Saturday, March 19, 2016


A giant in the land of giants,
he notes the wee folk shining his
shoes and smiles

Walking away, he crushes
thirty two of them on the sidewalk

The gore builds up on his
sole until finally he slips,
bracing himself on a bench,
knocking another three to the ground

Why? thinks he.
Why do these people torment me so it's
just not fair

Friday, March 18, 2016



Inconsiderate, ill-fitting
seashacks do not a
gated community make

Having created they themselves these
peasants the Dollarmakers
build walls across Mexico

except on Tuesday, when
the leaves begin to
gather along the electrical fence

except on Thursday, when
one begins to verymuch
yearn for an enchilada suiza

except on Saturday, when
the toilets do really
need a thorough overgoing

Life as an oligarch is a
flinty matter, how to
exploit without bleeping
one's needs and

Canada just not a good
supplier of cheap
non-hockey labor

--Michael J. Vaughn



Weirdness abounds, but
not in the way you'd expect

Small dogs remain small,
but behind their eyes,
a conspiracy

You just wait, pal
One day the kibble gives out,
the Grand Terrier gives the
word and we begin the
evolution of opposable thumbs

After that, language,
tools, the invention of the smell phone

A million, two million years, tops,
and then we take all your jobs


Friday, March 11, 2016

Marcello's Lament

Marcello's Lament

(For Robert Pesich)

"To the ancient Egyptians, these stars (of Orion's Belt) were the resting place of the soul of Osiris, god of the underworld and a symbol of creativity and the continuity of life…"
            --National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Night Sky

Starving tenor finds the stone on a
black sand beach covered in driftwood

(If I said the wood was white as bones
I would be giving it away)

He kneels on the sand
where the ocean comes through the rocks and
reaches into the ribs of a burnt-out cello
plowing a pyramid of blackened chars
until he fingers the edges of its mineral heart and
pulls it into the sun

(If I said it was as red as Betelgeuse
I would be lying)

The stone is a jealous stone
it takes away his lovers
takes away his sleep
leaves his pockets thin and sallow

She is
Musetta, the woman you cannot have
but if you hold her to your ear
she will sing you bright waltzes
and turn her lollipop eyes at you across the café

But the song and the glance are not enough
so Marcello takes the stone and grinds it up
spreads it across his Sunday salad

(If I said the dressing was Roquefort
I would be saying too much)

The fragments trunkle their way through his veins and
gather at the aorta, pressing
northward to make his heart skip
on nights when Artemis neglects her duty and
mountainside lanterns
burst like meteors through the Paris streets

Years after Mimi's last breath
he comes back to the sea to
bare his skin to the inkwell sky and
wait for Orion's Belt to burn him down
leaving a coal as red as Betelgeuse
for the timpani waves to steam away

Notes: A dear friend, an opera singer, says this is the ultimate description of the artistic life. She's biased, of course, this being taken from La Boheme, but it has proven to be deadly accurate in the years since I wrote it. An early editor couldn't get over the literal visual of "toss her lollipop eyes at you across the cafe," so it became "turned." And it's ironic that I would choose Marcello over Rodolfo, since he and I are both poet tenors, but I always considered Rodolfo a poser. Marcello is pure artist, and this is likely the best poem I will ever write.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Losing It

Losing It

Winchester Drive-In was the
frontier of our existence,
for if you talked a girl into the
Winchester Drive-In, the most
unimaginable things could happen

One night I found myself
engulfed in Sandra Rodriguez,
and what was I to do after that?
I had never been in this
position, had no idea how to
finish the job, much less in
public, and the car wasn’t
big enough, anyway

I should have been happy just
where I was, but the forces of
biology pushed me on to
want the next thing, and the
thing after that, and the
thing that you haven’t
done yet that you for
God’s sake need to do!

Until finally I found myself in
just that place, embedded in
some female anatomy, and
marvelled at its physical
simplicity, this act over
which I had pined,
ached, strategized

It’s only a conjuration, an
intricate dance, a private
agreement. To be invaded,
to invade, to risk having
children or abortions

And then I drove away,
watched the final wave at the door,
and did not make the first
intersection before I
wanted it again

Did not make the
second intersection before I
felt an equal desire to
tell my best friend, who
will hoot and holler and laugh,

the smooth rock of
virginity lofted to sea,
kissing the surface,
vaulting a wave,
sinking to the sand

Notes: The sex act is so magical in the abstract, so basic in the moment, and such a Holy Grail when pursued by those who have yet to have it. This poem is for the aching teenager in all of us.

Saturday, March 5, 2016



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
monikers 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.

Michael J. Vaughn: Collected Poems

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Instructions for Finding Frosted Glass at the Beach

Instructions for Finding Frosted Glass at the Beach

The glass is commonly found in the middle rocks
at the edge of the high-tide wash
an hour before sunset in fall
when the waves are beginning to churn

Walk easy, look hard, but
not so hard that you can’t hear the ocean

The best are found alone
on plains of wet sand teased by the breakers
Keep your gaze to the sun and
watch for them flashing:
guitar-pick chinks of white, green, brown
the rare and lovely blue
stitching your pockets, scraping as you walk

Take five minutes to watch the sun fall away
this will cost you the green and the brown
which turn in the gloaming to coal-dark lumps
but the clear is still a possibility
even, occasionally, in moonlight
so long as you ignore the
triangular fragments of mussel-shell

Remember that your quarry lies in a middle ground
that these fallen stars come not from
beauty but from someone throwing
litter on a beach

Do not feel the need to restock
this will be done for you

Notes: In writing my novel Frosted Glass, I studied the character's obsession by making regular glass-harvesting trips. This is a distillation of my thesis on seaglass behavior.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Henry Miller's Marshmallow Stick

Henry Miller’s Marshmallow Stick

In the full-moon stir of Big South
bright enough for front-porch kisses
we dip our bread in primordial soup and
chew off the crust, spitting out mountains

The old man’s up there somewhere
screaming out the Ventanas
as Michelangelo beats at his bald-pated hills

The white marble comes back as sea foam
or marshmallows

The guy with the flashlight forehead says
come down, old man
grab a stick, join the spree
burn them a bubbling black if you like

In the morning the old man is back to his mountains
while sun and moon play tennis on the grass-line spread
God love us if we don’t take it home and
play it on our tee-vees
when the pace gets too pacey

Notes: A long-ago camping trip with Larry Coulter, who was rather fond of his new forehead-strap light. First published in the great Eclectic Literary Forum of Tonawanda, New York.