before Nick became a saint…

This story concerns a man who found a way to solve an inner conflict and in the process…

…created our tradition of Christmas giving.

As a desperately hungry boy, Nick began to sneak into people’s homes and eat their cookies and drink their milk.

The town gazette warned people about a serial cookie-and-milk thief.  Victims told of the shock of invasion and being confused over the theft of something so small.

Finally, late one evening, as the boy lowered himself down from the house window of his latest prey…

…he landed in the clutches of a policeman.  “Okay, my lad,” the cop said.  “I know yer’re starving, I know ya come from a broken home, so I’ll let ya off.  But if any more milk or cookies go missing, I’ll come after ya.  Whenever ya need a hot meal, drop by the house.  I’m sure my wife doesn’t want to see yer ribs sticking out, any more than I do.”

Helped by the kindness of that cop and a community that forgave him, Nick walked a straight line from that point forward.  In time, that ragmuffin boy became a successful businessman in the dairy and cookie trade.  Hard-working.  Solid, if a bit staid.  Generous with his wealth—Nick tried to lift the community that had lifted him.  He was particularly proud of the home he’d established for street urchins.

But despite all that prosperity, as he entered the late stages of middle age, Nick felt dead in his life.  He began looking back through the years, trying to see what he’d lost and when and how.

At such times, he often recalled those nights of his boyhood when he’d sneak into a house, quiet as a cat, and snack on cookies and milk as the residents slept.

Finally, he realized the obvious: in becoming an honest businessman, he’d killed the sly fox—the lively fox—he’d once been.  After mourning that loss with tears, he fell into a deep sleep at his desk.

In short time, a clicking sound broke through the fog of his slumber.  Nick found a fox outside his window, tapping its paw on a pane.  Those long nails struck the glass.  Click-click-click.  Click-click-click.

Licking his lips with that long tongue, the fox said, “Come outside, my good friend.  I am not dead.  If you play and prowl with me, I will live again.”

“Sorry, but I just don’t trust you!” Nick protested.  “I’m afraid you’ll ruin me.”

Me ruin you?” the fox said, his breath making a round spot on the window.  “You began to bury me long ago.  Yes, you needed my cleverness a bit in business—until you became established.  Then you tamped the ground down firmly over my lame body.  But in so doing, you lost the fire of my fox spirit.”

“I’m sorry, I really am,” Nick said.

“Don’t worry—I’m not dead yet.  But what I need to live is what you need to live: the thrill that comes from using our cunning in a grand task of secrecy and risk.”

What that surprise, Nick awoke.  He looked, but found no fox at his window.  Only four blank panes of black night.

Fortunately, he knew enough not to cast that dream aside—not to blame the vision on a piece of anchovy pizza.  No, he immediately began journaling in the ledger book on his desk.

Several pages later, he wrote:

“After careful appraisal, I now see: having stifled the fox within, I’ve rejected a vital part of who I am.  Okay, but what do I do!  I don’t want to steal.  I’m a philanthropist now.  I love giving.

“To be truly happy, I need both aspects active in my life—the fox and the strong stable community provider.  But they seem to be in conflict.  How can I possibly satisfy both drives?

Nick struggled with this dilemma all that night.  Fortunately, the clever fox now had enough life to pop this idea into his head:

Drawing on past expertise, he’d again sneak into houses.  But instead of stealing, he’d leave behind gifts—gifts for all the townspeople.  “I’ll wait ‘til winter, ‘til the darkest time of year, when people most need cheering.  In the meantime, I’ll be gathering all the presents together.”

And so, on a quiet December night, as the town slept, Nick crept from house to house, hauling bags of gifts.  But in his zeal, perhaps he didn’t consider all the possibilities.  When the first recipients woke to find strange packages in their houses, they summoned the police.

Once again, a cop arrived to find Nick climbing down from a window—the window of the last house on his list.  He had some explaining to do…

In court the next day, he pleaded his case…

…first, telling of his rough-and-tumble childhood—of how he’d been saved from a life of crime by that kind couple.  He told of his vow to them: to walk the straight and narrow in life and be industrious in his labor.

“And so, I eventually became successful, despite my fair dealing,” he told the judge.  “The whole town knows my story…

“But what you don’t know is: after all my years of honest hard work, I was left with the strange sense of something missing.  When I saw how I’d killed a vital part of myself, I hit upon a scheme, hoping to resurrect that life.  A scheme I believed would benefit all.”

So, which part of him gave that speech?—the good man of giving or the sly fox?  Maybe both.  In any case, his story melted everyone in the courtroom.  Perhaps many felt a similar loss in their own lives.

“Well okay, Nick, since you didn’t take but only gave, I’ll let you off with a warning,” the judge said, then added with a mischievous wink, “I liked the gift you left me.  Next year, an argyle sweater might be nice.”

