Thursday, November 3, 2016

"Someday We'll All Be Kings" - A Short Story Inspired by Shakespeare's 29th Sonnet


A boy crosses the room during the beginning of class, backpack over his shoulder, the hair in his eyes masking the indifference he bears to his own lateness.  You’ve begun discussing Shakespeare’s 29th sonnet, imagining what it must feel like to be able to feel like this, and you notice how the boy takes his time dragging his boots across the floor towards his desk by the window.
            “When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
            I all alone beweep my outcast state . . .”

He gazes out at the street, the art building, the passing cars, the rain, looking more through these things than at them.  It’s like you’re not there.

            “And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries . . .”

For twenty years you have taught sonnet 29, your favorite poem, enjoying its jazz-like rhythmic improvisations and the wonderful optimism in the face of life’s adversity – “and then, like to the lark at break of day arising from sullen earth, haply I think on thee.”  You wish a turn of phrase so brilliant would knock on your door and make things better.

You try to ignore the sullen, long-haired boy against the window, but it’s hard.  You want them all to realize how amazing this poem is, how such feelings are almost impossible in real life, how sometimes poetry is as real as life is, or as real as you’d like it to be.  You don’t know the boy lives with his grandmother.  You aren’t there at her kitchen table, day after day, as she reads her favorite recipes to him.  Apple pie, chicken and dumplings, tuna noodle casserole.  Her only resume. You don’t see him listen lovingly, every night, to this litany of ingredients, only returning to his room when she rises from the table.

You return to the poem, focusing on its wonderful music, its varieties of the iambic pentameter line.  You’re happy because you can chart this all out on the board, looking smart, the master decoder demystifying a 400 year-old poem for a bunch of kids who, maybe, if you decode it just right, will really get it.  But you ignore the fact of the poem’s words – “this man’s art, that man’s scope,” “men’s eyes,” “cursing my fate.”  You don’t ask if anyone has ever felt this because it would be like getting too close to the flame.  You pay attention to the metaphors, the beats, the prosody because they are harmless and measurable - - topics for impressive essays – the pain and longing too real to acknowledge as you try to look smart before your class. 

You wish you were as courageous as the scowling boy, whose last short story was confused for a memoir and who bore his soul like he was writing on his deathbed – with no sense of audience or repercussions – the petty crimes, the shattered glass on the kitchen floor, the stench of cheap whiskey, the countless hours alone with his XBOX, the half-written suicide notes crumpled in his garbage can, the memory of his first-day-of-school Kindergarten picture on the living room wall – a picture full of toothless joy, a story with only one chapter.  He wrote all of this down.  You didn’t give it a grade.  For once, you had good sense.  It would have been obscene to pretend that his pain could fit inside a number in red ink.  You wrote “SEE ME” in bold confident letters but the boy had neither the boldness nor confidence to see you on his own.  Strangely, you haven’t found the courage to see him either.  You wonder for a moment the conditions under which you would “change your state for kings” and what you would change it for.  No, that’s wrong.  Shakespeare isn’t saying that, you realize.  He’s saying that his beloved is so amazing that even though he is envious, jealous, and talentless, the love he has isn’t worth changing anything for.  You ponder Shakespeare’s boldness for shooting for the moon.  “Kings.”  He wouldn’t exchange his shitty life, EVEN to be a king, as long as his beloved stays by his side.

The bell rings, wishing your thoughts could be part of your lesson plan.  You drive home to a silent house.  The only sounds are the voices of Pat Sajak and Alex Trebek before you retire early for the night.  Even in your last waking moments, even in your dreams, you never realize that the boy sits in the dark with his Xbox, the sounds of simulated gunshots muting any hope for cosmic deals, for images of greatness, even for the desire for someone to grab his hand and say, “I am here.  I am here.”

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Nameless Woman Silences Heroes: The Surprising Thoughtfulness of "Beowulf"

When I was a little boy, my friends and I would play “Star Wars.”  We would take turns being either Luke Skywalker and Han Solo or the villains Darth Vader and the Storm Troopers.  Even though we were five, we innately understood the rules of the game.  Good guys were noble, loved flying in land-speeders and space ships and enjoyed employing their favorite catchphrases at critical moments (“May the force be with you!”).  Darth Vader breathed heavily and had magical powers while the faceless Storm Troopers killed anything that moved (and, fortunately, had atrocious aim!).  But we understood the rules of the game and there was no ambiguity.

