View From A Flying Jimmy

Listen: hounds loose their run trill reveille behind the lines
of white pine and cedar and elm that guard my seclusion.

I pretend I'm dreaming-then I am-waltzing with Jane
barefoot and ballgowned through a wood: music howls
somewhere beyond the gray, somewhere in the black.
So I oversleep and wonder when I wake why my feet are ice.

I fly to work down back roads that turn suddenly
into streets miles from my driveway graveled and
tucked between menacing rows of black-hulled pecans:
they bear on the third year and I keep their fallen ancestors
packed naked in blue tupperware tubs stacked in my freezer.

The cockpit of my jimmy is strewn with dead coffee cups.
Jack-in-the-boxes lay discarded and dying on the floorboards
-similar slaughters of necessity-ketchup clotted to their sides.
Last month's cable bill flaps under the visor like a battleflag.

Tobacco whips by on the left and on the right so fast
each leaf on every stalk stands out in surreal base-relief.
I taste the sharp and bitter tang of suckering plants:
it reminds me of my father's pall malls and politics and
the smell of money seeded from blood.

Barn swallows rise-in lazy tourbillions-from the fields
their beaks and bellies full of yellow and green hornworms.

I wing past Buck's BBQ Pit (You Can't Beat Our Meat)-past
Lucy's Do-Lounge where the girls serve more than shots
-past Big Jim's Quick Mart: the stoner kid who pumps gas
raises a hand in reflex. I don't wave back in sympathetic apathy.

Most mornings I stop to kill coffee cups but today I'm late.

Tenant houses rush by on either side, their concrete blocks
painted with Kudzu and mildew: I think of abattoirs and
oubliettes and other inevitable exits. Children and dogs and
cheap molded toys from the plastic plant over in Elroy dot
the tiny dirt yards-little boys and little girls stand in stagnant
ditches chunking rocks at death while their mamas are inside
fucking the mailman or watching General Hospital on TV.

I see slide show flashes of their faces and I hope I don't
have to come back out this way: scrape them up, heads
cracked open, futures frying on asphalt like so many eggs.

I pass the city limit sign-some of the holes are mine-ringed
in rust and canted to one side. Courthouse looms right,
county buildings lurch left and blocks ahead day meets night
where tracks split the city: segregation in iron ties old as time.

I pull into my lot-number six, section twelve-filled with cars
and trucks and bikes but I am the only flying jimmy.
Everything ticks: engine, watch, pulse-alpha papa charlie-
the people that mill outside my windshield tick with tension.

I want to turn the key, turn around, turn into my driveway
where squirrels sit stuffing my sweet meats in their jaws:
instead I clinch mine-name rank serial number-open the door
and step out.

Listen: animals sprung their cages snarl in angry unavoce
behind walls of brick and steel and glass that guard nothing.

The Semite-Anti

I knew a Semite, once-
who was anti-anything that wasn’t
his own concept, or concepted to his own
intimate reality and you would think that a Jew
would know a thing or two about tolerance;
about the consequences for the lack of it
or at least realize the danger of narrow roads

yet he rides a bicycle around
his university town, because the chance
tuning of a classical station once led to Domingo
singing to angels, eating bread where the road
got narrower still; the pleasant shock turned car
into flaming tree along the landscape littered

highway to Barnes and Noble,
where he goes to find his roots, goes to cry
over CD’s sang in the mother tongue; the notes
dripping like the snapped strings of guitars-
sometimes as he leaves, he feels he can walk straight
through the brick walls like gamma rays but

he pedals instead, home for dinner;
a fish sup of mackerel displayed on his counter
like the art of poetry lays upon the page and he hones
his knife on the sharpening wheel; slits the white belly,
removes bright innards, washes the gutted carcass
beneath tap water as cold as the Aegean sea-
as it boils within the gray water of domesticity
he knows that later he will write of it, for writing
is a noble task and he is nothing if not noble

and after, he sleeps; and as he sleeps
he dreams of apples; falling apples, forbidden apples,
the apples of paradise that an old woman bids him
not to eat and then his mind shifts and he is standing
among the broken pieces of Palestine and Greek sculpture
that lie in silent discord at his feet, the feet of the elite
athlete who in his youth slapped decathlon ass
while shit smeared his hands and he thanks God,
thanks Jehovah for the privilege and then he wakes-

just another forgotten old man
with dried spittle in his eyes and on his lips,
the cupboard stitches in his scalp tingle, mingle
with the fluttering remnants of fucking the Venus De Milo
while dream-Nazis cheered him on, their dream-faces
set in sybaritic leers so he draws a bath to cleanse
the night sweats; dives beneath its warm surface
like a submarine -hard, true- and emerges flaccid,
limp as the pink mackerel dinner and somewhere
in the back of his mind he wonders who will grieve;
who will sing the liturgical dirges for him.


I Am Not

I am not an artist because
Erich smokes Marlboros.
he wears a cherry jacket and cherry socks,
a ghost shirt and ghost sweater,
and carries the box of Marlboros.

Erich, lying on my bed, spills blood and snow

on my raspberry and coconut spread,

So I paint the picture.

And the critics say "whatsa matter kid,

you don't got no other crayon
but red?"

I am not an artist because

the strange boy has a fat neck.
He wears the same shirt everyday on the bus.
From the collar grows a neck
wider than his head.

So I split the neck and head on paper,

and the experts say "there ain't no one

looks like that why
dont'cha draw flowers?"

If Erich smoked Salems

the portrait would have been balanced.
The heavy red and white
would have been blown apart
by a mentholated breath of color.

The critics would have said

"This carnival of rainbows combines the
double enjoyment of a striking portrait
and today's pop art."

If the boy, instead of a fat neck,

had been given big, round eyes,
the portrait would be seen as a charming face.

The experts would have said

"This visage expresses the whimsical fantasy
of a child found in an adult's face.
His warm eyes thrill us
with a 'je ne sais quoi' sensation."

I am not an artist

because the critics and the experts
do not understand that truth is beauty
and beauty is truth-

Acknowledgement to J. Keats.

Buddha Theory

Asked what he was,
Buddha replied "I am awake."

I sleep, I don't sleep.
This morning, I search for a headache
because that pain would be an equalizer.
I watch weed, I smoke the weather;
Sidharta watches from his shelf,
a cold ceramic face that never moves.
He oversees the pull of necessity,
then the slow push of nirvana.
I know that all night, he has watched
the water trouble and turn.

Once, in a physics class,
I explained to a professor, in his language,
that G times EM into I was theoretically nothing
to a theoretic me; that I was just a microbe
whose outcome was probable- a vibration
through fluid, a string of membrane stretched
across the light of everything.
The professor had tapped his meerschaum
against his heel and told me that the space
for my grade was to small for him to identify.

This afternoon, I lay
on a plush red divan in the back room
of a store-front posed as a fish market
and let a vietnamese man massage my thighs;
he pressed his palms against my theoretical knees
with each fluid stroke of his hands.
I watched in a mirror hung above our spot,
tried to convince myself of its reflective nature.
I turned my head to avoid myself,
but Buddha was there, perched on the sill,
his gold face painted with a smile.

I just settled back into red,
a constant relative in my fixed background,
and wondered if he smirks like that
while the water rushes its angry banks.


When Gods Were Many

Prometheus was a titan,
the wisest of them all,
best friend to Zeus
and full of the juice,
he liked pranks most of all.
Of great and godly humor,
the nymphs fell at his feet;
and though a good lover,
each would discover
his varied taste in sweets.
He often suffered for his wit,
or looking for a chortle;
one day he got bored,
went downtown and scored,
and made himself some mortals.
Then he rolled a ball from clay,
and stuck the mortals on it;
he noticed, in time,
they were dropping like flies-
how could he have blown it?
The mortals soon called to him
in tinny little voices-
"we're happy to please,
but we're 'bout to freeze,
and we ain't got no choices!"
Prometheus felt bitchin' bad
about the mortals plight;
he thought what he could do
to turn down the blue,
strapped on his wings
and took flight.
He flew to see a god he knew,
Haphaestus was his name;
but this dude with the fire
had no real desire
to parcel out his trade.
Prometheus got really pissed,
that fire god was such a Jew;
so he stole a spark
undercover of dark
and fanned it till it grew.
The stolen flame burned bigger,
(it almost caught the portals!)
he cast it down on frozen ground
and gave it to his mortals.
The mortals were warm and grateful,
Prometheus went to a party,
where he tricked Zeus out of his lot
of a sacrificed ox-
but that's another story.



I lie on my back
where land draws up,
forced into bank
by a river that has its way;
water troubles and turns,
a slow diminuendo like
the fading of old scars.

