Blank Placard

As an awareness made flesh

you should probably know the thoughts

of a rock

and a star

and a whole bunch of other

timeless

peices

of this collective clock,

this hopeful thought interred,

this thought that what matters to us

matters to all.

That when we make back to this Earth

that none is forgotten -

or so we say energy goes.

IMG_20141005_181403_848

You should probably know

that a rock’s not a rock

when no two are alike,

nor that book that you love,

nor that soul that you keep.

To live and to be,

as an awareness made flesh,

you should probably understand

that a clock’s not a clock.

That the only puzzle within

is the fact that you are not you

except in what you do.

Except as a thought made flesh.

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Inspiration

*Normally I wouldn’t post something so “non-poetic” on this blog, though it occurs to me that many of my family who were in attendance at the Florida eulogy for my grandmother could not also be there for the NY version (which I subsequently edited). Here it is in its original version:

 

Calverton National Cemetery, NY, August 20th 2014

 

The great American author Kurt Vonnegut, once asked, “If this isn’t nice, what is?” I think he was referring to the fact that while we don’t always get to choose the exact circumstances of our lives, we do have the power to make the most of it with those around us.

So I’ll say it now, and then I’ll ask again later, to all of us gathered here today, sharing our memories and thoughts – remembering so that we’ll never forget of our time with one very special woman: how she inspired us before, and continues to this day – to all of us gathered here now to remember:

“If this isn’t nice, what is?”

 

One of my earliest memories is of a holiday party at the little blue house where I grew in the quaint neighborhood of Lakeside Key, in the modest town of Pembroke Pines. I don’t remember much about that party other than that it was a typically muggy Florida evening, our home packed with old relatives and young cousins. I don’t even remember what we were celebrating or why. But what I do remember is standing out on the front lawn, amongst our very large Italian family, and staring up into the clear evening sky at a star – the brightest star I’d ever seen.

“Do you see that star there?” Nanna Millie noticed my gaze and asked. “The really bright one?”

“Yeah,” I answered. “The big one.”

She smiled. “That’s because it’s not a star,” she explained. “It’s a planet, called Jupiter.”

And just like that, my imagination was off and soaring…

 

Nana Millie’s special like that. An inspiration. She’s more than just your typical grandmother. A daughter, wife, mother, sister, aunt, friend; Nana Millie lives many names, but to me she always was and always will be just that: Nana Millie.

I can only talk as one of those whom she has one of these very special relationships with. Each of us has our own unique connection. But as different as our experiences with her are, the essence of these bonds is exactly what we also share.

Our memories will shift and sway, but some memories seem as potent now as they were way back then – and they always will be. Let me explain: Aroma… Need I say more? Okay, Sunday aromas. Salivating yet? Meatballs, lasagna, homemade gravy, Easter pies… Eggplant parm. I’ll say it again. Eggplant parm. Now that’s what I thought. Now that’s aroma. That’s memory.
If that isn’t nice and delicious, what is?

 

Some of my earliest memories are at Nanny and Poppy’s house – of refrigerator candy: stiff twizzlers and cold chocolate, playdough, and catching tadpoles in the lake out back… Great memories. Golden memories. Childhood memories. Nanna Millie memories…

These are family memories, though her family doesn’t end with just you and me. Nanna Millie was always as giving as she was grateful. Nothing made her happier than making others happy – treating others as family. Long before I was born, and back when many of you here now were children or had much more hair, Nanna Millie used to bake cakes for the nuns at her church. How greatful were they? Luckily, I happen to have a thank you note from one of the nuns from way back when, which I’ll share with you now:

“Dear Mrs. Labriola,

Last night all the sisters agreed to make you the president of the cake club. The cake we all enjoyed was the one you so generously made for us. God bless you very very much for your kindness to us. Your time you gave, and all those delicious flavors that go into cake making is deeply appreciated by us all. I hope you know that our prayers of thanks are ever offered up for you and your dear ones. God bless you always.”

