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Sigman Shapiro


Thoughts on Gifts and thankfulness

I was unable to post this in time for the US holiday – but I don’t believe that the celebration of thankfulness for life’s gifts should be confined to one, special day. 

Autumn 1973

Two weeks ago we visited our kids – the ones who live in the Bay Area.  It was in lieu of our usual family Thanksgiving gathering.  Life has begun to scatter all of us, and assembling every year to feast and reconnect is not as easy as it once was.

Part of that trip was a long afternoon and evening visiting our daughter in Berkeley.  She has just moved there to finish her college work at UC.  We walked the campus and saw where her classes are held.  We strolled the streets and visited her apartment. 

The stroll lasted hours and took me over ground I had walked thousands of times when I was her age.  Besides the joy of seeing a familiar place through my daughter’s beautiful eyes, the memories that it stirred were rich and, on the whole, warm. 

As I reflect back on it all now, I am reminded of an autumn and winter almost forty years ago when it was hard to see the gifts that life was offering.

I was 27, with three kids and a low paying job.   My wife had left me to “find herself” and I had to give her almost everything I earned to support her and the kids.  I moved everything I had into a friend’s garage and packed myself a backpack of clothes – then hit the streets. 

It was late autumn and wet and cold in Berkeley – so sleeping in doorways would have been a bad scene.  Fortunately, I had friends who would let me crash on their couches.  I made a rule – Never stay anywhere more than two nights in a row – So I didn’t become a nuisance – at least not too fast.   I had 4 or 5 places to rotate to and always managed to get to work on time and do my job so I could earn money for us all.

After three months, a friend found me a cheap place to live in his building and I began to put my life back together.  Times were financially rough for us (me and the kids) for 3 or 4 years but gradually got better.

We ate basic food, made do with used clothes and found objects, connected to the joys that nature offered, and relied on love, and laughter, and closeness to get us through.

So, what did I learn?  Never give up; but use your energy wisely ; don’t fight what you can’t change.  And, when you are truly down, if you open yourself to the universe, the gifts you truly need will find you – not the things you think you need or the things you think you want – but what you truly need will be there.

Simply put, I learned to be thankful for every day I wake with breath in my lungs and people I love in my life.

I wish the same for all of you.

Trimming the Tree

They’re tending to the trees again.
I can hear them down the lane;
the whine of the machines
like distant music,
if mutilation was a song.

I will not step outside,
will not fuel my outrage

No need to watch to know
the creature stands docile
awaiting its fate;

No need to hear the roar
of the saws or the cry of the
branches as they crash and fall;

No need to fill my nostrils
with the stink of sawdust
and petroleum exhaust.

This is not about letting in
the light and air or clearing out
the dead and weak undergrowth;
not about trees needing people
or people needing trees.

This is not about beauty;
guiding the tree to find the latent
form concealed within its genes;
water, light and land transformed
to wood and leaf in air.

This is about convenience,
removing an annoyance,
so many leaves to rake,
so much life, too large, too near;
its very success an affront;

And it is about money
for men with families to feed,
who climb the ladders
and wield the saws.
It is a job, what they do.

They do not hate the trees,
no more than the soldiers
hated the prophet when they
nailed him to the cross;
no more than they hated
the tree they killed to make it.

Musings on the real “Black Gold”

I started out young with the easy stuff – Good and Plenty at the Saturday matinee – a nickel a box and lots of sugar.

I moved on to ropes and twists as I got older.   I experimented with flavors (only red and brown I swear – never purple – couldn’t stoop that low) but they were not the real thing.   I even tried those funny little layered pastel things that your old aunt puts in the bowl on the table when the other ladies come to play cards – but they were not for me. 

I had better luck with anise Liqueur (Galliano is my favorite) and anise Italian soda syrup. 

But, no matter how far I roamed – I always came back to the basics – good old black, strong, chewy licorice.

Now I have graduated to hard licorice buttons (difficult to find) and Dutch cats and salt licorice.  I have no shame left – I eat it right out in public – though most folks wrinkle up their noses at the thought.

Got about a 1/4 to 1/2 pound a week habit – but as long as the supply never runs out – I’ll be just fine!

October Morning

The heat finally broke last night.
For weeks Summer has held stubbornly
to its grip on the land;
a rude guest, staying late,
well beyond its allotted time.

Now there is a familiar coolness in the air,
a sharp, sweet scent carried on the wind,
even the light has joined the chorus
singing Autumn in to stay with us a while.

