Category

Poetry & Fiction

Nomadism, Poetry & Fiction

Ah, The Life Of A Vagabond (Poetry)

It’s rare that I share poetry here (if you want more of that, check out my column on elephant journal). But I would like to share this piece with you, as I think it gets at the heart of something bittersweet and utterly beautiful, which I and my vagabonding friends sometimes struggle to express.

I hope it will speak to you.

***
Ah, the life of a vagabond—
We all say it with the same
self-mocking irony
and laughing-sad eyes.
The same funny mix
of melancholy
and mad joy.
 
Ah, the life of a vagabond—
We choose to be the mad ones,
don’t you think?
Must keep choosing it,
lest the madness
Slip
through our twirling hands
and leave us with
mundanity.
 
So we love
madly—
and leave
And dance
wildly—
and believe
Seek ceaselessly—
and receive,
Maybe.
 
Ah, the life of a vagabond—
Do you ever wonder
why we don’t
just
stay?
I do, but then I remember
we are all following the same
piper,
dancing a rhythm only some can hear—
The call doesn’t stop,
and neither
can
we.
 
Ah, the life of a vagabond—
Keep choosing it,
lest the madness
Slip
out of reach
like tears,
lest passion
settle back down
to the silt
at the depths of our eyes,
lest love become
a rarity.
 
Ah, the life of a vagabond—
They intone,
and I echo their prayer.
Call
and response.
A psalm
for swirling, wandering
souls,
A litany so powerful
we must believe it,
An incantation writ on the horizon—
we go to it dancing.
we go to it dancing.
***
Continue reading
Related posts
Don’t Ask me where I’m From, Ask me where Home Is
September 6, 2018
No One is Talking about God (Poetry)
August 22, 2018
Wanderlusters: Running Away Doesn’t Work. (But Run Anyway!)
July 11, 2018
Poetry & Fiction

The Men Who Saw (A Poem of Sorts)


Happy New Year!

This is not the typical style of work I share here, but I’ve been sitting on this whimsical little poem for quite a while now, and I figure now is as good a time as any to share it. May this be a light-hearted reminder to open our eyes (in all senses of the phrase) to the beauty of those people and places around us in the coming year…

***
The Men Who Saw

Once, the world was full of men who looked
with eyes as big as pans to cook—
Jaws hanging low, right down to the floor,
they looked and looked, ’til they could look no more.
The women and girls, and little boys too,
Could not understand all this looking to do—
And they shouted and pleaded to those big staring eyes
To just once sink deeper, and see them inside.
But the men who looked did not know what they meant;
Their days in looking and staring they spent…
Until one day a blind man appeared in their midst
And taught the men the lesson they’d missed.
At the first the men could not see why
This blind one’s attention brought so many smiles—
The women and children explained it all:
Though he could not look, he saw straight to their souls!
The men who looked hemmed and pondered;
They scratched their heads and thought and wondered.
At last one of their lot closed his eyes in amazement,
And refused to open them, despite much persuasion.
“I’ve got it, my friends!” He shouted with glee.
“The blind one’s vision is fine; the fault lies with me.
Though we look and we stare every day of our lives,
The world that we know is a palace of lies!”
And so the men who looked became the men with eyes closed,
and they finally knew what it meant to see souls.
Nevermore would they suffer such empty stares,

when the truth which they sought—beyond closed eyes was there.

***
Continue reading
Related posts
No One is Talking about God (Poetry)
August 22, 2018
Remember: This Journey is Just a Walk in the Woods
April 29, 2018
“Smile As You’re Dancing.” Thoughts for Those Seeking to Rewild
June 15, 2017
paradise, zanzibar
Africa, Poetry & Fiction

In Zanzibar. Paradise has Cracks. (Poem)

In Zanzibar
Fruit falls from trees–
Like shimmering coins–
And is trampled underfoot.

No one wants to sell it
When tourist dollars
Taste so much sweeter.

In Zanzibar
Living is cheap
But being a peacock
Is free.

