Chink Children

Chink Children

Offering love and encouragement to children as they grow helps ensure their success. And sometimes doing and saying things that may seem harsh serve their higher good as well


For Henry and Lian

Chink Children

Your mother found out
What you needed to survive
To get by, to understand
Soon after she arrived here

Gook-bitch, whore, slut
Groping, grabbing, fondling
Gestures, whistles, jeers
Welcome to America

Outrage, anger, disgust
These are my people?
The apology to her is a band-aid
A futile gesture, an impotent act

Little chink boy, little chink girl
You want to cry, to scream?
You think this stops if you do?
Go ahead cry, see what happens

Sensitive boy, feeling girl
My tears barely hid, theirs forming
About to burst, about to flow
They know what’ll happen if they do

My heart breaks when I hear, when I see
I want to take them in my arms, to comfort
To make better, to show them they’re loved
Their mother does too

Why do you talk to them like that?
A knowing look, hardened resolve
No apologies offered
Love doesn’t apologize

Understanding diversity through the personal

This is a scene that played out between my niece and nephew and their mother. The kids were about 6 and 9 years old at the time. They are of Asian and European descent. Their mother, originally from China, had had a number of rude, crass (these words don’t do justice) experiences since moving to the US involving random people saying and doing despicable things. I’m sure she only shared a few of them with me.

At the time that mom was going after her children by calling them names and daring them to cry, I was horrified and couldn’t understand the cruelty I was witnessing. I wanted to run to the kids, grab them up in my arms, tell them I loved them, that I love the way they look, that I wouldn’t change a thing about them, that they were perfect to me.

It took me years, but eventually I came to understand that this was an act of love, an act of courage and compassion. One that was out of my realm of experience. The understanding came slowly to me like a glacier grinding its way to the sea, hanging out over the edge, calving an iceberg, which then crashes explosively into the sea.

Their mother did this to prepare them for the world, for our world, to get them ready for what they would have to face, consciously choosing to strike preemptively, to inflict damage, to scald, burn, tear and breach, then giving time to heal, so that her children would be able to let the insults, that would be spoken at future times, slide off them like water on a seal’s oily coat.

As a white man of northern European descent, my parents, family, schools, church, culture, etc never had to instruct me this way. It never crossed my mind that I would have to be taught this lesson, as I’m sure most people in my sphere had never considered it either.

It’s amazing how important these things become when they are about family, about people I/you love.

To Lian and Henry

Your mother did these things, said these things because she loves you. I’m sure you figured that out way before I did. She wants to prepare you for the world, to become adults that will embrace life and live it to its fullest. By arming you and toughening you, she is giving you the gift of not letting some of the horrible parts of life get you down, hold you back or suck you into the darkness.

On the surface it doesn’t sound like much of a gift, but it is, and I know that it wasn’t an easy one for her to give you. It’s not a gift I could’ve given you, although now I see the wisdom of it.

These lessons are part of her legacy to you. You’ll be the better for them. You already are.

With love, Uncle Tom

Question for you, the reader

Have you had any experiences like this?




I almost got caught up

I almost got caught up

Can you imagine trying to get caught up to cleaning a city? Oh, my


I almost got caught up

I almost got caught up on my dishes the other day but I think I’ve discovered a new kind of bacteria, so they can wait

I almost got caught up on my laundry last week but now, I’m building a pyramid to see how the ancients lived

I almost got caught up on my writing but more words showed up, demanding a place on the page

I almost got caught up on my reading but forgot the stacks behind the stacks

I almost got caught up on Facebook but people won’t stop posting

I almost got caught up on Twitter but fortunately I don’t tweet

I almost got caught up, but then I didn’t

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Tom Tiernan
August 2013


About Infomercials

Did you know that selling things (AKA junk) on infomercials, both the long shows and short blurbs, originated in New Jersey? At least that’s my understanding of it. When I watched television as a kid I would see these ads all the time. One of the last bits of info to be shown was the address to send your money. It always kind of shocked me a bit, because the town displayed was Verona, NJ, just a short ways down the road from where I lived. Verona wasn’t exactly known for being the hub of anything back then. It straddled Bloomfield Avenue, a road we used to get from home to somewhere else. Maybe that’s changed since then.

