Wednesday

A Series Of Janes

I.

Once Upon A Time

Just middle class Jane,
a little on the upperside
of an old story, hanging
by her french tips from
the high end of daddy's
pedestal, she slips and

chips a perfect tooth on
the silent slide down an
ivory prick, pedicured toes
pointed towards pale
redemption. Finding her
feet on shattered streets,

far below the way above,
daddy's princess splits the
past, present now in another
place. She chews her nails,
paints them silver to cover
the scars. Wears a jagged

smile slapped on by secret
hands that itches her dreams
while she sleeps, sips slow gin
from coke cans and strips at
a juke joint on sixty-third to
pay the rent, pay the piper.

And after, she walks home,
counting stars in the way above,
flirting with the man in the moon.

II.

Part-Time Feeds The Kitty

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.

III.

Full-Time Pays The Rent

The graveyard shift rocks
at Master Jack's Porno Emporium,
a blocked concrete coffin that
bleeds florescent sun through
cracks in the green glass front.
Tongues of it lick the sidewalk,
cold trails that shine them in
after dark settles.

Vacuous vampires on a senseless
search for something to suckle,
they flutter the aisles; aimless bats
with track marks and dirty nails
that chitter against the shelves.
Freaks and loners, fags and heads,
even the worn whores with their
nobody's businessmen- they all
see the light and remember warmth.

A blue-black babe with a tit tag
that reads JANE in red letters works
the cash box. She has a vicious pink
scar that puckers her face
from eyebrow to chin. It dances
when she talks, a lurid hoochie-coochie
in sync with her words. But she plays
those suckers like a sideshow susie,

selling hard anal to dykes, straight
to the packers and anything to the Priest
who left his collar in the vestry.
They stare at the floor while she rings
them out, scared to look up and see
the stunner she must have been before
somebody pulled the sharp end of mean
past her smile.

When she hands me my change,
the scar starts to dance,
a slow strip across a scarred counter.
It always follows me home,
waltzing with my silhouette through the streets.

IV.

Down-Time Cleans The Shell

Past a shadowed eye stands
Jane, one-legged. Foot propped
on porcelain ledge, muscles tight
along knuckled curve. She proffers
a spread like a tangled wound,
defiled flesh fills a bone cup.
Hands flutter in ritual circles
beneath the arc, they pull and twist

and now the scourge begins-
cold fingers bury themselves,
beaks of carrion birds at a living thing,
gaining strength on what's left behind.
Lather builds thick; gathers
where skin becomes savage,
secret eater of the dead.

Memory hangs heavy,
falls to spatter on broken tile,
spat wads of rage and reverence.
Jane shifts ruined eyes over a dark shoulder,
black stare of a baleful goddess.
The scar that splits her face burns,
spills fire across an ancient altar-
ignites the feast of continuance.

Saturday

Dance

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 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,
cold as a cocking trigger.

Tuesday

This Is How We Do It

We should lie down,
stripped on the floor
of your father's study;
except for our little girl panties,
which we pull aside at the crotches
with deliberate fingers,
our tongues at search
in slow circles of motion-

because this is how we do it;
this is what he sees
when he closes his eyes
and plays at sleep
behind us in his lazy-boy,
while we sit hip to hip,
lip to ear in front of laugh-in;
arms about our waists
like the oldest of friends-

our nipples like rocks
beneath his twitching lids.

Saturday

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.

Thursday

Return

Going back,
Duluth’s dull skyline
draws out of view;
I follow other nomads,
trailing patterns but not
as the crow flies-
roads loom up, rushes of recollect
pocked and scarred as the blacktop.

Remember in seventy-three
how we came this way,
racing a phone call, retreads flapping
on your piece-of-shit Nova;
Sissy picked us up
at that one-pump station
broke-down and busted a day short
of Birmingham and remember
how she cried when she saw us-
then drove every mile back,
mute as the familiar ghosts slapping
our staring faces through the windshield.

Can you see us,
standing scrubbed and shiny-necked,
pulling at our clip-on ties
beneath the arc of an elm;
that one whose trunk sissy painted white
the year the termites swarmed-

remember how we spent whole days
scraping dirt hard-packed around its roots,
squatting until our knees grew numb,
digging holes to China
we would never finish
but somebody did-

dug a cavity
while we were forgetting;
scooped petrified earth without
bending the spoon and remember
how ma rocked on the crumbling edge,
wearing that navy dress,
the one we would bury her in
on a bright Sunday afternoon
can you hear her screams-
swooping and diving, tangling
at last in the branches
like blind birds.

Remember that morning
how you stayed and I left,
because you said the road had come
too far back and China had gotten too close-
so miles became time
minutes patterned into days into years
waiting, listening for the ring
listen; can you remember,
did you know then
what I couldn't forget-

that I would always answer,
that I would always be the one
coming back.

Wednesday

Outside The Angelica Theatre

I. Nothing Personal

There's a dead girl
splayed out on South street;
the slit-tit-to-twat reflex
of some human situation left to gel on the drag-
filleted in fuck-me rags with scream-pink thongs
yanked to dangle from an ankle
like the sex-crime victim in a Russ Meyer flick

but that's not Shari Eubank
face-up in technicolor,
mudhoney hair clotted to a curb;
just another vixen caught without her bad-bitch suit
when something smiled too long, stood too close-
kissed and told us all
what really happens when the movie's over.

II. While The Movie Played

Watch.
Closer than
this; lash to lid-

questions bead
on skin and something
answers:

nothing personal.

Just circumstance
caught without pomp
outside the angelica-

no resistance,
no matter.

Listen.
Harder than
that; lip to lobe-

something sniggers
it's all going to end,
nothing's everafter-

nothing personal.

Pandora's Box

Pandora keeps her box locked,
tattooed temptation on a warm
canvas, indelible by design.

Simple strikes in basic black,
shut the lid on a dim back alley,
secrets drawn in delicate detail.

Kitty kitty purrs across french tips,
mortal babe with an angel face
blows inquisitive kisses; curiosity

dances in the tilt of her glance,
kills quick the tom that rasps at her lock
with the flat of a sandpaper tongue.

Tuesday

Saints

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 speculation.
Their spittle leaves pocks in the dirt.

Venerable interceders for God
passing bottles and judgements
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 nieghbor's yards.

Monday

When It Rained

I was fourteen, she was twenty something.
She called herself Zza Zza 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 saxaphone 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.

At The Fruit Stand

I stop by the roadside,
lured by bushel baskets angled seductively
towards traffic; their depths filled with color.