Movement in the shelf of sky
is only a loss of light,
a bone moon reveals its face
along a scarf of cloud.
Heat bears the night electric,
chalks tree against slate
in skeletal bas-relief.

I watch the set of day
cast valley into flame,
the silence of sheathed wings
leaves a stir of italic rain.



This mind turns on its axis.
Continuous thought uninterrupted
by the vicious sleep of reason,
breeding Goya's monsters in ground fertile
with preconceived knowledge.
The grease of time speeds the spin.
Disoriented, weak against the chain,
links of assimilated concepts layer like brick.

The whirl of intellect births ideas.
Intrinsic contemplations on a mental screen,
infallible doctrines speculate
on suspicions whispered to living rock.
This mind trips on unearthed reality.
Forgotten voices speak for themselves,
startled hands bring pen to paper,
validation stains the page with creations' mistakes.

And I hear the scream as I write the words.

Logic (A Rare Ryhme)

By my hearth I've often sat,
and curiously wondered at,
the circumstances of my current state;
how it is I came to be
such a hardened, jaded she,
laughing at the irreversibility of fate.
Quick of wit, a learned mind,
taught to mingle with my kind,
if I only knew just what that meant;
I only know I won't conform
to what is the considered norm,
so does this mean my tree is slightly bent?
I never asked to run the race,
they can't make me stay in place,
the way I live my life is unaccepted;
and so I ask, with heavy heart,
if my free will and I should part,
would all I have accomplished be respected?



They haunt this place. Invisible footfalls dance,
they rise in ghastly ballet; grotesque arabesques
against bone-colored walls, murmurs without voices.

Low laughter ripples beneath flesh, crackles along a dead line.
Strange shades waltz beyond the corners of perception,
twirling to a spectral band; the sweet scent of Mignonette
an undefinable presence, it's decay lingers on the air.

Revenants in party dress, their passage kisses the skin;
they whisper close, seductive invitations to the dance.


Good pussy

My cat purrs
like a dick-whipped woman;
fat orange tom, his cream stripes
run through my fingers
in spermy ropes.

Milk And Chapstick (Edit)

She used to be Viola, cornfed daughter of dirt.
Baby fat blonde jumped the nowhere bus,
bootlace flapping, gritty chapstick in her pocket
pasteurized milk in her daddy's scotch thermos.

Fate est. 1977, she walked away on rooted feet,
now she shakes a disillusioned ass at a titty palace
called the Maraschino Cherry; screaming red walls
full of glaring Warhol and polite bouncers in suits.

The clientele speaks of Paris, of summers spent
at Archipelago de Colon in knowing voices.
It brags like a regular Studio 54, but it's just another
downtown hard bar, the regular fakes licking Kismet
from squares of cellophane, faces pulled in passion.

The stage pops and snaps, the crackle of charged air
makes her think of the spark chamber she saw once
at a county science fair, when she was still Viola,
baby fat blonde the crowds called Sapphire,
because it was spelled out behind her on a backdrop,
sputtering tubes of violent blue spitting static at her back.

She sways on rooted feet, runs a dry tongue over drier lips
and thinks of chapstick, of warm milk in a plaid thermos.



He sits in front of  Bea's Corner Store
(another shiftless nigger)
a perfect Rockwell
by the rusted Grape Nehi sign.

He hand-rolls cigarettes,
ponders the color of a God.
He hears cicadas buzz
in harmony with memories
of when it wasn’t wise
to look daylight white men in the eyes,
because they might come to call at night.

Now old, those men pass
on their way to buy Bea’s shine;
they call him by name as if they’re friends.
He wonders what they choose to forget.

On Saturdays, little white boys
drop their battered bikes,
head into Bea’s for colored popsicles.
But he needs to see them colorless,
and can’t help wonder
what they’ve already learned.

He has heard of the change bought
with the blood of those more bold,
now he’s too old, too tired, too black to care.
So he nods to all, while he appears
to focus on a patch of oil that darkens the asphalt,
and stains the scent of Gardenias in the air.


I like the way I look in car mirrors
if I'm on the side and it's dim through the glass
or I look in the lighted one on the visor,
over my school-marm glasses
right after I put on honey lip balm.
It's easy to pretend it's not me,
the distortion creates beauty where there is none,
not like walking down short halls with flamingo legs
above everyone else in the sand;
this is an Irish face, flat and squash,
mirrors add dimension like a photograph from a autopsy
but in the end, they usually find the body in the trunk.

Dead City

The city is haunted,
filled with the shuffling dead.

Someone's nightmare broods
on the rim of my waking sleep;
it wears a man's clothes, a child's smile,
and it leans, a malevolent slant,
in the recessed doorways of periphery.

It moves by me down night streets,
past buildings like tombstones.
Gutterplates and cornerstones
bear names of the irrelevant doomed;
anathema writ by those who came before.

Now it's ahead, tripping the dark fantastic
along the edge of my watering lid,
a lurid writhe in rhythm to the hiss of my mind.
It beckons, silent coos of seduction,
drawing near the cold press of it's regard.

The city is haunted.
Winds keen through barren streets,
pushes past buildings like watchful crypts,
scatters faces on the skittering strains of a howl.

I see it beyond,
someone's nightmare dancing with my own;
one mad ghost entwined with another.


Where It Goes

My fear has nothing to do
with God teaching me lies.
We wore painted masks
representing faces,
the bless-us formula and linear proofs
holding the house together
like a dime-store novel spinning
its tale in a drug store
that doesn’t exist anymore.
No matter how many times you move
the same shadows fall down the stairs;
you watch as the newest star
to come out of the consortium
dances above their heads while
we spread our tale across the gods’ table
before asking them to show us
where it goes.


You knew I'd call it Chartreuse.

I was looking on the web
like I'll do to keep my mind from dwelling
in a petrified wood that it shouldn't

I came upon a place devoted to Chartreuse
which turned out to be
a French liqueur made by monks
and aged with 130 kinds of herbs and flowers
it all sounds so simple

and I just like the word
of course I know it; what it is,
have seen and heard and even used it
but never really thought about until today
when I saw it in a slender, nondescript bottle
such a cool green beckoning...

yes, that's it, beckoning;
calling me to Chartreuse mountains
where holy men gather herbs and flowers
until they count 130

and I read later
that some songwriter somewhere
Tom Waits, I think it was;
had said that Chartreuse was a whiskey so good
they named a color after it.

I once had
a shot of color like that.


Sand and Smoke

There are things carved in relief. Like the skeletons of churches, a sub-rosa apparatus beneath bone. I am always drowning in marrow. Decision tips an hourglass; what was sand is smoke. She got her first tattoo in a shop on second street; a kite that ribboned its tail around her wrist. Years later, a diner in Trent; a backwash of Bakelite and teak. She smoked clove cigarettes, lips drawn in stitchlines. We questioned, teeth to skin, reflections in a third eye; images fell from an iris' edge- impressions lost in the drift. Borromean dropped a ring, what was left was crossed. Behind a heavy door, a kite with a faded tail identifies the wrist. A man in a smock with sleeves too short for his arms traces its marbled flight; beneath his palm he knows every scar is a victory.


THIS IS WHY I WRITE said the Gods, unaware that his/her/its memories were missing: and so we write; we wish we wrote, wish we took pens with us to bed, covered our blankets in paper, filled our pillows with ink and rearranged our dreams in terms of consonants and syllables and meter. We miss ourselves in memories of ourselves; we ache for what we have not yet known, could not have yet known, but still yet know: words remember; language remembers. Everything that we remember and all that we cannot remember is all a memory of the same silence, the same nothingness, a chain of memories that is tethered to us and dangles from nothing. And so we write. THIS IS WHY I WRITE. And the Gods begat a Son, and a Daughter, and another, and another. The words are already remembered; nothing is ever truly formed or created or learned, only recalled. Memory preexists. And so we wish we wrote, wish we could write, knowing full well that nothing is ever truly written. I/we acknowledge the silence as much as the silence is personified and takes on my/our shape. We are all silence. THIS IS WHY I WRITE. Because the Gods, posing in Charlie Chaplain still-frames, are not the photographers. This is why I write. We are all memories of motion, of noise. We are the memories of each other. I/we remember in silence until all that is left is the silence, the holes and torn edges between what our bodies remember and our minds remember and our hearts remember. Our hearts collectively stutter, then still as breath is measured, accounted for, counted on to convey messages between us and from us. This is why I write.


Hail Mary

How's your faith these days
Does it lie dead, dismembered;
the masticated pieces spat at the feet
of your stained glass Gods?
Does it choke your private sanctuary
with the stench of decayed hope?