Proud muscles;
Proud feathers…
Looks the same to me.

In Zanzibar
The clock starts
At 6 o’clock–
It’s rarely on time.

The sunset is melted caramel
On heaving tides,
But no one wakes for sunrise.

In Zanzibar
If you read between the lines
Hakuna matata doesn’t really mean
No worries.

In Zanzibar
Glittering veils drape
Over hair piled high,
But eyes are dull.

In Zanzibar
Alcohol is haram
But Konyagi is cheap–
The rules change at night.

In Zanzibar
The sky is heavy
And God is white.

In Zanzibar
Pole pole’ is a slogan
Crafted from handicap.

In Zanzibar.
The rain is sudden.

In Zanzibar.
The colors are hard.

In Zanzibar.
Life is white and black.

In Zanzibar.
Paradise has cracks.

In Zanzibar… In Zanzibar… In Zanzibar.

In Zanzibar
Fruit falls from trees,
And I want to pick it up.

Continue reading
Related posts
No One is Talking about God (Poetry)
August 22, 2018
Podcast: WERK for Peace Founding Organizer Firas Nasr talks Peaceful Protesting
December 11, 2017
How Technology Could (Maybe) Create a Nu World
November 27, 2017
Africa, Nature, Poetry & Fiction

Before the Rains

***
We are at the very edge of the rainy season here in Kenya… This is what it feels like. (All photos taken yesterday at the Gede Ruins and nearby beach in Watamu.)

***

Before the rains come, the air grows thick—
Cough syrup thick
Wool hat thick
Toffee thick—
and clings to me like an extra layer of skin.

The heat becomes heavy—
Oppressive like chains
Lethargic like city traffic in the summertime
Slow like the honey melting of sunset—
Fattening itself on the waterless days, weeks and months.

Before the rains come, the animals appear—
One by one
Two by two—
Frogs and lizards, ants and spiders, and all manner of creatures seek shelter,
Dragging the storms behind them.

Palm fronds and mangrove branches sigh a warning in the waning breeze:
The rains will come
The skies will clear
The world will turn to water overnight.
These are the rains in which some civilizations have crumbled and others have risen, they murmur.

Before the rains come, the clouds gather to promise change—
Air thick like honey
Heat heavy like wool—

We hold our breath to hear them, hovering in wait for the gift of a new season.
***
Continue reading
Related posts
The Floating Pirate Community you always wanted to Join is Real… & it has a Name
September 23, 2018
No One is Talking about God (Poetry)
August 22, 2018
Pure Light, Pure Life: A Costa Rica Snapshot
September 30, 2017
quiet
Africa, Poetry & Fiction

When the Power Goes Out (a poem for quiet moments)

I wrote this during one of Kenya’s (frequent, albeit brief) power outages. Though inconvenient, I find they can offer some much-needed respite from the constant activity that light, connectivity and music demand. They leave a bit of space for reflection…


When the Power Goes Out: Quiet

When the power goes out,
I return home to pen and paper
and write by the glow of a single
(electronic) lantern on the bar.
When the power goes out,
the hum of never-ending action pauses,
and I can hear the wind in the leaves
and the whine of mosquitoes—
Magic stillness.
When the power goes out,
Quiet touches the darkness
with its fingertips
and wraps around my mind.
When the power goes out,
I take a deep breath,
wonder—for a moment—what to do,
And smile.


Power outages, delays, mistakes… so many blessings in disguise. Don’t you think?

