Monday, March 27, 2017


 

--LET ME HAVE A TASTE OF THAT

 
…Good morning, Monday.  You’re still as wet as ever, damn you.

…A lot more poetry spilled out over the weekend, but it seems like a time for a break here, at least until Wednesday or later.

…I haven’t been submitting at all in these last few months, but I did have this poem published last week in one of my favorite journals:


…And I learned one of my stories was selected to be in Best Small Fictions of 2017, which is a big honor, seeing as how there were thousands of submissions and only 55 stories selected.  The anthology, out in September, is sold in book stores world-wide.
Yay.


…Melissa Studdard, a writer acquaintance of mine, posted this on Facebook that I found endearing and touching:

-Last night on the plane home, the cabin pressure made my hand lotion explode onto the very nice slacks of this young man sleeping next to me. It was a HUGE glob. The flight attendant said we should drop a cocktail napkin like a tent on his leg, and then as he was waking, he would brush it off, knocking the glob of lotion off with it. Several passengers tried to help, and finally I ended up folding the napkins until they were so stiff I could scrape the lotion off his leg. Still, there was a sheen as if a kid had wiped a snotty hand across his pants. The flight attendant said he probably wouldn't notice, so I decided not to tell him. Then I began to imagine that the guy was flying into town for a date with someone he was in love with but who was not yet quite in love with him and that when the person saw his pants they would decide he was gross and never go out with him again and then he would have his heart broken and the last of his money would have been wasted on a plane ticket for someone who could never love him because of his gross pants. Then I imagined all the children they were supposed to have who would never come into the world because of my hand lotion. I figured this would pretty much ruin his self-esteem and prevent him from advancing in his career, as well. So I decided I had to tell him, and when he woke up, I just braced myself and said straight up, "Dude, I have to tell you something. When you were asleep the cabin pressure made my hand lotion explode all over your pants leg, and me and the crew and the other passengers cleaned it off the best we could, but there's still a snotty looking sheen, and I don't want you to miss out on love and having children and being successful in your career because your pants are nasty." And then he started laughing and told me that this was the funniest thing that had ever happened to him and everything was okay and he didn't think his life would be ruined because of the lotion. I think this is what happens to a writer's mind when we go too many days in a row without writing. I think the imagination needs to be put on the page regularly, or it will leak all over the people and things around us. This is a public service message for anyone procrastinating on their writing today.

…And here are some other things I like to start the week:
 

-"Each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done." Bryan Stevenson

-"To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be happy one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness.”  Woody Allen

-“I need to concentrate on each sound so that every blade of grass is as important as the flower.”  Arvo Part, composer

-“I think the theme of this record is that we’re all prisoners of some desires, in that the very things we love are the things that hold us hostage and keep us trapped.
But I’m not a depressed person. I think most people go through ups and downs, and there’s that nagging sense of ‘what the fuck does this mean?’ Some people ignore that and it kills them, or some people focus on these negative aspects and become golems. I’ve tried to use them as fuel, and I also use the joy of playing music.  There’s something to be said for taking all that negativity and confusion and deciding: this is fuel, and I can burn this and make this into something, and the act of doing that is joyous. I can sing the saddest song with a bunch of people, and the feeling of sharing that energy activates in a way that either heals it or makes me feel like I’ve risen a thousand miles above it into space and I’m staring down on it as a little dot.  It changes things dramatically and I really like that.” Ryan Adams

-"I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship." Louisa May Alcott

-“For me, reading is like praying.” Sheldon Lee Compton

-“The true mystery of the world is the visible.” Oscar Wilde
 
 