Now if that isn’t nice, sweet and caring, and wonderful, then what is?

 

Though she loved to make others happy, Nanna Millie liked to have her own fun too. You know, I never knew that while she was teaching me to play Gin Rummy as a child, she was also going off to hit the Vegas slots with her gambling co-conspirators. “Don’t tell your father,” she’d say if she won. “Don’t tell your father,” she’d say if she lost.

Win or lose, they’d take mid afternoon breaks to watch the soap opera ‘Days of Our Lives’ back in their room. Watching ‘Days’ on the bed, eating ice cream. Then hitting the slots. Now that sounds nice.

No wonder I could never beat her at cards. No wonder none of my friends now can beat me at cards. If that isn’t awesome, what is?

 

Whenever I get down, as do we all, I think of those in my life who have picked themselves up in the face of far greater odds. Nanna Millie lived for many years with Parkinson’s. She’d say that Parkinson’s is just a word and doesn’t define you as a person. So instead, she lived those words. She exercised regularly. She walked. She took yoga classes and energy healing. Whenever I get down, I go to yoga class now. I think of the ways I can pick myself up. While our challenges are very different, our refusal to admit defeat is very much the same. If that’s not inspiring, what is?

I could go on for ages, and in another use of that phrase, I will. We all will, in large part, because of the inspiration and teachings shared with us by one very special woman. A daughter, and a wife, and a mother and sister, aunt, and friend. Nana Millie fills all these roles as we now all fill for others. An inspiration.

 

So for that, I would just like to thank you, Nana.

I love a good gamble, so thanks Nana.

I love yoga. Thanks Nana.

I love refusing to give up, no matter the odds seemingly stacked against me.

I love cooking. And of course, I love eating. Thanks Nana.

And I love staring up at the stars, and wondering, and remembering those who’ve helped open my eyes. So thank you, Nana Millie.

 

And so I’ll ask you all again now: if all of these memories and experiences, and lessons, and inspirations aren’t nice, what is?

And I’ll ask you just one more thing too. You don’t have to right now, but at some point today or tomorrow or even a year from now, I think it would be nice if we all shared one of our memories or experiences, or lessons, or inspirations we enjoyed with Nana Millie. I think it would be nice if we all shared that with someone. Whether with someone here or someone who never knew her, share how she helped you become who you are – even if you didn’t realize it at the time. Share that inspiration in you now.

 

Above all, Nanna Millie loved to see those who she loved be happy. Surely now, with all of us gathered here together, she’s smiling, and very rightly feeling: “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

Thank you.

 

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What’s Left

It does not matter

when on a path through the lush

forged from eons long shed,

and sunken,

and spread.

 

It does not matter

when you come to a root-knotted fork,

and leaning this way then that,

see but narrow-cleared paths

and wonder, “Cleared by who?”

“When? Why?”

“How?”

“Which?”

 

flower

It does not matter

with your nose in the mud,

and the worms at your heels,

where the right or the left might bear

the imaginations of a keener being.

 

It does not matter

but to press,

even while ground sinks away.

What’s left is to push

through this ancestral lush

along whatever path

that you might forge,

to wherever you sprout.

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Capillary Wave

I cannot say

I know

what to tell you.

the wheat

Other than what I feel with the breeze

of a larger world.

Myself, a stalk,

causing another ripple,

just like you,

forever within some greater theme.

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Post-

 

I do not rot. Not without cause.”winter

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Signs that Election Day is in the Air

     They’re not nearly as noticeable as they would be, to say, Jabowormafallorini from the planet Traflmadorasixzion9, but there are signs everywhere along the road. If the alien, Jabowormafallorini came to visit Earth, he would surely want to learn about our daily lives, and with it our transportation system, and with that the plethora of instructional, cautionary, and informative signs strug all along our road system. After some time, we would be able to teach him what they meant – most of them, minus New York City parking rules, of course – but if Jabo were to stop by, say, now during election time, we would also have to explain to him the blooming rows of metal-wired and plastic-boarded political signs suggesting who should drive our planet’s prosperity; at least until next sign season.