I lift an apple here, prod a cantelope there;
my hands heft a honeydew up so I can see
if too many hands have bruised its yellow skin.
A misspelled sign that reads "Hep Yoursef" waves
above a flat of summer plums gone too soft to sell.

A cardboard box of peaches
sits by itself at the end of the basket row,
the scent of it wafts thick on a scant breeze.
The vendor, a young boy, motions that I take one-
"Try 'er, mister; there's none sweeter..."

So I pick one, its soft fur tickles my palm.
Yellow gone to orange gone to red, ripe for the eating,
it holds the shape of my fingers in its flesh
the way heat-reddened skin holds the blanch.

I bring it to my mouth, feel the soft shell of it pop
under my teeth, a surrender of warm meat and pit.
I bend forward, fruit cupped in my hand- its juice runs
between my fingers, lays like honey on my chin.
I lick them clean, my tongue sweet against my skin-

Should I ever love a man, it will taste like this.

Words

Intent on a clutter of college ruled,
absorbed in ink and smudges of thought,
I never noticed her in the doorway,
hopeful in a hopeless red dress-

write this down, she said;

write this down so you'll listen,
so you'll hear what I got to say
the same way I hear you when you put in words
the flat of this dismal sky;
it makes me feel damp on my skin,
taste lonely at the back of my throat

and I know you think I don't know much
about words, or just how them words
make you happy when nothing else can,
but I understand well enough, I get it
when I read "nothing grows here but water"

so write this down, and listen:

I want to live out loud;
I want to be more than what I am,
I want to sit in one of them outside cafe's
sipping mint juleps like ladies do in Atlanta;
I want to wear my hair up in curls, silk on my back,
smell anything besides magnolia and tobacco and dirt-

I need to tell my daddy
that the best look at God is from hell,
not a pulpit and I need to let my momma see
what she closed her eyes to at night;
I need to learn how to cry and remember
that tears is just so much salty water.
I have to chip out what's been covered in stone.

I want to read on them pages someday
that maybe I was special; that you noticed
how I held you, your sap still on my hands,
while you twisted uneasy in sleep.
Let me see it put down that you thought I was pretty,
hair the color of honey off the comb, skin like butter.
Paint me in a poem that will find its way out of here-


She caught her breath with a hitch,
a sound so small that I bent to catch it.
Her fingers fluttered, familiar against her neck;
she turned, walked away without another word-
her talc lingered long after she'd gone.

Sunday

Dedication To A Woman I Never Knew

Long afternoon ago, cold-
the freezing kind.
Sleet builds neighborhoods
on stark slopes of snow.

You are there,
throwing our toast to winter visitors;
ice-sculpted Diana in a cranberry skirt,
spilling blood across the landscape-

You hang on the corner of my vision
like a tear.

Saturday

Burn

She shook off Caliente
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 promise 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.

All That Is Left

It fit in a box,
all that was left.

Combustive currents caught cold
in cardboard four by four;
culmination gifted in plain brown wrapper.

The dead came into the night kitchen,
sat it on the checkered table with a note
that read "fuck you" in cha cha cherry red,
color of lips and blood and battle and

steel wills attract, iron heads repel;
forgotten purpose polarized,
fried in the collision of charged particles,
finally elevated above the beast and now

it sits contained; corrugated sides suck in,
push out; the steady breath of something huge,
eternal pulse which has not died and still so small

it fits in a box,
all that is left.

Chronology

I.

Day fades out, folds in-
minutes run their hands through the hours,
tangle themselves in weeks and months
like the slow grip of Kudzu twines
the passing of time around the river cypress.

Barn swallows raise their wings
against a sky angry with the roil of early rain.
They dance spirals on a gray backdrop-
ballerinas dressed in browns and russett,
their choreography follows remembered winds.

The river kisses its banks with slow pleasure.
It slides against stone and branch
like the track of a blacksnake through warm rows;
only shadows mark their passage.

II.

Colored women form a ribbon on the shelved bank-
their hands fly in rhythm as they clean fish.
Irridescent scales shimmer the earth at their feet,
float atop dark water like bits of prism.
They slip entrails beneath the surface to feed continuance.

Children pop-the-whip through young corn.
They rustle the stalks with a breeze of laughter,
frighten the snake from its basking row.
In the near distance, a dog howls his exclusion-
swallows in their cribs dip towards the sound.

An old man naps in the shade of an oak,
back pillowed against its kudzu-wrapped trunk.
Clover bees churr their approval at the still of sleep;
they waft in drifting circles around his shoulders.

III.

Night draws in, pulls out-
it recedes across fields and canopies in spectrums of blue.
Swallows wake in the eaves, barn cats stretch
in the slow rift of day; their backs bowed in tight arcs.
Along ditch and fence, queen anne lifts her lacy heads.

Migrants jump from flatbeds onto acres of disced earth.
They glean until dusk, carry baskets balanced on their heads.
At noon they squat in bright groups among the rows,
eat cold rice and pork from paper sacks.
Afterwards, they tuck the folded bags under their hats.

A woman in a red kerchief pins sheets to a line
strung between the span of two young oaks.
She slaps them smooth with the flats of her hands,
their sharp cracks scatter squirrels from branch to branch.

IV.

Day ends, night begins-
The river calls turtles from rock cooled with dusk.
Swallows tuck beaks to breast, the silver spruce
curls its leaves against the moon. Beneath a porch,
a dog chases rabbits through the twitch of dreams.

Mothers smoke at open windows and watch while
children follow fireflies on their uneven dance,
capture the glow in jars with punctured lids.
Their laughter bells beyond where wood meets bank,
its whisper rides ripples across the black water.

Old men sit under cypress canopies at river's edge,
their faces dim in the spill of lanterns.
Empty milk jugs tied to cane-lines bob the surface;
they pass bottles and wait for time to pull them under.

Ode

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 eliptical 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.

Stand

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 thier 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.

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.

It Comes Down To Beans

I sip my joe,
-not french roast-
now it's columbian blends
with my freedom toast; then I recall
that Juan sells more than beans-
futility smells like coffee.

I spread my toast
while I watch CNN,
or the local news-MSNBC if it's LIVE-
everyone accounts a common story
with alternate takes on the end.
Inbetween bites, over sips I learn

the world has turned
orange as I slept;
lines have been dug in sand,
last cards dealt in dead-men's hands-
unconcious notes on my sports page
make me wonder who will be left to read
the memoirs of a post-humous poet.

Friday

Day 5 Becomes Blue

I.

On a clear day, you can hear forever.

Architect birds, tucked beneath eaves,
dismantle their winter homes.
Each tugged twig, every plucked leaf
resounds against the still of morning.

