Welcome to my little scratch of virtual land. Here you'll find essays about the writing craft; writing exercises, tips, games, and lessons; word-nerd humor; and other writer-oriented content.

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What Is a Metaphor? 17 Definitions [a poem]

Metaphors Be With You
To read more about metaphors, check out my lesson series on the topic. If you’re looking for a more concrete (and less demonstrative) definition of metaphor, check out Metaphor Basics: The Definition and Structure of a Metaphor.

17 Definitions of Metaphor

I. A metaphor is a figure of speech
that directly compares two objects
that don’t match until the objects are matches
striking in strong winds, dancing their white-orange
beacons on the top of their two-inch lighthouses as
the wind catches fire.

II. A metaphor climbs to the cliffside,
sends a stone sailing through the air,
carefully watching it soar so
it can understand the ways birds
don’t fly.

Read more.

A Little Human (A Rough Draft Poem)

The poem below was prompted by a friend’s status update on Facebook. It’s still in rough draft format, but comments are very welcome.

Baby standing up.


A Little Human

[This is a performance poem. If you're reading it silently to yourself right now,
you're doing it wrong.] 

“Attention world,” she wrote.
“My 10-month-old son stood up by himself last night
for 10 whole seconds.
I couldn’t be more proud.”

It’s a shame that none of us can remember a time in our life
when all we had to do to make our mothers proud was balance
the weight of our pudgy young frame
for a few stammering seconds.

It was easier, then, to feel like being alive was something spectacular.
It was easier when the world recognized how the smallest step
was something tremendous.
How these silly feats—the marching of small, unbalanced feet,
the crawling of our awkward, adorable form—
was wonderful simply because these mimicked movements
made us look like tiny little people,
made us, somehow,
a bit more human.

Sometimes the world stands dumb, failing to recognize us
when the wreck inside us clears enough that we go
back to that place, amidst the strain of our every day,
finding a way

to stand up,
on our own, even when we have to stand against
the onslaught of a world that tells us we are wrong.

to crawl,
even when the weight of our life is pressing down so hard
that all we want is to lie there crying.

to speak,
even when the words are anchors and anvils
jamming in our throats.

to be
a child striving,  learning
to negotiate with the gravity of our world,
and through it all
inch onward,
growing into something more complete,
becoming, in that moment,
a little more

Deliver: The Audiophile Edition

By popular (and somewhat surprising) demand, I’ve put together an audio recording of “Deliver” (my award-winning Hades/Persephone poem).

It’s not a perfect rendition. That I’m on the road means I’m using my laptop’s microphone, and there’s a limited amount of mastering I can really do with that. Since I’ve been in a hostel for a few weeks, I’ve also been unable to re-record a couple moments when I fumbled the text. However, the idea is still there.

You can check out the full text of this poem here.

Special thanks to Sandara for the gorgeous images used in this vid.

And of course, I would love feedback—not to mention shares.

Write on,

Rob D

A Poem Response to Liu Bolin, the Invisible Artist

I found this story poignant, and wanted to both share it here and to respond. For whatever reason, the poetic form seemed most natural for my response.

Liu Bolin, the invisible artist of Beijing

Liu Bolin, the invisible artist of Beijing
Image and story via the Smithsonian Mag

In Visibility

Liu Bolin stands still.
His hands held at his sides, standing
in a shoulder-slacked stance
atop the Great Wall, in the aisles of grocery stores,
in the center of a red military mural.
And it is art.

Liu Bolin stands still.
An assistant carefully caresses his skin
with chameleon-colored paint,
blurring the borders between person and place
until the man is banished to the background.
And it is art.

Liu Bolin stands still.
At a glance he has vanished, appearing
in slow contours to those who stare
searching for the textured shape of him.
And it is art.

Liu Bolin stands still.
His voice echoed empty when his studio was torn
down, and the eyes over him glazed as they gazed
through, failing to see the invisible painter or hear his silent work.
And it is art.

I have walked through a crowd and drowned
in the ocean of strangers. Thrashing through a heard
but incomprehensible cry.
Insignificant creatures, what do you have to say
for yourselves?
Have they told you yet, you are not there?
We are edging onward toward
violent invisibility, a moment
when a million coarse voices
will cave to a deafening mute.
Will we know before then that we are
worth more than the callous raiment, donned
in visibility?

Liu Bolin stands still,
and it is art.

