First, Let Us Reflect

newborn calf’s body
lay frozen near a blue barn
snow drifts over it
in harsh for-profit systems
no one mourns commodities

As I travel from farm to farm, sometimes I see things that I cannot unsee. Sometimes these things stick to me like bad peanut butter on white bread on the roof of my mouth. Eventually, I can choke it down. Most of them I do not share with people, but this one really struck me.

Being a trucker means that I am intimately interwoven into the food supply system of our society. I have hauled produce from processor to warehouse. I’ve hauled finished product from factory to warehouse. I’ve hauled from warehouse to grocery store. Now, I find myself at the root, hauling directly from a farm that produces cattle feed to dairy farms. Because of people that do the job that I do, you have milk, cheese, yogurt, and that glorious top-of-the-food-pyramid item, cheesecake.

In Zen monasteries across this planet, meals are begun with a chant, the first line of which is, “First, let us reflect on our own work and the efforts of those that brought us this food.” When I attended extended retreats known as Sesshin, my concept of “those who brought us this food” was limited to the kitchen staff. Now, it includes migrant workers, farm hands, warehouse grunts and truckers. It includes those folks who are in your way at the grocery store that are stocking the shelves. One can draw this line ad infinitum. All of them deserve our thanks.

This calf that I saw, frozen to the ground, gave the ultimate effort to provide us this food, and I am grateful for her existence regardless of the briefness of her life.

Live Video Feed

So much of my writing is inspired by what I see from the windshield of my truck while I’m driving through the upstate New York countryside, driving from farm to farm. Rural landscapes, clear blue skies, skies of nothing but winter clouds… regardless of what I see, there is beauty to be found in it when I see without prejudice.

Beginning tomorrow, Friday, January 5th, 2018, you’ll be able to join me as I drive. You’ll be able to see what I see and hear what I hear when you follow my Facebook page and watch when I go live:

I invite you to join me, post short poetry inspired by what you see, and to just ride along every now and then.

The Dark Time

gray skies of winter
go completely unnoticed
by slumbering trees

Years ago, more than two decades now, I moved from Flint, Michigan, to the Syracuse, New York area. One of my first impressions of Central New York was that it must be the secret graveyard of clouds. Clouds in a monochromatic gray scale seemed to migrate in from all directions, converging overhead to slowly dissipate as the next group of terminally ill clouds came in from parts unknown. All this final traveling of the clouds also does a damned good job of blocking out the sun.

The lack of direct sunlight at this time of year gives me a hard time. I am in need of sunlight, and am grateful that I work outdoors every day, as this job gives me the maximum sunlight available. Some vitamin D3 supplements help, too. My doctor told me some years ago that the average person has a vitamin D level of around 80 out of a possible 100. The average Central New Yorker has a vitamin D level of around 35. Thanks a lot, clouds.

I was thinking about the trees the other day as I sat in my truck, getting a load of corn. They get to take a nap all winter long. They don’t notice the endless expanse of gray overhead or the inevitable blanket of waist-deep snow for which this area is so famous. The winds blow and birds alight on their naked branches and no notice is given.

At first I was a bit envious, wishing that I, too, could sleep until the warmth of the ground roused me. But, I thought, isn’t the variety of experience the thing that gives me inspiration to write? The very nature of haiku is to express one’s direct experience of the environment one is immersed in. If I were to sleep through the winters I would miss out on months and months and months (winter here seems to be endless…) of moments that ask to be preserved.

The Haiku Mind

all is as it is
perfect in this moment
a dusting of snow

A few years ago, I attended a haiku writing workshop hosted by noted haiku poets Clark Strand and Priscilla Hardin-Lignori. The setting was quite conducive for the contemplative style of haiku, as it was held at Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, NY. The participants took part in the practices of the monastery and wrote many excellent haiku.

The main thing that I learned from that workshop was the development of what Clark Strand referred to as “Haiku Mind”, a way of experiencing the immediacy of the world that we are so intimately connected to and then expressing a snapshot of a particular moment in the form of a haiku.

Thinking in this manner was difficult for me at first. I would spend so much of my day thinking about anything other than what I was experiencing at any given time that the beauty surrounding me went unnoticed. Soon, I realized that this way of thinking, this way of experiencing life, was nothing more than an extension of the zazen meditation practice that I had been doing for some years. I can be a little slow on the draw sometimes…

In zen practice, one is encouraged to “take the practice off the cushion”, which means to experience the rest of the day in the meditative mindset that one has while meditating: clear mind, focused on the moment, grateful and compassionate. The development of Haiku Mind has helped me to learn to be appreciative of and more aware of the world around me, to carry this zazen mind into my everyday world.

I am not saying that I have it down pat by any means. Like zen, the development of Haiku Mind is a practice, and requires just that, moment by moment.

My ‘93 Pete

My writing mainstay has been short Japanese style poems, haiku, senryu and tanka. Ive been experimenting with longer, free verse poems lately. The poem below is about the red truck that is featured on the main page of this site. Feedback would be greatly appreciated.


