Friday, December 17, 2010

Buenos Dias

Holding you pen to paper, you wonder where the words have gone. They were right there. Tip of the tongue. A torrent. Niagara Falls. But your pen holds still on the page. A blue stain spreads out of the metal nib across the page. Like some sort of pool. It reaches the edge of the page and keep going. Over the desk. Down to the floor. Up the walls. Soon you’re underwater. Holding the pen. Ben Braddock is down there with you. But you know how he is. Looking up, you see sunshine. And Pedro. He’s skimming the pool. A beneficent smile on his face. You wonder what he knows. He nods. Tips his hat. Maybe he says, buenos dias. You can’t be sure. He points up to the sky. The air. You remember air. You close your eyes. Kick up hard from the bottom. Burst back into the world. Breathe in the cool air. Blue ink drips from your fingers and hair. You shake yourself like a dog. The ink fills the page. With words. A block of them. Something like the poem you had imagined. But different. You name it Buenos Dias and cap the pen. That’s that, you say. Not knowing at all what you mean by any of it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Your Neighbor Spits On You

Jesus says, turn the other cheek. Atticus just wipes it away. You should do as they do. But if you don't spit back, she might spit again. So maybe you should do as she did. But instead, you pick up your pen. You put on the second person. You listen to your voice as though it belonged to a wise man. You try to shake it off. Try to let it go. You wish you were Atticus. Or more like Jesus. You wish you didn't ache. You wish that she was kind, that you understood your world, and that no neighbor will spit on you ever again. Mostly, you wish you hadn't deserved it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Early Morning, I Rise and Go Walking

Having made up my mind to no longer lie awake in morning’s bed resisting the day, I get up just after five and pad out the bedroom door. I do not wake my wife, my children, the dog or cat. I dress in darkness. Walk outside. November air rises in clouds from me. The morning comes alive. I walk past the old hotel, the abandoned golf course, up the hill. Off the dirt road, a tar paper shack. Something about it. I cross to the front door. Knock. Pull the knob. The door, closed decades before, refuses me. I sit on the good step and look out to the road. I imagine a man from years before. Small, wearing a hat and beard. He believes in God, tobacco, Richard Nixon. His name is a syllable. Early morning, unable to sleep, he sits on this step looking at the road. Feeling the need to walk, he stands, pulls the door tightly shut though he knows it will stick if it rains, if he’s gone long. He walks into the road and pauses. I follow. Neither of us knows where to go, but he sets off with no more hesitation, sure enough to not look back. But I pause knowing how difficult it is to get back and pry open the doors of our homes.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dog Outside Starbucks

There’s a dog outside Starbucks. He wears a Green Bay Packers coat and smokes the remains of cast-off cigarettes. People walk down the street. His ears perk up. He holds out an expectant paw. Not pads up for a handout, but down for a shake. Woof, he says. But with a question mark. His head turns as people pass him by. They’re off to buy shoes. Get cash from the ATM. Pierce and tattoo their bodies. He looks after them. Mouth open. Tongue hovering. He breathes smoke in. Breathes it slowly out. Yawns. Scratches his balls. Here comes a mother, father, their college-student daughter. She stops to light a cigarette. Her parents go on. She shakes out the match. Drops it. The dog clearly speaks her name. He tilts his head. She cups his face in her hands. Remembers her puppy. The girl gives him a kiss on his forehead. She sighs as she moves away, wreathing his head in angelic smoke. His tail wags. And here come more people.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


I simplified my life. Henry David Thoreau suggested it over coffee at Starbucks. He’d gotten me to pay for his. Isn't that just the way. Still, he had a good idea. At home, I threw away my clothes. Put the furniture out to the curb. The television. All but one frying pan and a fork. I called friends to take things. Gave my phone away. I sold that big empty house. Left the money to charity. I parked my car with the keys and a note: Free or best offer. I kept a hat because my bald head burns. But life was still complicated. I lay down in the grass. Closed my eyes. Listened to my breathing. I stopped breathing and felt myself die. Someone buried me in a box. No light, no movement, no sound down here. Ah, the simple life. I imagined Thoreau back at Starbucks. Who's going to buy your coffee now, you cheap bastard?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Prayer Furnace

for David (since he wrote most of it)

