Saturday, July 16, 2016



© Copyright 2016

E. G. Happ
16b Ruelle de la Muraz
Nyon, CH 1260

All Rights Reserved


© Copyright 2014, 2016 E. G. Happ, All Rights Reserved

Here is a letter of introduction, of sorts, to an imaginary young manager, who has not yet faced the disorientation of a corporate downsizing.  Such a reality has become all too common as the knee-jerk reaction to--dare I say--disappointment in the market.  At its core a downsizing means that management has failed, whether by growing and hiring too quickly, by misinterpreting the market, or lacking the courage to retrain and redeploy a workforce. Ultimately it is a failure of imagination.  The impact is that life is literally sucked out of the organization.  The ancient practice of bloodletting is an apt metaphor.  As the poems that follow say in their own way, this is a death, with grieving from which it is a fundamental human struggle to overcome. And as is also a part of our human struggle, there is hope and redemption.

Dear Adam, 

Hear is a story of adventure and losing your way.

There was a young man who lived all his life in the village surrounded by mountains where he was born. All the people and ways of the village were familiar to him. 

But as a young heart is wont to do, he set out one day with some water and bread, for a hike to see what was on the other side. He crossed streams, slogged through mud, cut through vines and briar. Eventually he came to the edge of the forest where the rocks rose up around him, and the climbing was rough. 

Not to be deterred, he pressed on. Near nightfall, he made it to the top where a small cabin awaited him. Putting down his pack, he turned slowly in all directions to see if he could see his village or any village. But he could not. 

He knew that the next morning he would need to go back thru all the trials he had to get him here or press on to the unknown. But he did not know the way.  He awoke early before the sun and walked outside where he saw a familiar bright morning star that seemed to say to him, come this way, whether to the next village or to home. And so he set out again confident that he was headed in the right direction.
Best regards,

"Morning Star," Letters to a Young Manager, manuscript, © Copyright 2014, 2016 E. G. Happ, All Rights Reserved

Blood.let.ting   n.
  1. Bloodshed.
  2. The removal of blood, usually from a vein, as a therapeutic measure.
  3. The laying off of personnel or the elimination of resources.


The late fall pruning in the park
I wander through at lunch
has begun in earnest.
The chainsaws and rakes
are busy reducing
dead or errant limbs
to stacks of logs and wood chips
that are so fresh before they
fade to gray and blend with
the underbrush;
so I come here to the now dormant garden
to clear my head of the brush
and weeds that snare the average day
and I think of the looming changes
the cuts and downsizings just
before the holidays
and note that when trees of all ages
are cut,
they bleed

The frost chooses

The frost chooses;
it brushes the grass,
broad leaves of kale,
beneath the wired stalks
of last year's berries;
but it is not on the pines
or lanky cedars,
the vines that drape
on the limbs of leafless trees;
as the edge of sunlight
crosses the valley
the icy traces ebb
and the old green shows
like washed hair
combed with a part
and rows of hidden gray.

Ebola training

We stop on the wide path
each walking the other way;
he stops and motions to the tents
where the trainings have been,
the Red Cross truck
parked idly,
the body bags behind its closed door.
"maybe we can take these down now"
he says, the dozens having taken flight
into the eye of the storm;
maybe it will be over soon,
maybe we will all
find our rest


The three sisters arrange the fruit
on the table in the temple
where they have come each new year
for nearly twenty.

The mother looks on with
hands clasped behind her back
occasionally reaching out to point
a move here or there
even in the mourning there
is a teaching and a doing.

Later, up a tall staircase
in an aisle of numbered doors
just higher than the urn it opens to,
a photo of the father
small as a passport
looks back while the daughter
softly weeps.


Each face that comes
towards me
as I walk to the station
they walk from
tells a different story
some eyes downcast
some coy
some still carrying sleep
carrying a briefcase
wheeling luggage
a cup of coffee
croissants in a bag;
were this later
it would be me
coming at myself
as a morning
lifts its shoulders up,
the sun not quite warm,
the bell for the door
about to close.

