Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Crossroads

Highway 61 chugs out of Memphis
winding all the way down to
Clarksdale, Mississippi.
70 miles of two lane run smack
into Route 49 and Route 161
and the story goes that with the right
amount of luck
and persuasion
you can convince the devil to meet you down there.
At least that is the story they told
when Robert Johnson died at 27, on his hands and knees
howling like a hell hound.

Now there are two gaudy blue guitars,
and I’m standing in the parking lot of Church’s Chicken
watching the Clarksdale traffic swirl around.
I had imagined something expansive
and desolate.
Two dangerous and lonely roads racing through
empty fields and running smack into each other
and then disappearing off into the distance, as if, terrified
of their own connection.
Something discrete, where the soft hand of fate
and luck gets viciously slapped back.
A secret place where the devil is free to walk you down that road.

I am disappointed, really, watching the Highway 161 bend through town.
I wanted something more subtle
but I suppose I expect too much out of gods
as I watched the early morning drunks stumble toward
my little car, the heat coming off of them like anger lines in the air.
After all, for the devil, this is easy pickings.

Monday, March 30, 2009

This is Why I Don't Go to Coffee Shops

We spent the morning in a coffee shop
working out the problems with the novel
I have been writing for longer
than I can stand to admit,
although you keep telling me not to worry about that part,
it’s done when it’s done

and when we were done,
for today at least,
I get up to pay the bill
for tea, coffee and a sweet little muffin
and the guy, who brought our coffee, tea and
sweet little muffin
is ringing me up,
the same guy who I forgot to ask for milk
for my tea, because I drink it like the English,

and he says
“so, you are a writer.”

just like that. And I wasn’t sure what to say.
It wasn’t mean, but it wasn’t necessarily kind,
like I was sure his next comment wasn’t going to be
something like, “cause I have a publishing company
back here behind the coffee shop that is just dying to
publish a redhead like you.”

Plus I couldn’t tell if it was a question. Or a statement.

So I just said, “uh, yeah.”
because I used to be articulate but not anymore
and he nods, and doesn’t say anything which prompts me to say
“well, you know, it’s my first novel.”
and now I realize that I sound like all those other idiots
who come into coffee shops as a fake, you know the type,
those people who don’t do anything for weeks and weeks
but decide that a poem once a month is enough, if that,
those people we were just making fun of, dear,
on the walk down because we have to draw clear lines
about what we do versus what they do
when it comes to alarms going off at 5 am.
I don’t want to sound like one of those people so I say,

“well I have a book of poems”
and I think about lying and saying a couple books cause it wouldn’t really hurt anyone.
I mean who cares, right?
But this guy has already given me back my change cause he doesn’t really care,
and his co-worker, who is smiling like all get out,
says it’s okay about the four cents and with short stubby fingers
pries 4 pennies off the counter and drops them in the register.

I feel bad about this,
and about everything I said,
so I leave 2 dollars in the tip jar
one for tea and coffee and the sweet little muffin
and the other for indulging
me and this stack of papers under my arm.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Brooklyn Curved Away

We had made our way
down to where the river and ocean
roll together underneath that bridge
where, as Ray Carver said,
water comes together with other water.

It was windy, the first fall day
so the water was choppy from that
and from the boats, that sloughed their way upstream
packed with crates like children’s blocks on their metal backs.

When the wind picked up your hat, and sent it careening down the walkway
like a runaway
we chased it catching the black brim
just before it went over the railing.

We headed up the path,
walking hand in hand, our faces red from windburn
scanning the rocks for driftwood, tangled fishing line and maybe a dead crab.
After awhile Brooklyn started to curve away from us
like an old friend passing on
and Manhattan started to appear, and then disappear
flirting it’s way up the coast,
a mere seven miles from where we were,
down where the ocean is.

But it had been so long since I had seen the ocean
that Manhattan didn’t look so grand after all
not next to those whitecaps
not compared to the shadow of that silver bridge spanning
a river that forced its way through the land.

