Jacques and Sylvia

I’m sure they had their bad days
Mornings the coffee was no good, the ship off course.
Days people didn’t even care that they dove
down, down, into places hardly any other human has seen.
Quietly flying through the sea.

Mysterious and utterly enchanting.

Only to surface to gravity pressing on them, waves slapping at them.
Heaving equipment onto the deck, peeling wet suits off their bodies and trying
to describe heartbreaking beauty to land lubbers.
Falling in love so deeply they couldn’t stop.

Wailing love letters from the ocean like sirens.

And like sailors who can’t be bothered to stop,
we close our ears and refuse to listen.
Sylvia! Name like a silver fish!
And Jacques! An ocean of secrets!

Human, like you and me, in love with the sea.

In love with maternal whales, grumpy groupers, ruthless sharks,
eels, corals, currents and caves.
They dove into the dark and were enlightened.
Sylvia, Jacques, speak to us!
Cry out from the depths of our own sea souls
until we let the water carry us back to ourselves.


I thought I might take my ukulele outside
and sing to the compost pile after it was made.
Maybe crazy,
but so was Mozart
and Patch Adams
and the man who plays his guitar
on the median of
East Michigan Avenue and Howard Street.
I think I know
that playing Bach’s Cello Suite #1 to cattle
just before slaughter
feels a little crazy
but is the sanest thing to do under the circumstances.
When I was young,
crazy was awkward
and we may never get past
the way we think we look to others.
But at 40 I finally know that to sing to compost piles
wear a wig while composing music
or a clown nose while treating patients
and bring Bach to beef cattle
and play a guitar on the median
makes beautiful sense.


Why Make it Happen?

Let’s talk about compost—what it is and why we need to make it happen now more than ever. Every time we eat plants or animals who eat plants, the nutrients they and we need to grow are taken from the soil and put into our bodies for energy. We burn it as energy, but there are always leftovers. Up to 40% of the food in the United States is wasted according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (2011). If these leftovers are not returned to the soil to be reborn (dust to dust), then the cycles that sustain life are broken and things start to get messy. You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s worth repeating. A handful of compost contains more living organisms than there are people on earth. Our eyes cannot see it, but compost is dynamically alive! The nutrients, minerals, bacteria, fungus, and other microscopic life forms found in compost are vital for healthy soil.

In the United States, we use soil 10 times faster than the natural rate of replenishment, and we only have about 60 years of topsoil left in the world . Such an estimate has to give us pause, and a dose of healthy concern. We need compost in all its forms—backyard piles, turned under cover crops, worm bins, municipal compost operations, forest floors, manure left in the field or composted in the barn, compost toilets (yes, human compost)—and every other way we can think of. We need to balance our soil withdrawals with compost deposits.

This can happen in your own backyard, in a church kitchen, in a community garden, in a garage, and even in an apartment. I’ll discuss how to make compost piles unique to your life style a bit later, but for now I’ll sum up what makes composting work no matter what form it takes. There are 5 keys to creating a healthy compost pile—carbon, nitrogen, water, air, and mass.

1. Carbon and nitrogen are the main ingredients of compost. Vibrant compost piles need a ratio of 20-35 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. Carbon, the “brown” materials, are usually brown and dry. Bags of fallen leaves, newspaper, cardboard boxes, paper towels and napkins, wood chips, straw, brown grass clippings, and the morning croissant are all examples of carbon. These are what the compost microorganisms need for sustained energy. Smaller pieces of brown material will break down more quickly because there is more surface area for the microorganisms to work on. Chipping wood or mowing leaves helps to speed up the composting process.

2. Nitrogen, the “green” materials, are usually green and wet. Fresh grass clippings, kitchen scraps, manure of all kinds, coffee grounds, and nutrients like blood and bone meal are all good sources of nitrogen. These will be used by the microorganisms to build their microscopic bodies.

3. A compost pile should be as wet as a wrung out sponge. In order to move, breathe, and function, the microorganisms doing all the work need this water.

4. The microorganisms that break down organic matter also need oxygen. You can compost without oxygen, but it’s smellier. This is called anaerobic composting (more on that later). Making sure the pile has plenty of brown, carbon material to create pockets of air will ensure it has enough oxygen. The pile should be a bit fluffy, like a compost soufflé. As it breaks down, the cake will flatten and reduce in size. This is a good sign.

5. The last key is mass. If it’s not big enough, the compost pile will not be active. A 3’ by 3’ pile is the minimum size for decomposition to really start. But piles built outside need to be at least knee high and wide. You can put your pile inside chicken wire, straw bales, re-used pallets, or even a cheap garbage can buried a foot in the ground with holes drilled into the bottom. More about compost containers later.


The crossover
became my move.
Sometime in middle school,
when I went to a summer camp with my friend
whose Dad played Beatles songs the 5 hours it took to get there
(“She loves me, yeah, yeah, yeah”)
Sometime in that week
I used it during a 3 on 3 scrimmage and
the coach, probably a college student,
yelled and cheered, jumped up and down
and ran out on the court and hugged me.
I quietly cried I was so happy
to be hugged by a coach.
So it became my move,
the crossover.
It made people happy,
so i sweat and i teared and i worked
to make others happy.
And those bitter tears?
Those were for disappointing people when i lost.
My relatives and friends who drove hundreds of miles to watch.
Who flew hundreds of miles to watch.
It was too much pressure.
It never occurred to me to play for myself,
to play because i loved it.
I played for others, but I don’t think they knew.
I tried to convince myself I played to glorify God,
but my heart disagreed.
I played for the rush of cheers and hugs,
and they didn’t need to care, really,
because it wasn’t up to them to feed my soul,
but my heart broke, and i became
nothing when college was done.
I had burned myself down
to the bone and i became
no eating, no feeling,
just running and sacrifice.
Just punishment,
It never occurred to me to forgive myself,
to live for something i loved,
and now, 20 years later, it occurs to me
and my heart is broken for that young woman
who wanted, above anything, to make others happy
because it made her happy, too.

