Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Three-Piece Suite


Twice Nothing May Not, May Never Equal Something

The power of zero, stark conniption fits in early hours
when the night should be winding down like windows.
We each take a route that meets at a point in the middle
of the journey as prophesied. Now we know what a great
man Jimmy Carter is, soon to be was, but always great
now that those who drove him from office have turned
treasonous to the welfare and happiness of a great nation.
Zero: Reagan, father and son Bush, the progeny of Nixon,
First Zero. Did you think we were growing up out of danger
when Obama took office? What is a "stark conniption fit"
but a tea bagger getting his sac lapped at the end of a night’s
campaigning? It’s also rage, fury, sorrow–trinity of our time.
Opening the windows only lets the idiocy in. Close them.
Obama could’ve been a founding father, for all you know.

(30 October 2010)


National Brain Scan (ne MRI)

A conniption fit is an extreme form of a hissy fit.
Both are Southern and not unexampled.
Northerners milled Milwaukee like the uprooted
the week Jeffrey Dahmer was about to be found.
As you heard later, he had nothing, not just little,
to say. Midwesterners are not loquacious, true,
but this guy had been dicing every body who was
not him, cutting them up and storing the steaks
in his refrigerator stocking up for winter,
which can be very cold in the city of Milwaukee.
Now Americans cannibalize themselves, unspoken
custom venerable not only in Wisconsin and other
Midwestern locales smaller than Chicago
but, as usual, in the South. If I throw a hissy fit
I feel like I’m in Mississippi, and proceeding on
to the classic conniption I’m ineluctably a citizen
of South Carolina, where only the original fort is gone
though even now someone fires the first shot of the new
Civil War when we’re out breakfasting on hog fritters
or hominy grits, already uniform’d and suitably pissed
with how hot it is when the moment finally arrives.
It will be a spell before we reach Appomattox. Hold on.

(31 October 2010)


Scheherazade’s Libido

Nora asks if I write to summon my libido;
says my poetry makes her blush.
I tell Nora, No way I have such aspiration:
too much to do, too little time.

She folds one leg under the other.
She is going to tell a long love story,
about the playwright and the revolutionary
and how she leaves him writing plays.

Nora understands the deep version of Nora
Helmer. The way women grow younger
the more they open the closed door, turn
their backs on men who need to own them.

This Scheherazade survives the first night,
and the second night the same,
tucking one foot under her other leg
and resuming this long story of a man

who takes her away to Russia and dies,
and having published an instant classic,
Ten Days that Made a Revolution,

is honored by being buried in a Kremlin wall.

She’s just getting started. By the third night
nothing can stop her from telling the story
of how she returned to America for good
or ill, and who could say being so alive

was neither good nor ill, but a way to stay
alive, there being in this world oligarchs,
plutocrats, the jerks who want to do you in,
who don't want to hear you tell the story.

Nora, it’s no great matter if the libido falters.
Who can bring the dead back to life? Let the lover
go his way, looking for the one he is to love,
he who will always be hers the rest of their days.

(1–30 November 2010)

Monday, November 29, 2010

I Swear

I swear by the gods of black letters that make up words
I shall not obey the two-legged fork-tongued asses
who claim they know more than I do and give what I have
to their backroom buddies running this dying world.

I swear I will love you beyond any measure I have known.
I shall give you what I have loved you for, a flower
garden of forget-me-nots and dahlias and nightshade,
all my brazen senses loading like a honey bee its anthers.

I swear fealty to my brothers and sisters who work beyond
knowing to set the planet back on its wobbling axis.
I shall not question their future any more than their past
could be changed, for neither are of value in any mirror.

I swear what I have is yours, darling lady of the riverlands.
I shall give you all I have, and all I have are these words.

                                                     for Irish Cathleen

(1 November 2010)


I tell you nothing you would like to know.
You are selfish and God Condemned.
I will build you gallows and erect stocks
outside this church, which is my own,
the holes for your head and hands are yours.
I will call you Hannah and exorcise
demons from your lascivious body.
Try to sin then.

                            At a late age love entered
this life. I learned to love. One woman
before the next. My childhood friend,
the one with horses, loved men and died
in Shreveport having asked that his body
be cremated once his lover had said
a sermon over his corpse, which he did,
after which fire consumed what I had known
to be friend.
                             I told the girl who babysat
we would marry, I was three. Twenty years
later her sister; then Grandma’s neighbor
Rikki, with her slim, illumined being
embodied in flesh I would go a thousand
long miles to be more than words to her
before I ascended; and through the time
I was given by God and no one else
save my mother, I was always Cathleen’s.

I go back to the water where life abounds.
There, witness a cloud luring from above
the rain a drop at a time to send down,
curtaining the water walkers staying
near the river’s edge, in their white sheets wet.
I do not know the name of the river
in whose waters all are baptized.
I know only the names of each beauty
on earth I never forget for God’s Sake.

(29 October--29 November 2010)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

House by the River

                                                         Lagunitas, California,
                                                         where the peacock cried

I have been circumspect rarely,
censorious never.
When the peacock in her yard
fans its tail and pleads,
or choruses, with the wind
rather than the two-legged one
ignoring wide-spread beauty,
I tell her my name was the same
then as now, rain still denting
the river behind her porch
and the other bird strutting out
with pride between its feathers
swelling, preening, letting
loose a cry like weeping.

Her child is grown now,
stained fingers long since dry
and brothered by his mother’s
lovers so youthful are they
nights after dolorous days
his mother walked by herself
to the pond, bathed there
and he stayed alone here
talking. First he was one,
then another. He sculpted
words one letter now, then,
but so few, and she drove
into town from the spring
and young again waited.

His brothering father escapes
the house like the Mexican jail
where he lingered so long.
You never know if enough
is gone to acknowledge plenty.
What are fulfillments here?
Where are the border guards?
Why did you fail to play it safe
once but enough for five years?
And you without any dinero.
The only justice, Napoleon’s
obsolete code never dated
where the pereferico fills
early. She arrives back here
to see knocking at the door

with a sound like all dreams
during storms
this lean man she is, in love,
condemned to love.
Her son is the one to answer.
Her son’s voice is full throated.
He has a room with an easel
and many canvases stretched.
No one, not even her, enters.
Why should his father?
"Only to sleep, my son,
my body is wasted with time
sanding the hours to a sheen
raw with need, need to live."

(28 October–28 November 2010)

Her Name

His name, Clarke, meant clerk. I immediately thought of a kirke, which I  called a dagger, thinking of Bedouin men and of their women confined to tents in the parapatetic desert. He was named for an Irish martyr, Robert Emmett, heroically swearing Erin go braugh! on the Limey gallows in the Belfast square, his compatriots among the co wardly crowd stifling their anger, their tears. He was honored to carry such a name to his early grave. Cancer of the esophagus. Too many Camels, the kind doctors provided testimonials for when I was growing up and my own father teaching me to smoke them, all I had to do was watch. And drinking I taught him to do. Irishmen, especially full blooded Catholics–is there such a thing?–had their glass of green grog each evening as orderly as one could be among the many Eire. He named her Cathleen, after Cathleen ni Houlihan though he had never read all of Yeats’s verse play. He hated reading verse plays: it was one thing to see them acted on stage, another to spend your silent time of an evening reading and having to see them and hear them happen in your head now that the Danish-named woman Petersen who was more Polish gypsy said nothing she could think of to rage at him for having done or, worse, not having done . . . She said no. She named her Karen Lee. He said no. He named her Cathleen Clarke, Her mother kept at him and he drank, played poker downtown and the horses at the track. She had her way. He called her Kee. He didn’t know it was a Navajo name. It was a quick abbreviation of the name on her birth certificate, and besides it was his own. Irish Cathleen I renamed her after he died and kept it confined to the page before you, this closet drama happening fifty years ago one January evening far off in the city Seattle.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


History, a bed of ashes stirred so embers catch fire and take on wind to roar into myth.
If there are years we do not know it is the fault of those upon whom we thrust blame.
We could call them family but they shift their eyes away if we do so that we walk off
confused the day is no longer than the night and the moon is the same shape as the sun.
Once there was the story and the end of everything was there as well as its beginning.
You can hear the panther if you stay awake so long the falling stars strike these hills.
I will tell you how to listen and how to see. You must bring thought to a fine point.
And there you are. The old books are dog-eared, covers torn, a slurry of spilled spots
marking pages never read except between heaves of bodies to their feet and on to do
the rest of a day’s work. There is the bridle of the mare who pulled the plow that dug
the dirt deep and threw it on its green sides, revealing the dark loam’s nest of worms.
Here are the cast-off clothes left behind in the rush to get away before armies arrived.
There are also baby clothes neatly packed away in small trunks, diminutive coffins.
All that remains is worth not a tear or cry of rage and I can tell you I was among them,
the unhappy survivors with their eyes burning from the smoke and getting set to go
elsewhere, wherever men were not so afraid of their feelings and did not need to kill.
Those who left first are our betrayers. They would be home by now. They live here.
They hide but you can hear them rustling in the leaves trying to keep track of our feet
moving, moving, always moving even though they get nowhere, they have everywhere
to go, the wild sounds echo from one valley to another and all we have is on our backs.