Morning Poem

Every sixth umbrella
passing me in the morning rain
has some color
or radii of stripes
mixed in this stream of black;
they lean to one side
as if to nod
when I nod past;
some stretch an arm up
to pass over my edge;
the crisscross of the rain
is delayed from its ground,
so I am walking more slowly,
more aware of the art of passing
when carrying an extra load,
more apt to smile
at the little courtesies
of living.


It keeps me up at night
wondering the date
and how the professor
picked hers,
from not too late
and not too early,
circled it on the calendar
and after drinking her Socrates,
had to pee,
the dignity oozing out of her;
there should be a ceremony,
a taking of the rolled paper
on a stage,
tossing hats in the air,
but it was being helped back to bed
by the one she loved,
tucked in,
lights dimmed,
breathing easing away
like evaporation
that stayed with me.

After reading the story of Sandy Bem's planned suicide in the NY Times Magazine

Bee on the Roses

On this patio table
with its color-pattern cloth
and squat pitcher
filled with fresh sprigs from
the rose bush
I watch the honey bee you pointed out
getting his legs dirty
with each twirl
of his kazoo dervish

Years ago my daughter
read that bees so intent
on their work
could be stroked
like a cat or sleeping dog;
so she had to try it.
I still remember her wail
holding her stung pointer
half from pain
and half from disappointment.

I tell you this story
and you ask if I will pet
the bee;
no, I assure you,
I am much too wise for that;
but later watching the bee return
and his crooked-finger circle dance
I am disappointed I have not
yet been stung.


There are three pitching machines
whipping their metal arms
and I am swinging the bat
as fast as I can
cracking a fly ball here
a grounder there
trying not to miss
and hoping the fast balls
don't arrive at the same time.
that's when I notice the coach
wheeling another machine
up to the mound
with a fresh bucket of balls.

Hangers on

I usually text "rolling"
when the train
starts its heavy pull
from the day left behind,
but I do not travel alone;
the seats are occupied
by a burley report
a smoking email
and a lunch half eaten
I rustle though my backpack
for a soft red lozenge
I close my eyes and chew.
I do not offer one to my
I do not give them names.

Foreign Assignment

It's all quite tenuous
even the label is questionable:
though this post has all
the right papers—
quite legitimate—
it could evaporate
in an instant,
thirty days to vacate
the country
at the end of an assignment,
known as the grace period,
transition time,
there's a quaint expression
that at the end,
God called him home.
I should have expected
all along this was temporary.


From high on the tall
horse chestnut trees
that shadow this path,
empty cars parked along
the way,
the sound of falling
seems more rapid than Galileo,
a caroming off branches
to the rooftops of the cars
cracking open and spilling
their core and spiny husk
to the ground;

one must walk carefully
among all the dying
and wailing infancy.

Nagging Quote

"Ideas pull the trigger, but instinct loads the gun." --Don Marquis

At first, I like this quote
posted by a friend
on his Facebook wall
on Halloween
It lingers as if its face paint,
graffiti on the door,
my instincts often keep me
from loading anything,
and ideas have a way of exploding
like the balloon on the party chair;
but what matters
is when it all slows down,
that moment before slinging the rock
at Goliath,
that nagging question
of what just happened here,
put down the gun
and take up the pen.

Midday Poem

The wet sycamore
leaves stick to the path
as if iron-on patches;
I remember them,
these were the hardest
to gather with the long-
fingered rake
or whining blower;
it was as if they were
saying, "we're here;
we're not moving.
I admire such anchoring
against wind and whisk
such adamancy
such grounding
such unwillingness
to bend
to yield
to grow.

