Wednesday, February 26, 2014


…Later today I head downtown for the start of AWP.  10,000 writers will be there.  There’ll be an enormous book fair, panels, readings (I’m doing four), laughter, drinking, and lots of fun.
I can’t wait.  Some of my friends who will be there will be ones I haven’t seen since AWP was in Boston last year.
And I think it’s going to be sunny.
Hell yeah.

…Here’s one of my favorite fantastical stories that appeared a long time ago in Moon Milk Review:


            She steals.
            I watch her in the wine store.  Instead of going for a normal-sized bottle, she takes a showcased magnum shaped like a black missile. 
Somehow it stays inside her flouncy skirt.
On the counter is a silver platter with three, pie-shaped cuts of brie and a fan of domino crackers.  She filches the entire thing in one swift swoop.
            Outside I say, “You’re amazing.”
            “You need to stop telling me that crap.”
            “But you are.”
            “You just haven’t seen my dark side yet.”
            “You won’t let me.”
            “Well, it might help if you had corrective lenses.”
            We’ve been dating for two years.  Her name is Ivy.  Ink-black hair, cut-across bangs, thin lips that go pink when she’s excited, which is all the time.  I love her so much that I eat razors trying to muster up the right things to say.
            At the book store, Ivy waves her arm around and looks at me with wet eyes.  “Just think,” she says, “someday soon, this whole place will be a Kindle.”
            She steals Charles Baxter’s entire collection, some Beatty and then every Anais Nin.
            “Where do you put all that stuff?” I ask.
            “You weren’t listening.”
            “Yes, I was.”
            “Ah,” Ivy says, potato peeling forefinger-to-forefinger in a Shame-on-you motion, “but you didn’t believe.”
            Ivy claims she has been culled, that someone excavated her against her will.  She won’t say who or anything else, just that.
Once, while I was kissing her, Ivy said, “Go ahead, stick your arm all the way down my throat.”  I chuckled until I realized she was serious, then my jaw locked up.  “Shove it past my tonsil bell,” Ivy said. “See if you can reach down into my belly.  It’s just a big ol’ empty room anyway.”
            I told her to stop screwing around.  I punched her soft on the shoulder as if we were both second-graders.
            “I know you think I’m making this shit up,” Ivy said, “but I’m not.  I’m gutted.  I’m hollow.”
            She grabbed an arm, tried to force my hand into her mouth.  I told her now she was scaring me.
            “Okay,” Ivy said, “but if you forego the proof, then just stop doubting me.” 
            There are things Ivy won’t share.  She only talks about today or tomorrow, the future, never yesterday or before.  The past, she says, is a black hole just like her, so I need to get used to skipping it, or else get a new girlfriend.  Ivy nibbles my earlobe as she warns me, secreting saliva, yet I can tell she means the threat.
            One day we stop by a school.  “Let’s break in,” Ivy says.  I don’t want to, but I’m more afraid Ivy will leave me than I am of getting in trouble with the law.
I crack a window at the building’s north end, and we rummage through desks and leftover backpacks.  We stumble into the hall.  When we get to the band room, Ivy lights up, her lips so pink they border on magenta. 
She jumps over rows of seats to get to the instruments up front, takes a trumpet, two bongos and a tuba.  I don’t know where they go, but she’s got them and they’ve disappeared.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Ivy says.
At 7/11, Ivy steals a Slurpee machine.
At a gas station, she steals the debit card instrument panel.
At the pet store, she steals a school of fish and one obnoxious macaw.
At the zoo, Ivy opts for a wiry monkey, then a rhino that bolts to the end of the fence where Ivy dangles a bag of unshelled peanuts coated in Dijon mustard.
After each instance, I tell her the same thing.  “You’re amazing,” I say, wishing I had better words.
She kisses me like a wire brush on the lips and I feel fire. 
            One night we lay on the bed.  I rub Ivy’s stomach through her Syracuse sweatshirt.  Her flesh is flat, pliable.  She says, “Go ahead, push.”
So I do.  I obey. 
My hand sinks.  I force further, worrying I’m hurting her, until Ivy smiles and says, “It’s okay, really.  I don’t feel a thing.”
When Ivy rolls onto her side, I push also through her back until my hands would be touching if it weren’t for Ivy’s two skins.  “Told you,” she says.
            I blink.  My eyes burn.  I get it now.
I roll my cheek up against her neck like a cat, remembering the times Ivy would flinch at certain pronouns, or whenever we were around bald men wearing wire-rimmed glasses and wrist tattoos.
            Ivy says, “Your cheek feels good on my neck, like an important cloud.  That’s the best place for it.”
            I want to explain that no matter how hard she tries, Ivy’s not going to be able to fill what’s been uprooted.  I’d like to tell her that damage doesn’t have to be permanent, that theft can be atoned or forgiven, and that the only reason our planet still spins is because of grace.
            “Hey,” Ivy says, “are you crying?”
            “I’m okay.”
            “What’s up?”  Ivy tries to cock her head around, but I burrow my chin against her shoulder bone like a metal bookend.
            “Steal me,” I whisper. 
Ivy arches her back and I can see the flesh on her ear puckering.
When I say it again--“Steal me, instead”—Ivy takes my hand and puts it to her lips, just holds it there, gripping it tight.