(27 October 2010)

In Compassionate Silence

It’s as though we were protected somehow, for some reason, she said, watching the weather move only so far and no farther. Furthermore, she added, I have recovery to perform in the cities. Cross the Mississippi and there, in the leper district, the hands outstretched want another kind of food. And the compassionate silence of the surroundings was where she would be if not here, if home. There, in the woods, where she performs miracles in her mind, the bees are gone, the bear were here, but the honey remains. Flowers fold up at dawn, the nightshade comes down around the stalk and a lovingness attends the silence.

                                                                          She does her work and leaves the cities, crossing the Mississippi and returning to where her mind sought to go long before now, a place she did not want to leave. But there were thoughts at hand and she needed to think them. So she reached and found. She let herself become what she knew she had always been. She loved the bee-loud glades of this American Innisfree, in the Arctic ice melting around the bear gnashing down the quarry filled with the sharp stick the Inuit prefer using to bring home winter’s first food. It would last out the silence and keep the waters moving under the boats. Here, the Mississippi flows north a few miles, and circling through the town begins its long journey south to the tragic Gulf Coast.

The sun was gone for good. Wind went elsewhere, but too strong not to survive its own journey, and rain kept up the steady sound against the windows. And her hands sheathed in silk, her eyes kohl and intent upon the lens, the hat shading her face, her getup gaudy, garrulous, her tongue light against her moving smile, her teeth thirty-two pearls to be harvested in the Tahiti of coral where her long legs were sheathed against the grasses around the car she was leaning against, making her sign of acceptance of what was coming, as she had welcomed the arrival of the lepers and the hands welcomed her offering, the very presence of her and nothing more precious that her being could see than sky as she leaned back to feel rain on her cheeks, imagining happiness.

(27 October 2010)

I Love You Like I Love Manhattan

We were living somewhere on Amsterdam,
in a flat with or without running water,
I can’t remember,
I’m not even sure it was Amsterdam,
I was still a boy at heart.
I loved you more than I loved the life
already lived but without you.
Now we would never be the same again.
You taught school over in Harlem,
crossing the line daily to set in motion
your perfect nose and lips
and let everyone who wished to, drool
seeing your perfect thirty-year-old body
I first saw when you were seventeen,
I twenty-one, when we danced the whole night
until the Downbeat Cabaret closed and we walked
from Third and Yesler to Second Avenue
to catch the bus back to the houseboat.
Waves lapping all night as though we still danced,
the only white people in the joint,
though you are Black
Irish, Danish, Polish gypsy and I
Scots, Welsh, Irish, with some Cherokee.

From Seattle to San Francisco,
then Morningside Heights,
I loved you like you had always loved
Manhattan, telling how your first time there
at age fourteen your father searched
for you, called Missing Persons, worried
all the time you were rapt as you watched
the Radio City Rockettes all the way through
and then again, and how happy he was
and you were
dancing through the hotel door,
rushing to his arms.
I loved the Lowe Library and going to meet
Stanley Kunitz in his classroom,
where I dropped a name, Theodore Roethke,
or two, Louise Bogan,
and the poet of "Open the Gates"
and "Careless Love" told the others I seemed
to have escaped the city of the burning cloud,
smiling then shifting to the business
at hand that was all he had planned
for opening day. I can’t recall
the name of the place where I drank
thereafter with the smooth olive-skinned woman
with whom I was passing as man and wife.
You liked your job, I liked mine, we went to movies
when we had the money, and to Coney Island
weekends. We walked the Brooklyn Bridge
to see Hart Crane’s haven where he wrote his poem.
I looked in vain for the refrigerator
Thomas Wolfe wrote on top of
standing up, page after page amassing the weight
to fill a trunk four times for Maxwell Perkins.
Kunitz advised, Stop wasting your time, young souls,
like living World War Two over
when you lucky to be were born so late
Rather burn with love than die
with those who fell everywhere but here.

Recall now the fate of the twin towers,
and the three thousand dead
one autumnal day.
Play it again on TV! I cry
upending the grog in Dublin,
passing my hat to buy another,
this time for the house
since the house provides an endless cache . . .
In Dublin there is sorrow. Is it for
dead babies or for their kinsman, James Joyce,
estranged for life once Nora said Yes!
Let us go to sea, to Trieste, Paris,
bear children while you write your books,
first and last . . . Ah, Nora Barnacle!
How Jim loved to rut between your thighs,
put his lips on you,
plunge his cock there when your lips
were wet and wanting him so . . .

How I loved you in Manhattan,
how you loved me there,
though I confess your faith in me faded
and could only be rekindled
by leaving the city, going upcountry,
where I followed.
Amherst was poison to our spirits
after Manhattan.
How could we have known? Why risk tears
with a surfeit of laughter?
Now I want to go back. Fly with me there.
I want, I want, I want. My lifelong love
claims all my breath. And gives me hers.

No, reader, I was not who you thought I was.
I read only with a piano
and her chording between caesuras.
Come to Montana, see elk, bear, and moose
cross the highway up or down
Lolo Pass. Idaho is not far.
There are cowboys drinking in all the bars.
There is no love lost between them and dark-
skinned men who go by the name of Blackfeet.
I met one who married for life
and death a red-haired beauty
and pissed off every pale bastard within
and outside Missoula. He wrote like he rode
his buckskin, like a wind to cool hell.
One night we recited to one another
our Martin Luther King, Jr., poems
among the hubbub. He’s been dead ten years.
He wrote one of America’s best novels.
A movie in the works, his widow
is set for the rest of her days. Nothing
soothes the ache in her shattered heart.

Dear reader, we may meet in Chicago,
said to be what New York once was,
when we lived so well yet penniless,
surging with jealousy to keep our wits
sharpened. You came after me with a knife
in Amherst, and in Manhattan
we were not happy, but never so angry
we did not make love upside down, endlessly.

                                                              (for KL & EA)

(26 October–26 November 2010)

Friday, November 26, 2010


If I could bring her back to life
Norma Jean Baker would return,
this time happy without end.
Joe would treat her like a woman,
Arthur would let her be
who she needed to become.
Joe would keep on being
a knight at arms, Arthur
the one for whom justice
is the ineluctable truth.
She could be Marilyn Monroe
and herself besides.
Could she ask for more?
Well, she might find privacy
to read The Brothers Karamazov

in a more faithful translation,
the one from Paris Sontag praised.
. . . practice her Beckett
without a mirror in her way.
She could enjoy silence.
It’s been nearly fifty years
since whatever happened
happened. How could you love
her body so far away from yours?
How could you not? You were
a child. She was a woman. You
were a boy reaching puberty.
You fondled yourself like she
would be fondling you if she
only knew you were alive.
Not like Alyosha, or Ivan,
more like Dmitri with Grushenka.
He was the Karamazov with gall.
Little wonder he went to trial.
I sat in the van drinking beer
during coffee breaks
at the unemployment office
reading to the end of the novel.
She turned over in her grave,
tried the lid of the coffin.
It gave. She came awake.
How could she have slept so long?
She would go back and start over.
Maybe this time read Tolstoy too.
Maybe even Jean Genet.
You had to know the worst
to do better. Norma Desmond
was not Norma Jean Baker’s
mother. She was no prima donna.
Nor was she the self-made thief
or brothel prostitute, but O hell,
why not play the role if art’s involved?
Would Tolstoy have studied Beckett?
Dostoevsky Genet?
Anna Karenina is Waiting for Godot?
on The Balcony?

And she loved the way she looked.
It was other people were her hell.
Sartre had it right in No Exit /

Huis Clos . . . and a devil sang
like an angel to win the lady
to his bed smoothing her soft
curves with his hungry hands,
her thirsty thighs. Then you could sleep
through the warm nights of Los Angeles
beginning the sixties.

(26 October-26 November 2010)

Family Secrets #2

How do I begin to tell you my fears in detail, doctor?

Just relax, pal, and pretend I’m drinking at the same bar.

Can I buy you a drink?

Sure. I forgot my money belt. The streets are tough
at night here, I hurry to and I hurry from.

Why did you decide to meet here?

It’s my favorite bar. The girls wear hip-high hose
like they do in the Congress Hotel–

Over there they would ask for poems and buy me drinks.

Now there’s a good place to start.

I swear, I loved each one. You could see it in the poems.
I guess that's why they kept asking.

Go on.

I would ask their names, then forget them after I slept.
I went home after closing time, smoked some hookah–
that was Baudelaire’s word for it–and slept like a baby
dreaming I was being passed from one to the other’s
naked arms. It was a big bed, the girls so very shapely.
They passed me around like a fresh stick of Mary Jane.

I didn’t know you took drugs.

I don’t, I dream I do. Isn’t this all about my dreams?

It can be. What do you base that conjecture on?

A dog-eared copy of The Interpretation of Dreams.