My ‘93 Pete

I think of my son, a ‘93 Spencer,
and see him as young,
full of energy and potential.
He’s strong and hikes the high peaks.
He inherited my suicidal work ethic.

At 24 years of age, this rattle trap truck,
a ‘93 Peterbilt model 379,
is just as young as my son.
But I see her as aged, tired and worn.
Her days of remaining service are short.
She is still strong, capable, and works
as hard as I need her to.

I’ve named her Bone Shaker,
but I keep that name a secret
to avoid giving her ideas.
She’s a willful one.
She smokes a lot.
She drinks fuel to excess.
She doesn’t like cold mornings.
Not all of her parts work like they used to.

I understand.

When my father was dying, his systems
failing little by little, we brought him home.
He was cranky.
He was hard to get started.
He didn’t like cold mornings.
Few of his parts worked
with any regularity.

But he was loved,
and cared for.

He had valuable lessons to give,
right up to the morning that
he wouldn’t start any more.

So I like this old Peterbilt.
We get along.
We speak the same language.
I keep her going best I can.

Thanks for the lesson, Dad.

A Good Story

separated by
all this social media
we have forgotten
how to tell a good story
even if they’re all just lies

In the past couple of days, I reactivated my Facebook account after several months away. Seeing old friends, most of whom I’ve either never met or haven’t seen in many a year, was refreshing. But, I must say, not much has changed as far as posting topics go. The funny folk are still funny, the politically angry are still so.

We are really good as a society at projecting ourselves digitally, but from my perspective, the art of telling a good impromptu story is being lost in many ways. Unless, of course, you are one of the professional spinners of yarns, the tellers of tall tales known as truckers.

If one gets out and has real adventures and experiences, one can reduce the amount of yarn spun to a minimum. Life has a way of being far more adventurous than we think. Like several of my friends say, you just can’t make this shit up.

In my collection of poems entitled Tire Chains & Longing, I haven’t embellished events one bit. In the vernacular of truckers, “Driver, you aren’t gonna believe this, but this one time…” Truth.

TA #172, Sparks, Nevada

thunderous machines
brought to a complete standstill
by tiny snowflakes
drivers riding the storm out
telling tales of “this one time…”

During the early, and rather snowy, months of 2017, I found myself crossing the Sierra Nevada mountain range a lot more frequently than I really wanted. On one particular trip west I had to stop at the TA truck stop in Sparks, Nevada, to find out if California was letting trucks over Donner Pass because of a particularly heavy snowfall.

In Nevada, it seems like every business establishment, gas stations, grocery stores, truck stops, have some kind of casino section. This truck stop in Sparks is no exception. TA #172 is home to Sierra Sid’s Casino. Playing the slots isn’t my thing, but I do enjoy a good old fashioned truck stop diner, which #172 has.

Because of the weather, the diner was packed. I got a seat at the counter, which was alive with tall tales about roads and waitresses conquered. My father would often say that the first liar never has a chance. That is never more true than when you get a bunch of truckers together. Somebody always has a faster truck, drove an older truck, or chased a prettier waitress at some truck stop that he can’t seem to remember exactly where it was.

We drank bad coffee and swapped lies for a good long time that evening. The snow wasn’t letting up one bit, so we all just camped out at TA #172 waiting for the weather to break.

The above poem, from Tire Chains & Longing, is about this particular evening at TA #172, and has been made into a broadside by my publisher, Clare Songbirds Publishing House.

Tire Chains & Longing

descending Donner
my mind is occupied by
tire chains and longing

This is the title poem from my first published collection of haiku, senryu and tanka, Tire Chains & Longing. I wrote this haiku after crossing the infamous Donner Pass in a heavy snowstorm, heading out of Reno, NV, towards Sacramento, CA. The highway was so snow covered that the California highway system required that I put six sets of tire chains on my truck for the long descent into California’s Central Valley. All of my thoughts revolved around hoping that the chains did their job of maintaining traction and wishing that I was home with my lovely wife, Song. From a Zen perspective, this poem is about not paying attention, about forgetting the essential practice of mindfulness, about not being in the moment one bit.

When I was in my early twenties, I took a job driving coast to coast. The obligations of marriage and fatherhood required that I work much closer to home, so I gave up road life after a year of rambling and roving. While my youngest was in grad school, I realized that I was able to get back out on the road and experience our vast country in its totality from the cab of a rather plush tractor trailer rig. And I did just that for a year.

Tire Chains & Longing is a collection of my impressions of life on the road, the experience of being a wanderer, and the meaning of home. A lot of them describe traveling the I-80 corridor and central and Southern California. What would make me most happy is that you read them and become inspired to get an actual road atlas, drop the GPS and Google maps, and go find your own adventures in this vast and beautiful country of ours, or whatever country you have the good fortune to live in. Beauty and adventure are everywhere, waiting for you to discover them.