Monday, February 24, 2014


…Hey, look, it’s Monday.  How was your weekend?

…My son and I spent two days watching the first seven episodes of American Horror Story, Season 2, Asylum.  Talk about creepy.  It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever seen on TV, maybe anywhere really.  It’s gory and ghastly, so well-acted, directed and written, plus it moves like an out of control freight train.
Watch it, but beware.

…Here are some less scary things I like to start the week: 

-"Why do poets think they can change the world?  The only life I can save is my own." Sherman Alexie

-"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

-"Now is the hour of miracles, when no one's watching." Erica Wright

-"I think that's how we leave, signaling our impostors to replace us." Erica Wright

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

-"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

-"Everyone takes everyone for granted." Joshua Ferris

-"Life on the open road is be alone, to have few needs, to be unknown, everywhere a foreigner and at home, and to walk grandly and solitarily in conquest of the world." Isabelle Eberhardt

-"The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them." Ralph Nichols

-"I do think so much of what writers wrestle with is our demons and our fears, and the dream world is dark, and it's not always painful, but it's mysterious." Andre Dubus III

-"If I had my life to live over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once a week." Charles Darwin

Friday, February 21, 2014


                                                           A Fair Exchange

To make it work, she borrowed babies, blue ones with bloated cheeks and the rheumy eyes of old men.  In the dressing rooms she crawled beneath the stall slits while customers examined themselves in mirrors, verbose salesclerks lurching over shoulders like bleach-blonde jack o’ lanterns.
The junk people carried around astonished her.  She'd been taught to ignore it, just grab cash, but still their oddity had a perverse attraction, like the strong pull of pornography, and so she kept some items: a gold-plated nail file, an old-fashioned opal broach with a rusted clip, day glow condoms, a paring knife, one lone shotgun shell.
She always brought the babies back by dusk.  The exchange was not dissimilar to summers when she'd unload gunny sacks of potatoes from her Uncle Ernie's truck.  Uncle Ernie with his Polish jokes, his ratchet laugh and carrot-thick fingers busy up inside her.
Now, one of the infants follows her movements as if it wants to be hypnotized. 
"He likes you," the mother or relative or whomever says.
The other babies blink and bawl at the sound of an adult voice somewhat happy.  
“He don’t like me,” she says, angry now.  “He’s starving.  Don’t you ever feed these kids?”
The babies go still.
She takes the baggy filled with bindles.  She can’t tell by their weight if it's a fair exchange.  Later when it's cooked up and boiling in her veins, she'll know for sure.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