One of the reading challenges of the epic Beowulf is that the rules of the poem are always shifting.  The most important “rule” is the clear expectations of the good king.  A “good king” in the beginning of the epic is a man who rules by intimidation (not fighting AS king) and who gives generously to the heroes closest to him.  The good king manages a community and gives away gold. 

Near the end of the poem, Beowulf the king battles a dragon that has terrorized his people.  The poet next moves the conversation to the emotional level and imagines not only the details of the dragon’s hoard but also the dragon’s feelings towards his riches.  Like all dragons, the dragon of this epic obsessively values his immense hoard of treasure.  The poet calls this feeling in the dragon hord-wynne (hoard-joy) – the perverse affection for gold.  Tolkien, in The Hobbit, calls this “dragon sickness.”  This is the root of the dragon’s evil.  “Good” behavior in this poem is signaled by generosity, not hoarding. 

Beowulf manages to kill the dragon and acquire the dragon’s extensive wealth but dies after the fight.  Beowulf utters his final words and his speech is not a prayer, not an expression of gratitude to his people, but rather a desire to see that “ancient gold” for which he has died.  We are left to wonder if the rules for a “good king” still apply, whether Beowulf has redefined the notion of “good king,” or whether he will use these new riches to reward his men.  The poet does not make us wait long for an answer.  Near the end of the poem we are told that the newfound material wealth is buried under ground, “as useless to man as it ever was.”  The rules are changing.

He behaves as a warrior when he should be behaving like a king, and the smoke of his heroic funeral pyre is still rising when a nameless woman of his tribe yells out a truth never heard in epic poetry.  The poet tells us that she:

         . . . sang out in grief;
         with hair unbound, she unburdened herself
         of her worst fears, a wild litany
         of nightmare and lament, her nation invaded,
         enemies on the rampage, bodies in piles,,
         slavery and abasement.  Heaven swallowed the smoke.

This is the price of kings who forget themselves: nameless people suffer.  This woman reminds us of the cost of reckless leadership and a martial ethic that is less a solution and more a never-ending circle of blood.  The progression of her nightmare is chronological and telling, from invasion to rampage to body-count to slavery to the seeming indifference of heaven. How many women in Syria could utter these exact words today? 

I often wish that this woman were given a name and, equally importantly, her own words (rather than a paraphrase).  But she might be the most important nameless character in medieval literature for her voice uniquely exposes a heroic code that is clearly losing ground.  The rules of the poem and the world it represents are changing. Gold is an ultimately empty rationale for risking one’s life.  Perhaps this nameless woman, lost in the shadow of myth, reminds us that such “hoard-joy,” such a blatant embrace of materialism, does not lead to immortality or even short-term safety but rather the cycle of violence that provides the only stable rule in the poem.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Beowulf is min nama: Some Thoughts on Beowulf, l. 1-835,fl_progressive,q_80,w_636/gy6kymhdohgmewn5cgle.jpg
To read deeply and dynamically means, among other things, to embrace the exciting fact that each new book defines its own terms and offers its own rules for reading itself.  A good man in Hamlet is different than a good man in The Importance of Being Ernest, for example.  Heroism in The Iliad is dynamically different that heroism in The Things They Carried.  And so is the case with this complex, mysterious poem.  Our first job is that we need to learn each book's own rules.  What are the rules, the 'operating manual,' for Beowulf?

On the first page of Beowulf, we know quite a bit.  We know, for example, the poem’s definition of a good king (god cyning), one who has gifts in his hand for his kin and a bloody sword in his hand for his enemy.  We know that a person’s identity is inextricably bound to the behavior of his lineage before him.  No one is “his own man;” his identity, as a result, is largely out of his control.  We know the leader of the Danes - Hrothgar -  embodies the kingly traits of warrior par excellence and generous gift-giver as defined in the poem.

As the pages continue and we learn of Hrothgar’s many successes, we learn about the poem’s definition of a villain.  We meet Grendel and we are given a dynamic portrait of evil, the “good king” flipped on its head. 