The hucksters’, err, I mean salesmen’s voices were always so enthusiastic about the thing they were hawking. Over time I noticed a pattern, a formula, a cadence they used for everything they promoted. That cadence has, for some unknown reason, stuck with me all these years. It’s like a song that gets stuck in your head. No matter what you do, you can’t get rid of it. Perhaps I missed my true calling?

Question for you

What’s the closest you ever got to getting caught up? (This is a trick question)


Photo by Tom Tiernan

When I wear my mother mask

Tom Tiernan ©2006

The masks we wear are like looking through a dirty, jagged, broken window. We know there’s something else back there but we can’t see what it is

When I wear my mother mask

I am the other, the one I don’t want to be
But can’t escape, like moon pulling tide to sea
I am the mother monster me
Wanting to apologize and flee

I am the rageful child feeling low
Allowing fear to strike a blow

I am the razor sharp claws
Looking for your hidden flaws

I am never feeling complete
Unless grinding you under my feet

I am lonely but distrust the touch
Wanting to love all so much

I am the once lovely little girl
Crushed, tiny, caught in a swirl

I remain ever lost but never found
Until being laid in the cold ground

When I lie within these sins and bask
It is often troubling to ask
For help with the difficult task
Of taking off mother monster mask

Tom Tiernan

For Michele Martin
Michele, you posted something about masks one day and inspired a thought, gave me an inkling, helped me to give birth, to bury the dead, to look again, to step out of the shadow. Thanks

Sometimes masks deserve to be hidden, pushed down, repressed, so they don’t maim the ones we love. Bringing them to light, disassembling the machine run amok, disarming the bomb, would be ideal. I don’t want to embrace this mask but perhaps I need to because it surfaces with surprising regularity. Embrace the dark? And then what?

 Question for you, the reader

Are there masks you wear on occasion that you wish you didn’t?


Photo by Tom Tiernan


On Writing

On Writing

Now, where did that writing flow go?


On Writing

The words rattle around my head
Sometimes poetic, wispy, full of promise
But when I go to write them down
They stick to my fingers like flypaper
And refuse to go on the page
See. Sally. Run.

Where is the lyricism of my youth?
The sometimes gushing flow?
The sometimes courageous act?
The flowering bud promises of Spring?
The words, the words
They don’t come easy

Tom Tiernan 2013

About the poem

This was just one of those days when nothing flowed.

Here’s a sign that you’re getting old: When you think you did something much better years ago but aren’t quite sure.

Question for you

What do you do to get unstuck, to get the flow back on track?


Photo by Tom Tiernan


The Sentinel

The Sentinel

I love to see children having fun. Anything becomes a game, a great adventure, a reason to have fun. What did you love to play when you were a child?


The Sentinel

The Eastern European couples gather around the table
They are here most weekends
Perhaps knowing each other from the old country

Their children always with them
Three young girls growing up fast
A little boy now, too

The children drift off across the small vacant lot
Talking and playing, they head to the far street
Fifty yards is all but might as well be fifty miles

Do the parents know how quickly their lives can change?
How darkness can blot out the light?
I do, from the inside out

Should they be warned?
Is this the right thing to do?
I honestly don’t know

Obeying the voice of compulsion
I stand watch until the children return
It is not a choice

Why do I have to do it?
Because I know the lone dark terror
The wild beating of an innocent heart

I am the sentinel


Tom Tiernan 2012

Photo by Tom Tiernan

About the poem

People experience and come to grips with trauma in lots of ways. Similar experiences can manifest differently for each person. Hypervigilance is one manifestation. It is a blessing and a curse at times.

Questions for you

Have you ever experienced hypervigilance? How does it manifest?




