Traditional Family Values

I believe in traditional family values

It is my obligation as a family member
To do everything in my power
To keep aging or disabled family members
From having to live or die in nursing homes

This was passed down to me
As a child
Through the example of my great-uncle Lindy
Who moved in with my great-grandma
To keep her out of a nursing home
As long as he could
Even as she broke her hips multiple times
And became frail and bedridden
She stayed at home as long as she could
Because of our family values

Because of our traditional family values
I was able to visit her every year
In her tiny little house
Smaller than some of my apartments
But filled with love and kindness
Because she was a hard-core Hufflepuff
And she and her house
Had a long time
To become part of each other

What, you were expecting something different?
Then either you’ve grown too used to hearing
Right-wing propaganda disguised as tradition
Or you don’t know how many valuable traditions
A family can have

I am very traditional in my own way
Even if you can’t see it
And it is traditions like this
That are at the core of my value system
Traditions that come from love
Not from unthinking obedience to hate

So next time you hear the words
Traditional family values
Think hard
About your family’s best traditions
The ones that come from love
You might not have any
But you might
And you might be surprised what they are

And if you can find any such traditions
Then do all you can to take back the meaning
Of traditional family values
To apply to the love your family has taught you
Passed down through the generations
That’s what tradition, in its best sense, means

Sleeping with Granite

Me in bed with my bipap mask on and a big hunk of granite on my belly.

Me with a bipap mask on and a big hunk of granite on my belly.

I sleep with granite on my belly
Because hard objects are comforting
In a way that soft objects can never be

I sleep with granite on my belly
Because my father knew he’d die by December
So he hand-picked rocks as holiday gifts

I sleep with granite on my belly
Because my parents chose this particular rock
Shaped like a heart, heavy like a grieving heart

I sleep with granite on my belly
Because its heaviness anchors me
And tells me where my body is

I sleep with granite on my belly
Because I sat with my family on mountainsides
Made entirely of granite as far as you could see

I sleep with granite on my belly
Because it sings me rough but soothing songs
About the feeling it gets in the noonday sun

I sleep with granite on my belly
Because granite made friends with me
Before I had human friends

I sleep with granite on my belly
Because it reminds me of the Sierras
And the Sierras remind me of my father

I sleep with granite on my belly
I sleep with a bag of stones
In a shirt pocket oer my heart:
Plain grey rock with indentations
Volcanic rock with lots of holes
Tiger’s eye, Lapis lazuli, Schorl, Jasper
Amethyst, Orange Agate, Spectrolite

And all of these
In their way
Tell me I’m home

Owl Eyes


I was born
In the doorway of the delivery room
At change of shift
My mother had to lift the sheets
To show them I was here

I didn’t cry
I just stared
With big eyes 
And big pupils

“Owl Eyes”
My dad nicknamed me
As my parents wondered
“Who the hell is in there
Behind those big black eyes?”

I guess they found out
Slowly enough
As I learned to communicate better
But I feel like my father and me 
Never fully understood each other
Until he was dying

Because there was something he feared
About opening up to love
But he trusted me enough to do it
And I trusted him enough to do the same
And suddenly it was as if everything in our hearts
Was known to the other
On a level too deep for words

I was born during so many transitions
But death is the biggest of all
And I know my dad was scared
But I told him:

When it gets to its worst
Or when the pain gets too much
Lean on Love
It will not let you down
And he did
And we could see more
In each other’s eyes
Than we’d seen in a lifetime before

And my mom said when he died
He trusted us enough
To walk into the Light unafraid

Owl Eyes I was at birth
And Owl Eyes I was again
When my father took me out at night
To listen to the owls in the woods
And my eyes got big every time
I heard an owl hoot

And when my father was dying
All I wished was that
My Owl Eyes could get big enough
To see, and capture, his soul
In my memory

Continue reading

Why I want to be like my mother.

It was 10:06 pm in California
1:06 am in Vermont
When my father took his last breath

At around 1:25 I got a phone call
I knew it could only mean one thing
Especially when it was my mother
Sounding shaken
Refusing to tell me another word 
Until I gave myself a stress dose
Of dexamethasone

She had known my father
Since she was 15
She was now just barely 68
They’d been married for 50 years
Engaged for most of the other 3
They were best friends
And soulmates 
And had weathered
Some of the worst storms
A marriage with children can offer
And come out stronger for it

Knowing all that —
What does it say to you thatl
Less than half an hour 
After my father passed, 
She said:

“I know this kind of precision 
Means a lot to you
So I’m letting you know
Your father took his last breath
At exactly 10:06 pm.”

Her soulmate had just died
After months of her being his primary caregiver
At great risk to her own life and health
And she was thinking about
Whether I cared about precision or not

She’s the sort of person
Who always thinks about others
In ways I can only try and fail to emulate
I see her do it every time she interacts
And I don’t know how she does it

If I could wish for anything from my parents
It would be my father’s practical skills
His ability to do things with his hands
And it would be my mother’s social skills
Her ability to not only care, but show she cares
Even minutes after losing the love of her life

Deathbed Triptych (RIP Ronald Baggs, 1941-2014)


Early days
Just diagnosed
Will he live out the week?

