Wednesday, December 17, 2014


…Today feels like a good day, don’t you think?  I sure hope so.

…Here’s a video of a reading I did last Monday in Capitol Hill at The Hugo House (it’s R-Rated):

…Every day I get a different song stuck in my head.  It’s usually something form Les Miserables.  Yesterday, though it was “You Got What I Need,” by Freddy Scott.  That’s a fun one to sing along with, to groove to.  It’s awful when you get a terrible song stuck in your head, say anything by Phil Collins, or “Friday” by that one-hit wonder teenage girl.
Today’s song is “Bubbly” by Colbie Caliat.  Yikes.

…Here are some things I like for the middle of the week:

“Every experience is a form of exploration.”  Ansel Adams

 “We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.”  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“I've seen and met angels wearing the disguise of ordinary people living ordinary lives.”  Tracy Chapman

“I have never been a millionaire, but I have enjoyed a great meal, a crackling fire, a glorious sunset, a walk with a friend, a hug from a child, a cup of soup, a kiss behind the ear. There are plenty of life's tiny delights for all of us.”  Jack Anthony

“A wise man once said nothing.” 

“New York is something awful, something monstrous. I like to walk the streets, lost, but I
recognize that New York is the world's greatest lie. New York is Senegal with machines.”
Federico Garcia Lorca

 “Everyone in New York City thinks they are famous without being famous.” Ethan Minsker

“Your imagination is the preview to life's coming attractions.”  Albert Einstein

“If you aim at nothing, you'll hit it every time.” B.J. Marshall

“Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Louis Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”  H. Jackson Brown Jr.

“Some people try to turn back their odometers. Not me, I want people to know why I look this way. I've traveled a long way and some of the roads weren't paved.”  Will Rogers

"Do not go chasing applause and acclaim, that way lies madness." Ron Swanson

Monday, December 15, 2014


…It’s Monday and everything is gray—the sky, the lake waves, my shirt, the trees, the wind, my breath, the three ducks bobbing on the surface of the water, one of the eagle’s feathers floating by my window, the spider web strung across the glass.  Someone has stolen all the color, painting the world with a wide brush, muddy strokes of gray everywhere.   The sun wants to be a different shade, of course it does, but it’s burdened by the weight of the atmosphere which has betrayed it after all these centuries.  Sky the color of cinders, ash, prairie dirt, tree bark, wolf fur.  Below the lake laps, one gray wave muscling the next, on its way west, nothing to stop it, a victorious bully, no one to prevent the aggression.  Yesterday a man in a scuba suit stood atop a surf board paddling but today he’s gone and there’s not another soul around anywhere and if I listen carefully I can hear myself breathing, hear myself thinking, though my thoughts are as murky as the water, just as loose and unscripted.  I imagine a beach in Mexico but the beach and ocean are all gray.  I picture Paris, but a fire has burned the city to charcoal rubble and all the tourists there sift through the ruins for a keepsake, mumbling to themselves, wanting a refund for their effort.  In the distance a little girl in a yellow jumper walks down the street.  Everyone stares at her, notices her wavy blonde hair and dimples, her pool blue eyes, how happy she appears, as she’s completely as if she’s completely unaware of the gray world she’s surrounded by.  Awestruck crowds gather around her, asking where she came from, wanting to touch her yellow dress but afraid to.  Finally she opens her mouth and yawns.  Then she burps and giggles.  She snaps her chubby little girl fingers, skipping down the road, singing, “Follow me to the blue.  Follow me to the blue.”   

Friday, December 12, 2014


…It’s Friday but feels like Saturday.  I hardly know what day it is anymore.

…Yesterday I read a friend’s poetry manuscript and gave him some feedback.  His writing was wonderful and it put me in the mood to write some poems myself.  Also, I just got a batch of my father’s bills in the mail, so that sent me to that place again and, well, this is what came out of it:

