Monday, July 31, 2017



                                                              Last Words

Another one’s set to die today and as usual my stomach’s a swamp of nausea.  I forget I’ve poured a bowl of cereal, staring out the window at a wall of gray rain, hypnotized by nothing and everything, the way it feels when you’re in a broken marriage, and now my spoonful of Wheaties tastes like wet newsprint.

“You could get another job,” my husband says, reading my mind again which I hate because there are plenty of things I’d rather not have him knowing.  “It doesn’t pay squat anyway.”

So he says.  He always says.

We’ve got bills, a car loan, his big ass truck loan, can barely pay the minimum on our credit cards, with interest piling up every month, constantly gnawing at me like some hideous flesh-eating disease. 

Well, if Texas wants to kill again, someone’s got to be there to record it, and I’m their gal.

Far as I know we’re the only state that chronicles a condemned criminal’s last words.  It feels wrong, perverted, like watching your sibling undress, yet it’s legal and actually required.  I write down their final statement word for word and enter it into a computer where it sits in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice data base, free for anyone to see, though why on earth would they want to?

A lot of times the inmate thanks the Warden, which I don’t get.  He’s the one organizing your execution, and he’s looking the other way as he does it, which again is like being in a bad marriage where you know your spouse is cheating but you’re just too tired to fight, or too frail to run.

The other thing most of them do is say goodbye to friends and family, which is what you’d expect.  Sometimes they confess a secret sin they’ve been harboring and the relief on their face as they confess is the opposite of the death they’re facing, as if they’ve escaped from prison after all.

We’ve been married going on twelve years.  I suspect Darold’s philandering started about year seven which I know they say is when couples get the itch.  I never got that, though Darold did once give me the crabs.  Said it was from a toilet seat.  I looked it up on the internet and it’s a possibility, though slim as winning Powerball.

My sister, Arlene, doesn’t understand why I stay with him but she’s got a good man who still buys her yellow roses and gave her the one-of-kind nickname Renny, which I think is downright adorable, especially when he says it while fluffing up her mop of orange hair.  Darold’s called me Bitch more times than my own name, Tammy.  He’s come close, but he’s never hit me, so there’s that.

The thing Arlene doesn’t understand is how different we are, even though she and I are twins.  It’s like that line in the movie, “The Way We Were” where the teacher reads a winning story that Barbra Streisand is sure will be hers only it’s not, it’s Bob Redford’s with the opening line: “In a way he was like the country he lived in; everything came too easily to him.”  That’s Arlene to a t, though she don’t know it.  I’m not spiteful, but I’m not deaf, dumb and blind either.  Nearly every day, fruit falls into my sister’s lap, most of it golden apples.

It’s a bold risk, Darold telling me to quit my job since I know he lost his last week.  I didn’t even need to probe, since word flies around these parts like the wind.  Still Darold’s going to pretend for some reason.  He’s got his overalls on and I’ve packed his lunch pail and he’s out the door, saying “See ya tonight,” without mentioning what I’ve got to go through today or how hard it’s going to be.

Jackass.  I married a jackass.  I guess that makes me one, too.

I sit at the table, knowing I’ve got to get going while some of the inmates’ most recent entries flutter through my head like shutters banging in a storm.

“I’m ready to go home.”

 “To the victim’s family, I want you to know that I hope you let go of all the hate because of all my actions.  I came in as a lion and I go out as a peaceful lamb.”

“Tell them I finished strong.  I love y’all.  Richie, Brad and John.  I love you Auntie.  God is good and I’m done.”

Most of them find God before they die.  Grace is such a meal ticket, a life raft tossed overboard when you’re about to choke to death on saltwater.  It makes sense.  But I wonder if they mean it, if they really love God all the way down to their toes, the way a woman should love her man, and vice-versa.  If they don’t, God’ll be able to tell.  If he knows the number of hairs on your head, well, shit, he’s knows everything then.

I volunteer at our church twice a week when MOPs is going on--MOPs being Mothers of Preschoolers.  Moms set up tables and meet in the service area, mostly gossiping, but it’s a break away from their rug rats for a while, and they’re usually grateful for the respite.  The kids can get cranky, but I like being buried in the squalling noise and chaos.  I like how curious the kids are about everything and how respectful they sound when they look up call me Miss Tammy.  Sometimes I even take one as my own, in my imagination I do, and I picture myself making the little boy or girl waffles for breakfast, taking them shopping for clothes or roaming the food store aisle with them in my cart.