Friday, March 24, 2017



 
--INSIDE MY HEAD THERE IS A MUSEUM OF NATURAL DISASTERS
 

Love Stuck

The tricky part is you love her.
You’re only fourteen but you know she’s the one.
The universe is finally ordered and makes sense for once.
You might even be happy.
But she’s asked a question and, thus far, you haven’t lied to her.
“How did I lose my virginity?”
Her eyes are fixated but also a little unsteady, wobbly,
almost as if she’s afraid you’ll hit her.
“Yes, how?”
You try not to squirm, try not to look away.
You wonder if it was when your brother did that thing,
touched you there, saying, “Look what I’ve invented.”
Or was it the time you took your Dad’s magazines
into a field and fondled yourself under a weeping willow tree,
milky cream splashing the scorched weeds with
a force that shocked you?
Perhaps it was Sherry Seaman (yes, her real name)
whose trained mouth knew so much
about friction, texture and timing.
“Well?”
You’re both seated under a bushy evergreen,
the ground hard on your ass,
hairpin pine needles scattered everywhere,
a red-chested robin hopping about as if the earth is on fire.
“Any day.”
A breeze flaps her bangs up and down over her forehead
like a hand that’s waving you home,
and though she’s anything but pretty
she’s currently the most beautiful girl you’ve ever seen.
“Still waiting.”
You lace your fingers in hers, pull the hand to your mouth
and kiss each knuckle with chapped lips until she tugs it away.
“Nuh uh.”
You watch a branch sweep overhead,
a squirrel scurrying up one weak limb.
“I don’t know,” you say, and while it’s kind of the truth,
the words are still acid on your tongue.
Your teeth melt, your gums smolder.
“What kind of answer is that?”
You fight for bravery, meet her gaze,
swallow a sock of dry air laden with grit and chaff.
“Let me tell you everything,” you say.
“Then afterward, if you haven’t run, you can decide
whether I’m still your guy.”

 

Pussy

Your older brothers think you’re a pussy
and have said so numerous times.
You’ve only seen pussies in your Dad’s glossy Playboys,
and those were always bush-hidden,
foggy at the sweet spot,
a camera flaw or sunburst blur where
you most desired focus and clarity.
It’s ridiculous how much you want to know pussy--
what a pussy actually is,
what it looks like,
what it wants and fears,
what it craves--
because if you’re really a pussy as they assert,
you know none of these things.
And yet there’s the Super Soaker Squirt Gun
on aisle 13, marked down to $17.95.
One brother tells the other brother that’s not there,
“Betcha the pussy can’t steal it.”
More pussy.
Pussy, pussy, pussy.
You don’t exactly know what pussy is,
but you’re sick of hearing about it.
There’s no chance the squirt gun will fit in your pants
the way the Value-Pack box of Million Dollar Bars
did when you filched them on another dare last week.
The squirt gun might as well be a walrus or elephant,
an unpinned grenade or someone’s stolen infant.
Still, your brothers are very wise.
They’re older and know things.
They’ve kissed girls with their tongue and tonsils,
which is called French Kissing, even in America.
They know what a pussy is,
claiming to have owned several at one time or another.
And so you grab the gun and fly down the aisle.
It’s a crazy idea and a bit cowardly as well,
but you’re a pussy, and maybe that’s what pussies do
when they’re challenged and frightened at the same time.
The old, bald guy behind the counter is kind of brittle,
a Mr. Peanut Man, going on seventy.
If he has a real gun, it’s too late to shoot,
you’ve sprinted that fast,
and there’s no way he’ll come after you
unless he has a Harley hidden somewhere.
A mile away, after you’ve caught your breath
and have thrown up on the side of a curb three different times,
your brother catches up, holding his side
as if he’s stolen something as well and is keeping it warm.
“Fuckin’ A, man!  You ran like greased lightning.”
You wonder if your brother’s ever vomited on a curb,
if he was ever your age and baffled about pussy.
You wonder, if he was you, would he still suck his thumb at age nine.
“Let me see that thing.”
You hand it over, the one piece of tainted evidence someone else is
willing to accept on your behalf.
“I bet it’ll spray all the way to Idaho,”
your brother says, testing the slide device,
cocking the plastic arm back and forth a dozen, manic times.
He’s smiling, and you know that means something good,
if only temporary.  Anyway, he doesn’t look pissed off.
You want to ask him about pussy,
want to tell him you’re confused about pussy,
bewildered by it,
by a lot of things actually,
but he’s got you in a soft headlock, giving you
a light knuckle nuggy on your scalp.
It’s like he’s telling you he’s proud,
or that he might even love you.
You encircle him with your arms,
making for a hug, but that kind of intimacy is taboo,
so he pushes off, though not too rough.
Brothers taunt and prod.
Brothers teach you how to steal.
Hugging is off the table and stomped underfoot.
Once in a while, though,
brothers walk home with you
under shady skies and blinking moonlight,
halfway giddy and high,
saying, “I don’t surprise easily,
but fuck, kid, you did good.”