The Parisian Ocean: Part 1

The Parisian Ocean

Paris: June 30th, 2012
Part 1: The Louvre
Today, I swam in Parisian art.
My morning kiss parted the lips of the Louvre,
delving into the womb of art itself.

Louvre - Exterior
Louvre – Exterior

The Mona Lisa’s plate-glass cringing smile
wasn’t worth a single gasp,
but my breath was cast underwater alongside
a drowning angel whose gauze skin glowed as she gazed
up at her own halo;

Mona Lisa behind glass.
Delaroche - La Jeune Martyre: Drowned Angel
The Drowned Angel of the Louvre
Paul Delaroche’s – “La Jeune Martyre” (The Young Martyr)

Winged Victory’s flight was obstructed by flocks of foreigners,

but wings were mended by an angel tending
to a broken butterfly.

Winged Victory

Cupid Playing with a Butterfly - Sculpture by Antoine-Denis Chaudet
An angel tending to a butterfly.
Cupid Playing with a Butterfly – Sculpture by Antoine-Denis Chaudet

The Venus de Milo’s coy flirtations,
amputated, failed to make me blush—
but the broad embrace of imposing Athena
beat inside my veins.

Venus de Milo

Roman Piraeus Athena
Imposing Athena:
Roman Piraeus Athena

The flooding crowd ran too fast,
but in that rush eyes harbored against Nyphic islands—
caught in the current of gilt hair glittering against granite skin,
tangled in the drapery of ivory robes toppling by
Suzanna’s pale and pink exposure—
resting on angel-blessed clouds,
or pacing to the rhythm of liberty’s bare-breasted march.

Gilt-haired statue of the Louvre
Gilt-haired statue of the Louvre:
Artist and title not noted.
Theodore Chasseriau  - The Chaste Suzanna
A tangle of liquid clothes.
Theodore Chasseriau  - The Chaste Suzanna 
Angel's blessing on a cloud - the Louvre
Angel’s blessing on a cloud:
Artist and title not noted.
Eugène Delacroix - Liberty Leading the People
The march of Liberty:
Eugène Delacroix – Liberty Leading the People

I swam from Greece to Rome,
then into bloodied, gold-trimmed dark.
My arms pressed hard into each stroke,
heart struck hard by
color and stone, cairns
standing still in history’s twisting depths,
the marks of those who lived their lives striking out
against inevitable night,
stroking again and again against the canvas of time.

I swim on,
breaking past the murk,
pressing onward toward rebirth—
pressing upward from a fathom under earth,
from fifty fathoms underwater,
from unfathomable depths within the seas of time,
swimming in the Parisian oceans.

The Breakwater

[Lyric Essay (LE), Creative Non-Fiction (CNF), Prose Poetry (PP)]

Off the coast of Long Beach, there are three walls that were built during World War II to foil German submarines. Together, they constitute the largest human-made breakwater on Earth. After their service as protectors of the coastline, the walls became adversaries of the community. The waves don’t come in as strong; surfers are prompted to find another surf. The tide is dampened; the water purity and quality suffer. Vacationers tilt north or south along the coast; tourists dollars vacate and home values decline.

You’ll see stickers plastered on news dispensers and car bumpers and street lamps: “Sink the breakwater. Save the waves.” Initiatives, city council meetings, they all seem to center around the retired guardianship of the breakwater.

I am not here for surfing or clean water. I have come to Long Beach to get far enough away that I can think about my life without the sense that my life may creep out from shadows and suffocate me. I am here to think of where I’ve been and who I have become, of how the past has wound and which way I want to go now. I am here to get over my most recent wound – hoping the memories will disintegrate in the sand and sea foam.


Cold wind kicks from the shore, and I kick against sand, sprinting southward along the coast. My footsteps trace the tide-line – the new clay just hard enough to run on. My motive is to heat blood and flush skin, running with the wind, awaiting the waves that crash against my feet. The shoreline is lonely. Strangers pass in silhouette, blurring by.

I fell in love with this place when I came here for the first time, when I saw the screaming silence in Shakaya’s eyes and thought that sunlight could save her. Save us. This beach has had a romance since.
My calves begin to burn, my ankles cranking hard against the sand as I seek balance. I am uncertain how much further to run until a pale blue building reveals itself at the edge of my sight, straight south. I will go there, I decide. And then I will turn back.

