Skip to content →

Category: NaPoWriMo2022

The art of despair

On April 11, I started a new life in Pittsfield, MA. That was the first day of my new office job, my first day living in my van again after five weeks staying with family, and my first day living in a new town where I don’t know anyone. (I was born in Pittsfield and consider nearby Lenox my hometown, but I no longer know people in either place.)

As I left work on that first day and got into the driver’s seat of my van, I faced the largest anxiety attack I’ve had in a long time. The trifecta of no home/no friends/office job hit me hard, and within minutes I was in tears. I drove to a nearby marsh that has a walking path. I walked to the end of the boardwalk and watched the geese and ducks as I got my emotions under control. When my heart rate had slowed a bit, I found a bench and meditated.

That was the beginning of two very dark weeks. I burst into tears at some point nearly every day and found myself in thought spirals every night. As the second week dragged on, I started to worry about how long it would be possible to operate at the level of distress I was experiencing.

One complicating factor was that I had stopped taking antidepressants in 2021, working with my nurse practitioner in Vermont to wean myself off them. I’d been fine since then, and in fact I was very much enjoying a renewed sense of connection to my emotions — a connection that had been dulled for the decade or more I’d been on meds.

When this latest dark period struck, the intensity took me totally by surprise. I’d certainly had dark periods before; 2020, for example, saw the end of what I thought would be a lifelong relationship and the start of my life in a van. But this was something different. It was debilitating in a way I hadn’t experienced since the breakdown that put me on meds in the first place.

This period also coincided with National Poetry Writing Month, aka NaPoWriMo. I decided to participate. Over the years I’ve likened poetry and Buddhist practice, in that both help you see the world as it is. That can be great, but when the world is a pile of poop, writing a poem every day is less about observation and more about being slowly buried. Art can amplify the bad as well as the good. Looking back at most of the poems I wrote in April, I can see a terrifying darkness and despair. And I wonder whether writing a poem every day was about wallowing rather than processing.

Somehow, for reasons I can’t even begin to name, that dark blanket lifted after two weeks, and I’m doing much, much better now. I’ve accepted the reality that I’ll have to live in my van until summer, when I can afford to rent an apartment. I’ve begun to adjust to my office job, and even to find comfort in the nice folks with whom I work and the access to a bathroom and a tea kettle and a paycheck. I can look ahead to a time when I’ve got my own place and feel more stable and secure.

This year’s NaPoWriMo gave me a lot to think about concerning the relationship between my writing and my state of mind. I’ll definitely exercise more caution if this happens again, and I’ll try to pay more attention to the interplay between art and emotion.


All my NaPoWriMo 2022 poems (are belong to us)

“All baboons come down!”
“Party lolly!”
“Two-Minute Warning”
“[x] Baby [x]”
“The World’s Saddest Lightsaber”
“My Grandfather’s Hands”
“Walter Rodney”
“Undershirt Blues”
Oh, Mexico”
“Call The Doctor”
“He Is Rising”
“I Have To Believe”
“Ode To The A Space And/In Time Memorial”
“Proof Of Life”
“Sunwich On Rye”
“Waiting For The Orchestra”
“A Poem About Tea”
Free Chips And Salsa”
Death Mass”
“Captain John Deere”
“This Poem Has A Puzzle In It”

One Comment

POEM: Unendling


I am the first of my line.
By my own hand I placed
a period on the page.
Taking up the pen again,
I wrote a new name.
Now there are more,
and they will trace back
their names to me.
Our creation story begun
at a dining room table in 1995,
with the unforgiving desert sun
pressing in through the windows.
Look on my works ye mighty
and think whatever you’d like.
I am the first of my line.

/ / /

30 April 2022
Pittsfield MA

(NaPoWriMo Day 30 — Fin!)

Leave a Comment

POEM: This Poem Has A Puzzle In It

This Poem Has A Puzzle In It

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you I
underachieved in high school and
then kept that streak going
on into adulthood.
Down and out in the Berkshires,
I’m slowly figuring out the map,
determining my location;
above me a sky full of new
constellations, stars I’ve never seen
telling a new mythology.

/ / /

29 April 2022
Pittsfield MA

(NaPoWriMo Day 29)

Leave a Comment

POEM: Captain John Deere

Captain John Deere

I’m navigating via
Humbead’s Revised Map
of the World,
guided by the
Grand Rainbow Kaleidoscope;
up ahead stands
a lone microphone
in front of a brick wall,
where both Bob Dylan and I
have presented poems to the masses.
I set my iced tea
on the scuffed wooden table,
shuffle my papers,
clear my throat,
and drop through a hole
into a field of tall grass.
Buy One Get One!
Call Before Midnight!
Cures Most Known Ailments!
Polite applause
from unseen hands.
The ominous rip
of a lawnmower.

/ / /

28 April 2022
Pittsfield MA

(NaPoWriMo Day 28)

Leave a Comment

POEM: death mass

by Alan Casline

death mass
(for Alan Casline)

need dinner propaganda
your cameras need access
broken devil, twisted truth
death mass for evil madness

/ / /

27 April 2022
Pittsfield MA

(NaPoWriMo Day 27)

Leave a Comment

POEM: Free Chips And Salsa

Free Chips And Salsa

Maybe, just maybe,
there is a corner that can be turned.
A light rain dances on the roof of the van.
Slow jams uncurl from my headphones.
A lone candle flickers in a cup holder.
This parking lot is the end of one road.
This parking lot is the start of another.
All Mexican restaurants should offer
free chips and salsa.

