Thursday, August 15, 2013

Fields of Satchmo

Wild American Poems

Michael J. Vaughn

Copyright 2013 by Michael J. Vaughn

For Ellen Lee Gibson

Michael J. Vaughn is the author of thirteen novels, including The Popcorn Girl. He is a regular contributor to Writer’s Digest, and a 25-year opera critic. Vaughn lives in San Jose, California, and plays drums for the San Francisco rock band Exit Wonderland.

The first 28 poems in this collection appeared previously in literary journals, which are credited after each poem.

Fields of Satchmo

The highway sparkles obsidian,
arrowhead shavings,
cities named for the slaughtered,
a country built on crushed culture.

Our Fathers, coffeehouse Athenians,
half their fortunes pressed from
negro flesh so they wrote a
government full of wishes

Filled in the blanks with six hundred
thousand dead soldiers then told
the vanquished they could
go on lynching niggers so
long as they were free niggers.

Dangling bodies spoil a
proper party so we paper the
walls with righteous fictions.
Jazz, for example, as a
pure African form.

Explain the pianoforte, the
Turkish cymbal, the Spanish guitar.
Treble clefs running in
great herds along the Serengeti,
grazing on quarter notes.

If you are going to
survive the American mindfuck you
must embrace the awfulness,
fall face-down in the cattleshit,
open your eyes to find
Louis Armstrong sprouting like a
sunflower, sowing the plains with
peals of brass, smiling a
smile that no one forgets.

Child of slaves.
Handel’s trumpet.
Four-four time with tribal improv,
lyrics by Gershwin,
a swung note at the
tip of Jefferson’s pen.                                                                       

Caveat Lector, San Francisco

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.

Columbia, Maryland

How to Sing

Catch the vowel, plastic wonder.
Extend. Spin to the realm of
vibration, incarnation of breath,
trick of tone

Pop the consonant, Shakespearean
neutral, crack another egg,
open to the lips, toothcarve,
tongueshift, ceramic wind,
sonic floret, bouquet, filigree

Puzzle the syllables into streams,
meander, slice the clock into
boxes, lay them inside.
Push the edges. Swing.
Sustain. Work the quiet.
Erupt. Goof around.

Reasons we do it:
erectus matesigh,
a shout carried long,
a sob lifted.
It seems to make us
human, takes the prison of
self and flares it
across the landscape.

It’s possible to connect the
song to a thing we miscall
the heart, but you need to
close your eyes and
briefly give up your life.

Have a drink. Have two.
Fill your lungs with sky.
Draw the spectrum across your
larynx; you are a stringed
instrument, gorged with overtone,
rimmed with bellstrike, a
cellular call to the
oscillating world.

One day, when the green flash
gives way to a blue moon,
you may find that the
song is singing you.
You may then call yourself
a singer.

Long Island University
Brookville, New York


Combustion ballet in the Arctic ether we
take our pins and poke the balloon,
screaming at the gunshot like two-year-olds.

Would do something but the
chore wheel carries six billion names.
Perhaps we will grow webbed feet,
gills, the rapture, life’s too short and
busy and hard, have to, get into,
children, right schools.

Your children have razor sharp
nails that claw at the sky and
they get them from you.

Shards of balloon fall from the
sky like pancakes. We will
do something about the time that
the Pacific breaks down our doors,
drags us into the streets and
puts us under.

Ask with our last breath who
knew, who knew

Eye On Life Magazine

The Military Industrial Complex Expressed as a Glorified Spigot

Take a walk on Avenue J, but beware.
The hydrants are frisky.
Tired of dogs.
Tired of never being used for
their intended purpose.

Ready to start a fire if
only it gave them something to do.
A chance to play hero,
to relieve the pressure.

Leave your lighter on the curb.
Walk away.
See what happens.

Eye on Life Magazine

Net Creep

Counting the song curds, lefty boozing.
Cuticle takes the groove,
a steady mile of entourage.

Caw! Celery’s tameness.
Caw! Tampered by clocks.
Knitting in a smoky tar.

All frayed up with jazz,
hooting in the park,
she dices diminuendos.

Tramming at spy tools, the
bee bleaches heaven, smelling avarice.
To extinguish yourself is to grieve.

Fun times, the lonely dray.
A killer brew lacking ski ruts.
Meh. Too car. King of rhumbas.

Spoon tilde floors the tunecow,
cousin tutors that book like fizz.
Natalie’s other knee.

Dumb synergy be nil.
Flout the stew cook, dirty tears
stall like trucks in a scullery.

Eye On Life Magazine


Kinetically armatured to the
greater world, I am all-fire,
I am beasthood, I am gravenous.

The first chapter of an epic involves
lostliness, desperado, great moons of
pain and devastation.
You couldn’t write a blues
song without it.

But even Caravaggios have
daubs of light, even
ghost towns have sheltered
corners where feral labradors give birth.

Her pups wander into the
street and are picked off by tourists,
drizzled with ooh and ah,
taken home and given frontier
names like Pistol and Cody.
Mother stands at the crest of the hill,
breathing the last grains of scent as
her runt grows smaller in a
station wagon window.

She paws the ground.
Goes to the stream for a drink.
Smells a rabbit.
The epic begins.

Iodine Poetry Journal
Charlotte, North Carolina


Cinema clown on the
center stripe, cleansing the
world of appurtenance.

A hat on a table.
Poet in a parking garage.
A baseball. A pen.

Deal a deck of human flaws,
take none. You are an
augmented note, non-essential,
a little bit off.

Yes, I love you.
But you should fear your friends;
they know your crimes.

Let me buy you a hot fudge sundae.
Let me buy you a cast.
Let me be the first to sign it.

California Quarterly
Orange, California


Mardi enters a three-bedroom ranch,
sees the problem right away.

Granite counters, marble floors.
Slate hallways, bluestone hearth.

Basalt tub. Rhyolite toilet.
Limestone sofa. Onyx armchair.
Quartzite bed, jasper pillows.
Obsidian labrador.

Mr. Thompson arrives at six.
Widower, eighty-three, emerald eyes.

When she poses the question,
he gazes at a spot past her shoulder.

When I was nineteen,
I worked in a quarry.
One morning, the sun struck the
cliffs and lit up the feldspar like a
delta of diamond rivers.

Mardi waits.

Mr. Thompson smiles.
Isn’t that enough?

The Blue Collar Review
Norfolk, Virginia

Stupid Faith

Fathers of serendoubtery flip the
wide universe, shred, compress,
serve it on BLTs.

This is your brain,
given for us.

Stars and quarks too
infinitous to upsell,
to venture-capitalize,
to shrink-wrap.

Actual ideas are extra-terrestrial,
aphrodisiac, cannot be made to
wear leashes and fetch tennis balls.

A tsunami makes a bare
ripple until it breaches a continent.
Open up the dish, lunar
peppercorns dance the celestial dome.

We live at the margins in the
ionized air, far from the
American hinterminds, the daily
radio script, the labcoat effigies.
The ones who deny evolution are
correct for they are not evolving.

Had breakfast with Benjamin
Franklin still grieving Tommy
Paine but fascinated by the
triple-syrup tray, the neon
lights, the waitress’s cleavage.

Life is the greatest
toy ever dreamed.
Don’t ever stop playing.

He took a bite of eggs
Benedict and nearly cried.
You could hear the
static behind his eyes,
crackling, red-hot, untethered.

The Journal, Cumbria, England


Kyle finds the northwest tip of the
forty-eight and walks the beach.
An eagle traces the shoreline.
Lost in wings, Kyle stumbles on a
New York subway turnstile,
next to a sand dollar.
He slips it into the slot and walks through.

The sand rises, arrowing into the
ocean like the spine of a brontosaur.

The path is only three feet wide,
but Kyle ventures forward.
A black porpoise leaps from
the water, chittering. At two miles,
the beach fades from view.

An Orca swims past, daggers of
black and white. Kyle stumbles on a
pinball machine. His favorite.
Next to a sand dollar.
He slips it into the slot and plays.
He remembers the rhythm,
the moves, the tricks.
He feels lighter, younger.
He wears a cap, tight pants, cleats.

A light flashes red.
He hits the ball hard, up the
ramp, drops it into the slot.
The machine erupts with sound.
The ground shakes.

The spit is closing up; the
water rushes forward.
He turns to find a
fog-bound green,
a glove on his left hand.

The ring of a metal bat.
This is the flyball that
fell between him and the
shortstop, the one that
cost him the starting job.
The year they won the title.

Kyle charges forward,
yelling for the ball like
Luciano freakin’ Pavarotti.

Challenger International

The Aroma from Tacoma

In the dark still tick of his core,
a balance of evensong.

Licorice pull of canefire,
fields of charred stalk, clouds of black.

We love the ugly as well as
the sweet: five-year-old on an
aircraft carrier, breathing diesel.

At forty, he returns to his
only chosen town. The odor of the
paper mill takes him to tears.

Because it’s distinct.
Because it means something:
the failures are behind you,
it’s time to start over.

Challenger International


Diametric of a cardiac broomhead,
no lettuce in this, no rutabaga,
no osteothrombosis. Sometimes,
I wonder why we bother.

Jared walks the streets with a
spool of yellow string,
playing his life like a kite:
dentist, pawnshop, chowder hall,
cobbler. At the end of the
day, he retraces his route,
winding it all back.

Candace smiles,
stripe of snow in a ruby sandwich.
Jared, you marvel of a man.

Passersby freeze at the inequality,
this blatant mismatch,
tennis shoe, designer pumps,
insult to good sense.

But they have no idea.

Deep in a grumble,
Jared scuffled the sands of
San Gregorio, following the
flight of a raven spied
Candace in a kaftan the
salmon of eastern
clouds at sunset.
A single loose thread,
trailing all the way down the cliff.

He ran to the base and
pulled, and pulled and pulled,
till she stood atop the
bread-dough bluff a
naked Aphrodite, holding the
last of the thread in her fist,
a capillary of fierce intent.

She scratched her number in
the hollow of a clamshell,
tied the thread to a
hole in the edge and
flung it over.

Hastings College
Hastings, Nebraska

On Receiving Tickets to As You Like It

Airily, a waking dance
to rhyme and rope, to grift and chance.
to all the stars that tread the night and
seize upon the eyes.

Garishly, a speaker dips to
gather breath and tongue and lips,
to stalk upon the stage and whisper
iambs to the flies.

Cautiously we wander in
to swim in love and feast on sin,
to bear the pangs of yestermen and
brave the ribs of fear.

Patiently we climb the rungs of
fossil words and speech half-sung,
waiting for the moment when the
fractured chords ring clear.

Tragically, the sense will hide
unless the actor steps aside and
shakes the author’s meanings from the
servitude of ink.

Finally the only route to
stir the play from tile and grout is
easing back within your seat,
a passive sun, enlivened meat,
cauldron for the spice and heat,
and choosing not to think.

The Road Not Taken: The Journal of Formal Poetry


To study on the highest brows and drink among the low.
To plant your feet in roasting sand and contemplate the snow.

To hear Puccini all night long and wake up to The Who.
To watch a slate of foreign films but also Scooby-Doo.

To talk of football with the girls and fashion with the boys.
To fill your nooks with tools and books but leave yourself some toys.

