Monday, July 24, 2017



 
--HELLO DARKNESS, MY OLD FRIEND

 
Planted

Mother you have
Planted me
In the shadow of
Your garden
Our biographies mix
In the soil
The hairy roots
Around us grow clammy
One wrapping its talon
Around my neck
While your eyes
Become two full moons
Excited and curious
To see how I’ll react
Or if I even can

 

You and the Moon

You like the moon so much
Because it can’t touch
Because it is out of reach
Looking surreal when she’s full
Surreal when she’s gone bulimic
You ask her for favors the way
Some people bargain with God when
They pray and are a little self-focused
You ask the moon how it felt to have
Those men bouncing around on her recently
Playing golf or exploring
You ask her what comes after age nine
Because time isn’t reliable
Nothing is
You ask the moon if it’s okay to
Hate a person
Someone who’s supposed to be
Close to you
Say someone blood-related
Say a parent
And after all that back and forth
And after making up answers to
Your own questions
You trudge back home through the night
Wishing the ground would split open
And suck you down

 

What If I Am Wrong

What if I am all wrong
If I misremembered
Tried to revise history for my benefit somehow
My wife kind of thinks so
Or at least she believes I’m prone to exaggeration
I’ve heard hypnotists can convince
Their patients of almost anything
Maybe those screams were merely laughter
Giggles signaling happiness
Perhaps those bruises were sunsets
Hoping someone would appreciate them



Saturday, July 22, 2017



 
--I COULD USE A LOVE SONG


                                                                  Chickens
 

            I am five or six and Mother is showing my brothers how to butcher chickens.  They corral the squirming birds and Mother stretches each one’s neck across a tree stump, raises her butcher knife and slashes down hard as black blood sprays the weeds.  Once in a while she lets my brothers kick the headless carcasses in the ass, my brothers hooting while the dismembered chickens flop down the slope that leads to our trailer.

            We have an early dinner where one of the butchered birds is served.  The meat tastes like clay and I keep gagging.  Mother says I will be whupped if I don’t finish my plate, but I can’t eat, so she gets out the strap to fulfill her promise.

            Another day I watch Mother in the kitchen sifting through a box of wigs, trying them on over her real hair.  There are blonde wigs and brunette wigs, some curly or straight, others blunt cuts.  Once she’s selected her favorite and clipped it into place, Mother sprays perfume in the air and walks through the mist looking like a mannequin. 

            The man who picks her up drives a car instead of a truck, and it has no dents.  He wears a sweater with buttons and a black and white diamond pattern.  He tries to peek inside our trailer, but Mother closes the door fast, her voice sounding different when she greets him, as if she’s actually happy.

            After she’s gone, my brothers and I go outside because it’s summer and the sun stays up late into the evening.  Both Robbie and John grab their bb guns and start shooting at me, so I run.  A couple of pellets nick me, one sticking in my neck like a dart.  I dash through the lot behind our trailer, past abandoned refrigerators and rusted oil barrels.  I bury myself under a compost pile, leaving just enough room to breathe.  I hear my brothers yell my name, telling me come out of hiding, calling me a chicken, saying if I don’t come out, I’m really going to get it.  I let them go on until they give up, and even still, I wait beneath the rot.

 

            I am forty-six and my mother’s dead body sits inside the wooden box four feet away in front of me.  Robbie and John are slumped beside me sobbing, while I can’t muster a tear to save my life.  I’ve flown two thousand miles to be here, but I could be anywhere. 

            Once the funeral services are over, the three of us stand in a parking lot.

            Robbie blows his nose into a crumpled hanky and says, “Hell, let’s grab some chow.”

            “Yeah,” John says, “and Hot Shot here can pick up the tab.”

            I tell them I’m not hungry.  I say I like to eat alone.  I get in my car and drive.