Literally speaking, Grendel is the monster that has decimated the Danes’ mead-hall and gruesomely killed many of their best men.  Grendel only lives for about 20 pages (yet ravages the mead hall for over a decade) but he is as interesting as any villain created in the last 100 years.  He is not merely a “monster” as he is often called in translation.  He is in Caines cynne (“in the line of Cain” - l. 107) and is thereby genetically connected to the father of weapons, murder, and fratricide.  The Cain connection is essential here, making Grendel the worst nightmare this poem can conjure because kin-killing is in his DNA.  In this poem, warriors needed to utterly trust in the loyalty of their fellow warriors and their kin.  Breakdowns in this system did not lead to a psychological insecurity but, rather, death itself.  Grendel is also an Ellen-gaest (86) or a “powerful demon” or “powerful stranger.”  He moves like a villain and is called Earfothlice (86) – a prowler.  He is Feonde on helle (100)–a fiend/enemy out of hell (a place as real to this poem's audience as Boston or New York is to us!).  Grendel is Eotonas (112) – an Ogre, the Old Norse creature who was the giant, monstrous undead, human but larger and cannibalistic.  He was preternaturally huge (gigantas – l. 113) and, perhaps most disturbing of all was that he was an Orcneas (112), an evil phantom (from Old Norse “ne” – corpse, eotenas “to eat” – hence “corpse eater” – later reformed into Tolkien’s “orc”).  And the true sign of Grendel’s evil (as if corpse-eating wasn’t enough!) is that Grendel lives out the most horrifying of Anglo-Saxon fates.  He is alone, an An-gengea (165) – literally “one who goes alone” or “solitary one.”  All of this information lives on a couple pages in the poem and describes just one of the poem’s three key villains.  We know his spiritual lineage and his solitude, his size, his diet, and even how he moves, each of these details adding another layer of evil to an already self-evident villain.

In just a handful of manuscript pages, lines are being drawn.  We know the poem’s standard for a good king and also for the objective villain.  At this point, any rational reader would occasionally glance at the cover of the book and wonder, where is the title character?

When we finally meet Beowulf, we are not given the depth of information that we get with the good king or the murderous monster.  In the first quarter of the poem, we meet Beowulf, hear him speak persuasively and see him fight and behave like a hero.

But unlike most narratives in which the hero has the deepest backstory, Beowulf, who has the strength of 30 men in each arm, remains a mystery.  He tells heroic tales of his youth that are uncorroborated.  We know his father’s name but he has no wife, no children, and his king has mysteriously let him go on this strange search-and-destroy mission on behalf of another people.  Beowulf has no authority and deep lineage (like King Hrothgar) and no nuanced personality and set of traits (like Grendel). 

Beowulf finally identifies himself to the Danish coast guard when he bluntly states, “Beowulf is min nama” (“Beowulf is my name”).  I can’t help but to wonder that the poet had a clear understanding of what made a good king and a convincing villain but perhaps didn't exactly know what to make of this Beowulf.  Or maybe this is an early example of the poet wanting the auidence to create its own definitions along the way, to help shape the poem in the listening.  The poet of the mead-hall was called the ‘shaper’ (scop) after all.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Passing By: A 100 Word Story


Malboro Lights.

$10 a pack.

My one pleasure.

Looks like rain.

Should put away the porch chair.

Dark sky for miles.

Fall in the air.

All those cold Saturdays at the football field.


Yelling, dancing and twirling.

No one heard us.

Team went 1 and 14.

Should have stayed home, mom said.

Mom’s cough, the phlegmy chorus of my 30s.

Now her bedroom stores my photo albums, my winter clothes, 
         and the baby carriage.


16th floor.

So close I could spit on that train.

Instead, I flick my cigarette, hoping it jolts someone who’s on their way somewhere.


Saturday, September 3, 2016

Send Error Report

My computer is so polite,
its binary kindness
pressed into a little square
asking me to SEND ERROR REPORT?

I imagine some poor intern at a desk
rubbing sleep from his eyes,
wiping coffee stains from his plain white dress shirt.

No SAT tutor,
spelling errors on his admissions essay,
“Call of Duty” instead of Organic Chemistry.

He slouches behind the unfortunate desk –
a sad mockery of the desks he ignored in college,
next to the tired single mother happy to work
in the quiet predictability of an office.