     We saw plenty of just such signs on the way to our polling station. But who the hell really were all these people? As it was a non-presidential, non-congressional, non-senatorial race, I hadn’t received any information on any candidates in the mail. No emails. No college-age canvassers knocking on my door to explain why their person needed my vote. The only commercials I had seen were late-night mud-slinging jabs about bad guys in other counties, or districts, or towns or wherever else. All I knew was that everyone else was raising taxes, cutting school aid, and didn’t know how the hell to do the job that was up for grabs.

     But I did see one commercial the night before to vote for prop one; essentially, to allow casinos in New York State. If I couldn’t figure out who the hell was running for what and why, at least this proposition seemed like a fairly straight-forward yes or no decision: vote this way if you want that to happen.

     Perhaps there would even be other propositions, and that hope was encouraging enough to spur me on to the polls. My brother and I arrived, not surprised to find ourselves to be the youngest voters by about thirty-five years. The polling people looked up our names. There we were; a pair of ‘B’s for ‘blank’ among a sea of ‘R’ for republicans and ‘D’ for democrats. They always seem to glance suspiciously from the ‘B’ up to your eyes as if to say: “Too lazy to choose a side, huh?” If it were up to me, I’d be listed as an ‘N’ for ‘non-affiliated’, or ‘T’ for ‘thinker’, or ‘I’ for ‘I chose not to pick either side of the same goddamn coin.’

     Filling out the actual ballot sounded much more confusing than it turned out. Whatever the kind old polling worker explained to me I forgot as I went over to my shielded voting stand. “Let’s just read this from left to right,” I thought. The ballot soon made perfect sense, although, as I had anticipated, none of the candidates held any meaning for me. It was now my job to elect somebody for each job, and that seemed like a hell of a job for me as a ‘blank’ given that there were no ‘blank’ candidates on the ballot. I thought, selfishly: “Well then who’ll try to screw me less?” The choices were, essentially, either the democrat or republican. I flipped over the ballot to the propositions.

     Ah, and there was prop one in its explanatory detail, as well as several other juicy sounding proposals. After carefully reading over each proposition several times and giving them my confident vote, I submitted my ballot and walked out, proud to have played my part our great, ancient election process.

     “Who’d you vote for?” I asked my brother as we walked back to the car.

     “Write-ins,” he said. “You got my vote. You?”

     “Abstained,” I said, and then frowned. “Though now that I think about it, I probably should have at least written in: ‘Suck on that data, NSA,’ for at least one spot.”

     Ironically we voted opposite on all of the propositions except for the one extending civil service credit to disabled veterans and another about extending the age limits of judges that we both agreed made them sound a step too much more pope-like.

     Although we disagreed on the other propositions, we understood the reasons for the other one’s votes. “How could you vote to open lands up for mining?” my brother asked me.

     “I figure if there’s something worth mining then they’re gonna get to it eventually anyways. If we can attach strings to it now, then I’m all aboard.”

     “I guess,” he said. “But they don’t have to have my vote.”

     And so that was that. We voted for what we thought we knew were the best choices, ignoring the valiant efforts of the late-night sign planting people to sway our hearts and minds at the last minute on our way to the polling station. Maybe if they had planted bigger signs we could have been lured. But as stubborn ‘blanks’ our heads always seem to be in the clouds, rather than on the signs put in the ground around us.

     Those signs, as always, will disappear as the leaves continue to change; vanishing until next year when the election winds whip up once again. Jabowormafallorini might think that this is a strange phenomenon, at first, but after enough time he would surely understand what it was all really about. And then he too, could maybe join the ranks as an informed voter, be he an adamant, true red white and blue ‘D’, ‘R’, or

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To Day

Oh, all the things I’d sing now if I weren’t a shell.

But who remembers what I should’ve said?shell

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