Executor of the Will

Bills keep coming through the mail
for my dead father.
They remind me of carpenter ants dancing drunkenly in the sun.
The bank doesn’t want to go without.
The insurance company can’t stand to go without.
Every institution is ravenous and desperate.
You can smell impatience on the envelopes,
a frayed corner here,
a blood smear there.
But it’s not just them.
After we’d buried him,
interested parties kept telling me,
“I know you’ll be fair,”
as if I know what the fuck that means,
as if I’m Bruce Almighty
or the new pope.
I’m telling you,
people are really hungry.
They haven’t eaten in years.
Someone wants to swallow a car,
The other a rifle,
 or guitar,
a shiny set of Allen wrenches.
What I think I’ll do is push it all into a pile--
the collection notices and Peterbuilts,
the pyramid of rusted beer cans
and every sin I’ve ever seen.
I’ll burn it all,
throwing Dad’s will in last.
I bet that ash
is going to be the most beautiful ash in the world,
wafting in in the air like a flock of gold coins
just out of reach.
If I can,
I’ll take a picture for you.

Executor of the Will, Part 2

The lawyer eyes me across the desk,
tells me where to sign,
here and there and there, there.
It feels like I’m buying a house.
I hardly remember agreeing to do this,
be the executor of the will,
but Dad’s dead now
and there are people who want things,
even the lawyer,
him with the pointed Chihuahua teeth
that for some reason makes me think of Dad’s fake ones,
plastic jobs faded to the color of lard,
his hands grease-stained and as big as mitts,
hands that did good things and some bad
all those years ago when we were ten kids growing up in a trailer,
the world so big to us,
but no more scary than where we lived,
never knowing if Mother was in a mood,
if Dad would do her bidding,
find the belt,
have us pull down our pants
and underwear,
swing like he was at the Fair trying to win a stuffed bear
for his sweetheart,
the wicked woman he’d married,
a demon damsel
with warts on her heart.
Now as the lawyer yawns
and says, “I think we’re done here,”
I wonder if Dad knew what he was getting into,
or if he compartmentalized love from torture.
If it was the latter,
that makes him one hell-of-a Houdini,
and maybe in the end
that trumps all.

True Detective

We carry the casket hip high,
all of us looking forward
not wanting to trip
or speak or make eye contact,
old feuds quashed by the death of our father,
and a brother,
all in one week.
In a nearby tree
three black birds list on a limb,
watching us with their necks cocked
as if we’re the most interesting TV show ever,
True Detective, maybe,
maybe not,
who knows?
We set the casket on rollers
and it aligns perfectly,
the only perfect thing I’ve ever seen
in our family’s imperfect past.
The pastor asks if anyone would like to say a few words
while we stare at our shoes
and the birds fly away
frightened to hear what we confess.

Sins of the Fathers

Here we are, band of brothers,
some former soldiers,
some former felons,
together for a funeral,
the night before,
getting drunk or stoned or both
and it feels right,
maybe a little cowardly,
but who wants to face fear head-on when you can create distractions?
One of these beat me with his fists.
One of these said I would never amount to anything.
One of these taught me how to masturbate.
But it all disappears in the gray smoke
and bawdy jokes being told.
We laugh till we puke
and that, too, feels right and wrong at the same time,
laughing while our dad’s corpse lies in a coffin nearby.
Still, what else can oddballs do
but try to convince themselves
that the sins of the fathers are not passed down,
only buried under ground
until the vespers
call them out of their slumber
and ask for penance.  

The Welder

“You look skinny, hey,” my brother says.
“You’re nothing but a drink of water, hey.”
He’s on something
or else his heart is just beating too fast.
The trailer smells of cigarette smoke and cat piss
with boxes stacked everywhere
as if movers should arrive at any second,
only the boxes are filled with bills and files,
one of them containing the will which I find
while my brother asks, “What’s it say, hey?”
Later we’re at a bar,
this big brood of us,
so many we own the place even if we don’t.
There’s, “Remember the time…”
There’s, “He could be a mean cuss if…”
There’s, “Wanna smoke some pot, hey?”
One brother hands the pipe to the other,
flicks a lighter with his thumb,
and just like that
I recall Pops with a blow torch,
flame the color of orange blossoms,
wearing safety goggles that made him look like a lunatic,
welding metal together the way
he never could our family.