All the King’s Horses

Some exude the power
of balance
by keeping all others
off their equilibrium;
ah, the even kilter
of those five syllables,
one the focal point,
the others teetering;
weight and balance--
that my words and yours
and without either,
a falling,
a divide between
those seemingly above
and those grounded
in the dust

The Call

The late fall wind
is drag racing
the dried maple leaves
down the macadam path;
the scratch-brush-tire
on the snare drum
turns with each step,
and I'm aware
I am walking in the opposite
not blown in the ways
of the breezy tide
that carries all things
float-able on the common
but this way
toward the call behind
the cloud,
the end of the golden string*.

*63. From ‘Jerusalem’
By William Blake  (1757–1827)

To the Christians

I GIVE you the end of a golden string;  
  Only wind it into a ball,          
It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate,      
  Built in Jerusalem’s wall.…

Evening poem

In the dark
between the cars
beside the house
walking is tricky,
the paving stones
heaved from frost and rain
turn up their edges
where a boot may catch;
staring down, trying to discern
the shadows,
I shuffle
one foot ahead of the other;
at the corner, not yet the lighted window
the shadows border on lighter shades;
turning slowly and peering
over my left shoulder
a three-quarter moon
horizons above the rooftops,
once hidden by the house,
now rolling back the dark;
it stops me on the line
where hints of the way
are clearer

As from a cable car

A Swiss train closes
its doors at once
with a chunk-click
heard a block away;
the rushers will
push the doors button
or pull on its latch
in vain
but there is no denying
the train is leaving
at the scheduled minute
and will ease out
of the station so slowly
it would seem you could
catch it, hop on
and swing from the doorway
as from a cable car.


He handed me the golden string
and before I could tug and wind
tug and wind
a matched flared somewhere
its licking petal of heat
set the string dancing
like a sparkler
a rocket trail
a fuse;
and I had to write
express it
till it reached its end,
to its end
with it
not that some
dynamite may detonate
and swallow all sound,
rather that it reaches the end
of its length,
fizzles out
with a small puff
of obscuring smoke.

After a week of burning the candle down

We called it wasted,
the off balance
numb humming
between the ears
that made a short step
feel as if on the narrowest of floors
with a chasm on either side
breathing would topple
a mind
that was so sure
the pen could not keep up.
But here I am
at the end of a week
where the mindless demands
of avoiding
a tsk tsk
has me mumbling,
closing my eyes to any light
and craving the balm of sleep
after burning the candle down.


The sun spills over the Alps
a few minutes earlier each day
and there is a sense of hastening
in the air;
all that seeks the sky know this;
the spring comes for them;
hope is not as much an ache for,
as a pull toward;
it reaches through the frost
and pulls out yellow trumpeters,
white bells,
purple maracas;
each plays an old song:
that we are not forgotten;
once in the dead of winter
we are re-found.


The wind is howling this morning
the French doors creak and rattle
with each intake of breath,
the rain clouds have been blown
through the valley,
the blue sky trumpets,
daffodils bow,
and still empty branches wave as palms
to this day,
the one that tells us death is empty
and new life follows winter
as sure as the swallows return

An Evening Sonnet

She is tugging at her Dad's hand,
impatient to go nowhere in particular,
but somewhere;
she stops and points
exclaiming in a language I
do not know,
but with every gesture I remember;
then she does that little skip and dance
to the joy of walking
and making noise on the pavement
as if this was a canvas snare drum
and the curtain is about to rise;
"if you become as a little child",
my tired feet implore,
heaven may be the first act
     when we move from standing up
     to stumbling with a hand held high.

From train platform 5, Gare Cornivan, Geneva

Bamboo after spring rain

To where are you going,
dark pointed shoots
marching up the slope
thru our garden
and up the lawn?
The pine tree knows
the lake is too far
and the peonies
are not yet ready to guard
with their beauty;
you have parted the spent
and the wild flowers
in the grass don't care,
but she pointed to the ancient
before stepping outside
to harvest your tender shoots,
before they grow hard
and resisting
any passage.