Our pastor’s a burly man with a handle bar moustache who reminds me of a redheaded Teddy Roosevelt.  In last week’s sermon he shared how his wife, LouAnne, came down with a deadly disease way back when they were missionaries overseas and LouAnne was pregnant.  A doctor said it was more than likely the unborn baby would suffer sever fetal damage and he recommended an abortion.  Pastor Reevus told us how he prayed as if he was in a fever himself, asking God over and over to tell him the correct course of action.  “And you know what happened?” Pastor Reevus asked the congregation.  We knew but didn’t say, and after a pause he slammed his palm on the pulpit.  “God answered clear as day.”  Then Pastor Reevus called his daughter up to the podium.  She was a skinny scarecrow of a girl, shy and nervous, which made her all the more endearing.  “This,” Pastor Reevus said with wet eyes as he put an arm around his daughter, “is our miracle.  This is why I believe.”

I believe too, but my faith is shaky and I know I’m not as strong as Pastor Reevus, not even as strong as most of the condemned inmates.

“There are no endings, only beginnings.  Love y’all.  See you soon.”

“I didn’t get my SphagettiOs.  I want the press to know that.”

“Let’s ride!”

On the drive Arlene calls and I put her on speaker.  She bubbling over excited.  Mason bought her twin lab pups.  It’s their anniversary, seven years.  I’ve forgotten, though I fake it, feeling plastic for lying to my sis who, as far as I know, has never been anything but truthful with me through these many years.

When she tells me, “I want to name one of the puppies after you,” I get flustered and emotional, tears splashing right away without warning like those menopause commercials they show on TV, but my way of responding to her sweet gesture is to say, “He bought you bitches?” 

I don’t know where it came from.  I guess I just like being the one to say bitch instead of Darold.  I guess, not so far deep down, I am jealous of Arlene after all.

“Female pups,” Arlene says, almost a question.

“And you want to name a dog after me?”

“Well, I thought it was a kind gesture.”

“Why not a gerbil or a piglet?  Why not something really filthy?”

“Hey now.”

“Hey now yourself,” I say, clicking off, feeling a tangle of rage and guilt, knowing Arlene meant well, knowing too that she always does everything the right way while I hardly ever do.


At the prison everything is as quiet as a library, a cemetery, a moment at the front door of a trailer when a husband comes home from a bar smelling like the sharp tang of vagina.

I go through screening and down the hall looking straight ahead, the way they tell you to do if you’re up high somewhere when you’re afraid of heights.

A couple of times somebody says, “Hey, Tammy,” and I try to nod but my neck has become a tree stump, as if severed from my head, and I’m unable to do anything other than stride ahead.

The halls are narrow, and seem more tapered every time I walk them.  I know I’m getting bigger, fatter than I’ve ever been, but it’s a claustrophobic feeling, like the time Arlene and I snuck through Old Man Miller’s drainage pipe and I got stuck after she’d made it to the other side.  I was there for hours, until she summoned Dad and then later I was given the belt on my backside--thirteen lashes, one for every year I was old at the time.

The interesting thing, the thing nobody mentions, is that most people Texas executes are Hispanics.  Look it up, you’ll see.  I’ve only known Mexicans to be friendly, family-first type of folk.  I can’t even imagine one getting stirred up enough to kill somebody, not to mention his wife and daughter as Enrique Vasquez is reported to have done.

For some reason, I always expect the inmates to be thin rails, but they never are.  These are men getting ready to die and that’s why they show up with bodies like Rocky Balboa’s.

Same with Enrique Vasquez.  Even with his prison uni on it’s easy to see he’s got a body builder’s physique.  Ordinarily condemned men enter this room looking resigned or sheepish, like a dog that’s been beat for peeing on the rug, but not Enrique.  His big brown eyes are bumblebees trapped in a jar, bumping up against glass time and time again, hitting one side of the jar then the other, then the lid, trying to pop it open.

He has two visible tattoos.  On his right forearm it says Maria with the last “a” trailing off into a stem that then forms a rose.  On his other forearms it says Choco, with a wispy loop off the “o” turned into a stem that forms an identical rose matching Maria’s.  Choco was his daughter, a nickname he gave her because she so loved chocolate.

Before I even do preliminaries Enrique jumps in.  “I didn’t do what they say.  I told the lawyer, the judge, the jury, I told everyone, but they wouldn’t believe.”

His eyes have turned black now, not menacing, but rather charcoal smudges, like the kind Darold would have on his hands after working at the shop back when he still had a job.

Usually inmates look around the room, at the guards, but Enrique has only looked at me and he won’t stop staring.

“I did not do it.  I don’t care about dying but I don’t want to be known for killing my wife and daughter.  I would never harm them.  They were everything to me.”