 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017



 
--MY MIND DRAWS A BLANK EVERY TIME I THINK OF SOMETHING OTHER THAN YOU

         

…This was just out from Sherman Alexie.  It sounds so much like my own mother, with a few deviations.  I found it very touching and brave…


           If you're reading this open letter then you're probably aware that I recently published a memoir, You Don't Have to Say You Love Me. The memoir is mostly about my relationship with my late mother, Lillian Alexie. She was a complicated and difficult person. She was sometimes cruel and often cold. I loved her, yes, but I sometimes hated her, too. She was brilliant, funny, beautiful, generous, vindictive, deceitful, tender, manipulative, abusive, loving, and intimidating. She was one of the last fluent speakers of our tribal language. The language is being taught again. And that's wonderful and life-giving. But when my mother died, she took with her so many words, stories, and songs that will never be heard again. Lillian was a storyteller in Spokane and English. She was also a quilter, an amazing artisan and artist. She was industrious and visionary.
          And, after writing this memoir, I am able to proudly admit that I inherited many of my mother's best qualities and ruefully confess that I also inherited many of her worst.
         I am my mother's son.
         Lillian haunted me when she was alive. And she has haunted me since her death in July, 2015.
         And she has haunted me in spectacular ways since I published my memoir a month ago. She has followed me from city to city during my promotional book tour.
         On three consecutive nights, in three different cities, police and ambulance sirens rang out as I told the story about the moment I learned of my mother's death.
         In another city, in a hotel whose decor can best be described as Bram Stroker's Ikea, I stepped out of the elevator to see a handmade quilthanging on the wall. Why was such a quaint piece of Americana being displayed in such a trendy hotel?
         "Hello, Mom," I said to that quilt each time I walked by it.
         Last night, as I returned to Seattle, I stepped off my plane to see an airport valet waiting with a wheelchair for one of my fellow passengers. That valet held a sign with a familiar name—a name that made me laugh. That valet was waiting to ferry somebody named Lillian.
         As I write in the memoir, I don't believe in ghosts, but I see them all the time.
         As I also write in the memoir, I don't believe in magic, but I believe in interpreting coincidence exactly the way you want to.
         I don't believe in the afterlife as a reality, but I believe in the afterlife as metaphor. And my mother, from the afterlife, is metaphorically kicking my ass.
         Two weeks ago, during a private academic event, I was speaking to a man from another country. The room was crowded and busy and loud. That man and I had to raise our voices in order to hear each other.
         I loudly told him about my memoir. I loudly told him about my tribe. I loudlytold him about my mother. I loudly told him that she was a ghost who haunted me.
         And then, suddenly, all of the conversations in the room stopped. The silence was abrupt and surprising. Thirty strangers were acutely aware of this awkward silence. Thirty strangers laughed together.
         "Sherman," the man from another country said to me. "In my culture, when those kind of silences happen, we say that God just passed by."
         "That's beautiful," I said.
         The man talked about his tribe. Then he asked me more about my tribe,
         "Sherman," he said. "Your tribe's name, Spokane, what does it mean?"
         I said, "It means 'Children of the Sun.'"
         At that moment, the gray summer clouds parted and a bolt of sunlight shot through a small window and illuminated me.
         I narrowed my eyes against the glare.
         But my new friend, the man from another country, looked at the light and said, "Ah, Sherman, I think your mother just arrived. It is good to meet her."
         I laughed. But I wanted to sob. I did sob later that night. I have been sobbing many times a day during this book tour. I have sobbed in private and I have sobbed onstage.
         I have been rebreaking my heart night after night. I have, to use recovery vocabulary, been retraumatizing myself.
         Last week, I fell ill with a terrible headcold and had to cancel events in Tulsa and Missoula. But I also fell ill with depression. I medicated my headcold. I quickly healed from that simple malady. But I couldn't medicate my sadness—my complicated grief.
         I sobbed and sobbed, and then I got on another airplane amd continued my book tour.
         But then, in the fifteenth or twentieth hotel room of this summer, I dreamed.
         In this dream, I entered the movie, Smoke Signals, and became Victor Joseph as he ran through the night to save a woman injured in a car wreck. I ran through the desert night. I ran through fire and the memory of fire. I ran until my feet bled. I ran until dawn. I ran until I collapsed exhausted to the road.
         In the movie, the collapsed Victor Joseph reaches toward a vision of his dead father. But it is a hallucination. Victor is actually reaching toward a highway construction worker.
         In my dream, I am the one fallen to the road. And I reach toward a vision of my dead mother. But she is also the highway construction worker. And she is holding a sign that says STOP.
         I think the meaning of that dream is obvious.
         It means I am supposed to stop this book tour. Because of the short notice, I'll still perform at my gigs in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco this month. But I am cancelling all of my events in August and I will be cancelling many, but not all, of my events for the rest of the year,
         Dear readers and booksellers and friends and family, I am sorry to disappoint you. I am sorry that I will not be traveling to your cities to tell you my stories in person.
         But I will be writing.
         When I told Diane, my wife, about my mother's ghost and about my plans to cancel so many events, she said, "Maybe it's your mother taking care of you from Heaven."
         "Maybe," I said.
         "But I think it's probably your subconscious taking care of the rest of you. I think it's probably you being a good mother to yourself. You are mothering you."
         So here I am—the son and the mother combined—who needs to take a big step back and do most of my grieving in private. My memoir is still out there for you to read. And, when I am strong enough, I will return to the road. I will return to the memoir. And I know I will have new stories to tell about my mother and her ghost. I will have more stories to tell about grief. And about forgiveness.
         But for now, I can only apologize again for my unexpected retreat. And I thank you, over and over again, for your time, energy, and understanding.