To pace the alleys of Manhattan, stalk the Teton peaks.
To chase the wind at lightning speed then rest for weeks and weeks.

To dine on brie and caviar then order out for fries.
To work in foulest britches and proceed to suits and ties.

To leave your mental gates ajar, to shake the hand of chance.
To sing the open-throated life, and run, and fight, and dance.

The Road Not Taken: The Journal of Formal Poetry


Horses and harry, clamber and carry
Swindle and pause and reason and cause
Driving the years to a morbid strut

Keyboard and mouse, neighbor and house
Watching and fretting and ever subletting
See how the mowers continue to cut

Pamela Sue, Ronnie and Boo
Skipping and crying and endlessly lying
Charging the towers of adolescence

Gossip and noise, textual boys
Makeup and combs and angstian poems
Random sparks of efflorescence

Fillies and mares, unicorn stares
Lined up like soldiers, pebbles to boulders
Wanting the touch of equestrian hands

Letters and calls, residence halls
Lectures and class and E equals mass
Time takes you down like a statue of sand

The Road Not Taken: The Journal of Formal Poetry


Hector stands on the water,
thinking of Carmella,
who never quite came back.

She could pick a strawberry like
Segovia fixing harmonics.
She loved him, but only once.

He arrives at the pier,
ties his board to a piling and
climbs to his favorite table.

Carmella brings him a smile in
the shape of a rhombus,
a chowder that verges on majesty.

She says, Ask the question.
He says, Ever?
She says, No. Never.

Hector thinks back a tear.
Why do you do this?

She sets her hands on
his java shoulders.

On a night when the
moon was one-third gone,
three men took my youth.
My only sweetness is
telling you no.

He traces the outline of her
blood-red lips. In that case,
I will take the chowder.

The rhombus widens out to
one third of a moon.

A pelican bombs the harbor,
comes up empty.                                                                   
Hector says,                                                                           
Yes, it’s like that.                                                                   

Skidrow Penthouse, New York City

An Author Talks with his Protagonist

Bubba Heinreid, please take note:
I see what you are doing and
you should know that I disapprove.

The fact that I made you
up is no excuse. I have
spent far less attention on
real people and for that
alone you should feel flattered.

Come with me to the sidewalk.
Have a beer.
Tell me about the girl.
The one you wished you loved.
Because she deserves it.
Because you don’t.
I’ve been there.
That’s why I wrote you.

Think of that first chapter,
when your friend snuck up
behind the two of you in the
bar and managed to
photograph your third kiss.
Two people falling toward one another,
lips just that far apart.
The avalanche begins with a pebble,
ends with a confused man,
standing before the rubble,
one hand on his forehead.

A lifetime grinding at spiral notebooks.
You would think, once in a while,
a clear-cut notion would show its face.
Instead we slap the after-shave,
tie the blindfold, stumble for hours,
a miracle that we manage to
arrive back at our beds.

I saw
Nigger Jew
scratched into
the metal above a
toilet. Remembered a
piece of sandpaper in my
pocket, reduced it to a gray
smear. Things can be
taken back, things
can be made

You’re alive.
And though we often don’t
even know what that means,
we’re fairly certain that it’s a
higher state, because someday
you won’t be.

Thanks, Bubba.
I chose you well.
And don’t worry,
I take care of
those who work for me.

I picture you in a swimming pool,
on a cruise ship, west of Baja,
catching the eye of a
three-year-old who thinks you’re God.

Rose & Thorn Journal


The way you look at
me over your left shoulder,
iris ascending, eyebrow umbrella,
smilish crinkle,
gives me
ideas I
have no
idea what
to do

Taproot Literary Review
Ambridge, Pennsylvania


The numbers tail me like affectionate pets.
(You can only do this much.)

Work and the numbers grow.
Scratch their heads and
watch their tails oscillate.
(You can do so much now!
Have a cigar; take a trip.)

Once in a while, they wander into
the median and disappear.
The world gets quiet.

I find a beach and kick rocks:
igneous, sedimentary, amalgam.

But I know they’re up there,
peering from the clifftops,
wild ellipses hungry for attention.
Sharpening their claws to a
fine decimal point.

The Chaffin Journal
Eastern Kentucky University


Take the pause between these
two sentences. Grind it up.
Roll it in a twenty-dollar bill
and ignite. Smear the ashes on
a microscope slide and
discover the following: three
apostrophe fragments, seven
remembrances of a dairy farm,
trace amounts of ballpoint pen,
single molecule from a Mexican triceratops.

So much where in the whereabouts,
it’s amazing we can even
get to the checkout stand,
atoms shuffling past like
shoppers in a mall.

It is entirely possible that part of
my left pinky originated at the
midpoint between Castor and Pollux.

It is entirely possible that
I am making this up.

Willard & Maple
Champlain College
Burlington, Vermont

Corpus Callosum

Caustic intelligence works a
neon scatter along Castro Street,
lightning bug riots alive with
nationalities, screwjets, gearheads.
Disassemble the universe with an
Allen wrench, put it back
together with a gas-
powered tennis racquet.

Microwaves scrimmaging the dish,
pulsar grasshoppers, genetic
codes on the back of a stamp,
accelerators spraying the
hills with database.

We are edgewalkers, tectonic scuttlebutt;
wipe a hand through the air and
come away with pixels.
Graymatter princes who can
barely form a civilized
sentence map out the
escalators of human evolution,
tapping at their cyberphones like
seedless finches.

Willard & Maple
Champlain College
Burlington, Vermont


Fallopian door, Ceasarean
arch, Arturian pipe Dickensian
ash I

stalk the halls of history,
posting flyers for a missing cat.

Whiskers, tabby, Scorpio, Libertarian

I do
actually own a cat, but I
find that I enjoy the sympathy.
Halo of vulnerability, mistcloud
of loss, pathos, cocoa-
smelling allure of a
sniffle man who has lost his
beloved sigh pet.

I tried sincerity once and
came away with bronchitis.

What I really want is sex.
And money.
Save the philosophy for
mahatmas, betterworld bingo,
feelgood abstention.

Sex. Money.
A mild climate.

Willard & Maple
Champlain College
Burlington, Vermont


Red tumbles over yellow till the
coupling turns orange.
Yellow and blue in a corner,
making a perfect green of themselves.

He has met the compound colors and
seen the tire tracks on their faces.

The two-two tango is natural,
as is poison oak, lyme disease,
an unfortunate strike of
lightning to the temple.

He has taken the trip and yeah,
it’s a thrill ride, a levitation,
a Valentine’s Day fuckfest.

But one develops immunities,
a need to up the dosage,
operational expenses, wear and tear.

Alternative medicines:
a rainy night in San Francisco,
the diminuendo of a soprano,
a dozen daffodils in a coffee cup.

A friend who thinks you’re brilliant.
A stylist who massages your scalp.
A dog who thinks you’re God.
This poem.
This line.
This ending.

Sacramento, California


She carries her carnage like a
book of coupons, two for one,
grief and remorse.

I’m going to this, I’m going to
that, all the things to
which I am going.

And yet, not enough for your
share of the meal, a loan which
will not be repaid.

Tell me when it was that you
opted out of the species.

I reach into the glove box to
gather change for a cheeseburger.

A handful of pennies, two lonely nickels,
twenty minutes when you sat in
my car alone.

The scent of narcissus overwhelms the
room, until finally the
blossoms must be tossed out.

The Ranfurly Review


Jaguar of dalliance, courage in a
bottlecap, jimmy the jungles till they
spill forth in a river of
specieage, gumdrop froglets,
remote control fish,
mosquitoes that do your taxes.

If you need it we got it,
a guy who knows a guy who
squeezes a wholesale from
the tendons of a twelve-
year-old in Sri Lanka.

A continent of ocean where the
dolphins play with water bottles,
where the whales eat sporks and
the jellyfish wear sandwich
bags like ballcaps.

The dinosaurs have come back
in liquid form to muck the
skies, foul the waters and
claim revenge for the
asteroid but seriously I
can get you that tie for
five bucks downtown.

The Ranfurly Review


Faith is a word with two meanings.

Let’s boil the potato down to the
skin and say that you were right.
You fought your trickster brain,
constructed a house of pills and lace,
a lover tucked safely across the continent.

A westerly breeze threatened to
blow you to the four corners of New York.

I had no choice.
Living on still waters I
longed for the earthquake,
a sun that rose on the ocean,
love that called for everything.

Faith has two meanings.

It’s easy to say it would have
been a disaster, but given an
expression that resembled
hope more than fear,
given no choice but to make it work,
I would have made it work.

Instead, you bought a gun,
aimed it at my temple,
and then, what was worst,
refused to pull the trigger.

Faith. Two.

This week the anniversary,
which might have passed were it
not for the onslaught of ghosts:
message from a friend,
favorite band, income taxes,
an old movie.

A forty-year-old kneels on a
Long Island beach,
laying out his future.
She takes the golden bracelet,
smiles, and says yes.

In the parking lot,
she says yes maybe.
His shoes turn into steel rails that
run west into Manhattan,
skirting the Hudson, a pause in Pittsburgh,
a mad rush toward the Rockies.

A fifty-year-old stands in a
California post office,
picks out a sheet of flowered stamps.
Later, he pulls them out and
discovers wedding cakes.

The Ranfurly Review


The flower is the part that
saves. Spare me the
stamen I want

vibrato, scent, the elevation of
pleasure the buzz of
colored lights I want
customer service and

How do we know what a
waste of time a
waste of time is?

(Your voice has worn a
groove in my skin.)

A peal of laughter from the
big-boned girl in blue,
eyeshadow, mascara, those teeth!
A trail of petals across the
tiles a song.

Spring: The Journal of the E.E. Cummings Society

Have Yourself

Jurassic, era of choice.
Wading in the evertropic,
chomping on chlorophyll when some

Tyrannosaur cuts you off and in
fact yes the middle finger is the
digit of the 21st century.

I play the archer in an ’86 pickup.
You have not in fact severed my
arrow finger and I will now
pierce your Firestones with a
flick of my wrist.

The present day is a hydroplane, a
turbojet, we no longer have
watches we have phones that
order us around and don’t even
do laundry the bitches.

Laptoppers fill the coffeehouse in
perfect schoolhouse rows, facing
east like morning glories.
I tap my baton on the
podium and begin the
overture to Giovanni.

The hours ramrod past.

I am Orion with a longbed and a list:
Restore Anne to the ancestral couch.
Follow Janine’s U-haul to Pacifica.
Chase the Pleiades across the sky.
Drive Nina to the airport

(She dreams of Paula,
turning to ashes in Phoenix).

The errands go to the lucky ones.
I sit at my window, dining on
unemployment stew, watching the
neighbors dodge lightning bolts.

Nina calls from baggage claim.
Paula’s in a coma.
Floyd’s gone, Sandy’s in chemo,
Nadine’s lost her house and
Lois is losing her mind

(Ellen dreams of Phoenix,
who is not a city but a cat).

My hand on the truck door.
A white dot bores a hole in
the crushed velvet it
might be The Asteroid.

Or Venus.


