Poem: The Icon Painter’s Palette

the icon painters pallette_resize

The Icon Painter’s Palette¬†

The thing is, I like my colors pure.
so I can paint each detail just so,
the gold and reds and blues bright,
cutting through the clutter of the world we are in,
a messy place that has no use for purity
of line and color, no use for clarity.
Mushiness is safer, less intimidating.
You are less likely to fail
when colors blend one into the other.
and the artist is stuck making sense of it all
with too many choices, trapped by other people’s colors
into being less, and more than I crave,
than I need for my fragile sanity and soul.

But colors meld. That is the way of things.
Few things are pure. You know this from your own life,
a seesaw of humanness, of navigating between strength and weakness,
a palette impure, still determined to seek
something clear,
when nothing is.

About this poem

The picture was taken at the Russian Icon Museum in Clinton, Massachusetts. It is an actual icon painter’s palette.

I get simpler as I get older, and handle mixed messages poorly. I struggle with them, tap dancing on seesaws. And yet we live in a world driven by mixed messages wherever we turn.

And so it goes, to quote Vonnegut from Slaughterhouse Five.


Poem: The Speed of Pain

Blue Pain

The Speed of Pain

Pain has a speed all its own.
Unpredictable, variable,

Oh yes, dark.
A blinding darkness.
Cruel. Devilish.

Often masked,
often distracted,

Hungry. Cruel.
Did I say Cruel?
Yes, always that,
Stealing the soul,

Stealing memories
of everything
the pain.

Drug it. Deny it. Push it back.
go ahead. Try.

You will fail.

The more you dam it up,
the more powerful it becomes,


To roar from its cage
larger and more untamable
than before.

A beast. Insidious,
far more about theft
than murder,

Yet murderous still,

Never controlled,
there is no peace until
You sit with it a while,
have tea and chat,

Let it become your friend,

Loved even,
embraced into oblivion.

About this poem

Chronic pain is the worst, be it of body or soul.

The painting is one of mine: “Blue Pain”.



Poem: Without the Light


Without the Light

Without the light,
all this is nothing.
The gold guilting.
The artistry,
rich colors and lines,
stories of the saints,
of souls broken and raised again,
rosewood confessionals stained by sin,
and shining in redemption.

Without the light,
the marble statues are no more
than another shapeless shadow.
The altar has no meaning, no presence.
All this,
no more than a tomb,
lacking life,
lacking power,
it’s beauty a buried relic

without the light.

About this poem

Could be about church, Could be about people living in dark places. We live for light, or we do not live at all.

The picture was taken in Rome.


Poem: Waiting for the Tide

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Waiting for the Tide

I cannot tell you
what I feel.

I am a stone on the beach
waiting for the tide
to tell me whether I am drowning
or not.

About this poem

I am slow in processing emotions. Trauma from some time long ago my therapist says. Frustrating, but fortunately the people around me are patient and kind.

Eventually, I figure it all out.  Journaling and poetry help.


Poem: Venice



Surely, if the road to heaven is narrow,
it runs through Venice,
through narrow passages of color and water,
crumbling brick and boats bobbing with the tide,
Thursday markets with seafood so fresh it still writhes.

There are tourists to be sure,
but stay a while, walk the ghetto and lost streets
too far away for daytrippers,
wander deep into the city,
let the noise dissolve and the pretend perfection dissipate,
and you find the soul of the place,
corners of heaven the world misses.

You discover the antiquity, unvarnished
and infinitely more difficult, beautifully broken,
beautifully real,
Empty cathedrals drip with eternity.
Small shops and cafes with seats left
and waiters without pretense or uniforms
serving coffee, harsh and vibrant.
Colors are bright and faded both
and laundry hangs across the alleys.

This is where your soul lives,
in the narrow places
where you hear the water lap softly on bricks,
where the sun plays peekaboo
and dances in the morning,
where in the distance you hear gondoliers singing
in a language you do not understand,
but understand all too well.

About this poem

If I could find a way to make a living there, I would live in Venice. I have only been once, for a week or so, but it has haunted my soul ever since.


Poem: What Survival Does


What Survival Does

This is what you have learned.
That the sea calls to you.
Empty spaces and dangerous voyages.
You dance most when horizons spread beyond your sight.
You are less afraid of storms than rationality calls for.

That is what survival does.
You come to understand that you are smaller and tougher
than you thought.
That fewer miss you when you are gone,
fewer care when you fail,
than you believe.

Shame is an inside job,
and learning to release it leaves you buoyant,
better able to fly,
less afraid,
a new person, more like the one you were born to be
than you know.

About this poem

It was three years ago this month that I discovered Cape Cod, and with it a new appreciation for the ocean, empty beaches and horizons.

Growing older has its advantages. You’ve survived more, which reminds you that you can survive more.

Most people suck at forgiving themselves their mistakes. We should take lessons from God, who forgives perfectly.

From that mess of thoughts, this poem.


PS – The picture was taken in Provincetown, during that first trip to the Cape.