The Crepe Myrtles drop finished blossoms
on the tin roof of a tumbled shed.
Their blood escapes, a whispered hiss,
indigo stains mark rites of passage.

A limb falls somewhere in the treeline,
it whistles its descent through tangled teeth;
the dive of a god jumping for pleasure
into drifts of deadwood.

II.

Angles of perception shift with the fog.

A strange sun cuts unfamiliar paths
through the Iris banked beside the fence rail.
It prisms between lavender, pink, yellow;
cups fragile petals with a lover's hands.

June bugs, early for their season, move
in perfect tracks of two across river stone,
the hard shells of their backs glisten;
irridescent oil slicks dancing on granite.

The face of dusk becomes blue.
Pulls its shade in time-lapsed seconds
across the dimming panes of day, a draw
that deepens cobalt to navy to black.

III.

The heart of night is a lonely hunter.

Black-hulled pecans tap their nails
on cedar planks that guard the walls;
they beg invite, hide calling cards
in shadowed piles beneath the whipgrass.

Wood gods play tag along sleep's perimiter.
They rustle through Pine, Elm, and Oak on feet
sprung from root, branch, and bark; their laughter
sings under sills on a mid-spring's dream.

A mosquitoe dips and darts in darkened rooms,
hovers above the sweat of an uneasy sleep.
It hums accompaniment with staccato pulses,
a persistant scratch stalking a restless itch.

Tattooed Thoughts

Someone asked me today what 'Blue Tattoo' meant and why I chose it as a tag name for my now defunct BlueTattoo blog. Well, for millions it means identification; stamped on wrists and forearms by some long-ago hatred. It's countless bad images and forgotten names forever etched onto skins by home-made artists; they fade and warp as time goes by. It's a book of poems by Lynn Lifshin...'The Blue Tattoo'. Pretty good ones, too. But for me, it's a cool image of a tattoo parlor that I found...I just like the sound of it. It's a start-over, a second chance, it's the wrinkle that my time can't forget. It's my own warp 'n fade, my personal two-step, my sideways shuffle. It's what my life FEELS like most days...a faded, homemade tattoo that isn't quite what it used to be; isn't the beautiful thing it looked like thirty years ago under bad flourescent lights. It's just a few crooked lines wrapped around a foolish idiom that no longer rings true.

But it's mine, and I love it, in the twisted way you love the scar you got in some bar fight back in the day; the way you love a bad toothache because it reminds you that you can still feel...even if it's only pain. I love it because it won't go away, it's as faithful as a whipped puppy. Every now and then I trace it's face with my finger and wonder where the cobalt went, wonder when the ink clouded into slate...was it the year mama died, or did it happen somewhere in Haiphong while I was busy looking for trip wires? Maybe it was a gradual thing, and I only noticed when someone pointed it out. Maybe it's MY identification, a symbol of self-hatred that I'm not qualified or ready to sort out, that I'm not ready to forget.

So I'll stay up late tonight and find tattoo flash on the net. I'll stare at all the skin art and prehaps pick out a new one to grace my falling flesh...something to remember me by. A vivid dust of color to cover my own faded shade of pale. It'll make me feel young again; bring back memories of when I didn't care and thought I never would. A celtic cross, a rose dagger, a sacred heart with my name across it's apex...or maybe just a zipper down my chest to remind me how easily some things open.

But I'll probably just get drunk, instead.

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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; when time allows 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,
dances circles around the courtyard;
the empress Theodora in scuffed sneakers
and 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 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 and tile
into complex patterns that grow
from the baseboards in widening arcs.
She has a cat named Constantinople
who watches the process with indifference.

When she sleeps she dreams of San Vitale,
of mosaics and obelisks and reflected light.

Thursday

My Interview With Orson (Thank You, Joe Green)

Orson: “No one in film has ever had such talent, such energy, such innate depth. But he had made a film that ensured his career’s end, and he had done it all so that the films grim portrait of solitude would be fulfilled.”
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Hello, this is Orson Welles. I was just reading one of my many biographies. Really… I don’t know if I believe that last sentence.

In any case…

(MUSIC: SPANISH THEME SONG ["NO MORE," A TANGO]... FADES)

Orson: We know now that in the early years of the twentieth century this world was being watched closely by intelligences greater than man's, and yet as mortal as his own. We know now that as human beings busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.
With infinite complacence people went to and fro over the earth about their little affairs, serene in the assurance of their dominion over this small, spinning fragment of solar driftwood which, by chance or design, man has inherited out of the dark mystery of Time and Space.

Which reminds me that we are here tonight to discuss poetry. Blue Tattoo, welcome.

Blue Tattoo (BT): Thank you, Mr. Welles. It's my great pleasure to be here.

Orson: Let me start with this poem.

What Frank Knew

She pauses on the rim
of the sleeping desert,
lights a sweet caporal
with a boot-struck match,
shadowed face floating behind
the arc of a blue diamond

and suddenly she's Ava,
backwoods beauty stolen
from an old movie, playing
a sultry scene in sweat-wet khaki
beneath a California moon,
swaying to forgotten strains

of silent music that tickles
my memory, tighten my senses
and now she turns-
turning to smile at me dark-haired
and dangerous and all at once
I recognize the pull, fall

under the hard draw
of a sucking tide and I am
swallowed, sluiced down a perfect
throat like the perfect shot and
I understand, same as Frank did,
the nature of certain addictions.

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Let me tell you – this is perfect of its kind. Wonderful. How did you come to write it?

BT: Well, Mr. Welles, this poem is actually rooted in fact. Even though I reside nowhere near a desert, sleeping or otherwise, there IS a vacant lot behind the hospital I frequent that could pass for a desert; especially now that the streetlights that face it have been broken out and it's been put in the dark. Unless, of course, there's a moon hanging around...but, back to the facts. There's this ER doc that I was spooning a while ago, even though such pairings are strictly frowned upon (I'm a Paramedic, and we are NOT supposed to fraternize with the higher-ups), but I became enamored, actually, addicted is a much more apt term, and I managed to talk her into a couple or three smoke breaks in the aforementioned vacant lot. She carried pack matches from the commissary, and smoked Luckies, but the Blue Diamonds were easy enough to imagine...and my pop smoked Sweet Caporals; I still remember the heavy smell of them. This particular doc had long, very brunette hair and hooded eyes, and being from Mississippi, a drawl that could melt butter. Being a HUGE Ava fan (those lips, those ELBOWS), all it took was a strike and a turn.