Built entirely of motion
hydro, oxy, Newton’s apple
glacial knife, geologic freak show
flight     freedom     fall

A beautiful Assyrian girl hops
the rail for a photo, for
proof: the arduous climb, the
buzz of Yosemite, a hundred
granite steps

The water is merry, bucolic,
a lie.

What follows is anyone’s guess:
slick of algae, worn
spot on a shoe, loose rock

Her two male friends try to save her.
Two weeks later, they have
yet to find the bodies.

Late at night, the hikers give
way to bats and bears.
A lone figure approaches the
rail, reaches into a granite
slot and pulls a switch

The water drops away like a severed curtain,
lands with a ropy smack,
drains off toward Modesto

He drinks the silence,
takes a glance at
Half Dome’s broad shoulder and
sets his watch for five.

Michael Dreams of Dancing with Connie
(falling asleep with the pen in his hands)

Whirligig, milkshake, pasta rigatoni
the clasp of hands in mid-flight
we burn the solar system into
a patch of wood,
Newton’s finest thoughts

Tap the swing and sway,
trace the liturgy of hand and hip,
lasso the tail of a comet’s
ellipse into the meeting of ribs,
tight as paint on glass and
circle and circle and
spin and

The downbeat of a
waltz arrives only once.

Tonight I take you by the
fingernails and
tie you into a puzzlebox:
silver ribbon, sleeve and shoe
smoke and liquor, Scotch tape,
foil paper laced with leather.

And then I
unwrap you
again and


Carry me down the bloodlines
vermilion curtains, salamander cauldron
swayback bug doesn’t know what he’s
talking but still he talks

The comma is our darkest
enemy the semicolon God
forbid the period find a
shovel fill that thing up.

(Pause here for effect.)

Silence, thou dangerest of
beastlies, glut of probable,
excess of maybe, too much
likely, seeds of you never know

Deathly afraid of given the
chance what he might
do to himself

We pull the pins we
toss the grenades the
desert swims aflame
but then we call it
off they all return and
try their best through
Jesus football and
mortgage not to explode

You are nice to look
at surlytop but mind very
much if we wrap you in a flag

Cardboard marker meridians
three weeks of sunburn dirt you
reach for change but the
light ticks green the
truck driver honks you
spray the curb silver and
enter the ramp a muckyhand
wave he shouts Godbless!

It might not be right he
might drink it up but a
Godbless feels good and you’ve got
pins of your own

The Problem with the Carousel

Time is short.
Hand him your ticket and jump the
whirling circle a blur of ponies children
screaming colored lights you find a
horse with a blue saddle the
ride begins grinding gears the
world afloat centrifugal joy the
breeze in your face the song
fills your head like nothing you
ever dreamed but the saddle’s too
wide the stirrups don’t fit and you
find upon its forehead a single
horn it’s not even a horse.

When you’re on.
the pony.
you can’t actually see.
the pony.
but you can see all the.
other ponies.

The ride stops.
The music winds away.
You step to the dirt but then you

see a pony that could not be
more different from the
first so you hand your
ticket and jump the carriage to
your steed with its platinum
tail and sparkling hooves the
grinding gears the world
afloat the spin of stars but
you cannot touch this horse it’s
just out of reach the lights
cut your eyes the song too
loud cotton candy a
lump in your stomach you
take three steps and you
leap into space and you
roll through the straw and
come to a rest with your
eyes to the sky.

You take your last ticket to
the Ferris wheel.
They stop to let someone
on and leave you at the top.

A plane crosses the horizon.
A stoplight turns yellow.
The carnival a tribe of
electric insects.

A line of people at the
whirling circle.
The music rises like smoke.
You trace the bruises and you

if you will ever
ride the carousel again.


The foster parents of iguanas
meet each Sunday at the
stadium to exchange helpful
tips and discuss breeding opportunities

(between parents, between iguanas,
nobody remembers).

On the way home, they stop at
the Beach of Rich Folk, where
everyone claims to be a tourist

A man in bathing suit and
bow tie runs the sand through a
purifier, working the shore in
ten-foot squares

Oh you don’t want to know where
this stuff has been, years and
years of flying poop machines.
Before they put in the
ultraviolet safety dome.
(After work, he drives to the
landfill to hear the screech of
seagulls. It makes him want to
throw a frisbee.)

Sal carries Guido to the
breakers, flips him over and
plays pattycake on his
sandpaper belly. Guido giggles,
in the way that only an
iguana can.

A simulated sunset blossoms
over the dome. Packs of wild
poodles descend the hills in
clouds of chocolate, stopping
at the water to howl in
perfect G-major chords.

Sal sets Guido aright and
feeds him a passing crab.
Okay, he says.
You know what to do.

Guido gallops across the sand.
The poodles turn as one.

Famed for her glutes the
Armenian wonder dominates the
checkout stand

Joe fights the bottledogs,
trudges the want ads.
Across the coffeehouse, his
ultrasound son comes into focus.

Renowned for her derriere the
sister princess bends over to
adjust the train.
The world spins faster.

The crick in Jon’s neck turns
biomass, a mutiny of cells.
My father drives the state to
map out the alleyways

Gloried for her backside the
dancersingersactressproducer talks the
old ‘hood buy this car I am
just like you
Jen’s husband falls for a
cartoon, rents an apartment,
places his children on a
shuttle that never stops

Inkwell prostitutes,
bandwidth oligarchs,
junkies of the moving picture –
name them in a poem you’ve
got a sale

Lose yourself in
galaxies your

Caravan of Sorrows

Drink the sky eat your hands the
world so fragile you can’t
even tapdance

Not death we fear it’s the
parenthetical obituary

Ennui marries ego, has a
son named trouble.
The near-extinct head for their caves.

Ernest eats gold for breakfast.
Edwin waters the lawn with
sherry we are the opposable
thumb you cannot blame us for
grasping the buck is how we
keep score

(hey grasshopper stop that jumping)

Power marries immolation, has a
daughter named america.
Polly and Ida grab and
grab till the food-
stamp millions come to
pee in their fountains

and then they grab

A toddler grabs.
A parent says no.
A people live on
houses pushed up hills.

Let go.
Let gravity do its work.


Deathless leaves break the
midnight on a rascal wind,
the last day I will see
Patterakis alive.

Mr. P took his box of
notes and rubbed them into
mediocre ears, fallible voices,
teaching us the shape and
flavor of excellent songs

Who woke us with shouts,
settled us with laughter,
tracked us with his arms,
master of the sly grin,
the jackhammer stride.

Today he is halfway missing,
a frame of sticks.
The students of fourteen
years stand in a Greek
bistro and sing the
Hallelujah Chorus, drawing on
rehearsals a third-century gone.

I would like to be a
patron in this restaurant, to
receive this clamor with my
swordfish. Or Beethoven’s
Ninth. The Missa Solemnis.
Carmina Burana with clam sauce.
To see the slow rise of my
wife’s lips.

Mr. P stands at his table,
bathed in a glory of his
own creation. Weak smile,
eyes a mirror of sunset.

If major chords could
cure cancer.

We proceed to the alma mater.


Chocolate the color of sex,
white the flavor of jazz I
sing cherries, wining my gums on the
spearmint hills of Salinas

Metronome heels on green marble,
moonmoth Fleming cadenzas, strike and
leave strike and drive, labrador
growl, sidelong smile Jaguar
chassis the swoop of
sunlight, bark of babies,
low bacon sizzle of surf.

We hear we see, we chew the
world on our skin we
dance to first, snap the
catch, leather applause,
sting of tobacco the sudden of

A bell tolls the estuary.
An egret scrapes the fog.
Woodsmoke peppers the
nose with evening.

Asphalt rain, catfight lightning,
sigh of airbrakes, redwink Mars on a
peanutbutter beach, portabella
sponge the waitress shivers,
lipstick on damp wool

Pizzicato lights on Capitola,
waves of lionbreath, frogs on a
boast, fizzing rake of
crickets, bourbonswill seals
upswell of ale, salmon coda
sunset, lavender scratch,
oilfin mirrors of slate

Kiss of cedar on a popsicle wind,
fields of coconut, shapeshifter
blast of a downhill run,
cinnamon heat, fairy
crystal crossbar

Cannabis gravity, yardsale crash,
obliterant confetti quailflap clack you
slide to a lemondrop stop.

Denim sky.
Firbranch riffle.
Roast beef shout the

stab of Scotch,
sasparilla woodgrain, gorgonzola
squirm, firetip chuckle,
wave of yellow, wave of orange
glissando hair, color of pasta
weightless ampersand the
crescent eyes that stop the

The picture ends with our
protagonist crying into his popcorn.
He does not wipe his
tears comes from a long line of
weepers and there is
pride to be considered.

He knows that others long for
a day when the sorrow
lessens and does not want to
think himself a special case she
was fifty-six and
cancer is all too common

But dermastrata dulls the
senses, cleans out the memory box.
We are ruthless children we
yearn to rip the bandage,
take a pumice to the scab,
jagged fingerlings of red,
rainfall on windows the fresh
burn of pain we call grace.
The descendants cast her
ashes over Waikiki, take the
leis from their necks and
toss them in the water

Enter the ukulele,
a man sings in keening,
vowelish Hawaiian over the credits.

I pull up Carla and type
good mom film she’s already
seen it twice.


At the base of Mount Shasta stands a grove of pygmy sequoias with flowing blonde locks. Subterranean thermals melt a rhombus into the snow. At the tip of the rhombus stands an amphitheater constructed of wax paper. A man splits the aluminum curtains, performs a balletic leap and crumples to the floor. A banana descends from the flies, bearing the face of Jesus Christ, who is always showing up in these situations. The man peels the banana, revealing a microphone. He speaks:

Surely there are those for whom the modern day bears no resemblance to the paintings inside my head. It is for her that we present the following fiasco:

I am a brown hyphen, three
inches long, magnetic.

A congresswoman shot in the
head. Tell me what you believe.
Hand on heart.

I am a jukebox containing
three thousand two hundred and
fifty three songs.

Drunken dancers, children spread
out like locusts, stripping the trees.

I am a random series of
photos on an Internet page.

It could be that I have
struck the limits of language,
a personal iceberg next to the
rubber ducks and Roget’s Thesaurus.

What happens when you run out of
meaning? Tapdancing is useful in
car accidents but just a step
away from yodeling.

I am a nine-digit numeral,
a ten-digit numeral, a house.

Could I
could I

A bearded man on a bicycle,
pedaling straight into the traffic.

Tell me your three favorite
flavors of yogurt I feel you
are drifting I have these
things called fingers and I
would like to use them.

A man crosses the street as
slowly as possible, daring
you to hit him.

I am an ’86 Toyota pickup.

A man dances the
cha-cha with a
dust devil.

A girl enters stage left, sits cross-legged, opens a lunchbox and unwraps a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The crust bears the face of the President of the United States, who is always showing up in these situations.

I am the audience.


Yellow scrawl on the east
window, badge of human desire:
to leave a sign, to color the
course of life, to place a
lip upon a lip and
open up the other.

We chase the high note because it’s
dangerous. Nights on Curtner, a
schoolyard glimmer that flips a
prehistoric switch: horror movie,
rollercoaster, sabertooth.
We might not otherwise
know that we’re alive.