 

Biology

Mr. Davis taught Biology,
sixth period,
kept a row of milky Mason jars
stacked on the shelf under the blackboard
that contained strange, deformed things,
fleshy, one-eyed clumps, some with tails
or webbed fingers that floated in gray-white water.
Mr. Davis scared me.
When a kid dozed off during class,
Mr. Davis chucked a chalkboard eraser
toward the last row of desks
and nailed the boy’s forehead,
leaving a cloudy Seahorse
birthmark above his eyebrow.
He often had me stay after class,
said I was different, special.
“Forget everything you’ve been told,” he said.
“They’re all wrong.
I can teach you what
really matters in life.”
He tried to show me things,
tried so hard his underarms were sweat-stained,
but after a while I stopped looking,
stopped staying after
and took the bus home,
staring out a window,
studying the way each tree swayed,
some leaning in  on one another
and some not.

 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017



 
--THERE’S ONLY ONE OF YOU ON EARTH

 
Having To Go

At night,
insomnia pulling your hair again,
pinching your nostrils shut,
you levitate off the bed.
In the hall,
you tip toe like a wary wraith,
remembering there are landmines everywhere,
booby-traps and fishing line stretched tight
and low to snag your ankles.
If you make it to the bathroom
that means it’s just twelve steps
to the front door.
But you recall how its hinge
shrieks like an angry cat,
how the knob is sometimes glazed with acid.
Still, you understand
that the evening always
needs someone to blame,
even innocents or orphans,
and so you pee a slow,
calculated stream on the side of the bowl,
but don’t flush,
hoping you’re hydrated,
that your urine mimics the color of water.
And as you traipse back the way you came,
one foot lightly landing after the other,
as deft as a mime no one notices,
your mind hums pale and electric,
a grinding truck clutch,
a wood chipper spitting out slivers,
made-up noise to take the edge off,
sheer your nerves, help you
make it back to bed alive
so you can sleep, wake, and
do it all over again.

 

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

By age nine,
you are good at keeping secrets.
You are also an expert liar.
For the assignment—
What I Did On My Summer Vacation—
you describe feasts at French and Italian restaurants,
a massive hotel swimming pool with a gushing fountain,
family card games that linger long after dusk.
You get a B- and that is terrific,
that is just fine.
The one girl who is brave enough to date you
asks what your parents are like.
You’ve been waiting your whole
young life for this question,
and so you don’t miss a beat.
You’re as smooth as water-soaked plastic at this point.
You say they’re your parents, sure, but really
they’re more like friends, only older.
This girl with wishing well dimples,
she takes your hand,
the very one that got stabbed by a steak knife
for back-talking,
and tells you wide-eyed and sweetly,
“I knew you weren’t
as weird as everyone says.”

 

Helter Skelter

Lying in the upper bunk one night,
staring out a rain-smudged window
while your brother punches his pillow below,
it strikes you--
the difference between your folks
and theirs.
Theirs, being any kid that is not in your family.
All this time you’ve had suspicions.
You’ve heard and seen things that seemed
macabre or mad, Helter Skelter.
But then there was always
that part of your brain
bullying the other half,
applying Chinese torture,
a Full Nelson,
warning you to say “Uncle” or else,
teaching you what comes from
second guessing or wanting better.
Yet here they are,
the stars outside your window,
gathered like a crew of glittering voyeurs,
taunting you to make
something of them for once.
And when you don’t—
because you’ve learned to trust nothing,
not even the universe--
one star winks
while another jeers
until the whole lot
is tittering, convulsing,
the sky turned into a tray of
shifting tinsel jewelry,
fake, you think,
like everything in your life.

 

 

Monday, March 20, 2017


 
 
--YOU BUILD ME UP FROM BONES

  

Different Ghosts

Tonight the ghosts
are throwing punches again.
One has brass knuckles,
the other a razor wire wedding ring.
Jackson Pollack blood splatters across the walls.
Down the hall we huddle like a human tent
but there is no force field for this kind of thing
and the imagination can only do so much.
Little Sis screams, “Make them stop!”
My brothers don’t hear her, the ghosts don’t either.
They throw jabs, an uppercut, a haymaker.
The cupboards rattle as glass explodes against a water spout,
the trailer rumbling, trying to hide inside a sink hole.
More Jackson Pollack, this time chunky yellow vomit,
cracked teeth, broken fingernails,
bloody tufts of hair and scalp.
Little Sis asks, “How can ghosts bleed?”
I reach down and whisper in her ear,
“These are different ghosts. 
They’re not our parents.
They’re not.
Now say it after me. 
These are different ghosts.”