Don’t read Freud, he’s not good for you.

My daddy did, and he mined coal for a living.

What could you possibly fear if your father feared
nothing? Didn’t you say he was uneducated,
all but illiterate? Where did he find the Freud?

He was walking home one night after work. Said,
I looked down and there was this book in the way
I was taking, I almost stepped on it. Picked it up,
took it home and read myself to sleep, slowly.
A few pages only. But Jesus, the dreams I had!

Did your daddy go on to read other books Freud wrote?

He never read books he didn’t find somewhere.

How did he learn to read someone like Freud?

How do I know? He never talked about the school
he had to quit when he was twelve to work cotton.
Stooping all day, carrying a long sack up one row
and down the next and up another until it weighed
a hundred pounds, took it off and put on another.
In school the teacher read them books. He listened.

Did he say which ones?

He didn’t remember titles, he said. One was about a guy
named David Copperfield, another Long John Silver
and a kid named Jim. There’s one was left unfinished,
it was about war and peace and teacher jumped around,
the good parts were what he read. Andre wounded,
lying on his back on a bridge realizing how precious
it was to be alive, Natasha happy despite whatever
happened to make her weep, Pierre standing on a hill,
watching the battle raging below, then captured
learning from an old dying peasant what courage was.

Those are all familiar. But Freud was something else.
What of his have you read that we could talk about?

I am not my father’s son. I preferred to work on cars.
I would rather read poems out loud to beautiful girls.

Amazing. I seem to recall it was just the opposite
when we started therapy. Haven’t we made progress?

How would I know, doc? I never said I didn’t read.
And we just started talking about the girls today.

(25 October–25 November 2010)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Movies

In case nobody was watching, this is what happened:
The drunk’s daughter met a priest after seminary
put him in robes. He was very kind to her
after all the fuss her father put her through,
with him and his friends and all the film noir on TV,
her mother gone and only her sister to be with her
as they listened to the melee until near dawn
quiet settled on the house as they passed out.
The priest talked to her father and her father listened.
The foul-mouthed old coot sent his friends away
while the priest debated with him the existence of God.
You know how Hollywood goes on long after that.
What do you think the guys at typewriters all day do?
They plot. If they stay the rest of their lives they make
stories that run on time, arriving always on schedule.
Two hours later the priest talks the man into going
with him to AA. Priests sometimes have a problem
with all that Blood to wash down His Body better.
The daughter is in love with the priest, of course.
Maybe they’ll save what happens with true love
for the sequel. Once you are watching Barbara Stanwyck
nobody sleeps until she takes off her sterling silver anklet,
and by then it’s too late for Fred MacMurray, he’s a sucker
for her and will do anything she says, even murder.
He does the voiceover even though he’s already a goner
like William Holden floating in Norma Desmond’s
swimming pool at the beginning and end of Gloria
Swanson’s swan song. The original and its sequel,
Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard, film noir
when plots followed character and character
the mental atmosphere near the end of one war
followed by the next, as though even then trains still
ran on time, but now planes were flying over it all,
and down below were those guys at their computers
word-processing a new way to see the long-tested
triumph triumph once more at the global box office.
And either the priest will give up his robes and marry
the recovering drunk’s daughter or God will win.
The other daughter has a story too. What will she do?
She was the one who once brought her father drinks
to share with all his friends, who now are all home
or in the bars. Or who knows? maybe at AA too.
But that plot goes nowhere: It’s no fun to live that way.

[with some changes, the movie referred to primarily is Bittersweet Place, 2005, written and directed by Alexandra Brodsky, starring Seymour Cassell]

(25 October 2010)

Day of Lore

Irish Cathleen plays the grand piano three blocks down the street
from this keyboard. She is like a bright ship I have known fifty years:
she has carried me through the storms, she has fucked with Poseidon
only to return to land where I had never left, although for others
I was the storm. For example, I am approaching the shores of death,
and for me they give upon the ocean, no river Styx for Juan Flores.

These lines are all for the sake of remembering where I did not go
without bringing them back intact as they are, and with great love
for what happened–and did not happen: let us be grateful for great
favors the gods bestowed upon the foolish who follow the ways of folly
that seem to occur always on shores of rivers with women so lovely
their names are carved with mine in stone in the human halls of folly.

You–I–do not forget if there is a choice. And it all rises into a condition
of music. The blonde creature whose tiny body stands and sings out
with the strength of angels whose lungs direct you to their cloudy
houses, and there she gives balm to the aging, near death, brother
who handed her the other half of her soul and she kneeled to give
him pleasure, who knows how many days and nights away from death . . .

I do not forget. There is no use for us but what the past has to say of
its remnants twisting and curling in the cold air and being remembered
by one who wakes only to pray there be many more such remarkable days
when he is carried over the threshold of sleep to find what it is lies here
with her beautiful body of knowledge naked as the night she remembers
one by one, all the days a flurry of love’s bristling music, aria without end.

Juan Flores picks up his feet one at a time. The ice pack relieves his pain.
Irish Cathleen volunteers to bring him things, whatever it is he may need.
The ten cats wait to be called, they seem to know when the humans hurt.
Frances in her blonde allure comes for a kiss on the mouth from both
her beloved man with cock and woman with clit. There! you knew what
was coming! She is one of the old souls whose singing recalls all the blues.

These are days never to be forgotten, you can be sure. I remember what
there is. You, my darling, recall the rest when your own wonder of a mind
permits such passage. Let there be the dark blurring the light. For so it goes.
And comes. And is always there. Once upon a time ago they say in America,
discovered, those wearing high white collars stepped off their Mayflower
and were happily fed there by the dark-skinned ones, on this day of lore.

(25 November 2010)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Whistle me back to where
so I can do there
all was left undone
here there is not enough sun
to spare
nor thunder that rolls
down the stairs of the sky

I would wake like this I would
cane myself to the table
I would
begin and end in one long breath
long to get it said
and brief to listen
and cane myself back to bed

If I could sing Motherless Child
or Nobody Knows
the Trouble I’ve Seen
or Wayfaring Stranger
or even Amazing Grace,
I do them better than anything,
I would

Sometimes I feel
like nobody knows but Jesus
travelin through this world below
and when we’ve been there
ten thousand years
bright shining as the sun
a long, long way from home

I will look through
not with
the eye, that’s how to see
said the papa of poetry
to the mama of grace
and she replied,
Listen to the sweet bells peal

(24 October 2010)

Boiler Room Politics, 1968-2010

My father voted for Wallace, but did he mourn
when his man ended in a wheelchair?
How would I know? I had as little to do
with fate as my father. The country summoned
Nixon. That was a sour note. Hubert Humphrey
too bubbly, what we now deem emotional

and cross to the other side of the street.
My father died before the man from Arkansas
took office. His brother said Clinton knew
too much. And I, the nephew, read too many
books. How would I find time to talk, get close
to The People? I agreed. I said it was life
I needed to affirm. Why else read Tolstoy,
with whom I had nothing in common but love?
Dostoevsky’s father resembled Greatgranddad:
Christ struck, he died from a gunshot in the back.
Like his son, named for the itinerant musician
Manuel Romain, my father’s mother’s lover,
played fiddle, Spanish guitar. Dad up and died.
It’s easier to tell the story by now. It repeats itself
when I sit here in the presence of one and zero,
where else do fingers find to add up their own . . .
Where I am there are no political arguments.
It’s all one can do to quarrel with the soul,
what Yeats meant by poetry. Here is prose
masquerading as verse. See the poet shovel
his thought like coal into the enflamed furnace,
listen to the fire take heart with a sudden roar.
Caesura me no Caesar, let my vote be a woman,
Cleopatra choosing the father for her children,
not like sixteen hours punching in and out.
We have no need, still, for a bright American
whose blackness is brighter than dull white.
Don’t ask me why the mind means so little here.
I who know nothing have little to say up there
where no one reads. You can hear them from here,
Babel is back in business (I don’t mean Isaac).
TV without end. I keep shoveling, keep eating,
reading, writing , loving . . . Why pretend
otherwise? It was poetry made Auden happen
to sit in a dive off Fifty-second Street to mark
the end of "a low, dishonest decade." If you stand,
chaos breaks like waves yet always somewhere else . . .
1939 was my first year alive. Why sit out 2010?
Above the ceiling, I remember shadows pooling
across the floor as the Twin Towers of Babel
came down around the walls, missing your kin
who vote for Money’s rule in America’s Nowhere.

(24 October–24 November 2010)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Molloy Sonnet

Molloy is riding his bike to see his mum,
she lives on a pension half her size,
she starts her day early and naps later.
Molloy doesn’t know Samuel Beckett
is writing the way Molloy rides the miles
smelling clean air like Joyce’s river Liffey.
Molloy wants to get there to see the ships
come in, he wants to try to stowaway,
he would like to leave Ireland for good.
Or ill, Molloy thinks he may be erring,
it’s a chance any Irishman must take
when there’s no way out other than this
big ship that makes the bike he’s riding
seem like a wisp of cloud this sunny day.