Our bibles the calendar and the
checkbook, and why not?
There is nobility in groceries,
yardwork, snacks for the
soccer team, whether to end this
stanza on a period or an em dash –

Circle the lake with your eye on
Pollux you will end up wet.

Life is the single item: a blonde
picking butts off the patio,
bouquet of alstromeria,
a purple ring that
reminds Monique of her uncle.

Parmesan over popcorn.
Cirrus cloud in the shape of Ireland.
An F-sharp sung by Nat King Cole in 1947.
Reflection of a girl’s face next to
a bottle of vanilla syrup.
The one snaggle tooth that makes her cute.

The jogger runs in a blur of
light and smell.

The hiker spots the red cap of a
woodpecker, beating an adagio waltz;
recalls a song, a cafeteria, a
cast on one arm, a girl with
cinnamon hair that smells like peach.

Sister Jordan cuts thickly from the
watercolor clouds of the North Georgia
Mountains, breathing spores,
cracking sticks.

She wants a husband but may as
well be chasing gryphons, rocs,
a decent martini.

She nears the Silverton cut,
conjures a sigh that stills the
rain. It’s late, and though
she feels the spark of youth in
her eyes, steps with the lift of
a colt, the touch of her own
fingers has become a meal
tasted too often,
incurable by spices.

She dreams the callused hands of a
farmboy, tracing her kneecap, flash of
neurons, tongueswipe, nape, lobe,
calf, the fullness as he
drives himself inside,
a hand on either hip.

A picture in the paper.
Dead at forty-six.
Thirty-eight lovers since;
the numbers leave her cold.

She kneels on a rock to
dip a hand in the stream.
The chill makes her smile.
She feels a nibble and finds a
brown trout sniffing her hand.
The trout stands on its hind
fins and casts a very unfishlike smile.

Greetings! I am a telepathic
love trout. If you pick me
up and kiss my left gill,
I will show you unfathomable
worlds of delight.

Sister Jordan cradles the fish in
her hands. She sets her
mouth upon its side.

Two coals in the shape of
Midwestern states. They fall
together, releasing a burst of sparks.
Jordan awakes, the taste of
salt upon her lips, and tosses
the last of the bones into
the fire. Perhaps tomorrow she
will find a bass.


Dynamiting the firework stand,
blowing sparks at the gas pump he
lives the life of immolation.

The sun hangs from a barren tree.

Two-bit sorrow meant for
 race-car drivers, Everest climbers,
occupational drunks.
You knew the price.

Death stalks tiny innocents,
genetic casino losers who never
once put the gun in their mouths.

We love the reaper with all
our hearts, call it flag,
call it glory, saint, hero,
daredevil, messiah. We
love it because it is not ours.

Crème brulee on the
nightmare square. Tell us
how he did it. Show us the parts.
The holes, the marks, blood,
semen, ligature, laceration,
blunt trauma. Make us
feel better.

I have a gift for you.
Open it slowly. Savor, measure,
study, indulge.
Someday I will take it back.


Dream like a fulcrum, lift, conquer.
I would sing the comets in your eyes.

Running the length of the
switchgrass, cattle coyotes in your wake.

Rolling, braying,
hail-good-fellow till night’s end.

Morning delivers mimosas,
parasol table, end of the pier,
skin that smells like acacia.

Dolphin gets the order and
limbers upward, bursting the
ceiling, a watered arc that
webs the sunrise.

Play it back and you
find the rivulets spelling
out your name.

Your secretary writes a
thank-you note, pins it to
a sardine, drops it in the bay.


Prattleyammer yakblather fry my
cornflakes I sit behind glassine eyes and
bluepencil your soliloquies yanking up
foundlings would chop off
a finger if it made you
notice something outside yourself.

The one who speaks the
most wins a parking space in
heaven and a carbon footprint
the size of a coal plant so
leave no pause lest one
presuppose the possibility of
two-way streets I suspect
you’ve been studying circular
breathing perhaps you should
take up the didgeridoo move to
a land where people are
shaped like ears.

The Parallel Line Falls in Love

Too many days of seeing the
other; matterless points no
closer, no farther

She is a perfect mirror,
echoes his every thought,
his unwavering flight

In first period he begins to
bend, imperceptible minutes
at a time. By noon, he has
pulled up to her shoulder,
gives her a wink. She
responds with an impassive look.

I do not know what you
think you are doing but you
should know this: I have
loved you since the x/y axis,
but now you have corrupted
yourself with arcs and
angles. You are not the
line I once knew.
The line gives her a
pleading look, but it’s
clear that she has
made up her mind.
He sighs and retreats to
his well-worn track,
barreling forward in
ideal space.

Once in a while,
late at night when the
textbook is closed, he
allows himself a perpendicular
glance, imagines his points
aligned with hers in a
single, immortal stride.


I am uphill from the picnic,
watching the clan, when my
late mother hands me a cupcake.

It’s good to see you, Mom,
but shouldn’t we tell the others?

She presses a chih to the
side of her cheek, a
puff of steam.

Look at them, they’re doing so
well, I wouldn’t want to
make a fuss.

But I don’t get how this
happened. Why aren’t you dead?

I don’t understand it myself.
But it’s sure nice to see everyone.

I don’t know. I feel sort of guilty.

She traces a hand on the
side of my temple.

I think you were born thirty years old.

A dog barks.

Our labrador sits on his rug
like a Sphinx, his gaze fixed on
the door. At the end of an hour,
my landlady’s absence has
pushed his whining into birdsong.


Camarena enters the cinema with a
large popcorn and a gerbil named Justice.
She exits with a box of
marshmallows and a cat named Mozzarella.

What happens in between is
largely hypothetical.

Brian enters a day spa with a
girlfriend the color of dark chocolate.
He exits with five lipstick
marks and a restraining order.

What happens in between was
fairly inevitable.

Giselle enters a car wash as
a neurosurgeon and never leaves.

What happens next is
crucially important.


Find an acorn.
Slip it into the pocket of a
coat you never wear.
Six months from now,
late-night run to a convenience
store, rediscover it,
hard kernel of oakbirth.

We live on simple threads:
song to learn, present to buy,
text message from a possible possible,
dollop of sour cream.

Sage, cumin, spray of basil,
frontyard rosemary, aroma of
jazzify, alchemy of punctuate,
cavalry of dishtowels to
wipe up the sorry.

Feathergreen cypress.
Wobbling wavetop.
Falling in a smithereen.

First sip of an ice cold beer after
sweating on some rich guy’s deck.
First step home after
ten hours in a cubicle.
Hoping the deck guy hasn’t screwed it up.
Hoping the rich guy doesn’t stiff you.
Wheat-colored planks, fields of oakbirth.
The painter still at it, fussing the smallnesses.
Two beers in the fridge.

Red Scarf

Feeling in the dark,
fumbling for the lightswitch,
housekey, gold nugget, love letter.

The poet’s typewriter was
carved from a block of jade.
Saffron ribbon, shift key for rhyming words.

He sits at a black
table with a red scarf,
only and still beneath the moon,
wailing with coyotes.

A lost uncle instills grief with
actuality, a resin pressed from the
late persona, the family in black,
real response to an undreamt loss.

The poet dines on sighs,
indigo vanity, a Zeus who
tosses bolts to no effect.
He cups the light and heat,
glories in the release,
sees them sucked into the hurly-burly.

He sits at the black table,
with the red scarf,
reads a Thursday sonnet,
wonders if he should have been a singer.


Jeremy watches the
dingo babylon and wonders

Something to do with black stockings,
warpaint over the eyes,
consumption of festering liquids,
ribonucleic lottery.

Arriving inside a naked other seems
inexplicable, a keno juggle,
waking dream.

To frame the self in frosted glass,
mealy-mouthed biography, scripted lines,
and come away with blue ribbons.
One must credit the aficionado,
who sees some human charge
far beneath the skin, enough to
invite a physical invasion,
this rude flamenco.

Still, one is grateful.

Carry me south on byzantine wings.
Set me in the crown of a poplar,
hazel-eyed leaves,
a birdhouse of lapis lazuli.

Sing me to sleep on a mandolin boat,
banjo rudder, a cello unearthed
from the base of Half Dome.

Give me three friends who will
love me when I’m wrong,
forgive me when I’m right,
and a lover who will
love me for love alone.

Asters to make me large,
stars to make me small,
music to even me out.

Drop me in the water.
Grant me the weightlessness of sleep.
Let the heartaches come tomorrow.

It begins with acacia,
canopies of butter,
price tags of pear and cherry.

You know how it ended last time.
Suicides by the million.
Corpses carried off in bags.
Limbs left bare to the winter.

Terry stares at a
cocktail napkin full of numbers,
waiting for amnesia.


Kilowatts run from the coal
plant signs of the flood badge of
sensitive we dance the sun until the
moon cuts in

Bear, Mandolin, Red Rock, Blackwater,
Pegasus, Beehive I raise my
pen I write my fondest desire I
send it aloft on a weather balloon

A man in Calgary reports an
alien craft entirely missing the
northern lights which are
merely the remnants of my
desire exploded over the
Rockies in a shimmering
lime green although I had
always envisioned chartreuse

I dream of golf but can’t
afford golf so I dream of
piracy determined to win the
costume contest I crash the
tattoo parlor and request an

Dearborn, carelessly lived,
foolishly sought the sirens of
love and approval not knowing
that money buys them both.
A world of asskissers, luckyborns,
yapdogs, your payment waits in
heaven which does not exist

Aim higher that squirrel is not
going to kill itself could you
please pass the oh my god stop!

Amy Yardaway, love of my life,
races to the edge of the
turnout, somewhere outside
Calgary, stops at the fence and
stares. A lime green cow.

She smiles oceanically.
I am all at once.


Denmother pigeons calling to
the judge, woohooing the
calcified remnants of
Meredith’s final lecture.

I had best not see your
scene over the level of your
paragraph. One cannot contain
the other I think by now if
you were paying attention you
would know. Am I understood?

To which thereby the clarity
police sent in a heretofore
thereupon, delineating the very
meaning of meaning and/or
definition as evidenced by the
somnirepticular gnomes of Arvingdon.

(Hello. My name is Mark.
Would you like a conversation?)

I feel sometimes when I
say what I say that
you are instead thinking
what you think,
and that troubles me.

What I have here is a ball point pen.
What I have here is a cellular phone.
If you are liable to take
one and not the other,
there is no question but that
we may understand one
another or not but the

Thing is, if we don’t at
least try, how can we, in
all good intents, call
ourselves rhinoceroses?

I love and respect you
nearly some of the time,
but if you continue to
misrepresent yourself in
this fashion, I will be
forced to keep talking.

And nobody wants that.


Meriwether fences, a taste of
neverbeen to lighten the step.
Jumping horse, pole vault, footstool.

Sad-eyed semaphore in the eye of
the maelstrom. She calls for help,
but never when help can be given.

So much timing swept over the
falls, this antic come-and-go,
inches from the payoff.

Once, a blade of grass that held firm.

A winning putt.
Corporate blimps, television cameras,
men whispering into microphones.

A man in white swings the
pendulum, leftward parabola,
a line he drew in his head.
The blade sees it coming,
white planet, perfectly cratered,
reaches for his cellulose center and
makes himself big.