 

Broken Halos

The man was no one I knew
though he somehow knew me,
said, “Call me Uncle Buck,”
kept touching me, kept telling jokes
that were crude and not funny.
“Come on, kid, lighten up,
I’m giving you my best shit here.”
In Sunday School they said angels
are all around us, everywhere, if you can
just adjust your focus to find them.
But the only halo in this room
was broken in half, each gray semi-circle
dangling in a valley of mottled skin
under the man’s milky eyes.
When he told me
he knew ways to make a boy like me rich,
I abandoned God and flew through
the trailer door,
soaring over treetops and hills,
over Pasco, Spokane,
Falls Church and Mahwah,
flying to where I am right now,
so much older,
but breathing and alive.

 

Wishing Wells

My older brother
ran away at thirteen,
wound up somewhere south of North Dakota
breaking horses.
But there weren’t horses where we lived
so our mother broke children instead.
Single-file, couplets, one-at-a-time,
it didn’t matter.
A belt, a spatula, an eggbeater,
that didn’t matter either.
She was a pro who’d
finally found her passion,
inspired by some source of
evil I couldn’t comprehend.
What she never reached
was the well we’d made inside of us,
that long, dark slip of
sturdy, earthen walls where
we’d drop our pennies,
making wishes,
brave as hell perhaps,
or just young and ignorant enough
to believe they might
actually come true.

 

Off The Table

Two days after I’d visited and
said I would buy Dad a computer,
Mom called me at work
to say that idea was off the table.
He’ll only use it to watch pornography, she said,
the sick, kinky kind.
He spends every day in his shop
walking around wearing women’s clothes,
bras and wigs and high heels, she said.
He’s not what you think, she said.
So that notion about a computer,
it’s off the table, she said,
her voice so flat
it could have been a recording.
After I hung up
my assistant came in, frantic,
her face a blur of concern.
Everyone’s waiting for you, she said.
I asked who, what.
Have you lost your mind, she said,
there are two hundred people out there.
I gripped the edge of the desk,
watching the wood warp
and squirm inside my palms.
My assistant cleared her throat
and wrapped on the doorjamb.
Seriously, she said, this is not a joke. 
You’re holding things up.
I looked at the ceiling, at my feet
and shaking hands.
It might have been me
or someone else who said,
Tell them I’ve got the flu. 
Tell them laryngitis.
Tell them I’m in a coma.
Tell them I’ve switched companies.
Tell them.


Friday, March 17, 2017



 
--WHEN I THINK OF YOU YOU’VE STILL GOT ON THAT HAT THAT SAYS “LET’S PARTY”
 

 

…Yesterday another friend of mine died suddenly while gardening.  It was a shock to hear.  He wasn’t necessarily a close friend and I only saw him once or maybe twice a year, but still it was a railroad tie to the gut.
He was the ringleader for our fantasy football league, having started it 40 years ago, back when you’d have to get a newspaper and comb for stats, writing them down with pen and paper.  He loved football and he really loved the column I wrote each week with made up conversations (raunchy ones) between my wife and I.
When I think of him he’s always squinting through a smile.
He has a son and wife with a name I’ve always loved—Sunday.

…So there might be another funeral in my near future.
 
...Funerals do a lot of things.  Aside from honoring the person who’s passed, they tend to make you think about yourself.  You can say they don’t, but you’d be lying.
You assess the crowd and wonder who will show up when you die.
You think about yourself, your life, wondering if it was well-lived, if you grasped the right amount of happiness and for how long.  You wonder about the choices you made, the good ones and poor ones.  You wonder how much life you have left to live.

...Funerals suck and don’t suck. 
They’re a paradox—often it’s the only time you see certain people or talk to people you were once pretty close to.
There are tears, of course, but usually some laughter afterward.

…Ultimately, funerals are a sledgehammer to the head and heart reminding us that all we have are these seconds and minutes, that they’re fleeting, and so it behooves us to use them to the full.