His hands and ankles are cuffed, but he kneels down in front of me and just as he does one of the guards grabs the back of his uni and the fabric rips, so the guard then yanks Enrique by his hair and heaves him back into the chair.

Enrique doesn’t seem to be bothered by this in the slightest.  His eyes have never left mine, and while it’s a cheater’s way out, I wish I was blind right now.  The strained agony in Enrique’s face is a portrait of death itself.

“I didn’t do it,” he says, his voice a hoarse whisper now.  “I didn’t.”

“Please, sir,” I say, my drawl thicker than ever, as it always is when I’m nervous.  “I just need your last words.”

“I said I didn’t do it.  I would never, ever hurt them.”

“Anything else?”

“You have to believe me.  You have to help.”

Help has got to be the biggest word in the English language, even if it’s just four simple letters.  I never liked that Beatles song, but I never change the station when it comes on.  Help.  I need somebody.  Yeah, we all do.  I do.  Enrique does right now.  But it’s too late.  Too late for him and me and every other sonofabitch that’s been screwed over.

“Sir,” I say, “do you want those to be your last words?”


I look down at my notepad which is bouncing between my quivering thighs.  “Your last words: are they You have to help?”

“Yes!  Please.  I loved my wife and child.  What man does not?”

“Sir, one last time.  What will you say as your last words?”

Enrique, for the first time, looks away from me, his head flapping backward, eyes raised upward at the bald white ceiling, his neck craned so far back that it seems his head might snap off.

“Sir,” I say, a trickle of piss escaping, wetting my groin area.

Enrique’s head comes swinging down.  He leans forward, too close, and so, Buck, the largest of the guards, hits Enrique on the knee with his club and Enrique’s leg responds reflexively, leaping out and kicking my ankle.

“Hey, asshole, knock that shit off,” Buck says, bringing his stubby club across Enrique’s throat and squeezing while Enrique flails.

“Buck.  Buck!” I say.  “It’s okay.  Let him be.”

Buck keeps his choke hold a beat longer, but finally eases up, removing his club.

“It’s all right,” I say to Enrique, though it’s not, though nothing is.  “I just need your last words.”

And then we’re done.  You’re done.  It’s finished.

Enrique looks at me square in the eye, jaw flexed, lips thin and pursed and I feel guilty for some reason, as if I convicted him myself.

I look down at the floor where there’s a red smear in the shape of an oversized comma.  “Sir, I’ll only ask this one last time.  What are your last words?”

He takes a sharp breath through his nose, nostrils flaring like a stallion, stands and nods to the guards.  When Buck takes his elbow and leads Enrique away, I write in my notepad: Last Statement:  I didn’t do it.

On the drive home I think about death, about murder and what kind of person would be capable of killing a woman and child.  A jury convicted Enrique, but DNA evidence has been known to clear lots of criminals after they’ve been convicted.  Only God and Enrique know the honest truth about his case. 

It’s hard not to feel hypocritical, as I often do, remembering the three abortions I’ve had since being married to Darold, all without him knowing.  Abortion is a woman’s choice and not murder, I know that, but still it’s a weight I carry around like all these extra pounds I’ve put on.

At home I take a bubble bath for the first time in years.  I light candles that I’ve placed around the tub, get in and read Sylvia Plath’s “Ariel,” not understanding much of the poems, but liking the music in her words.  She was thirty years old, same as I am now, when she stuck her head in an oven while her kids were in the next room.  She stuffed rags in the bottom seams of the doors so that none of the poisonous fumes would get out.  That woman must have really been suffering.

If Darold follows through with his charade of pretending to still be employed he’ll be home in an hour, so I get out, dry myself, dress, and fill two suitcases full of clothes and shoes.  I want to tell him face to face that I’m leaving, that I’m finally strong enough to do what I should’ve done a long time ago.

When Darold’s not home by eight o’clock, I rip a page from my notebook meaning to write him a note, but nothing comes to mind and so I leave the blank paper on the kitchen table, grab my bags and walk out without looking back, without a solitary regret.

In the car, I drive in silence, hearing myself breathing.  It reminds me of the last breath I saw Enrique take. 

He said he didn’t kill his wife and child, and jury or not, I decide I’m going to take his word for it that he’s innocent.  He’s dead now, so it might not matter to anyone else, but it does to me. 

Outside the night is as black as it’s ever been, and just as soothing.  As I scan for the moon, one Last Statement comes to mind: Let’s ride!




