upon ancient tiles


I wrote this poem during a stay in Umbria. It was buried in my notes and I forgot it; then rediscovered it many months later. upon the ancient tiles appears in the most recent issue of Poetry QuarterlySummer, 2014. Click to visit the bookstore.


Upon ancient tiles

Walk with me along the rooftops
upon ancient tiles crumbling beneath us
as fragile as we are
We return to this place each year to witness
the gradual decay
and to carry home the antique mess
now turned to dust in our pockets
an unintended souvenir of the life we share

dream house

My poem dream house originally appeared in The Missing Slate, an online journal of writing and ideas. I am very grateful to them for their support of my writing. If you’ve not seen The Missing Slatecheck it out here.  This poem was reprinted in POETSWEST ONLINE
, Volume XVIII, No. 2.

The rotting yellow farmhouse
always the same
appearing in my dream
the symbol of our decay
a home of strong bones
no longer held up
by the habit of standing
reduced to a pile of sticks
disintegrating on the spot
where we once loved
It is here that light falls
and darkness rises
to welcome us
to the demolition
of another day

the mess we left

Thank you to Sandra Tyler, editor of The Woven Tale Press for including the mess we left in your June, 2014 issue. We had an interesting discussion about punctuation in poetry. Generally, I’m against it. Ideally, the meter and line breaks of a poem would be the only punctuation necessary. Sandra persuaded me to give punctuation a try. See this poem at The Woven Tale Press.


the mess we left

What can we tell
from these pictures on walls,
jars filled with glass candies wrapped
in paper that cuts?

What do we know of those
who lived here, their secrets
in plain sight of passersby
the water-stained wall
the empty picture hook
the drawer full of broken glass?

Listen and you can hear
the uneasiness of a life never quite
cleaned up or put away
asking only for quiet,
a place to be left alone.

Perhaps if we sit and wait
these walls will spill open
to explain the sudden change.
For now let us stop
and sit amidst
the mess we left
and contemplate ourselves
reflected back at us
in a broken mirror.

hero (for my father)

    My father was decorated for heroism in WWII. Although he didn’t talk much about it, I know that the trauma of war changed him. Over the years he spoke less and less of the war; less about everything in general. And he never spoke of the circumstances that won him the Silver Star. I suspect he felt some shame for being called a hero when so many other heroes didn’t make it back alive. This poem appears in POETSWEST ONLINE
, Volume XVIII, No. 2. Check it out.

    hero (for my father)

    There was a time when
    the words flowed out of you
    like a raging river
    before you went west

    to build the great monuments
    before the war in Africa
    where unspeakable acts
    took away your words

    not all at once
    but slowly
    until you could speak
    only through me

    relying on my voice
    to tell the truth
    about what you did
    the shame you wore

    in the ribbons of a hero
    you never were
    only a man killing to live
    that you might return home
    to be reunited
    with your humanity

Happy Anniversary, Charlie & Frank


Normally I don’t blog here about my advertising writing. But it dawned on me that this summer it’s been ten years since I got to make my favorite campaign, Charlie and Frank, for SecureHorizons. This was memorable for having the chance to work with some of the most talented people on earth: Our director, Robert Black, who brought on the great cinematographer Janusz Kaminski to serve as our director of photography; our talented actors, Vic Manni (Charlie) and Victor Raider-Wexler (Frank); and narrated by the legendary voice of William Schallert (whom I’ll always remember as Patty’s father in The Patty Duke Show.) Typically, commercials shown in black & white are shot in color and then de-saturated. But Kaminsky, who won the Academy Award for Schindler’s List, filmed this commercial using black & white film, giving it the look and feel of an old movie. The script told a simple story, which, as anyone familiar with Mad Men knows, is the heart of any great ad. But it was really the talents of these extraordinary professionals that made this commercial into something quite wonderful. Senior citizens adored the characters and we made several more commercials with them. They even managed to outlive me; after the ad agency (Doner) lost the account, it was continued by the successor agency.

Watch Charlie and Frank here

elegy and song for Don

Both these poems were written in memory of my best friend, the late, great Don Brody. How fitting that they were published in the final issue of The Wormwood Press, edited by Don’s widow, Cheryl Welch.

He was alive
and then he wasn’t
just like that he went out
a candle leaving only smoke
then disappearing quietly.
It was cold without him,
a dozen springs came and went
bringing a chill each time,
always a surprise to me,
I don’t know why
after all these years
I should still feel alone
never filling the space
that awaits his return.


song for Don

I used to sing with him did you know?
We made sweet music for a drink or two
It was a long time ago before you were born
We’d sing of a time we never did know
With no need to worry of being alone
I used to love him did you know?
We’d put on a show for a drink or two
Without any clothes and nothing to hide
But the child inside
We sang it loud we didn’t care
If no one was there
I saw him one last time did you know?
We carried each other over the snow
And settled in for a drink or two
No one knew it was time to die
One more song to remember us by
I hear it now ringing in my ears
Getting stronger through the years


Thank you to the e-zine Aberration Labyrinth for including my poem journey in Issue #012.  Also thanks to my teacher, friend, and mentor Jim Reynolds, for your invaluable editorial suggestions on this poem, especially the ending. Listen:


The push of youth gives way to the pull of old age
its gravitational field weighing upon each step
in a struggle to stay upright

I look at myself in the mirror to see what is there:
a worn piece of shoe leather that has become my face
the lines telling of a journey taken without a map
the worn eyes that have gazed upon too much

There is less acuity of senses now
less feeling in the hands and legs
but some things are felt more
like the cold which even on a summer day
leaves me with a chill I imagine is
death’s coming attraction

Emotions grow less sudden but more deep
put away except for special occasions
brought out for the young to behold
in wonder that something so old
could feel at all

I am being pulled a little faster each day
every moment racing toward the horizon
only a matter of time until I get there


©Daniel von der Embse


I had Kurt Vonnegut on my mind when I wrote this poem. I’d watched some videos of him and recalled seeing him, in 1980, at St Clement’s Episcopal Church in New York City, delivering the sermon on Palm Sunday. He later included that sermon in his collection Palm Sunday. I’m not sure how good this poem is, but its inspiration, Kurt Vonnegut, has always inspired me.


The city fell last night
swept up, burned,
lost to the underworld
Below only darkness
above only death,
we come to carry
the last remains
not daring to look
at their uprooted souls
turned over to rot
in the sun
so that the smell
became a fixture
of the place
unable to breathe
only to exhale
and hope
to forget


into the warm springs

My best friend, the late Don Brody, was stricken with polio as a child and he visited Warm Springs, Georgia, for therapy. Don died in 1997, but I think of him often and have written several poems about him. This one appeared in the e-zine The Woven Tale Press, June, 2014. Many thanks to their wonderful editor, Sandra Tyler, who has been immensely helpful and supportive. Check it out here.

into the warm springs

The requiem that lowered my
old friend into the ground
plays in my head
looking out over dark patches
that once held life
barren now but for the twinkle
of water in moonlight
I think of him swimming
in the warm springs
one day to be joined there
by me