The Painter

We needed our house painted, my wife and I—walls, ceilings, all the rooms. At seven decades and counting, joints, eyesight, and medicine cabinet all testified to the insanity of doing the job myself. So, for the first time, I hired a painter—a friend of a friend of a friend. Right about now, connoisseurs of creative writing might be looking for some detail: number and size of rooms; anxieties over color choices; perhaps a catalogue of mishaps, pratfalls or spillage.

But here is what I have: memories of conversations. Brian told me about a fire that took all his possessions; about keeping vigil with a friend who was dying; about experiencing a love that is transforming his life. We talked about the impermanence of things, the sacredness of life, openness to surprise, the importance of living in the “now.” We talked about values, life, love and the wonder of it all.

I listened carefully to Brian and saw the pooling in his eyes as he shared his soul stuff, and I knew with a heart kind of knowing, that my home, and the living presence that abides there, had received more than a fresh coat of paint that day.

© 2014 Dennis Ference

Boy in the Bookstore

Pointing to King Kong,
the boy, maybe 7, having joined me
at the magazine rack, asks, “Is it a monkey
or a gorilla?” I knowingly opt for gorilla,
but he says, “Gorillas don’t get that big.
It must be a machine gorilla….Do you like
Star Wars?”  “Yes, I do” I reply.
“The third one is my favorite,” he tells me.
Then he says, “Is that the one where
Darth Vader gets his arm chopped off?”
“I’m not sure,” I answer. Giving up on me
rather quickly, I think, he walks away,
and in only a second or two, already
         I miss him.

© 2006 Dennis Ference

Before the Sun Rises

Merging Traffic

Each day, before the sun rises
I cast my lot with the believers–
those who have come to know
that there is a Source within
from which all things emerge,

which does not play
by our rules and constraints.
It is Mystery, sometimes
soothing mother, often
maddening jokester,
always larger than our vision
of what it should be.

When I awake, the birds
are still voiceless, the streets
not yet in rhythm with the duties
and desires of their denizens.
I sip from a steaming cup
to melt away the remnants
of the night’s lethargy and
burrow slowly into the stillness
of naked Being where
I listen and wait.

This is the place where
deeper meanings are discerned
and commitments are forged.
This is the place where healings
are announced and poems
are conceived. And for those
who would bow and surrender,
this is the grace of the Sacred

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Into the Fire

All is quiet but the disheveled stranger
rummaging for salvageables among the debris.
Cars crawl the street, window-eyes popping
and locking on the tortured and sobering scene—
plywood intruding where glass ought to be;
siding twisting out like peels from an onion;
second-floor porch broken, charred on the ground;
scattered, scorched things invading the yard,
fouling a fresh, frigid winter breath.

Neighbors will speak for days
of flames shooting through rifts,
darting and curling like tongues of snakes,
licking walls and flicking smoke
that billows and blackens, and assaults you
till you choke; and the mechanic
from a few houses down, perpetually disgruntled,
perpetually clad in work clothes and grease,
who bullied his way through peril and fear
to drag out the old man, invisible
and nameless to him only moments before.

© 2004 Dennis Ference

Old Man Brady

Old Man Brady
made money. I mean–
abracadabra, ta da–he made money.
That’s what I believed when I was five.
Nickels, dimes, pennies, quarters—
he plucked them from the grass
like a bird snatching bugs,
swearing, of course,
they were there all the time
just waiting to be found
by a couple of guys like us.
Old Man Brady
walked the block ‘most every day.
It got to be when I spotted him,
I’d lock my step to his and
he’d say, “I don’t know
if we’ll be lucky today,”
but we always were, and
I always got to pocket the change.

Old Man Brady
stopped walking the block
a long time ago. And me, I still
scan the ground now and again,
kicking up memories
and wistful longings for
a flash or two of magic
and its sweet, tonic buzz.

© 2004 Dennis Ference


Oxygen slithers
–tube to mask,
mouth to lungs–
while patches of relief,
queued like checkers,
dot the neck in front-line
defense against the next
painful onslaught probing
for a breach in the wall.

Day one, day two,
now three. Chaos
vying for control while
quiet routine endures:
the cleansing, the turning,
the comforting, the cloaking
with compassion of the harsh
and naked truth– death’s
fetid presence is seeping
into the room.

A daughter sits nearby
rocking to the rhythm
of breathing that bubbles
to the surface of this quiet night,
rocking to memories of a vigil
past when liquid spirits numbed
her heart far, far away
as father died and mother
cried alone.

In the morning,
the mother will die,
daughter at her side, and
a steady stream of tears
will wash away the last
of the long winter’s snow.

© 2006 Dennis Ference


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Merging Traffic

Have you ever been fishing
with someone and it seemed
pointless to keep score?
when a congenial sun, feathery
breeze, and dancing water glitter
were the big catch of the day?
and words and laughter
came easy and harmonized
smooth as silk with the rustling
of the trees, drone of insects,
and song of the birds?
when everything was
nothing and nothing was
everything and the present
was the only time to be?

If so, my friend, perhaps
you were fishing with a saint,
or perhaps that was the day
you first bumped into
your own muse within.

© 2014 Dennis Ference

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Abraham’s Mountain

To Abraham’s mountain
I am beckoned, commanded
to bring what is dearest and best.
And I, though practiced in deceit,
submit, at last, and vow
to protect no longer,
even that which has given
ultimate purpose, meaning,
and joy.

Scaling the heights,
body and soul battered
by grief, I discover paths
where no paths have been
and traverse terrains
never before trod.
Alone at the summit now,
parched yet compliant,
I drop to my knees and wait.
Finally, and without fanfare,
it is accomplished–
and I am branded and released
into the silence and void.

© 2004 Dennis Ference

The Diagnosis

The pegs were discharged,
one peg to each, and mine,
this time, was decidedly square.
Now, I firmly believed that
only round pegs could
fill those round holes
obstructing the path
that snaked to the goal.

Still, I worked that square
with hopeful resolve,
twisting and pounding
till the truth seemed clear:
Surely, this square peg
was meant for another,
some square-peg-player
in some square-hole-game.

With compassion and grace,
I summoned the wind
to deliver the peg
to whomever it belonged.
But the wind only laughed
its raspy old laugh, and
for the moment, at least,
the peg remained mine.
And the rules I had learned…
they no longer applied.

Such was my grief and musing
after the “diagnosis”
broke down my door.

© 2004 Dennis Ference
(First published in Journey to Glory)

The Flock of Seven

The Flock of Seven,
grey feathers, sparsely
layered on heads hinged
atop bluntly compromised
bodies and bones, alight
at their usual watering hole,
as their usual routine demands.

They have loped again in circles,
or waddled or limped, on hairless,
bowed, blue-veined, and spindly legs,
just as they have for more
than 25 years, these migrating
cranes of the waking, morning mall.

They sip, now, their steaming
brew, reminisce, hold court, and
jostle each other’s pride,
an occasional teen-like laugh
rebounding off enclosing walls.

But though all seven remain
acutely aware, there will be
no spoken reminder this day,
that less than a month ago,
              here they sat,
the Flock of Nine.

© 2014 Dennis Ference