This time of change, of transition,
is always welcome when it comes.
Somehow, Summer’s richness
exhausts me by September’s end.

There is a longing growing in my heart
for quiet nights of rain and firelight;
time to sit, take stock,
and find the energy to hope
for yet another Spring
waiting on the other side of Winter


From the gap between
experience and expectation;
from deep beneath the words
that form each private narrative of life;
a quiet voice spawns a vein of want.

Its whisperings are almost
imperceptible, like white noise;
producing an unsettling sense
that this is not, can not be
all there is to life.

Surely the sun shines brighter,
the air smells fresher,
laughter rings freer,
food tastes richer,
sex burns hotter

in some other time,
in some other place,
for some other self.


It burns us,
the air we breathe,

the heat from that fire
fuels our limbs
and flares our thoughts

yet all the while,
we are consumed by it

slowly, inexorably,
even as it makes
existence possible

till only an ashen shell

Muumuu Mommas

Huge, flower print jellyfish
in loosely fashioned flesh
pulse down the summer
sidewalk seas, soft
in undulating waves. 

Peonies, first spring

It’s such a small thing
the tight-curled fist of
bronzy, reddish green

For years we’ve struggled
with that unsatisfactory corner
pondering, planning, planting

Years of work amending soil,
bringing water, letting in the light
have greened the neighbor beds

but this one bears no flowers
no rush of April promise
until now.

Take it

Give yourself up to it
let it flow
all the years
the pent up passion
bursting like a flood

washing away
well learned shame
the lie of failure
the secret of your wanting

shout it on the threshold
words you can’t deny
say them to yourself
step into the light
lift your eyes

lose the burning blush
joy is not for others
a reward for good behavior
it is not granted
you must take it


Autumn Lane

In morning light I walk
beneath a canopy of flame
A summer’s crop
ripe for harvest
A summer’s bounty
waiting for the wind.

The sky blazes
red above my head
The carpet crackles
crisp beneath my boots
The air sparkles
chill and spicy clear

I know the cold is coming
I feel it in my bones
The rain and snow
will turn the red to gold
the gold to soil
and start it all again

But, for now, I inhale
the energy gathered in
a summer’s worth of day’s
a summer’s velvet nights
and my heart glows,
my feet dance like
red leaves on the wind.

Poetry is the Epitaph of Moments

Poetry is the epitaph of moments
the eulogy of feelings
the obituary of circumstance

A sonorous dirge sung
from the pulpit of the page
in hope of being heard

Graffiti on a gravestone
etched in dancing words
a territory tagged to say

“I was here, this is me,
I saw, I felt,
I wept, I wondered”.

A Traveler’s Tale

The bridge was built so carefully
from shore to shore in shining arcs

The master builder, filled with pride
accepted tolls and gave his tours

for travelers who’d stop to rest
to nod and praise and pass across

and when one day they found he’d died
they buried him beside the path

that brought the pilgrims to the span
the shining bridge he’d never crossed


It’s curious
the things that stay,
a face once dear,
a phrase,
a tone of voice,
a laugh that burst free
full of joy, surprise, and pain

Old eyes
that knew
too much of loss,
a dozen faces lit within
now closed behind their
careful masks

The little details
linger on
old wounds
that close
and fade from sight
but never truly heal.

Knock Knock

We always seem to be
standing with a door
between us.Either of us could open it
reach out
turn the knob
and we would be together

But our hands are
filled with baggage
and neither is willing to
set their burden down

And so we stand
you on your side
me on mine
looking at a door

Waiting for the other
to open it
step through
and prove they care.


Love without object

That love’s throbbing
is the pulse of the universe;

That eyes opened by love
are eyes filled with truth;

That the lover’s gentle smile
guides us to the light;

That the wounded and the hopeless
find their healing hope in love;

That the invisible beloved
is the secret we all seek;

This is the great message,
the lyric of the sages,
the sweet song of the ages
sung in every tongue.

Prairie Storm 1

This South wind is no dancer
no flower-laden breath of spring.

This wild wolf of the prairies
left me without peace or rest.

All night it stalked outside my house;
howling at my windows, lunging at my door;

Waking ancient longings
deep within my feral heart.

Prairie Storm 2

This morning I awoke
from fitful dreams
to find the plains
scoured bare
beneath a cloudless sky.

The streets alive
with last year’s brush
the final hangers-on
racing north
before the hungry wind


4 Responses

  1. Like your thoughts!

  2. Still moved by your take on things. Inspiring.

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