…I am tired of death and I am tired of people I know dying, but I’ve rounded second base now, home plate isn’t that far astride, and so there’ll surely be more on the morrow.

...I'll miss you, Mike.  You were one of the good ones.

 
-“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” Susan Sontag


Thursday, March 16, 2017



 
--LOVE IS ALWAYS THIRSTY

 
…I read six books in San Diego—well, either in San Diego, or else to and fro.
They were all quite good in their own way, except maybe the last one.  Perhaps I didn’t get the last one.  In fact, I know I didn’t get it, not like I should have.
The book in question was the latest issue of “Poetry,” a journal that has been around since the 60’s, or thereabout.
It’s a thin volume but very dense, especially the many pages of commentary at the end that made me feel quite stupid, both as a reader of poetry and as a writer of it.
The author spent a great deal of time instructing.  He talked a lot about “unknowing” and sighted various famous poets to underscore his points, such as:

-“I confess to a desire to forget knowing, especially when I sit down to work on a poem.” Mark Strand

-“I hardly knew what I was writing; I just knew that the words were right.”  Elizabeth Bishop

-“To me, poetry has a duty not to know what it thinks.” Alice Oswald

Most of it confused me.  Shouldn’t poetry know what it thinks?  Shouldn’t a writer know what she wants her poem to convey, at least in some respects?
It made me feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. 
I certainly didn’t when I first started out, because back then everything I wrote rhymed, and they were pretty awful.

The first non-rhyming poem I wrote was a short little thing for a college girl I had a massive crush on:

Lady By The Sea

Beauty had never done as much,
nor the sea in all its wonder,
but you,
walking the beach barefoot and free,
have.

I liked it all right, and she did, too, or so she said, promptly requesting another.
Her second poem was inspired by birth control. 
At eighteen, I was still terribly na├»ve and thought birth control was similar to aspirin—something easily obtained without forethought.  When a friend explained that this was not so, I was a little spun out. 
I know how sexist this is/was, but I thought you became attracted to someone, then very attracted to them, before plotting sexual escapades.  (Again, I realize how ignorant and chauvinistic this makes me look.)
I guess I was just jealous to think this girl could/would/might have had sex with some other boy that wasn’t me if I hadn’t stumbled into the picture.
Anyway, I wrote this, which I thought was bitter irony, but which she thought was a fun little piece meant to induce chuckling.

The Pill

Take a pill,
swallow it first,
then some water to
quench your thirst.
Hop in bed,
your pleasure be,
no need to worry,
you’re pregnant free!

I hope my poetry has improved, but I’m having doubts.  (Most writers I know are insecure about their craft.)

In San Diego, I came about this darling girl and wrote:

Childlike

The child wearing a bug costume,
running through a maze
of waist-high hedges,
skipping and giggling,
this girl,
perhaps three or three and half,
she owns the sun
and sky and wonder
while the rest of the world waits,
desperately wanting her to own it as well,
if even just for a few days,
if even for a few brief moments
of unvarnished bliss.
Her laughter is an earthquake.
It rattles the thickest, tallest trees,
and plucked from their branches,
each leaf floats and free-falls,
for once unafraid of landing or death,
simply content to have witnessed,
by happenstance,
joy so pure and genuine.


At another point during the trip, I was transfixed by the ocean.  A lot was happening on the surface— streaming sailboats, cruise ships, ferries—but I saw the sea differently, and later, on the plane home, I wrote this:

Sea Sick

There is no threat of mutiny,
but then again, the sea
is capable of anything
when she is this blue,
this unhinged and misguided.
Look: even the gulls fly away.
Whales leap, trying to escape her embrace.
Clouds haven’t been seen in weeks.
And so she inhales and exhales,
shooting waves across her crest
in rippled, liquid curtains.
She opens her arms and swims,
treading water, face sun-scaled,
sweating algae and plankton
until that pale peace 
is stripped away.
Finally she holds her breath
and dives deep,
roaming the murky depths,
searching herself for evidence
of mistakes made, misplaced love,
the reason her life has become
so very vast yet devoid of meaning,
surrounded by beauty with
no one to share it.

I wrote other poems.  I’ll keep writing them.  Mine will never be all that clever.  You’ll be able to track what I’m trying to convey. 
They might not matter at all, and that might not be important.