Despite the despotism of forcing my feet further, the pale blue home seems no closer. A dozen steps, and nothing. A hundred footfalls, and barely bigger on the horizon. A thousand? Finally a sense of progress. I see the street east of the house, a wall to the west – stones extending into the water, dividing Seal Beach and Long Beach. The wall is familiar; I have been here before, years ago.

My calves ache so fiercely that I can’t jog; I walk forward at a trudge then bullet on the balls of my feet. I am breathless, feeling my blood beat in every artery, but it is the calves that want to stop me. Then, after a mile of making footprints that vanish in the tide behind me, I reach my destination. A final push up a steep sandy wall sets me on the side of that pale blue building.

I look down toward the wall, the piles of rocks stacked together without the permission of nature. Then I look south, across a chasm of water that ends in another wall. I realize it was never this place I went to; I only know its parallel. It was four years ago now that I came here with Shakaya and M. I wouldn’t be able to tell you if they’d started their illicit love affair yet; the entire thing happened in that fond former blind spot of mine, my desire to trust the ones I loved.

I look back toward the pale blue home and see three wandering cats. I smile at the gentle juxtaposition with my train of thought. What were we but a trio of strays, running far away from everything for the sake of simply running? We were so young. We were children.

And so was she. My Harte, my brilliant Harte, the girl I’ve written all of this year’s poetry for. Just four years younger than me, but the things you can survive in those four years will change you. Including you, my Harte, my brilliant heart. Some day, when you’ve found out who you are and built up some iron in your spine, you’ll make someone a lot like me very happy – when you can say those same beautiful things, and know what you mean when you say them. As for me, I suspect we will remain strangers as the spark you ignited keeps burning, scorching through all I am – brutally redeeming, leaving room for a new life to grow.

The way the waves bounce between the walls fold the currents in on each other, churning water into webs, prisms, transitory gems. Overhead, a seagull beats its wings against the wind, struggling just to stay in place. It soon changes course and flies south, fast with the wind behind it. Just below it, now, just there on the opposite wall, was where M ran across rocks, a wide smile on his face as he fantasized about a phantom world. I have never met a man who hated himself more. I turn into the wind and begin walking toward the sunset. Just there, north and west, was where Shakaya told me she would always love me. I think she meant to mean it. And all of the sins I must have committed on these stones, on this shore … forgotten, absolved in the waves of this steel ocean. We were children.

I wind back along the tide-line toward a sun that sinks behind imperial clouds now waylaying our horizon – embroidery clinging in wisps to each contour. The hazy glow of the sky speaks the sillogism of detachment, preaches a promise for a day as yet unborn.

The surfers and tourists declare hate for the diminished waves and dirty water, but it’s the loneliness of Long Beach that draws me here. When I first walked these shores, all those years ago, it felt like the beach was just mine. That sense of solitude in the face of the ocean’s expanse made everything seem quieter. I’ve been a hundred different people since, have learned to trace my fingers along new scars and even love their shapes – but the waves haven’t changed. This is where I run to try and get over the girls I’ve loved, to move past the past, hoping the memories will disintegrate in the sand and sea foam. Today, I am lonely here, but the solitude even quiets that.

The 2007 breakwater study cost the city of Long Beach $100,000, and yet the data remains inconclusive. The already complicated process of potential removal was further challenged by the study’s unintended discovery: The walls have become integral to their own ecology. The largest human-made breakwater has been co-opted by the ocean. Removing the breakwater would destroy a place of life.

It is never so simple as tearing something down.

Happy Poem

I have never written a happy poem.
I have written about the pain that siphons the prana from my heartbeat,
the demons that thrash my lungs and leave me drowning,
the pains I’ve felt and the betrayals I’ve suffered.
When the darkness has ended,
the poetry also ends.
It is my oxygen in the midst of suffocation.
It is my flourishing lily on a winter snowscape.
And then the darkness ends.

In its place is nothing
but unadulterated light.
Nothing but sheer joy.
It sounds so cliche,
but I want to cry from the goodness of it all.
Because life – life is good.
Not just my life, but life, and here it is.

I have never written a happy poem.
I don’t know that I ever can.
Sorrow seems to demand expression,
insists on translation.
Its language is poetry.
But joy
is far above.
Is is the linguistics of life.

(Not the greatest poem, but it gets a bit of its point across.)