I wanted to make a sacrifice
To show him how much he meant to me
And I knew
Though will never understand
That the sound of my voice
Is everything to him

So I
A functionally nonverbal autistic
Practiced all day, all night
Called him on Skype

Typed “Listen closely
This is hard
It will only happen once”

Said out loud
“I — love — you — Ron.”

He cried.

He cried again when I told him
My brother was trying to find
A way to get me out to his house
So I could see my dad
One last time

He cried hard —
We both knew it wouldn’t  happen
Just like during his last visit to Vermont
We cried our eyes out when he left
Because despite no diagnosis or even symptoms
We knew it was
The last time
We would see each other alive

And this time
We both knew
I would never make it
To the Siskiyous
In time to say goodbye


I told Ron in a letter
I was packaging up all my love for him
And storing it outside of time
Where he could always perceive it

I lamented all the things
That I would leave unsaid
Until it was too late
All the questions unasked
And unanswered

But I knew the most important
— I love you —
Had already been said
So many times
But never too many

We Skyped that day
And he told me
I didn’t need to say anything
He could read all my thoughts
Through my eyes
So nothing, nothing
Nothing was left unsaid

He said he could see a glow
Around anyone, including animals
Who was experiencing love
I opened my heart to him completely
Without even thinking about it

He laughed
He said
“…and you can do it on purpose!”

We both laughed
I tried not to cry
I had put forth so much effort
To speak out loud in his language
Now he was becoming fluent in mine
On his deathbed


He was almost too weak to talk
And could not read the words
I typed in the Instant Message window

I could not repeat
My original feat of speech

So I trilled
The way a momma cat trills to her kittens
And they trill back
Like a voiced purr

“I wish I could do that,”
He said

I opened my heart
As wide as it would go
And trilled, and purred
And purred,and trilled
And poured all of my love
Into each sound

I know he felt it
Even through the pain
Even though I could tell
How much effort it took him
To even attend to my purring
How much his body just wanted to rest
I’d been there
I knew the signs

I knew it would be
The last time I saw him alive
So I wrote a goodbye letter
With everything I’d ever wanted to say

My mom wrote back to tell me
When he heard my name
His eyes opened wide
And when she read the letter
He tried hard to smile

I love you. And I understand what it’s like when you’re just too exhausted to take visitors, or even to think about other people. When your mind recedes inside itself because there’s no energy to think, and your brain is overworked just running your body.  I Skyped you last night to say goodbye to you.  I couldn’t say it out loud of course, but I did purr at you an awful lot. I know your brain can’t handle a lot so I’ll keep this short. You’ve been the best father I could ever hope to have. I wish you luck wherever you are going when you die, if you go anywhere at all. Remember I have put all my love for you into a place you can go whenever you need it, before or after you die.  I love you more than I can say. Remember to surrender to love and you’ll be fine no matter what happens. And in case I never Skype with you again, goodbye.  I could say more, but I’ve been saying it all with my eyes the last several times we’ve communicated. You know what I mean. I love you. Goodbye.

So she read it to him twice
She said it was a good start to their day

I felt as if I had dropped a rock
Into a bottomless lake
Then turned and walked away
Without looking back

Not looking back 
Was the hardest thing
I’ve ever done

IV. Epilogue

There would be no more letters
No more video chats 
No more sent from me to him
Except the blazing white-hot love
That he said he perceived from me
Every day now
As if I was right there in the room

I had learned to kythe with him
So late in his life
I once said I wished we had learned
To love each other this way
And perceive each other’s love
When we were younger and healthier

He said maybe the time wasn’t right until now
Death made him wise 
Beyond even his considerable years
Death can do that
If you open yourself unconditionally
To the Love that is the other face of Death

I was bursting with pride
That in the months since diagnosis
He had progressed from terrified of Death
To embracing Love
And conquering his fears

So when the time came
He crossed over so fast
It startled even my mother
Who had been holding his hand
Coaching him through
The last phases of dying

But as for me…
I never spoke to him again alive
My letter really was goodbye
And it took everything in me
To press the send button on the email
Because I knew I would never be around
To hear the stone hit the bottom of that lake

Walking away
Never looking back
Only looking forward
To await the news of his death
Was the hardest thing I’ve ever done

That’s what saying goodbye
The final goodbye
Means, when you’re 
Thousands of miles away
And trying not to show him
How weak you get under severe stress
With adrenal insufficiency

(The day I got the news
He was going into hospice care
I got so weak I needed
My bipap as a makeshift ventilator
But he had enough on his plate
I wanted him to die knowing
I was finally safe.)

I will continue to write you letters
For my sake more than yours
Wherever you are, you don’t need them
But I do
And so do others 
Who have a death in the family
I need my letters and poetry
Because it takes the turmoil inside
And turns it into orderly strings of words 

Goodbye Ron — God(s) be with ye
Lovbye, Ron — Love be with ye 
In our family God and Love
Mean the same thing
That’s what you and Anna taught me
I love you 

And every time I see Love in action
I’ll know you are a part of it
And I’ll kythe to you the knowledge
That it’s good to see you again.