To the whispering men,
it seems that the ball has
met with an invisible field,
trick of magnetics, dangling on the
edge like a woman about to say yes.

The smile disappears.
The crowd exhales.
The engraver pauses.

Ernesto finishes his coffee,
picks out his finest clippers,
leaves a set of dewborne
prints across the green.
Leaning over the cup, he finds a
chlorophyll cowlick stabbing the white.

Slides it into his wallet.
Has it bronzed, places it on his
mantel, next to the pebble from ’79.


Careering into a phalanx one is
wise to take a breath.
Remove all thoughts, check a map.

            You asked me for a toothpick.
            I gave you one.

Destruction, liberation.
We build our traps and fall in love.

            You asked me for a bottle of glue.
            I gave you one.

Look for the button next to the steel jaws.
Remember that you have a thumb.

            You hinted.
            I certainly love toothpicks.
            I adore bottles of glue.

The fetal position is nothing if
not designed for comfort.

            Whenever I could, I brought you
            toothpicks, bottles of glue.

But walking demands that the
soles of your feet face the earth.

            Rummaged through flea markets,
            thrift shops, hardware stores.

You might fall.
You might run, dance, jump, cavort.
The odds are good.

            Ate at steakhouses.
            Slipped toothpicks into my pockets.

Would it help if I kicked you in the ass?

            And now

            You have built a
            cage entirely of toothpicks.
            You could smash it with a
            kick, but you won’t.
            You’ve put in too much
            sweat, care, patience.
            It’s a work of art.

            But perhaps you should have
            built it from the outside.

Three Lanes

Fendergems in the blink of
twilight, a charcoal skein over
the edge of the city we wait.

Two rivers, opposing.
Candy red, laundry white.
Perfection of teamwork.

Pressing does no good.
Ten feet gained, ten feet lost.
Setting off alarms.

Do it for your own sake.
For the candy red inside your chest,
the pulsing, musclebound traffic cop.

You’ll be home when you’re home.

To Scale

Truckstop diner,
map like a tablecloth,
intentions in highlighter pink.

Lost on purpose,
rising green mounds of Wisconsin,
gameboard stormlands of Kansas.
Committee of cottonwood to
catch the lightning.

Take it on faith and roadsign that
you are where you think you are,
graceless days of asphalt,
the smallest landmarks granted the
aura of celebrity.

Oversize drug store.
Palace built of corn.

Kiss a few cheeks.
Sleep in a rest area.
Flex the pedalfoot and go,
pressing an eternity of
roadside past the windows,
four-footed bedroom, gone for an
ocean that faces the wrong way.
William’s Floor

Stripping the catpiss carpet we
uncover a blue underpad,
woodgrain linoleum, plywood base.

Next is a sheet of platinum,
concrete signed by the cast of
Kiss Me Kate,
fifty thousand wheat pennies,
shards of Ming vase,
fossilized skeleton of a woolly mammoth.

We break for lunch.

A thousand frogs in a sheet of ice,
small deposit of coal shale,
seventies roller rink,
oversize chessboard, black and white marble,
undiscovered poems of Rumi (in Farsi),
five thousand action figures posed in a
reenactment of Gettysburg,
and an original parchment copy of
the Constitution (in Italian).

We’re thinking laminate.
A nice cherry wood.


Denim patchwork on the great
tide of cordiality I hurdle the
breakers to the sweet spot,
lifted like a bobtoy,
lowered to the sand.

Harlow orders a suit of cactus.
The measurements take a week.
A month to find a saguaro of
the proper size, toughen the
skin with chemicals, stitch the
strips into coat and pants.

The spines are fixed at
elbow, shoulder, knee,
affording the personal space that
Harlow has been craving.
No more negotiations with
oncoming pedestrians.
No more moviehouse
debates over the armrest.
No more tailgaters at the
grocery store.
He does get looks.
They do think that he’s crazy.
But he also gets calls from women,
each of them swearing that
she will be the one who gets close.
The first two end up in the hospital.
Which only multiplies his popularity.

Harlow thinks of running for mayor.
His opponent wears a porcupine
coat with fully functioning quills.
Bracelets of rattlesnake fangs,
tipped with venom. He finds her
strangely attractive.

Demitasse nightmares,
silvermad colts running
laps around the industrial park.

Joe checks out for lunch and
wanders to the tiled fountains,
porcelain ecosystems.

He folds the morning memo into a
sailboat and watches it cruise the
walled incline, over the steps,
through a curtain of
water and gone.

Returns to his sandwich and
finds a clump of pink along the
central fountain. Fishes it out:
a letter in Chinese.

He pulls out a business card and
folds it into a dinghy.
Sets it on the same course,
down, over, through, gone.
Returns to find a
concert program in Italian.

An hour later, Joe finishes the
sandwich and studies his
collection: menu in Arabic,
crossword puzzle, Swahili;
cigarette box, Spanish;
party invitation, Russian.
Dozens of others.

Jahib walks past, quizzical.
Joe asks for a piece of paper.
Jahib hands him a
receipt from a restaurant,
certain that his colleague has gone mad.

When Joe returns to the fountain,
he finds a photograph of his wife.
He spins.

He has never thrown a punch before.
He expects it will hurt.


Her stance athletic,
pumps planted, toes out,
light spring dress,
eyes of a huntress.

But also a good host.
She pours a pitcher of Handel,
lemonade trills, prepping the
room for harsher intervals.

Sopranos will skate on a
handful of tricks, silver confetti,
betting on the presence of
(They are largely right.)

Betany is the relentless mezzo,
jab, jab, work the body,
building the case, weaving trust,
ruthlessly intelligent.

And yet, in an opera,
capable of pouring herself out,
emotional jags that would
fail with a tick of hesitation.

The entrée is rich and dark,
Blake on a sextet.
Dessert a mad Broadway patter,
half sugar, half ammo,
words in a vise.

In the second verse, she stumbles,
and does the thing that no one does.
Says, I almost got it that time.
Races to her pianist, taps the score.
Plants her feet.
And gets it right.

Job Description

Hallowing the everyday,
he thumbs his knee at the alabaster,
his feet at the conundrum,
tries hard to reach the not yet reached.

Surfing the tick-a-tock,
fishing for offramps,
songs furrowing the marrow,
the duties of the autodidact.

He blames his wife, who asked
him to clean the garage.
Next to the washer his old
arc welder, red spray paint,
three bags of cans.

He takes his lonely fingers to
the back forty, a creek under
cottonwoods where he and
Jessie played soldier.

The cans are a puzzle, the stubborn
angles, spit of heat,
sunrise of conjoined metal.
A pair of muscular treetrunks,
cherry red, draped in a tarp.

He enters at sunset,
clothed in shadows.
Heats the vegetables,
fingering the letters on the label.
Darcy watches from the couch,
hair twisted into brambles.

At the end of six days,
he has fashioned a Jabberwock,
looming the switchgrass,
chasing small, frightened creatures.
Chasing Jessie.
Jessie giggles and runs for his life.

Jessie’s father can no longer wait.
He empties the smaller cans into
plastic bags: asparagus,
black olives, pineapple,
strips off the labels,
maps out the monster’s teeth.

He’s prepping the welder when he
hears Darcy’s truck, the single weak cylinder.
All he can do is watch her
come, slam the door, race his way.

The red catches her by the neck,
slows her feet. She stands beneath the
great jaw, touches the torso, the tail.

He slips past a leg to find her
facing away, a tremolo of shoulders.
Comes from behind to wrap her up.

She’s looking at the creek.
“He would have loved it.”


A galvanized burden settles on the
underclass, flavors the tapwater if
they feel like it and will even
eat their bagels with peanut
butter like freaking cossacks.

Before it all comes undone I’d
like to say I didn’t know who
she was, didn’t know the psycho-
sexual meaning of the word
kayak was only looking for a
quiet paddle along the lakefront but
this does underscore the
advantages of generous tipping.

I am a flyover of the worst
kind a bluenose huffpuff willing to
entertain anything short of
homicide if it means another sale but
sadly any real success depends on
believing one’s own bullshit and believe
me I would never believe mine.
Take a large breath and let it
out teasing the flow with
glottal stops and vowelular
nudges in order to appear as
if you are carrying one half of
a conversation even when you are.

I could name a thousand
situations I would rather
occupy than being with you
right here right then but I
am cognizant of feelings and the
mandates of civilized society and
so I will pretend to be more
than content to stay here and
inhale your odious breath.



Oh graymare, you know you are my
fondest appendage but I would
ditch you in a second.

Allegiance is tempting but the
northern horizon keeps sending valentines.

There is vastly superior to here.
Not just the additional T but the
fact that it doesn’t really exist.
If I actually did go there,
I would be obliged to stand upon
its broad plain and declare,
It is certainly good to be here.
And there I’d be.

But perhaps the best realities are
the ones you make up.

The Upside

Down at the bottom they
see you and say I am so
sorry let me send you a rope.

The unrequested kindness,
suitable for hymns of praise,
memorial postage stamps.

So simple to wade into the
muck, throw up our hands,
give supplication to the
saints of who the hell cares.

But we are so often the
roadside rescuers, human bandages,
purchasers of flowers,
Sunday furniture movers.

Karma’s a lie.
We do it because it feels good.
The fact that it feels good is
the best argument for the
continuation of the species.


All those things you say you are.
Perambulate. Pick a number.

I love you in spite of them.
Circumnavigate. Spin the wheel.

Nothing but shorthand, corporate logos.
Resuscitate. Roll the dice.

Bought a book to do your thinking.
Cogitate. Flip a coin.

In a cornfield of thirty-sevens and
fifty-fours, you select a
one, a zero, a one, a zero,
entire subdivisions in Navajo white,
twenty-one identical pairs of
blue jeans, forty waist, thirty leg.

Leo wanted his room as
deep a blue as one could find.
Mom was willing to go as
far as sky.

The pilot empties the gas tank,
waits till the last second.
The plane crashes in the courtyard,
setting the apartments ablaze.
No one dies.

The police chief declares
divine intervention, putting a
formidable discount on
the Japanese tsunami.

Everything happens for a reason.
If it doesn’t, we must force a
reason upon it, like a
mustard lid on a mayonnaise jar.

Chance is an ice cube down the
back, a drymouthed call to
mortality. Show it to the door.

A fighter pilot sits at the
patio table, parachute rising
from his shoulders in an orange cloud.
He offers a weary smile.

Sorry about this.
Could you call a paramedic?
Oh, and a cup of
coffee would be brilliant.


Responding to a slow-acting psychogenic
beandip, Jin finds that he is
capable of just about anything.

He climbs a footpath that arcs the
canopies of witchlimbed oak and
comes to a hilltop, under a
spotlight of moon, surrounded by
coyotes in white tuxedos.

Jin snaps a finger at the alpha,
eliciting a yowl pitched at a
perfect high A (soprano clef).
He continues down the
pack until he has outlined an
A major seventh in double octaves.

They sing Swanee, Danny Boy,
Hava Nagila. They’re wrapping
up Mack the Knife when a
rabbit dashes past and he
loses them all.
Jin spots a milk-white horse in a
neighboring pasture. She claps
twice and the horse floats her
way, using a ten-foot length of
escalator that flies like a
magic carpet. A patch of
black fur on the horse’s flank
spells out the word ASK.