                                                  A Car Ride of Second Chances

            It was my therapist’s idea.  Ordinarily, he merely listened, taking a note or two during our sessions, but I could tell my exhibitions of misery were frustrating him, which is why he came up with the suggestion last week.
            When I objected, he said, “Don’t forget, you’ve made mistakes in your marriage, too.”
            That poison dart stung.  I felt a moment of betrayal, but then realized the irony of my thinking—me, who’d been the unfaithful one.
            I call our lawyers before leaving, tell them my wife and I are just trying to get out of town for a couple of days, drive to Portland--where people are less likely to have heard the news.
            The second lawyer, the needling, suspicious one who often seemed to be on the prosecution’s side, said, “Check in.  Call when you get there and give me the hotel’s phone number.”
            He was a squat neckless blob, a human Jabba the Hut.  I imagined shoving a stick of dynamite down his throat and watching him choke on it right before all 300 pounds of him splattered across his mahogany office.  See, that’s what all this had done—turning me violent and resentful, into one batshit, childless husband.
            My wife gets into the SUV while I finish loading up.  I see the Millers across the street watching us through parted drapes.  When I give them my middle finger, they disappear, their curtains sashaying like randy ghosts.
            Ghosts.  I believe in them now.  Sometimes it takes a tragedy to open up your mind.  I see her ghost every day, several times a day.  She glides across the room, floats above my head, always swaddled tight like a cocoon.  I hear her gurgle and coo, feel her hot baby’s breath.  She never cries.  Never.
            Near Tacoma, the vehicle starts to rattle the way it has all month, although now there’s an added rumbling sound beneath my feet.  Just another one of our broken things, I think.  I turn the radio up louder, even though it’s a ridiculous rap song.
            My wife stares out the window, any number of thoughts going through her head, or maybe nothing at all.  Or maybe she’s reliving everything.
            Approaching Chehalis, I turn the radio off.  The car still sounds as if it’s going to collapse.  I say, “Hey.”
            She doesn’t turn and for a second I wonder if she might be sleeping.  When I lean forward to check, it’s too late.  The deer has loped onto the highway. 
            I brake hard, even though as I do it, I realize you’re supposed to hit the accelerator instead.  The animal slams into the fender—fur, hooves and horns--twirling in the air as if in slow motion.  I’m certain that it’s going to land on the windshield, break through the glass and crush us.  But it doesn’t.  Instead the deer drops onto the top of the SUV like a boulder, then rolls off the back end. 
            The car finishes its skid, squealing in a semicircle, spraying gravel from the side of the road.   The air smells like burnt rubber.  Over our heads, in the middle space between us, there’s now an inverted dome of metal from where the deer landed.
            “Are you okay?” I ask.
            My wife is pale, the color of faded lavender, and her chest heaves.
            “Are you all right?  Are you hurt?”
            She shakes her head, eyes the widest I’ve ever seen them.
            Police arrive less than ten minutes later.  They want to call an ambulance, but I won’t let them.  “We’re fine,” I say, “just a little shaken, is all.”
            When he checks my ID, the officer’s face corkscrews and I know he’s realizing who we are.  “Where you headed?” he asks, the inflection in his voice not unlike Jabba the Hut, my attorney.
            “Portland.  For a break, a getaway.  Just a couple of days.”
            “Your people know you’re going?”  I understand what he means.  This is unbelievable.  I feel myself ripen with anger.
            “My people?”
            “Lawyers and such.” 
            I want to tell him to go fuck himself.  I want to ram the door against him, break his hip or a few ribs.  Instead I say, “They do.”
            “Good idea.”
            He stares at me for a few seconds, but it feels longer.  Then he leans down, looks across at my wife.  “Sure you’re not injured?”
            “Just shaken,” I say again, and the officer chuckles.”
            The SUV won’t start, so the police write up some kind of note and stick it under a windshield wiper.  “Be a bitch of a bill, towing that all the way back to Seattle,” one of them says almost merrily.
            “I’ll have it towed to Chehalis, get it fixed there.”
            “Yeah,” he says, and I don’t know if it’s a question or if he’s agreeing with me.
            “Want a lift into town?” he asks.
            “We’ll call a cab.”  There’s no way in hell my wife and I are getting into the back of a squad car.
            “Sure?”  He’s disappointed.  Probably wanted to grill us on the ride in.  “Save you fifty, sixty bucks.”
            “I’m sure.”  If he doesn’t get the fuck away from me, I’m really going to whack him with the car door, get out and mash his face in with my boot.
            Finally he says, “Suit yourself,” then to his partner, “Let’s go, Bob.”
            In the rearview mirror, I watch them walk back to their cruiser.  “Can you believe those assholes?” I ask.  But my wife doesn’t answer because she’s started sobbing.