/ / /

26 April 2022
Pittsfield MA

(NaPoWriMo Day 26)

Leave a Comment

POEM: A Poem About Tea

A Poem About Tea

There’s an electric kettle at the office,
so I made a cup of green tea.
Nothing special, just a bag.
The kettle has a window in the side
so you can watch the magic happen.
And it is magic.
I didn’t grow up drinking tea.
My parents and grandparents
were coffee people.
It was living in Japan that
introduced me to “the taste
of dried leaves boiled in water.”
As a teetotaler (teatotaler?)
who doesn’t drink coffee either,
tea was my entry into a more adult world.
Tea requires a bit of preparation,
some particular tools,
and ends in a special vessel.
Later I lived behind a tea shop.
The first time I entered I was overwhelmed.
So many colors and flavors and textures!
Tea with little flecks of gold.
Tea that looked like yard clippings.
Tea with hefty price tags.
Later still I studied tea ceremony,
learned the minute details
of offering tea as a sign of respect.
This morning, though, it was just a bag
from a brand that advertises
on baseball games.
Poured from a shared kettle
into a travel mug whose origin
I can’t even dimly recall.
Just a container of tea
on my desk under the fluorescent lights.

/ / /

25 April 2022
Pittsfield MA

(NaPoWriMo Day 25)

The bit in quotation marks is by Douglas Adams.

One Comment

POEM: Waiting For The Orchestra

Waiting For The Orchestra

I’m in the gallery, as high up in the concert hall
as it’s possible to go without wings.
High enough and steep enough
to just slightly trigger my fear of heights.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned
over this long comedy of errors,
it’s that music saves me when all else fails.
A trumpeter in khaki shorts is warming up.
A harpist is tuning to the piano.
I came early for the pre-concert talk,
beating everyone except four elderly folks in their box.
The room is majestic even without the music.
It reminds me to be awed.
That’s important, in these days of scarcity.

/ / /

24 April 2022
Troy, NY

(NaPoWriMo Day 24)

Leave a Comment

POEM: Routine


Today, I’ve decided, I won’t turn on the van.
I’ll start and end here in this parking lot.
First order of business: meditation.
The monkey toyed with, I move on to
a rearrangement of my tiny living space.
As a man with few passengers, I will use
the passenger seat for storage,
freeing up more space to swing my arms
in the main compartment.
I rarely swing my arms, but it’s best to be ready.
Then it’s on to the hand-cramping task
of copying many dozen haiku into a notebook.
I shake out my fingers, finish a book,
listen to Miguel Cabrera’s 3000th hit,
crank up the Grateful Dead.
Forty-eight years into whatever this is,
I’ve still figured out very little.
I’ve started over again, alone, with nothing.
For now I’ll lie back and listen to “Peggy-O.”
Later I’ll get a bite to eat from the grocery store.
Then on into another night, another morning.

/ / /

23 April 2022
Pittsfield MA

(NaPoWriMo Day 23)

Leave a Comment

POEM: Etiquette


One of the signs is long exhalations.
Mouth in the shape of an O.
A big, quiet breath in.
An extended, more audible breath out.
Careful not to attract attention.
These outpourings of air happen
with increasing frequency
over the course of the day.
The breath forms a wall
against the approach of tears.
Public crying is considered gauche.

/ / /

22 April 2022
Pittsfield MA

(NaPoWriMo Day 22)

Leave a Comment

POEM: Sunwich On Rye

Sunwhich On Rye

He called her number
as he stepped into the wind;
she picked up on the second ring.
Over the phone, he gave her a tour
of the general store, read her
the funny sayings on the pencil cases.
She waited while he ordered a sandwich,
waited again while he payed for it.
He carried the sandwich in a brown paper bag,
chatting through the wind
as he walked back to his office.
Finding someone who gets you is uncommon.
Finding someone who’s willing to stick with you
as you both change turns out to be exceedingly rare.

/ / /

21 April 2022
Pittsfield MA

(NaPoWriMo Day 21)

Leave a Comment

POEM: Proof Of Life

Proof Of Life

The condensation on the windows is proof of life
for passersby who might try to see past the curtain
or the blacked-out covers into the interior
of my not-exactly-a-home on wheels.
I’m sitting upright, my bottom half in a sleeping bag,
my top half shrouded in a wool blanket,
meditating because it seems like the right thing to do.
There’s an insistent bird in the leafless tree
outside the rear window of the van, its song
one I would have been able to name just a few years ago.
That knowledge, like so much I used to contain,
has passed through the bone safe of my skull
into the poorly designed container of the world.
In more than twenty years of meditation
I have rarely quieted the dancing monkey
who jumps from one sparking synapse to the next
          with a shrill laugh.
I keep at it because I don’t have a control group,
so no comparison can be made.
A text from my sister: “Peace and stability are just ahead.”
She is not, as far as I know, clairvoyant,
but I’d rather believe her than lend credence to myself.
The bell dings and I use the remote starter
to turn on the van I’m sitting in.
It’s easier than crawling up front.
Soon the heat will kick in and I’ll do the crossword
and the bird will keep singing or else it won’t.

/ / /

20 April 2022
Pittsfield MA

(NaPoWriMo Day 20)

Leave a Comment

POEM: Ode To The A Space And/In Time Memorial

Ode To The A Space And/In Time Memorial

It’s a tall flagpole
in a well-kept field; no flags.
On each side of the base, a plaque:
a peace sign, the infinity symbol,
others I don’t recognize.
I posed there thinking
I was on the site of Woodstock,
flashing the V in a monochrome selfie.
I was off by 3 miles,
but in planetary terms
that’s still pretty close.
“Yes to more peace in the world,”
texted a friend.
And better signage.

/ / /

19 April 2022
Pittsfield MA

(NaPoWriMo Day 19)


Leave a Comment

POEM: I Have To Believe

I Have To Believe

I have to believe
better days are ahead,
or else these days
are unbearable.

/ / /

18 April 2022
Pittsfield MA

(NaPoWriMo Day 18)

Leave a Comment