Okay, she says. I’m asking.

The horse smiles rather saucily and
stands on its hind legs.
Jin takes its hooves.
A band of skunks arrives with
percussion instruments and plays a
salsa beat. They dance for an
hour, until the horse sets her
into a spin that never stops.

She wakes on a beach, her
body covered in a blanket of
sand dollars, and rises to
find that she is very pregnant.
Jin has never believed the
old myths about interspecies
breeding, but as the first
labor pain strikes she is
forced to consider the possibility.

As the sun tips the mountains,
she gives birth to a baby
boy who begins to grow larger as
soon as he hits the sand.
In a matter of minutes,
they are standing face to face.

Jin kisses his mother self and
watches her walk into the ocean,
disappearing into a forest of kelp.

I will certainly miss her.

He wakes inside a bass drum.
A redhead kneels at the opening,
offering him a cup of coffee.


Veerly crocus kimono,
frogaline green on a
vastly melt of flotsam

Evensong woodsmoke over
bayleaf cream, a
fair-haired eucalyptus

Eyelash butterflap of
hoverdone monarchs,
a treelong staircase of
orangemeal synapse

Spell your name in the
ice-infested nightfade, a
blossomsong careening outward

A nest for all.
A word for one.
A care for both.
An ear for wise.

Cotton sheetfall, a
wonderwelling warmth,
massagely swimsleep


Six-thirty imitates an elephant.
Nine-fifteen signals safe.
At eleven oh five the clock has given up.

He sits at his personal diner,
wondering how long it takes to
ferment french fries into vodka.

Strong possibility that he has
waited too long but his
pride sticks like pinetar.

The music loops back around,
Misty for the umpteenth.

He pulls up the text C U @ 7 :-),
enthralling colon dash parenthesis.

The waitress gave up
after his fourth coffee.

She’s back offering a
colon dash bracket.

I’m sorry. We need to close.

He looks at his hands.

Can I help?

The bracket grows teeth.
She hands him a mop.

The chance that you would                                                   
touch my shoulder and
I would sprout wings.

That you would speak a
string of words that would
offer a solution to the
world’s most difficult
mathematical problem.

I would.

You are the
woman giggling in the next room,
a driver turning as I go straight,
the first customer after I leave the diner.
Ever, ever, ever on the outbound.

I also know that you may not exist.

I still would.

The possibility that the earth’s next
rotation welcomes a sun that
shines upon a day that I will
talk about until I cannot talk.

’86 Pickup                                                                             
A surfeit of manna,                                                                
pregnant with intention:
broomstick, hose, brush, bucket,

Ligature of scratches,
tattoo of deckstain,
spent containers.

Sandpaper knees,
blind to work and weather,
a Japanese heart designed to
tick and pump to the
ends of centuries.

Notes on the windshield from
landscapers, plumbers.
A farmworker eyes the overlong
bed like the vale of
a woman’s waist.

Dad’s name on the warranty.
An uncanny knack for
never breaking down.
Sometimes, it’s the only thing in
life that does not disappoint.

Whisper of nutmeg in the Eastern sky.                                 
A newspaper describes an arc above the
driveway, lands with a slap.

Meo on a pinebranch, sixty feet up,
claws fixed on the trunk like crampons.
Wet rag fur.

He curses his wiring,
a genetic trigger that reads
when in doubt go up,
when in fright go up,
when anxious go up,
no countervailing stratagem for
when in storm go down.

It’s a wonder that every
cat in the world doesn’t end up
on the top of Mount Everest.

A gust of wind brings a
shiver that won’t stop,
sets the treetop swaying like a
backward pendulum.

The world fuzzes over.
The crampons dig deep.
He dreams of hang-glider skinflaps,
chasing bluebirds across the sky,
a mouthful of feathers.

Two notes of humansong, over and
over, the tallest man he’s ever seen,
holding a sack.
Meo spots his door and runs.
Fingers, towels, a
buzzing creature with hot breath.

The stage is covered in
squares and cylinders.
A human hovers near,
showing teeth.

He licks a paw and gets to work.

One hand in the peanut jar,
baby toe in the mudbath,
Connie Hayes waits for the geyser.
Somewhere in the bottom of
her purse, a lotto ticket that
will cleanse her life of suspense.

No more the secretly gay boyfriend,
the riflenut co-worker,
goo-goo friends who crib their
advice from eponymous magazines.

She will buy a penguin,
then a hot car –
but one that won’t attract thieves.
She and her penguin (Peter)
will conduct a tour of
North America and pose before
random retail outlets:
the Barnes & Noble in Tonawanda,
the Mint Bar in Sheridan,
the Piggly Wiggly in Jonesboro.
She will flash the photos to
the Internet so that her
so-called friends may better
digest their hearts.

Honey? Feelin’ good?

Peter, back from his massage,
a blond lock ducking his forehead,
exponential boyishness.
She works up a smile like she’s
cranking a batch of ice cream.

Waiting for the geyser.
Peter? Do men ever
make passes at you?

He laughs.

All the time.
It’s okay. I guess I’m flattered.

Outside the window,
Napa’s Old Faithful
(anorexic cousin to Yellowstone’s)
shoots the blue.

Connie laughs.


Nothing. Hey, remind me to
stop by the store for a lotto ticket.

Life in the Crosswalk

Working a thumbling of clay,
world’s worth of geometry,
imagining the yellow stripes as
stone walls but you
trust overly much.

Social compacts work until they
kill you, better a lightfoot dodger,
midstream stone-hopper.

In fact

Ditch the dinosaurs altogether.
Cultivate your blisters,
run roughshod where the
rainfall fingers your tracks.

Scale the promontory,
eat up the vastliness,
pillows of green begging
you to keep on, keep on.

One day you will press that
button for hours, unaware that
the signal has been banished,
that Darwin has finally won out.

Moment Variable

Mile 83 of the strawberry highway,
kin to the welfare of transient
groceries I wonder if
albatross means the same as it
used to, whether Farm Route 47
leads to the vulture-infested
trees of Chowchilla.

O lovadorish Kate,
I would take you to the prom,
I would kiss your left elbow,
I would seduce you in
Swahili and not have you
think it inappropriate.

They always said I was a
mellifluous child.

Outside of my first-grade window,
the sunlight, sky and cloud of
Oak Harbor, Washington gather
an ethereal soup that I
will always think of as X,
a thing so achingly perfect that
to weigh it down with a word of
English would be criminal.

It must have been spring.
Easter must have whispered my name.
The vanilla ridges of the Olympic
Mountains must have been
just out of view.
Melissa Camarind’s braids must have
induced chemical reactions for
which I had no language.

Now, I do.
Every hundredth Wednesday, as the
final feather of acacia gives its
life to gravity, a fragment of
X flutters the air at my
left earlobe and causes me to
whistle a song I learned
on my paper route,
radio taped to my handlebars,
the scent of star jasmine
pulling me into the ivied
labyrinth of the Evergreen Apartments.

I stop at 23B, watch the
underhand flight of the
San Jose Mercury News,
slap of newsprint on cement,
back my way out to find a
slice of orange light, prairiedogging the
Eastern mountains to the sound of
Paul McCartney and Wings.

Cannot go back to X.
Cannot change the roadsigns and
live a blue-penciled life.
The barbed arrow goes into the
skin but not back out.
This is the prison we
entered when we
agreed to be born.

You don’t remember?
No one does.

Had I one more crack at the
contract I would make some demands.

That adolescence would not
swipe its gooey fist over the
rest of my life.
That I would not wait so
long to not care so
much what people thought.
That I would be more reckless,
do many more stupid things,
and for God’s sake have more sex.

That the next time I hear the
frogs of April, creaking like
old doors in my backyard,
I will pay close attention,
mark it on my calendar,
invite my friends for a concert.

Domestic Dioramas

Find an old shoebox to use as a backdrop.
Try Legos and pipe-cleaners for furniture;
cut up old shirts and socks for
curtains, tablecloths and carpeting.
You may use action figures,
but it’s more fun to create
your own cardboard cutouts.

Assignment One:
A man has just been served with
divorce papers. He sits at his
kitchen table, considering his options:
a gun, a ballpoint pen,
The Golden Hits of Elvis Presley.

Assignment Two:
A married woman with three children has
just realized that she’s a lesbian.
Give visual hints about her epiphany:
Desperate Housewives on the television,
a framed portrait of Melissa Etheridge;
a hot dog, half-eaten.

Assignment Three:
A large family sits at a dinner table,
enjoying a Thanksgiving meal.
A second tableau reveals what
would happen if they gave
vent to their true feelings:
Aunt Martha rolls an enormous joint;
cousins Teddy and Suki
make out beneath the table;
Uncle Freddie discovers a
fork sticking out of his forehead.

The assignment is due May 17,
after which your teacher will be
marrying a banker and leaving you
little rat-bastards to fend for yourselves.

Add It Up

Facing the Seahorse Conundrum,
Alexandra scratches the final digits of
her calculations across the blackboard.

The proposition of a simple
one plus one flies in the
face of recorded behavior.
Lock two spouses in a sealed
chamber and they will still
find a way to cheat each other.

The problem originates with the dream of
self-fulfillment, which is never, ever
achieved solely by the addition of the other.
The consequent disillusionment spurs our
wayward steps, fueled by hope, anticipation,
and the next pair of suntanned
legs that trip our radar.

If x + y doesn’t work,
perhaps x + y + z will.
But the trio never holds,
because y begins to believe
that z will succeed
where x has failed.

Perhaps someday the framework of
monogamy will fade like a red dwarf,
and another paradigm will take its place:
simultaneous partnerships in the
distinct areas of sex, parenting and
companionship, a tripart network of
support arranged by computer algorithms.

Dinner and sex with Gunther.
Stan drives the kids to school.
A lunchtime chat with Javier.

If only she could set it all
down in mathematical terms.

Alexandra’s phone plays an
excerpt from the Goldberg Variations.
Martin has sent her a periwinkle,
purple radiant in a bed of ivy.

The numbers fade.
Her head fills with air.



In the byway of nightscape,
Isadora walks a huff,
checking her phone, checking her phone.

If Conrad means it, she’s in trouble.
If he doesn’t, she will cut his
pretentious hair and feed it to a
wood chipper.

She should have resigned herself to
cats, goldfish, something
moving but not linguistic,
something that wouldn’t
shake her up like a warm soda.

She buys a token and climbs the stairs.
The train runs on a ridge next to
the freeway, offering a view of
white and red corpuscles,
the Villa Robles trailer park.

She passes the warning sign and
paces twenty like a pirate,
turns east and looks for a
house with green lights.

Raises Conrad’s camera.
Zooms on the window.

He’s taking her from behind,
exposing the Viking tattoo that
she would love to extract with a
steak knife.

She holds her breath and
snaps the photo,
because she will need it, later,
when she gives him another chance.

But this is the problem:
she will give him another chance.

The train noses the
bend like a curious boa.
Isadora sets down the camera,
watches the light grow solar and
calmly walks into its path.

She flies backward,
lands on her tailbone and
flattens out in pain.

The squall of brakes.
A plane overhead.
A black face in the sky, cussing.