Children dream of being astronauts,
famous baseball players, doctors, and princesses.
Cheering crowds and large mansions furnish
our youthful imaginations,
adventures in far-away lands,
a world of endless surprise,
leaving the boring jobs
to kids who don’t have the luxury of their own dreams.

No little boy tells his teacher –
when I grow up I want to be the ‘SEND ERROR REPORT’ guy,
a job that has never been discussed
in the glitter-and-glue world of first grade.

I was always told that I would have to pay for my mistakes.
I will never understand the “Error” I made
but I am glad that it is now someone else’s problem,
someone reading my screen in anger
in an office I will never see.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

My Son, Achilles

I wrote this poem while half reading Fagles' translation of "The Iliad" and half watching my son at fencing practice.  It struck me that my son has a rich inner life, contrary to the stereotypes about young boys.  I can imagine him in an ancient epic, needing time to think about what is going on.  I saw him carefully put on his fencing gear on his way to a simulated battle and I began to write this poem.


My son, like Achilles, is not one for team sports.

He jumps in the car on the way to play practice,
pounces on his bike to cruise the neighborhood
like a 10-year-old James Dean.
But the appeal of team sports has always eluded him.

Like the Achaean hero, he stews over the 5th grade cheater,
privileges promised and not received,
the countless schoolyard injustices.
He slinks away to his videos, his Legos, and his solitude
as the battles rage on without him.

Maybe that’s why he enjoys fencing,
the ceremonial dressing for combat,
the bobbing and weaving on his own wine-dark sea
as he imagines avenging the death of his Patroclus
while the god who moves lightning
bellows for the class to do 30 push-ups,
my son, hands and toes on the mat,
surrendering to the gods once more.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Good Witch

I dedicate this poem during "Teacher Appreciate Week" to my third grade teacher, Mrs. Takis.  I entered third grade not being able to read.  Mrs. Takis's classroom was quiet, focused, and she guided us to excellence.  Every day of my teaching life and every book I enjoy is due to her.


Black frizzie hair,
thick, bulbous nose,
 5’2,’’ 230 pounds,
eyes from a Hitchcock film,
Mrs. Takis meant business
and her business was the 3rd grade.

The room was gray and brown,
designed by the colorblind and the indifferent.
There were no birthday charts,
smiley faced figures
or cats hanging merrily on a tree
telling us to “hang in there.”
Just rows of desks standing at attention,
miniature closets for our tiny coats and lunchboxes,
and the smell of lead pencils,
thick pink erasers, and our own fear.

I was scared,
scared of being asked to read aloud
when words were still a mystery to me,
scared of feeling dumb in the face
of a woman who could smell ignorance
as it hid itself inside my big Red Sox hat.

On the first day of class
I leaned to my right
and joked with my friend Aaron
(who, amazingly, wasn’t picking his nose).
With her bat-like hearing
Mrs. Takis sensed the subtle sound waves
of the whisper from 20 feet away,
put her Broom-Hilda face inches from mine

This was all on the first day of school,
long before she made sure I took home
my multiplication flash cards,
long before she would cup my hand in hers
as I practiced my cursive letters,
long before she praised me
after I read three words in a row
and moved me away from my friends
when real work needed to get done.
School was to be my business too –
a new idea.

By springtime, I was less scared of her
and even 30 years later
I can hear the feverish syncopation
of her heeled shoes echo in the hallway,
and her nicotine-stained voice
commanding me again –

Monday, May 2, 2016

Why Read Dickens? (in 3 sentences!)

“It was a very dirty place. The rooms upstairs had great high wooden chimney-pieces and large doors, with panelled walls and cornices to the ceiling; which, although they were black with neglect and dust, were ornamented in various ways. From all of these tokens Oliver concluded that a long time ago, before the old Jew was born, it had belonged to better people, and had perhaps been quite gay and handsome: dismal and dreary as it looked now" (chapter 18, Oliver Twist).

Dodger punished, Oliver neglected.    Link.

About a fourth of the way through his adventures in Dickens’ novel, Oliver has already left the baby farm, heroically asked for “more” and was subsequently foretold of his inevitable hanging, barely escaped the clutches of the chimney sweep Mr. Gamfield, apprenticed for the undertaker Mr. Sowerberry, escaped the funeral home and walked 65 miles (in the winter!) to London, took up residence into Fagin’s gang of child-thieves, was arrested for robbery and later adopted by the man whom he allegedly robbed, and lastly, was kidnapped and returned to Fagin’s lair where he is imprisoned as a threat to confess Fagin’s whereabouts and crimes.  It is Oliver’s imprisonment that provides the context for the quotation that begins these reflections.

