When the last child leaves home

What does one make of this time?
A time filled to the very edge
with emotions almost unbearable.
At first taste, sadness.
But then again joy,
and pride and fulfillment.
Yes, it is our son
who is leaving this time –
the youngest,
the last to go,
farther away than the first.
But in the symbol of the leaving
is also the daughter, the first.
For something deeply significant happens
this time around
for mother and father –
the close of a chapter
never to be repeated.
And we stand in awe
of what, or rather, who
has come to be.
For we, husband and wife, have loved
out of a oneness
that we have been destined to live.
And out of that oneness
has blossomed life
that in this strange mystery
that we are all part of,
has shared deeply in our union
and yet has always been meant
to branch off
into something uniquely awesome,
to find its own magic
and mystery
and beauty.

As we look upon the two of you,
as we willingly share you
with others
beyond the womb of home,
we ache to have you understand
your significance
for us and within us.
The heaviness in our hearts at this time
is a mere fraction
of the weight of our love for each of you.
It is a bursting of pride
in who you have become.
It is the fullness of our blessing
with which we christen this new chapter
that now begins in earnest.
Looking upon the two of you
we can say to ourselves, “Well done!”

And to you, our dear children,
friends and companions for ever, we say:
seek your unique meanings
with respect for,
but with freedom from, the past;
be forgiving of yourself and those of us you love;
do not expect perfection but
in gentleness call forth the good and the true;
share your blessedness
with all who enter your destiny;
do not give up your search
for the fullness of God;
and continue to drink
from the wellspring of love.

© 1998 Dennis Ference

The Stranger

(Based on an actual incident and its retelling as a short story by my son, Daniel Ference, this poem deals with the darkness we must sometimes unexpectedly wrestle with both without and within ourselves.)

The subway train sluiced out of the tunnel
to an impatient stop. He boarded, as always,
the third car from the end, lips still vibrating
with venom; nerves, muscles, veins, lungs–all drumming
with the thunder of a racing heart; adrenalin
still surging like a tsunami; thoughts smacking
into each other like dozens of pinballs
launched together into clamorous anarchy.


Fifteen minutes earlier, exhausted juggler
of academic and family demands, he sat sleepily
on a bench in the empty underground station,
spongy thoughts drifting in and out the vodka ad
across the tracks promising good times and sophistication.

Gimme two dolla’. Reverie fractured,
he strained for focus and double-clutched
before exhaling, What? to the stranger
in the down coat and couple-hundred-dollar sneakers
suddenly looming over him. Gimme two dolla’–
this time tellingly precise, a razor-sharp edge.

The air shimmied with ominous vibes, and
he had little hope I ain’t got it would cap
the matter, but he laid it out there anyway
like an angler casting a fly onto a fished-out pond,
landing only heckled speculation that he was
both a liar and maybe a gang banger as well.
He sensed he was being jacked into a clash
of wills, and a panoramic sweep of his aloneness
rapidly turned his mouth into a desert,
his tongue an outsized slab of meat.

More demands, refusals; plays,
counter plays; voices louder, words
uglier. Suddenly, practiced fingers
snatched his wife’s gold Christmas gift
from his neck with the speed of a serpent’s strike,
blasting his animal instincts into high gear.
Flying to his feet, he collared the assailant’s wrist
with one hand, coat with the other. Back and forth
they muscled, strained for advantage, inching
toward the platform’s edge like tightrope walkers
drawn to the scent of danger. Finally,
cued by the grumble of an approaching train,
the mugger surrendered the prize, uncoiled
and retreated, bravado intact, but now
lacking substance and bite.

For months after, the young man inhaled vapors
newly released, for he had never been in a fight
before; was content to share the planet
with all manner of things. But that fateful morning,
a bomb had gone off in his head, and these days
he could not say for certain, that given half the chance,
he would not have sacrificed his antagonist
to the indifference of a speeding train. And
in this awakening, he became, for the present,
a stranger to himself.

© 2009 Dennis Ference

The Sacred

There are not sacred and profane
things, places, and moments.
There are only sacred and desecrated
things, places, and moments—
and it is we alone who desecrate them
by our blindness and lack of reverence.
It is one sacred universe,
and we are all a part of it.

–Richard Rohr

The Wise Man and the Pilgrim

The wise man who lived at the foot of the mountain asked the pilgrim, “Why have you made such a long, arduous journey to come to this place?” The pilgrim replied, “Because I wish to learn what I must do to be wise like you.” The wise man looked deep into the pilgrim’s soul and spoke with compassion, “Go back to your home and begin your journey again, this time searching first within, and return when you understand that Wisdom is not a prize to be earned but a purging fire that will transform your ego self and make you vulnerable to the demanding ways of Love.”

© 2014 Dennis Ference

For Poets and All Writers

You ask whether your verses are good. You ask me. You have asked others before….You compare them to other poems….I beg you to give up all of that. You are looking outward, and that above all else you should not do now….There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you to write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all else—ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple, “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity; your life even in its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.

From Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke


Wisdom looked deep
into my soul and said to me,
“As you commence your search
for my dwelling place,
clothe yourself with humility,
wonder, and awe,
and leave behind
your cloak of certitude
and dogged need
to be right.”

© 2014 Dennis Ference