Her eyes fill up.
She folds like a wad of paper.

The face comes closer and
speaks words like pillows.
Faint smell of cigarettes.
She lowers her cheek to the
cement and watches the
train heading away.


The date was going well
he thought
until the issue of popcorn topping.

He, white cheddar.
She, nacho cheese.
They went with butter, straight.

And there it was.
They had come to their
first impasse as a
couple and vaulted forward.

His fingers found hers.
She leaned her
head upon his shoulder.

Tick tock,
touch upon motion until
the turbines took a charge.

She fell asleep, late that night,
one breast pocketed in his hand.
He gazed at the
popcorn ceiling and thought,
white cheddar.


We park in the multitude and
tread a serpentine path,
the bricks spelling out a long Arabic
word at our feet.

Clouds of fireflies,
mint green in the hedge,
a royal escort.

Finally the door, a Roman arch,
slabs of walnut,
brass knocker with a unicorn.

Three raps bring a baby in a
tuxedo, talking very much like an adult.

Did you bring the matchbooks?

Desmond digs into his jacket and
holds them like playing cards,
Thai restaurants in
Brooklyn, Boston, Baltimore.

Excellent. Come in.

He takes us to a room occupied by a
black baseball player, a small
woman disguised as a large man,
and a horse with a yo-yo.

Greetings, says the horse.
Hi, says I.
Desmond is recalcitrant.

The horse performs two round-the-
worlds followed by a sleeper,
neighing with glee.

Baby tells me you have a question.

Yes, says Desmond.

Ask away.

Wait, says Desmond. I wrote it down.
He takes the matchbook from
Baltimore and studies it carefully.

What, says he, is it all about?

All? says the horse.
It? says the ballplayer.
The small large man woman is noncommital.

About, says Desmond.

The horse pricks up his ears exactly
like Sean Connery would if
Sean Connery were a horse and
scrunches his eyes to convey the
impression that he is deep in thought.
Then he relaxes, and smiles.

It’s about raspberries.

Raspberries? says I. Why raspberries?

Why not raspberries?
says the ballplayer.

A billiard table slides into the room,
piled high with raspberries.
Our hosts dig in as
if their lives depended on it.

I exchange a glance with
Desmond and we join the fray.
The smacking of lips resembles a
large flock of small birds,
if those birds were eating raspberries.

The berries are ripe to the
point of liquefaction,
sweet beyond comprehension.
Our hands turn purple as we
shovel them into our mouths.

Desmond stops.
Mr. Horse, says he.

Call me Byzantine Chrysanthemum Funkadelic.

Desmond blinks.
Mr. Horse.
These appear to be blackberries.

Byzantine Chrysanthemum Funkadelic stops.
Dark juice drips from his snout,
largely for dramatic effect.

In that case, says he.
It’s all about blackberries.

We continue eating.

I walk my four-year-old along the
face of the department store.
She teeters up on spindly legs to
reach for a raincoat with a
Jolly Roger and crossed cutlasses.

Ahrr! Pirate raincoat.

Too late for that one.

Why, Daddy?

It’s summer.  By the time it
rains again, you’ll be a
whole different size.

I’ll be hooj!

What’s a pirate’s favorite letter?

I know! Ahrr!

Nope, I say. The C.
Pirates love the C.

Daddy! You cheated.

But honey. Jokes don’t have rules.
That’s why they’re jokes.


She chews on a strand of hair and
studies a pair of galoshes with cat faces.

Daddy? Tell me again.

What, honey?

Why I don’t exist.

On the important questions,
I have learned that eye-level is best.
I kneel and brush the hair from her face.

It’s a lot of different things.
I’ve never made a lot of money.
I have a knack for meeting
women at the wrong time.
Some of the women had
problems I couldn’t solve.

What kind?

Well, one was a drunk.
One had trouble controlling her brain.
Two had sexual hangups.
One was just a mean psychopathic bitch.

It takes a lot for two
people to have children together.
You have to be ready;
things have to work just right.
And now, I’m too old to start.

She chews on a thumb.
Are you sad?

Sometimes. But I have nieces,
nephews, children of friends.

She flails her arms.
But I don’t exist!

I tap a finger on my temple.
Up here you do.

That’s cause you’re a dough-wit.

I laugh.
A poet, yes.
Come on, let’s get a cup of coffee.

Daddy, kids don’t drink coffee!

Mine does.

I take her hand and lead her
upstairs to the Caffe Pergolesi.
She grabs a cluster of
honeysuckle and holds it to her nose.
She looks so much like her mother.


Instructional bear sits on a
half log, receiving questions.
No, I have not actually eaten a human.
Ate an arm once, but it was
floating in a river, and, well

Come over here to the dancing.
Slip a buzzbomb into your pocket.
We are tetraglides, horizontals,
pathetic cryogens.

Nothing’s going on but the
parking lot’s full.

Patting a tall dog we nod our heads,
hardwired to the digitalia,
souls nonexistent.
We are only what we buy,
what we use,
an occasional romance.

Little girl, eddy of spazz,
bolts to the bricks, waves us over.
This! Here!
Your shaft of sun.

Bikers drill past.
Stereo drivers hammer
us with boom and crack.

That’s the game:
take something that’s yours and
force it on someone else.
Light the buzzbomb and
shake your ass.
Permission is for amateurs.

Perhaps you could
solve the whole
thing with a
slice of

Take a last bite of cheese and regret.
Toss your plate into the trash.
Step outside.
Everything’s going on but the
parking lot is empty.

C U Soon

Would like to attend your
fiesta but I keep dropping runes.
Running inscrutables. Losing my rupees.

If these things happen without me,
how important are they?
One tends to derive one’s
value from making one scarce when
two would be so much nicer.

I receive the weekly nibble from
Ellen and I do not know
what to make of it.
We stand on a half-lit tennis court.
I return serve but nothing comes back.

So I take her text and
feed it to a squirrel.
He scampers to the next table, says
How u doing? LOL
and runs away to chew on a laptop.

I hope the exchange eventually
runs to three, because Ellen is the
one who drags me to the beach,
awakens my inner pyrophile and
introduces me to the constellations.

(My friend Rob will dance naked around a
fire but now has children.)

Perhaps I will send an email to
Castor, Pollux, Aldebaran and the
gated community of the Pleiades.

I apologize for my recent
inattentiveness to your marvelosity,
but I have lost my key to the cosmos.

Hope you’re having a fine summer.



Military brat, reader of books,
sensitive child in his
first civilian neighborhood.
Sixth grade. A predictable disaster.

Ten fights later,
he hides in a magnolia tree.
His mother finds him there,
talks him down with a sandwich.

Go back to school, she says
(peaceful woman)
and the first kid who so much as
(an angel, really)
looks at you wrong
(wouldn’t hurt a)
Punch him!

Tim Spencer never saw it coming.

Having earned his psychopath merit badge,
the sensitive child tries out for Little League,
and one day receives a provocative instruction:
fake a bunt, pull it back and
punch the ball through the infield.
So he fakes a bunt, pulls it back and
punches the ball over the left field fence.

Very few things garner respect from
sixth grade boys, but hit a home run and
they will build you a Gothic cathedral.

At the end of the year,
he is voted Most Likely to Succeed,
but makes up for it by winning the
annual paper airplane contest.

Directly after, he receives a visit from
Ben, who will one day play third-
string quarterback for the Chicago Bears.
Ben grabs a fistful of his shirt and says,

You know what I do to guys like you?

No, he says. What?

I straighten their collars.

And so he does.


Bushings in the wheel of passion we
suck to the rhythm of a paycheck,
make up the tune as we go along,
do what we must to keep the
oxygen coming in.

Our consequent yapping does nothing.
We stand in a landscape missing
countries of sienna, azure, cinnamon.
Digits hung upon the air,
threatening altercation.

I have no advice wouldn’t
offer it if I did just
swing that jaw till the
hinges break.

I will be hence,
atop the thirteenth yonder,
a ripple of quiet on my sleeve,
ash from a tender volcano.

Blanco’s Catch

And this is the song of
one man’s passion for another,
Gregor speeding the gap,
steps unaccounted,
heedless of outfield grass or
warning track.

Perfection in his pocket he
finds the last possible step and
flies, hurling himself in the
general direction of a padded fence,
midair twist, stretching an arm to
snip the arc a foot from the ground.

He rumbles across the dirt like a
crippled jet, holds up his glove,
ripe with fruit,
the sweetest of twenty-seven apples.

Brünnhilde and the Ring of Nerds

Encouraged by her ready smile,
large bosom and mounting
blood-alcohol level, the young nerds of
Effie’s form a ring around Cecily.

(You are so beautiful!)

She is a Rubik’s cube, a bank vault.
Make the right moves, guess the
right numbers and you’re in.

(Yeah, I bet you do!)

But Cecily’s lameness radar is
not hampered by cocktails.
She slices the innuendo like
Brünnhilde through packing peanuts.

(Haha! Blow harder!)

I am at a high school party with
Sue Miller and her dozen suitors.
The ring begins to form.
When it reaches seven, I opt out.

At the time, it felt like cowardice.
Now, it looks like wisdom.
Because sometimes the only way to
distinguish yourself is to leave.

This will not get you laid.
But it will save you time,
energy and embarrassment.

Because Sue has already made up her mind.
Sometime during the party,
she will give some lucky boy a look,
and he will be halfway there.

If you are operating without that look,
you are shooting in the dark.
If you’re standing in a ring,
you’re shooting each other.

Thirty years later, I was sitting in a
karaoke bar when Cecily’s mother
walked in and gave me that look.
That’s why I’m here at three in the
morning, a weary Wotan,
waiting for the nerds to fall like
ducks in a gallery,
so I can drive Brünnhilde
home and get some sleep.

Cinema Verite

The garage door of my youth was
hung in such a way that its
leftward gap projected a slice of
light upon the interior wall,
creating an upside-down, full-color
image of the world outside.

I knew that there were logical
explanations for this: camera oscura,
pinhole lenses, refraction, reflection.
But this did not lessen the magic,
and I often wondered if I
was the only one who could see it.

I saved it for the long, dull
afternoons of summer, when a
movie of Mrs. Kroll walking her
upside-down labrador was the
only entertainment I could afford.

I the caveman,
watching a rock roll downhill,
considering the possibilities.

Summer Satan

Francis McDonald Harris Bartholomew,
known to his friends as Chigger,
tired of his tree-climbing peers and
decided to spend his summer perfecting
the subtle craft of sabotage.

Waiting until the carrier disappeared
around the corner, he stuffed the
Millers’ mailbox with flyers from the
Sunday paper and ducked behind the
hedge to watch Mrs. Miller
throw up her hands in disgust.

He picked a hundred dandelions from
a vacant lot and snuck out at
midnight to blow their parachute
seeds over every lawn on the block.
He saw his neighbors, every weekend,
on their knees, yanking and cursing.

He snuck into the toolshed stash of
Davey Chen, legendary firecracker dealer,
and snipped a half inch from every fuse.
He spent the Fourth of July watching
his friends suck on their throbbing
fingers, suppressing his laughter.

He smuggled a pair of scissors into
Ted’s Toys and snipped each spool of
string at mid-point, then made
regular circuits of Braly Park to
watch the kites fall from the sky.

