Tag Archives: friendship

I Will Write You A Poem

Come to me tonight,
And I will write you a poem
To carry with you
In your body,
On your skin.

My fingers will write it
On the palm of your hand,
My lips shall speak to your lips
in silent verse,
My eyes
Will show you the seat of love
From which all poetry comes
And in my voice
You will hear the sound of my soul
Singing your name
In words that come to you
As starlight,
Sweet wind through the trees,
The brush of grass,
The sound of your feet.

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Posted by on December 6, 2011 in Poetry


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There was that very special book
of poetry
left to me by my mother.

One hundred and twelve years old
and a quilted cover,
Fields and Poe,
Tennyson, Shelly
and an inscription on the inside cover leaf
by a woman no-one I know
had ever met.

She had given it to her love
on the occasion of his birthday.
Twenty one he was
and, if I am to believe what is written within,
quite the handsome lad.

She draws his attention to page forty-one,
and a poem by Tennyson about a flower
plucked and examined
during a walk,
ephemeral beauty destroyed by too close a love,
too vulgar a desire
too mean a possession.

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Posted by on November 27, 2011 in Family, Poetry, Uncategorized


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When Did You Enter Me?

Look at you up in the sky
Shining, pulling oceans
Back and forth,
The flow of blood
Through my heart,
Thoughts in my head.

When was it you
Entered my genes,
Became part of me,
Wrapped around my soul,
Filled my veins with liquid

When did my
Comings and goings,
Ebb and flow
Fall under your gravity?
When did I discover
I saw better by

Look at you up in the sky
Shining, so bright
Mars hides
In your light,
Blushes at your beauty,

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Posted by on November 14, 2011 in Nature, Poetry


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Nearly Dying of Exposure

For Lee. Be well my dear one. You were the font of all that is good and right in this world, the genesis of all that is beautiful and the wellspring of all that in creation is joy. I will see you later. I will.

On our way
home from the beach
We stop beside the car
For you to change,
Backside to the passenger door,
I hold a blanket in front of you
As you slip off your top
And drop a loose
Dress over your shoulders
Over your belly,

Neglecting to button the bodice
So you dry in the air.
And below the blanket
Your bathing suit
Bottom hits the ground.

As I drive the highway home

Still wet,
You place your feet on the dashboard,

Pull open your top just a bit more
Pull up the hem of your dress over your hips
and fan yourself dry

On the car seat

Spread out in the sun.

I almost hit a wall.
I almost hit a tree.

Bless you.

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Posted by on September 9, 2011 in Family, Poetry


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I Believe in You

(A poem for Lee)

I believe in you.

Like I believe
The Sun rises each morning and
The moon shades from light to dark then
To light again.

I believe in you
Like I believe in
The laws of Nature.
I am as sure of you as
Water runs downhill,
Cold contracts,
Gasses expand,
An object in motion stays in motion…

I am as sure of you as I am
Spring will come again and again.

I believe in you like light.

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Posted by on September 2, 2011 in Family, Poetry


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But the Son of Man or Respite

I wrote this a long time ago. I won an award for it. I picked it for contests because I don’t like it. never did. But other people seem to. That’s fine. A mystery to me, but I’m ok with that.

But, it occurred to me, today, now… now I get this. How odd is that? To write something but not get it for nearly thirty years?

I want to lay my head

in the curve of someone’s lap.


on someone who isn’t going anywhere.

I want to rest

and close my eyes

and be blest

by the stroking of my hair.

I want to feel the skin

against my cheek and lips

of someone who will let me in,

someone who won’t throw me off.

I don’t care

who or what they are

or how it appears in others’ sight.

I’m not asking for a year

or even a night,

I just want to lay my head

in the curve of a lap

of someone who isn’t going anywhere.

(Published in The Phoenix and the Dragon as well as several anthologies.)

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Posted by on July 19, 2011 in Poetry


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Gabriel Erector

At a garage sale last Sunday
I purchased an erector set.
Not an ordinary erector set
but one in a sky blue box
and in it everything I need
to build angels.

It’s an angel building kit.
Not the kind of angels
made of plastic and wire and
glue makes your head hurt
and the world dizzy spin.
Not like a model set.
Not like the kind of angels
who blow a horn
and my living room walls
come tumbling down
or talk in my brain and I go off
to fight the English,
but the kind of angels
who open rain clouds,
tug at grass blades until they’re long,
lift up the corners of a baby’s mouth.
The kind of angels who pull open irises
and make it so you can see
the chest of your loved one
sleeping next to you
rise and fall with each inspiration
even though it’s completely dark,
but you know you see it.