(23 October 2010)

Rant 'n' Role

Why are the lights off where cars line the street in single file?
Shouldn’t darkness stay in the country where land is valuable?
I don’t know if City Hall wants to hear about the absence
of light, why it is or what it costs per capita. Without question
any number of churches can take up a collection.

Is a red light on a cordless phone showing it’s ready
a planet where red is the wet color of blood and one more
lifelong dream a palimpsest of sleep and on waking, true?
How many years does it take for the bottom to fall out
where no one holds up a house in quest of a new foundation?

It’s in houses in the country where the pols live, up to here
with their fill of constituents complaining. Bad enough to work
in town, they quip. Soon there will be no money left from years ago,
when you were innocent and would go along with the way
things were, always have been, always will be . . . the pols say.

It’s good to stay north of Mexico the last half of your life.
Border’s open any day and night. Even if you can get high up here,
I want my little Diamond match boxes filled with dope from Saigon.
Not orange peels. Lay off the heavy stuff. You have no taste
for suicide. I wish I could get in a car and fly down to the Yucatan.

In Merida, life is inexpensive and yet not cheap. The color red is life’s
own. Go sleep in the jungle in your dreams. Find Mayans at home.
Check the calendar. Watch the ball game, whose losers lose
their lives. Civilizations here then are nowhere now. When they disappear
–Allende’s Chile, say–compare the World Trade Center, falling.

I jump in to say they’re not the same.
Don’t compare the human to commercial babble.
Lives are always lost that way; Allende himself, for example.
Who among us saw George W. Bush diving off either of the Twin Towers?
All that zero left to fill with the third Bush baby inaugural orgy!

(23 October–23 November 2010)

Monday, November 22, 2010

"Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out"

The last thing you say echoes back to you
when you live alone. That’s where songs come from.
If not for Bushmill and Jameson
who would have a life to call his own?
When the loon flies over and calls to you,
you wake and pour elixir to start the day.

One day walking under a red wing’s nest,
she swooped to touch my hat with claws.
On down the street I came upon a man
pointing at two cars touching bumpers.
He was cackling, no need to ask why.
I went on down to the beach where I swim.

I don’t stay away long. It’s unnerving
to come upon refugees from group homes.
I prefer the unerring sanity
of men sitting on park benches drinking
from the paper sack, toothless, ill at ease
though they may be. Still, they laugh and chuckle.

I ask who they are. They tell me. I give
what I have to these Ojibwe, not much
but a little they did not have before
and with no home to go to, though family
will give them a bed out of the weather
simply to stay alive and yes, stay sane.

I never follow anybody home.
Not even the Navajo in Okie Joe’s
that time. He said come out to the desert
and talk about Indians since I had
Cherokee in my ancestry. I showed
the letter from my mother saying so.

Because it’s cold here where I live now
I stay warm from the whiskey. My one friend
brings me bottles of the Irish. It’s all
I can afford. I’m lucky. I pass time
to pay my dues. Whiskey is why I wake–
one way to live when all you need is sleep.

(23 October –22 November 2010)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Family Secrets #1

How do you know where Ira went, my uncle asked last time I saw him alive.

I don’t, I said. It’s what his wife told me when she tracked me down.

Who was that? What was she like? Why didn’t she ever tell any of us?

I can’t say. He read something I wrote, he said to her, Look! This is by
someone with the same last name as mine, born in Fort Smith, Arkansas,
where my brothers were heading when they left Memphis. And I guess
they did get where they were heading. He must be very young.

Ira was on his death bed. He was over a hundred and two. He lived on the Tchoupitoulas Road out by the river.

I was twenty. My father was forty, my mother two years younger. She was
born and reared in a little town south and east of my birthplace. She wanted children and nothing else, and she had no one but half-sisters and -brothers in Los Angeles. Her husband’s father was shot and killed in Sallisaw, by people he knew, two men and a woman, who would let him in on the deal if he helped them burglarize the house he was watching for a friend.

My father’s father was dead at forty-three. I was born ten years later, eleven to be precise. Ira would have been about my age now when Abe was killed.

How old are you?

I am sixty, well, fifty-nine to be exact.

What transpired during Ira’s widow’s visit?

She didn’t stay long. She said, Y’all come to N’Orleans and I’ll tell you stories.

Did you go?

What do you think?

I think you did.

I did.

What happened?

That’s a secret. For now . . .

(22 October 2010)


It was the family name. He took it back. They took it away. He took it back. Fog covered the lowlands.
Ah, the highlands, lass!
My father’s grandmother in the Blue Ridge loved the mountains, How do I know? I knocked on her door. It was always open. Screen door.
God must have blessed her, she made the boys a basket of food and sent them south. She never saw them again. She loved them as long as she lived. She didn’t hold it against Rich, what he did, he did it for Abe, and Ira? she knew he’d never stay, not like Dave, who followed his other brothers everywhere, even here, on the sorghum land outside Woolwine, over the hump from North Carolina, they called it, though it was south of where she lived. She had her girls, they’d do right by her. They’d see to it she died, maybe even happy, here.
Her daughters loved men and married and their children came back to the little house among trees and kissed their grandma hello and goodbye and every time in between she asked them to give grandma another kiss and hug.

He never found her home.
She was too far down the tree, the one the family shivered to its roots, Ulster and beyond, Glasgow before that. On the ship over, Peter and Cynthia planned the new life in the new land. They would work off the indenture and once free, make life as they went along on their own.

It was their way. Little wonder they went where only those like them lived, though they were lucky, how else could you see the future from here?

One child, a son, Charles. He was what they left behind, in addition to the house, the land, the horses the boys rode the day they left. Charles married Matilda. Her name was my father’s paternal grandmother and his mother’s maternal grandmother’s name–Matilda. Or as they say in the South, sometimes, "my father’s father’s mother and mother’s mother’s mother’s name." Maybe they still do, how would I know now, living so far off and in the north, where snow and ice keep the air clean and people live to a hundred and one, some even longer.

Both Matildas were Scots. One married a Scotsman, the other a Cherokee. She too came from there. Wood married McAlexander in Virginia, Satterfield Taylor in Oklahoma. Oklahoma was wild in those days, feds had to bring in Isaac Parker to rule the courts, and he became known as "the hanging judge." The boys went free. They lived around Fort Smith. Rich and Abe worked the mines and Dave played guitar and sang for money, after a while working at what he could find, but not the God forsaken mines. North and a little west, John Taylor lived outside Tahlequah; his daughter Pearl, or Peralee, married the Welshman, Frank Clifft, who gave her my father’s mother before she died trying to bear a son, stillborn.

They dropped the Mc from their name. That’s how they stayed free. That, and how far south they’d come without continuing to Mexico.

In Memphis Ira stole all their money and, unbeknownst to his brothers, lived in New Orleans the rest of his days. And nights. He even wrote his mother a letter some said she never received. Said she lived too far from the city, maybe. How would she know?

The fog burns off. Wait it out.

(22 October–21 November 2010)

Saturday, November 20, 2010


In the realm of the saved, who dares suffer pain?
Happiness is a word abandoned in the midst of Being.
Around the edges of this city is where we all live,
all trees felled, rivers dry, oceans at permanent ebb,
birds and animals trapped inside where bipeds dwell,
nothing necessary on a sphere turning everybody
into hero, sexuality is rife, money obsolete, for who
would die where the body more than equals the soul
although flesh could never rise, nor here can yeast.
There are as many climbers as there are many divers.
Remember Melville in that chautauqua audience
hearing Emerson for the first time, swearing
"I love men who dive!" and we think he said it
aloud but no, he walked off without telling anyone.
All he thought he wrote down and was never unhappy
for how could you know God exists? And yet why would
he deny there was this craving within him for miracle.

Were I lucky to be in such company, I who love
women so much I have grown hooves where feet
once were, quadraped, horse, satyr, ah . . . what else?
The crows and ravens walk the yard where no grass
grows. Paula loves the crows. I love the ravens. Irish
Cathleen loves peacocks for the way they send
their plumage into blossom and tomcats for their
ample fucking many pussies in dark alleys of desire.
"You can learn from them," she laughs, "I do, I learn,
I know what it is to bristle on the fence and feel
the steel of his rod enter the valley between my legs."
What do I reply? May I conjecture every lass is fair
or like you, black Irish. They dream like you in Gaelic.
When they wake they are hard put to describe
what the aftermath was like. I wish I could see
what I’ve been missing so long, the clouds never
moving and she my metronome of rain, rain, rain.

(22 October 2010; revised, 20 November)

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Round

Let’s say what might happen did.
She prowled the Tenderloin for dope.
I don’t know why she could not stop.
I did. I ran out of money. Why not
spend what little you have on gas,
food, heat, electricity, much less rent.
I didn’t make it. She did. She had
personality. A good fuck, too. Lie
down for enough to score and let
trance take over, rise to Elysia.