 

Monday, July 17, 2017



 
--BACK UP, MOVE ON, AND GO DESTROY SOMETHING ELSE

 

Juxtaposed

Sun high
Cloudless sky
Perfect day in every way
I should be outside basking
Instead of inside
Watching the lake smooth then ripple
Pondering how much damage a
Belt buckle can do

 

An Education

The lady I babysat for
Would be called a MILF today
Polaroids of her in the arms of Ricky Nelson
Covered the fridge along with a handmade calendar
After the kid was asleep I got nosey
Made my way into the bedroom
Under the mattress was a copy of The Kama Sutra
And The Joy of Sex
I had never thought of Joy and Sex
Being partners and comfortable together
Though the illustrations made that seem possible
In the nightstand drawer was a lilac-colored
Vibrator that rattled when I turned it on
Startling me like a slap from God
It smelled like stale honey
The tip carved like a large tooth
And bearing pale flecks of dried residue
I wondered what she thought when she used it
What sounds she made
If she shuddered or remained passive
Up until then I’d never admired a woman more
When she came home later than expected
I couldn’t look her in the eye
I must have spent the money she paid me on something
But for the life of me I can’t remember what

 

Artificial Insemination

The cattle wouldn’t breed
So a man came
Dad told me to watch
This is one way you grow up
The man put on a latex glove
Squirting yellow syrup over his hand
He plunged it into the cow’s hind part
Where there were two openings
I wondered why he was so rough
Kathy, our cow, coughed and
Jerked her head up
Brown eyes big as saucers
I wondered why she didn’t kick
The man’s hand dug and probed
And Kathy shat a messy pile
Fucking happens every time, the man said
When it was over Dad wrote out a check
And the two of them took turns
Downing shots of something
That must have burned
Laughing like delinquents
In the barn where light
Ran through splits in the wood
Like the tease of hope
I’d sometimes feel
When they left
I asked Kathy how she was doing
But she never answered
She didn’t say a word
Wouldn’t even look at me
But I rubbed the long bone
By her snout just the same
Telling her there are other people
In the world who are not so cruel
And that she should let her calf know that
When she arrived into the world

 

Voice Box

They were always stripping things away
Sometimes in the shade
And other times in the wide open
Our dog was a nuisance
Its barking bothered the neighbors
Who had nothing else to do but complain
I worried they’d have it killed but instead
A man came and did some surgery
Removing a voice box saying
There.  That should do the trick.
At night when it got windy
I could hear the dog out in the yard trying
To warn or defend us
Coughing at the pale moon
Trying so hard to be heard and noticed



Friday, July 14, 2017



 
--YOU GOTTA LOVE LIKE THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A BROKEN HEART

…Hey Friday, you sure got here in a hurry.