It’s my angel building kit.
So far,
since I took my kit home
and opened it,
It has rained,
my grass grew,
my irises bloomed
and I can see my loved one’s chest
rise and fall in the night
even though I have the shades drawn,
and it’s completely dark.

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Posted by on May 21, 2011 in Family, Poetry, Religion


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For Carol, because, once she reads it, she’ll swear it was written for her.

See? I’m always right. Just like Ivanova.


It was a chance meeting,

After ten years,

Four children,

And eight hundred

miles between them

The convergence of

Chance and induction

brought them together

In a flurry of electronica

And passionate remembrance.

Memories in fluid

passed between them,

Alternating currents of

certainty and doubt,

Gravel tossed in a pond

Posing ripples

with every surface struck

Names remembered,

events reviewed,

Who said what to whom

In ever broad

concentric bands of

Year after year.

And still,

one story looks

Nothing like the other,

Except, for now,

Building from this point on

A story in concert,

One stone dropped

to a still,

empty pond.


Posted by on October 24, 2008 in Poetry


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Kayak Book

The date is May 17th, a Thursday, and it is my planning period and lunch. I have no need to plan anything and it is quite too soon for lunch. In a middle school, lunch can range anytime from ten-thirty to twelve-thirty. It is a quarter to eleven and that is far too early.

I also have only a week left of school; hence, the lack of need to plan. Other teachers are planning already for next year, looking at recruitment, collecting materials, packing up what they have to be stored for the next year. They’ve been doing this for weeks.

Me, I had opened up my desk drawers and filing cabinets for the students to take what they liked, yanked wide my closet doors for students to take what they chose. My books, academic, scholastic and otherwise: given away. Papers: given away. Posters: given away. Rulers, staplers, pens, hole punches, clips: all given away. My plan book with my year’s lessons and projects, nearly everything, all gone to students. The little that remained: left for the teachers to scrounge. I had to scrounge at the beginning for the year. The day before the start of school my room was ransacked for furniture, supplies and books. I had to enlist students to help me find tables and desks from the trash. So the students can have what they like and the teachers can do what they will, what they do best: thieve. I have no need of any of it. As of next week, I am no longer teaching. I am done. I have had enough.

All but my writing program. That, I kept neatly organized in a binder. My principal asked to have it. I laughed, quietly, subtly but visibly enough he asked what seemed amusing. After all, I was let go for being more a writer than a test trainer, more a teacher than a techie. “You’re a genius,” he said, “but you’re not duplicatable. Neither is what you do. We can’t afford that.” I suggested he could purchase the program or hire me to teach as a consultant but, no, he would not be left the fruit of five years’ labour and two decades experience.

So I have little to pack but a portfolio and a few papers. I have finals to give and grade – pass them out, pick them up and run them through a machine. I have students for whom I must enter grades and, averaged, their final grade will not look like the letter grade on their report card. Students, eighth graders, who published essays, poetry, journalism, won contests, accomplished works of beauty and artistry but whose ability simply cannot be expressed in the final the administration mandates must be multiple choice and look very much a mock state assessment. No score will go down but several will be much higher than the numbers alone might dictate.

As a matter of fact, some of those final grades can be entered even before the test. As I start, I remember to turn my phone on, as I do during my planning periods. It chimes and I hear the signal that tells me I have voice mail.

The call is from Witney. I left him a message about kayaks some days earlier. I have been interested in kayaking and canoeing ever since I went on a rather surreal canoe adventure down north Florida’s Santa Fe River with an entire Hebrew school student body. The result was a blues song called “Jews in Canoes” and a love for quietly paddling calm waterways.

Jews in Canoes

(chorus 1)
Jews in Canoes
Bad News
Jews in Canoes
Bad News
You’ll always get the blues with
Jews in Canoes.

(chorus 2)
Jews in Canoes,
Bad News.
Jews in Canoes
You’re gonna sing the blues.
You’re always gonna lose with
Jews in Canoes.

Went or a trip
with my daughter’s class mates
from her Hebrew school
I couldn’t guess my fate
We set out on the river
at the outpost site
oh my lord
I had such a fright.