            At our hotel room, my wife sits in a chair by the window weeping silently.  She won’t stop and she won’t talk to me.  When I tell her I’m going for a walk, she doesn’t even bother to look up.
            There’s not much to see outside, the downtown area filled with feed stores and others that sell fertilizer and farming implements.  The sun is a ripe blister in the sky, its rays scalding my upraised face.  Almost blinded, I nevertheless walk up and down the streets for hours.
            I find a bar called “Last Chance Saloon”.  It feels like something out of frontier times.  I sit at the bar ordering whisky after whisky until the jukebox is drowned out by a jar of angry hornets scouring the inside of my skull.
            Back at the hotel, my wife’s still seated in the same spot, but she’s stopped crying.
            I sit on the edge of the bed next to her.
            “Hell of a day,” I say.  “Hell of a month.”  I sound like an idiot but I don’t know what else to say, and besides, I’m quite drunk.
            “I didn’t do it,” she says.  They’re the first words I’ve heard from her since yesterday. 
            “I told you I believe you.”
            “You don’t act like it.”
            “How am I supposed to act?  She’s dead.”
            “Everyone thinks I did it.”
            “We have lawyers.”
            “Why would I?  She was my baby, too.”
            “We’re going to have to learn to live with this eventually.”
            “What kind of mother would shake her child to death?  What kind of animal?”
            What kind of man would cheat on his pregnant wife? I think.
            It feels hotter in the room than it did outside.  My sweat-soaked shirt clings to my chest making it easy to see the rhythmic thudding of my heart.
            I slide off the mattress and kneel down in front of my wife.  Her hands, her cheek, her earlobes—everything trembles.
            “Look at me,” I say. 
            I reach over and lift her chin up.  Mascara is smeared down her cheeks like black scars.
            I don’t know if she did it on purpose or not.  The experts know.  But I tell myself I can live with it either way.  What I can’t do anymore is hide or lie.
            I take a gulp of air and swallow.  “I have something to tell you,” I say.

            I take my time.  I tell her everything.  Outside a stray siren wails in the distance while I wait for judgment, punishment or forgiveness.  Anything to set us right.

Monday, February 17, 2014


…It’s Monday but it doesn't feel like it.
How does it feel to you?

…Here are some things I like to start a new week:

-"It's much better to attempt to trust people until they prove you wrong."

-“After fifty years of living, it occurs to me that the most significant thing that people do is go to work, whether it is to go to work on their novel or at the assembly plant or fixing somebody's teeth." Thomas McGuane

-"Build gaps in your life.  Pauses.  Propper pauses.
-"I can't imagine twenty years ahead because I'm sort of here right now." - Thom Yorke"

-Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see the greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself.
Edmund Lee

-"We live in a world where it is more dramatic to lose your phone than your virginity." Megan Fox

"You get whichever accomplishment you are willing to declare." Georgia O'Keeffe

"The people you love become ghosts inside of you and like this you keep them alive." Kacia Domay

"Don't worry.  Everything is going to be amazing."