I looked for her down there. I stood
on the hill above and saw nothing
except my own fear like a brush fire
sweeping over the valleys of my mind.
I went and drank then. I drank myself
to sleep. She would never come home.
Her need was otherwise. She woke herself
by mid afternoon and went out to score
after turning another fast trick.
After all, that was all there was to do.

(21 October 2010)

Another Voice Out of the Cloud

                                          Several Voices Out of a Cloud
                             Come, drunks and drug-takers; come, perverts unnerved!
                             Receive the laurel, given, though late, on merit; to whom
                                       and wherever deserved.

                              Parochial punks, trimmers, nice people, joiners true-blue,
                              Get the hell out of the way of the laurel. It is deathless
                                        And it isn’t for you

                                                                     –Louise Bogan

I’m crossing the Floating Bridge. It’s been a longer drive than it seems
curving up and around and down Snoqualmie Pass and up the hill
outside Twin Peaks and over to and through Mercer Island,
a sharp right off the Bridge before entering the tunnel,
following the circuitous route by Lake Washington
where the young grunge rocker shot himself,
I saw in Denver day after it happened,
the Post full of words and pictures
the way norteamericanos like it
although TV is quicker . . .

I was on my way to Mexico. I wanted a vacation from the middle class.
I would never get there, that was OK, I’d been in the City twice
however long ago. The vision is always prospective up here.
Looking outward, you can see the bullets before the guns.
Don’t ever look back, you’ll take a bullet in the back.
Score and leave, stash the stash where dogs smell
only oil. Stop south of Tijuana and outside
San Diego, make the transfer and head
into the north, where the action is,
the knives replacing the guns.

Along Alaskan Way the cars are worse than ever. I park under them.
Walk up to Pike and light a joint on the way, nobody stops me,
I like to think I’m free, a friend who tends bar got busted
smoking on the street. It’s enough to drive you to drink.
In the shadows of doorways a man is helping a woman
fix. They swoon into the light. There are no cops,
so a freak puts the make on and I knock him
back into the traffic. Cars jar to a screech.
Crack whores ask, Like a date, baby?
How do I know they do crack?

The guys from the provinces squire the ladies born in this big city
to cushions before fireplaces for one martini after the other.
They go back to his penthouse and make love as long
as the stock-market report takes, not very long . . .
The compromisers are out in full force. It’s
politics, it’s called going along to get along.
The punks. The trimmers. The nice people.
Somebody joins and the organization
of America proceeds apace. Know
something, I don’t give a shit!

There were nine of them, the women on top of the big mountain,
high enough for the gods to get there if need be . . .
Young guy with looks picks out one only
as he was told. He’s not Donald Trump
or some other bloke, his name is Paris.
Helen’s his squeeze. Goes all the way
with him. Troy is nice, she decides.
Nobody thought it was unusual,
The lad was always bringing
a new one through the gates.

                                                                     late 2010, after the election
 (19 November 2010)

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Gordon, Howard said, would be living in the tenderloin,
where we made our way, the redhead beside me, undaunted.
She’d seen their like before. She had guts, walked with head held high,
but not aloft, nose level with San Francisco’s flat places.
He would be home later. At night you entered the hotels
and sat to wait if the desk clerk said he would be in soon.
If you were alone she would be in another city
by then. I had been there and with her once. I cannot say
I was happy, the world had swerved off course to end the war,
she asked me what was wrong, why was I not so fine in bed?
She had been gone too long and yet not long enough, I swear.
At least I loved women. The one who followed her loved me,
I loved her, the moon was bright in a firmament of stars.

Poor Curtis, only with men to choose from. I was still young,
did not know his world though I would go there to hear him tell
how others had first attended love’s offices, bereft
and broken by America’s fear and dread of others
walking among them, but on the other side of the street . . .
Gerry Beasley, Gordon Curtis, they would’ve hit it off,
like men say in the Blue Ridge. Yes, hit it off, telling tales,
singing songs passed down, drinking moonshine brewed back of the hills,
. . . this white man of San Francisco, black man of Seattle.

You would think the government gave men grants for loving men,
the straights believing they were not doing enough to talk
the gays and lesbians out of their homosexual
predilections . . . take sabbaticals from the tenderloins
of the Pacific, breathe mountain air, go hunting, fishing,
swap stories; these were only the activities for men.

Trouble is, no one would believe you were so poor you had
to sell your own body to get by. Sure, there were women
in cities who sported with their sisters and gave freely
but surely love was not at home there. Here, in wild country
now so cut up by roads only tourists drove, they preferred
to walk anyway, Curtis and Beasley. Give them the trees
and paths between them and let them start to live the good life,
they might never want to go back, and so no one had thought
to do anything but let them die . . . such philanthropy
from the rich pricks who ran the world behind the scenes, who bought
the women for sale, hired the boys to do the other side
of the body, awfully cheerful when they martini’d
their lunches, and never did have to frequent anyplace
like the Tenderloin, nothing like the seedy down and out
in San Francisco or Seattle in halcyon days
before the crash took us down. And out. Look up and she’s here,
my lovely love who always knew what it meant to live there.

(21 October 2010)

Some Words

Sex, death, immortality by breath where bone was, the intemperate climate.
Sex, death. The little deaths, the grand seizures, the fucking, the befucked.
Tell me, did you know, garden master, how Henry and Mr. Bones would end?
Would it have been that bridge that fell from its moorage, plummeted to dust
without Mr. Berryman but kept him calm, ah Kate would, should life grow
a habit like a fleshly weed in the third row from the left, the one Lowell had
occupied, next to Jarrell. Steve Orlen, Randall’s heir apparent, is gone now.
The bone eater, the flesh crusher, the metastasizer, a new word become old,
that’s how we go when the day opens its arm and the reaper swings a scythe
freshly sharpened. Roethke’s protégé, David, is a handsome, humble master
of immersion, see him leave behind him a track of books he did not publish,
but left to his beloved Robin, will see the light over the prairie, golden immersion
that claims us all. He keeps on, David does. He was my teacher. Grateful lover
of the wild, friend of the kind man freed from Boeing to be in Montana master
of a voice that spoke of a living place where he stayed young as long as he lived.
And here, the Midwest, the river crosser, heir of time clocks, father of a voice,
whose great failure was to die before he could see the son blossom into his own.
I do not know if sons die. Only that fathers reach the underside of earth first,
sons impatient to live and, like we learn to say in poetry school, do your work,
get it done, make it the shaped thing that contains a voice like nothing else, live
through that tonal mortality, so much like a man, or a woman: like her Brazil,
Elizabeth’s. Or her inland California, Sandra’s. Or her New England, Maxine’s.
Praise them and all the brothers and sisters of the art, from some small voice
resembling the helpless beauty whose words saved herself until she was doomed
and delivered into the fire, furnace life impossible to conceive much less believe.
Anne’s. Sylvia’s the oven. Hughes and his tall sister the bereaved without end
or reprieve, their backland roots tangled in wind’s swirl, a crow and its fish,
there is always someone falling, the art failing, the wilderness growing back
to its root world, where the child finds the body on the brink of the human.
Words have body, a body I wear, words whose desire is to spurn any end.

(for David Wagoner, who persists still in that splendid folly Blake named)

(18 November 2010)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Draft for a Fare-Thee-Well

As for me,
I would find a place
before my ashes kiss the dirt
to write,
nothing left unsaid

I don’t need to say.
Why not desire it all?
the flower, the flesh,
and that way savor the smell,
the silence, and begin to feel.

Near midnight, wind
blowing cold, the moon
overhead bright, my love
sleeping, and I am happy
beyond any man’s measure.

As for her, she will rise,
I will kiss and hold her through
the difficult passages:
all we were, are, and will ever be
now that we know what we need.

And there is our country
overtaken by the fools of day
and night, the people stripped
of all power, a slow, cruel way
of relentless pain, my country . . .

huge entities
judged the equal of each one
of us, no matter our worth,
the need to use the mind, arms,
and say it–love–to be free

to breathe the last word
and sleep with it like a bomb
ticking toward Resurrection City
if that be our lone hope.
Why despair

of our chance to seal
the border between life and death
though we know our limits
and attend to our lives
only to see in the mirror

the loathing of those so sure
they own this world
they band together in a circle
to share with us their stony gaze.
In a city of cemeteries

the calculus of night and day
is written in braille,
the better to reveal
how a dying wisdom prevails,
no matter its eventual fate.

