Sunday, November 29, 2015



Perhaps I had forgotten to tell you
why I do this
out here on the steel railings of a coffeehouse
chairs stacked up on tables
brushing down the deadbolt click of a
chapter’s final word
the easy snap of a dictionary.
I need this
I need this more than
solid blue numbers in a checkbook
a young girl’s smile
a cereal with fiber

Grant me one small brake on the
steady slip of time
a night-fed gap where teenagers
kick coffee cups around the parking lot
where tomorrow’s mist hangs high
across the road, patient as a hawk
and your thoughts settle so heavy and warm
that your eyes cannot quite focus.

And so, if I had forgotten to tell you
that place, tonight
I was there
and my head still rings with sound.

Notes: Written as a response to my Dad's quizzical looks when I embarked on my nightly three-mile Rollerblade trips to the Coffee Society in Cupertino. Just across the street from De Anza Community College, the place had a rowdy, young energy to it, a quality that I valued very much.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Anywhere Fair

The Anywhere Fair

occurs at a time and place that are
completely unpredictable,
making publicity problematic.

First indication is a subtle surge of
blood from the aortic valve to the
left wrist, followed by a
slight breeze from the southwest.

Two minutes later, you will find
yourself telling a joke involving
two rabbits and a popular children’s toy.
Later, you will realize the
joke makes no sense.

Two songs hence, you will find
yourself swinging a dark-eyed
Italian girl through a series of
moves that would not seem to
be physically possible.

She finishes a spin, plants a
silver heel on the hardwood and
strikes a pose once assumed by the
most favored of Nefertiti’s handmaids.
The room fills with a thousand
mosquitoes composed entirely of light.

Now is the time.

In your shirt pocket, you will
find the jack of hearts.
Thrust him into the air.
He will assume a position next to
the mirrored ball and accelerate into
a spin, producing a sound resembling
a sleeping yo-yo or a russet
hummingbird dining on bottlebrush.
Everything else in the room will freeze.

Move freely among the statues.
Steal one of Roberto’s cookies.
Pour yourself a hefeweizen.
Please do not fondle the barmaid.

Have a seat.
Savor the tableau:
Mallory at mid-laugh, hands flying;
Rick and Darlene in a promenade;
Howard at the mic, holding a high G;
Randy reaching for the soundboard.

When you’re ready, set down your
drink, take the Italian girl’s hand,
and the room will spin into life.

When you get home, kick off your shoes.
Place your wallet on the windowsill.
Loop your keys around a lightswitch.
In your left rear pocket, you will
find a matchbox from the Tonga Room.
Light one. Blow it out.
Watch the smoke feather to the ceiling.
Hum a few bars of Misty.
Open your favorite book to page 213.
There you will find the jack of hearts.

Save this for later.

Notes: inspired by a night dancing with Diane at the Three Flames Restaurant in San Jose. I was having so much fun I wanted to freeze it. Published in Abby magazine, Baltimore MD. Photo by MJV, 4th of July 2015.

Monday, November 23, 2015

And Roy Rogers Sang the Torah

And Roy Rogers Sang the Torah
North we go a-roaming from Wyoming to Montana
All upon a tankful of George Custer’s diesel gas
Jesus Christ is savior on the local reservation
But still we eat our snow peas on the Powder River Pass
Eastward in the gloaming from Wyoming to Mount Rushmore
Searching for the faces in the South Dakota night
Ripping down through Deadwood in the name of Rapid City
To see Abe Lincoln glowing in the cold arena light
The Seder means a shuffle low from Buffalo to Casper
Cruising for a synagogue and good unleavened bread
Jesus ain’t no savor in our private schoolhouse kitchen
And Jewish New York cowboys need a place to lay their heads
Gave us such a chilling there in Billings, South Montana
Fictive flames of Zion just beneath the bookstore glass
Driving back down ninety just as fast as wheels would take us
To watch them burning ridges in the deep Wyoming grass.

Notes: inspired by road trips with a gay Jewish art critic at the Ucross Arts Colony in Wyoming, the poem is a parody of the formal cowboy poetry style. After appearances in journals in Idaho and NYC, it served as an example of "trochaic septameter with internal rhymes" in Writer's Digest and the basis for a psychobilly song by the band Exit Wonderland.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Poem: Amaryllis Asphalt

From Michael J. Vaughn: Collected Poems

Amaryllis Asphalt

Jacaranda snows are a lovely thing if you can find them, splitting the narrow sea of Highway 5, wondering if your hand will slip from the wheel, if life holds more for you than three-minute eggs and a waitress named Jolene.

The Texas rain does you large favors, curtaining off the horizon before it swallows you up. Western states do not stop for passengers, and morning waits like a dial tone on the rail fences outside Dallas.

The only thing better than being here is being three miles from here, three minutes from now.