The old white-bearded milk-and-cookie man got the message.  So did the rest of the townspeople.  They agreed amongst themselves to retire early the next Christmas eve and leave a window unbolted.

And because they wanted to give to Nick as he gave to them, most put out a glass of milk and a plate of cookies for him.  Of course, they knew his life was now full of milk and cookies.  But they realized the bump in sales would help his profit margin.

By this point, you’ve probably guessed: before St. Nicolas became a saint, he was Nick, the crafty street urchin who grew into an honest businessman and philanthropist.

We can thank him for beginning, long ago, our tradition of year-end giving.

I know that’s not the story you’ve heard…

But as history becomes legend, the facts of a story become blurrier and blurrier. Often, all we have left is the basic outline.  I believe we remake the story into what we want it to be.  I say…

…we transformed Nick into a one-dimensional character, because we rejected the thought that someone so sunny could also have a dark side.  We didn’t want to look behind that twinkle in Santa’s eye. We didn’t want to see the shadow fox.  But I say…

…we need to see that shadow.  By seeing Santa Nick’s shadow, we may see a bit more of our own.  And having seen, we may realize we need to deal with the conflict it presents—just as Nick did.

Maybe you still prefer a more traditional Santa.  Well okay, but while you’re reading ‘Twas the Night before Christmas to your kids, consider this value of the new/old version:

The tale of Nick shows how someone can flip a negative behavior to its positive side…

…without losing the excitement the negative provides.

© 2019, Michael R. Patton
sky rope poetry

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the same but different

We’ve all heard these stories:

Identical twins, separated at birth, who lead parallel lives…

Maybe both become firemen, marry women named “Betsy”, practice taxidermy as a hobby, and love tuna melt sandwiches.

Such incredible coincidences seem to suggest our genetic makeup is the most important factor in determining who we become—

—more important than even childhood environment and upbringing.

Well, I don’t know.  But based on what I’ve seen, I can say with confidence: all three factors, taken together, still can’t completely explain why I am as I am and you are as you are.

Consider a set of identical twins I once met…

These two men grew up in the same environment and in so many ways beyond appearance, were the same…

They both loved to surf and moved to Hawaii in pursuit of the perfect wave.  But both then gave up this passion to devote themselves to Christian social work.

At first glance, I might mistake one for the other.  But not at second glance.

One radiated seriousness.  He seemed older than his brother.

His brother was serious too, but lighter.  That smile in his eye said: the child’s still alive!

Same genome.  Same environment.  Same upbringing.  So how can we explain the difference?

I say: two different spirits—or if you prefer, two different souls.  A good belief, I think. Good because it actually raises more questions than it answers.

How is that good?

Well, when I ponder those questions, I feel again the deep mystery of our Universe.

© 2019, Michael R. Patton
searching for my best beliefs: poetry ebook

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family plan

Most of us are born into a family, are raised by a family…

But during the course of our lives, we develop another family.  A family of friends and associates.

Though the members of our second family may seem to come into our lives by chance…

…I believe they’re there by design.  As are the members of our first family.

I believe we work out these family arrangements before birth.  Such a plan would be incredibly complex, you say?  Well, yes.  But something can be beyond the bounds of my small mind and still be possible.  In any case, this isn’t science.  This is belief.

And good belief, I believe.

If I believe I chose my families, I’ll likely ask myself why a particular person is in my life—a question sometimes expressed as: “Why the hell would I pick that skunk!”

By searching for answers to that question, I may see what I’ve learned, what I gained from knowing that person.  I may actually see benefit in what before seemed destructive.

Those answers may not come to me quickly, easily, clearly.  But even when I fail to see the reason…

…the belief that there is a reason—that there is a grand plan—still adds meaning to my life.  And personally, I prefer more meaning over less.

I wish you a joyful Thanksgiving.

© 2019, Michael R. Patton
searching for my best beliefs: poetry ebook

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Fable of the Monkey King



Wishing to express
his secret self on Halloween
the man of aspiration planned
to go to the party
dressed as a warrior
or a king
a warrior-king

but the sales clerk said:
“Sorry, but it seems
  this year everyone wants to be
  either some type of warrior
  some type of royalty

“so all we have left on the rack
  is this monkey outfit.”

“But I don’t want to be a monkey,”
  the man whined.

“Think about it,” the clerk reasoned.
“Can an armored knight
  scale one hundred foot of jungle vine
  in a mere minute?
  Can a king swing from tree to tree?”

Though not quite persuaded
the man of aspiration acquiesced.

At least, I’ll be unique, he thought.

But no!—
he arrived at the party house
to find
half the celebrants dressed
in the same monkey costume
he’d bought:
the shop had unloaded a truckload
purchased at discount.