How's your faith these days
Does it hang heavy, cold against
the collar; a bloodstone Rosary
strung on veins of attrition?
Are confessions sold in confidence
to cast the Judas cross in tarnished silver?

How's your faith these days
Does it have the sweet persuasion
it once had, or has the hypnotic drone
of the doggerel lost its melodic allure?
Or is it all finally a figment
of the contrite collective; blind masses
drawn to fat candles lit by weary wanderers
to illuminate the path to salvation?

How's your faith these days

Looking For Oz

I. Twister

Baby rolls rock-me hips
through the undertow,
twelve moves like twenty down oceanside,
mama's little lure trolls for fish
driving money cars waxed to oily glisters;
the metal skins reflect

bad boys watching from tattoo fronts
with hard eyes, hooked fingers scratching
thoughts bulged at their crotches;
they spit laughter at sharks
looming up behind tinted glass and

baby strokes this school-
cherry red bait in a feeding pool,
looks like daddy's got an angler;
she snaps her ass at beasts
cruising by like sleek nightmares,
the painted scales of bad boys
rippling on the edge of thier wake.

II. We're Not In Kansas Anymore

The glare of neons
splatter on wet concrete,
drops of irridescent rain;
they spread oily rainbows
beneath spiked heels.

Glittering ladies gather
along the yellow safety curb;
soaked and shaking lollipop gals
looking for the great
and powerful Oz
through windshields
sparkling like the Emerald city.


Unholy Communion

She called herself Catherine, after that astonishing saint. Now at the sink splashing tap water on shadowed pits, seams of black stockings creep crookedly up shapely legs to disappear beneath the ragged lace hem of a slip; nylon leers looking for ablution. She had given up work for lent, but it was two days past Ash, and "bidness were bidness, Joe." Lighting a camel, she hung it off her bottom lip, smiling at me through smoke that wafted across her face, wisps of ghosts bringing tears to dead eyes. She coughed violently, spat the gift in the open toilet. She hooked a black bra behind her, half cups offered up blue-veined breasts like sacramental flesh. Pulling on a carmine colored skirt, too tight for Mass, she caught the waist with a safety pin, and said "what God don't see won't give much offense." Hard sin grows with bought thought; hot, pulsating abcesses infecting my groin. Heart pounds consternation at this state of disgrace, threatens to fly from its constricted cavity, splat in bloody pentinence at the feet of St. Jude, pathetic saviour for my hopeless confessions. She needed communion, because of her work; sacrifice for lent went lacking. "I notice da parish house don't do widout," she laughed, and the jiggled camel dumped its gray load between the two sacraments. She giggled like a caught child, flicked it away with nails painted Irish green to match her eyes. We sat in the back, as befitted our station, the last up to recieve Eucharist. I held God on my tongue until he melted there, gagging me with sticky guilt born of broken belief. We lit candles as we left, white wax to repose our souls.


To Dream Of Byzantine

She admired Byzantine architecture, having studied it
one long ago summer under a young professor
whose ancestors lived and died in Crete;
he had carried in his suit pocket a Justinian coin
that he claimed was real though it bore no date.

She bends brass and copper wire
into facsimiles of the Hippodrome, of Hagia Sophia;
she sculpts the Theodosian Walls from toothpicks
and hides her face behind their structure.

On days when clouds bank the sun,
she fashions a toga from a lilac sheet
and dances circles around the courtyard;
the empress Theodora in scuffed sneakers
a wreath of yellow pansies for a crown.

Neighborhood boys sometimes toss tomatoes
plucked from their mother's gardens-
those that do not burst into ripe flowers
across lilac and brick she gathers up;
leaves them in a woven basket outside the gate
for the mailman or the milkman to enjoy.

She kneels every night on her polished floor,
carefully glues colored glass and stone into complex patterns
that grow from the baseboards in widening arcs.
She has a cat named Constantinople
who watches the process with calm indifference.
When she sleeps she dreams of San Vitale,
of mosaics and obelisks and reflected light.

Angelica Noir

lili Marlene Wore Red

fishnets and meted out blowjobs to guys in Soldat suits
on a screen ripped in the wrong places
while secret gentlemen sat scattered beneath the grainy show-
their names tucked behind faded faces,
and Lili had top bill above the Angelica,
where goodtime gals with cherry lips
circled outside under streetlamps-
lost things waiting for exodus.

Alice Found Mitchum

in a Noir house downtown; with maroon walls
and sprung seats and a projectionist named Mick
who spilled Captain Walker from his window on Wednesday nights,
pinned him to a hillside with Warnicki and Ay-Rab;
the weight of dead men hooding his face,
their shadows bone-deep behind his brow.


Two Sevenlings


Late peach pies dress sills, whistle-thin
voices gather in empty rooms and whisper
beneath doors, around corners, behind the cool

of cracked windows. The dead have come
to reminisce; they tell stories of our futures,
pat our heads while we sleep sepia-hued.

Outside, broad-crested elms click near-nude limbs.


In the long hall, dark descends on sock feet,
beyond the past where everything is perfect,
where time does not fall from trembled nightstands

to shatter-stop against a perfect hardwood floor;
where a cat does not roll, or purr recognition because
everything is as it should be, nothing has changed,

and hushed sounds behind doors ajar are always there.


It's Simple

It's funny how the simplist of things
can turn your world on a cliched dime.

I haven't written in months; not one word.

I thought I had stopped forever; some great,
dark thing had reached out and thumbed a switch-
one I couldn't find the care to turn back on.

Found that mosquitoe again. Let it right in
like I never let it out and shit, Joe...
it was good the first day or two, as good as it gets
and then it wasn't. Just like that. But the strength
to swat was as gone as those elusive words and it
goes like it goes and it's all mine, after all.

Then the simple thing happened.

A pimped-out duece and a quarter flung itself
out of a clear blue intersection and before I had time
to think "Damn, that's an ugly fuckin' car"
it had buried it's big grin of a grill in my lap
and somebody told me later that it never hit the brakes.


I press between
the weight of day and push of night;
a quilt of skin sewn sinew to bone.

Scars trace my surface,
map the past in keloid and curve;
I rub but cannot scatter the years.

A girl once drew her palm
down my laddered back, not asking
what raised the rungs beneath her touch;
lucky, she said, to know where the ledge stops-

the falling off is to know where it begins.


The O'Hara Christmas

I was 11 the Christmas
my father sat in a cracked wingback
reading John O'Hara under Bourboned breath,
straining the words through his teeth,
stowing their hard stone centers
like ball-shot in his reddened cheeks

while my mother listened
to Ramsey Lewis sing about the sounds
of the season as she downed nog
after nog minus the egg and cream,
heavy on the Wild Turkey and shelled pecans
for winter pies into a bowl
decorated with festive silver bells.

Every now and then
she flicked a nut-meat at father,
bounced it off his head just like Gordie Howe
bounced pucks off the net and she'd sing
"Goddamn ye mirthless gemmamin"
and laugh and flick and flick and laugh
until he smiled at her over his page,
rolling the stones
in his cheek with his tongue,
so careful not to let them fly

and my brother, who was 9 that year,
without my 2 extra terms of smart,
looked up from his Etch-A-Sketch
long enough to ask what was so funny about
getting pelted with pecans and being
forced to listen to the Ramsey Lewis Trio
when we should be tapping our feet
to the holiday stylings
of Dave Seville and his Chipmunks

but my father just kept his smile and said
"it’s for ourselves to know, son,
it’s for ourselves to know-"

10 Christmases and an American Lit course later,
I realized why he was so good at tonguing stones.


I remember what they said
when we were not drunk,
or propping stools against
the same bar or even packing
our blunts in the same state
and speaking of states; in which
do their respective minds reside?
Pot-bellied pretender, moonstruck magpie;
throwing tilts in elliptical orbits,
barking edicts in stilted rants,
they long to eat the world and can’t-

only lettershapers, after all;
pointless pitons planted in argot,
they fall backwards off their own shoulders,
spilling vowels and consonants from
stuffed shirts and padded push-ups;
words without sentences hunt the air
between them at a loss for thought and
conversation brings us to this wasted place,
everything else being extinct
when we were not drunk,
propped against different bars,
stoned in other time-zones.
I remember what they said.


When It Rained

I was fourteen, she was twenty something.
She called herself Zsa Zsa most nights,
a big blonde with Vargas tits
and a bad complexion that began at the bone.

She had a one room walk-up off Sunset strip,
the only window looked out at a billboard
for Evian water. She said it was as close to
the Hollywood sign as she would ever get.