It was a good day, and we had gotten good news
about my father’s cancer.
Not to mention, we had the whole day together for a change.
So it could have been that.
I just wanted you to know this is one of those days
that I’ll remember, even when I can’t remember anything else

Just cause it was so easy
to stand under that bridge with you
and not do anything
but watch all that water get away from me.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Butterfly Effect

I had a poem the other day
it sprung from my head like a little
alphabetical Athena,
and roared off into battle,
waving a little sword and shield

before I was able to grasp it
and pin it here, tacked down
like a museum sample
and displayed on my wall.

but it flapped it’s little paper wings,
and flew off.
It was decent too, which is a shame.
Now, it’s somewhere off the coast of Africa
causing a tornado in Texas.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Yorick's Skull

It’s probably a bad idea
to start writing a poem with the title.
Like I am doing right now,
but I can’t seem to stop thinking

about Yorick’s skull
and what Salinger had to say
in Franny and Zooey
and mind you, I think I might be
the only person on this lonely globe
that likes that book, who carried
a tattered old dog-eared, underlined, copy of it
from coast to coast,
tucked in the back pocket of her jeans,
and what Salinger said about having
a goddamn honorable skull when you die.
Does anyone remember that part?

I’m filling up journals
but I’m running out of ink
and this month is lasting forever
except I’m going to be 32 soon.
And darling, that sounds old,
older than Yorick’s skull,
and I’m trying to pay attention to the Way
and the Work
and keep my mind clear
and walk some kind of straight and narrow
and the intention of improvement,
with the gait of direction

but I’m still directionless
and they had that parade
in Bay Ridge yesterday and those kids
with the snappers,
sitting on the curb, their little Irish flags
and all that anticipation in all their faces,
little teeth, wide eyes, fat cheeks,
Christ, I could hardly stand it,
and me with my dirty hair
and bad knee felt like a monster among them
and definitely not honorable,
not this skull
not this month.

But I’m working on it, love.
Maybe next month.
Hell, maybe next year,
maybe 33,
who knows,
Double digits could be lucky.
If nothing else, I haven’t given up on that.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

After Telling You the Story of How I Fell Off the Waterfall

What with the moss being all smooth and wet
I probably didn’t stand a chance,
but I took it anyway
and lost
not just my footing
and fell
not to my death
but something unimaginably close.

You asked me if I still had nightmares.
I lied when I said no.
But they are slippery too,
like petals
or soft like tattooed skin.
The gentle unfolding of vision
blurring the edges of streetlamps
haunted and milky
the wispy sound of houseflies sleeping.
They taste like roots pulled too soon from their beds

like the inside of his hand that day
when he hung on to me and that rock
against the pull of gravity and the neediness of water
for just a fraction of a second
and then…

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Beer at Jack's Place

-wherefore art thou?

Everything is here
except the last little bit
eaten by the dog
so they say they can’t determine this intention

but I’m pretty sure it’s clear.
It’s just beauty.
And for those of you who think that isn’t enough
that the sadness counts too,
don’t worry it’s in there.

Besides, he left the end scratched into the plaster
of the bathroom wall with the last razor blade in the house
before he escaped onto the rooftop, vanished.
The directions are there, just in case you wanted to follow him
from this coast
the other coast where the journey ends at a little hilltop house
bursting to the seems with a love for just about everything.
This was all before the fire started,
before the flood waters rose
before his liver quit.
But who cares, everyone goes at some point.

It was all there for whoever bothered to see.
And that’s nothing about whoever bothered to say thank you.

But we knew that,
tipping a beer on the street in mid afternoon,
talking about everything but
what it will mean
when people like us, stop coming to the houses
of people like him.
But what of it, huh?
We head down 20th street, hoping Uncle Jack is at the ‘Root
and that there is still a seat at the bar.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Délire de Négation

“couldn’t quite seem to escape myself, far enough
far enough, far from Florida”
- Isaac Brock

These are the hardships of being dead
according to Jules Cotard especially
when one is still alive.
For instance, it’s frustrating to continue to have to go to work.
And shaving seems utterly pointless,
even more pointless than it did when you were alive.
And why does everyone keep reminding you to eat something?