Friday, July 28, 2017


…Before going solo, Ryan Adams was in a seminal band called Whiskeytown.  This is one of my favorite songs of theirs which is very hard to find:

…Wow.  So somewhere over the evening or yesterday we passed half a million page views.  Half a million views of my silly blog...  Imagine that.
Anyway, thanks so much for stopping by here regularly.  Truly, I’m grateful.
When I started this thing, it was merely meant to be a receptacle for my writing.  Now I’m not sure what it is—part receptacle, part diary, part a place to ramble.

…So some early morning rambling then, shall we?

…Is it possible to love someone and despise them at the same time?  Just something I’ve been pondering.

…Also, I wonder why my thoughts always go to the dark corners.  There are plenty of good things to think about, appreciate and notice.  Maybe I’m depressed.  Maybe I’ve been depressed since I was a child.

…Every time I write a story or poem I also veer to a dark ending, even when I start it and don’t know where I’m going.
Like I had the thought for a very short piece about someone who has died but their Facebook page is still up and so people write on it and I came up with this:

I know you are gone, but I’m writing on your Facebook page anyway, since no one’s bothered to take it down.  It’s a shame you’re not here.  Every coffin maker thinks so but not all the young girls you would have raped and killed if you were still alive.


…Last week I was happy for a few days.  Really very happy.  Now that felt good.  I was with my best friend and hanging with him always makes life a lot better, even those parts that become a blur late at night.  The problem is he lives three and a half hours away.  The problem is he has a demanding job.

…I don’t have a friend in my own town.  For a stretch of time, my wife set me up on blind dates with different husbands of her friends.  It didn’t go so well.  My wife’s friends are lovely women but most of their husbands, well, I have not a single thing in common with them other than our gender.

…Back to my best friend who makes me happy and always makes me laugh and gets me completely (we have our own language)…
While I was there I told him something I’ve never told anyone.  I don’t know why I did or what thought precipitated my confession.
Anyway, I think I’ll tell you. 
Here goes.
When I was around 12 years old, I went on a March of Dimes Walkathon.  The idea behind the walkathon was obviously to raise money for kids in need.  I raised $62 and some change.  To me, back then, $62 was a fortune.
Now here’s the tough part… Ready?
I kept the money.  Yep.  Spent it.  I don’t know on what and I don’t recall feeling guilty, but I sure feel guilty now.
Maybe that’s why I’m a big tipper and very charitable.
Maybe my bones are filled with guilt and that’s why I’m depressed.

…Another time, four years ago I took 1st place in a short story contest.  I've won a few writing contests, but this one was a very big deal because they received hundreds of entries and you won $700 and some other perks.  I was honestly pretty floored to win and I even forgot I'd entered or which story I'd sent in.
So I was stunned and giddy.
That lasted all of three days.
Then, for some unknown reason, I felt very sad.  The blues swept right in and I hadn’t even cashed the check.
What does that tell you about me?  No really, please tell me because I wanna know.

…I’m not depressed all the time.  It’s just a bluesy few days, usually when I’m in a writing slump, which is always a trigger.  This afternoon I’m going to do something really fun (I’m not sure what that is yet, but it will be fun for sure) and then that’ll springboard me into sustained glee.  Just watch.

…Aren’t you glad you stopped by?  I hope I didn’t depress you.  Or scare you.  Or make you worry.
I’m fine.  I’ve heard confession is good for the soul.



Wednesday, July 26, 2017


…I went to YouTube to listen to The War On Drugs and this was in my queue:

…and then this:

…I like this (if you’re following that’s the fourth “this” I’ve used):
Us, Over Time, Passing By

As time elapses we will grow older and we will grow wiser. We will fall in and out of love. We will destroy each other only to build each other back up again. We won’t even notice we’re changing until it’s already happened, because change is just the act of becoming. We see it happen so naturally every day. The sun sets, the night rolls in, the stars start to shine and the moon glows. When morning comes the dawn will creep in and embrace the night, allowing the day to break and the sun to rise again. We will continue to change, tethered to time and influenced by everything around us. The relationships we search for and the ones that search us out. The relationships we thought could never be and the ones that we could never live without. They’re all on their way to becoming something else, never static, always moving.  Because time is the biggest player in the game, and it is why everything is changing. If you try to picture every moment in a relationship all at once, then that right there would be us, over time, passing by. Changing, folding, becoming something else.  --James R. Eads
…and lastly I like these…

“We always feel younger than we are.  I carry within me my earlier faces, as a tree contains its rings.  The mirror sees only my current face, while I know all the previous ones.” Tomas Transtromer
"I hope to arrive to my death, late, in love, and a little drunk."  Atticus

Monday, July 24, 2017



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 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



…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




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