Continue reading
Related posts
What is Transformational Travel, Really?
October 23, 2018
The Floating Pirate Community you always wanted to Join is Real… & it has a Name
September 23, 2018
No One is Talking about God (Poetry)
August 22, 2018
Africa, Poetry & Fiction

That Sand in your Toes Feeling

Today was a gorgeous day at Diani Beach. For the first time in a long time, I felt poetry pushing at my fingertips. I hope it will transport you to where I am, if just for a moment…

~


You know that feeling
of sand slipping between
your toes
like silk ribbons,
so soft and yielding
you could almost
sink your heels to the center
of the earth?
Take my hand,
and follow me there.
Kick off your shoes here—
Yes, here at the edge—
you won’t need them.
Squint a little
against the glare—
white white sand too bright
to look at.
There.
Where the sand forms
miniature dunes
in the shifting wind.
Before the damp, packed
floor of high tide.
Just there—
Try on a pair of sand slippers
for size.
Material so fine
it will hug every millimeter
of your toenails
and soothe your soles
like nothing before.
Dig deeper,
and feel the cool gasp
of another layer,
untouched by the sun.
Drink the salt breeze
in your hair.
Stay as long as you like.
Watch the waves carry
blown glass jellyfish
and green sea tangle
In and away.
When you’re ready,
brush off your feet with
sandpaper fingers,
and put your shoes back on.
Shade your eyes
for one last look
at that sand between your toes feeling.
~
Continue reading
Related posts
What is Transformational Travel, Really?
October 23, 2018
The Floating Pirate Community you always wanted to Join is Real… & it has a Name
September 23, 2018
No One is Talking about God (Poetry)
August 22, 2018
Poetry & Fiction

Sound Impressions from a Hammock

As I lie here resting, gently swaying, I reflect on the day’s noises…
There are the birds who say “Oh Yeah” in a melodic chorus of positivity.
Then there are the birds who welcome me in Swahili: “Karibu! Karibu!”
The birds swoop and swivel and swish and swerve—a limitless parade the likes of which I do not have the expertise to catalog, let alone describe. They wake me in the morning and sing me to sleep at mid-day.
The goats scream with human indignance and bleat with an infant’s piteous yowl.
They caper and cavort, cradle sunlight in the sleek hollows of their sides. They stand on hind legs to grasp out-of-reach shrubbery. They block the roads with impunity.
The children shout, “Muzungu! How are you?” with the the same lilt as the birds who say “Karibu.”
They are sudden apparitions at the side of the road, emerging like smoke through fences and paths. Some smile and wave; others stare with scrutinizing solemnity.
The motorcyclists ask, “where are you going?” and have nothing more to say to my reply: “I’m just walking.”
The donkey wheezes through a comical fit of seeming laughter—or sneezes. Sometimes at noon; sometimes at midnight.
The dogs howl like wolves to the moon.
The crickets chirp a thunder and an avalanche in the otherwise quiet of dark.

My ears are working hard to keep up…
~
Continue reading
Related posts
The Floating Pirate Community you always wanted to Join is Real… & it has a Name
September 23, 2018
No One is Talking about God (Poetry)
August 22, 2018
Microadventure in Costa Rica: 3 Snippets of Daily Life
December 20, 2017
Poetry & Fiction

Where Do You Go When Nowhere Is Safe?