Dry-age your writing

Abstract photo of crowd in movement, slightly unfocused

This image reflects the early part of a writing project. It appears out of focus, blurry and yet there is action, movement, thoughts unfolding, almost solid.

There is a small ranch in Oregon that produces the best beef you’ll ever eat and oddly enough their way of doing things applies to writing. If you don’t eat beef, hang in there, this is for you too.

Happy Cow Farms is dedicated to providing top notch food, raising it in a healthful way without using hormones or antibiotics and adhering to humane standards. Their cows are grass-fed and then grass-finished, which is a step left out by the majority of beef producers. There is one other thing they do that sets their quality above the rest.


After butchering, the beef is left to hang for three weeks or as it’s known in the industry, dry-aged. The result of this process is that a lot of moisture is lost, which means a much smaller yield than regular aging and consequently ending up with less meat to sell. Maybe up to a third less. The process takes longer and is therefore more costly.

Through dry-aging the flavor of the meat becomes very dense and flavorful. There is a richness, an earthiness and vitality to it that can’t be achieved using regular methods. This way of doing things requires a patience and dedication to quality that can’t be had by cutting corners.

Dry-age your writing

Your writing can be, has to be, needs to be, dry-aged too. Give it time to hang, to sit, to get to know itself. Let the excess drain out, the not-necessary words to evaporate, the meaning to become dense, rich and concentrated. It has a focus, a desire, a quest. Allow it to reveal itself to you.

Take the saw, the blade, the scalpel to it. Pair it away until it becomes better than you originally envisioned. Lift up the flaps and folds, pierce it with a fork. Does it hold up to scrutiny? Will it give your reader the ability to dream, to imagine, to learn? To see the world differently? To feel or cry?

Let your writing be until it takes on a life of its own, until you become scribe instead of writer, until, like a child, it outgrows its parent. Hold your ear close by, become the fully present listener, the witness, the confessor, the heartless interrogator.

Your writing will yield more if you let it age, die and be reborn, and rise from the ashes.

Do as I say, not …

And now for a touch of irony. I wonder how much better this post could have been if I had only let it age a little longer? Let it ferment, bubble up, allowed the smoky flavor to permeate the whole?

A question for you

What is your process for dry-aging your writing?

Tom Tiernan



I like Mayonnaise

A photo of onions being grilled entitled "I like Mayonnaise"

Imagine a dollop of mayo on these grilled onions. Now, that’s what I call living


I like Mayonnaise

The way it slides down my throat
You can even eat it on a boat

The way it slides down my shirt
Makes fashion designers want to flirt

Leaving patterns but on the collar?
Oh, mayonnaise makes me want to holler

The way it goes with coke
And asks years later coronary or stroke?

When I’m feeling low
Mayo is the way to go

It’s good for when you hurt
It’s also good on dessert

I like mayonnaise in a drink
Or any way you can think

Tom Tiernan

A little silliness is good

Doing something silly like creating this poem and not feeling the need to write something serious, stay the path or be productive was a freeing experience. It actually helps me to do things like this to think outside the box, look at new angles and simply to have a laugh. Be good to yourself, do something silly right now.

Question for you

When was the last time you did something silly?

Photo by Tom Tiernan




I met my mother when…

Photo of a footprint on a beach entitled "I met my mother when"

Families, parents appear so solid at times and at others fade off into the distance, into a fog bank, an ethereal ghost of belonging mixed with sorrow and grief


I met my mother when…

I was two months old, you went way out of your way, to take me from the orphanage, to bundle me up, to carry me on a plane, in a snow storm, Chicago to New York, to bring me home, my new home

I met my mother when…

I was five years old, you armed my younger brother, your son, your birth son, to the teeth… You’re not part of this family. You’re adopted

I met my mother when…

The door-slamming was louder than the screaming in my head, the door-slamming louder than my heart, the door-slamming louder than my soul could keep

I met my mother when…

I was nine years old, or eight, or ten, you were in a fishing tournament, only a few hours away, you heard, that I had been, that I needed you, someone, anyone… and chose not to come

I met my mother when…

Your rage boiled, your arms swung, me blocking you, putting up a pitiable defense, against your demons, your assault, then later, showing my father, Exhibit A for the prosecution, the bruises on your arms, my father suspecting, and still carrying out his orders… But dad, I never hit her

I met my mother when…

Twenty years later, disgust in your voice, you really did believe it was my fault… Why didn’t you just run away?

