Buddy Cushman Art

engaging stories of hope and joy

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The Way of a Poem

I finished a poem last week, it was seven pages long. I’d typed it in one long paragraph from notes and lines of possible poetry in a notebook and my Morning Pages over the previous week when I was on my way to and then in San Diego

SD Air 2with my wife Susan, visiting her parents.

I’d typed the long paragraph late in the afternoon, a clear cold day with an east wind howling outside our Portland windows, and before going up the basement stairs to handle dinner I’d begun my process of hitting the “Enter” key on the keyboard to create a new line — the next line — when it felt poetically proper to do so. I got maybe a quarter of the way through my lengthy mess. During and after dinner my wife Susan and I watched four episodes of NYPD Blue Season 11, though I nodded out here and there during the last 42 minutes. So when Susan was heading up to bed (and one of my most favorite things is to get into bed while she’s still awake and look at her in the dark and giggle) I truly meant it when I said I was too tired to do anymore work on the poem and was simply going to turn off the computer.

I came back up the basement stairs out of a trance 45 minutes later, then cut up and ate my mandatory (reflux) before bed every evening apple while watching “All the President’s Men” on HBO — it feeling kind of relevant these days — and so I found myself quietly slipping into bed in the dark beside my now long-dreaming wife at 11:19. One opportunity missed — and I don’t take that lightly — and another seized — ditto.

The poem is “San Diego Say So” and the plan is for all seven pages of it to appear within the next volume of poetry I publish sometime in early 2018 (on the cheerful assumption we’re all still here).


For show and tell purposes — and maybe serving as a teaser —  within a short section of the poem, this became this:


“We’ll pass the San Diego airport which I like, the one runway, the in-bound planes approach in wide arc out over the County, in fact fly just over the in-laws home, descend in a straight line 13 miles they pass so low, eventually, over India Street (in Little Italy) San Diegans can look into oblong plane windows at the wide-eyed expressions of young boys and their parents reaching for smart phones. I’m not a native here, but I’ve been on the street and seen those faces. And, in the air, been seen as one.”

Became This

We’ll pass the San Diego airport

Which I like,

The one runway.

The inbound planes approach in wide arc

Out over the County, in fact

Fly just over the in-laws home,

Descend in a straight line

13 miles.

They pass so low, eventually, over India Street

(In Little Italy)

San Diegans can look into oblong

Plane windows

At the wide-eyed expressions of young boys

And their parents reaching for smart phones.SD Air 1

I’m not a native here, but

I’ve been on the street

and seen those faces.


In the air,

Been seen as one.


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Poems of the Week 2


“There are some things we do simply because the doing is a success.” — Nikki Giovanni


From Federico Garcia Lorca:



sings saetas

The little bullfighters

circle around her

and the little barber, from his doorway,

follows the rhythms

with his head.

Between the sweet basil

and the mint,

Lola sings


That same Lola

who looked so long

at herself in the pool.”


and From me:


“Our baseball, tag, and beyond-touch football

lost in summer,

Leaf-pile snugglers and hiders

not so long ago.

Today we are Eskimos

Today this corner of Lowell is white

and begs for our attention

which we have come to freely give.

(Like Lowell’s Kerouac kid.)

We roll, we lunge, we duck

balls of snow,

here comes Jack Frost to model

for the round white guy.

My sons and I at play.”


Lorca’s “Balcony” and from my Minor Revelations, “I Have a Painting.”








Sing A Happy Song

There are eight million artist stories in the city. This is mine. This is “Sing A Happy Song.”

In the early spring of 1974 I was sitting in a bar about a mile and a half from Salem State College. It was mid afternoon. The name of the bar was “In A Pig’s Eye”, and there was a sign on the wall over the bar that read “Suck Em Down and Screw”. I liked to drink were I felt welcome – high class places.Boston strong 013

I may have been skipping a class, or not, things were a little wavy back then. In either case I was sitting at a small round table, drinking a glass of draft beer, and reading a copy of the local newspaper – The Salem Evening News – thinking, perhaps, that this intellectual exercise more than made up for any absences from class. The important thing was I believed it. Anyway, I’m sitting there and these two young women walk in and one of them is someone I have major fantasy designs on. And have for a while. She lives in an apartment across the street from where I live. So they take a table beyond mine and I continue reading the paper while casually glancing over its top to check them out, and then I see the woman of my dreams get up and walk over towards me. And a moment later she is standing before my table – yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Clause – and says to me, “Can I ask you something?” And I say, “Sure.” And she says, “Are you happy?” Hmmm. And I answer, “Yes.” To which she replies, “Then why don’t you tell your face about it.” She then turns and walks back to her table. I wonder how I could have even for a nanosecond wanted to hang out with her, and I go back to my beer and my paper, as if nothing had happened.

This is a story about happiness. And choices. You see, 13 years later and down the road from college and cutting classes and reading the paper in a bar room’s soft afternoon sunlight, I was in a meeting with a group of people and when it came to my turn I said what I said. And when the meeting ended someone walked over to me and, in a tone not so different from the young woman in the bar, said “You sound like Polyanna.” Like it was a critique, like it was an insult. And I simply laughed to myself, and said to The Universe, “Thanks.” It’s a long way from being called a miserable asshole to being confused with Polyanna.

The world doesn’t change. I mean, obviously, the world changes in some ways after some periods of time. I am talking about your world, my world, the world I wake up to every day – if I’m lucky – and fall asleep to every night. When I was first getting sober a mentor of sorts said to me, “Just because you are trying to get sober doesn’t mean they are going to close the bar rooms and the liquor stores down.” The world doesn’t change, he was saying, even as I was in the initial stages of making dramatic life-changing changes. It is still true, true to this day. I get in my car and drive from Wareham, Massachusetts to Portland, Oregon and there isn’t a parade for me when I cross the city limits. You know why? No one noticed. No one cared. Now if I were to reverse my course and move back to Massachusetts there would be some people noticing and caring, really glad to see me in fact. But there wouldn’t be a parade, and the people noticing would very quickly go on living their regular lives for that day.Anniversary trip to Cape Cod & Somerville 143

This is a convoluted way of getting to the point that the ways of the day are as they are. I may be able to have some very slight impact, but traffic will stop, and rain will rain, and people will arrive at meetings late, and my big pile of CDs will remain right where they have been the last year, sitting on the bedroom floor – unsold and unwanted – and people will understand me or be lost in their own world – you know, big wheel keeps on turning. And I will be left with a choice. What do I do with it all? How do I react to it all? How do I move through my day? Is my face confused for the “before” picture in a prozac ad, or are people making fun of me because I sound like Polyanna?

I can choose. Abraham Lincoln said “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” And he wasn’t saying that while sitting on a beach in Hawaii. I read in books and articles that it makes sense to not watch the news, not read the papers, all of that “news” will bring you down. I do understand not wallowing in horror and outrage and sadness and grief, and yet things that are wrong need to be fixed. The world would be a far lesser place if Martin Luther King Jr or Sojourner Truth spent all their time on a beach in Hawaii. This is a story about happiness and so how do you stay happy and acknowledge injustice? E. B. White has a good quote: “ I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

I don’t know the answers. But I do know the day is completely different – no matter what is going on – when I am smiling and happy instead of being angry and negative, classmatesfeeling sorry for myself, having and holding resentments. And that is entirely my choice. And beyond that choice is this truth: the more I hold happiness, and spread happiness, the more I feel gratitude for just waking up, and I take the time to truly experience the awe all around – all around – the better.

Anyway, it is better than sitting in a bar at three in the afternoon drinking and reading the daily news and being called a miserable asshole.

Way better.

A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?

Albert Einstein