That clerk made a monkey out of me
our deflated man sighed.

But in his humility
he said what the hell
and lowered himself down
to join that crowd
in their monkeyshines—

what a freedom of fun!—
those pretend-simians
flailed and hopped
in a dizzy giddy dance—
they filled the room
with their gibber-jabber—
occasionally bursting into
high-pitched hollers
that made the roof shingles shiver.

Some swung from the balustrade
and some kept putting banana peels
under the heels
of those with upturned noses.

But then
towards the end of the evening
that barrel of monkeys
calmed a bit
and paired off to pick
imaginary bugs from synthetic hair.

In this way, our man met
a woman who, like him
dreamed of wearing
both sword and crown.

A good match
aided, I believe, by its low-brow

better I first see you as monkey
before knowing you as royalty
I may feel disillusioned
when I discover my highness
sometimes slides
all the way down to the ground
on a grapevine.

© 2019, Michael R. Patton
40 New Fables: ebook

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fable of the strong fearful woman

For years, our heroine—we’ll call her “Elizabeth” because she likes the name—had struggled to create security for herself.

She’d moved to area untroubled by tornadoes, hurricanes, or earthquakes…

…then entered well-paid profession that promised future stability.  Her employer—a large but low-profile corporation—made fiscally-sound decisions.

Though her gated community was quite safe, Elizabeth still installed burglar alarms and built a tall fence around the backyard.  She insured everything that could be insured.

She did background checks on potential mates, potential friends, and even co-workers.  She never pet stray dogs.

She thought being an overly zealous health-nut might stress her body.  But she did eat healthy meals, avoid fatty snacks, and attend a low-impact aerobics class three times a week.

You know those big gold earrings so popular now?  She actually stopped wearing them, afraid one of those hoops would get caught on something.

She did all that and more.  Nonetheless, Elizabeth still felt insecure.

“What else can I do!” she cried to herself.  “Every moment—every step—a burden of fear chokes my breath.  Now, I’m worried that all my worrying might result in a heart attack.  I’m ready to die—that’s how afraid of death I am.  What agony!  How can I deal with this constant feeling of dread?”

Speaking that question, she suddenly—finally!—realized the obvious: security exists as a feeling.  Yes, she could feel more secure by making her environment safer.  But to create true security, she needed to go within and deal with her fear.

“Why didn’t I think of that before?” she asked her mirror.  “But of course—I was afraid of my fear.  Well, no more.  I’m ready for battle.  I’ll win this war!”

But how?  How to begin?

She decided she should examine the storm waters of her childhood.  In short time, she realized another obvious fact: hard for a little girl to build a firm foundation of security in such a chaotic ocean.  However…

…sometimes on a raging night, that child would dive down deep inside herself and find a solid kernel of gold to hold.

So Elizabeth now began to meditate down into herself every day.  Before long, she rediscovered that kernel of gold.  Small, but solid.  Perhaps the beginnings of a foundation.

However, when she resurfaced, that kernel seemed to slip away too easily.  What now?  She couldn’t sit and meditate all day long.

But she could repeat “personal peace” affirmations in her head every waking hour.  She also tried hypnosis and a type of yoga that was supposed to center you.  Well, she did center—at least, while doing the yoga.

Anyway, after a few weeks of this intense regimen, she actually did feel a little more peaceful, a little more secure.


…her mind was still like a car on an icy road.  She’d be rolling along just fine…

…then an unseen patch of ice would send her slipping and sliding.  She’d fight to steer the car back on track, but once out of control, that mind had a will of its own.

“Accidents can happen in a flash,” her mind would tell her.  “One moment, you’re gazing quietly at a star twinkling in the night sky above…

…then suddenly—whoosh!—the ground collapses under your feet and you land in the dark slimy pit of a sinkhole.  That’s no exaggeration!  Big buildings and people have disappeared without warning!

“Even if you lock yourself in a bunker, you could wake up one morning with an untreatable neurological disease.

“That ain’t paranoia, girl—that’s the truth of human life.”

Despite all her work, Elizabeth—dear frazzled Liz—wasn’t able to rid herself of the deep dread that threatened to completely debilitate her.  So she surrendered—but heroically.

“I WILL NOW ACCEPT INSECURITY!” she wrote in her journal, using the red pen.  Those big bold letters blazed at her like fiery courage.

Fortunately, she had sense enough not to jump to the opposite extreme.  She didn’t quit her job, didn’t empty out her bank account or cancel all her insurance or stop eating healthy and exercising.  She knew she’d go into shock if she suddenly removed all her safety nets.

Nor did she stop the meditation and centering yoga.  Those activities might not be a cure-all, but she felt better with them than without them.

