The Most Important Things

“He lay there holding her. It had been hours on a rainy Sunday afternoon in February, and as the hours passed so did the sunlight that peaked through the cracks of the blinds in their bedroom. He did not move from his spot beside her even as darkness filled the house. The minutes passed, evening came, and he did not turn on the light. He only watched her chest rise as it filled with air and she exhaled. And he held her tightly.”


Initially, I hoped to use these lines above in a short story about the most important things in life; not money, possessions, frivolous things that come and go, but people and the relationships we form with them. I think the lines suffice as they are.

I watch many films. Two of the most recent I’ve seen, Dunkirk and Darkest Hour, are complements to each other. Both films tell the story of Europe in World War II as Nazi Germany ran over the continent with an ease that borders on unimaginable now in 2018. With the U.S. choosing not to intervene until that point in the war, the United Kingdom was under imminent threat with the majority of its military stranded on Dunkirk beach in northern France. In the end, more than 330,000 soldiers were rescued by a fleet of civilian ships. While the war turned later, tens of millions of young men were dead by the time peace returned in 1945.

I have been thinking about those times, and how fortunate I am to live a peaceful life. It is easy as Westerners living in the 21st century to be lulled into deceptive comfort. But, even in its deceptiveness, many of our lives remain a relief compared to the hard ones lived by those in generations past. I think of the many young men who gave their lives to war and it makes me truly sad.

Oftentimes, I place so much value in things that are, ultimately, unimportant. In the face of death, illness or the many other ways tragedy transcends into our daily experiences, these things are insignificant. What is a new iPhone, an expensive suit, a home in the suburbs compared to people? I imagine the millions who die prematurely in war would give anything to spend a final moment in the arms of their lovers, at a table eating dinner with their family, or telling jokes at a bar with their friends. Yet it seems so often we overlook these most valuable relationships in our pursuit of other, lesser things.

The scene described above is an image of two lovers. It does not matter their location, ethnicity, age. It is what I imagine when I think of an important moment. It is moments like these that I will cherish above any possession, and that I hope to remind myself of when my mind grows tired from unfulfilled longings for what is ultimately fleeting and superfluous.

Mountaintops: A Love Poem

Mountaintops

I always wanted to see Max Patch.

I found it through pictures on Instagram,
a kaleidoscope of autumn colors
made for late-night scrolling;
the place where lovers embrace,
kissed by the dimming sunset,
to take carbon-copied pictures
they’ll post hours later—
no filter necessary.

I thought I’d take the dog.

There was no one else to take,
and a wise man once said
to never waste a memory
on someone you’d hope to forget
(or maybe that was Instagram, too).

After three months together,
I knew it’d be you.

The dust covered my car on the long drive up,
until we parked,
woozy from the winding road,
and hiked,
blankets in hand,
to our own spot among the dying autumn grasses.

We shared a ziplock bag
of Vanilla Life cereal,
and laid close to feel the warmth between us
as the sunlight faded.

You and I were made for sunsets.

On Poetry (and a Poem, Too)

paterson-couple

Closing Credits

At the dinner table,
the brown one with the square floral tablecloth,
the dog sits at my feet, watching.
The pasta is badly cooked, with the cheap red sauce.
It’s so easy to make, you know.

Two weeks ago,
in Colorado Springs
or Los Angeles maybe,
you texted.
Later, laying on colorless hotel room bed sheets,
I played the song on repeat.
(I didn’t want to play it, I swear.)

The laptop speakers vibrated.
Tears in my eyelids spilled,
like heartbreak-sized waterfalls,
and dried on the skin of my cheeks.
She sang:
“I can’t erase it…
I just replay it…”
Over and over again.

In the best movies,
even the sad ones,
endings can be beautiful sometimes:
Bound by running time,
words on a screen
or notes in a song, fading,
like closing credits.

I still won’t look in the closet where you hung your dresses.


When I was in grammar school, I wrote a poem that was printed in a book of student poetry. It was probably one of those gimmick poetry books, the kind where you sent in a payment for the publisher to print the poem, and they accepted almost every poem that was submitted. I worked a plumbing job with my dad and used the money he paid me to buy the book. I read the poem while laying in my parent’s bed one morning. “Lost in a world of hate and confusion…” was one of the lines. It was a really, really bad poem.

Throughout high school and college, I was blessed with English professors who challenged me to read from our country’s great writers and poets. In 11th grade, Mr. Sweeney had our Honors English class give presentations on some of them. Mine was on the poet Robert Lowell (I was a little asshole then and probably didn’t read any of Lowell’s poems, just like I didn’t read The Old Man and the Sea, Winesburg, Ohio, The Grapes of Wrath, This Side of Paradise, and so many others, until years later). In his critique afterward, Mr. Sweeney told me I spoke with a “valley girl voice” and that my thick, black hair, swung over the left side of my face covering most of my forehead, made me look “like I was wearing a helmet.” I’m thankful he led me to great literature, but he was an asshole, too.

In my final year at William Paterson University, Dr. Hauser got a more interested version of me. He exposed me to more Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Frost, T.S. Eliot and I happily consumed it all. One of the poets I loved most was William Carlos Williams, who grew up a few miles away in Paterson and remains famous for his poem about the plums that you probably read in an English class before. Until this past week, the last time I thought about Williams was in Dr. Hauser’s class.

Last Tuesday, I watched the movie Paterson at Downtown West and it all came back. The movie focuses on a bus driver-poet and his life in the city with his artsy Persian wife, English bulldog, and the people who fill up his everyday routine. The bus driver-poet, played by Adam Driver, is very influenced by Williams (in a way, it reminded me of The End of the Tour about a writer and his relationship with David Foster Wallace). It was a beautiful movie that only lasted a week in Knoxville because “there were only like four people there the night it premiered,” the lady at the ticket counter told me Sunday night when I went back to watch Moonlight.

Most of this post has been a huge buildup to just say that poetry is hard, raw, and unsettling, in such a way that it’s impossible for me to walk away and be happy with any of the poetry I write. Since college, I’ve pretty much avoided poetry, sticking to sports, journalism, and short stories here and there. As I’ve explored fiction writing, I’ve begun experimenting with poetry again, too. The movie opened the door in a way to sharing those poems.

One of the things that makes poetry hard for me is that I’m not interested in poetry that doesn’t make sense to what I feel (or can feel). The movies, novels, art, and journalism I consume all touch me in some personal way; they mimic moments, conversations, images that I’ve to some extent experienced. There’s epic poetry out there that is beautiful, but I quickly lose interest in the fanciful stuff. I’m not knocking it at all, that’s just me.

So, inevitably, when I write poetry, it’s personal in an unsettling way. It’s not like short stories where I can hide behind so many words and scenes. And it’s scary to write this way because I worry what others might think of me:

Will you judge me because of the feelings I’ve taken from inside of me and put on a computer screen? Will you empathize with me? Will you be angry? Or pity me?

I do think it’s a beautiful thing when we can be real. Every work of art I say I love has that heavy dose of candor to it. Poetry is cathartic and therapeutic in that sense. And, I’m glad that Paterson and Williams have gotten me writing it again.