I met my mother when…

Dad died, you had passed five years before, my sister and I, cleaning out the house, your bottles hidden, in your closets, in your clothes, in your bathroom, in your life, in your legacy to us

I met my mother when…

I was writing your eulogy, and I discovered… You had some good points too

Tom Tiernan 2013

For Lidia Yuknavitch, author of ‘Chronology of Water‘. That was quite the roller coaster you took me on. Scary, nauseous, liberating, reviving, jagged, twisted, maniacal, flea bitten, louse ridden, get out of jail free card.
Thanks. I think.
PS. We’ve never met in case you’re wondering

Photo by Tom Tiernan



The 12 Steps For Writers

Photo of stairs against grass by Tom Tiernan

Writers write, they don’t necessarily know how to count

The 12 Steps For Writers

  1. Admit that you are powerless over writing and that your life will never become manageable.
    • Admit that you’d rather write than: take your kid to little league, visit your parents, talk to your spouse, clean your house, take a shower, wipe yourself, be social in any way or have sex.
    • Admit that you have made up excuses to cancel dates because a character finally revealed herself to you.
    • Admit that you’d rather bite off a puppy’s tail than sacrifice your art or use a gerund inappropriately, whatever a gerund is.
    • Admit that you weren’t born with scoliosis; your back is messed up from too much time at the keyboard. Save that dramatic headline for the truly gullible.
    • Admit that you don’t care how many tears, false memories, suicide attempts or nervous breakdowns you cause your readers as long as they buy your books.
    • Let’s face it, you’ve got serious problems.
  2. Come to believe that writing is a power greater than yourself and that it will never restore you to sanity. You can deny this but your colleagues know different.
  3. Make a decision to turn your will and life over to whatever collection of lyrical, flowing, soul inspiring, self-serving, self-aggrandizing, egotistical, barely literate words you consciously fill your screen with: Implausible fiction, suffocating poetry, even more implausible love stories, non-fiction for numbskulls, irrelevant history, whiny memoir. Yeah, like this doesn’t apply to you.
  4. Forget about making a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself. You’re a writer. You have no morals, no principles, no ethics. There are no lines you won’t cross. Being a writer means you make shit up for a living. That’s what you do. Own it and move on.
  5. Admit to God, and anyone foolish enough to listen, the exact nature of the writing you’re working on right now. It’s not fair to keep all the laughs to yourself.
  6. Obviously you don’t have any defects of character, so you can skip this step.
  7. Humbly ask God to remove any story inconsistencies, grammatical errors, etc, so you can hurry up the editing process and get on the Best Sellers list. If you have children, offer God your first-born provided He gets you on the New York Times Best Seller list. Don’t forget to throw in a gaggle of geese. If you don’t have any kids, get busy.
  8. Make a list of all the people who have harmed you and write them into stories that will necessitate a name change. Squeeze them till it hurts. Bury them once and for all.
  9. Even if the person who harmed you makes amends continue to write them into stories. Change the name a little so you don’t get sued. But above all continue punishing this putrid piece of dog vomit because he/she had the temerity to offend an erudite, urbane member of the elite literary establishment.
  10. You’re never wrong, only possessing a more enlightened point of view, so you can skip this step too.
  11. Pray and meditate on developing a better vocabulary, understanding the difference between plot and theme, and how to develop more effective marketing strategies for your work.
  12. Having never come close to an actual spiritual awakening, promise that you’ll carry this message to other write-aholics and to practice these principles whenever you are having affairs.

Oh, and by the way, this is for you other artsy creative types too. You didn’t think you were getting a free pass, did you? Get off your high horses and join the rest of us immortals!

Tom Tiernan ©2013