Don’t Leave

The summer our garage burn down
I was nine and the whole world was on fire:
Nam ;
jilted super Heroes;
volcanoes and drum barrels and lawns with pink Flamingoes.
My mother turned into a blow torch, too.
Her wig and cat-eyed glasses were a disguise,
clever props meant to trick you up
like a bear trap covered with moss.
Same with the thick white Bible kept on the mantle
by the gun rack and leather belt
that lashed out punishment.
I gave her as wide a berth as possible
but could still feel her flames
licking my face.
On Father’s Day
Dad drank to celebrate,
shooting an arrow through the window,
shards of glass clattering in the sink like tinny applause.
Mom said, “That’s it.  That’s it.  We’re leaving.  To hell with you.”
her not understanding the hell she’d created.
In the car were we frightened mice,
 holding quiet our chattering.
Our mother called us cowards,
said she wished we’d never have been born,
snapped her fingers and raised a spark,
said, “Say a word and you’ll wish you were already dead.”
 in a car with my own kids,
I check for them in the rearview,
see them with their heads bent down,
mesmerized by phones.
I say, “Hey guys.  I love you so much.”
None of them acknowledges me,
still I add, “Please don’t ever leave me.”


My brother started grass fires
the summer he realized there was no way out,
no proper future,
our future sutured by the past,
time stuck in quicksand
He burned acres
while cackling like a demon.
Head raised toward heaven,
he shouted, “How about them apples?”
The police showed up at our trailer
A few hours later--
serious, and unfriendly men
with badges and warrants--
but my brother had run away by then
with Mom saying, “Good riddance.”
My therapist runs a pen tip along his lower lip,
eyes narrowed to slits.
“And how did that make you feel?” he asks.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


                                                                  Don’t Lie

            She sees her son dressing, with his shirt off, and pauses to get a good look.  The act feels criminal, perverse, yet nostalgically familiar.  She takes in his entire back, the tendons and contours, but mostly the ruptured areas.
            Aaron’s home for the holiday, having just arrived yesterday.  A college freshman.
            At breakfast he watches her eat.  She’s always been a bad liar, even without saying anything.  The affair she’d had was a radioactive alarm blinking on her face.  Her husband left long before she learned that affairs existed for one reason only: decimation.
            “What’s going on?” her son asks.  He’s grown so big, muscular, a man really.  The cereal spoon in his hand looks the size of a cuff link.
            “You seem nervous.”
            “I’m not.”
            “Don’t lie, Mom.”  But he scrunches his face, the way he did as a young boy, before the divorce and dark years.
            She’d been a freshman, once, too.  There was fraternity she went to on Fridays with beer kegs and vats of ruby colored alcohol.  A boy with David Cassidy hair took her to his room.  He had stacked Copenhagen cans in the window, shaped like a pyramid, but outside a street light reflected back on the building’s pillars that looked colonial.
            The boy’s friends showed up an hour into it.  She thought they were joking.  They took turns, traded high-fives.  Her head was hazy from the Spodie Odie, but she fought back, biting shoulders and arms, only they seemed to like it, told her, “Harder,” said, “Yeah, Bitch.”
            She never saw the marks, but she thinks now that they must have resembled the ones she saw on her son’s back earlier.  Angry blackberry cloudburst bruises.  Teeth impressions.
            Who’s to say how he got them?  He might have a girlfriend, though she’d always thought her son the gentle type.  If she asks, there’s a small chance he might be truthful and she’s not so sure she wants to go there.  Christmas is three days away.  There are gifts.  They might all be happy.
            When he gives her that look again, she stands, grabs the pot, says, “How about some more coffee?”

Monday, December 8, 2014


…Hey, Monday, how’re you doing?

…Tonight I’m a featured writer/reader at The Hugo House in Capitol Hill.  I have fifteen minutes to read and I hope I don’t screw it up.
I won’t screw it up.
Anyway, I don’t think I will.
I’ll practice a lot today.
It’s mostly about not letting people down, and with that comes a bit of pressure.
Writers are supposed to read.  That’s how they broaden their audiences.  Me, I don’t really like reading.  There was a time when I did, but that was a few years ago.

…I once interviewed a favorite writer of mine named Kim Chinquee and when I asked her the stupid obligatory question, “Why do you write,” she answered, “Why does anyone do anything?” which I thought was a great answer, an answer I find myself thinking about a lot all the time.
Yes, why doesn’t anyone do anything?