"My motto was to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was to keep swinging." Hank Aaron

"... I'll be happy here and happy there, full
of tea and tears ..."
-- Frank O'Hara
"The trouble is, you think you have time." Buddha

"To get the full value of joy you must have somebody to divide it with." Mark Twain

"I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade." James Stockdale Commenting on his 8 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, during which he was tortured over 20 times.

"We write to say there is no them. There is only us." Luis Alberto Urrea

"The greatest virtue in the world is action." Nick McDonell, "The Third Brother"

“I would quit while you’re ahead. Really. It’s an awful field. Just torture. Awful. You write and you write, and you have to throw almost all of it away because it’s not any good. I would say just stop now. You don’t want to do this to yourself. That’s my advice to you.”  Phillip Roth (I think he was being sarcastic.  I hope he was anyway.)

Friday, February 14, 2014


…It’s Friday and it’s Valentine’s Day.  I hope you’re spending it with someone special.  I don’t feel all that romantic right now.  So let’s keep things light.
Here are some of my favorite musings from Facebook friends last week:

-Uncle Ben has died. No more Mr. Rice Guy.”

-I learned yesterday that some women shave their faces because of the light peach fuzz we have because, well, we're mammals and we grow hair.
I never knew any women shaved their faces. Am I just some kind of old out of touch relic? I mean, well, I have to say, WTF?
Yeah, WTF?

-If prisons let prisoners take their own mug shots, are they "cellfies?"

-Most frank license plate ever, seen today in Bellevue, WA: IH8 PPL

-Dear five year old kid who just called and asked to swap naked pictures with me: Don't.

-Can't stop thinking about pancakes.

-Daughter 2: Mom! I'm becoming a real person!
Me: how is that?
D2: I spilled some granola on the floor and I am actually sweeping it up.
Me: wow! You ARE becoming a real person.
D2: But I only swept it underneath the refrigerator, so the journey is not yet complete.

-I just peed continuously for 2.5 minutes. I timed it.

-I hate seeing white people have fun.

-Just got to say this to someone: "10 inches of snow is pussy snow"

-I am 24. You are unimpressed.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


…We’re supposed to be getting some big wind storms here, beginning tonight.  When I was a young boy I used to love to go out to the woods behind our trailer where we lived.  I had a favorite spot; it was a hill that flattened out on top and there were wild blackberry plants that rimmed it.  On windy days, I’d lie down on the ground and listen to the breeze moving through all the Evergreen trees.  It was almost like being on drugs.
While I still enjoy the frenetic sound of the wind on stormy days, I worry about trees falling onto the house because a few have toppled across the lawn in the last couple years.
But I guess you’re going to go when you’re going to go.

…Anyway, here are some things I like on a Wednesday:

-"Gentlemen, why don't you laugh?  With the fearful strain that is upon me night and day, if I did not laugh, I should die."  Abraham Lincoln

-"Sometimes one creates as significant an impression by remaining silent." Dalai Lama

-“What good are insights? They only make things worse.”  Raymond Carver

-"Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible." Charles Caleb Colton

-“A great pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.”- Walter Bagehot

-"To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of leave the world a better  know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded." Ralph Waldo Emerson

-"The world is a hellish place and bad writing is destroying the quality of our suffering." Tom Waits

-“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” ― Henry David Thoreau

-"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." -T. S. Eliot

-"You get whichever accomplishment you are willing to declare." Georgia O'Keeffe

‎-"Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard." —Anne Sexton

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

-“I don’t do drugs.  I am drugs.”  Salvador Dali

-“I have always loved too much, or not enough.” Dorianne Laux

-"The world is moved not only by the mighty shoves of the heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker." Helen Keller