Eight Notes from the Bell Tower*

She is in the tower,
the camponologist,
calling out to heaven from her stony perch,
pulling thick rope until the tower shakes, resonating
the air with beautiful clamor.

A new voice was pulled that day, and it washed the sky
from dusk to starlight, pastel morning to deep night,
striking thick tones.
She bathed the blank sky until
the air was crisp, the stars shone, and all was so,
so still.

The bell tower stands
like an empty shell.
Tiny window-gems rise
in a golden line.
Empty thuds of feet climb
the inner ring
to the top where sallys hang
like the ends of candy canes.

Down and up
back and forth
pull and

in perfect union, all eight, and she
the first to call in the year,
to whisper the command
into tremulous, thundering beauty!

“Look to!”

curves of steel, ageless, without wrinkles,
arch in graceful curves
others hold their breath
tension all around

“Treble’s Going!”

now ring in time, in birth, in death, in union
sing clear and strong
for years to fall in place.
all around she rings them in,
a lassoer of skies.

“She’s Gone.”

The campanile
the village sleep
and rise.
The bells
and ring

Cambridge Surprise?
Not a dessert of clotted cream eaten with small spoons,
but a clear chorus of bells, rung by human hands.

Not a grand sire, ruling from his palace,
but a faithful ring, struck true and constant.

Double Bob Minor?
Not a slow duo of melancholy notes,
but the clean, swift weave of a two ton bell dancing among the other seven.

Birds hold, people stop,
airs quiver, stars twinkle.
The awesome resonance of bells,
bells she rang – the first – the camponologist.

*St. Mary’s church in Adderbury, England, (see below) houses 8 bells, the largest of which is 2 tons. It takes a minimum of one year to learn the most basic combinations. The leader of the bell ringers is a “camponologist,” a position that takes many years to earn. This poem celebrates the first woman in Adderbury to do so.



The ravens’ wings flashed

In a high sun

Purple blue iridescences

Like a mob of teenagers

Good natured

Riding the sky

Like bicycles
Climbing and coasting

Taste testing freedom
Carefree-ing exhilaration
Squeezing dare

into every fibrous feather

Resonating flares

Into every hollow bone

Riding invisible drafts higher

And higher
Bold and fierce
Plumes of feathers

Cawing, climbing,



I know you

I know you.
Your face behind the window in North Beach,
how you sit alone and order coffee on a cloudy afternoon.
I know you.
The notebook you keep in a purse, the pen you can never find,
how you feel your thighs on the chair beneath you before crossing your legs and making a promise.
I know you.
The way hours slip by in shades of grey and purple,
how you wander in front of the couch or lie curled up on the floor.
I know you.
The sound of an ocean crashing in your ears,
how the tide goes out each day taking away some of the ache until it comes in again.
I know you.
Planning to create and write and do something that touches people on the other side of the glass,
how you see all of them walking past.
Shatter the glass if that’s the only way.
I know you.
Your away-glancing catches you mid-life and suddenly
it is urgent,
how you look back at the tree of your life
and find yourself stranded on a limb and no fork left to take.
I know you.
Let’s sit together now, both of us.
The roots remain. It’s not too late.
I know you.

Life Line

My daughter draws on the pages of my diary
Strong lines that are her–strong willed,
loving, frustrating,
so much me and not me.
Lines that split my words and remind me
of the divide
between what I can write and what I can feel.

Poetry sometimes fills this divide,
softens the line and
takes us to a place where
words become soil, born from
constant decay.
Life we can’t predict.
Messy life we can’t clean,
only nourish the best we can
to be a life line

that sprouts from words
up and to the sun.
Always up and to the sun.



I know why she knitted
She was waiting,
Filling the empty spaces between being together

Needing something for her hands to do.
Something for her mind to concentrate on.
Something for the space between.

Some people knit,

Some write

Some eat

Some play video games

Some have pets

Some have kids

Some get lonely (or maybe all get lonely)

Some bake

Some travel

Some compost

And some go out to the barn to water the cows and feed the chickens

To fill the space in between

This is a practice, to Love in the space, to Love until

there is nothing in-between

to Love until we realize the space
was nothing and we are Love


There are as many galaxies as there are stars
in the Milky Way
Millions upon millions upon millions
Points of light
Beautiful chaos
Emanating heat,
Sprinkling organic molecules like fairy dust throughout the universe
And giving us oxygen and hydrogen to breathe
Nitrogen to build
Carbon to move
And in all this glorious energy
In all the unbelievable scale of cosmic happenings
There are more empty spaces than solid
More blank than written
Dark matter

Here, a mysterious fabric
A mysterious emptiness
Here, is where Love spills
Like water and light
Breaks like waves—as waves
Here is where we find nothing and everything

We know form is only temporary
Time fabricated
But Love, Love, the impetus of creation
Asking nothing,
Giving everything,
Making room

The space large enough for a billion galaxies
to create, live, die,
And be
Never losing or gaining matter
Here Love ignites the universe and earth,
earth is the audible expression of that same
all empty, all-encompassing love
Fragile, delicate, part of the magnificent whole
We find our relationship to the universe and each other
For Love surrounds and moves us all