…My grandmother in-law, who was really more like my biological grandmother, died on Thanksgiving.  She lived to be almost 99 years old.  (I think I might have mentioned this already.)  The other day I found myself thinking about her, how she was left widowed with three boys to raise during the depression.
So I wrote this for Grandma Faythe:


I didn’t make this up—
Death is all around us,
the husks of lives withered to dust,
one lone black-and-white photo of a widowed bride
with three boys to raise
a reminder of how fickle fate can be,
God or good-on-you, who really knows ?
Ninety-nine years on the planet,
all of those days and months and minutes
collected now in a shiny urn,
ash to be strewn as requested
in a park where the squeal of children lifts skyward
while we sit around tables
recalling the quiet strength of a lioness,
the steely resolve of a woman who bent the world her way
despite catastrophe or folly,
whose name was aptly symbolic,
portending what we would be left with after her passing:
belief without evidence;
confidence, trust and
assurance of brighter days ahead.

…Here are a few things I like to start the week off:

“You give people a lot of knives and forks, they’ve gotta cut something.” Bob Dylan

“Poverty taught me not to worry about money.” Michael Caine

”When we are mindful of every nuance of our natural world, we finally get the picture: that we are only given one dazzling moment of life here on Earth, and we must stand before that reality both humbled and elevated, subject to every law of our universe and grateful for our brief but intrinsic participation with it.” Eustace Conway

“To think bad thoughts is really the easiest thing in the world.  If you leave your mind to itself it will spiral down into ever increasing unhappiness. To think good thoughts, however, requires effort.  This is one of the things that discipline and training is about.”  James Clavell

Friday, December 5, 2014


Christmas Day

No one has arrived yet but Dad is already drunk, standing on the deck with a pellet gun aimed at a horde of geese which have swam across the lake to feast on our lawn, yes shitting all over it, too, as they pluck and stab at the grass ignorant or defiant of a dangerous onlooker.  Mom shouts for him to put that thing down, says neighbors will call the cops again and this time my dad will be tossed in jail, but Dad’s on a mission, fixated with an enemy who can’t fight back, who will only squawk and honk even as the pellets wiz by their heads and webbed feet.  “Stupid mangy fucking things,” Dad says, cocking and firing the rifle.  I hear him chuckle when he finally hits one of the birds, taking aim at another. 
People tell me I look like him, an exact replica, and I don’t like it.  They say I’m just as moody, and I don’t like that either.
I feel the urge to push him off the deck, over the railing.  I see myself doing it, watching him plunge headlong twenty feet below.  That would alter things, but it’s also something he would do.  Instead I go inside and phone the police, tell them there’s a deranged man trying to kill defenseless geese, a man with a gun.  Then I grab the gin bottle, take a long pull, walk out the front door, thinking about what was, what wasn’t, what might be.

Glorified Rice

For special occasions we ate
Glorified Rice,
white rice slathered with whip cream and random pineapple chunks.
Before that was German food,
hamburger baked inside dough,
fried dough and potatoes
or chunks of fried dough bubbled-up as big as hubcaps.
Dads hands were large, too,
the biggest I’d ever seen,
knuckles usually cracked and bleeding,
grease faded between the whorls of his skin,
a hard day at the shop behind him,
his mood darker than the belly of a raincloud,
all of us seated at the table,
quiet mice chewing,
stealing glances at Mom,
wondering what she was thinking,
how she would react if there was another blowup again,
me reaching for the plastic bowl with my trembling elbows,
spooning a hill of Glorified Rice onto my plate
while my father watched me with eyes
I did not recognize
but still recall to this day.

Muscle Memory

When we were young we were always stealing,
perhaps because we knew instinctively that our youth
was being stolen from us,
bit by bit,
day by day,
in a home where the light never made it through.
We started with penny candy,
then squirt guns, gloves and athletic socks,
mostly practical things,
some essential to adolescence
and others to well-being.
By the time we fled our house
and the jackals
we’d become expert thieves,
really wonderful liars.
We smiled and told people how happy we were
while picking their pockets.
The problem is you can’t go back
and undo
what muscle memory has sewn into you.
At least that’s what I tell myself
alone at night,
laying on a bunk
in a ten-by-ten cell,
listening to the faucet drip
and drip and drip.

