I have seeds in the ground,
and skin in the game.

Gardening II

all my verse is about gardening
these days, the rains that feed,
the weeds that choke (which is
their right to do), the late frost
that kills the tender shoots from seeds
I planted too early.

my sunflowers are quite the ladies,
bashful, tender, as they approach
their flowering stage, the carrots
need more thinning, their tops
the brightest green, and the turnip
leaves too tough to eat.

but one of the weeds has edible
leaves – I’ll think I’ll let it grow.

Gardening III

We are
the invasive species.
Like weeds,
our broad green leaves
block out sunlight
to the seeded plants –
our well-adapted root system
drains away nutrients
from below.

We think
we are the fittest
for survival –
the quickest to adjust
to environmental shifts,
and yet the most
resistant to superficial change.

We create thoughts,
make decisions to ensure security
for our progeny –

they will belong in the garden –
and they will cover up our
alien origins.

Work Day at the Community Garden

It was work day at the garden.
My ask was to clean out the tool shed.
Mirna was my work partner.

You could tell it had been closed up
For the winter – there were spider
And their spun homes everywhere –

Especially on the handles – spiders
Must know the smell of human touch
And bind themselves up there.

The shovels had been put away
Dirty, clogged with dirt and clay.
We cleaned each tool with wire

brushes to knock the old dirt off.
We pulled out every piece and cleaned it
Then we cleared the floor of debris.

I closed the tool shed door from inside
To clean the groove that housed
the sliding door. I experienced a taste

Of claustrophobia that cleared
as soon as the door was reopened
And light poured into the space.

Of claustrophobia that cleared
as soon as the door was reopened
And light poured into the space.
– April 5, 2021

NaPoWriMo 2021 #19

Weekend community gardening
Is mainly a social thing. Folks gather
to work on group projects, exchange
seeds sometimes, maybe cast
furtive, secret glances at each other
while tending to their garden plots.
There may be discussions of politics.
Do you have your vaccine done?

But on Mondays, cool cloudy Mondays
like today, the garden plots are empty,
except for mine. I can unmask if I
want to, work at my own pace.
The ground is still soft from tilling
last week. It rained, but the clumps
of dirt are dry, hard. I break them
up again, stirring in compost, bat guano

and old coffee grounds from last week
to enrich the soil. Building the rows
is repetitive and mindless. Four vertical
and five horizontal. The rows I make are
crooked because I‘m not paying attention.
Not that much. I‘m thinking about planting,
about the future. I’ve broken a sweat.
April 20, 2021

Found poetry from Janelle Monae

Every now and then I post some poetry here that is not my original work, but poetry I stumbled upon that spoke to me in a special way. These Janelle Monae lyrics from a few years back fit that description. Read and enjoy.

“Are we a lost generation of our people?
Add us to equations but they’ll never make us equal.
She who writes the movie owns the script and the sequel.
So why ain’t the stealing of my rights made illegal?

They keep us underground working hard for the greedy,
But when it’s time to pay they turn around and call us needy.
My crown’s too heavy like the Queen Nefertiti
Gimme back my pyramid, I’m trying to free Kansas City.
Mixing masterminds like your name’s Bernie Grundman.
Well I’m gonna keep leading like a young Harriet Tubman

You can take my wings but I’m still goin’ fly
And even when you edit me the booty don’t lie
Yeah, keep singing and I’mma keep writing songs
I’m tired of Marvin asking me, “What’s Going On?
March to the streets ‘cuz I’m willing and I’m able
Categorize me, I defy every label

And while you’re selling dope, we’re gonna keep selling hope
We rising up now, you gotta deal you gotta cope
Will you be electric sheep?
Electric ladies, will you sleep?
Or will you preach?”  

Robert E. Lee, departing

General Lee sits upright in the saddle
of his steed of war. Though frozen in time,
the horse appears in motion, its hoofs
raised on opposing sides and muscles
flexed for the charge. There’s red paint
splashed on the statue base – no doubt
an act of protest by the offended.

I “get” Lee’s love for Virginia. A whole
country’s too big to stretch your arms
around. But a state is a home and is not
to be disrespected. I feel the same
for North Carolina, Silent Sam and all.
It’s family. Old aunts and uncles may have
their special ways. But we love them dearly
nonetheless. Keep walking tall and proud,
General Lee, sit resolutely in that saddle.
‘Though causes pass, a true love never fails.

random thoughts

We are living in a dark time, y’all.
The Haiti assassination gave me
goosebumps and flashbacks to JFK
and that instant coffee commercial.
Reading Roethke poems might help,
but won’t be sufficient. I may need
to watch Sophie Scholl on YouTube
and listen to some Schubert string
quintets to get up out of this funk.

America’s rape culture

I still believe Tara Reade. To put a fine point on it, Bill Cosby is no better, and certainly no worse than Joe Biden. @ReadeAlexandra

Rape Culture

The newest birth defect to emerge from the depths
of our collective DNA has long and intricate roots –

passed down from father to son – from mother
to daughter – like some unique, sacred inheritance,

the beast whose marks we bear. The conquistadors
had their way with the natives they “discovered” –

no slave was safe from the raging hormones
of the master and his sons – the ladies of the house

turned their heads and hoped it would be contained –
now it’s an epidemic​.​ ​A​ syphilis​. Killing us ​slowly.

