Category Archives: Poetry

The Wood Poem

Since I’ve been posting a lot of woodworking updates, I thought I’d post a poem I wrote about wood.  Actually, it’s a list poem, so the names of the woods themselves form the bulk of the poem.  It’s best read aloud, but then again, most poetry is.

Let me start with cocobolo,
heft some rosewood,
jobillo, ebony—macassar and gaboon.
Let me smell the pungent walnut
released after deep boring.
Stand back for western red cedar,
for bloodwood, for paduak.
Ironwood, lignum vitae, hornbeam—
all too heavy for me.
From holly to poplar to sycamore to oak,
some sound like they belong.
Others—iroko, ipe, lyptus—
must be from far-off lands.
Try the exotics, the tropical woods.
Come back briefly
for big leaf maple burl,
but remember,
always end with

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Who Killed Junior Seau?

It’s been a year since NFL great Junior Seau committed suicide.  After the report that evidence of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) was found in Seau’s brain was released  in January, I wrote a poem/song titled Who Killed Junior Seau?  It was inspired by a song by Bob Dylan, Who Killed Davey Moore?, about the 1963 death of boxer Davey Moore.  It’s also written in the style of Dylan’s song, so I highly recommend reading the lyrics of Dylan’s song first, as well as listening to it if you get a chance (click here for the lyrics).  Here’s my poem:

Who Killed Junior Seau?

Who killed Junior Seau?
Why an’ what’s the reason now?

“Not I,” said the old head coach
“My methods are beyond reproach
Don’t bring me into this discussion
He never reported a single concussion
I just game-planned to win
I didn’t commit no ugly sin
It wasn’t me that made him fall
No, you can’t blame me at all”

Who killed Junior Seau?
Why an’ what’s the reason now?

“Not I,” said the football writer
“I called him a warrior and a fighter
Football’s violent, yes it’s true
but lots of other sports are too
Football is America’s Game
Don’t assign me any blame
It wasn’t me that made him fall
No, you can’t blame me at all”

Who killed Junior Seau?
Why an’ what’s the reason now?

“Not us,” said the football fans
“We paid top dollar to see the man
Make some tackles, get some sacks
An’ we always kept comin’ back
Football is entertainment, what’s the fuss
Don’t go pointin’ your finger at us
Football’s part of the American Way
Boys an’ men play it every day
It wasn’t us that made him fall
No, you can’t blame us at all”

Who killed Junior Seau?
Why an’ what’s the reason now?

“Not I,” said the offensive guard
“He played like me, he played real hard
This is nothin’ but a tragedy
Don’t go pointin’ your finger at me
I was blockin’ for my backs
An’ he was tryin’ to get some sacks
Yes I hit him, yes it’s true
But that’s what I am paid to do
It wasn’t me that made him fall
No, you can’t blame me at all”

Who killed Junior Seau?
Why an’ what’s the reason now?

“Not I,” said the League Commish
“That never ever was my wish
Football’s big business you know
We never wanted to see him go
I knew about the risks years ago
But Football’s big business you know
If we acted on those risks before
No one would want to play no more
If we tried to safen-up the game
Football’d be way too tame
It wasn’t me that made him fall
No, you can’t blame me at all”

Who killed Junior Seau?
Why an’ what’s the reason now?

“Not I,” said the man himself
As he took the magnum off the shelf
An’ pointed it at his chest
“I always tried to play me best
I always gave a hundred percent
An’ now it seems my brain has went
I’m not the man I was before
An’ I can’t take it any more
I’m hurtin’ inside, I’m tellin’ you
This is the best thing for me to do
I played so long ‘cuz I loved the game
But I’m not the only one to blame”

Who killed Junior Seau?
Why an’ what’s the reason now?

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My Little Sister Got Married!

All right, so she’s 36, but she’s still my little sister.

Last weekend Santina and the boys and flew back east for my sister Maria’s wedding.  We had a great time and the boys we very good during the ceremony (and even during the reception once the dancing started).  I wrote a toast for Maria and her husband, Wayne.  Yes, you read that right, my sister married a man named Wayne.  So now my boys have a daddy Wayne, a papa (grandpa) Wayne and an uncle Wayne.  At any rate, here is my toast, in poem form.