Orson: I knew Ava, of course. Did you know that Rita Hayworth and I planned to build right there at Nepenthe down Highway 1 from Carmel? I mention this because, under the aspect of Eternity I saw, perhaps two of your mortal years ago, two of the fellows who are here at the Jeunesse Doree as they sat on the deck of the restaurant “Nepenthe” sipping fine ale and always reflecting on that name as great crows or ravens harried them trying to catch their attention just long enough to signify something. The crows or ravens failed. Instead they persisted in laughing over their own limericks. They were the Lonliest Ranger and Samson Shillitoe and Mr. Shillitoe, when you posted this poem a few days ago, gave the right and inevitable reaction.

I couldn’t have said it better. But (and I hope you agree with what Samson wrote) and looking at poem yourself…how do you think it works in this way, what happens in the poem to do just what Samson says it does? And please remember to not let modesty restrain you. The poem is there.

BT: Nepenthe...I know it well. The opiate's dream, Homer's remedy for grief; mecca of poets, artists, and vagabonds. Carved right out of the cliffs, isn't it? Lovely place, smelling of salt and redwood and oak. I have a friend who lives in Esalen; I visited the Henry Miller museum once. And of course, there is Big Sur; which I think has become woefully...well, commercialized. Full of re-habitants. I agree that the restaurant is a wonder; I had an ambrosia burger there in '74, back when I was younger and had a little change to spend. Their merlot is excellent, if I recall correctly.
But I do run on...back to your question. I was honored by Mr. Shilitoe's response, thrilled, actually. For me, it was that turning...it really DID push the sun away (had there been one; there wasn't). When she turned, her hands cupped around her match, it lit her face from beneath her chin; it pulled her aspect into something breathtaking...I hate that word, but in this case, it's apropos...and pulled me with it. That's the moment that my 'addiction' to this woman began; I could'nt get enough. Ava came almost immediately to mind; particularly Mogambo, which I had seen just the night before. What I think happens in this poem is strictly animal; that guttural attraction that can occur at certain moments, welcome or no. It's sensory, olfactory, visceral. Ask Frank, he'll tell you.

Orson: Look at the transition from the first to the second verse:

She pauses on the rim
of the sleeping desert,
lights a sweet caporal
with a boot-struck match,
shadowed face floating behind
the arc of a blue diamond

and suddenly she's Ava,

What a wonderful effect. Of a sudden the flame..and what I love about it is just how cinematic it is. The poem is incredibly visual with of course just what is also there in my movies: light and shadow and then blue diamond which is hot damn just what is needed as a star is born. What I mean is… you have a scene and somehow there is so much more there: the fineness of, of course, just that sort of cigarette, the scene sketched as if seen from some starry perspective as she pauses on the rim of the desert, the close up of the “boot-struck” match, the exact sense of the shadow with all of its implications and then that blue diamond (Blue Diamond matches, of course but the twin senses of star) and then the poem illuminated by a suddenness as the unnamed “she” becomes Ava – the humor and the throat catching revelation of the goddess all at once.

Yes. If you can… would you tell us what you think was happening just then when you wrote those lines?

BT: I can tell you exactly what was happening; again with the turning, the hooding of that face that by now, wasn't the doc's face at all...it was Ava. It physically tugged the muscles in my belly, made me as light-headed as a good dose of opium. I was literally 'rendered speechless'...I remember dropping my own smoke and how throaty her laughter was when she noticed my awkward behavior. I was instantly in love...an emotion uncommon to me...and though it faded as soon as the sodium lights of the parking lot hit us; l can still remember that turning....

I could spend the rest of our interview on this poem. Look …just this:

…I am
swallowed, sluiced down a perfect
throat like the perfect shot

with its perfect use of “sluiced with the exact shadowings and then the startling effect of “perfect” throat and the hammering of perfect yet again…

So, it’s inevitable… I want to know who you are. Who are you? Please feel free to make anything up. I did. It’s a mark of greatness. Although at times it did seem as if I really had been a bullfighter in Spain at 15.

BT: Who am I? Now there's a question. I guess, to quote a sailor man, I am what I am. I'm female, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool dyke, I abhor all those 'lipstick lezzies' that always smell like bubblegum. I ran away from my oh-so-genteel southern folks at 15 and joined the armed forces as a medic; in those days, women stayed pretty much in the MASH tents with little sight of actual combat...but I managed to land a gig on a medivac as a flight nurse. I miss it. My family disowned me when they found out I was gay; I was likewise excommunicated from their Catholic church; a thing I find really amusing in light of today's rampant collarly pedophilia.
I became a paramedic because I'm a trauma junkie; I live in a redneck, backwards town in the dismal swamps of Carolina, and I own three blue-tic hounds and a red-bone yard dog. I live alone, I hunt to relax, and I find censorship a crime punishable by death. My favorite album (yes, album) is Holiday's 'Jazz 'round midnight', and I'm secretly in love with Lenny Bruce. I'm a morphine junkie but I'm trying to quit...and I love chocolate necco wafers. And I write because I can't NOT write...if that makes sense to anyone but me.

Orson: May we discuss this poem?

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.

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Orson: So, I’m thinking that this poem is a poem about something that actually happened, or something written from this and that that actually happened. True?
Can you tell us about it? And what is a “tweaker?”

BT: Yes, it's true...this was an actual event. Just one of the many tweakers I pick up in the course of a shift; a tweaker being a methamphetamine addict. Meth labs are a HUGE problem in my area. This particular kid was about seventeen; he was cranked up on his buy and got himself run over by a car while attempting to cross a major highway. He was a mess, never had a chance; but we worked out on him anyway. The memory of that scene that is most clear was the girl; I happened to look up as my partner pulled away and she was sitting just like that on the curb. It struck me as inevitably sad. He would'nt die, never lost his rhythm while I had him...and he should have. He died later in the OR. The nurse whistled the entire time I was trying to give my report; he really did'nt give a shit and I was bothered that I did. I can't listen to 'Blue on Blue' anymore without thinking about that girl sitting on that curb; and sometimes I find myself humming it at inopportune moments. Funny, the things that stick.

Orson: It’s a fine poem. May we, for an instant, move away from the poem just there to where the poem came from? What I mean is this…every time I read poems by a certain sort of true poet (more or less every poet who remains somewhat within my ken…unlike Shakespeare or Dante for example who seem to create as God and who am I to try to
describe the universe?) I feel there are certain pressures or let’s say wants behind the poem…and I wish I could name them. What do you want your poems to do? What yearning is behind them? Or…what dark materials?