Naturally, after our disappointment at the Moroccan embassy and finally, finally finding a place we could both visit without visas (Kenya), new obstacles have arisen. Al Shabab has been targeting non-Muslim Kenyans in the North, Mombassa and Nairobi in retaliation for Kenya’s recent military action in Somalia. Is nowhere safe? I find myself wondering.
To turn on the news of late is to open the floodgates to a barrage of ill-tidings. Terrorist attacks, Ebola, protests, and political turmoil. That is not to write off the gravity of these situations, for they are undeniably serious. But still, I can’t help wondering where is left to visit. Where do you go when nowhere is safe?
My musings inspired the creation of this folk tale:
~
Once upon a time, there was a girl. She loved to explore and go on adventures. The spray of light on the horizon played a lilting melody on the back of her eyelids.
One day, the girl announced that she wished to go into the woods at the edge of town.
“Don’t go into the woods!” Cried the townspeople. “Don’t go; don’t go,” they pleaded. “The woods are not safe,” they admonished. “There are wolves and witches and monsters and men. Nowhere is safe. Nowhere is safe,” they said.
And so she stayed, safe in the town, and gazed at the woods, imagination aglow. “Oh how I wish to go into the woods,” thought the girl. “Oh how I wish to go!”
Months passed, and the girl’s gaze shifted. “I will go to sea,” she announced one day, “to see what lies beyond it.” The townspeople shuddered and shivered and quivered with fear:
“Don’t go out to sea,” they cried. “Don’t go; don’t go! The sea is not safe,” they admonished. “There are sharks and storms and sirens and surges. Nowhere is safe, my girl. Nowhere is safe; stay here,” they said.
So the girl sighed and laid aside her plans, and she did not go. But she sat upon the shore and watched the waves, and her thoughts crashed against her skull in time: “Oh how I wish to go out to sea. Oh, how I wish to go!”
In only a few weeks, she had yet another design: “Surely the mountains are safe enough… that is where I will go,” said the girl, jaw set.
“Oh!” Cried the townspeople. “Don’t go to the mountains!” They pleaded with her. “Don’t go; don’t go! The mountains are not safe,” they admonished. “There are winds and ghosts and bandits and banshees. Nowhere is safe, you see. Nowhere is safe; stay here,” they said.
The girl craned her neck to look up at the rocky crags that broke up the sunsets and cast long evening shadows across the town. And she did not go. She sat and she glowered  and her mind raced on. “Oh how I wish to go to the mountains,” thought she. “Oh how I wish to go!”
Again and again she presented new ideas, and again and again the townspeople shuddered and shivered and shook their fingers sternly:
“Nowhere is safe, my girl. Nowhere is safe,” they said. “Don’t go there; no you mustn’t go there. There is war and sickness and there are demons and dragons; you see, the world is not safe, my girl. Best to stay here—oh yes, best to stay here,” they repeated. “Don’t go! Don’t go!”
Months passed in this way, or perhaps they were years, and the girl began to sit longer, to stare farther, to think deeper. Finally, this is what she thought: “If the woods and the sea and the mountains are not safe, then surely neither is this town,” she said to herself. “And indeed if nowhere is safe, then it is “nowhere” where I must go!”
And with that, she packed her bag with books and bread and blankets and bottles and she set out along the road. The townspeople, when they caught sight of the girl, ran after her, calling frantically, “Where are you going? Where are you going?”
“Nowhere!” The girl shouted over her shoulder. “I am going nowhere. You needn’t worry—it is safe there!” And she laughed and walked on.
And she crossed the woods and the sea and the mountains, “nowhere” always just ahead. She encountered dragons and dangers, monsters and men, but fairies and angels and vagabonds, too, and these last guided her way.
“Nowhere is safe. Nowhere is safe. Oh how I wish to go,” her thoughts chanted through her head in time with her feet, and never did they tire. On the girl walked. Up and out and onward she looked.
“Go,” whispered the sun. “Go! Go!”
~
Much to my regret, we don’t live in the world of fairy tales and fables. The troubles reported nightly are very real—though occasionally exaggerated by those on the outside. We can’t totally ignore them like the girl in my story. And so, though we still plan to fly to Kenya next week, we will do so cautiously, avoiding population centers like Nairobi and Mombassa and staying in the Lake Victoria region, which appears to remain out of danger.
Where do you go when nowhere is safe? That is the question facing the 21stcentury nomad, isn’t it.

~
Continue reading
Related posts
What is Transformational Travel, Really?
October 23, 2018
The Floating Pirate Community you always wanted to Join is Real… & it has a Name
September 23, 2018
Don’t Ask me where I’m From, Ask me where Home Is
September 6, 2018
Culture, Poetry & Fiction, U.S.

An Ode to Small Towns

In the spirit of Buzzfeed and the general ethos of blogging at present, I would like to begin this post with a list.

You know you live in a small town when…

1. Your customers for lunch show up at your other restaurant for dinner.

2. You run into your “regulars” all over town. They always seem surprised to see you.
3. Going grocery shopping consists of 2 parts socializing and 1 part buying food.

4. “Downtown” is Main Street.

5. Your yoga students show up for dinner, and your dinner customers show up for yoga.

6. When you walk into the local coffee shop, it takes 30 minutes to get to work, because you have to stop and greet everyone already there.