A Toast to M and her Wayne

There’s nothing like writing with a deadline to clarify the mind,
just like there’s nothing like a little sister to push my buttons and get to my goats.
I would say that it’s not worth fretting over,
today is your day, and every day from here on out.
I could tell stories about you and me, I could repeat all our inside jokes, but I won’t.
Instead I’ll just ask you to remember how,
when I went on more than some, more than most, you listened,
and when it was dark I built a light for you.
Well, you have your own light now,
someone you didn’t need to go to the train station and ask for
two to Duluth to find,
someone who will peel your grapes.
I used to think that everyone should have a Nantucket,
only now it seems that everyone has a Wayne.

Congratulations to my little sister and her Wayne!

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Alex & Kirsten’s Wedding, Part I

Last weekend I attended the wedding of one of my best friends, Alex Peterson.  Alex is one of my fraternity brothers–pledge brothers–and a fellow chemist to boot.  We were in most of the same chemistry classes together throughout our time at MIT.  So he got married to a wonderful woman named Kirsten, whom I had never met until the wedding.  Yet when I got there, and once the ceremony started, and once the reception got going, I could see they were perfect for each other.  Sadly, I forgot to bring a camera, so picture may be a little slow in showing up on this blog.  But I was asked to read a poem of my choosing during the ceremony, so I wrote one especially for the occasion.

I Said

First, let me honor your presence,
only let me sing songs for old times’ sake,
remembering anything I said to bless you.
Let me honor your commitment,
explaining with the clarity of an
x-ray how I worked for
answers to love in Neruda,
in the depths of Macchu Picchu.
Let me keep you together,
each halves in a whole,
let me remain steadfast in what I said:
that you can be imperfect together,
that you can believe in each other and no one else,
and then you will know…

This poem is posted in the Poetry pages, but I thought I should share it here too.  In the next few weeks I’ll add to my tale of Alex and Kirsten’s wedding: what it was like, what it meant to me, and the story behind the poem.

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Ordinary World

I posted another poem on the poetry pages, Ordinary World.  It’s actually a poem that exists in two versions—the one you can find in the poetry pages and the original version.  Obviously the two are similar, but there are differences.

Why two versions?  I’ll tell the story of how I wrote the original version shortly, but the edited version was edited with the help of Greg Teran when I prepared my manuscript for entry in the 1994 MIT Writing Prizes.  With Greg’s help I trimmed a lot of excess from my poems.  In the end I won first prize for poetry manuscript (and $300).  Obviously the edited version of Ordinary World has something going for it.  Indeed, it is a leaner, more distilled version of the original.

I can’t find a written copy of the original version of Ordinary World.  I checked both our desktop and our laptop.  I checked my hard copies of my poetry.  Nothing.  The only form of the original version in my possession is an audio file of me reading the poem (in 1999).

So I attempted to reconstruct the original version.  The words are the same, but the line breaks aren’t.  In poetry, that can make all the difference.  At any rate, here it is.

Ordinary World

In an ordinary world
there are green trees
and rolling hills.
There are no complications.
Life is lived simply and happily.
No one finds the unexpected answers.

In an ordinary world,
poets do not
notice chemists.
For in an ordinary world poetry does not
exist. Nor do impressionist painters.
Miles Davis never played trumpet,
there is no jazz,
no one discovered the minor keys.
No free verse, no surrealism.
Green trees everywhere, but
Robert Frost never wrote about
the path among them.

In an ordinary world,
I would never take chances.

Fancy that,
you and I meeting
in an extraordinary world.

I wrote that poem (or something close to it) sixteen years ago.  It was Presidents’ Day weekend and Valentine’s Day as well.  I was 20 years old, a sophomore in college, with all the angst that went along with it.  I fretted over classes.  I fretted over women.  And then, Presidents’/Valentine’s weekend 1993, a poem came to me in a dream, like Kekulé’s structure of benzene.  I awoke and I wrote.  And I wrote.  And I wrote.  When I was done, I had the original version of Ordinary World.  Then I read it to my friend Heather as a sort of birthday present.

This poem remains special to me for how I wrote it and where I was in my life when I wrote it.  Other poems (parts of stories, even) have come to me in similar ways—I really did write Death in Maroon after hearing a news story on public radio after waking up from a nap.  Most of my poems are special to me in some way.  Maybe Ordinary World is more special than most.  Maybe because I remember how I wrote it.  Maybe because I remember the delicious confusion of being 20, in college, and how writing that poem was a moment of clarity for me.  Maybe…


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Major Poetry Update

I’ve posted nine poems to the poetry page of this blog.  Enjoy!

