THE BONNETS

When I was in kindergarten, if a boy misbehaved, the teacher would make him sit in the corner wearing a blue bonnet.

If he misbehaved a second time he would have to wear the pink bonnet.

I don't…

THE SUNFLOWER


To Georgia ... From Arizona

The Georgia clay bank 
   would surely erode 
Except for the Chinaberry tree 
   standing stark against the sky 

A sunflower bloomed 
   outside my patio door 
The sunflower was you 

September, somehow the…

THE SECRET


When I first met my hero Art Farmer, he was spending half his year at home in Vienna and the other half on tour.

Occasionally concert promoters would pony up for his New York band, but most of the…

GENERATIONAL WEALTH

What did I know, what did I know 
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
 
—Robert Hayden 

When the time came for Daddy Bill to move into hospice care, it fell to me to clean out his stark…

HOW WE LIVE

“The more we share, the more we have.” 
—Leonard Nimoy 
 

Early autumn, 1972. Rural Alabama. Late afternoon. 

Daddy Bill and I are winding our way home in our muddy station wagon. We’re in high spirits, both of us…

KINKAKU-JI

The foundation of any national character is human nature.
―Vasily Grossman
 

Of all the many magical places I’ve encountered in my travels, Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto’s Temple of the Golden Pavilion, is one of the most magnificent. Set…

MEETING LELA | PART 7 — BISCUITS & GRAVY


“We all grow up with inherited genes 
and inherited sensibilities, and 
they run very, very deep.” 

—John Lithgow 
 

To recap: it turns out that my estranged mother, who left us when I was a baby, was a singer. Although…

MEETING LELA | PART 6 — GIFTS

“All of us labor in webs spun
long before we were born.” 

—William Faulkner 
 

The next morning I asked Lela the question that had kept me awake most of the night. “Same repertoire? What did you mean by that?” 

MEETING LELA | PART 5 — UNDER THE STARS

“The only thing new in the world
is the history you do not know.”
 
—Harry S. Truman
 

Since Lela’s last Irish goodbye, I’d grown up, moved out, finished high school in Michigan, graduated from college in Massachusetts, lived…

MEETING LELA | PART 4 — AMERICA McGEE

“Myths are lies and therefore worthless,” CS Lewis told 
JRR Tolkien, “even though breathed through silver.” 
“No,” Tolkien replied, “they are not lies.
 
—Joseph Pearce 
 

“Dmitri, I can’t believe it! How on earth did you find me!!?” 

BILL MATHENY on LONELINESS

“In Toni Morrison’s wonderful novel Beloved, one of the black men from Sweet Home -- can’t remember whether it’s Paul D. or Stamp Paid -- says there are two kinds of loneliness.

One kind is the loneliness…

MEETING LELA | PART 3 — ADVENTURELAND

“Truth is not only 
stranger than fiction, 
it is more interesting.” 

—William Randolph Hearst 
 

After the Tennessee trip I called my father.

“Did you know that Lela was serious about music when she was in high school? She…