What Frank Knew

She pauses on the rim
of the shimmering 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 hot California moon,
swaying to forgotten strains

of silent music that tickle
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.



After seven Dewar's
straight-up because anything else
is less than enough;
after the premeditated swallows,
one blister-pack to a shot-
the segue of the day is a closed door
at the end of a hall, and this:

stumble-hand on a knob,
blast of TV glow slaps the mirror
and in it, the reflected you;
riddle of hair, bone, sated breath.
Sung asleep by his demons, Azrael waits;
splayed in handsome repose
on seminal sheets that smell of dirt-
nothing but whipcord, sinew, shit.

Almost finished here
putting prologue to past;
yesterdays sloughed like a bad tattoo,
the shucked angel lies revealed,
stripped truth pulled from its own debris.
Sweat-dappled Loki in a satin sheath
turns towards a mirror to see who is there.


I picked her up at a bar
on Southside; lipstick lez
with hair the color of cardboard
and cinnabar stilettos
that matched her scent but
didn't suit her Tanqueray stride.

She stripped while I watched,
the detached observer-
her breasts were not like


only half globes of flesh and fat
and failing musculature;
nipples that were not the pert red

of Bing cherries

but puckered and flat across
their tops, angled slightly towards
the blue cut-pile of a motel 6 floor-

They look like Devils Tower
and the thought was as sudden
as a spilled shot; close encounters
of the desperate kind and the laughter
was as quick as the process

She was angry, the observer unrepentant;
what we made was not love
but raw, real in the way of imperfections,
everything and nothing at once.

After, I read her poetry she didn't understand
while she drank gin from a plastic glass
and watched the words fall
like minutes, like years.


On The Way

Hot and humid day,
a twelve pack of Red Seal
pulses my veins as I take photos
of weary Mexicans at the bus stop
and a dead end road that runs into fallen arches
with painted signs that say 'lomas del Pacifico',
a stop off Hwy 200 on the way to Mismaloya.

Drinks at a bar in La Jolla
with sweaty European tourists sad to see the beach
has eroded almost to nothing when just 3 years ago
I played volleyball there with some Argentinians
and rode a slow boat to Yelapa for cold Cervezas
then lunched in a place without electricity.

Climb out on the rocks,
take a seat on the ocean floor and drink another beer.
Rain salt-smooth stones into the calm mouth of God.
I think to myself too often, when do I leave?
How long do I sit here, directionless breeze on my nape?
Until I move on, driving with the windows down.




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 russet,
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.


Colored women form a ribbon on the shelved bank-
their hands fly in rhythm as they clean fish.
scales shimmer the earth at their feet,
float atop dark water like 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.


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 tilled 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.


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.


The Listening

Up the road a piece from here,
a mile, maybe two-
an old black man lives
in a ramshackle house made of clapboard
gripped together by kudzu that's older still.

Sometimes, I pass it on walks,
most days I pass by on drives to town and back-
ten trips out of twelve finds it as a dead thing,
bereft of life except for the kudzu and a slat-sided tom
always stretched along the crumbling concrete stoop.

But tonight on the drive home,
my beams pick him out of the dusk-
a bent figure seated in a shadow of oak, hands busy
at some task I can't discern in the low shaft of light.

I pull into the dirt-pack yard and step out,
hand him a beer from my pack with only a nod
because that is our way- I squat on my haunches,
sip my beer as the skinny tom watches from its step
while I wait for him to speak; if he does, I'll listen.

I can now see that he's shelling corn-
his thumbs run the cobs in quick rows, the kernels
fall into a tin tub between his bare feet.
I know that when they dry, he'll crack them;
and by the first frost his potent mash will be sealed
neatly in Ball masons tucked beneath the cellar stairs.

Every Christmas, one finds its way to my porch-
its wide mouth tied with red yarn, the glass jar wiped clean.

After a time, he talks in tight whispers
so low that I dip my head to hear-
he spins cobs in his palms as he remembers a sister,
a young girl with plaits in her hair and scars across her back;
she runs through his memory and he laughs as she laughs,
a sound that is at once weightless and heavy as stone.

Years fall backward in his voice-
they catch in his throat, become slender brown limbs
sprawled beside a long gone road, become scars broken open
and left to seep dry beneath a moonless drape;
residue on soil prepared for those born into the grave.

With kernel and cob between his hands,
he grinds his words; they spill from his fingers-
a cadence that stops when he can't go back
anymore to that place where ghosts rattle their bones.

What he can't say sits piled in his tub.
After a while, I help him gather the naked cobs;
we throw them in a rusted barrel, it's sides vented with punch holes.
He sets them to fire with a match culled from nowhere-
and when the flames grow high enough to lick the rim,
we lean into its heat like people who end up in someplace familiar.