We were set in the water
barely two feet deep
There were thirteen canoes
in our Hebrew fleet
one paddler in the front
and one in the rear
rocking the boat
both trying to steer.

chorus 2

Then we got it straight
headed down the stream
twelve canoes
from a very bad dream
When I heard a little chuckle
on the bank from an otter
when our fleet was jam
from one bank to the other.

Well I floated down the river
as easy as can be
Then I make the mistake
of looking next to me
out on a river
one hundred feet wide
a canoe from the blue
hit me in the side.

Shema Yisroel,
Adonai Elohenu.
Adonai echad.

chorus 2

Now we’re out ahead
just my daughter and me
I look around
at the scenery
Here comes a canoe
with a mother and a child
next thing I know
we’re a canoe pile.

When we reach the end
our destination in sight
I hang back
to avoid the flight
canoes left and right
my chances are slim
next thing I know
I’m hangin off a tree limb.

chorus 2

I get off the limb
and walk to my boat.
Barely ‘nough water
to keep it afloat.
Canoes all around
ahead and behind
paddling to the beach
like they was all blind.

Out on the grass
sitting in the sun.
licking my wounds
kinda glad we’re done.
Then my daughter tell me something
leaves me cold with fright
“Our next canoe trip, Daddy, it’s at night.”

chorus 1

Jews in Canoes,
Bad news.
Jews in Canoes,
You’re gonna sing the blues.
You’re always gonna lose
You’re gonna pay your dues
You always get the blues with
Jews in Canoes.

I had asked him, in an email and phone message, if there was such a thing as a stable kayak or if I had to look for a canoe. I further wanted to know if he had a line on one that was affordable on my schoolteacher’s salary, which meant I was looking for someone who had a perfectly usable boat and wanted to pay me to take if off his or her hands.

I return the call.

I ask my question.

There is no such thing as a simple answer to any question asked Witney. This is not because he doesn’t want to answer a question in a simple way but because he wants to be sure the answer is right and complete to the best of his ability. It requires patience. Sometimes it also requires coffee and, often, strong drink.

What do I want? To paddle easily along Goat Creek, Horse Creek. To get some exercise, see the manatees. To cross the brackish shallow sound of the Indian River, eight-mile wide, until I reach that quarter-mile spit of land that keeps it from the Atlantic Ocean. To be alone on the water.

How about a johnboat? No. I want to see where I’m going. He doesn’t blame me.

I ask if a canoe is more stable and the answer is, “It depends.” This doesn’t surprise me. Some have flat bottoms, some are meant for the sea, some for rough water. What about a kayak? Same deal. Some actually ride a bit under the water, some are for racing, for smooth water, for the sea, for whitewater. For me?

This is why I called. He will take it apart, find exactly what is what and, together, we will find the answer. I might take a month, but we will find it.

A month. Little do I know.

Don’t kayaks roll? Sure, he tells me. People actually roll them on purpose. Not me. Not me.

I don’t swim. I am perhaps a poor candidate for kayaking or, for that matter, water sports in general.

It is not for lack of trying. I hear I could, if I would just try hard enough. That’s what people tell me. They say, but they don’t know.

I have taken classes. Chicken of the Sea classes from the Red Cross. Adult Beginner classes from the Red Cross. Classes designed for little kiddies from, again, the Red Cross. I once swam about ten feet. It was an accomplishment. Then I panicked and flailed and reached for the comfort of feet on solid surface.

My wife tried teaching me. She was a certified lifeguard and tells me she never felt in danger in the water until she tried to teach me to swim. She says I almost drowned her. Almost doesn’t count, right?

I took a swim class in community college. My instructor was a tall, solid, chiseled figure of an ex-marine drill sergeant. He told me I would learn because he could teach anyone. Has never failed. He, himself, was a difficult case – being all muscle, he explained, he sunk immediately. Yet he learned.

I, on the other hand, overweight, fluffy, was in no danger of sinking. He was sure. I was never so happy to be fat.

Like a rock. Like a brick. Like an enthusiastic member of the Pharoah’s army chasing the Israelites, I went down. Oh, Mary, did I sink.

Sergeant Swim signed my drop card.

And now I want to kayak.

Not as strange as it may sound, he tells me. A kayak will work. Some have keels and flat bottoms. They are stable, don’t roll, smooth. The deal is I should come down and try one and see. Good idea.

What price are we talking about? How much?