Of whether death had come

I come back to the place
on the platform
where the man collapsed
waiting in a sea of suits
for the morning train;
I’m looking for the shadow,
the stain where he fell
that marks his dropping
down in the queue,
and even though he was
helped up
and the responders called,
there was a piercing in the side
a test of whether death
had come

April Night

Entering into darkness
on an April night
I do not know what to say,
I can only breathe
and feel the chill on my ears;
when I heard the news
I thought I could not imagine such grief,
that this is not my life
and I would be presumptuous
to say such things;
but it is my life
when I imagine its end
with each page of turning years;
so if I truly stand here
next to your grief
and breathe
with ears toward the catch
in your breath,
a passing life
is my life
and your grief
my grief

For Julia

Cf. Barbara Brown Taylor, “Barbara Brown Taylor: In Praise of Darkness,” Time, April 17, 2014


I am sitting
in a chair that should
be lower,
waiting for
some words to say
that will not come;
there should be
a candle lit
that will burn
for seven long days
and the mirrors covered
because reflection
is already saying too much;
so the sitting,
is what we are told to do--
a Noah in the Ark
waiting for a glint
of something divine
in all this rain.

for Betsy


In the bustle of the city
other voices shout
those that cling onto door jambs
locked brass knobs
homes from which they have been
yanked as teeth,
on the cobblestone walks that step
through these gentle neighborhoods
brass plaques set among them
have their names
and to where they were taken;
at each turn
there is a reading
to be taken in,
marks of exclamation,
ellipsis, commas,
but never periods
never periods!

Cobblestone plaques on a Berlin Street


Every edge of night
in this season of long days
the swallows race and whistle
scooping any small gift
in their path; the relentless noise
is as if referees are calling
a continuous off-sides;
these are the fighter jets
of the avian realm,
chattering their ordinance
against the dark cruel night,
the we-will-not-go
without a fight.

The travelers

To the woman in the bus window
with the dark eyes of profound sadness,
staring off to a place
I cannot go,
I dream I journey with you
though it is not my bus or city
and our language likely pulls
from different places;
but there you sit
and though I step into another carriage,
I sit with you.

Crossing off days

Old man with a folded face
rimmed cap pulled tightly down
takes a paring knife
cuts a careful x
in the chestnut
and flips it into the pan
to roast with the others
that have gone before.

Each year has
it's special curl,
each burlap sack
slung over his shoulder
has made it here
to this same place
on the street that ambles back
to the train station
where the inter-regio waits.

In the evening he decides
with the rest of us,
bag emptied of the day,
to get on
and let the door close.

Getting off the train

The man in front of me
exiting the aisle of an evening train
suddenly lurches to a stop,
the strap from his bag
having caught on the arm
of a seat;
and we must all step
back in a rewind 
so he lifts his case
above the bench
and alights into the evening
as a firefly

Two Chairs

Two chairs
in an empty room
are what were left
by its residents
who are already
a month gone.

They angle toward
each other
as the conversation
that may have floated
between the colleagues.

Now there is only
and a goodbye
that lingers.

Two Chairs, Nyon

The Ditch

Who is your Samaritan
she asks?
and we can all recall
first hearing this story
and perhaps learning mercy, kindness.
later we may think on
the one least expected,
the one least like us,
and in the story
there would be a cornerstone
for peace--
all this would all be true;
but now that I am old and gray
I think about the ditch
and who will come down
into this darkness with me,
the citizen of life
for me?
Who has not
quickly filled it in,
paved it over,
planted grass or tree?
A hand stretched out
in this soiled gully
next to the road,
this I can grasp,
with this
I can be lifted up.


Riding my bike on the path
through the freshly cut barley
or what I imagine was barley
a man sits with his dog
bouncing a ball a bit
while the dog watches
like a hose swells
before the nozzle is turned;
such a short toss
across this page
and his friend catches it
on the fly
as if the arc were known
before it was released,
something akin
to writing this down
or perhaps you, dear reader,
catching it.

© Copyright 2014, 2016 E. G. Happ, All Rights Reserved