(20 October 2010)

Dinner with Colin and Marie

Colin and Marie had Juan over for dinner. How was Paolo?
Marie asked. They’d heard he was staying with Susanna
in Seattle. Juan said he’d caught a ride from Mexico City
with their sister. He’d heard nothing from Paolo since.
Marie talked about her cancer scare. Colin’s bad heart
had kept him awake at night but now he worried Marie
might die, and she listened intently, and so did Juan.
They both wanted to help Colin get his sleep, his heart
depended on it. He talked about the war, again amazed
he was here now, alive, when so many buddies had died
in Nam and were left to rot in rice paddies and under trees
whose roots stretched out so far you could never see them
even if you had time to kill by staying to trace them out,
which no one did, they all had to watch for the punji stakes,
heavy poison-tipped balls that silently swung into your face
or the sudden burst of fire from nowhere in the silence.
Marie changed the subject, or tried to. She talked about sex.
Colin talked about death. Juan wondered what Paolo said
to Susana and her to him. What did Manuel talk about
to his whores in Mexico City now that their mother lay
at rest? Or did he simply pay them to talk to him? Why,
he asked himself, did he care? Think about poor Carlos
in the Chesterfield gorge packing his BAR walking point
in his memory, telling himself when he went on R & R
he’d have himself one of those girls dancing on the bar
in Saigon, the one he had his eye on who gave good head,
whom he admired furthermore for taking good care of her
baby, tucking the little one in before she undressed, he paid,
and she went to work to get the money to pay for their food.
God damn, he hated that fucking war, Juan remembered
Carlos spitting such shapes of words into the dark nights
they walked home from the bars, Carlos telling him a story
Juan would find in the manuscript retrieved from the van
and for no good reason he started telling Colin and Marie
the story Carlos spun about the wrecking ball in Boston,
the prostitutes by the Trailways bus station one at a time
flashing their polished white smiles as he arrived and left
to continue the circle he was living during the days before
. . . and suddenly Juan said, I have to go, I have work to do
first thing tomorrow morning, see this guy I’d like to see
take the book Carlos wrote and put it between hard covers.

(20 October 2010)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


( . . a story told again and again yet always with the same denouement . . .)

Once you reached the crossroads you were unsure where to go.
Take the left to go with me, or keep to the right with another.
Blue Suede Shoes was playing on the turntable in the basement.
When no man was around to dance with, what else could you do
but dream? You were the only woman with whom I could fuck
without disrobing and come on in, but my God! you yelled loud
and if Elvis drowned out your cries, it was not because I came
in your sweet pussy, honey. You had gone the left fork, you went
home now, safely (you thought), but thanks for trying, better luck
next time. No, you said nothing of the kind. Species, but not genus,
phylum in question. Only I was angry. With myself. Next day
the red-haired long-legg’d woman who knew how to get what
she wanted drove a Healey into town, entered my office, took
me to lunch. I bought the car, married her after New Orleans.
Up north her brother was a jailbird. A nice guy gone inside
for being drunk and later, loaded, and what would I ever know?
Save this: His sister was raped on Bourbon Street by an hombre
who claimed to be a stevedore and make more money than me.
He must have read my mind. She danced with him while J. B.
Borel of Algiers, for the night away from his wife, filled me in
on how to catch catfish, cook them just right and eat your fill,
offering to take us across the river home: You got all the hair,
not her! he drunkenly laughed (though hers was on her head).
In Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop I started talking about Watts
with a one-armed lawyer on vacation from D.C. and his friend
living here year round, and after she disappeared on Bourbon
they helped me hunt for her until I said, Go home, and looked
and never found her, only Tchoupitoulas, which I never forgot,
until she found me where she lay on a bed in a fever dream
bleeding down her thighs, soaking towels covering the sheets.
She was telling the story of what was happening in that throng
gathered behind a garden wall filing up the stairs to the bed.
Next day she could not recognize them. Nor were they found,
ever. John Biggs III, Kolb’s head waiter who had been CIA
under Allen Dulles, walked with us every street in Vieux Carre.
Up and down Canal. The marriage lasted two years together
and another year separated until divorce. I gave you up for lost.
Paula appeared and I loved again. A year and we divorced.
You wrote wanting to see me. As luck would have it, my Irish
self left town and drove to Marin to sweep up your Irish self
and take you with me to Massachusetts. It did not go well.
Nothing did then. Until we left the Rio Grande to dwell
by the brow of the Mississippi. You changed, I changed,
luck itself changed. Yet even now I can look at your friend
and see in memory the cancer nurse from London in Manhattan
the night she sat on my lap and I slid both hands up her blouse,
unhooked her bra and tongued her nipples, naked at closing time
saying yes, she knew many men but could love only one at a time,
and next day we fucked or tried to in her East River walk-up,
but inside her she cried, You feel like you’re splitting me apart!
and afterward we drank sake with our braised hors d’oeuvres
in Little Tokyo. Even drunk I could see clearly the narrow shaft
where I mined her thighs seeking what no one but you, I knew,
would ever be, my forever newly discovered, uncovered quarry.

(20 October 2010) 

For Good

We combined fury with heat.
Our love gave off smoke.
Your mother taught you well.
She caught you up all night
reading True Love Stories, say–
pulps like the westerns
my friend’s father read
drinking wine, while his mother
slept with the boss. One night
her hired-man husband fell
off to sleep and burned down
the house with him in it,
my friend dry eyed telling
the story. And your own mother
miles off, in a city, seeing a cop,
told you to go home to be with
your father pacing, asking you
where she was, did you know
when you said, Daddy, I want
her back and were too young
or something to know drink
had done all this, when Mommy
wept where he quit and stopped
for good but he was too late.
Days your mother rose to work
and the next night the same,
gone again. She gave you a book
of Guy de Maupassant, saying
if you wanted to read about sex
at least read good literature.
Boule de suif serviced the soldiers
stopping her coach in the country.
A brothel full of ladies painted
their nails picnicking by a stream.
No wonder he went to school
to Flaubert: he took a subject
the master preferred to live out
rather than touch with his pen.
The pupil etched the common
in words: the trees on boulevards,
the amblings of flaneurs in crowds.
Maupassant died of syphillis,
his zeal compressed into a style–
as good as any reason to die
after his words made literature.
And your father died of cancer
of the esophagus, having stopped
smoking but again, alas, too late.
I had the good fortune to meet
this Irishman whose life’s love
was his daughter. He was named
for Robert Emmett, Irish martyr
on the gallows, Easter 1916,
singing out, Erin go braugh!

Daddy died slowly, you recalled,
Mommy fucked her cop nightly.
Worked days as usual, praised
your intelligence, and cultivated
your good looks by teaching you
the charms girls use to be women
getting what they want. Or need.
One night, driving the avenue,
through the open window
you told the young man
crossing the street with the light,
If you’re free, would you like
a ride? and in he got, back seat
all to himself, where not long after
he couldn’t keep his body off yours,
and soon you eloped and he drove
you to Berkeley, where you wanted
to begin your new life. Up where
I was living then and mostly alone
nights but never days, there too was
much work to do during our youth.
Still, I got by. There was a woman
old enough to be an elder sister
I followed to her car after we met
through friends of friends,
and embracing she let me put
one hand up her dress, the other
on one breast and then the other.
When our heat wove two breaths
into one sigh and caught it before
loins can rise and flow, we started
back inside but I said I had to work
early and she replied, Me too,
and went on her way. Hence,
after you I lived too much alone
but worked well enough to please
my shadow. And first chance I got
I was in Berkeley walking Telegraph
to a warm bar to drink before a fire.
Ah, here we were, clandestinely.
After time started again, you said,
I must get back, he’s home by now.
I walked you as far as you let me
before you went back into the dark
and I to the pensioners’ hotel
where I had a room for the night.
Your husband called my room.
I went down to the stone patio.
We had words. The night manager
told us to pipe down, the old guys
were calling the desk to complain.
Smaller than I, he chose his words
but I erupted when he lost composure
and now in your late father’s car
he drove off warning me to leave
his wife alone. Your wife? Why?
Don’t you know she will someday
lose her fear of living out her life
with me? You had already said,
What will I do when you leave me?
You followed more of Mommy’s
advice, reading Anna Karenina

and how to be alive when the odds
were stacked high against happiness.
And I, unlike Flaubert, no longer alone
wrote too many words, mostly letters
I never sent but you read them all
years later when we had grown too old
to go anywhere we were not together.

(20 October 2010)

Monday, November 15, 2010


Ax sounds along the timberline, charred stumps from a dry summer, the liver spots on aging skin.
If only it could all be done over! As it is, birth leads only to death with precious little ecstatic
deaths on the way, one by shimmering one, arms and legs and lips and a rocking like we’re at sea
in a little boat salmon leap into and stay until we toss them gently back as a gesture of gratitude.
If this were an ocean it would not be a bed, and if it were not a bed the earth would be our pillow.
I love this time of day, the owl speaking its signature from the hollow cottonwood by the house.
Once we were invisible in the great wheel of galaxies turning endlessly until we reached a place
that was our next home and you came along like a seed blown in by the same wind blew me in.

What do you do with land whose trees must be clear cut to make a living and drive owls away.
What can be done with the land after the living is made, the bank note paid, the hunting spare
this year and others as well, with the sound of choppers in the summer belching their solvent
over the flames and men digging as fast as they can the firebreak hoping the flames don’t leap
but we know they will and return to the house, wash off the pitch, and sit down to eat, the stench
of smoke and ash riddling the air. No need to remember, there’s no time, the future is to prepare
for a war we never knew would lead us to fight against nature under the flag of capital and greed,
symbolic horses working the mines, the factories, machines tended by slaves for the fat-cat toms.