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Poetry Update

I added Walking Back to San Mateo and My Hill to Climb to the poetry section.

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Everyone should have a Nantucket…

Every year since 1991, my family (my parents and my aunt Rory and uncle Peter, that is) has rented a house on Nantucket for one to two weeks. I’ve been able to go almost every year (I didn’t go the year Jonah was born, for example). Santina, Jonah, and I will be leaving Monday to fly to Boston. Tuesday we’ll drive to Hyannis and catch the ferry to Nantucket. We’ll be there for almost two weeks, so my blog won’t be updated much, if at all, during that time.

What does Nantucket mean to me? Nantucket, or rather, vacationing on Nantucket, is about doing nothing. Well, maybe not nothing, but doing relatively little. In college I valued my vacation time for being low-intensity. Nantucket epitomized that. I’d play some tennis, go out to dinner with my parents, and maybe write some poetry. Nice and relaxing.

Things have changed a little since Jonah was born, but Nantucket is still relaxing. I’ll leave you with a Nantucket poem (I’ve added a couple to my poetry page). Until then, meet me at the grey house with the white trim…

Traveling to Nantucket

I long to travel. To board a ferry
bound for Nantucket. Across a blue strip of ocean,
not too far,
but far enough. Far enough that I can’t see the cape
from the island.
Far enough to get away from cities
with their smog breathing in, their traffic,
the cars coughing men. And work and school,
the tedious and tiring, the reinforced
concrete and painted steel,
dominating skyscrapers and vast cement boulevards.
To go
away from here.
I long to travel. To step off the ferry
and walk onto an island, Nantucket,
walk on cobblestone streets or red brick sidewalks.
Stroll down Main Street, past the planter box
in the middle of the road,
the one all the cars drive around,
the one with the red and yellow and orange
flowers. To turn down a side street,
float past the antique shops, art galleries, seafood restaurants,
and most importantly,
the cafés and bookstores.
But the time will come to visit all of these places.
Before all else, I will rest.
Sleep in a room built with wood walls,
a house covered with gray shingles. Sleep
past noon and then go for a walk.
Back to the center of town, past
the bed & breakfast inns where young
couples always stay. Again down side streets,
streets with English names line North Water,
Orange, or Pleasant. On an island of Indian
places-Nantucket, Madaket, Siasconset.
Grabbing names slinking off their signs,
crawling up to me, tugging on my shoe-laces as if to say:
You will not find San Mateo here. No Los Altos,
Alameda de las Pulgas, El Camino Real.
California this ain’t.
When I have tasted my fill of names, then
turn into the next shop. A bookstore,
a place to browse, to lose an afternoon
just looking, reading bits and pieces of books of poems,
reading thought-provoking science fiction from an obscure
Polish writer. Slip out onto the red brick sidewalk again
to find a café, a place to sit at a marble table
on a black-and-white tile floor and contemplate.
Contemplate poetry, both the books freshly purchased
and my own slop. Catch
snippets of conversations,
odds and ends of discussions
on politics or religion sometimes, but mostly
about others. Gossip.
Listen to the gossip, absorb it through osmosis.
Maybe smile at the waitress with the long, dark brown
hair. Drink another cup
then leave. Return to the wood-walled
room. Tomorrow I leave. Tomorrow I
return to the dark constructs of man.
Tomorrow I begin to long to travel, again, to
long for those June days of espresso and chocolate-chip ice cream,
of subtle flowers and subtler poems.
Now I long to travel, to Nantucket,
once more, on my own.

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The poem that started it all

There is a reason someone once called me “Wayne Pitcher, Chemist and Poet.” I’ve been writing poetry since my senior year in high school. Here’s “the poem that started it all”:

Bury the Ghost

Dig the grave
Deeper and deeper.
Bury the ghost,
I’m not its keeper.

Pile the dirt
Higher and higher.
Burn her letters,
Fuel for the fire.

Forget the memories,
Forget them longer.
No longer weak,
Be strong, be stronger.

Learn form the past,
Learn quicker and quicker.
Build those walls
Thicker and thicker.

No. Tear them down,
Bricks by the stack.
For I got the monkey
Off my back!

I know, I know, it rhymes. Hey it was my first “real” poem, so cut me some slack.

I’ll post my poetry (both old and new) periodically.

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