Don’t worry about that. He has a better idea. Witney wants to build one for me. The cost will be materials. What can I do? I don’t do power tools. It’s the old story about the one-eyed epileptic with the chainsaw. If you don’t know the story, just use your imagination. Does it end well?

I once owned a jigsaw and a circular saw. I owned other tools as well. I once had my thumb nearly removed simply in the process of starting a lawnmower. I came home from a trip to discover my wife and my father had gotten together and sold my tools. They love me.

So I won’t be helping build. Oh, I could hold something while it dried if it wasn’t an important piece and we could afford having it call of the first chance it got. If that isn’t a problem, then I can do it.

No. He has a better idea. Watch. Just watch. Watch and write. Record the process. Chronicle building from beginning to end. He has a lead on a publisher. He gets to build, I get a kayak, we get a book. Everyone is happy.

Has he read my essays? “New reporting” some call it. Creative nonfiction. Not technical writing. It will be chronicled. Every bit. Each delay, mis-measurement, discussions. All of it. All of it surrounding the building of this kayak. It must be more than measuring and cutting, gluing and painting, if any of those are even part of the process. I’d want people to see the event in its entirety. He understands, he says. I wonder.

Let’s make a date to come down to Ft. Lauderdale, to make the two hour drive. I know I’ll have to do this a few times and this will not be built in one or two days.

First, we must get me into a kayak. We make a date. It’s set. Early June.

My second book is out. The Phoenix and the Dragon hits the shelves – there are launches, readings, performances. The date for the building approaches and I figure, since I’m going to be down there, why not set up a reading or two, a workshop. I’m making the trip anyway and the first time down is for kayaking, not building.

It is the second week of June. I look at my ringing phone and it is Valerie. I hear Witney in the background. They live next door to each other in a duplex. They share a wall and a child. They also shared about ten years together. But there were some basic philosophies and proclivities they did not share and now, they get along well enough but a marriage is no longer one of the things they share. In the past, yes, but not today. Not tomorrow. I know them both. I met them in church.

He wants to know if I am sure. Should he order the plans? What plans? Weren’t we going to check out the stable kayak first? Wasn’t I supposed to get into one before we decided to build a boat from scratch? I have never been in a kayak.

Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry? He is telling me, from the background, not to give it a second thought. Val says she took one for a ride, built, by Witney from the same plans we are going to use. She and her daughter and it was smooth, non-tippy, non-rolling, stable. Val would not tell me this if it weren’t true. I’m pretty sure she prefers me alive to be her partner in crime, camping, contradancing, singing showtunes in front of gay bars – all difficult to do after drowning.

Sure. Order the plans.

Don’t worry.


I have waited ‘til mid-day as the early February morning is cool. It has been eight months since the idea of building a kayak was suggested to me, since I was offered to build one, write about it, take it home, author the book.

Mine is orange. The company, Pelican, based in Quebec, calls this material RamX resin. It seems rather indestructible. It is extruded and multi-layered and all sorts of other terms that means it floats and does not fall apart. I was told this by the company secretary with a quiet, musical French accent in a soft velvet voice, so I know it’s true.

It is not wood. I did not build it. I’m writing about it anyway. I’m quite happy.

This is the third time I have been out in it. Me, who doesn’t swim, out on the expanse upon which I am comfortable and in which I am not. And it is glorious.

Within ten feet of the slip, down which I carried my small boat between craft larger by far than mine, the world had changed. Within ten feet the manatees are floating alongside me. I paddle. I am but slowly getting the hang of paddling and, at times, I am a bit overzealous, but when the manatees are alongside, I stop. One of us belongs here and it is my place to be still.

Within five minutes I have passed through Turkey Creek, past the Palm Bay Marina where I paddled in and out between parked boats just for the practice of it, and under the bridge on which the thousands of cars a day buzz on US1 over the creek. And there is the Indian River.

Immediately I hear the spray of a dolphin beside me. I register the sound, understand what it is just in time to turn and see the water shooting from the blowhole of a dolphin well within arm’s reach. Thrusting water high and in my direction. Without expelling water, the dolphin would drown and expel water it does. A muscular flap opens and other muscles push with such force the water leaves the beast at slightly over one hundred miles an hour. Plenty of speed so that it lands, less than gently, on me.
I am glistening with water from the spouting dolphin. One, two, three, more swim along as I slowly skid toward Castaway Point. In the water and out, jumping up, wetting me down. Surfacing next to me and disappearing again, again, again.