The old truck starts. The rain starts. The day is a sheet of misery on the skin and under our feet.
Wind blows it against our faces, hard to grip an ax with wet hands, the cross-cut bows out under
callused fingers sawing back and forth until the wet wood feels too green to go on. We go home,
we eat venison from last year’s harvest, our wives set the table and sweep the floor and care for
children we thrust upon them in the name of plentiful God whose bidding we follow and multiply
accordingly. You don’t know the trouble I’ve seen, the radio bleats over the static, nobody knows . . . Before I sleep nights I go back in memory to the little boat she shared with me, how
but Jesus
she loved to feel the waves under her and stay dry, how I wanted nothing but her happiness, ours.

19 October 2010)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Going to Stay

Enough water over the falls. A spray against the skin.
Rowed his boat to the edge, close enough to look in.

You can see only the industrial buildings and cages.
Why did you consider moving to Babylon at your age?

If this has form, there must be something wrong.
Is it me or the fingers or my head fighting its sling . . .

The nation is a republic, the reactionaries insisted.
It’s not a democracy! No need to vote! I will lead!

As for me, I sleep with the TV on mute all night.
I take off my mask when I wake in the morning.

I set out after carrying the canoe across the land
between portage, the earth we call an island.

I reached her loft, a walkup of twenty-fivefloors,
cold water flat behind her. I knocked on her door.

She gives me her table and tells me I can write.
I sit until it comes and spills words that bite

the bastards in the ass that lies out of its mouth.
I do not know how such fools get this far south.

I wake in a drawl. Whose mask was I wearing
but one whose left hand bore a wedding ring

identical to the one worn by the lovely lass
who lifted her skirt and showed me her ass

was all mine as were her lips for my own to kiss
and so I fell into a deeply enchanted embrace

transmogrifying all phantoms of the deep wood
through which I rode to reach the known world.

I have a room full of masks. They sleep all the time.
I stir with my pen the ink in her well until words come.

(19 October 2010)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

An Age Already Ancient, Alas, and Anonymous


Long the way and twisting, an old gnarled trunk of a winter tree,
dogs sniffing the leaves where root and branch may meet, if you
wind your curving body around mine and let me, to sip your root.

I traveled down so many years the only light was too far to gauge
distance, and so remarkably quiet were the stars I coyote’d thee
and your belly full of children only your bursting dugs may feed.

I ensorcell where I lie, I was never plain, my body loved my body
and yours, yes, yours no matter how the moon might remonstrate
in its code of light and clouds more like the city in which I may die.

Out here great syllables of nowhere the biped goes even on all fours
counting like the Grecian who said one and one is not two but one
only before water runs, wind blows dry the earth the fire ignites.

The discovery of zero in lower Manhattan womb-wimbles its sail
crumpling still slow motion in your home movie of auto-destruction
starring the fate of all who breathe here and take their breath away.


Triple my tudors, my jacobeans, my medievals, my triply tough hide
without water, a bedouin camp pitched where my thirst thrives, love
inside, but why in threes, why the devil taking you and me after we

filled our aching loins with the long-sought salt of our mutual ocean,
sullied the heat full of iron tongues, parted only to come back to love
what was never ours and always the devil’s, or so say conquistadores

in their suits of mail sagging the horses’ backs and bowing their legs
for the long ride to Kansas from New Spain, led by the Turk, priest
of nothing, who only knows where the cities of gold you seek exist

as mirage, so kill the man and flay his skin for jackals in this desert,
they will come quickly and carry the skin back to their lair for nest
and let us be, where are women whose skin is worth more than gold

when we shuck our iron bodies and find the little branches of a tree
that leaf when she lets them, though she is not here, I know, and love
is far from Kansas, Coronado, so return to camp by the Rio Grande.

(18 October 2010)

In the Dark

I’m not sure how it’s done. The opera’s already going
and I know nothing about the music let alone language
so I park my posterior under the Santa Fe stars, the only
sky for me, and dream I’m in Italy where my friends go
to die at home after visiting Venice. Where do I travel
but here? I need no more. It’s always past sundown but
raucously beautiful in its lunar vowels, meterotic, I mean
meteoric dipthong-defying consonants, and I am randy
at your side, you have more love than any woman ever,
and you’re no Cenci, more Shelley with her Frankenstein
creation, only it’s you you make delightfully and so fully
mine. I think it must be prearranged, these affairs of heart
quakes along the lifelines of both hands and all the body’s
raison d’etre, what some call love we name as our own
and isn’t it always like that? misunderstandings, loathing
where once love was laughter and shimmy and schadenfreude,
that shivery word that prickles the skin and sucks you off
soixante-neuf and how do I know when all I hear is operatic
promises in the dark, where the beauty is all between my ears
and if that’s lightning in the west prepare the body to be born.

(18 October 2010)

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Working World Before and Above the Boiler Room

He was working in the Toppenish unemployment office, with two master’s degrees
and a future if he stayed put. She was teaching in the Yakima business college,
having taught high school, Catholic school, and college teaching around the corner
if they moved. Gerri Guzman befriended her. She lived in Buena, not
pronounced Boo-yen-ah, the way gringos like Geri and her new-found friends.
Frank Guzman knew how to say it. He lay on the grass on a warm day outside
Employment Security and talked all about his lifelong ambition to be a pimp.
Frank talked as long as the gringo ate his lunch, listening. He would still be
talking if the hour had not ended and going back to the window was the way
the gringo kept his job, the one with a future if he could hold on long enough,
doing intake of the unemployed, of whom he had more than once been one,
but nobody asked, they so loved those degrees.

In Albuquerque, another Catholic school, this time Old Town, San Felipe de Neri.
First settled and still around. The nuns loved her work, as the nun in Puyallup
loved her. Like a mother. Here Coronado came to town on his Spanish steed
hauled over on the boat from Barcelona. A rest stop by the river was named
for him and a fee charged to tourists who knew no better, were told what to do.
The gringo taught composition and hated it but that way found time to write.
Who knows, maybe he’d stay long enough to get another degree, this time the Ph.D.
She said, Fuck it if I can’t get fucked with your nose between covers of a book
even if it is your pre-dissertation comps, I’m outta here, I want to learn from men,
one man that is . . . and he helped her move the first of the year after the ocean liner
returned from San Juan via Anchorage and her lover told her she loved sex
more than any woman he’d known and he oughta know, he used to sell his own ass
on Miami Beach. Old rich fuckers stopped their limousines to buy his wares.
Think of Gerri Guzman, of Frank’s lifelong, you bet, frustration with the dream
he thought he could call his own if he put Gerri in business as Buena’s only madam.
Next thing the gringo knew his love was wearing an Afro wig. Her man said no,
you shouldn’t, you’re white you know, not like me, I have other women with Afros
and not wigs either. She talked back like this: I do everything you want me to.
He bowed, but no one thought him capable of curtsey.

He sat at the bar next to a phone he paid for extra (thirty years ago, before the birth
of cells) and showed his Polaroids to men he sensed he could trust. If they took the bait
he called ahead making sure she’d be ready once the doorbell rang and gave her all
to give them all the pleasure they paid for as soon as they stepped over the threshold.
The gringo waited. He knew the legend of Zuni. He watched time wearing thin, felt
the clock run down, replaced the battery, turned away a lovely who wanted to stay
only till she found a place of her own, she said. He’d known her way back before
unemployment. She was accustomed to paying a high price. He said, One whore
in a family is ample. He was talking about himself, yet she got in a huff and left.

(17 October 2010)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

In My Love's Olive-Skin House

We find the studs that rafter the joists
and tongue in groove the ceiling tiles
so we can walk upside down,
where the floor will never tremble, lips
aglow with smiles, and if love counts
it nails me to you when I enter in
either door . . . Mouth my skin,
let me in after I’ve been out all night
and morning too, I have habits
from my youth, seeing too many fathers
in the wan town where I grew,
later in the tavern away from the house
whose foundation was block not brick,
yet even so, the feds demanded Mother
remove Late Father’s creation,
elevator he designed, built, installed,
and hire a man to put in stairs
before they gave her a reverse mortgage
after she fell in the backyard
and could not get to her feet
until the neighbor driving by thought
to say hello to the Irish widow
she was. Albeit Protestant. Not like you,
my darling catolica. And now I’m one too
so my ashes may either be interred
with yours or taken to Lobo Mountain,
to the Georgia O’Keeffe tree
above the house given to Lawrence
and Frieda by Mabel Dodge Lujan,
just above the Phoenix Frieda’s
next husband sculpted for the shrine
to hold the body she had delivered
from where it always is that poets die.
There are the photographs.
Here’s one of the house,
one of the shrine,
one of the tree.
One of you
and one
of me.
O love, hold me fast! Let my body in circles go
in yours. Until Fate’s hammer comes down.

(17 October 2010)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pete Winslow's Widow

First night Paula stayed
the night the comedian
read poetry, the surreal
way a cloud passes over:
Carol Bly, now dead,
answering her phone
long distance saying
Robert’s away. Stay away.