In late August, he sat for hours at
the Cambrian Shopping Plaza,
charting the pedestrian flow patterns.
Early the next morning, he took a
jumbo pack of gum and placed
freshly chewed wads at strategic locations.
It was the best Saturday ever.

At a meeting of the PTA,
a week before school,
the parents compared notes and
discovered that they had all
suffered summers of incessant,
inexplicable irritation:
a son with no feeling in his index finger,
fierce invasions of weeds,
kites dangling from telephone wires,
gum on every other shoe.

Unable to finger a culprit,
they decided to set an example.

Chigger’s primary concerns were the
growing pressure in his bladder,
the imminent arrival of his classmates,
and the tricky matter of
removing the duct tape that
held his body to the top of the flagpole.
Still, he had an excellent view of
the neighborhood – the fields of
his summer campaign – and all in
all he would have to conclude that
it was totally worth it.


Considerate delinquencies at the
behest of scarlet, the behalf of indigo,
well-behaved colors marching to the ballot box.

I have no compunction about the
rivered grains of cedar,
knottish percolations of redwood.
Trees do not play politics.
They stand for standing, until we
carve them up and lay them out.
This piece of paper.

Stand on a mountain and you would
think that we’d never run out of them,
but we are the human pestilence,
charming, intelligent beings who
go around ruining things.

I stand on the ribs of giants,
crucified horizontal so we may
sail the forest,
gazing on their cousins.

I dip a brush into the tray and
sweep it across.
The corpses drink.


Cartoon sun spitting out radiants,
footsteps of Ohlone,
strolling naked through the valley.
Seafood so plentiful that the
discarded shells create their own topography.

The robes arrive with clothing,
germs, shiny caballeros,
a god who kills his own son.
They force the natives to
work and eat strange foods.

Once at the mission, their
life expectancy is two to three years.
Seeing such terrifying mortality,
the robes send their caballeros to
the central valley, to find more natives.

Centuries later, the church nominates the
leader of the robes for sainthood.

In truth, there were many tribes.
Ohlone is the only name that survived.
They gave it to a college.

I grew up in the valley.
Sang at the mission for my sister’s wedding.
Have never met an Ohlone.
Have seen the holes where they
ground their acorns.

I picture myself at the
tip of the bay, naked, warm,
picking shellfish from the shallows.
I look toward the green mountains and
see a trail of smoke.


The moth guarantees its death by
in the bedroom of a sleepy
guest with a towel and a
full head of irritation.


Moth’s fault?
Moth being moth.
But a sleeper must sleep.

Think about that the next time you
                                    at the
light all Don Quixote,
raising hackles in the wrong company.

The next towel may be yours.

Skylark pencil sketches the coast,
comes away with elkhorn, sapphire,
pinch of cedar wrapped in an omelet,
marionberry, salmon, wild boar, butterfish,
sweet soy, red curry, a pond of mussels.

Tippered by wine he stage-rights to a
flagon of language, wall-length poem of
riddle and love and honor and
love and wildness and time and a
green hat in the next seat,
smile in stagelight.

She is everything that
he is supposed to

She walks away so gorgeous he
cannot let go. Pinches her sleeve,
reels her back, applies lips.

Dealing with Happy

Brilliant portions of rough,
cudgels of foreshadow,
cut my teeth silver,
take me for a walk.

I am not never my own man
but a jackal’s coat passed from
thrift store to foster child to
homeless violinist.

I wish it were better but
sometimes worse. Desperation has a
way of digging up roots,
lifting obsidian to the sun,
incinerating the alarm clock.

Once in a great while I decide to dance.
I have never not once regretted it.

Surface Tension

Becca floats, starving hellos.
A personal interview, passing comment.

When it was that she began to vanish.
Wednesday mirror, single piece of
jigsaw, two knobs, shaped like Florida,
missing from her chin.

The next day could read the
sign on the door behind her,
forehead window, cells phasing in and
out, undecided whether neither not to be.

Here the options: get better, get worse.
Better the official recommendation.
Worse is easier, duly rewarded by
TV show after TV show.

In between a hyphen, a dash,
static, flat, minus.

Becca releases all the air that she owns.
The water embraces.
She feels the bottom of the
pool at her back.
A figure, above, waves like a
tree in a storm,
cartoon angles blipping, winking.

A pair of hands break the surface.
Becca smiles. Passes out.


Yonkers adios, Saskatoon embrace,
Waikiki archipelago, the edge of Poughkeepsie.
Weirdness in the wind,
flag to the country of quirk.

We call it Waukegan.
We call it Okefenokee.
Syllables rising in the kudzu,
song of place, song of shadow.

The squirrely magnificence of
the human brain.
Corpus callosum.


I like you but I don’t know
what it is that I’m liking.
You the mannequin,
so many poses you no longer
remember where you started.

Left hand up.
Nod to the right.
Smile. Grimace.

One of these Tuesdays I
will look up from my
eggs benedict and catch
you saying something that
you really mean.

And freeze.


Come see the dance,
walk the drive,
offer your cants to the sky.

Can’t cry, can’t samba,
can’t bake a souffle worth a frog.
Hold the microphone and tell me the
one thing you would like to
see on the table in front of you.

Don’t think.
Don’t stutter.

Map out the parts of your
body that require more attention.
I mean this in a sexual way.

Mother’s Maiden Name

Espresso counterpunch,
a dream-like fusillade,
the counterinsurgency of righteousness.

We are so wrong  but it’s
hard to tell with these
jackoline teeth.

Come to where the
water whispers from the
mountain, we once were
snow we once were snow.

Dip your pinkie. Your elbow.
That’s who you are.

Thrust down from the milkies we
scour the capillaries of pine,
bleeding green, bleeding sense,
a question that lifts like a
kite falls like a cornstalk asks
for ID and all you can say is
yes I am.


Doubletop spiral a female boards the
sidewalk with boots up to there,
shorts down to here, leaving a
two-inch ribbon of flesh so
hormonally loaded that one
begins to understand certain
elements of frathouse behavior
such as the time I visited my
brother at cow stammer stepsalong
and found the windows taped
over with newspaper for the
stripper who had just departed or
the time I took Rob to a club and
he could not believe that a

place existed where one could
insert one’s fingers beneath the
hem of a strange woman’s
bikini so long as those same
digits contained a piece of
American paper currency what’s
next said he with the eyes of an
owl at a surprise party,
transit buses to the moon?


Keep expecting the glitter to go dry,
the charm to wear off,
the smile to fade beigely I am
not accustomed to such consistency.

Flash of eyes across the
bar speaking volumes:

I am the driver of a
moonglow cool and I use
it only on you and what you
need to do is follow your
feet to my proximity or I will
stare you into a pile of goo.

Again. And again.

Corned Beef

Grayfinger salad, chops of
salamander unless you don’t
like that kind of thing and
why the hell wouldn’t you.

The only place you can
be getting these ideas is
the daily programming, the
verbarrage aimed at the
back of the head, rotten
walnuts handed down by
tradition because that’s the
way we’ve always done it.

We are smart enough to
contemplate our own existence but
today I ask for more:

That you start at square one and
use your own brain to push your
self into the room where we
don’t know much but what we
do know is real and provable not
some slapped together brouha of
asparagus pie broadcast by a
douchebag into your breakfast
nook and now you must ease the
constipation by shitting it
all over me.

It’s hard to hit a moving target.

What You Get

Demagoguery is a parlor game not
to be undertaken by those who
would rather enjoy their lives.

(I know there’s a pony in here somewhere.)

The world needs
that are made by
shaking milk.
No need to
dispense with the
things that work but

Still, the evening invites humor,
a sip of something rude,
a friend who slaps you
roughly on the back and
kisses you on the forehead.

Nitrogen bubbles inside your tissue,
the world something palatable.

This is all that’s given to us.


Serenity in a box,
Carnie Stratton treads the boardwalk,
flipping taffies, duke of dandy,
cormorant of the soul,
cheesemaker to kings.

He stops and sniffs the air.

Three football fields far,
a very small man steps to the
planks, red Ray-Bans intended for glory.
He applies sunscreen to his head,
a coffee-colored bowling ball,
ripples his abs at a pack of
juveniles who giggle.

A certain thing quivers the ionosphere.
He paces forward.

Carney passes the bumper cars,
chewing on a pretzel,
when he spots the disturbance:
a lime-green Speedo, advancing
toward him like a low-lying Frisbee.

A seagull lands on Carnie’s shoulder,
holding a lit cigarette. Carney swaps him
for a chunk of pretzel.

Sunnyvale Shorty stops and squints.

Nice bird.


Shortie reaches into his Speedo and
extracts a golf ball.

We gonna do this thing?

Nobody’s stoppin ya.

A game of miniature golf may
not mean the universe, but
prelude is everything.
Only we decide what’s trivial.
The rest can go to a
hot blue Hades.

Carnie takes a final puff and
crushes the butt on a mermaid’s tail.

I’ve always thought that Shorty was
kind of an obvious nickname.

Shortie smiles.

I got no complaints.
It’s the truth.

He pocks the ball toward
Neptune’s Castle. It comes out the
other side and brushes the hole,
as close as wish is to want.

At the tip of Antarctica,
an iceberg breaks free.


Accomplishing the metal we
sacrifice the soil, fronting a
paradise of things made into
items, stuff into goods.

Defending our habits we blast
away the personage, a geyser of
products for which we would kill.

On a not-distant day I will
locate an object, pass it under a
scanner and unlock a panoply of doors.

Then I will sit at my table,
stunned into lethargy, having
wanted for so long that no
other verb comes close.

Cause, Effect

Soloing off the eastern coast,
the violinist forsakes Debussy for Gershwin.

Hearing Gershwin, a Springer
spaniel barks with a Southern accent.

Reminded of her grandpa,
Katie places a call to Tuscaloosa.

Having just hung up on her nosy sister,
Grandma Beth answers with cussing.

Katie yelps and hangs up.

Recognizing her granddaughter’s yelp,
Beth rifles her phone book,
unwittingly punches the number for
Katie’s old apartment in Seattle.

A woman answers in Spanish.
Beth hangs up.

Leticia Flores sets down the phone and
gives her husband a cold stare.

Tired of arguing, Diego Flores
walks downtown to a baseball game.

In the ninth inning, Diego
catches a game-winning home
run and gives it to a
four-year-old in the next seat.

Inspired by the joy on his son’s face,
Mark Sutro calls his wife and
asks for a reconciliation.

His wife goes to the balcony,
where Dieter is practicing the Gershwin.


Snow White stares into a clock,
the second hand tied to a
thread around her heart.

Time bleeds into the ether.
All she can do is stare it
down although it gives her a
crick in the neck and she

wonders if there might be
something out there in the
wide world that she
could be doing.

The minute hand sticks a
black dash and shudders.
Outside, the sun sets.

Blue scavenger,
red eyes in the shape of Oahu.
Feathers in a mohawk.

He sees the white face.
Feels the itch in his talons.
He doesn’t like to break the code;
things die in their own time.
But it’s been a week.

He bursts through the window,
eyes in the shape of Italy.
She sees him in the clockface,
grips the nail file,
prepares to strike.

It’s going exactly to plan.

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