BT: I guess, Mr. Welles, I just want my poems to remember, to serve as some sort of marker for a whole lot of things I can't forget. It's nothing I can really pin down, and after all my years of sitting up with the dead, I find myself mostly numb. But every once in a while, a thing will jar me...like the girl on the curb. She was nothing; just another crack ho who's probably dead now herself, but in that frozen instant she was something indefinable, something incredibly important if only to me and the dead boy; something worthy of note. So I did, note it, that is...and I guess that's all I want my poems to do, just remember what most folks forget. The materials are nothing more than my life...I write only what I know.

Orson: Maybe this is the same as the question I just asked. What would you want your poetry to do that it doesn’t do? Which of your poems come closest to doing what you would like?

BT: Lets see...I would like my poems to be taken seriously. Let me explain that; almost everyone who reads my stuff dismisses it as 'shock' trash, poetry that's meant to awe people simply by way of the language I use and the subject matter entailed. But I don't do it on purpose; what most people never take the time to find out is that the language is MY language; the subjects are MY experiences; and it is troublesome to me when it's dismissed as nothing more than words meant to elicit response by some deliberate use of certain words and scenes. Maybe that's sort of vain, but it's a worry spot. My very favorite poem of my own (and I don't have many) has to be 'View From A Flying Jimmy'. It's the one that outlines the start of my every workday in precise and exact detail. It's almost like a diary entry...and because of that, I like it best.


Orson: Here’s another fine poem:

Olongapo Night

She lay still, taut on the bed,
and watched as a fat spider
with spindly legs like eyelashes,
danced at the end of an unseen line.

It hung from a topmost corner
of the raftered ceiling,
its slight, somehow lewd sway
cast eerie marionette shadows
that grew long and slunk away
along the muted eggshell walls.

She pulled the thin cover to her chin,
stared at it frightened, yet seduced.
A chill like a creeping fog spread through
the walls of her belly in thick layers.

The spider swung itself upon a beam,
and perched in an awful, knowing attitude.
It regarded her in silent anticipation,
seemed to wave in secret conspiracy.
It skittered in sudden decision across the wood,
then vanished off the edge of her perception.

She thought without effort of the Buso,
Mananangal of long forgotten nightmares,
and waited in puddles of cold sweat
for the sweet feast to begin.


Dear God, don’t you wish that the hypothetical intelligent reader were not hypothetical?.
Who has read this – did anyone ever tell you that they knew where Olongapo is or what the Buso or “Mananangal of long forgotten nightmares,” are?

BT: HaHa!! Almost everyone who has ever commented on this poem hates it. I've been told it doesn't ring true, that it's a made-up place, that it's all just fairy tale bullshit. One guy over at PFFA told me that it was long on adjectives and horribly short on form, whatever the hell THAT meant. The actual root of this piece is simple: my father was in the navy during WWII, and fought in the pacific theatre during the battle of Leyte. He was there when Mac Arthur announced "All the phillipines are now liberated". He spent many nights in the city of olongapo. He fell quite in love with the country as well as a Filipina girl named Corazon. When I became an adult and could wrap an adult's mind around his stories that I remembered from my childhood, I understood that had he been born in today's time, he would have left his family for his 'heart'; the phillipines and his much-lamented Corazon. It was from him that I learned of these quite nasty Filipino folk tales, he liked to scare the shit out of me with horrible visions of this flesh-eating monster when I was around eight...and this poem is kind of autobiographical; the girl in the piece is me.

Orson: Olongapo:

“They were the clubs and various entertainment-oriented businesses which welcomed American sailors and Marines to Olongapo City, Philippines. Despite the Navy's dire attempts at "OPSEC," every Filipina in every club and bar knew just when American naval vessels were due to arrive at the adjacent Subic Bay Naval Base. Banners hung over every club entrance with such greetings as "Welcome USS Pelilieu," "Welcome sailors and Marines, USS Blue Ridge."

A visit to Olongapo was special in many ways. To the sailors and Marines not stationed at Subic, it was a chance to get the hell off a ship, into some civies, and into the most exciting town in the Orient. For newbies, this was their chance to experience what had become legendary - a night in Olongapo. For returnees, it was an opportunity to visit old haunts and look for old friends (yes, usually Filipinas). For the bar owners it meant money, and lots of it. And for the Filipinas employed at the various clubs it meant not only income, but often the chance to meet the right guy and, if they were so disposed, to start the move eastward.

There was nothing quite like the excitement servicemen felt at liberty call the first night in Subic. While a few unlucky guys got stuck with Shore Patrol or some other duty, most of the sailors and Marines waited anxiously in line aboard ship for liberty to be sounded. When it happened, hundreds of hungry, thirsty, and incredibly bored men shot off the ship and toward the main gate.

Even before the servicemen made it off the base, Olongapo made its presence known by booming rock music over the gates. Even those new to the base were able to find the front gate by following the thunderous bass radiated by the nearby Playboy and Hot Lips clubs.

Once you made it past the guards at the front gate, you crossed a bridge which spanned a river known simply as the "Shit River." Not a pleasant name, but fairly appropriate given that raw sewage from the town was often dumped into it. Boys in little, flimsy boats beckoned from below the bridge, telling passers-by to throw pesos or centavos into the river. When a coin did get thrown, the boys would dive into the filth and somehow retrieve the coin. The navy eventually tried to discourage this practice by putting a fence along one side of the bridge.”

Does this sort of thing never end?

Now let’s see what else:

“Mananangal – The most feared Filipino creature; also known as wak-wak in the Bisayan dialect. Common people believe the wak-wak is always a woman. Between six or seven o’clock at night this creature finds a secret place near her home. She bends her body down while her legs remain rigid and straight; her hair becomes stiff and nails turn into long sharp claws; her eyes grow bigger and eerily glows; while large bat-like wings protrude from her body echoing the sound “wak-wak-wak” as it flies along. It preys on the livers of the sick and disobedient children who refuse to come indoors at twilight. They are especially fond of developing babies in their mother’s womb; whose blood is sucked by using its tongue as a threadlike proboscis which enters through the mother’s navel. Vigilant eyes, garlic and a pair of scissors or thorny branches should be kept beside a pregnant woman at all times. “

and the Buso another kind of monster.

I love this poem and now it might be illuminated somewhat. The girl waits for the monsters – who is she…just that Filipina who will be used in the usual ways by the usual monsters..

Did you ever explain this poem to anyone?


BT: I tried to explain to the idiot at PFFA, but he was'nt listening. No one else has ever asked for explanation; they have all simply dismissed it as a worthless crock of over-done imagery. I am very pleased, Mr. Welles, that you know of such places and things.


Orson: Damn that was fun. And what a poem…really. The descriptions exact and, again, shadowing so much.

