Friday, December 21, 2012


On this cold and blustery winter solstice, the year’s darkest day, Cindy Lou and I celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary.  For this momentous occasion, a new poem:  


for Cindy Lou

Back in the summer of 1989 what I knew 
about you most was your unhappiness 
in a marriage you wish you hadn’t gotten into. 
It was that fall when you made your break.

We had talked often in my office in Storck Hall
after classrooms and hallways emptied of kids,
when all that was left was grading and planning.  
Still, we spent hours instead, talking, taking care, and listening. 

It was, of course, the S.E.T. for Life retreat that reset mine. 
We were assigned facilitating a MicroLab, hoping to give 
a handful of kids an insight into understanding
how life can be complicated, yet manageable. 

I can remember working with you in that meeting place
populated with young people, sensing for the first time 
how graceful it felt to move kids through a class activity
with a teaching partner that required everyone present to trust. 

Later, we sat up into the wee hours in that church camp lounge, 
alone, talking about my little girls, your changing life, 
my love of Hog Island and Emily, and sometime 
before 4 am, when we figured we had better get some sleep, 

I took the ultimate risk of telling you how beautiful you are.  

That was thenThis is now:
our having found our own way to manageably move 
through life’s complications in search of a home with  
a partner capable of love enough to overcome personal history.

It wasn’t always easy, but in the process of our
storming and norming over these last twenty-plus years, 
I have so wanted to provide the brother’s acceptance 
and the unconditional love you have hungered for.

For me, I am grateful to have been blessed by your 
beauty and grace and the care you exhibit to ensure 
I have the stuff I need and the time to pursue 
the birds and words and images that somehow complete me.

On this occasion of our being wed twenty years -- 
time that has eclipsed every couple relationship either 
of us has ever known -- I find myself humbled by
the healing power you bring to my mindful existence.

I wonder how many more years we have. 
I wonder how much more we will be allowed to be present 
to the kids we love so much and for a world playing out it’s time in history. 
But whatever time that is, know that I will be there with you, 

holding your diamond hand, your partner ‘til eternity. 

Today’s elder idea:   Anything worth thinking about is worth singing about. 
Bob Dylan
via Mary Oliver

I’ll assume that works for poetry, too. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Emily & me

It all began in a rather mystical way over thirty years ago.

I had been teaching junior high school English for the first third of my career and had finally gotten ready to start on a master’s degree.  I loved being in the classroom with kids and knew I didn’t want to spend time working on a principal’s certificate, though I think some folks thought I might make a good one.  

My assistant principal at the time, Darlene Duchene, called my attention to a survey she had recently received from the University of Dayton querying interest in a new graduate degree in the humanities they were considering.  She thought such an eclectic focus was tailor-made for me.  Oddly enough, as it turned out, equally local Wright State University rolled out their Master of Humanities degree that upcoming fall (1980) and I am proud to tell you I was accepted into that initial flight of scholars embarking on a new kind of liberal arts graduate degree that, at least in my case, changed the course of my life.   

Over the next two quarters I taught kids all day, read a brain-choking number of books designed to give me balanced background in the humanities evenings and weekends, attended a twice-weekly introduction course at night, and wrote two lengthy papers in the process, one on naturalist John Muir and the other on photographer Ansel Adams.  From that point on I was to design a collection of interdepartmental courses that would make me, well, a master of some aspect of humanities that motivated me.  Seemed to me I was heading in some environmental direction.  About that time I dubbed myself a liberal arts environmentalist.  

So it was a bit puzzling when my favorite English department professor suggested I take his upcoming workshop on Emily Dickinson.  I questioned what she had to do with environmental interests.  Mr. Hughes just shook his head, took on a wistful look, and said, ‘Oh, she’s connected to all kinds of things.‘  

And so it was.  

In that spring workshop we talked for hours about Emily’s mysterious life and her canon of work while reading Richard B. Sewall’s new-to-paperback, The Life of Emily Dickinson, while having the full Thomas H. Johnson 1960 collection at hand, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.  I don’t remember much about what I wrote in that course, but I recall a series of photographs I developed in my home darkroom of some Woodland Cemetery monuments, tying them to some dark, brooding verse of Emily’s. 

I’ve read about how living on an island, even for a time, can change the way a person perceives life.  I must say I feel the same way about having studied Emily Dickinson.  For me, knowing more about that elusive Belle of Amherst has colored how I look at family, friends, Nature, and the essence of the universe.    

Still, Emily remains a mystery to me, though I feel that I know her pretty well.  It feels something like having her as a girlfriend:  I’m pretty sure I know her, but every once in a while an unexpected behavior -- or poem, or letter -- shows up that kind of baffles me.  

Truly, no one knows all we’d like to know about Emily Dickinson.  She will forever remain an ethereal character in American literature.  And in that is a beauty worthy of remembering on this December 10, Emily Dickinson’s 182nd birthday.

Oh, and that analogy to living on an island changing your life a couple paragraphs above?  I could tell you stories....  