Her hair was dyed the color of champagne clouds,
and she wore a tight black tee that read
“You must have been a beautiful baby”
in warped block letters across her chest.

She would snort giggles and say all the swingers
were just dads in plaid suits, looking for lost
years under strange petticoats, warming
cold regret with Mastercard and Jack.

She knew things that were cool, like Saki
was born in Burma, if you could make a saxophone
cry you would never be alone, and you can
roll a decent joint in Tampax sleeves.

And on rainy nights when business was bad,
she would invite me home like company,
give me whiskey and head while Gillespie
played his trumpet in perfect sync.



I remember smoking joints with you,
stained fingers twisting our hair
in tangled knots, eyes closed,
Hendrix hanging somewhere above
low-slung clouds circling our skulls.
Your body pressed against the wall
nearer the window than mine,
you pull your lips and fire erupts-
your chest struggles, deflates,
surrenders God from your lungs in drifts
that scatter the clouds to ribbon.

I’ve been cold before,
I know my gooseflesh well.
Trading breaths with you
beneath a cracked window,
its panes jitter like loose teeth
everytime Jimmy walks his watchtower.
I will sleep in shifts and tonight
I’ll sleep without touching you-
already miles between us, a pushing distance
that marks itself in hardwood beneath
a braided rug that smells of ruin.

I watch you, asleep on your back,
knees bent up and ankles in; pigeon-toed.
Your breath volcanoes up, visible in the chill,
then disappears as if it never was at all.



I entertain the demons that follow me from room to room. Vague shifts of space direct me here to here; they follow on the cat’s feet of some other time poet my fogged mind cannot name. We have surely danced, them and I; they have led me, I have led them…we have chased each the other across spans of lost years. Now I pirouette alone, spin without brakes into varying shades of black; they seem content to watch. Sometimes, I notice the tightness in the air as they clap.

I find myself at my kitchen table, elbows set on an oilcloth that I must have purchased; I struggle to catch the memory of when. My oilcloth is singular in its ugliness, blocks of blue and white connected by tiny sunflowers that resemble flies cocooned in perfect symmetry within a square web. Burn marks track the path of the spider. I light a cigarette with my Zippo, its pewter body as battered as my own. The thumb wheel is loose; three strikes to fire and I wonder if the snipers are watching alongside my snickering demons. The itch between my shoulders has grown numb, a disabled target. I smell the bite of ozone, and beneath that, copper; always the copper, heavy and sweet.

The floor under my feet peels and fades; its pattern lost to countless steps. Once blue or rose or green, it now lays gray and dead across boards gone soft with rot. There’s a hole to the left of my right foot, neither small or large and shaped like a grin, it yawns a welcome; the demons at my back nudge against my ear. I inch my toes through the smile, feel the air of the cellar below, cold, damp. I wonder if any corpses before me have found this hole, slid though it to rest at last nestled in rat shit and dirt. I try to force my foot past the limits of the hole; the edges give without complaint. I take a long drag and wait for the dark below to yank me in; the air clutches my ovation.

Dusk drawing from the blinds finds me on my knees with butter knife and bleeding fingers; splinters pile up on either side like dead soldiers. I think of foxholes and fire pits and the blackened maws of buried screams that have found breath beneath the give of my floorboards. The smile has widened into a laugh; its cool trill dries my efforts to salt. Behind me, whispers of applause pull past my shoulders and fall between my hands; I can hear it echo somewhere in the black.

Demons sleep by daylight. I wake with cheek pressed against a table leg, fingers sore and curled under my chin. For a moment, I can’t remember; my eyes, sideways at floor level, pick out shards of wood, a settled haze of smoke, spatters of tacky blood. I smell dirt and damp and the sour odor of spoil; again I think of foxholes, I wonder where the sniper is perched. A ringing phone startles me to my feet, the steady thump thump of the Evacs melt into morning traffic that hums from the streets below my window. Shadows of sun shaft through my cracked blinds; the hole reveals itself…only a hole. Jagged at its edges, bigger, empty. I dump the ashtray over its lip; scatter my night cremations and watch as ash sifts into nothing.


Just Another Jane

She racks nine-ball
mornings at Bobby’s Blue Tip;
just another strip bar,
just another street…
current pit in a series of stops
and she’s got a loft,
top of the stairs,
over the stage
where she shakes tit
nights on the ten to four;
shimmies for the jimmies
in business suits,
they buy rounds in applause,
light cigarettes and check
their reflections on the backs of Zippos
always the same faces,
always the same song…
and in the morning
she’ll rack balls,
while the old men match each other
drink for shot;
they move lips that never speak,
their silence reminds her of home.


Where The Songs Are sad

The ghost of a savage
is born full-blown in a dim study
redolent of oiled leather and smoke;
where Spanish sonatas play on an old victrola
and Contino goes down straight from the bottle.

Dali fades into the walls,
faint behind glass clouded like tintypes.
Larrea and Lorca sit on chairs, lie well-thumbed
and opened across bed and sheet;
lost voices rise from their pages to drift
and scuttle in the comfortable dark.

Like the shoemaker, the savage
has a wife; angry on the other side of a door,
loud knocks from another world where supper cools
and ice melts in tall glasses like clocks
against a Catalan landscape.

In a dim study, a man digs his grave
where crickets sing in shadows without light
to give them birth and all the songs are sad.


As I Read Ed Dorn (Purpose, Part Deux)

I wonder why I've never read him before, find myself glad that the friend I do not know sent me on the search for this work. But then, I don’t read much poetry; the ‘classical’ poets seem full of cliche, so overrun with old-world sentimentality that to read them is like wading through vats of stale and sticky syrup. I do read some; I enjoy Williams and Thomas, and feel a strange kinship with Plath…though I find Sexton menopausal and sexually restrained; a lonely masturbator in search of why. I think the carbon monoxide might have been ultimately orgasmic in that lull before the dark.

So I find Dorn and I read; and in that consumption I began to think that the critical eye is a marvelous thing, a holy thing that bares the bones of the low and the high; that nothing is without its skeletal core. I read that Dorn said “I puke on greatness”…and in this I agree; for isn’t greatness just an enlargement of some tiny core, a miniscule beginning common to all? Nothing is so great that it can’t be drug down, nothing so small that it can’t catch some bottom rung and climb. I have felt that urge to vomit, void hot chunks of disillusionment and despair squarely on the shoulders of those who flaunt their largesse for the masses to stroke….that’s really the rub of it; most want to stroke the robe, kiss the ring, lick the cliched boots…and for what? A crumb of recognition? A crust of lauded pie thick with bullshit and back pats?

So I found this, and as I read it I realized that I am not alone, not the only someone to feel the tightening of an unseen rope:

House Arrest
By Ed Dorn
From now on,
I’m under House Arrest–
I only get out for the job:
Then, Death–the ultimate
House Arrest, the ultimate duree–
But it was worth it.

Original version–

From now on,
I’m under house arrest–
I only get out for the job;
Then Death–the ultimate
House Arrest.

And there it is, that thing that I do…I only get out for the job. Were it not for a forced need of income, I would sit forever, not in the comfort, but the consolation of my house…arrested there, suspended in the web of ago like some ancient, arthritic spider feeding on the raveling cocoons of dead things; all the while spinning my own tightly-wound shroud with acidic strands of myself. I am left to wonder, is this all I am meant to do? Wait to die, become a dead thing in someone’s web, a face bobbing to the surface of anothers' memory pool? So I write this:

In the tick-down of days,
in barely an open and close of years,
I choose not to die, but to cheat death;

slow the wind of anatomy
that is no more than body,
take back from the gods what was never theirs.

To remain here forever,
a single voice in the silence of time,
a shadow above the soil of the dead.

I will not die denied,
next to an unknown madness,
but wait the birth of each mute hour,

and know the past was never better
than in small seconds.

I turn it over and over in my mind, all this that has come from the reading of a poet at the behast of a masked mind…spinning and spinning those bitter threads about the great and vomitous non-purpose; and finally comes a cocoon of reason, a small insect of comprehension that my stagnant, narc-calmed id wraps around as if the bug is a bit of manna cast down from pissed and dubious gods:
I think, perhaps memory is not purpose, but the remembering is…the log of ends to stories without the necessary voice, without the hand needed to record the what-could-have-beens attached to every bobbing face; each pulsed rhythm that ceased in gutters, in alleys, in back rooms…without a voice to mourn their end, without an eye to remember.

So with purpose, I write this:

This mind turns on its axis.
Continuous thought uninterrupted
by the vicious sleep of reason,
breeding Goya’s monsters in ground
fertile with preconceived knowledge.

