Healthcare in America

Since I’VE gone in the past year and a half from the kind of guy who went to the doc once a year for an annual check-up to someone who seems to spend half his life in and out of clinics and hospitals I’ve gotten a crash course on health care in the good ole US of A, or at least that part of health care that’s open to people who have good but not extravagant health care plans. The rich are the rich and get whatever they want, the poor get the dregs. We in the middle used to be able to get good coverage at a price we could afford but that’s been disappearing. I hope Obamacare changes that but with it’s lack of adequate price controls and give-aways to the insurance industry I’m skeptical.

Our coverage is expensive, this year the monthly premiums exceeded our mortgage payments but fortunately we had paid our mortgage off a year ago. The clinic copays are reasonable, as are the hospital visit and ER copays, but we’ll still reach our family out-of-pocket maximum by the middle of the year All of these are a manageable burden that require shifting priorities, but minor when compared to what others, who face life-threatening illness without good medical coverage face. I have thought often of what someone lacking decent medical insurance or uninsured altogether would do if faced with my cancer and I’m convinced that person would either be dead by now or faced with the grim end-stage effects of the disease like kidney failure and severe and painful bone loss.

I find the situation with health care in America finally improving but still morally unacceptable (read obscene) and far too market oriented, and probably fiscally unsustainable, though I bet if we tapped 10 or 20% of the military budget we could go a ways to solving that part of it. I have avoided writing political poems about my disease and treatment so far, not because the desire isn’t there, but because I’m too close to it all for the kind of objectivity I need to write a decent poem and not simply a rant that would sound too “oh, poor me”and, the worse sin of poetry, boring and predictable. However, if any of you have any thoughts in poetry or prose ( I know you’re out there, oh yea veterans of the bed pan, with some good poems), please feel free to share/let go/unleash.

Rave on, john Donne,
Rave on, my holy one.
Van Morrison


More From the Fifth Floor: In Honor of the Nurses and Aides

Here is to the caregivers of all those who are sick and injured. Not angels, but true human beings all.  I can offer no greater compliment.

Good Ham

 These are the hands that care for you.

Rheena is from Nepal, has strong short fingers,

a nurses aid, she asks me about my bracelet,

a beautifully carved Tibetan rosary of skulls.

I practice Zen Buddhism, she practices Tibetan,

she has found a haven of practice, climate and culture

in Boulder, far from her ancestral home of blind children and poverty.


Louda has slender fingers.   She is beautiful.

In her late 20s, she and her brothers left Tibet

seven years ago, to escape the Han Chinese. 

She talks of her Buddhism, the difficulty

of being Tibetan and Buddhist in her own country,

talks of herding the family yaks and one evening,

as a young child, unable to find the herd,

and crying for her sisters who came for her.

She and her brothers dream of opening a Tibetan restaurant in Boulder.

Claire and I tell her we will be there, among her first customers.


Tallia is young blond and pretty.  Her hands are competent, steady,

her fingers are long with neatly trimmed nails.

She has a seven year old daughter

with cystic fibrosis.

Ah, life is hard.  We all have our karma,

even the young.  Why is this so?

Thich Nhat Hanh tells us

that happiness and suffering are not

opposites, you can’t have one

without the other.  Still it is hard, and we strive

to walk the path towards happiness

for all beings.

We talk of karma, God, her own off-again,

on-again Buddhist practice, her brother-in-law a Buddhist monk.

I tell her I go to the Zen center most Sundays, sit almost every day.

Nothing mystical, a practice I have to keep me steady

in the face of the storm. 

Louda says, she can tell, something about me.

I don’t know,

I’m just an ordinary man,

I’ve left my share of trainwrecks

along the way, no need to bring any more pain

into the world, God knows, we’ve got far more

than our share.  I’m not planning

on leaving this world anytime soon,

but when I do, I don’t want to leave

a mess behind.


Carl is a big guy, I guess you might call him burley,

a damn good oncology nurse.  I think he’s from Colorado,

born and bred.  His wife is a small animal vet, so they’ve got

all the medical bases covered. He has big hands, almost

as big as mine, but dials his grip way back

when he shakes my hand, knowing

without my telling him, that I am no longer

what I once was.