I pass the point on either side and the water opens in front of me. To the left, in the distance, North, up the river, I can see the Melbourne Causeway misted gray faint by the bay air. To the right, the nearest bridge is thirty miles downriver at Sebastian. Aside from the scant beach behind me, the nearest land is two miles away, over this river that, more properly, is a sound, a brackish bay. Indialantic is a quarter-mile-wide spit and all that separates me, this river, from the Atlantic Ocean. I am headed there.

Once there, I’ll beach, take my shoes and wallet from the ziplock bag (terribly unreliable, I’m told. Get a drybag.) and walk a block to the cafés. I’ll sit and have coffee. Stroll to the ocean.

In the meantime, here I am. The boats race by, longitudinally, as I cross. Each larger than I and each given the right of way. Wakes come and I learn to meet them head on, the water rising before me, above me, under me, behind me, before me.

I am delighted to find myself not becoming seasick.

From upriver, sliding toward me, is a barge. Perhaps this is coming from Cape Canaveral. From the distance it appears massive and grows as it approaches. I backpaddle.

I had not thought of backpaddling before. I imagine it is the same as paddling frontward but just the opposite direction and, of course, the kayak stops. I drift as the barge is pushed south toward me, Sebastian Inlet and the ocean.

Drifting. This kayak is tiny, even by kayak standards. It is small and cheap. Nine feet and four inches. A kayak to sit in, float in, paddle in but not race in.

I bought it for one hundred and forty dollars. A few years old, it sold for about three hundred new. Bottom end.

Stable. Very stable. I needed that. It isn’t long so it won’t be spun much by the wind. But it also takes work to keep it going where I want it to. It does not track well.

Track. That is a word I learned recently while teaching myself about my little boat via Internet searches for explanatory material, tutorials, instructional videos and glossaries. Track means to go straight. This kayak doesn’t.

It tends to drift. Actually more what feels like a skid. If I paddle straight it goes straight, paddling one side, the other, the other, the other, with correction here or there. But if I stop or paddle a bit more strongly to one side, the skid is obvious and anything but minor.

And I don’t care. Paddling is exercise and all I wanted was to be out on the water.

I did try to find a skeg for it. That is another word I picked up recently. A skeg is a non-movable rudderish device to keep a kayak from skidding. It helps it track. Mine is, I discovered, not designed to take a skeg. The Ms. with the velvet voice told me so. No problem.

At times, when there is a current and I am paddling toward the dock or one side of a fork in the waterway, the kayak pointing slightly in the direction of the current, my head, facing the point I’m aiming for, the kayak moves slightly forward and slightly sideways, skidding in a way that tosses my senses a bit, my body facing in one direction while it moves in another.

What a kayak this size does have going for it, however, is more important than what it does not. It fits in my truck with no problem. I pick it up and carry it with no difficulties. From home to slip with no stress and all ease. It feels as stable as a floor and, at its size, I can turn with almost no space needed. It can nearly spin in place.

Spinning in place is what I’m doing now as I wait for the barge to pass. The closer it gets the more clear it is to me how thin lines between safety and danger are, between good sense and opening oneself up to the universe saying, “I’m here. You’ll take me if you want. It doesn’t matter. My stuff was part of the world before I was born, I did not come into the world, I grew from it, I am not separate from it and I shall go back into it when all is done. And now, I lay myself out on it, onto myself, and trust it will be OK.”

My small self, this small boat, the water beneath me, surrounding me, the barge. And, still a half-mile away, coffee.

June, and I am ready to build a boat. School has been out two weeks and I have been two weeks gainfully unemployed. As planned, it is time for a short trip south and my first writing assignment since leaving college. And this one should prove much more satisfying. It should certainly be more fun. Time to build a kayak.

On an early Saturday morning, I head south in plenty of time to arrive by eleven-thirty and put in a full afternoon of building. It should take a few days I’m told. Four or five. Two weekends.

I arrive at eleven-thirty, as planned, knock on the door and find Valerie on the phone. Witney is not here. His car is not here. Where is he? On the other end of the phone. She hands it to me. Can I help him pick up something?

I don’t drive much in South Florida. Drive in and drive out. After I arrive in Broward County, I tend to get carted around. But there is building to do and that requires materials and I have a truck. That leaves me with the toting.