The grease of time speeds the spin.
disoriented, weak against the chain.
links held true by solid welds fused from
assimilated concepts, layered like brick.

The wild whirl of intellect births ideas.
Intrinsic contemplations on a mental screen,
infallible doctrines flung into speculation
on suspicions whispered to living rock.

This mind trips on unearthed reality.
Forgotten voices speak for themselves,
startled hands bring pen to paper, validation
stains the page with creation’s mistakes.
And I hear the scream as I write the words.



A lot of my time is spent contemplating purpose, how it does or doesn’t apply to my life. I never thought I had one, not really…for so many years now, the only issue has been survival; learning to wake successfully to another sorry dawn seemed purpose enough. Three tours worth of years before that were spent the same way; in that endless quest for survival. The only difference was the dawn…to wake to it then was a rush I have yet to equal; the particular and peculiar thrill of realizing that yes, you breathe on for a while longer…no one is sweeping you into an anonymous rubber bag as the sun rises over mountains at once beautiful and deadly; their backs packed with their own purpose.

My days come and go like gray shifts of inconsequence, spills of time that run unnoticed into more of the same. Days spent as a mannequin of the self I once was; the shell is there but the turtle moved out long before Saigon fell…now the face that looks into mine from the peeled-back silver of passing mirrors is unfamiliar; and it is only recently that I find myself wondering where I went, what happened to that fearless girl who pretended not to care and did…when did the pretense become the fact?

I could blame it all on Nam, I suppose, as so many do…pile the great non-purpose on the dead heads of all those soldier-boys that poured their lives across the toes of my boots, spilled their thoughts into my waiting hands and lost any memory of those ladies who were lovely once. But to lay it on that lap would be a lie, because it was just a place, a span of miles I ran through when I was young, chased by tigers let loose from someone else’ nightmare. Nam didn’t mold me; I molded it…shaped it into a bullet that I would never chamber, never fire. That gun doesn’t belong to me, the tigers that creep down it’s barrel were never mine. Instead, I pulled from it a profession; skills I learned then I use now, the waiting hands are now replicants that act as if they give a damn when all they really give is time.

So I sit and I wonder, why do it? What purpose do I serve spending hour after hour trying to fix people who care even less than I? Most of them addicts, criminals, would-be suicides, drunks…very few runs turn out to be actual accidents or of a natural cause. And then I remember…who am I to judge, an addict myself? Dependent on Heroin as I ran those long ago miles; my own dragon set to fend off tigers. Then later, morphine; another dragon for another generation of nightmares…only this time, the guns are mine; their barrels sleek, disposable stainless steel. I seek the same calm they all do, it’s just that my search is private, not left lying in the street or in some seedy by-the-hour room…the difference is really only one of logistics. It doesn’t make me better, just better-off…I think my actual purpose all along has been to bury the details, throw everyone’s dirt on my truth.

I try to remember why it was once worthwhile…why the effort mattered; why it might matter still. I recall faces, write down names, sort it out on paper as if the words are purpose enough. I think of an old man, dead ten years or more; but it’s his wife that I still see, pacing the floors of my memory…countless shots of mescal and morphine won’t wash away her face; so I write this:
They lived in a perpetual past,
three dim and heat-heavy rooms
encased them in the crumbling husk
of a brownstone on a forgotten side
of the city.

We ran suicide shifts down dead streets,
and some midnights found our pulsing
red and white outside their stoop,
spinning strobes slapping brick with
bright kisses.

He was the Phantom of the Opera,
she was his Christine. She would rush us in,
blue eyes wide in a thin plane.
Her scent reminded me of tabbouleh,
scallion sweet.

He was ancient, breath like smegma,
face like a leather mask. Cirrhosis ate
his body, drank his mind; accompanied by
strains of Wagner in unrelenting drones.

While we worked, she hovered-
frail wasp patting his brow, humming.
I saw her hug herself, fingers
dripping panic down her back
like slow sweat.

He was a wicked Raoul, hateful in his extremis.
He struck at her, called her a brainless zygote,
rotten whore. She gave him the radius
of her smile and crooned “Papa, papa,”
in dulcet tones.

We lifted him to the stretcher-
she cried when we strapped the belts
and clutched our sleeves in nervous desperation.
She made quiet, pleading noises
in a strange tongue.

They had been someone once;
he a producer of this, she an actress in that.
She had worn diaphanous gowns that clung
to her mons veneris, danced in hot abandon
for his pleasure.

We left her standing in the doorway on that
last night of our aquaintance, calling papa
in a pitiful litany that was at once beautiful
and sad.

Once out, put down on my blank sheets like the scattered rows in an untended cemetery, I find the ghosts remain. Face upon face, they bob the surface of my mind and break the black water pooled there with an uncomfortable ease. I think of dragons, of tigers chasing miles into decades; their purpose leaps from my pen, ink like blood across the page.



Baby rolls rock-me hips
through the undertow, twelve
moves like twenty down
Oceanside, mama's little
lure trolls for fish driving
money cars waxed to oily
glisters; the metal skins reflect

bad boys watching from
tattoo fronts with hard eyes,
hooked fingers scratching
thoughts bulged at their crotches,
they spit laughter at sharks looming up
behind tinted glass and

baby strokes this school,
cherry red bait in a feeding pool,
looks like daddy's got an angler;
she snaps her ass at beasts
cruising by like sleek nightmares,
the painted scales of bad boys
rippling on the edge of their wake.


Walk Away

The carpets are skin-thin,
threads lace the holes like stitches.
The sun recedes behind the wrong window,
and scars mar sinks in nicotined inches.

The rooms want to collapse
on the phantom inspirations of ladies
whose magnolia talc still hangs
in the brocade drapes and peeling silk.

I think about the coloreds here before us-
how one winter the foreman came,
whipped that buck Sampson until blood muddied clay
and how he was a tribal prince.

I can see this war, every war-
deconstruction and reconstruction blend
like the burning, the building of continents

and I watch people drift in boats, starve in holds,
continue from cells without bars, without keys-
their ashes silt rivers, their bones lay paths
for those who stumble after.

The earth tilts its head
and I am watching through the walls
as people roam the yard, on into the streets,
the cities, the world-

some are planting rows, blisters on their palms,
or stirring pots with peeled sticks or drinking
shine from brown jugs while they lean back to back
under elm, under oak, under pine-

I watch mothers who beat their children
and fathers who turn away; the brims of their hats
broken above their brows.

I hear lovers whispering and old men rocking
in cane-backed chairs that creak regret,
old women shelling peas, stripping corn,
pouring tomorrows into jars gone as cloudy as their eyes.

Young girls in pleated skirts cha cha to 45′s,
and a cowboy rolls his own by an embered circle.
Boys in sailor suits wave from distant bows
while others kiss strangers beneath confetti storms-
victories caught on paper, on film, in concrete and stone.

If I had me some sugar,
I could make us a fair cake,
says the woman in the empty kitchen.
The faded sheers stir as if by breath.

Beyond the rooms, through the walls
and frame and rotting insulation-
past the yard and streets and cities
and fields and valleys and seas

are days that come and go without delineation;
shifts of gray to black marked only
by the ones who walk away.



Enter the unhallowed age.
Life's hands mold humanity
but the strokes are no longer gentle-

Shoulder shruggers blind eye
viral advocates of like disguise,
a little dead in their concern.
Abhorrent creatures play
within skins of normalcy;
they share the secrets of madness.

Deus ex flying machinas
caught the corner of a collective eye,
ripped it down in flaps of disbelief.
Countless selves form single a sensation,
bat frantic wings against a broken globe.

Sacrifice shapes continuance.
Blood-stained breasts succor the unsurrendered.
Strength spills down spines bent, but unbowed-
They stand, and raise flags towards the storm.


Notes To Rachel

You gave me bunny slippers
for Easter, and a copy of Watership Down;
it earned you the benefit of a doubt.
I wonder how long before you are gone,
after you have vanished.

This morning the refrigerator
dumped cold on my bare feet;
I thought about the way
your back arched around my toes.

Estelle came today
with a shoebox of photographs
you had taken on our trip to Vermont;
you scribbled notes on the back
of every one.

When she was gone,
I read the words on each photo
over and over.

I walked to the mailbox
four times ahead of the mailman.
Mrs. Campos next door
thinks I’m going insane.
Maybe she’s right.

This afternoon
I sat and watched the wallpaper peel
from the corner where the glue
never took; after a while
it looked like a time-lapse film
of rotting fruit.
I decided to get the TV fixed.

Estelle came by again-
this time with a girl
who looked a lot like you used to,
before those I-want lines
furrowed your forehead.
You named them all after me.