Paula married me, poet
whose heart briefly turned
to its usual syncopation
as she turned lifting skirt
to show her beautiful butt
after bed following lunch
–those days, and if nights
there were they lingered.

A year going on two, one
flesh never. Irish Cathleen,
awaited by my door wanting
to open, being closed so long
the bolts it swung upon
rusted, the booze spilled,
the marijuana all gone.

In Boston I had the number
and called from a pay phone
and she answered, wept
audibly, saying Pete's dead,
not long ago but dead,
and did he remember me,
the surrealistic comedian?

Bly wrote to say that’s why
he loved his wife, she kept
interruptions away; one day
I'd know. I already knew
Paula waited, it felt forever,
but why? Easter resurrection
failed. She rolled away.

His widow? Who was she?
I told her why I’d called,
how he once made me laugh
until I cried. She calmed.
Later I was glad I called.
Irish Cathleen came back,
she drove the car home,
her olive-skin house.

(17 October 2010)

To Maxine Kumin

Between equinoxes stars fall and all the year in miniature

the way 1972 became 1974
see: I can’t quit remembering

reading Ez while waiting to sail, "set keel to breakers, forth"

on the ungodly bridge, railroad tracks where water should be
the bearded poet dreams a song he is dying in, and does

I read They Feed They Lion mourning the Dream Songs

driving east . . . you, her best friend, drove into the country
to say either I went or you would, I said I would

and did, having drunk and talked my fill, mourning still

Ez died like Roethke but later, and Levine then the best
to my ear, rightfully so I bleared, and meeting Adam

led to confronting the animals he had named, a bar full:

Roethke had the Blue Moon, I had Quicksilver, the Drake
and a wife too beautiful and too proud to put up with this

she moved south to Springfield and danced herself to sleep

and I tried, I stopped, I sat still all that summer Nixon hung
until the others swung and he was due to swing separately

and when it was time to leave, Goodbye

her best friend had done all she could, she started the car
inside the garage, suicided, soul rising as the body falls

–John Berryman, Anne Sexton, selah!

and what do I owe in apology never to be accepted,
Maxine . . . can I meet you where country ends and

city begins? or was being between my blessing, my curse?

(17 October 2010)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


We have much news
today. The human heart
wears thin with ire
pouring from the breast
into a vat of hollow steam
greeting the blood that clots.

There will be news tomorrow
should you wake and wear
yourself to the quick
when you visit St. Vincents,
put on a peacock to size,
walk to the wharf and go

sailing away to isles
unnamed, we have that
much news and must convey
the peril of walking upright
where we went on all fours,
day no different than night.

(16 October 2010)

Family Story

Here we go. My love and I
slept in.
The cats sleep:
one and one other equals ten,
followed by
               I look back thirty-five years,
see my body running with the ball
tucked in snugly as I begin to fall,
clipped legally where knee and leg
come together at sixteen, and now
I know why I limp.
                                   Only now
beginning my seventies, darkness
coming on, long winter all but here.
I’ve had this cane all these years.
I was lucky to find it for nothing
when I needed something.
supervised the chopping through
the knot in the solid block of stump
set on the cement floor of his garage
and when my lower back gave out
he told me to go rest in the house.

I went to town: Sunnyside
(not like Charlie Chaplin’s),
Rexall Drugs.
Ten dollars,
January 1990.
O yes, the girl
took my money, I caned away,

hobbled back. We took the plane
out of there. Never saw him again.
He said to Lorene at the beginning
of spring, Let’s go visit them.
He died. Nine years went by.
She was afraid to die, but did.

(16 October 2010)

Monday, November 8, 2010

" . . . stoppeth one of three . . . "

Everybody’s missing poem is with the shirt and book of Curtis
photographs in the O’Hare airport bar. Has been there since
January 1973. From there to Minneapolis, bagless, borne aloft
by United, the couple in the next seat see me writing and ask
what I’m writing, and I tell them my Ancient Mariner story.
They share my flight-size ounces of (I think it was) Jose Cuervo,
and listen to me tell about how I was headed for Santiago
when I learned my soul-brother John had shot himself in L.A.
Why were you going to Chile? To meet Neruda, that’s before
the Kissinger coup, as I’d come to call it. A euphemism, of course.
They take me to their home where I can call Irish Cathleen
and sleep on the couch. They wake me and drive me to the airport
to catch the plane to Spokane. In the sky I write about Paula:
She’s with me in L.A. and we run into Jim Morrison and Pam
in the Whiskey A Go-Go. In the Spokane airport bar I meet
Vine Deloria’s brother and we are having a good talk when Irish
Cathleen comes up and says, Finally! and we’re off to South Hill
to fuck the rest of the day and wake in time to drive south to San
Francisco, buy a week’s supply of hot pastrami sands at Solomon’s
on Geary, and head out across the desert sharing one another’s stories
of venery and lust, conversations in bed and in bars, more lust, more
venery, and when I reach the part about losing my poem "Death"
dedicated to Miguel Hernandez, she says she knows I will remember
what was there and put it on paper again someday, when the time
is right. When the time is ripe, I reply. She loves me every night.
She left the day Ezra Pound died, and here we are two months later
on earth turning north somewhere on the east side of Albuquerque,
going home, we say who have no home, and nothing has changed.

(15 October 2010)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Back Then, Then Now

Before she looked for my name in the Yakima phone book
she went with me there for a night on the town,
small as it was, she was a Spokane beauty
and thought her breasts were too large
but I loved both of them equally
and above all others I knew
firsthand. I wasn’t there,
I was in New England
or New Mexico . . .

I loved Paula more than I loved myself, that was for certain.
I love her still. Only the one who came before her
was ever loved more, and here she is now.
She rubs her dark olive skin against
the air that proves God exists
when it turns into wind.

Massachusetts, Albuquerque after San Francisco and Marin.
Her gypsy mother taught her to go where I went.
But this is about Paula, who was Osage
in her eyes. Paula, who stayed home,
Paula who left one day to go home,
Paula who married the vision

in my lost heart, its careening desire, its wonderful look
around and up and down to find whatever love
is like the nine lives a cat is said to have,
though they are only one in tiny cities
like this one, where no name
like mine can be found,
I have stepped twice
in my own tracks
to get lost . . .

Paula never goes north of Portland without her beloved now.
He takes out his sax where he has a gig and plays
Cherokee or I Can’t Get Started or Koko,

and lets the others name the next one.
She no longer smokes or uses,
doesn’t even drink now

but can keep time with the numbers in her memory, dozens
running the scales between chords talking back
to chords. He’s got his mojo working nights.
I’m happy she turned this way and left
not only me but the rest of them.
But baby, we had a ball back
when we both grew up
in leaps and bounds
and on our own,

we said back then, or I did, in what was illness personified . . .
Now see how the night out there comes down around
the walls of the world: you can see full veins
track the spoor of a needle’s vengeance
attacking cells holding our brethren:
Yea, we have gone and stayed.

(14 October 2010)

Jazz Ending

The dominant leads to the tonic. One other thing,
can’t think of its name, galumphs over the mountain
of sound. `
                    South Africa, Canada, the United States
–Canucks caught between apartheid and tea-bagging–
invent a phoenix to go up and down two thousand forty
feet endlessly until the thirty-three are on earth’s surface
seventy days after the exits up and out were gone forever.
It’s always night where it’s hot all day and cold in the dark.
The old ways out are forever blocked by the fall of rock
and shale, as though the slag heap on top wound up below
Chile. Elsewhere, Bessie Smith sings in my sleep, strokes
me down there: I’ve been a good old wagon
but I done broke down.
                                          I knew this kid who thought
he looked like James Dean wearing his waist-length red jacket
and played like Monk dancing in syncopation, how’s that go?
No one ever ends like Rubenstein, the keys all black are white
when the bland abrasions follow a fall from the topheavy cane.
Looked like an old white man wearing his skin inside out for keeps.
Who kept track? Yesterday a lover, today beloved, tomorrow
to be sung over with the dominant leading to the tonic.
                                                                                        He was
playing Rebel without a Cause, of course. He drove a squat,
square car imagining LeMans, Mille Miglia, Monaco, and slid
into corners turning over and laughing climbed out lifting it up
from lying on its side to all four wheels only to veer off a cliff,
Jimmy Stark at large and in space, out of control but happy
enough to grow a mustache and go on to the final performance,
Jett Rink with eyes for Liz Taylor, walking off what others pace
to measure how much land a man needs much less a penniless
Texan, opprobrium’s elite, the midget in a desert full of giant
van Cliburns running the scales but still averring new sound
set to music: Live like a lion, proposed the Marquis de Portago
in his Formula 1 as it found a space leading from living to dying
but not in between. In the quotidian world, only normal survives
but what’s that? What’s what? And why not go on galumphing?
Improvise, improvise! Take it up as high as it goes: jazz ending:
He sails off to live out the day in the Caribbean. Night comes.

(13 October 2010)