It’s so easy to teach Dickens thematically.  Any teacher who even is merely conversant in Dickens can spout off on Dickens and social justice, Dickens and women, Dickens and the New Poor Law, Dickens and the theater, Dickens and abused children.  I find that whenever my mind gets lazy in the classroom, it generalizes.  I take a transformative text like Dickens’ Oliver Twist and stage conversations that, while true, are not what make Oliver Twist special OR Dickens Dickensian.  Yes, it’s interesting that Dickens himself grew up for a time near a workhouse and must have heard what transpired inside its walls.[1]  Yes Oliver Twist is the first novel that features a child protagonist.  But the most important question remains: what is peculiarly interesting about how this book is written?  The answer to that question determines whether anyone who is NOT an English teacher should open the book in the first place.

I ask my seniors every year to compose a Dickensian deleted scene.  They are to imagine a scene that Dickens had edited out of the novel and then they are to write it.  LIKE DICKENS.  This choice of assignment by necessity changes how I must read and teach the novel.  If I remain lazy and mired in quasi-sociological generalizations (see above), my students will politely take notes, have a few more anecdotes for cocktail parties later in life, but will not be able to discuss Dickens’ writing in all its uniqueness.  More importantly, there will never be inspired on their own to read Dickens.  So my students’ assignment to imitate Dickens’s writing makes me teach the novel as a creative writing manual of sorts.  Here is an example of how this assignment forces me to teach differently.

The other day I stood in front of a class and flipped through the novel’s pages, like a card-dealer with an absurdly large (Dickensian) deck.  I then told one my students to tell me when to stop.  If you’re wondering about this strange tactic, YES, teaching can sometimes feel like a really nerdy version of a magic show, Chriss Angel with elbow-pads!  The student told me to stop at a specific page.  He chose a random paragraph (the one that begins this reflection) and we spent about 30 minutes thinking about it.  I was very clear that we were reading the paragraph less for ‘what it means’ (the LEAST interesting topic in any literary conversation) but rather how it moves.  I told them that I wanted them to write a descriptive paragraph in the style of Dickens modeled on the paragraph we landed on here.    Here are some discoveries from reading Dickens as movement rather than just meaning.

SENTENCE ONE:         “It was a very dirty place.”

Yes, this sentence doesn’t sound like Dickens, does it?  Well, actually, it does.  He often begins his rich, descriptive paragraphs with a simple sentence, imposing a single adjective onto a setting, person, or mood.   Later in class while looking for their own super-Dickensian moments, many of my students noticed the importance of the simple sentence in the novel, particularly beginning highly descriptive paragraphs.


“The rooms upstairs had great high wooden chimney-pieces and large doors, with panelled walls and cornices to the ceiling; which, although they were black with neglect and dust, were ornamented in various ways.   

Next, my students and I talked about the Dickensian narrative movement, what some scholars believe to be the precursor to cinematography.  Dickens begins with general categorization (“dirty room”) and then moves his eye to the top of the room.  We first get a basic description of what is literally there “chimney pieces and large doors.”  Next, Dickens offers a little more detail, as if he is in the room with Oliver and is moving throughout (with the help of a ladder!).  He tells us that the walls are paneled and that the cornices go all the way to the ceiling.  Now, Dickens does a third thing in this one sentence by moving even closer to these cornices and noticing they were “black with neglect and dust.”  Instead of simply telling us that the “cornices were black” (and thereby syntactically echoing his first sentence, “the room was dirty”), Dickens tells us WHY the cornices were black.  He tells us the condition of the cornices was due to “neglect and dust.”  Almost any other imagination would move this sentence in chronological order of observation, noticing the dust first and then reflecting on its cause - - neglect.  But Dickens’s imagination moves by order of importance, not time.  He wants the reader to prioritize the neglect of Oliver’s environment here, making us land on that word first.  And since Dickens’ entire imagination is a symphonic echo chamber, it struck one of my classes that “black with neglect” could almost be a subtitle for the novel or an epithet for many of its villains’ hearts.  I told them at that point that they sounded too much like English teachers!!