Estelle left and she stayed;
we drank Dewar's with no ice
until you disappeared.
Afterwards, she slept naked
on the blue couch downstairs.

She was gone this morning,
left a note under your smiley magnet.
I didn’t read it.
It wasn’t from you.

I went to Delmar’s for breakfast,
but negatives of you live there,
the leatherette booths mocked me.
I slipped out before my order was up;
I can’t go back.

Going home,
I thought I saw your head
above a clutch of backpacks on sixth street;
but it turned out to be
just another blurred ghost.

Mrs. Campos watches me
walk up the drive;
I grin and wave like a lunatic-
as if I never saw the falling,
as if I don’t know it will be years
before I feel the crash.


The Bullshit Chronicles, Chapter 1

Still-black dawn cracks
over dove country-

staccato shots rip me from sleep
as they rip breath from flight;
rude alarms without faces.

Light brings the neighbors’ girl
to roost in a fall field-
arms full of the plastic lives
of several dolls with neoprene skin.

Her tinny voice trills across
my coffee, the forgotten words
of some long ago song-

“On the wings of a snow white dove-”

It shudders behind my eyes,
the goose-fleshed imprints linger all day.

End of day finds her
at the edge of my yard;
scuffed hands cupped around a dead bird.

She offers it like truth-
quick, free of fanfare.

“Bullshit,” she says, nodding her head
to some secret agreement.
“The wings are just grey, after all.”


Nothing Political

Fuck your pretense,
call a spade a spade-
just don't name it nigger
or cracker or honky or tom no matter
how colored the ignorance and

shake the sugar from your coat,
call that cunt a cunt-
but not if it shops uptown or
sticks itself to a Sunday pew
or gives the best blow-jobs around

don't pull the punch,
call a prick a prick-
just not if it signs your paycheck or
is a good provider or preaches
community unity at the VFW and

suck that decorum,
call the victim a victim-
but only if it fought back, left marks,
dressed appropriately, lived to tell about it
on the channel 2 news and not

if it rides poles to pay rent or
trades pussy for crack on Southside,
works the zombie shift at Porno-Emporium
or lives in a row house with dingy windows

so spill it on the chalk line,
strip it to the bone and spit-
lick it till it bleeds
the same scarlet as mine.



When air hangs in august trees
like phlegm to dying lungs,
sticky skins thread sullen streets
sweating Red Dog Rye;
old men, young sons piss out their purpose
in vespine knots, mouths full of shit and speculations:
their spittle leaves pocks in the dirt.

Venerable interceders for God
passing bottles and judgments
behind taprooms festooned with pellitory-
Sunday tongues hum around residual teeth,
hackles rise above the somebody’s fault line and
the saints lay down their good books;
gather up tindered principles, traditions like light-wood:

They bank them at the feet of crosses
set to burn in their neighbor’s yards.

Talking To Him

I can’t call it chat;
seems to light, too free-
and it wasn’t but

it was good
in a self-searching way
that I wasn’t prepared for
or aware of until
skin was already peeling
away in painful strips,
bloodless yet weeping-

I felt them fall,
drifting in dry and dusty piles
beneath my anonymous desk
somewhere in river town
and I wanted to
gather them up-

stick them back
to my naked self, shivering
and unprotected,
weak and wanting.

idle words bared me
like a lover couldn’t
like a confessor might
like a surgeon skilled at the craft-

and voices screamed
from the opened wounds
voices with names that can’t
be counted, faces that won’t be gone.
Their tongues scrape my edges,
dig furrows through the bone yards
that carry my weight-

and I stumble,
I tire, I wonder
will it always be the same.


Bored With Pink

She wears black everyday,
widows herself
from the Ivory girls,
scrubs the scalloped parts
until they’ve lost their seashell hue-

At night she sheds,
sits cross-legged in blue shag
and draws scarlet bracelets
from her wrists, Exacto circlets
around her throat in crimson beads.

Blue On Blue

3:16 AM, emergency entrance, county general-
I was propped against the rear doors of a rig
parked in Bay 5, close to where the docs smoke
with cigarettes tucked behind their palms,
furtive anarchists flicking ash at the don’t-do-that sign
while people shift back and forth around them
and I was thinking about this tweaker kid
we brought in on a dead run; skull a cracked vault,
his secrets betrayed on the floor beneath my boots

I was thinking about how he wouldn’t
stop breathing; how the noise of anatomy
dogged collapsed lines in fibrillating waves

I was thinking about a girl in a dirty blue skirt
sitting on a curb with his blood on her knees,
how her face pulled away in the rear-view like a scream

I was thinking about how an intern
with two silver loops in his ear hummed ‘Blue on Blue’
under his breath as we gave our report to a nurse

I thought about these things
I watched the guards watch me
I didn’t clean any secrets from the rig
I did sit down on the step plate
I picked at the wick of my Zippo
I whistled the intern’s song

somewhere behind me
a girl with bloody knees sits on a curb
pulling threads from the hem of a cheap skirt.



She takes the six-forty
everyday, a real zaftig mama
running register at the Slavic Grill;
slack tits and hair and broad, flat teeth
stick perpetually to cracked lips
like the biting aroma of onions and cabbages
sticks forever to her skin and

it floods the bus in sudden clarity,
passengers think of home, of sweet sausage
for supper and tired wives with tight asses,
angry husbands with hard hands and
nobody knows her name is Zinnia;
sour old maid but somebody’s flower

and no one will guess
she takes the six-forty everyday
on a three-stop ride to see her daddy-man,
fat black butcher who strokes her heavy head,
kisses dry lips slick as they slap needy meat
together until their pores spit vinegar,
until the starving empty tastes onions, cabbages.



Loretta wears an Angela Davis sphere
picked to perfection atop a broad skull,
colored insolence-orange to compliment
her red-bone tone and the white boys love it-
or so they say when they say something at all
to a picayune yeller waiting table for tips

she saves for three months strong to buy
suede kitten heels and a rayon fluted skirt-
fine as anything the white gals sport
down at the legionnaire's hall on Saturday nights,
kicking ankles and hems to black-balled beats;
but she can't go where she can't go so

she dances to echos in the outside lot while
old men pass bottles on benches nailed to brick-
they blink like Lazarus as she bumps and grinds,
their laughter cracks across the gravel like
cartridges jacked into waiting breeches,
as cold as a cocking trigger.


Wars And Rumors Of

Hunched like dogs mid-shit,
faces flooded contusion blue,
we quiver before the corpse-lights;
slaver over designer drones whose digital tongues
flap static louder than our intellects-

they spew sang-froid emesis
across the collective floor,
stroke our heads, pat our asses by invitation;
they sing us lies and lullabies but
we know the ice age cometh:

it taps a salvo against the convex eye,
puts an antedate ear to our bowels and
listens to the rumblings within.


From My Window

A girl sits everyday
on the 10th floor ledge
of a building that faces mine.
From my window I look down;
watch as she contemplates something
or nothing- feet angled towards our street,
ankles crossed above heads that never look up.

Her name could be Jenny,
Alice or Ruth; but I name her Jane
under breath that catches each positional shift,
anonymous doe caught between ricochets
of afternoon glare; its whisper-licks blend
gray shadows into ghosts against the stone.

I wonder if she reads
confessional poets- lonely masturbator
waking in the blue, looking for Bedlam
with a howl picking locks in her throat or does
she want to eat the world like Plath ate her daddy;
in sucking gulps of oblivion and I wonder
if she knows I'm here, does she know I see

everyday the bow of head,
the shape of hands folded in a spare lap;
will she sense my regret should the hands snap
and plummet, grabbing for rungs on rising air
while currents turn the pages backward-
does she know they will leave no riddle exposed;
only hair and bone and the ache at the root of my tongue-


Yellow Jacket Summer

I offer nothing save this want,
this tepid press into breathless flesh.

Damned hot days.
Blacktop blisters where dirt meets road,
dogs with slats in their sides pant,
watch the August air waver and dance;
an idle promenade with shadow and sun.

This season of strain
pains its way across our surface,
lays a path in rivel and rut.
Regret brings us to a vacant place;
faint thrusts erase words, crumble thought
to dust that cannot lift itself to scatter.

Promises culled from sweat
flitter by sill and frame, their sway
traces the fretwork of your face.
Catbirds simmer in cedars that stroke
dry fingers against the pane;
familiar ghosts bend toward the husk of sound.

A storm stirs, lightning robbed of voice
sheets through the close haze of day.
Yellow Jackets hum in paper nests,
their anger cools beneath juniper shade.
Somewhere in the thinning distance,
dogs slip away without goodbye.