-"Whatever job I'm doing I try to do the best I can with it and enjoy it for what it is and what it entails. I passed the time in the shoe shop by trying to be the best damn shoe salesman in the whole of New Jersey.  The fact that I didn't succeed and ended up washing the coffee cups in the kitchen didn't really matter. I just tried to get those coffee cups the cleanest they'd ever been. Playing in the band was another job.  The only difference was, I was finally doing the one thing that I had any aptitude for." Jon Bon Jovi,

Monday, February 10, 2014


…We had snow over the weekend.  I wish you could see how beautiful it looks dusted across the frozen surface of the lake with a few randy ducks either swimming on the edges or strutting across the ice.
It’s nice to be able to enjoy the beauty of a good snowfall.  When I was in the corporate world, snow equated to disaster for business and thus I always feel into a funk when it would snow.  I also used to pray for rain on the weekends because that was best for business.  It’s perverse, but true.
Now it’s nice to be a normal human.

…Yesterday, I spent a good part of the day writing poetry, much of it about what I was looking at outside my window, and all of it, of course, a little sad:

Fighting The Monster

I am trying to write the voices down
but they caterwaul in spirals,
in echoes rimmed with barbwire,
boomeranging back to me the way your small arms never do.

Yesterday I found one of your socks.
It was striped, purple and green,
the heal nearly worn through
and I recalled how much you loved to skip.
Your mother was out,
but it didn’t matter.
All the same I knelt down in the closet,
weeping, shipwrecked and gutted again,
and that’s when the voices began anew,
screaming accusations,
shouting, “You should have been there!”
asking, “What kind of parent leaves their six year old alone
with a monster?”
I never have answers.
My only defense is retreat up here,
to your room
where I used to read you stories each night.
I sit on the edge of your bed,
pen in hand,
paper on my lap.
I write and I write.
I tell you how sorry I am
and how much I will always miss you.

Ghost Girls

Your shadow fell upon my window
late last night
and I could tell from the outlines that you were wearing
the same dress you had on when you fell,
the one with red polka dots that made you look like a six year old lady bug.
I was afraid to rise because you always flea when I do,
so I watched your ghost shimmy across the glass like a pair of gray wings.
I watched you hover and shudder,
thinking maybe ghosts get cold, too.
Branches scraped across the panes
and it was if you were trying to tell me something,
that life loses its mystery if you’re standing on the edge and only looking down.
Your mother said I could have caught you if I believed in magic,
and that being fifty and breathing is hardly enough to save a soul,
let alone a marriage.
Still I try to convince myself
that you had to fly,
that being airborne and free
is the only option
for the women I love.


We have been waking up to walking.
Yes, I know how odd that sounds,
but it’s true.
Each morning when our eyes open we are already mobile,
moving down empty streets or traipsing through the barren foothills
that skirt the edges of existence.
We might be the sole survivors,
actors in another dystopian film,
and yet there must be answers somewhere,
concrete reasons why we failed the planet who
gave us so much.


Young Fugitives

We walked across the lake,
not worried about the thickness of the ice,
moving at an urgent pace,
like thieves on the run.
It felt as if nothing mattered but a way out.
You said, “There are people who will love us somewhere,”
and I wanted to believe you but we were so young then.

As we reached the other side,
a deer watched us scrabble to the shore
and I recall admiring how calm and brave
the animal appeared,
alone in a world so cold.

You were two years older
so you took my hand and I let you this one time.
I was certain we were lost,
but you pulled out a map and said,
“It’s just miles, is all.  Miles til we find love.”


Stilted Beauty

In the morning I find the lake frozen,
encrusted with a jagged gray lid,
a few randy ducks floating near the edges,
some tottering over the ice
like drunken drifters on the moon.
I search from end to end
using binoculars to scan the farthest stretches.
In a yard on the north side, a snowman leans forward as if fainting.
Outside children toss rocks trying to puncture the shelf.
Smoke slithers from chimneys,
while tree branches sag and mope under the strain of so much snow.
Years ago I would have been captivated by all this stilted beauty,
but today it’s just another reminder of how lonely life is

without you.