Born Again

Today I put down the guns I’d been squeezing
and read poetry,
words with music in them,
love songs and sad ballads,
poems about the importance of being still,
of listening and paying attention
to the mystical way the world wants to teach you about glory,
and resolve.
After I’d finished
it was as if I’d come out of a coma
or just a heady rainstorm.
I was light and felt clean,
revenge no longer anything I coveted.
You might even say that words had converted me,
that such a simple thing as poetry
had made me born again.

Rivers and Roads

I am going back to the river
where my brother and I drowned,
having for once felt unthreatened on a raft under
the broiling July sun.
We fell asleep like mongrel dogs by the fireplace
and when we woke the current
was a fast plane taking us with it
no matter how hard we paddled,
falling yards and yards behind at a good clip,
and I remember thinking,
Yes, we are going to die,
out here on a rabid river that wants us dead,
and I thought,
Freedom at last.
But a motorboat found us a few feet before the falls,
tossed a rope and drove us to the shore,
our parents there,
drunk out of their gourds,
but not so stoned that they’d let go of their fury.
I wade into the water now wearing only those memories.
I go out further and further.
I close my eyes and wait for the current’s fingers
to accept me.

This Way Not That

We had a tree fort once
where we’d escape to
and look at old Playboy magazines,
glossy women wearing see-through teddies
with nipples as big hockey pucks,
thatches that hid their prize,
my brother telling me once,
“I’m going to marry a gal like this when I’m older,”
while I laughed so hard I puked.
In our trailer below the tempest was starting,
sound of glass shattering,
a scream,
a shout,
the trailer shaking from a human earthquake,
screen door screeching and swinging off its hinges
as if trying to flee the madness
just as we had.
My brother ignored it,
just pulled out another magazine and told me to look,
“Look this way
not that.
Don’t be stupid.”

Survival Tips For A Son

Wear heavy clothing.
Avoid making eye-contact.
Speak clearly.
Don’t spill or trip or
even think about sassing.
Always eat everything on your plate,
the scalded soup in your bowl.
Never say, “I don’t know.”
When you’re in the car, only look out the window
but refrain from studying other people’s homes and yards
because that’s what normal homes and yards and families look like.
Go ahead and create imaginary friends,
lots of them.
Lie to your schoolmates about your birthday and Christmas
and what Thanksgiving is like.
Try very hard not to think you’re crazy,
that life is hell and you’d just like to die and be done with it.
Last thing:
pretend you’re as big as bear,
that you have sharp fang and claws
and that someday when you’re older
you’ll use them.

Why Stories Are Important For Some People

Crimes in a southern towns are outdone by
northern felonies featuring
the ones who should love you the most.
So you wear armor to bed and remind yourself
that dreams don’t do damage,
that the air often cooperates,
night comes eventually,
and as it does
you stitch stories together,
sharing them with your brother in the bunk below.
He calls you a fool, says, “You don’t know.  You don’t know.
You don’t know.”
The madness has crept into him already
and maybe inside you as well,
but you keep making up stories,
plots with escape plans,
magic carpets and genies who grant wishes,
you knowing that without imagination,
without stories,
there’s no a chance in hell
you’ll ever make it through this.


The cops come around near midnight,
lights flashing like a carnival outside,
neighbors there watching, waiting, hoping for a good show again.
Mom hides in the bathroom.
Dad leans on the door jamb wearing boxers and a ribbed tank top.
Steam lifts off the back of his sweaty neck,
swept away by the crisp fall air.
It’s, “Step outside.”
It’s, “You got a warrant?”
It’s, “You’re really screwed this time.”
It’s, “Fuck you.”
It’s, “You’re under arrest.”
It’s, “Shove it up your ass.
After they’ve hauled him off,
mom calls us to the kitchen table
and I think she’s going to tell us we’re free now,
but instead all she wants to know is
which one of us called the police.

Slaying The Beasts

My wife would like to know my secrets.
“Even if they’re dark,” she says.
She holds my hand
and combs soft fingers through my hair,
but nothing is better or changed
and it’s not her fault whatsoever,
nor her mistake for wanting to learn about the scorpions
that root around inside my head
and can’t be killed.
When I tell her we should watch a movie
she throws her hands up
and takes off for the bedroom.
While she’s there,
I go to my office and find the keyboard,
slaying the beasts the only way I know how,
doing it with everything I’ve got.