We shed our skin, twine sticky and shorn
on sheets with roses faded down to pink;
count beats in our strained necks,
watch the rise of breath, catch its fall
in the hungry mouths of opened palms.
In this gloaming, I will see your smile.



In the dream
you are naked, pallid
on pale sheet, powerless
and sleep-dead and something's

come to grieve;
sprung from a hitch
beneath your breath,
it winds, insistent shroud-

pressure forces
your thighs, parts a passage
to other worlds and resistance
sticks in your throat

stops the shriek
and then it speaks, says
what you want to hear in your
own voice, slides familiar arms

about your waist
and they were never so tight,
never so wrong and you
close your eyes-

feel a need
a greedy suckle at your neck
and you think of high school,
of backseats and blow jobs

and now it thrusts,
presses fear into flame and
you smell cigarettes and popcorn
and your daddy's after shave-

a slick tongue
wraps with yours and pulls,
sucks out secrets like a lover
never did and at once

you taste your
first cock and your first Jack
and every flavor you had forgotten
fills your mouth until regret

spills down your chin
and still it pushes,
strokes that shatter your spine,
nail flesh to fantasy and

now you know,
this is how you want it,
this is how it should have been;
relentless, revered,

rushing up
from the dead spot like revelation-
it splits your seared throat
and you scream

the great primal howl
fuck me, fuck me like it never
meant anything and so it does;
snaking under your skin,

piercing your bones
and it licks the inside of your mind,
feeds on what lies hidden
eats questions you could never ask

and spits the answers
behind your eyes; they gather
in the corners, muddy puddles of doubt
and disregard and when you wake

you'll rub them
and wonder why you can't remember
what it is you can't forget.


And The Question Was

a real pisser; posed by a guy with a mic
in his fist, mousse in his hair, and a cameraman
wearing an ANARCHY RULES tee-shirt whirring
Shocking! Graphic! footage into eager TV's
across the viewing area so I said-make that spit-
what the fuck do you think I'm doing,

Mr. Rather-be-an-anchor? Just a cannibal
trying to eat her words, standing here with
RBC's clotted on my mags, Pollack-style splashes
drying on white cotton issue and won't they be
the bitch-kitty to get out if I ever get to take
it off so just what the fuck do you guess

happened to joe blow, hardening on the concrete
with his gray matter where it don't matter,
giving you such good profile while all these
gawkers and shoppers and kids -Oh My!-
talk in not-so-hushed tones about it being
broad daylight and what the fuck do you

suppose we'll do once the cops finish taking notes,
snapping pics that'll end up in a dead file because
nobody ever sees nothing; once we scrape joe
into a black bag and the firehouse boys hose away
what's left over so everyone can forget until the
next one and tell me, what the fuck will you care

after the film stops?


On Sweetgum And Faith

I hold my faith in my hands.

Steady, they clip the straps that hold
the sweetgum straight against its stake.
Now, it bows only to drop seed to fertile earth.

An ovenbird cocks her tail, watches me
from her canopy perch, close and unimpressed.

I spread my fingers, let thin rawhides fly;
morning will find them bunting for her bed.

Tiny scars cross the backs of my hands,
their fretwork remembers years long buried.
I trace them in the dusk of memory.

I open my palms; gods that never answered
drift through the cracks, ashes on a scant breeze.
Behind me, the ovenbird trundles her nest.

Quiet. The dead are tolling their bells.


If It's The Faith That's Important...

let there be fight.

Send a prayer up for the hunted,
prey for the predator; all mass to the enemy,
amen. Will you offer your boys to the clergy?

Light a candle, confessions feed flame.
Wafers, wine, penitential suits;
dinner for two behind stained glass curtains.

Hail Mary, full of grace
let us blow this goddamned

place your money in a tin plate.
Increase the tithe until sin ceases, Sunday mothers iron
perfect creases, all god's chilluns' wear Baptist blue.

Songs sung blue, everybody knows
one hallelujah chorus

sing it for us while we burn crosses, burn Jews,
burn the bush; soldiers of Golgotha in faceless diorama.
Dead deities shop for attention, sell lightning rods

door to door; frightened neighbors at the blinds
sneak peeks for celestial signs and wonder why
martyrs make mistakes of sacrifice over and over.


After Gods, The Floods

In the hour that I first knew
Jesus built new and improved voids
to measure his levels of devotion,
I called him and we got high
in ways our bodies couldn’t atone.
A portent pressed so close
to the backs of our eyes
all we could see spilled out,
trickled down to our toes buried
in saw-grass swaying like prayer-fans
stapled to popsicle sticks.

I made him black coffee before noon,
Jamaican Blue Mountain, 8.95 a pound
at the strip mall on South Avenue.
His upper lip tried not to crimp,
his hands tried not to shake and I smiled

because my days are cherry days,
mostly. He called me apathetic,
said I drank through a war and slept
through a revolution once.
I know it must be true, I know there was one
because when I wake up after drinking
it feels the same as when I don’t.
He said that he wakes up every morning
and throbs and sometimes, so do I;
but I know they are not the same aches,
so when he said that I set my face
and pretended to look empathetic

when all I really want is winter-
the time back spent in an unfinished attic
with Rachel, our lips ringed with her mother’s
kosher salt and drinking margaritas;
our grace unlaced, a white flag shaped
like a pillowcase defining our surrender,
our silhouettes blushed behind the pulled shade.


Canning Lessons 1961

There was a colored woman
who came most summer days
to help my old mam
shell peas or shuck corn
or snap beans for canning.
Every third Tuesday
they washed sheets in big tubs,
then hung them to dry
on twine strung between canted poles;
the flat smacks of their hands
carried staccato across the fields.

She had a niece named Sookie
that came along those days;
we would play until our bones hurt
in the fields where old pa's
colored men walked endless rows of tobacco,
popping bright yellow flowers from each plant
with fingers always sticky,
always sore and when the field boss
looked away, they would turn up water
from jute jugs suspended
on straps at their waists.

Sookie and me plucked
fat tobacco worms from their leaves,
saved them in jars with punctured lids;
old pa gave us a nickle for each full jar
because there was nothing
like a greenhorn worm
to attract big cats
cruising the river bottom
while the sun beat its surface
until you saw the heat waver and roll.
We spent our nickles
on RC colas and Moonpies, side by side
and knee to knee eating them
in the shade of a high row.

The woman never came
when the days turned short.
Summer would end, school start
and Sookie sat in a different classroom
at the end of the hall.
When lunch came,
she stood against a back wall
with the colored kids and the white trash
and they all wore bright yellow tags
pinned to their shirts
that said FREE LUNCH in big letters;
they always ate last
because that's the way things were
when seasons changed
worm money and Moonpies
into days sealed like summer jars.



This is how it happened:

It's 1964, John F. Kennedy has been dead
a year and two weeks come Monday
and here I am, laid up in some bar
so dive I'm shooting mescal in dixie cups

listening to Clifford Brown blow
his brilliant trumpet through speakers
that crack and bleed and now there's a girl
on the stool next to mine; she wears

a flesh-colored sweater like it's skin,
tells me she's from downstate somewhere without
me asking and now she's brushing her tits
against my arm, talking about jazz and Benny Waters

and don't I just love a good sax when it rains;
then we're outside, steam lifting from the concrete
because it has rained, been raining all day and next
thing I know, she's peeling off the skin-toned

sweater in a ten dollar room while I untie my shoes,
wonder if she's going to taste like the Camels
she's been burning all night and she does;
but it's alright, it's ok, because it might not be

good sax but it's a decent lay for a Thursday night
and somewhere between the push and the grind and
the sweat-wet valleys I am transformed; jolted out
of time, yanked up and carried away just like that

magic bullet yanked JFK from his black continental,
his ideas strewn across a pink chenille suit-
no transition, no time to bide, no reflections
in a half-shut eye; just the taste of smoke then

I am here.
Someplace else.

It's 1966, John F. Kennedy has been dead
forever, fucked over by a Texan and here I am;
sacked out in some bamboo bar, drinking ruou from
a tin cup while women shred dog meat in a back room.


Dog Story

There's a three-legged dog
that roams the back alleys of town.
Some days find him brave along main street,
dodging traffic on three scarred pads
and a counter-weight shaped like a thigh.

He has no name that I ever knew,
but I call him untitled; a shambling draft
filled with page after page of stories
no one will ever hear, or get to read
within the bindings of a worn and dusty book.

He doesn't eat well but he eats-
a scrap here and a morsel there, sometimes
I see the butcher's boy lay bones unwrapped
outside the rear door; strings of meat and sinew
reflect an act of grace beneath the sheen
of summer blowflies.

