Kinisi 2

empathy / courtesy / kindness



Rouge on lips or toenails, the glimmer of gold jewelry or a gemstone, the glossy photograph or the slick magazine, the light in a drop of costly perfume, the shimmer in a particular weave or pattern of spectacular cloth, or the haute (hoity-toity) air of a trendy boutique: each reflects eternal desires and feminine intrigue. The interplay of status-seeking, gamesmanship, the swift-changing hunt, and the theater of fashion spreads out far from its urban epicenters – and crosses nations, languages, continents, and ages. How quickly a little girl insists on her own definitive style! The poet and poetry are not immune, either, infused with their own tastes and passions. Where a dictionary observes  gloss as “the luster or sheen of a polished surface,” there is also the danger of “a deceptive or superficial appearance” as well as “an effort to hide or attempt to hide (errors, defects, etc.).” Still, a gloss may also attempt to interpret or translate. The curve or the motion, the smile or the gaze, skin itself, or hair in sunlight or moonlight, each concealing while hinting of revelations. So often, awaiting next month’s editions.

These are the poems that conclude my newest collection, Foreign Exchange.


Foreign Exchange
Foreign Exchange

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.


Anyone else wonder about the appeal of stories set in another century? Just what’s the attraction?

The future, of course, is one direction, a whole set of “what if” projections that for now cannot be tested against historical development. (Admittedly, Orwell’s 1984 certainly has become an exception in the years since I first read it, gee, was it ’64? As has the movie 2001.)

The past, however, seems to be the more romantic option, beginning with historic period romances and Westerns. I suppose it’s not that far removed from those who inquire of astrologers or palmists or mediums about their past lives, although what I’ve always found most fascinating there is how many people who do so claim to have been Cleopatra or Anne Boleyn or Helen of Troy or the like, rather than one of the common, suffering, exploited populace. No, the stories tilt toward royalty, court intrigue, the power struggles of the rich and mighty – the glittering elite far removed from everyday life. (Maybe that’s our fascination with celebrities, too, as if wealth and beauty leads to true love and happiness, not that it ever seems to hold over the long haul. In pure weight, tragedies trump over comedies.)

My wife sometimes jests that I would have been more at home in 18th or 19th century America, especially in a context of the Enlightenment, scientific advancement, and perhaps opera, along with a flourishing Quaker culture. (Never mind that the Quaker discipline of the time banned music and fiction as superfluous, vain, and untrue.) Again, though, the projection is toward a place of refinement, culture, and ease rather than the long, hard, physical labor of the masses.

So what, ultimately, is the attraction of historical fiction? Is there some time or place you’d willingly be relocated to, if it were possible, even if you could never come back? And, while we’re at it, what about the importance of location, even over time itself? Who and where would you like to be? Just what is it about other eras? Ah, the intrigue! To say nothing of the underlying connection.


Finding yourself single after the dissolution of a marriage or the death of a spouse is bewildering, at best.

The loneliness and grieving can be nearly unbearable, and emerging from that into some kind of social scene is, well, a lot worse than high school ever was.

Trying to find the right place to meet appropriate potential partners is no less challenging. You hear all kinds of suggestions, from health club to Laundromat, and all of that’s problematic. These days, as a male, I’d look at a yoga studio, just saying …

Another of the complications is the fact – well, it was a quarter-century ago – that the available women were concentrated within the bigger cities, while the corresponding men were an hour or more away, beyond the suburbs.

In the time since then, a number of online dating sites have appeared, and I’ll let others relate their adventures and successes or failures.

But when I was available, the personals ads began to flourish. Out of necessity, I suppose. They even had their own free booklets, like TV listings.

Coincidentally, around the time I remarried, there was a blowup at my newspaper when the publisher went livid over a personals ad where one hopeful had described himself in opposite terms to the usual cliches. (He touted himself as fat, lazy, unemployed, and the like, as I recall.) It was enough to get me and now-elder stepdaughter (and fellow writer) to start reading the Boston Sunday Globe’s more varied ads for insights in the ways people perceived themselves or tried to portray their desires. Usually, they churned out short resumes full of contradictions or things only others could adjudge. “Beautiful” or “handsome” was common, usually preceded by “very,” but that’s something purely for the viewer to decide, thank you.

At any rate, a few entries would stand above the crowd.

One, for instance, described herself as a “Land’s-End kind of gal,” and you really do get a good sense of her in those five words. (We gave her ad a B+ or A-.)

The all-time winner, though, was along these lines: “Happy blue-eyed plumber in search of articulate, well-poised woman to bring (something) into my life. Children a plus.”

He alone could say if he was happy, and “blue-eyed” certainly told the reader about looks. “Plumber,” meanwhile, indicated responsibility and economic status. As for children? Few novelists deliver as much with such economy.

The ad, we noticed, ran just once.



To my mind, one of the great questions about the human condition is just why an individual is romantically attracted to one person but not another.

We can start with physical attraction, of course, which opens a whole list of possibilities. Since I’ve always been a heterosexual male, I suppose my checklist would start with blonde, redhead, or brunette, although I must confess that on a few women, bald can be incredibly stunning. By the way, I happen to love long hair, which to my good fortune my wife possesses. We can move on to blue-eyed, true green, hazel, or brown eyes. And that’s even before we get to height or shape or … you get the picture.

Of course, things get really complicated after that. How much do we want the other to share our deepest interests, even to the point of being a mirror image of ourselves, and how much do we want them to differ? Where are the crucial points of commonality and mutual life’s mission – and how much deviation can we accept or allow? And just how do our emotional styles work together … or clash? What about our attitudes toward money, time, wealth, possessions? How much risk can we tolerate? And so on and on.

For me, keen intellect is essential. One who reads widely, at that. And then there is the spiritual side as well as strong ethics.

On top of it all, one of my measures, if pressed, would ask if this is someone I’d like to gaze on over the breakfast table. And, I could ask, is hers a voice I would always enjoy hearing. Would she always have fascinating stories and insights?

No matter how much I once tried to refine the list, though, something was always missing. In all my years between the collapse of my first marriage and the beginning of the one that counts, I came across a few women who were top candidates on paper but, when we were together, nothing clicked. So what was the missing magic? In the end, I still haven’t a clue.

I come back to this question of mutual attraction when I consider the Apostle Paul’s counsel, “Better to marry than to burn” (1 Corinthians 7:9), and ask, “What if heterosexual marriage does not quench the burning?” My examination of Scripture long ago led me to conclude that the ideal of Christian marriage is not so much the bearing of children but rather the “suitable helpmeet” and that, in turn, points toward monogamy and a unique kind of balance I see as more than an equality in the relationship. You can see where I’ve landed on that debate.

Of course, that also spurs another question – one that involves keeping the focus and the flame strong. Anyone have any suggestions there? These are, after all, central enigmas of our human condition.