And nothing so good as a rest stop blackbird, picking crumbs off the pay phone shelf.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Poem: Alcyone

From Michael J. Vaughn: Collected Poems


What you are doing here is a
matter for minds
greater than this

All I know is the
curve of your spine as I
cradle it in my hands and

refugee mockingbirds
calling out the hours from
across the street.

Our lips have been moving for
hours now but
finally are good for something

And when I slip my
fingers in yours and
pull you my way the

moon breaks open and
spits out stars like
drops from a shaken umbrella.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Mascot, Chapter Twenty-Five: The Two Z's

Buy the book at Amazon Kindle.

The Two Z’s

Zarita arrives at noon, and takes a moment to study the opening-day banners, humongous images of former San Jose players – Joe Panik, Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey – who recently helped the big-league club to another championship. She enters the tunnel past the churro stand and immediately runs into Gigante. She grabs him by the arm, but realizes that this Gigante is too tall. Joe gives her a cartoonish wave.

“Hi,” she says. “Is Zelda here?”

Gigante raises a finger, faces the third-base end of the tunnel and outlines a route: straight, a left, a right, another right. Then he lifts an imaginary stein and takes a drink.

“Oh. Past the beer stands?”

He places a finger on his nose.

“Thanks, Joe…gante.”

Gigante belly laughs and ruffles Zarita’s hair.

“Aigh! Silly.”

She takes the prescribed route and finds Zelda at a picnic table, her legs propped against a low fence bordering the field. A cluster of players are taking grounders near shortstop. Zelda’s hair is a ragged mop. She wears a brown tank-top with bleach stains. A roll of flab spills over her waistband. There’s an empty Budweiser on the table, another in her hand. She pops a handful of sunflower seeds into her mouth and spits the shells onto the grass. Zarita takes a breath.

“Hi, Z.”

Zelda takes a glance, her eyes covered by dark glasses. “Hey. ‘Sup.” She turns back toward the field.

“I’ve been trying to get a hold of you, but…”

“No response? Yeah, I know the feeling. Coulda used a friendly voice myself, back around Edward’s accident.”

Zarita bites her lip. “I saw the video.”

Zelda takes a swig of beer and belches. “They do some amazing shit with videos these days.”

The delusions are piling up, and Zelda realizes it’s useless to argue.

“Z, I miss you.”

Zelda says nothing.

“Z? I’m pregnant.”

Zelda stares into center, where the outfielders are shagging flies. “Bitch stole my boyfriend. Got her ex-husband in on it, how the fuck does that work?”

“Zelda! I’m pregnant.”

Zelda lowers her sunglasses to reveal bloodshot eyes and day-old mascara. “Glad to know the plumbing works. Bring the kid to a game and I’ll buy him a churro. Meanwhile, let me know when you can help me get my boyfriend back.” She turns back to the field and mutters in a rumbling meander. “Fucking cunt and her fucking ex-husband, bitch has superpowers give me the restraining order like I’m the problem get a fucking lawyer myself take these assholes for all they’re…”

Zarita slams both hands against the table. The aluminum produces a surprising amount of noise.

“Stop it, Z! Stop it! Goddammit!”

Zelda half-turns. Zarita clears her throat.

“Edward and Roxy are getting married. In July. Jackson’s the best man.”

Zelda turns away and tosses more seeds into her mouth.

“It’s over, Zelda. It’s over. Now please come back. I can’t stand this. I need you. My baby needs you. You need to start over. I’ll help you start over.”

Zelda spits her seeds, finishes her beer, stares at second base. The groundskeeper comes out to drag the infield. Zarita stares into the back of Zelda’s head, tears tracking her face.

“Zelda? Please?”

She waits a long time, but nothing’s coming. The air is split by the sound of a bat striking a ball.

“Goodbye, Zelda.”

Zelda listens to Zarita’s footsteps, fading away, and whispers. “Later, bitch.”

The second inning ends. Zelda reports to the dressing room. Joe’s on the couch, headless, talking to his wife on the phone. Putting on the costume is something Zelda has been looking forward to for months, the chance, finally, to disappear. She pulls on the head, the familiar cave, the stale smell, and checks herself in the mirror. Gigante gives her a goofy smile.

The second she’s out the door, she feels a tug, and turns to find a little fire hydrant of a girl, hair so white-blonde it looks like vanilla ice cream. She looks up at the monster with wide blue eyes.

Zelda kneels and offers a fist-bump. The little girl goes in with her knuckles and finds that the gorilla has switched to a high-five. She changes to a high-five, but now the gorilla has returned to the knuckle-bump. The joke swims around in the little girl’s eyes but finally lands. She explodes with a squeal of laughter. Zelda wants to smile, but she knows that Gigante will do it for her.

Photo by MJV (painting by MJV)

Friday, September 11, 2015

Mascot, Chapter Twenty-Four: The Meeting

Buy the book at Amazon Kindle.

The Meeting

A week later, Zelda doesn’t know if Edward is alive or dead. Her calls to Roxy go unanswered. As do her calls to Jackson, to Zarita, her texts to Zarita, her emails to Zarita. Roxy’s plan has worked: to cut her off from Edward, to free him up for harvest.