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 goose flesh well. Trading breaths
with you beneath the cracked window,
its panes jitter like loose teeth
every time 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; pidgion-toed.
Your breath volcanoes up, visible in the chill,
then disappears as if it never was at all.


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 stony 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.


Miles, Millenniums

I tell my father "On our way to the lake,
Uncle John stopped and bought lightning
in a jar from a colored man in Opalaca"
and when he tells me "Alright, then" his face
folds in and tightens and I see him under
the bowed silver birch with leaders in his hands,
their transparent ends knotted with tiny
brass hooks and bright blue and yellow feathers;
the brim of his Redman hat hiding his brow
from the high August sun.

He looks like a photograph I saw once
of a man tying flies beneath the lace-hung
arms of river cypress; but I took no photograph,
because on this day, under that tree,
beneath that sun and in these bones my hands
would not have known where to point or what to take
for the sake of memory; in this place I am twelve.

There is a dog at my feet, or asleep on the steps,
two gunmetal cats watch a family of robins preen
in the shade of eaves; their heads sway in a strange,
imperfect rhythm. The women behind the screened door,
lovely in waisted aprons, are from another time;
a disconnected past that doesn't belong here.

I would give it up to the fireflies, to the cicadas
that sang beneath the bark of digger pines, leaving
shells of themselves behind for fall to find.
I have left it to the black-hulled pecans, to blackberries
strung along a border fence, to the big stones braced
at the bend of the river where beavers built dams
large enough to widen the turn a little every year;
both grown so much smaller now.

I remember, him and I, collapsing here;
once upon a summer knee to knee, a stolen blanket,
a rainbow-heavy creel set to soak against a bank.
Beyond sloped banks, years away, ladies sit behind screens
and fan themselves with their hems, dogs nap,
cats court the notice of birds long flown to dust.
These cypress dripping moss, this river,
those voiceless days with nothing left unsaid.
On this day, in this skin, I am twelve,
and you a shadow beneath the brim of a hat;
a foreknowledge of flyting days,
a fretwork caught in the blue of our veins.

Miles, millenniums, lightning in a jar.


Therapy Session At The Circle K

Don't tell me where I'm going;
you think I'm alone but you can't know
that from time to time, I sleep side by side
with beautiful girls who are afraid of the dark.
Slivers of shine beneath our random doors are never
enough, so we let up the shades of rented rooms,
flood the dead space with the dead glow of commerce.

Tonight it's the Circle K, happy round pearl
ringed in red, looming foot upon foot above the asphalt
of south avenue; everything caught within its ovum
glitters. Whores pass back and forth, showcased at its base;
tiny statues of saints hang from their lobes, depend on ribbons
from their necks; they shimmer like shattered glass.
Beside me balls some beautiful girl, asleep outside her shadow.
Her skin is olive and damp; I think of angels with emerald lips.

It seems just yesterday, I carried tricks
in a tin box covered with rock-star-hip-cats strumming their
air guitars in primary colors. My smile was brilliant, I alone
invented the high gloss of good veneer. In some city somewhere,
buzzcut ladies dance naked in glass boxes, bodies like suede cages.
In my city, dumpsters brood behind the open-all-nights, shelter
refuse from a foregone rain. No one ever told me not to spill
the milk, no one ever said that fight holds consequence too large
to recall. I never knew I was a sinner until the magic failed.

So you guessed it, Doc, I'm bothered by
a little thing or two; I don't sleep like I should, and I've got
a lily busy dying on my ktchen table. It doesn't seem to matter
how I'm aware of how selfish I can be, no one noticed when I ceased
to care. I appreciate your time, but time is a measurement of thought,
and I think too much. Logic is a beautiful girl locked against my dark,
mouth parted in the pretense of sleep; she knows, they know,
I know that I never really loved myself.


Canadian Club And End Results

Down my road a piece or three
lived an ex-pat named George,
who worked the CSX freighters
after he washed up in Charleston
where he discovered his age was measured
in gypsum and sweat, and his trouble
with money lost its punch somewhere
around the sixth double of Canadian Club.

He had a woman called Mac,
a blousy low-lander with a gift for gab
who washed his clothes and sometimes
floated his rent; but he put up with her lip,
he said, "because she's a fair throw
for a broke horse" and then he would laugh
open-mouthed, his teeth as yellow as his skin.

and he had a fascination with guns
that he showed me when I happened by;
an old Enfield
a 45 Magnum and a Colt
a semi-carbine with a strap
and boxes and cartons full of ammunition
"in case those mushrooms ever bloom"
he would say, his eyes wild and glaring
while he sipped his Club and misfortune
like ladies sip tea on hot afternoons.

It all resulted in a shot one morning
that pierced the still of the March air
and made the barn swallows fly off
towards the Atlantic ports
where he had been young once.



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 into 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.


The Bullshit Chronicles, Chapter one

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.”