For more on Emily’s Boys collection of original poetry, see . 

Emily’s Boys are James M. Hughes, D. F. Dominic, A. Bergeron, and Tom Schaefer.

Today’s elder idea:   That Love is all there is / Is all we know of Love...
Emily Dickinson

Cindy Lou and I proudly bear ‘LOVE IS ALL’ etched into our wedding bands.  Next week marks our 20th wedding anniversary. 

top:  Emily Dickinson’s headstone, photographed by me October 2006.

below:  Letters to the World cover, featuring Emily’s headstone shot by me summer 1981.

Saturday, December 1, 2012



Heavens.  The Back Porch:  0 for November 2012.  I guess that says something about how November consumes us here at our house.  Here’s why:  

Waffle Shop
First off, thank you to so many Dayton friends who made it down to Waffle Shop the week before Thanksgiving.  When all the dust settled at Christ Episcopal Church, we had almost 1700 folks in the front door yet served almost 1800 lunches.  This time around carry-out worked over time by serving close to 500 lunches all by themselves.

Waffle Shop, for the uninitiated, is a long-standing Christmas downtown holiday tradition, held this year for the 83rd time.  Indeed, the first event was held in 1929, just a month or so after the stock market went bust.  

Since then the event has grown to include a bazaar of seasonal crafts and gifts, a ‘white elephant’ sale (used stuff with plenty of use left), a raffle (this year for a Kindle HD and a gift card for the Pine Club), a bake sale, and a liberal sprinkling of live holiday music.  

This year’s Celebrity Bakers were Christine & Ralph Dull (co-founders of the Dayton International Peace Museum), Jane Black (Associate Director of the Dayton Art Institute), and Judy Dodge (newly re-elected Montgomery County commissioner).  The CBs get to sit at waffle iron #1 (next to the lovely Cindy Lou at iron #2) and, while baking, chat with the lunch bunch queuing up with their trays. 

This year we also invited some folks who received Waffle Shop Outreach Grants to stop by to set-up a display and meet with our guests and tell them about the good work they do in Dayton.  Outreach Table guests this year were Daybreak (passing out pet treats baked at Lindy’s, Daybreak’s new business venture for their kids over at their old site on Wayne Avenue), FISH Fairborn, Family Services, and Homefull (formerly The Other Place).  By the way, Christ Church is proud to note that Homefull grew out of a community meeting held at our church twenty-five years ago.

It looks like we grossed over $18k this time around at Waffle Shop, most of which will be awarded as Outreach Grants following a round of applications and committee discussion early next year. 

This Waffle Shop marks eleven years that I have been involved in organizing it, and I must say, doing so has been a real joy in my life.  Lots of work, yes, but amazing perks -- like so many downtown neighbors stopping in -- based on Christian hospitality.  I am honored to be a part of it. 

One more Waffle Shop story:  Thursday turned out to be our busiest day, following a morning picture with caption in the Dayton Daily News and a blurb on local television the day prior.  It also marked the day our fabulous Hobart refrigerator decided life was over.  By the end of the day we discovered the necessary repair would cost nearly $1500.  Ouch.  Such cost puts a real crimp in the grant giving, you know?   

Then on Friday morning, the niece of long-time waffle baker Olga Veselenak, a nonagenarian who died not long ago, stopped by with a financial gift from Olga’s estate to celebrate Waffle Shop, the Christmas event she loved so much.  Amount of the gift?  $3000.  More than enough to replace our very necessary commercial refrigerator.  When we told Olga’ niece about our need, she wept when told it is our intent to put a memorial plaque on the new fridge honoring Olga’s memory.  As I said repeatedly the rest of the day, stick around long enough and a miracle will happen.  

So it was at Waffle Shop 2012. 

Thanksgiving at our place was lovely.  My mother joined us, as did most of the Issa family.  The free range bird from Bowman Landes Farm was/is delicious.  Yes, there is still a little left, though a whole load of leftovers went home with guests that day.  

I had a little computer trouble, too, that set The Back Porch off a bit.  As you might know, I replaced my iMac with a new MacBook Pro back in September.  Believe it or not, the hard drive on this brand new machine went south Thanksgiving week.  Thank goodness for Apple’s Time Machine back-up software.  After a quick replacement at the Apple Store, all has been reloaded and things appear to be in good shape.  Still, losing a hard drive scares the heck out of me.  Not too bad this time, though.

Remember JB, the cat?  She’s doing great, though under another alias these days.  Cindy always wants to call her Sweetie, but she does that for all cute little people, including the kids she babysits.  

We decided a better name for the kitty was Gracie.  So now most often she gets called Miss Gracie Kitty, or Sweetie, depending on the mood.  

Still cute, eh?  ;-)

I’ll try to be more regular with entries from here on.  In the meantime, you have a happy holiday season.  And thanks for reading.  

Today’s elder idea:  ‘We’re gonna’ to make waffles!’

Donkey (from Shrek)

image:  Noah’s mommy broke him out of school on Friday for a Waffle Shop lunch!