“From all of these tokens Oliver concluded that a long time ago, before the old Jew was born, it had belonged to better people, and had perhaps been quite gay and handsome: dismal and dreary as it looked now.”

Students felt that this sentence was the real Dickensian moment in the paragraph.  First, it is important to notice that the narrator recedes into the background and Oliver takes over the imaginative direction of the scene.  I reminded my students that in their Dickensian imitations, they will notice many of the normal “rules” of writing no longer apply.  Shifts in perspective like the one in this sentence are usually discouraged but not so in Dickens’ hands.  Oliver has a say in characterizing his prison and, despite his history of neglect has the imaginative openness to see his environment as something other than what it is, something belonging to “better people” and “looking quite gay and handsome.”   But even at this early stage, he (along with the reader) senses that Fagin carries with him death and decay.

So who cares?  Why do this?  The idea of taking 30 minutes to look at three sentences is not something normal people do.  Well, I agree.  But I don’t have a normal job.  I hope my students learn that great artists see and feel deeply, more deeply than most of us as we live our busy lives.  In Dickens’ hands, he moves our eyes and opens our ears in a way that is new and exciting.  This alone is reason enough to read him.

1 Discussed brilliantly in Ruth Richardson’s Dickens and the Workhouse: Oliver Twist and the London Poor.

Friday, April 15, 2016



My knuckles tore at the canvas of the airplane’s seat’s arms as my son watched a documentary on great white sharks.  His eyes glowed with joy at surfboards with horror-movie bloodstains, defenseless tuna, and seals bitten in half by these beautiful monsters.  

More turbulence.

As we landed in Boston, my hands relaxed.  He turned his TV off.  I asked, “What did you think?” (meaning the 7 days in Florida).  He said, “I like the one that flies” (meaning the South African great white shark who kills as it soars through the air, like a plane in a windless cloud).

.                                               Link

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

My Favorite Mythical American Hero

They march all day through Lexington and Fort Ticonderoga.
Half-boots land on dirt in time to “Yankee Doodle Dandy,”
muskets waiting to drink the powder that kills.
Their minds drift to wives sewing buttons by the hearth
and defeating the “royal brute,” King George III.
The rainwater soaks their ash-gray wool uniforms
but their knees reach high as the march continues.
Families from farmhouse windows
see them pass and marvel at their speed.
The Redcoats haven’t a chance, they think,
against these men under the command of Major Dickason.
The rain somehow seems to make them faster.

I open my eyes and hear it drip into my mug.
 “Pete’s Coffee” –
“Major Dickason’s Blend: Dark Roast,”
enough to keep me fighting one more day.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Tools of the Trade

My Favorite Poem EVER - Shakespeare's 29th Sonnet (link)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

When I teach Shakespeare’s 29th sonnet,
I never mention Home Depot.

In this ultimate ‘grass is greener’ poem,
Shakespeare’s tortured speaker
only sees what he doesn’t have.
His brand of poverty whitewashes all the color from his life –
“with what I most enjoy contented least,” he tells us.
He simply can’t go on.

Then the mere thought of his beloved,
this faceless lover whom we never meet,
saves him.

Many men I know enjoy
the monastic quiet of their garages,
the comfort of their toolboxes,
the Zen-like tinkering on projects with no deadline,
the work its own reward.
Salvation with dirt under its fingernails.

I admire these men.
but their heart to me is as mysterious
as Sonnet 29 is to my students.

“What I most enjoy” is the adolescent face
that forgets what time it is because the book is so good,
or sitting on a leather sofa in silence,
and sipping tea while reading Richard Russo or Mary Oliver.
I enjoy throwing the baseball with my son
and waiting for him to share his day.
I enjoy playing Elton John’s “Mona Lisa and the Mad Hatters,”
then making homemade Bolognese sauce
for a family birthday party.

These simple moments bring me back from inadequacy,
from thinking my life may be too small.
But honestly anything– a tooth extraction – anything
is preferable to the cavernous aisles at Home Depot,
with hieroglyphics whose letters are made of tools I can’t name,
a retreat that feels too much like surrender,
its nails digging under my skin,
reminding me of all the things I don’t know.