So, let me close with this. Last of all, is there anything you would like to add?

BT: Yes, Mr. Welles, as a matter of fact there is. I would like to add that I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with you, and it has been my honor to have been the subject of your interest. May I request a tune of the orchestra? Please have them play 'La Comparista'...it reminds me of the wonderful Meridian Room where I first tasted champagne. Good night and adieu, Mr. Welles; and thank you for our time together.

Orson: And now this. As an immortal spirit I charge you to keep writing.
Starry night and you alive alive oh. Until we meet again.

Goodnight America.

In a few moments we will take you to the Princeton Observatory at Princeton, New Jersey.

We return you until then to the music of Ramón Raquello and his orchestra.
(MUSIC: "STARDUST" PLAYS FOR A WHILE, THEN QUICKLY FADES OUT )

We are ready now to take you to the Princeton Observatory at Princeton where Carl Phillips, our commentator, will interview Professor Richard Pierson, famous astronomer. We take you now to Princeton, New Jersey.
(ECHO CHAMBER. SOUND OF TICKING CLOCK.)

Corte Madera

Summer has fried California,
and the permanent tourists beachside
realize their faults caught up with them years ago.
Old men consider old habits
through dark glasses rimmed with lime.
A two hundred dollar skirt looks twice as rich
on a fifteen-year-old Brazilian girl.

On rented porticoes overlooking stones
and drying grass they sun themselves, smoking.
These delicacies stream the shoreline more
than recurring ocean currents; the smell
of kiwi and coconut oil the shortening shadows.

Bay flags twitch on the wind,
each piece of the puzzle dim behind the screen
has long since been fitted perfectly.

Charleston, 1959

We are no longer children
to look back on, our faces turned back
in elegant black and white, hands raised
towards some forgotten goodbye.

I have iced water in a blue glass
and miss the ocean. You, the younger one,
grip time in your fist, lifted
in a toast to our father,
who still fishes summers off Charleston.

Here is the set of things.
To tell you the Sunday after David died,
daddy pulled his lips, folded them
into the sands of his face and ceased to speak.
A stoney silence; the rock crags of a seawall.

To tell you months after he closed himself,
he opened again; put his hand inside
his other hand, brought them to his salted heart,
rubbed them across his driftwood mouth.
"My son David was dragging net for prawns,
in Calabash, where it gets dark early.
My boy is sun and water and blue."

His hands opened; what was held there
swelled, broke apart like whitecaps to a shore.
I placed my fist in his and to my briny lips.

Snow Stories

Gabcast! Coldest Eel #1

Purpose

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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 lomger...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 cemetary, 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.

As I Read Ed Dorn...Purpose, Part Deux

I wonder why I 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 menepausal 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 dissillusionment 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 another's 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, prehaps 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.

The Replicants

I started the day with hands. The first thing I saw when waking, they seemed to glow in the half-light that slid through the blind slats...eerie ghost-hands that were seperate from the rest of everything, still and quiet on the red plaid comforter. They looked blue, like corpse hands.

I began to think of them as entities of their own, even though they behaved normally and went through the usual morning rituals just as they always did...they showered, brushed teeth, ran their cool fingers through my hair; they even selected the cracked mug with the faded smiley face when the coffee was ready. The cup barely shook; a minor miracle. Maybe they weren't my hands after all, because my hands were always trembling long before the coffee was done, and never failed to spill a fair amount across the table as I read yesterday's paper.

Yet on the surface of this strange morning, calm. A natural calm that came all alone (On little cat feet, ha ha) without the benefit of narcotics. Amazed at my new hands, I took off to work. They gripped the wheel with confidence, seemed to know the way just like my old hands...they even waved at Mrs. Campos when we passed the Shop 'N Save. She stared and didn't wave back; I don't think she recognized the hands.

Once at work, the hands revealed themselves as imposters. My partner Henry knew at once that they were replicants, a duo far different from my original pair. They were helpful...cleaned our rig, checked our equipment, turned our radio to country music; and this was the REAL betrayal, my true hands would have cut themselves off before performing that blasphemy. Henry kept looking at me sideways, but didn't say much. I think he was scared of the hands.

Our first call was a crackhead frequent flyer named Aaron. He called 911 at least twice a week, complaining of nausea, of vomiting, of explosive diarreah. We hated Aaron; he always puked in the rig, spit on the foor, shit on our clean sheets. The real hands would have accidentally hit him up side his pea-head with the O2 tank...but not these hands. These hands helped him to the rig, gave him an emesis basin, started an IV and pushed phenergan to ease his nausea; they even placed Aaron on the defib to access his heart rhythm. They seemed to actually care.
Aaron watched them do all of this with gaurded eyes, he flinched at each procedure. It was clear that even Aaron knew these hands were faux...he kept his eyes on them like a mouse keeps his eye on the snake. Henry was silent, but obviously siding with Aaron.

And that's how it went all day...the hands did it all. They attended every patient as if every patient was really in need of their expertise. They patted brows, pushed meds, administered painkillers like candy. They changed stretcher sheets, asissted the astounded nurses in the ER, filled out forms in a timely manner, never flipped one doctor the bird. They left the radio alone the whole shift. When our shift was over, they clocked out on time. They waved goodbye to Henry, to the Chief...they didn't wave back, either.

Then we were home, them and I. They opened the door, turned on the light, ran their fingers through my hair...and stopped. I could feel my scalp pulsing beneath, felt the blood pushing past the roots. The mirror by my bed showed a face that looked like me, hands trapped in a short tangle of black and gray...shaking. My hands, my true pair. I wondered where they had been, I knew where they were going. Opening a small drawer in the bedstand, they took up a leather pouch, took out a familiar friend; slender, sharp, 20 CC.

Somewhere in the dark, the replicants died.

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At Work With Enid

I have a friend named Enid, a lovely redhead who should have been born in that era of noir and dahlias; she has a regal bearing that never suited this backwater river town; she even wears her lab coats as if they were sable instead of cotten twill. She scoffs at this every time I say it, but it's true. She works the zombie shift at the county morgue, a twenty drawer cell bursting with the dead. It's a place I frequent on an almost daily basis, a place I find comforting in the same way a dark, quiet house is comforting. Sometimes, the drawers are overrun with business and we stack our offerings like cordwood in a designated spot by the heavy steel doors that signal the entrance into the bowels of the forensics storage rooms.