October 16, 2017

On Robert Burns Night, 2020

On By rdmaxwell55In PoetryEdit

Everything’s autobiographical. I’m 12% Scot –
I take my single malt with soda water
And my dark chocolate with hazelnuts.
Lift your glasses high – we recognize
Our absentee Scottish fathers, sneaking
Out to the quarters at the midnight hour
To rape our enslaved mothers.
A special toast for our stepfathers –
who did their best to raise us anyway.
They stepped into the breach again
and again, overlooking our mothers’ pain
And their own. We are forever in their debt.
Still, the blood runs deep – in dreams
and nightmares we hear our mothers’ screams.

unfinished sonnet crown – Nat Turner

Saturday after the Summer Solstice

I understand what Ralph Emerson meant
When he talked about the gods and giving
All to love. Such an invitation is not
For the faint of heart, the weak, the feeble.
It’s much safer to stick with the familiar,
The known knowns, the easy catch,
The safe bet – heed the parlor’d whisper
That always tells you to count your blessings.

Thanks for your note. My epic sonnet crown
Unfortunately fell short, not because
The deed was not done, but because there is
So much unfinished work. And I am not
Helping much by sitting at home writing
Poems about it. The days are longer
Than before. For that we have much praise
And thanks to give and share, and songs to sing.

recent poems stuck in the self-censorship filter

Planning Saturday Sonnet

If it rains tomorrow morning I’ll brew
A pot of Vietnamese robusta
And slowly ramble through O’Hara poems –
Meditations in An Emergency.
But if it’s clear, we’ll take the morning tour
Of Lafayette Square with our new friends from
The National Civic Art Society.
And maybe later, brunch at Hay Adams,
And maybe take some snapshots of buildings
Up and down 16th Street. We’ll imagine
Being way uptown and seeing the dome
Of the Jefferson Memorial sit
Atop the White House. Or so it’d appear –
Like two stars in the heavens that seem one.

Moving to substack!

To all my faithful readers:

We have built strong relationships with readers over the past several years here on wordpress, going back to 2012. This week, and weekly, I will be moving tranches of poems, small subcollections, over to substack. Gives me an opportunity to review, edit, and in many cases, re-write. I will also be posting poems read out loud.

I hope you all will be able to check my poems out over on substack. My wordpress blog will remain active, of course.

Here is the substack link:

Thank you all so much!


Watching Agatha Christie on PBS on Sunday

I read my new poem aloud to my wife –
She’s more of an Agatha Christie fan
But she paid attention anyway.
Which part did she like the most?
She never said – but I saw a twinkle
In her eyes when I mentioned my mother
And the pot-bellied stove providing heat
For worshippers inside the Baptist church.
The estate licensed the name and style
Of her favorite bard: her mysteries
Will continue to entertain her fans. Forever.
My wife prefers the classic to the modern:
The high and tight tales to the low and loose.
The storyteller impulse never dies.

Memorial Day, 2021 sonnet found me a new cousin.
He’s a third or a fourth counting all
Our common DNA threads. I recognize
His great grandfather’s name, same as my Mama’s
Uncle, who served in France during the war
To end all wars. Same uncle who used to pray
Long prayers in the cold country church heated
By a coal-burning potbellied stove
Just in front of the pulpit. Mama, I’d whisper,
Shivering, why are Uncle Ben’s prayers so long?
She’d whisper back, “Hush boy, your uncle is
Talking with God.” I remember feeling
Empowered to know that someone so close
Had such contact with the Almighty.

memoir writing blues

It is useful to go back & fill in the details,
to add a bit of color to the black & white.
I omitted some details in the first draft,
perhaps thoughts not yet processed, maybe stuff
I wanted to avoid, to forget. It is not
all goodness and light, you know, and
“life ain’t been no crystal stair.” I have broken hearts,
including my own, and buried broken bodies
too hastily in shallow graves out back,
including my own, or deep in the sand
of soft, wet beachfront where sunbathers dwell.
The first draft sheds light on darkened areas,
but it’s the rewrite that quickens the resolve
To clear the air and to finish the deed.

Follow edit notes here:

NaPoWriMo 2021 #31 – End of Another Cycle

Always there’s an upbeat to end on –
A U-shaped curve. Life’s narrative arc
Is a comedy, at least we hope,
In the strictest sense of the word.
Another Cycle comes to an end –
A resolution and a denouement
That gathers and ties up every loose end
like rope, whipped to prevent unravelling.
A free body diagram dangles
In space, never showing its constraints
Or the forces it exerts. Good drama
Is the same. It withholds conclusions
Until every jot and tittle is laid bare –
And the finish is as clear as the start.

NaPoWriMo 2021 #30 – The president is Ignorant

“I think after 400 years, African Americans
have been left in a position where they are
so far behind the eight ball in terms of education
and health, in terms of opportunity.”
————–President Joseph Biden, 2021

Our president is ignorant,
And that’s being charitable,
Since ignorance is not a crime
Or a sin – Except when it
Is self-imposed and lorded
Over others as gospel truth.

He buys and sells the 1619 myth,
Ignoring the facts of history,
Then pumps it out to the public –
Strengthening the critical race theory
we are already being force fed.

He locates us behind the eight ball,
the black eight ball, without agency,
and makes it about distance (far)
and time (400 years).

The metaphor of the black eight ball,
He must be fully aware (since he uses it),
Is a function of obstruction of view,
Not time or distance – Except as it
satisfies the narrative his ilk accept
And promote of guilt and victimhood.

The president is ignorant
And that is being charitable
Since ignorance is not a crime,
or a sin, like other crimes and sins
committed in his name.