…Over the week, I kept getting offers to better my life.  The only thing is I don’t think the senders know much about my life.

Here are some actual emails (headers) that came my way:

BECOME PREGNANT WITH OUR SPECIAL CHINESE FORMULA!

BUILD AWESOME FURNITURE YOURSELF!

LEARN THE PIANO IN JUST MINUTES A DAY!

TEACHING YOURSELF THE GUITAR IS AS EASY AS FLOSSING YOUR TEETH!

REGROW YOUR HAIR IN JUST 60 DAYS!

BUILD THE ULTIMATE CHICKEN COOP!

BUILD YOUR OWN MODEL TRAIN SET!

BECOME A SEDUCTION SPECIALIST!  GET WOMEN TO WANT YOU IN THE WINK OF AN EYE!!!

WANT THAT TATTOO GONE?  NO PROBLEM!

LEARN HOW TO COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR CAT!

THINK YOU’RE FAT?  YOU MIGHT JUST BE BLOATED!  TRY OUR SPECIAL BELLY-FLATTENING REMEDY TODAY!

DISCOVER THE SECRET “CAMP FIRE” EFFECT THAT DRAWS MEN TO YOU!

..Lastly, this was one of the more bizarre news stories I’ve read.  Seems kind of amazing.  Have a wonderful weekend:

        ...A police officer driving near the waterfront in Corpus Christi, Tex., Wednesday afternoon was waved down and given an unusual tip: an ATM was dispensing handwritten notes scribbled with an existential appeal — “please help.”

 It had to be a joke, the responding officers believed. A Bank of America ATM pitting emergency notes with cash and receipts sounded like an absurdly constructed plot of a gotcha live television show. Then the machine starting talking.

“Sure enough, we can hear a little voice coming from the machine,” Corpus Christi police officer Richard Olden said.

The officer kicked down the door to reveal the author of the notes. A man, hidden behind the machine, was locked in the service room that housed the ATM. He began scribbling notes to the outside world in an analog version of The Wizard of Oz bellowing from behind a curtain.

The man was there to repair a door lock, which got the better of him, Corpus Christi police spokesman Lt. Chris Hooper told The Washington Post. The contractor, whose name and company were not released, had left his phone and a device needed to open the door from the inside.

The repairman wrote “several” pleas for help to people using the drive-through ATM, but it’s unknown how many notes were passed on to citizens. One note collected by a local news station read: “Please help. I’m stuck in here, and I don’t have my phone. Please call my boss,” with the number written below.

Police freed the man, but since there was no crime committed, details and records are slim, Hooper said. Officers on the scene said they believed the man was trapped for two hours.

 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017



 
--WHAT?  WHAT?

 
…This poem was published yesterday:

https://inbetweenhangovers.wordpress.com/2017/07/11/shrink-to-fit-by-len-kuntz/

…And I got seven of the pieces below accepted at Nailpolish Stories.  Can you guess which ones?
 

In Stitches

Her breasts lay in the trash somewhere.  He didn’t care.  It was her heart he wanted.  To prove it, he kissed each stitch with tenderness.

 
Skirting the Issue

The scratch marks resembled a polygraph test and she smelled of her lover again.  In bed she yawned, said, “Love you,” nodding off at once.
 

Trophy Wife

He bought her a new chest, new nose, had her skin pulled taut until she was prettier than the last one, fake but easily adored.
 

Play Date

After the divorce, their sex is better than ever.  The bedroom rumbles.  His Ex showers quickly, says, “I’m so glad we’re not in love anymore.” 
 

Off the Wall

She said, “It’s me, not you.  Besides, we were too young.”  The last photograph you burn is a honeymoon shot, bride and groom on fire.
 

With the Band

They call her Penny Lane, take turns.  One throws up on a guitar, another brakes a snare.  She’s meat but she’s also their biggest fan.