I assume we are going to pick up kayak parts. Raw materials for boat building. We are picking up wood; plywood, two by fours, posts. From Witney’s description of the materials, this is either a super-long or monstrously heavy kayak we are building and I ask, eager to learn, about his choice of materials. No kayak parts, these. This is wood for a table. There will be no kayak building today. We are building a table. I don’t know why we are building a table. Do tables float?

Katarina, the age-six daughter of Valerie and Witney, who spells her name with a “C” but which I stubbornly refuse to and replace with a “K” on the sole concept her name rhymes with Tsarina and, therefore, should be spelled appropriately, laughs. She knows why we are building a table and wants to tell me. I want to hear it from Witney.

The table is to build the kayak on.

One would have thought this might have been done before, but I do want to chronicle the entire experience of building, start to finish, so, sure, why not.

The plan was to build the boat using common woodworking tools one might find in a home workshop. Well, the plan was, originally, to get into a kayak first and see if it worked for me, but I’m not mentioning that. Now, instead, we’re talking old-time carpentry. No production tools. No professional woodworking shop with specialized devices. A home-build at home, in a yard, using what Witney had called “primitive” tools. On this he was adamant.

But he was adamant about this at eleven-thirty the previous night. He was adamant about this in a conversation with Valerie, not me. I knew nothing about this. And so, at eleven-thirty the previous night he decided at eleven-thirty today we would be building a table.

“Where do I meet you?”

I am given directions and five minutes later I am back in the truck, in Ft. Lauderdale, Valerie beside me to ensure I don’t become hopelessly lost.

I just missed Tina, she tells me. She had come over to give her Valerie’s other daughter, now eighteen, a driving lesson. Valerie still attends the church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ft. Lauderdale, where, over most of the last decade, she and Witney were well known. Witney has not been there in over three years. He was, at one point, a Sunday school teacher in the teen program. So was I. I frequently return for guest appearance, readings, to take part in poetry workshops or services. I am greeted warmly, joyfully each time. Returning to the UU, for Witney, would be a much less welcoming event. Tina, complicit in Witney’s lack of welcomed status, was in the teen program as well. But not as a teacher.

Tina is now twenty.

Just before we arrive at the woodshop Val receives a call from Witney. No need to head to the woodshop after all. We’ll receive another call, with a new timeframe, in five minutes. In my bones, I feel the doubt growing. The look on Val’s face tells me I should have known better. We head back to her house.

A third call. A third-person, intermediary, go-between conversation about timing with me the only person not on a phone. The table is to have one straight edge and, apparently, this must be built at the woodshop. It is to be built first, then an edge cut of to make it straight, then transported to his mom’s house. I am to tote the table. We will then start the building.

He says he wants to have this done before, “but,” he says through Val, “you know how things go. With Witney, yes I do and all too well. I have attempted projects before with him – overly bright, overly eager, underly reliable with no developed sense of time. Do not wait for him to start ordering dinner.

He’ll call, yet again, in a few minutes and let us know when to meet him there. I don’t expect that call anytime soon. My day, suddenly, is much more open.

I was hopeful. I’m not sure why. The angels of my better nature must have been having a particularly good day.

A few minutes prior, before Witney called, I spoke with my parents. Certainly, there is time for lunch. No, there is no rush. Yes, I have plans. No, there is plenty of time. Trust me, there is absolutely no rush.

I am free until eight tonight when I’m giving a reading at the Chocolate Moose in Davie, twenty-five traffic-free minutes from her house. When we had woodworking plans, Valerie has asked we get home by seven, thus giving us enough time to shower, eat and get to the venue. My sense of logic is sure I heard the suggested time incorrectly but my experience tell me I heard what I heard. This would account for Valerie’s unparalleled ability to be late to her own parties. I suggest six would make much more sense. At least it does to me. We’ll see where exactly between those times we end up.

I am waiting for my parents to arrive for lunch. The plan was for them, already out of the house, to meet me at Val’s and for us to drive the few further blocks to Lester’s, a large chrome and brilliant white diner. An hour passes. More. More still as my blood sugar hits a Black Friday low and they arrive. As I head out the door Val suggests a title for this book, for this day: How Long Will it Take?

Once in, once my mother, in her wheelchair, is trundled into the open, external elevator to rise in the world the height of one short flight of stairs, once we have fought the crowds, we find a seat with sufficient room and look through the menu. I find little here sufficiently healthy, succulent or intriguing to draw my interest and resign myself to something I am sure is going to kill me. I watch my parents eat things which I am sure will kill them as well. Another hour passes. Another. We leave and I find myself back at Valerie’s at about three-thirty. I have one thought at this moment: Witney is going to pay for this. He will pay and pay and pay. But, behind this, a voice reminds me I should have known better. I did know better and ill-advised hope to this moment led.

