Changing the Oil–A poem

 One of the more interesting sites I’ve come across lately is Mike Rowe’s Profoundly Disconnected. Rowe, of Dirty Jobs fame, wants to challenge the “absurd belief that a four-year degree is the only path to success.”  Rowe’s S.W.E.A.T. Pledge is worth reading and I’m hoping to return to this idea in a later blog. It surprises folks when they hear that I, a tenured college professor, don’t think everyone needs to (or should) go to college. 

But it’s really cold outside, 4:30 on a Friday, and I’m not sure I’m intellectually capable of much more than promising to write at a later date.

I was, though, reminded of a poem I wrote a while back as I was looking at Rowe’s site. 

Like plenty of folks, there was a time in my life when I did many of the hard, menial tasks around the house. Not only did I save money, but working with my hands, in some ways, was a nice change of pace from writing, teaching, and grading papers. When my kids were little, I tried to get them involved. We have pictures of them painting, working with a hammer, and even crawled under the car helping me change the oil.

Of course, all those photo ops ended when they became teenagers, but that’s another story too. These days, I’m not sure they know the difference between motor oil and canola oil. Since it’s late, and almost the weekend, I’ll just blame our ascent into the middle class and smart phones. No self-flagellation heading into the weekend.

Either way, I’ll post the poem below. My advice: go visit Rowe’s site and skip the poem, but if you read I hope you enjoy.

Changing the Oil

My son’s hand stretches toward the
Oil filter. It’s not easy being five
And working on a car.

“What’s that?” his finger lost in
Dirt and grime.
He reaches up with his other hand.
“What’s a transition . . . mission?”
He corrects himself.

“What would happen”
His head turns, eyes serious,
“if the car falls.”

He asks so many questions his
Hands can’t stay focused
On the work to be done.

It’s not easy being patient,
Under a car, dirty, hot, busy.
I want to be finished. Oil
Changed, filter recycled
Grease out from under my nails.

Loosening the plug, I
Tell him we’ll get squished
“But I’ll use the bike pump
To fill you back up.”

He laughs and reaches his
Hands toward the plug,
Telling me it’s his turn.
And the oil slides down his arm
Like syrup. “Nasty”
He says laughing.

Crawling out from
Under the car is easier
When the job is complete.
“Why did we empty it,
If we have to fill it back up?”

Standing on the bumper,
Holding the funnel
He looks at me
And I keep answering
Questions. A
Labor of love. A
Job I hope never ends.


Hearing the Sun Shine–a poem

One of my favorite places in Texas is Caprock Canyon State Park. Palo Duro Canyon might be the Grand Canyon of of Texas, but sometimes regular canyons do just fine. Caprock, and I don’t mean this negatively, is manageable and navigable in a way that Palo Duro is not. Certainly, Palo Duro, like the Grant Canyon, is awe inspiring, but the size and depth create a kind of distance. At times, we see grandeur artistically and miss the ability to engage with the land physically.

Caprock, if you’ve never been, isn’t a small canyon, but you can put boots on the ground or bike on the trail and cover the area. When our kids where little and far less busy with friends, sports, and sleeping until noon every weekend, we camped out at Caprock in the fall on a pretty regular basis. Located out near Quitaque, about 15 miles west of Turkey (Home of Bob Wills), the sky is clear and in the fall the air is crisp.

I was thinking of Caprock this morning. We had a storm roll through last night. This morning is bright with a deep blue sky that goes on forever: we breath deeply and let the cool, crisp air cleanse our lungs on a day like today.

A few years ago, I started working on a little poem about watching the sun come over the canyon walls, but I’m always struck by how inadequate words are to describe or capture the emerging sunshine and light breezes that start the day as the world washes over us. Our relationship with nature is such a personal thing, I think, that trying to articulate it almost misses the point. But we try to capture those moment anyway, right? We take photos, invite our friends, walk down memory lane as we try to express the inexplicable.

What you see below is a poem within a poem because, I keep thinking, why write one bad poem when you can offer readers a 2 for 1 special.

Either way, I recommend you just skip the poem and drive out to Caprock and feel it yourselves.

Hearing the Sun Shine

Sitting on the rim of Caprock Canyon, writing a poem that is doomed to miss the moment.

–The sun opens the
blood red canyon walls–

It’s 6 am or thereabouts: Dawn for an early morning hiker with no watch. A cup of coffee in my gloved hands wards off the chill.

–and other colors emerge
from the shadows of dawn.–

My legs dangle 100 feet above the canyon floor, ants, the occasional spider, and unidentified insects crawl around me. I break the silence and propose a truce that seems agreeable between nature and man. “I’m here for me, not for thee.” I raise my cup in thanks and we go about ignoring each other.

–On a shelf opposite the sun, 
a rock becomes 
something alert, moving,

My family still sleeps in the tent and secretly, I’m happy they are not here in the shadows with the noises of early morning: hesitant chirps, cricks, and caws as the night slowly stretches itself out of darkness.

–my eyes at a natural 
disadvantage as the 
sun glares through
the air–

The wind moving through the canyon sounds like traffic on a busy street or the highway miles away and I shake the wrong images from my head.

–and I’m distracted by inappropriate
from outside the
jets and cars in the 

wind and seeing 
trash instead of trees.
I close my eyes.
Open and breath.–

My coffee is gone and the sun is across the canyon. I shed the jacket, put the gloves in my pocket and stand, breathing deeply before the return hike.

–The canyon wall looks like 
Georgia O’Keeffe’s work
Deer and birds float across
the canvass and 
language fails to hold the 
I stop 
trying to
write and
I can hear the
sun shining as
dawn slides into day. 

Things I Read

And Things I Learned

Washington Monthly

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Joanne Jacobs

Thinking and Linking by Joanne Jacobs

Inside Higher Ed

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

NYT > Politics

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Balloon Juice

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Scott Adams' Blog

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

The Full Feed from

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)