Then there is Joleda, the Polish nurse,

hands made for rough honest work,

strong and broad.  She has a rounded Slavik

beauty, face and features of attractive curves, light skin.


My sister is on the phone while Joleda

is in the room and I ask Jeanne to sing to her.

She knows what I want, launches into a song

our mother taught her.  Slovak, not Polish,

but Joleda catches most of the words –

“Hey pada, pada, oh chi che, studa bi moya,

studa bi poya, oh chi che..”

I can’t remember the rest and don’t trust my spelling.

Our mother, 91 and happy in her unraveling eternal present,

no longer remembers what the words mean.

But Joleda laughs and as she leaves I say “Dobre shenka’

and she laughs again.  Dobre Shenka, a greeting from the Baltic

to the black Sea, the peasant heart of Eastern Europe.

“Good ham.”

These workers who take care of us

in our extremity.

Good ham. Good work.

To care for others.

What more could any honest human being  want?



On the Fifth Floor

Here are a few short poems writen the last few days, while I’ve been in the hospital for treatment of acute kidney dyfunction related to my cancer.  New Years Day in the hospital.  I should be going home tomorrow.


The Fifth Floor


On the fifth floor

amidst the sick and dying

the sounds of a lullaby.

In the nursery

a new life

enters the world.



On the fifth floor

no sleep all night.

6AM, anticipating the sunrise

as the town wakes

over the prairie, the sun

mountains painted in glorious shades of red.



I love this world

its friends and loved ones, beasts, joys and heartaches

I would give so much

for another year of sunrises

one more year

to trod upon the earth.

The sun peaks over the prairie hills

Oh, God

Oh, God!


On another note, check out my publications page.  I’m on Paypal now and offering free shipping.  The free shippin also applies if you want to send a good old check or cash.

Be well and have a good New Year.  Raise a toast to all the world’s poets, lovers and holy fools.



Poetry and Theater As Mediums for Labor and Community Activism

Dr Jim Walsh (University of Colorado Denver) and I will be interviewed on KGNU’s Labor Exchange next Monday Dec 10 at 6PM mountain time. The topic is: Theater and Poetry As Mediums for Labor and Community. You can livestream the show any time after it airs. It is 28 minutes. We taped the show yesterday and I think you’ll find it informative and entertaining.


I just finished reading the novel Theft byt BK Loren, a resident of Lafayette. It’s a very fine and enjoyable read about family ties and relationships, wilderness, and wolves. Check it out at
THEFT, a novel by BK Loren | bk loren


Must-Read Book — Eyes, Stones by Elana Bell

I just finished Eyes, Stones by Elena Bell, winner of the 2011 Walt  Whitman Award of the Acadamy of American Poets.  Stone is the the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and writes with great understanding and compassion for both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Her poems are compact, tightly crafted and powerful.  And she understands the power of poetry and is not afraid to voice it, as the final poem in the book, Language in the Mouth of the Enemy, makes clear: “I am afraid that this poem/ will contribute to the destruction of Israel../ If I love the suffering of the Palestinians — it is so bright — / more than the suffering of my own,/ if I work for a better life for that dark-eyed boy/ in Aida refugee camp…/ If that boy grows strong and straps a bomb/ or worse, writes an article, a play, the perfect/ argument against the Jewish state/ then what have I done?”

The book is available through Louisiana State University Press and the ISBN is 978-0-8071-4464-0




Happy Birthday, Woody: The Relationship Between Poetry and Music

One Woody Guthrie Song

What is the relationship between poetry and song lyrics? It doesn’t seem cut and dry to me. There are differences — most song lyrics don’t hold up well without music to accompany them, but some do, and some poems can be set to music while most cannot. I got into writing poetry through listening to the music of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. “This Land Is Your Land” makes a pretty good poem, as doesn Dylan’s “Love Minus Zero: No Limits”. And many poems by Blake and Yeats are beautifully enhanced by music. And then there is rap, and some rap music is quite good, both as music and poetry. I don’t have any answers, just musing on it all on Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday.

Be well,