It is four-thirty. And then five. Five-eleven. The phone rings and it is Witney. He is calling Valerie’s phone, not mine, to ask for my schedule. She tells him I have plans this evening, at eight, and am expected to be reading at that time. It’s my stage for the night. I should be there.

Can we move a kayak-building table after? After? Eleven-thirty at night, through Fort Lauderdale, with a table in the back of my pick up? No. I shake my head. I enunciate as clearly as possible so Val, talking to Witney, still insisting on using an intermediary, can see me, clearly, decisively stating there is no way I will be toting a table of unknown size around unfamiliar streets on a Fort Lauderdale Saturday night. I say it loudly, so Witney can hear me.

All the while, phone crooked in her neck, Valerie is cooking and one brief scent makes the question of missing dinner to move the table now easily answered by Hell No. Val is cooking real food and I know, from this point on, I’m hers for the evening. I am being plied with food and all she wants in return is time, laughter and shared bottle of port. I don’t need to be waiting for something that won’t be happening when time with my friend is happening right now.

A truck goes by playing, in bells, a song I remember from my childhood and I know what it means: ice cream on wheels. I grab Katarina and we each get an Italian ice.
On the lid of the Italian ice, as I had hoped, as I remembered, I find a small wooden spoon. Wide at both ends, tapered in the middle – a shape very much a double kayak paddle – and I am thinking this is as close as I’m going to get to paddling anything anytime soon.

“I should have prioritized” is what he says when he walks, late, into the house. It is six-fifty three. Dinner is over. Let’s move the table, I suggest, recognizing the mistake as the words leave my lips.

We jump into my truck. It is an industrial area. Warehouses. Here is a clamp factory. There a sailmaker. Then, the nautical shop and the massive specialty production woodworking shop within. Seafarer Marine.

The shop is stacked high with posts and pillars. In vertical slats five feet high capped with horizontal slots, up to the ceiling, there is exotic wood after exotic wood in solid sheets and plywoods, varying thicknesses from veneer thin to inch thick. There are rolls of wood. Slats and pieces. Some of these in the most beautiful patterns, glorious colors and amazing grains I have ever seen and could never have imagined. Was my kayak to be made of these?

But we are here for a table and it is a few minutes after seven. I see none. No table here. I am leaning against a trough, about twelve feet long, three feet high and just as wide.
“Funny that,” Witney says. I found the table all on my own. The bed of my truck is barely six feet long.

Witney shows me around.


“Four sheets of four millimeter okoumé.”

“And why don’t we get this from Home Depot?”

“Because they don’t have it.” He says this very mater of factly.

“And why not use plywood? Regular plywood?”

“You mean why not just use plywood from Home Depot?”

“Yup. What’s wrong with plywood?”

“Well, your Jo Average plywood you might get from Home Depot or your local lumber store that doesn’t specialize is made to pretty much stay flat and look pretty on both sides but it generally is not waterproof, which is not a huge concern for this because it is going to be covered with epoxy but it is not guaranteed to have totally filled cores. The cores are not guaranteed to be high quality.”

“So there are spaces inside? Sometimes voids or the plies don’t quite meet?”

“Right. There will often be a line where two pieces of the core material don’t meet when you bend the wood, because you make a kayak by forcing wood to bend in the shape of a kayak. You take a piece of plywood and force it to curve to follow the hull. What happens is you get a kink if you have a void in the core.”

“So the plywood this place has is of a different quality.”

“Right. Marine plywood. It is certified to a British standard called BS1088 that basically says it is going to be high quality faces, it’s going to be the same material faces and cores, not just whatever you happen to have laying around in the cores and the cores are going to be contiguous and free of voids.”

“You said something about Russian birch?”

“Yup. And wenge, an African hardwood with a gorgeous light relief in the grain.”

And the okoumé is actually a light mahogany? What about the clear fir?”

“Yes. A light mahogany. The clear fir is a dimensional lumber we are planning on cutting into long thin strips to make the sheer clamps out of. We’re also going to make the cockpit carlands, which are the cockpit equivalent of sheer clamps. They’re the part that goes between the visible combing and the deck and they’re up on the inside.”