First, he posts the recipe for Black-Eyed Peas. A slow-cooked recipe with ham. Corn bread made by a boy. Makes the whole house warm. Then he writes of the new furnace. He has taken to admiring it in the cathedral of his basement. Laying hands on the ductwork. Tracing the lines through the house. He adjusts his glasses. To be sure of his vision. Closes his eyes and moves his lips. Some rooms lack return lines (thus making the heat a little less efficient). Some paths don’t return. Some pipes disappear into darkness. He imagines the winter. Tying foot-long red ribbons to each antique grate. Throwing the switch. His bare hand on the cold duct imagine it too hot to touch. His legs carry him through the house watching ribbons blow in the future. Each a prayer flag. Fluttering. Urgently. In the breeze which smells so strongly of black beans. Ham. A loaf of corn bread made by a boy. The warmth of being, after waiting so long, at home.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dreaming the Mundane

How many poems begin with last night's dream? The dusty files in the library of my mind hold too many that begin with God visiting the poet in his sleep. Whispering in his ear. Sending him to words of rapture. I fancy myself a poet and, time to time, fall asleep and into dreaming. Last night, my god whispered, “bring a screwdriver to work.” In the dream, it was the key to happiness. This morning I woke, still basking in the glow of that dream, remembering that I really do need a screwdriver at work. My desk is too high and the screws refuse to yield to a pair of scissors. I pulled from the drawer a red screwdriver (on which so much depends). I put it in my bag feeling only feeble light from heaven. Later, I'll remove the screws and adjust my desk. For now, I wonder why it is that my god and I are fixed on things so far from rapture and so much nearer the mundane.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

On the Highway, Driving North

On the highway this morning my thoughts drifted. I was headed south in the northbound lane. Such is the pull of memory. I tried the GPS for a way through the past back to now. The clock spun backward. Cars honked and flashed their lights. What am I doing, I wondered. Whatever it was, I kept going. Then I came to that place where traffic merges in from the left and the right. Cars moved at shocking speed. I shook my head. Your face came to me. You sat in the passenger seat. Smiling. I dropped the GPS out the window. Looked straight ahead. I was back in the northbound lane. My hands at ten and two. Holding the vehicle steady. My eyes saw the morning sky, the road ahead, the ring on my finger, my face reflected in the rearview mirror. I recognized that face and, taking a deep breath in and out, realized that I know the way to go.

Friday, September 17, 2010


My therapist rarely holds our sessions outside. In the parking lot of the old Cinema East. As the wind brings on the rain. So this probably isn’t happening. Still, I’m unloading my troubles on her. Fear. Panic. Loneliness. Worry. Stories from my childhood near and far. All of it. I try to cry but can’t remember how. She keeps watching the clock. I say something about myself and she pulls a face. What? I ask. She has figured something out. I have to know. But she shakes her head. I ask again. She starts to speak but the old movie theater distracts us by collapsing and rising as a lousy restaurant that immediately shutters and starts to crumble. The rain comes down on us. Drops like tears across my face. I play along. She says, we’re out of time. The alarm goes off. I get up, go to the kitchen. I make coffee. The cat stares. Shakes her head. What? I ask for a third time wondering why I pay her all this money.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


I set the house afire early this morning. I stood in the basement. The cat had missed the litter box. The hot water heater leaked. The furnace groaned. I held a box of kitchen matches. Lit one. Touched it to a cone of sawdust. Laid on scraps from the table saw. Added old letters, children’s toys, my wife's mothballed sweaters. The first floor joists caught. I went upstairs, piled birthday cards on the smouldering floor. They shriveled and caught. I moved the couch over the pile. My wife called from upstairs. Check the toaster, something’s burning. The kids came downstairs. The oldest asked, why are you sitting in the corner with a box of matches? I shrugged. The flames engulfed the house. The kids watched television. My wife didn't see me as she went to the kitchen. Where’s the fire department, I wondered. Where will I sleep tonight? How will I go on? The neighbors came out of their houses for work. The embers on which they walked, red hot.