When It Rained

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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


Just Another Jane

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


Where The Songs Are sad

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

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

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

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


As I Read Ed Dorn (Purpose, Part Deux)

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

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

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

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

Original version–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So with purpose, I write this:

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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