Carnival

His dad is The Strong Man, shocking spectators with his might, having bills tossed his way.  At home, he sharpens his knuckles on each kid.


Secret Stories

Tight as a corset, her wedding dress itched, but they recited vows anyway, one of them lying, the other already looking for a way out.
 

The Girls Are Out

Initiation into Gamma Phi meant a van full of frat boys.  Her sorority sisters said they’d each done it.  They opened the door and watched.
 

Sure Shot

The house sits empty now, so he fondles the pistol the way he once did his Ex, the searing bullet hot as her last kiss. 
 
 

 

Monday, July 10, 2017



 
--I WANT TO GIVE YOU MY PHONE NUMBER, BUT YOU ALREADY HAVE IT
 

…I am as flawed as the next person.  Most likely more so.  In fact, have so many flaws, no one would pluck me off the rack at a thrift store even if my price was FREE!

Yet what’s interesting to me as I get older is that the fixation with physical appearance heightens rather than lessens. 

This weekend I was with a few people I hadn’t seen in a while.

A number of them said, “You look really good.”  I know they meant that as a compliment, but later that night I wondered what that really meant.  Like, if I didn’t look good, if I’d put on a few, lost my hair, had gotten into an auto accident where my face got scarred, what would they say then?  And why does it even matter?  Or were they saying, “You look really good,” meaning, “You look really good for someone your age”?  And if that was the case, again, why should it matter?  It’s all subjective anyway.  It’s all comparative.  Is looking really good that important?  Being healthy is, sure.  Maybe if they knew how unhealthy I am they’d take back their compliment.

And I know it was only awkward small talk, but, anyway, it got me thinking, which is something I do far more than I should.

…This weekend I was at a wedding.  It was a beautiful day and took place in a verdant setting on a lawn under a massive pine tree whose trunk was wider than a Volkswagen Beetle parked length-wise.

The couple was young and very much in love.  You could see it in their eyes and faces.  I hadn’t seen another couple that in love in a long time.  It was adorable and inspirational.  I hope they hold onto it.

...I saw some really darling kids.  Some could have been models, others were messy-faced with sticky hands, others couldn’t stop giggling which got me giggling.  I think giggling is one of the cutest things ever.

…I saw scads and scads of hipsters, none over the age of 30.  It’s as if rather than checking I.D. to see if you’re old enough to get in, at the outskirts of the Pearl District in Portland they check I.D. to see if you’re young enough to be allowed in.

These hipsters looked very fresh and clean.  Most had cool hair styles.  90 percent of them had tattoos.  Not a one looked like the depressed Millennial generation I’ve just recently heard about.  Perhaps I got some bad intel.

…I passed a daycare center called Pipster School.  I thought that was pretty darling.  Never heard of a Pipster, but of course that would originate from Portland.

…I saw a lot of homeless people.  Most were talking to themselves animatedly.  Many of them looked quite angry and a tad threatening.

…I saw a building with a colorful heart painted on the door and above it the words LOVE IS HERE along with an arrow painted toward the doorknob.  I wondered if the homeless people knew about this building and what would happen if they walked in.

…There were so many things to see my neck got a little sore from constantly turning and tilting.  It was wonderful.

I hope your weekend was as well.

Thanks so much for being here.  Truly.

 

Friday, July 7, 2017



 
--IF I CAN’T FEEL YOUR PRESENCE, LET ME FEEL THE LACK

  
No One Tells the Truth Anymore

There are roads here that lead to cliffs
and people know things they will never share
even if threatened at gun point.

Someone told me white is no longer a color,
but how about black?
I know what became of Pluto,
stripped of its rank after so many flat-lined years.

I can’t be bothered by any of that.
I’m busy crushing daisies,
counting the creases in my skin,
jailhouse hash marks of the days
I’ve been
without you.

 

Everyone Knows You’re Famous

All my friends are talking about leaving,
yet you’re sitting pretty in a pool of pancake syrup. 
I never understood why you were such a glutton.
Guardian angels hike up their skirts.
Little girls give each other identical war wounds.
Billboards and pool boys have each taken turns with your face
while I wear my broken bone structure
like ragged skeins of wool.