The air of this stainless domain hangs heavy with the presence of chemical composition and natural decomposition. Enid tells me that she loves the aroma because of it's finality, says that the smell lets her remember that all things end and no one is exempt from its perfume; that death is but a counter-girl at some ritzy store, spritzing the public with tiny bulbed atomizers when they least expect it, told me to think about it...after a while, I realized that yes, it's a damned fine analogy; no one is ever quick enough to duck the unwanted spray, no matter how fast you sail by that counter-girl. They always seem to have such deadly aim... (Hardy Har Har).

Most nights, Enid's domain is glutted with end results, all laid out in various displays of violence and disease. She records the data the dead offer up, probing their wounds and telling tissue, listening with an ear attuned to their whispers.
She says she loves the job because of its continuance, and she always gives me this smile as she says it like she's divulged something secret and sweet...and that I need to just think about it. Enid is right, of course; her spread sheets and jotted notes detail each finished life in a way that adds links in the chain of continuity, each blue corpse lives on in the pages of her files; kept alive with black ink and post-its, paper-clips and sweat. She labels every file folder by hand, a testament, she explains, to the worthiness of the labor. On the upper corner of each, she affixes a tiny silver star so that no one rests in their paper beds without a beacon to light their way.

She hums show tunes as she works, Rodgers and Hammerstien, Lerner and Loewe, the entire score of Les Miserables; each in near-perfect pitch. It echoes against the walls, bounces back and forth between her sleeping company like belled laughter; if she leaves the door ajar, we can hear it beckoning as we wheel our stretchers down the tiled halls that lead us to her cells. Soft and lulling, it pulls us in as the sirens lured the ships, and entertains the ghosts that sit in silent witness to the proof of what has been.

On A Clear Day


You can see through sclera, past the color-wheel of iris, into the natural lens. If your'e quick enough, or good enough, you can watch bright fade to dull, see what was drift into what could have been. It's said that the last image percieved is reflected in the corneal eye; but that's bullshit. The only thing left is an eclipse too dim to cast back.

Like the shut of a door against a heated room, what remains is cold. I've watched more doors close than I care to count, seen so much of what could have been...now I wear that cold, an unseen insulation keeping heat at mind's length. To remember warmth is to recall faces, names, the end of every story. Cold is better; numb and hard. I need the feel of the shell.

Then today, a kid grabbed my arm. A hopeless kid with a hopeless wound, face-up in the middle of State street, the familiar aftermath of a common war. No fix here, no TV save. His eyes were green and deep; bending close, I watched frost rise in them like water...and through the fingers that circled my skin, I felt the heat slide away, felt the slam of the door. Hours later, I heard the click of the latch.

Isn't it funny how we return to the places where things happened, old soldiers drawn to land consecrated by battle and cross...just as I sit here tonight, swallowing warmth shot after shot. I remember faces, write down names, turn the pages of an unfinished book and wonder if the story ever really ends. I feel the air thicken, I know that what I've come to find has not dimmed, or waned away.

And in the back of my mind, nightstorms gather dust.

Dig

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.

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 fall 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.

Acts Of Diffusion

I.

Half-light scatters through sundowned trees,
their leaves turned against the cusp of night.

It silvers itself across a deadfall floor,
casts long reflections from the rough surface

that reach up, sweep back in particled waves
to dust the saw palmettos like crushed glass.

II.

Warblers throw their voices along nodding banks,
the sound spans the gaps between day and dusk.

Fog and branch catch notes full-throated in webs
of mist, scarves of bark until their range is sieved;

becomes shadow song that sifts down on winter's chill,
a fallen silence translucent as frost on a breath.

III.

Across the scope of night, little deaths count time
on the faces of fawn, fox, red-tipped squirrel.

The dark primeval eats its heart, follows its cycle
through copse and covert by motion, by memory;

seasons imbrue lineage in dispassionate blood,
seed their continuance on a vanishing pulse.

Smoke Break At County

I.
Packed after midnight, the county ER hangs thick
with the sour aroma of blood, puke, sweat, shit.
I grab a smoke between calls and watch while the
regular patrons huddle under florescent bars
dressed in familiarity and futility-
sick crackheads and stoned cabbies,
screaming babies, shady ladies; they dig change
for the coke machine from pocket and purse,
pick at scabs, noses, lice-
all ignore the upscale magazines scattered about,
coffee-table literature donated by Docs who
wonder out loud to nurses who roll their eyes
why Yachting World and Modern Architecture
and GQ never seem to get dog-eared
like the worn out copies of Weekly World News.
A tweaker known as Blowfly to his compadres and
Gomer to the staff...get out of my emergency room...
picks up a copy of Yachting World and chatters with
profound clarity about the the America's Cup
to the empty chair across the aisle; when the triage nurse
calls his number, he falls silent, green eyes
gone as vacant as the south china sea.

II.
Two girls with bad complexions and pierced eyebrows
sit side by side on the tiled floor, heads bent over
a spread of fritos and a ham sandwich that had the crusts cut off-
Did a mother do this, or was it some nostalgic reflex
that rose up and bumped its unconscious head against the fog?
They picked at it with slender fingers that made me
think of concert pianists; their giggles
burst from teeth yellowed like old ivory keys.

III.
The sound has no volume control. New conversations
up their decibels in a struggle to be heard, old ones
rise to the challenge; The registrar pulls down his Plexiglas
window, a scratched and filmy shield against the din.
A woman and four kids like stair steps occupy a row
of dirty plastic chairs lining the back wall. she holds a baby
in her ample lap in the same way you would hold a bag
of groceries on the bus ride home, or a basket of towels
while you wait at the Laundromat for a machine to free up.
The baby cries in a continuous drone punctuated every little while
with weary hitches for breath, its eyes dry and drooped;
the resignation already learned clear in its monotonous song.
Two chairs down the same row, a hooker named Davita
gives a hand-job to a skinny black man in a Denny's uniform
and a blood-soaked rag around his wrist; he tries to hide
his pride behind Modern Architecture. The tallest stair step
watches in silence, his steady gaze empty of curiosity.

A group of boys argue by the door, their voices loud
and huge; their jackets decorated with turf colors.
A small boy screams over and over for his mother while
a girl with red hair and a tear tattooed beneath an eye tells
him to shut the fuck up in a tone that escalates in repetition.
A man in a business suit, his cheeks red and his forehead
glistening with rage yells at the registrar through the hole
in the Plexiglas shield; he doesn't give a happy rat's ass
about pacemakers, he needs to use his goddamed cell-
I can't help but smile when the wino in line behind him
leans forward and vomits quietly down the back of his coat.