No, Elizabeth didn’t “embrace” insecurity.  But she did stop trying to destroy her anxiety.  She now accepted it as a permanent part of her life.  Something that she had to learn to live with.  Not a friend, but also not a foe.

With that shift came this shift in perspective…

If you’ve learned to live with your fear, why you should feel like a failure?  Like a fraidy cat?  If every new step feels like a death-defying act and yet, you continue to step, then isn’t every single step an accomplishment?  A success?  “If I’m walking a tightrope, I deserve kudos for my courage,” she told herself.

And so, her life now sizzles with the thrill of every new moment, instead of being weighed down by the dread of what might happen next.

She knows that high-wire walkers must constantly monitor their internal balance.  So as she steps, she goes past her head and listens to what’s happening deep within.  Nothing less than a centering meditation with every step!  In this way, she’s slowly begun to feel more stable, more secure—causing her initial intense rush to ease just a bit.  But that’s okay—too much adrenaline eventually exhausts us.  In any case, she’ll never feel completely relaxed.  But now, I don’t think she wants to relax completely.  For that matter, complete relaxation isn’t so safe, is it?

“Since I’ve learned to live with my weakness, I feel so much stronger,” she wrote in her journal, using the green pen.

By the way, in case you’re wondering…

…she did stop the background checks. After all, she’s learned: though some problems may remain, people do change.

© 2019, Michael R. Patton
40 New Fables: ebook

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why the world spins: an incomplete myth


At the beginning
of our small but heavy planet
a woman and a man stood up
from the ooze of mud

but while the woman examined
the curious aspects of her body
the man looked all around

until his eyes settled on
the far horizon:

a deep desire then impelled him to go forth
and discover what lay beyond—

in his impatience, he began to run
and the treading of his feet
made the ball of the world spin.

The woman could see
the man had created a treadmill
and told him he’d soon find
the far horizon right under his feet

but the man refused to believe
he could achieve his grand dream
without tremendous strain and pain
and so, he ran on.

The woman then followed her own deep desire
—the drive to be together—
and strode beside the fool.

This pair created quite a commotion
with their motion:
pounding out earthquakes—
raising tidal waves—
stirring up
tornadoes and hurricanes
down through the ages
of the human race.

How does this story end?
Sorry, but I can’t say
because it hasn’t ended yet—
I will venture this guess:

eventually, the man and woman
will drop from exhaustion—
maybe they’ll trip
and land hard

then in the unfamiliar stillness
they’ll feel another impulse
deep within

and obeying this drive of spirit
embrace the ground beneath their butts
with whole heart.

What will our new life be
in that strange world of peace?

© 2019, Michael R. Patton
Survival: a poetry ebook
© 2019, Michael R. Patton

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stalking the Bigfoot within

Maybe they’re dreaming with eyes open…

I’m talking about those who say they’ve seen Bigfoot*.

Yes, some are surely pulling our leg (a nice way to say “lying”).

However, I believe others actually saw something real.  No, not a physical creature that lives deep in the woods.  But a vision created by the unconscious.  A waking dream.

Our sleeping dreams reveal unknown and/or neglected aspects of ourselves.  I think the same is true of our waking dreams.  The waking dreamer, like the sleeping dreamer, is seeing his own shadow.

But Bigfoot is not just the personal waking dream of a few eyewitnesses.  He’s also one of the waking dreams of our culture.  Consider the fascination with Bigfoot stories—all the articles, books, TV shows, and movies.  I say: we’re stalking on our own inner Bigfoot.

But you don’t hunt for something if you feel it’s already in your possession.   What have we lost; what do we seek?

To me, Bigfoot is a positive expression of “the beast”.  We’re used to thinking of the beast in negative terms.  Something to be subdued—caged, if not killed.  No wonder Bigfoot is afraid.  No wonder he hides from us.

This positive beast is strong, but gentle.  A part of nature, yet close to being human.  He’s a bridge, I think.  A bridge between our civilized world and the world from which we emerged.  A world lost to us.  Ironically, we need to reconnect with that world in order to be fully human.  In order to be whole.

That’s the Bigfoot I seek.  But perhaps Bigfoot means something different to you…

In any case, after hunting haphazardly, blindly, I’ve developed this plan for myself…

If I go into the woods of my own dark deep nature…

…and wait patiently for my awareness to open…

…maybe what I have lost will return to me.  My own inner Bigfoot.

(* This concept would apply to most, or maybe all, creatures of legend—including lake monsters and elusive entities such as the Chupacabra of Puerto Rico.  And of course, Bigfoot’s cousins: Sasquatch, Yeti, and the Abominable Snowman.)

© 2019, Michael R. Patton
the truth of the dream: poetry ebook

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