“Now, what is this about the hatch you were saying? You asked about that and I have no idea how to answer.”

“Well, it is possible to fit a hatch in either the fore of aft deck or both, accessing the normally sealed off compartments fore and aft. On my larger Mill Creek two-person kayak I chose not to put hatches in because the deck is so pretty just the way it is. On my longer, thinner, single kayak, which has a much smaller cockpit area, there will be a hatch fore and aft. The aft cargo hatch will be quite large and the forward hatch will be of a moderate size.”

“What would you suggest for me?”

“Well, it all depends on its intended use. If it’s day trips, no. If it is limited over-nighting, no.”
“I don’t intend on taking it out over days at a time.”

“Then make it pretty.”

“OK, then there is room in the cockpit for a bottle of water and such?”

“Oh yes. Much. The cockpit is large enough for a camera, a bag, lunch. Use a dry bag. Those are usually made of PVC that has a roll-down top that clips back on itself and keeps things from getting wet.”

“Or a ziplock bag?”

“Notoriously unreliable. Get a drybag at any kayak store. Any outdoor store.”

“So you know this guy named Kayak Jeff and before you take a boat out you bring it to him for a blessing?”

“Well, not so much ‘a’ blessing as ‘his’ blessing.”

“And you brought your first one to him and he gave a blessing to your hull?”

“Well, in the most kayak way. Basically, I am building a slightly modified long skinny single. And he is a very experience kayaker who is also a certified instructor and he runs a kayak store called, appropriately, Kayak Jeff and he came over last night to my mom’s where all this is being built and looked over the shape of the hull and the curvature of the bottom and said ‘This is good.’ That’s the blessing.”

“So I want to know I’m not going to play twirly-games in the water.”

“Oh, this boat will spin very well.”

“Not on its longitudinal axis?”

No, on the vertical axis. As far as longitudinal… OK, if you have a center point and you try to rotate the point, it’s very easy. If you make that point low on the arm, center or not, and you try to rotate that arm, it’s very difficult. It has resistance to turning.

“You’re describing a fulcrum. I’m not sure how that applies to this. You’d think having a fulcrum would make turning easier.”

“Well, actually, I’m describing center of gravity. What I’m saying is if you put the friction at the ends of the arm, what you are effectively doing with a boat hull of this shape is your center of rotation is the center line of the boat. It is very low because you are sitting low in the hull. You are actually sitting on the lower hull. And the deeper the boat goes, up to a certain point, the greater its resistance to turning. Of course, once you go so low the entire boat is covered by water, there is no more resistance to turning.”

“But I wish to not cover the entire boat with water. I want to be clear on that. I don’t want to build a submarine.”

“Do not gain a lot of weight.”


On Sunday the plan is to start early. How about eight? Eight isn’t too early to start building a kayak. That is the plan. I have it in my PDA.

Witney tells me he has a kayak class tomorrow. How to roll and recover. Tomorrow? The plan was to build a kayak. He signed up for this class three weeks ago. There is nothing I can say in the face of this temporal absurdity.

He knew. Never told me. I didn’t know, but, really, really, I should have known better.

The reading comes and goes. We stop for coffee on Las Olas, walk, talk, laugh and make up names for the kayak book. The Kayak that Almost Was. How Long Will It Take? Sunk: The Story of Not Building a Kayak. Building with Witney and Other Myths and Fancies.

It’s late and a two-hour ride home. I could stay overnight, but my own bed is so close and, despite Val’s objections and worry, I head north on I-95.

I should have known better.


It is the last week in January. Plans again. Plans to travel to Ft. Lauderdale and build a kayak. Everything will be ready. For some reason, I am skeptical.

I am headed south on I-95 on this bright Friday afternoon. My phone rings and it is Witney. There is no wood. Specifically, no quarter-inch okoumé. None. Anywhere. Not in Florida. Not in the US.

I am not surprised. I am not upset. I am not worried. I tell him so. I don’t tell him I’m going to keep heading south anyway. I had made other plans. People to see, things to do. It’s Val’s birthday party. I’m having dinner with my daughter. At no point during this trip had I an illusion I was actually going to build a kayak. I don’t tell him this, of course. I also don’t tell him I have a kayak waiting for me at home. It’s orange. The dolphins seem to like it. I know I do.

And who wants to read about kayaks anyway?


Posted by on April 27, 2008 in Books, Nature, Writing


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