She’s at the coffeehouse, searching local news sites for accident reports, when her cell phone rings, an unidentified number. She’ll take anything.


“Hi. Is this Zelda Cameron?”


“Hello! It’s Carson Alameda. Roxy’s ex.”

“Sure! Carson. Hi.” Anything.

“I have news regarding Edward.”

“Oh God! Is he okay?”

“Yes. Relatively speaking. Listen, I have some details for you, but I really need to see you in person. Could you drop by my office today? Maybe four o’clock? I’m in Los Gatos.”

“Yes! Anything.”

“Good. It’s right off of Main and North Santa Cruz…”

Carson’s in a modest two-story, a boxy white building with bits of Spanish Mission trim. Zelda checks in with the receptionist, and Carson comes out to meet her. His hair has grown a little grayer, but he retains the strong-chinned handsomeness, the smoky blue eyes. He wears a silver suit, a tie of maroon and chocolate.

“Hi Zelda. Please, follow me.” He leads her upstairs to a windowless conference room with a family-size table. One end of the table offers a large monitor hooked up to a laptop.

“Please. Sit here. I need you to see the screen. First of all, you should know that I am representing Mr. Svaretz in this matter. Let’s begin with the medical report.” He hits a button on the laptop. An X-ray appears: two ghostly stripes, a large bone abruptly cracked into two pieces, a thin bone still intact but with visible fissures.

“The right tibia,” says Carson. “A compound fracture. The right fibula, a greenstick fracture. From evidence at the site, it appears that he landed on the edge of a tree stump.”

Zelda covers her mouth. One of those odd empathetic chills runs from the middle of her spine to her groin.

“Better the leg than the skull. The fall was twenty feet. He could have been killed.”

Zelda chews on a fingernail and hums her concern.

“They placed six pins in his tibia. He’ll have a year of therapy, much of it painful. In the end, however, he should be able to regain complete mobility.”

“Could I… Is he receiving visitors?”

Carson taps a finger on the tabletop. “Not sure, actually. Let’s address that later. Now. Being a lawyer’s ex-wife, Roxy had her property equipped with security cameras, including this one on the deck of the treehouse. I would ask that you watch this carefully.”

Carson expands the picture to full screen and hits the play arrow. The shot comes from the eaves behind Zelda, aimed at the slide. For a security camera, the image is well-defined. You can see the features on Edward’s face. He is holding up his hands, speaking in a nervous but intelligible manner. All you can see of Zelda is her back, and her words are barely discernible. Her voice rises and falls in wild, mewling arcs, like a cat preparing for a fight. Edward slowly backs away; Zelda paces forward, her voice climbing in volume and pitch. When Edward pivots toward the slide, Zelda lets out a barbaric scream and charges. She strikes Edward on the shoulder, sending him into the gap between the slide and the railing, and then she’s gone, too, her momentum pulling her over. The rest is a faint audio of thuds and cracks, interrupted by Edward’s shrieks.

“But I… I slipped! It was an accident.”

Carson pulls the play bar back and uses a frame-forward device to analyze the action. “Notice your feet, just before the charge. Firmly planted, knees bent, like an athlete. And then…” He nudges it forward, one step, two, a lunge. “And here, the moment of impact. Your forearm strikes Mr. Svaretz’s shoulder and drives through, with such force that both of you are hurled from the deck. The intent to cause harm is fairly obvious.”

He plays it back one more time, making certain to include the shrieks at the end. Then he closes the frame and reaches into his jacket pocket.

“This is a flash drive containing the X-ray and a copy of the video.” He pulls a brown envelope from a folder. “This is a restraining order. You are not to come within three hundred yards of Edward Svaretz or his current residence on Alameda Lane.” He gives her a few seconds to scan the paper, then sits in a chair next to Zelda’s. Zelda can smell coffee on his breath.

“Let me be clear, Zelda. If not for the affection that Edward, Roxy and I generally feel for you, you would, at this moment, be in jail. What you saw on that video is criminal assault.”

“But I didn’t mean to…”

“‘I didn’t mean to.’ I once had a divorce client who spoke those words. What he didn’t mean to do was to shoot his wife in the head. You have a problem, Zelda. Do not take it lightly, and for God’s sake, get some counseling. If you break this restraining order, I will file charges, and you will end up in prison. Are we clear?”

Zelda looks up at Carson’s gray-blues and begins to cry.

“Just nod your head.”

She does. He pats her on the shoulder.

“I’m sorry about all… this. Feel free to stay here in the room as long as you want. And do give me a call if you have any questions.”

He hands her a box of Kleenex and leaves.

Zelda sits on a bench in the town park. Orange light washes the facades of the stores across Main Street. She runs her finger along the flash drive. The drive is a magic lamp, and it contains the evil Zelda. She recalls that the Los Gatos Creek Trail is two blocks away, and gets up to begin the long walk home.

Photo by MJV