Liberty Model

My eyes settle on a plexiglass case in the corner of the living room, and trace the contours of the weathered trumpet inside until they rest on the words Liberty Model etched into the horn.

This relic dominated a closing window in my grandfather’s life between the Great Depression and World War

II, when he sang and played trumpet in Spike Jones’s swing band, before he left music to serve on a Navy warship, before his ship was sunk in a brutal surprise attack early one December morning at Pearl Harbor, before he was called upon in the aerial ambush’s aftermath to identify his fellow soldiers by their teeth.

As my eyes follow the mouthpiece of the trumpet back down past the slides to the bell, I draw my first line

of honor between the grandfather I never knew and his military service. I never knew my grandfather as a veteran,

because I never knew him as a grandfather. I only knew him as this trumpet, because his own heart stopped on the side of a California road when my dad was still a teenager.

One of my favorite photographs is of my grandfather holding my dad a few years after the attack at Pearl Harbor. There’s a joyful love in the smile that the man shines onto his only son, there’s playful innocence in the part combed into his son’s hair. Behind them are stairs leading up to a screen door and behind the screen door is a darkness set off by the striking white of the Navy uniform. 

And there are stories in the serviceman’s strong hands, a living story in the shape of my dad and another story, an untold story of the weight those hands carried home from the war, a story that disappeared into the ether one afternoon on the side of a California road.

Memorial Day is supposed to be about honoring men and women who have died while serving their country. But the weight carried by those who come back alive can kill them, too.

So let’s also remember those veterans.

And better yet, lend a hand to those who are still here.


Awhile back, I wrote a song for my friend Scarlett, who lost her son Jesse in the massacre at Sandy Hook. 

The story is told from the perspective of the bullet that killed him, which didn’t get to choose where it landed. Could’ve been in a paper target or a twelve-point buck. The ocean, or the bark of a willow tree.

Or the assailant, before he had time to shoot.

The bullet had to go where it was sent.

It didn’t get to choose.

But we can.

Listen here


they took me from the fire

metal forged my skin

for what darker of desires

lay in the hearts of men

then they put me in a box

with others just like me

high upon a shelf

for all the world to see

i could have landed in a twelve point

under amber autumn sky

or in the old fallen willow

where paper targets die

but i don’t make those kind of choices

i have to go where I am sent

and i never know where I am going

until I know where I went

he took the box down in secret

and left me in his room

underneath a glowing screen

where he drowned himself in doom

until he had enough one day

when he took me in his hand

and put me in a darker place

where i heard the hammer slam

i could have flown over the ocean

in an officer’s salute

or taken down your killer

before he had time to shoot

but i don’t make those kind of choices

i have to go where I am sent

and i never know where I am going

until I know where i went

i flew


and closer

and closer

to you

but i didn’t mean to hurt you

i had to go where I was sent

i didn’t know where I was going

but now I know where I went

The Butterfly

The butterfly won’t move from my hand.

She’s supposed to fly away into the flower fields behind the stage, a symbol of release for the people who’ve gathered here to honor departed loved ones. Small paper envelopes are scattered about the empty benches, temporary cocoons for all the other butterflies now floating on invisible currents.

Two people in the back row are all that remain from the 500 who’ve just watched us play a few songs about loss and hope, including a For The Sender song called ‘Butterfly.’ They’re staring straight ahead, one arm around the other, quietly murmuring.

Maybe they’re talking of remember-whens, painting pictures of the past for each other. 

Maybe they’re making dinner plans.

The ten-year anniversary of For The Sender is coming soon, and I’ve been wondering how to honor the last decade of books, songs, and concerts about letters… do I put the music and words together in an anthology? Create a new evolution? Or let this chapter slip into the ether, and move on?

A beautiful little girl with her hair pulled back shakes me from my daydream, showing me the screen-printed butterfly splashed across the front of her pink shirt. I smile and look over her to watch the couple rise and make their way to the exit, where the man picks up a For The Sender postcard, left there for anyone who might want to send me a few words. 

He walks toward the parking lot and the rest of his life, his arm around the woman, as my friend nudges my shoulder and points to my empty hand.

Looks like she finally flew.

Finding Beautiful

I went on a journey of finding beautiful.

I turned over stones and looked behind trees and searched dark caverns.

I dove deep layers of ocean and crawled low desert sands and climbed towering peaks.

And found there is no finding beautiful.

Because beautiful has found me.