IV.
In the middle of the room, a couple sit together,
each tight against the other. They stick out, the two of them,
washed out figures silent in a loud sea of life.
Their pale faces are immobile a patina of sweat.
The man is about fifty, his face lined by time and circumstance.
His shirt is buttoned wrong, one side of his collar turns up
and brushes his ear; his sockless feet cased in worn house slippers.
The woman is about the same age, but whatever brought her here
has added twenty years. She wears a housecoat that hangs loose
to show a flannel gown bedecked with tiny red flowers;
her left hand rolls a rosary between fingers whose nails
are bitten to the quick. He holds the other in a clinch tight
enough to drain his knuckles to a cold, bloodless white.
Fear and hope passed messages between them like familiar rivals.

I'd seen them before, and before and before-
Alone and in pairs, sometimes in groups; these people who come
to sit and stare in county, their faces different but wearing the same
anxious mask. The end of it is always the same, nothing is ever good
because that's just the way it is when the shields are pulled down
and the flags have gone up. And when some demi-god in a dirty lab coat
comes to hit them behind the knees, all that's left will be gathered
into purses and bags and buttoned-wrong shirts and spilled out like
rancid wine behind other doors, in other rooms.

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 chillums' 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.

World Without End, Amen

Part One: And In The Beginning, Lava Lamps

When I was seventeen, the world was a psychedelic oyster...everything flung color; bright, boisterous shades of flourescent orange and scream green, purple haze (Ha Ha) and sunshine yellow. Nothing was dull, and nothing was still. It all twirled and swirled and sprung in twisting masses from our every object; even our T-shirts seemed to move. I like to think that the person who invented all that ass-kicker acid was just looking for some way to quiet it all down and it back-fired...we used to drop window-pane at Andy's house because he had blacklights in his garage; we would pour Tide washing powder on the floor and trip over its phosphorous contents twinkling through our little piles of detergent...it would be a couple of years before I would learn a few other uses for phosphorous. Yeah, those were simple times; I should have paid more attention to them, I should have ate all that color so I could've spit it up later when it would have really meant something.

Lava lamps were the shit; you were nobody unless you had one in your room...and the cool moms had them in their dens. Joplin and Hendrix ruled the world, the Dead guarded the gates. The Stones had just hit the states and everyone hitched to all the best concerts...all the girls wanted to blow all the bands, all the guys wanted to be roadies. Nobody ever did, of course...that was for the kids from California who were lucky enough to get backstage passes; the closest our little southern contingent ever got was sixth-row center at a very memorable Joe Cocker gig...we knew all the words to 'Bathroom Window' and never missed a beat. We thought we were so cool. Just as good as those west coast kids. Plus, our pot was better, we were certain of that; we grew it ourselves...no infra-copters back in the day. Fifteen bucks bought a five-finger bag of prime red-bud; ten more got you a sole of hash to wrap it with. I miss that stuff. Nothing beats a good hash milkshake...and later on, nothing would beat a good dose of smack; pot would become just foreplay, just something to keep the jungle bugs at bay while we sat and waited for the movie to start...and that was the thing; if the horse was hot enough, you could get away with pretending it was all a Fellini flick...for a few moments, anyway. And sometimes that was enough to get you to the next day.

It's a good thing we didn't know what was coming, I think most of us wouldn't have believed it if we had. The summer of sixty-six was winding down, the acid was turning into to mescaline, and Janis still had four years to live...longer than a lot of my friends. Nam was just a blurb on the TV news, the body counts during dinner were still a year or more away, and body bags were for the bad endings on Dr. Kildair. Some of us had brothers or cousins or uncles and dads pulling their time already, but nobody we knew up close and personal had gotten killed or even shot...not then. No one was protesting in earnest, not in our little corner of the planet, and all our teachers were talking about how it wasn't even a war, for christ' sake. Nobody seemed too fuckin' concerned...not then. Only our mothers looked worried; but they always did, so we never really noticed. And when we did, it was too late...High School was over, no money for college; all of us country boys had gotten our invitations by the time the spring of sixty-eight rolled around. Only Andy made it out; his dad had an aunt in Winnipeg and the next time I saw Andy he had three kids and a suit...he acted uncomfortable when he shook my hand; but it was OK, it was his folks that made him go. I guess. It WAS your folks, right, Andy?

Part Two: Can You Hear Him Now?

Been thinking about Andy again, he's starting to come and go like a cliched ghost; and I seem to be sittin' up with the dead. I haven't seen him since his dad died twelve years back, and we all went home to Catawba county to say goodbye...all of us that were left, anyway. We made a pitiful bunch, actually; hand-me-down suits and thrift store ties. All of us but Andy, who had done well in Winnipeg and wore a three-piece like an honest-to-God businessman. He had spit in his hand and passed it through his hair while we stood around the casket talking about how good his dad looked. Some things never change.

That's funny, isn't it...how everyone always seems to think folks look so damned good when they're dead. I'll bet the dead ones don't think so...I'm willing to put a few bucks on the fact that they would probably rather look like shit and be able to tell you about it. I know for sure that I want to look terrible when I get to lay on my satin; and I hope all the people that come to stare at my corpse have the good grace to say so. I don't want to die handsome; it seems like such a waste. And I don't want to be laid out all dressed up...I've left word that I'll haunt anyone that tries to pin those fuckin' medals on me. I really don't believe a whole lot in God or Heaven or everafters; but whatever is waiting for me is just gonna have to take me like I want to come...wearing Levi's and Hane's cotten. And no socks, please; it's a thing with me.

Had a lot of jumpers here lately; maybe that's why I've been thinking so much about Andy. You know, him jumping the draft and all. Word association and such...I've heard it can work like that. Anyway, four jumpers just this month; two off the Tar River bridge down at the rocks and two more off the I-95 overpass. The last two were a real fuckin' mess...shit everywhere. It took us the better part of a morning to get all the bits into our little red bio-bags...every scrap or the state boys get pissed. Can't leave anything for the public to see, when wer'e done, the Fire-house pumpers come in and hose away the spots. And these two had took their dive together, holding hands like goddamned love birds, said the bewildered witness who had called 911 to report the incredible event on his cell phone. Can you hear him now? Hardy fuckin' har har. By the time we got to the scene, he (The witness) was talking to the cops with his attitude showing...he had done his duty and now they were going to make him late for his tee time; he didn't PUSH them, for christ sake. It would have been more interesting if he had...nothing new about suicides. All I ask is that they get it right the first time so I don't have to work so hard...it's way harder to try and fix them than it is to just scrape them up.

One thing is certain...no one will be standing around these two caskets speculating on how good the deceased look; these two are gonna fit in a shoebox. And I say bury them in the same one, size seven ought to cover it. After all, it seems they wanted it that way...just ask the pissed-off golfer who saw it all. I can hear him now.

I love my job.

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.