You needn’t worry so much.  People have comebacks all the time
and grace is gotten cheap these days.
Just look at your last man who
hung himself from that tree.
 

 
Nobody Wins

Across state they are shooting at the moon.
I’m never sure who is right and who is wrong
because I tend to crumple when unfairly ambushed.

My Dad’s clan were strong people.
Calluses like mitts.  Eyes that could cut cords of wood.

When I fell in love the first time
my sister said, “I should slap your face.”

All my choices have come with warning labels lately.
There could be a refuge for people who dance hard,
but I’ll never know.

In some countries monkey brain is a delicacy.
Here, we stiff arm cows while
hillbillies shoot down the moon
just to see whose side it’s on.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


 

--I HAVE NO INTEREST IN CORNERING THE MARKET ON SADNESS
 

…It’s hard to overstate how relentless and massive the fireworks are on the lake the night of July 4th.  It’s shock and awe, very much like warfare.  Cannons going off, kites of bright lights shimmering, smoke genies wafting away.  It’s difficult not to appreciate it, but I like fireworks only slightly more than I like guns.  And while my dog is fine with them, I know most animals are terrified by fireworks.  I guess if you want to spend $3,000 blowing things up, that’s your prerogative.  I just don’t get why people buy the type that only makes a terrific booming sound that has me jerking every time.  What’s the point of that?  One house across the lake must have set off over fifty of them.

What was nice was the boat parade where every vessel has a flag and they make the loop waving and cheering.  This year was the most boats I’ve ever seen.

Anyway, Happy belated Independence Day to you.  I hope it was terrific.

…If you live on a lake, you have to get used to spiders.  Usually it’s mid-August where the pesky buggers show up everywhere.  For the last two days a very spry and very fast moving black spider, smaller than an eraser head, has been roaming my desk.  I just tried to catch him, but he must have known and scooted under my screen stand before I had the chance.

…Yesterday, running on The Centennial Trail, I saw lots of snakes, most of them dead.  Today I only saw butterflies.  I think that’s a good sign.  On the way back, there two of the smallest and cutest does standing stock still in the middle of Storm Lake Road, me on one side, another car on the opposite side.  They looked sort of confused, but not scared.  After they trotted off, I noticed one had a blanket of white dots in its fur.  I think that’s also a good sign, or it should be.

…It’s another beautiful day here, payback from three months of historic rainfall earlier in the year.  I hope the sun is shining where you are and that you’re enjoying it.

…Here are a few things I like mid-week….

-“Everything you can imagine is real.” ― Pablo Picasso

-“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.” ― Gilda Radner

-“The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” ― Isaac Asimov

-“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.” ― John Lennon

-“People aren’t either wicked or noble. They’re like chef’s salads, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict.” ― Lemony Snicket

-“Too many people spend money they earned..to buy things they don’t want..to impress people that they don’t like.” ― Will Rogers

-“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” ― George Bernard Shaw

-“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.” ― Arundhati Roy


Monday, July 3, 2017



--I JUST SHIVER AND SHAKE

 
It’s Not Too Late

It’s not too late
The moon and the clouds and
The bees have told me this
Time and time again
Swirling heady and drunk
Amongst the bright pink buds
And floral mist
Yesterday a baby took its first breath
With heavy-hooded eyes and yet
There was joy all around
It’s a crocked child
But it’s ours
Thank God
Yesterday a couple held
Hands making bold promises
With no thoughts at all of a pre-nup
Believing that love can
Fulfill its promise
Oh and just yesterday a
Zebra barely escaped
The fierce flight of a lion
A heron stood proud
In a pool without knowing it
And a hippopotamus snorted out Nile water
In a raucous plume
Life has an undertow
A way about it
As most things do
Stuffed with complex riddles
Of course
And foibles a plenty
But if I know anything at all
I know that it’s not too late
To find a field of clover
Lay down in it
Tilt my head toward
The shaggy clouds
And wait for you
To arrive