7. When you throw a party and invite people from various parts of your life, there is no need to make introductions.

8. Going to the “City” (Burlington) is an excursion you indulge in about once a month.

9. You expect greetings from strangers, and find it odd when people don’t say hello.

10. At least a couple times a week, someone you know drives past you as you’re walking to work and offers you a ride.

11. Everyone talks about their garden like most people talk about the weather.

12. No one calls you a hipster when they see you a. fermenting things, b. knitting or crocheting, c. baking, d. biking, or e. wearing flannel.

Soon-to-be homemade sauerkraut.
Above all, it is a small, small world when you live in a small town. I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. On the one hand, I live for those coincidences and connections. On the other, I hate gossip, nosy neighbors and unattainable anonymity. For better, for worse, or for bizarre, I currently reside in Middlebury, Vermont, and that deserves a poetic tribute…

An Ode to Small Towns

Oh, small towns,
I can’t decide if I love or hate you.
You are full of people who compulsively read Front Porch Forum,
Scanning for nuggets of gossip to purloin,
or petty arguments to join.
Still, your characters rival those of the Big City—
Where else will my neighbor ride his tractor down the road,
Wearing a cowboy hat and white Santa beard as he goes?
Oh, small towns,
I can’t spend a day on your streets without running across a friend, or twenty-two.
If I have news in the morning,
They’ve all heard it by noon.
If I see Main Street I’ve seen all there is to see,
That is, everything but the dump, the gym, and the local brewery.
A night out with friends often ends with drinking tea.
Oh, small towns,
By your community I feel supported-
Strangers offer rides into town
When the rain is pouring.
Yet at the end of the day
When I look around,
I see all the same faces,
Hear all the same sounds.
What you lack in variety you make up for in warmth,
But even so, small towns,
I think my time with you must be short.
~
Continue reading
Related posts
No One is Talking about God (Poetry)
August 22, 2018
Remember: This Journey is Just a Walk in the Woods
April 29, 2018
Podcast: WERK for Peace Founding Organizer Firas Nasr talks Peaceful Protesting
December 11, 2017
Poetry & Fiction

Love Like a Thunderstorm

I am really happy with the piece I published at elephant journal today, “How to Love Like You’re Caught in a Thunderstorm.” I wanted to share the first part of it here…

Today, I huddled under the bus stop shelter as torrents of rain poured down outside. 
Vermont summer storms. 
A particularly long, sharp bolt of lightning flashed on the horizon. 
Water splashed on my toes. 
A little girl stood close to her mother beside me, sobbing. She was scared of the storm. Each crack of thunder louder than the last; I can’t remember the last time I heard thunder like that, reverberating in my chest, echoing in the pit of my stomach.
My dog is afraid of thunderstorms. She cowers in a tiny nook under a bathroom cabinet whenever she hears rumbling (she is a big dog, so this is quite impressive). The little girl next to me, too, appeared terrified of the wet and the noise and the turmoil. 
I love these storms. I prefer not to be stuck in them with my yoga mat and my laptop, like today, but that is another story.
A clap of thunder is like a jolt to my system; it energizes me. My body responds to lightning. I am hardwired, like most of us, to doggedly avoid a downpour, but when I accept the inevitability of being soaked, I relish the rivulets of rain on my skin.

I rarely write about love. The occasional poem or journal entry aside, I stick to more earthly things: travel, food, wellness. Wary of cliché and cautious of imitation, I leave love to the poets.  But the thunderstorm today inspired me; it was the perfect metaphor, I thought…
Read the rest here: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2014/07/how-to-love-like-youre-caught-in-a-thunderstorm-toby-israel/.
~
Continue reading
Related posts
No One is Talking about God (Poetry)
August 22, 2018
“Smile As You’re Dancing.” Thoughts for Those Seeking to Rewild
June 15, 2017
Give Me Loneliness (a poem for travelers and dreamers)
May 9, 2017