I often wonder if he dreams of Rin Tin Tin,
if he envies the great shepherd and his celluloid flock;
or if he knows that had fate only made him aesthetic
and born him in a different circumstance, that it might
have been him poised stalwart on a Hollywood cliff?

I know that one day I'll come into town,
find him bloated beside some curb; sides fat at last.
And when the road crews shovel him up, he'll spill
volumes across their boots; an untitled tide of words
riding gutter-waves to an nameless sea.


Look Back In Longing

I wait inside while strangers cart boxes through depleted rooms;
my mother's house empty now in fact instead of theory.
Thumbed to the inside of a pantry door, a calender dated 1961
holds watch. Here is the transience of x'ed out days;
I've come to name the ghosts in this sudden unhinging of air.

It's '61 again, and Eddie loses his footing on a low stool
while crepe myrtles bob purple heads outside the window,
leaving a silence, an absence of light beneath a door.
Mother listens to Debussy, La Danse De Puck, and does not cry;
I watch the weight draw lazy circles in the dusk of day.
It will be spring in a while; I never wanted to go to Paris.

This is the summer Joan found the husk and bark
of Dylan, threatened to move to Greenwich Village, get a job
pouring coffee at Gerde's Folk City. She named a took-up sooner
Woody, got caught behind Conner's Feed 'n Seed with a boy
who looked a lot like Bob. She disappeared that summer,
"away with an aunt", they said; returned before fall set in,
the arc of EST still visible in the fine hair at her temples.
Afterwards, she was always barefoot, humming behind a frozen smile.

Autumn has come, wind scares up old leaves that tick down in spirals.
"Take a picture of this" says my father; now he hides in the slump
of a stranger photographed beside a pearl-gray sedan, his face
too far away to see the set of his mouth; tight-lipped until
he drank it loose. I smell rain in the swelling dearth of sky.
I am not like him, all flesh and hollow bone. He speaks in loud tones
of the nigger allowed on his crosstown bus, reason enough, he says,
for the Buick. The camera doesn't record the stink of his breath.

It is winter. I have carried the cold in from the outside.
The movers are done, their trucks packed and idling at the curb;
exhaust curls from their pipes and dissolves as I watch them pull away.
I think of whatever it is that looks back in longing, how the hibiscus
still blooms in February and my God, it's been years since I've seen snow.


Deconstructing Mother



She shook off Perihelion
one strangled afternoon
in a perfect gnash of gears;
a dirt burg south of Bakersfield
so hot Hell shunned membership
and so did she; flipped a fed-up

finger at the Mediterranean Cafe,
dried-out dive where simple sallies
ply pussy for promises and warm
mescal; they snickered behind
spidery hands as she played her
crafty ass flush on that final

fuck-all score and when
the heat rose like fetid smog
she yanked it loose; scorched sand
with a stripped-down skyline painted
horizon blue and raced the devil
to Babylon in a fifty-nine Ford.



Mama got implants
the year the Sox traded that lousy southpaw,
because she wanted her audience of one
sorry son-of-a-bitchin' bricklayer to pay
more attention but it only made him tease-
he said they made her teeter worse
than those jade-colored juleps
she was constantly sipping because she thought
they were so couth, so uptown Savannah

but mama always did wear
her avarice on her pink velour sleeves;
even bought parquet-patterned linoleum
for our rented kitchen floor and when
the son-of-a-bitch caught that last caboose
to Birmingham one hot July night
she woke us all up; put Percy on the box-
slow-dragged us around the black and white,
her breath like mint against our upturned faces.


Near The End

When mother fucked the mechanic,
years after accusations fell and nestled
into pastel carpets, along eggshell baseboards,

she led him in with coffee in a bone cup-
took his coat, his hat, his hands;
laid him down on pink nap beside a cracked

leather sofa that stank of rum, of shalimar
and hip on hip they rocked; wrung doubt
from shadows watching behind papered walls

while we watched Peyton Place upstairs,
while the calico in the window watched rain
patter against a pearl-gray sedan-

its hood up, opened like a secret.


Last Look

She takes martinis in the morning,
three jiggers to a pilsner glass;
spoon-stirred because shaking
bruises good London gin, every
Barton's baby knows that and then

she eddies angostura down the
crystalline well, arid as a nun's glove
because vermouth is only wine,
never was anyone's secret recipe
and besides, she's been to Trinidad;

danced slick-skinned on Tobago sand
while island boys watched behind
hidden eyes, swinging promises
between twitching flanks and now
her days are dry, the nights dusty-

so she drinks martinis in the morning,
three decades to a pilsner glass.


Talking To Walls

She was a big, bottle blonde
kissing the backside of forty,
looking like Mansfield might
if she hadn't blown Biloxi in the rain;
cartoon tits packing Lana Turner sweaters,
checkerberry breath clinging to tacky lips
like the promise of something sweet.
Flashing teeth and thigh six nights
out of seven, she works counter
down at the Angelica Theatre on fifty-third,
selling zabars and popcorn in greasy sacks
to strangers sweating behind familiar features;
they count their change as they walk away.

She shares time and a three-room walk-up
with a dyke she met in Jersey city,
creole stripper half her age who calls her doll
and doesn't know that mama named her Gravis,
reminder of days grown heavy, nights gone hard;
the chance missed to die without scars.

She's never talked of how she split at fifteen,
another ant struggling from someone elses afterbirth,
never telling how it felt when the cord snapped
somewhere east of Idaho; the severed end
drags behind her, erasing the ways back.

She doesn't speak of lying belly-flat
on a sheet-draped table while a man she didn't know
inked his thoughts beneath her skin; he hung
a new moon off the base of her spine, indigo stain
posed like an unfinished question.
In her dreams, faceless people hide answers
under the impossible designs; they leave clues
in concatenate patterns behind her eyes.

Sometimes late at night,
she puts Holiday on the box, sips cold duck
from a tea glass and listens to a closed throat
croon about how things get lost, how turns go wrong.
She watches the girl sleep, her still-firm flesh
the color of peppered honey; and she wonders
will years stretch it slack, or will it ride off
into some sunset in a pink Electra, wind up
on a sheet-covered stretcher, face-up to the dead.

But mostly, she thinks of voices and young girls,
how they last while they last; everything is only until.
She pours herself a kill-shot, rubs absently
at the nag buried in the small of her back,
fingers moving in concentric circles;
their remembered rhythms shushing the tell-tale moon.


Where The Road Runs

He drove himself down every road.

In a Plymouth with tires balder than his head,
slicker than onions growing wild in the ditch.

Does he see the feral cats race his shadow
as it whips through the rabbit grass?
Can he hear the cicadas whirr in the Digger pines?

He claimed he saw a coyote chasing its tail
through fields white with bolls, never admitting
that coyotes ain't common around cotton;
then he would laugh like chuckles were dollars.

His opinions meant everything; his weight pulled
carts filled with sand down at the cement yard
until his yield grew so slack the big boss noticed;
let his time go with a watch and a gold smile-
he had grinned, said it was just another bone

for the archeology folks up state way to dig up
one fine afternoon, to study over like he studied roads-
everyday, a different road. He always said
he heard his oasis calling, heard the slip of streams,
smelled suckle dripping from the vine somewhere
out past the end of the Butternut groves.

Take me back, he'd say-
lead me where the roads run to earth;
leave me drink from the slipping streams,
let me draw communion from its song;
bring me grapes that hang from strapped stakes,
feed me honeysuckle sweet as time-
wash away years like the river smooths stone.

Those blacktops earned his admiration,
hugged his glass tires, pushed his days forward.
He said his satisfaction was always just ahead-
lurking in the sawgrass, swimming with water striders
across the flat planes of Gardner's pond,
caught on a high soar with the morning doves
throwing shadows like bullets on the two-lane;
their flight cutting delicate arcs through thoughts.

He paid attention to clouds, drew their chaos
in the dust on his hood. He chewed sour-thorne
as he drove, said its tang called memories
of a girl he once kissed beneath a fingernail moon.
He collected thistle from bullrushes,
strew it out his windows for the architect birds
building homes in the Silver Birch stands.
He carried a trowel in his trunk for small burials.
He couldn't remember his childrens names.

He died on a Saturday.
Parked his Plymouth on a slow rise
out where split-rails lean against the sky.
He opened his arms to a fading sun,
lent his voice to a slipping stream-
Take me! Lead me where the road runs to earth!
They found an old man on Monday, the papers said;
pillowed on piles of thistle miles from the rush thickets,
his eyes full of dew, his pockets full of grapes.