That face in the mirror, does nothing for you,
because after all, you are dead.
Or if you aren’t dead, then you already lost your face,
so there is nothing to worry about.

Because that can happen too.
You can loose whole parts of you.
Organs left behind on bus stop benches,
blood leaked out like so much shower water
down the drain.

You are a negation.

The men with the coats call it extremely nihilistic,
but I’m sure for people like you,
and mind you, I’m not of your ilk,
but for you people, there must be a relief,
what with the warm weather down in Florida,
where your mother has taken you to help you recover,
the warm weather down in Florida being caused by the fires of hell.

You had already been so clear about being dead.

And you think to yourself, it is so nice of your mother to come down here
and show you around Hell,
what with it being your first day and all.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Somewhere outside New Orleans I lost my voice
about there the pages in my journal are blank.
This country was too big for me,
and my small noises.

When the car started bucking
just outside the hundred miles
of Mojave
I couldn’t help but smile.
Even as an adult, these things you fear can really come true.

But by the time we got to Salinas,
we were used to the revving and
I was back to driving without shoes.
I still didn’t have my voice
and had to keep shouting things twice
to you
over the roar of the wind
through the open windows.

After we bickered outside the John Steinbeck library
and sometime before we drove up Polk Street
in San Francisco
you said,
that you didn’t think we would really do this.

I told you of course we would,
what else could two lost people do?
Where else do you go when the frustration
of being dispossessed
for years turns your vision black?
What else is there when all your belongings
fit into the corner of the garage
of your childhood home,
and your father is upstairs waiting
to tell you they took him off the chemo?

But you didn’t hear anything past
of course we would,
because my voice was snuffed out.
You just heard my resilience, saw my smile,
and believed that I believed it was this easy.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Spotted Cat

The waitress at the Spotted Cat in
Faubourg Marigny, leans against the bar
as she tells us about Froggie’s upcoming shows.
We had spent all day
going from bar to bar trying to track down
St. Louis Slim.
He’s playing here on Saturday, she drawls
letting the sounds plunk down on the sticky bar
top like water drops.

But by Saturday we’ll be in Dallas
already thinking about Albuquerque.

She has greasy brown hair, that hangs around her face,
small breasts and a pot belly pushing against her brown
t-shirt. Her skin and eyes are baked the same color brown.
She’s the color of the muddy Mississippi
and the clay southern highways.
She has blended into her background
to become part of place that is part of her.

I stare down at my one burnt driving arm.
The other still New York pale.
She makes me a drink with a cucumber in it
and I thank her softly
trying to stop myself from imitating
her dripping vowels,
her gentle Southern cadence.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Thursday Night Fight

These words are little tiny
balled-up fists that I’m tossing at you
from across the room
trying to figure out
when you are going to get around
to choosing me and us
Over them.

Which is, I know, Unfair, with a capital U
but darling, I promised a lot of things,
but I never promised fair. Not all the time.

And this is one of those moments
where you look right through me
like a ghost in the moonlight
and it takes away my voice.

So when you leave,
I wait till your head goes by the window
so I know you are really gone,
and then,
I lock the extra top bolt on the door
the one we paid the super for
but never use.
Cause I know that you won’t be able to
get it open. We never could, two hundred dollars later.

Eventually in the silence of the apartment,
the silence that I worked all night to get,
I put down my book and my glass,
the ice clinking gently and a bit
like a zombie
I walk back to the door
and with a struggle, undo the bolt.

And that was the forgiveness you got from me
without asking, the forgiveness
that you didn’t even know about
before you came in,
pulled off your hat,
steadied yourself in the doorway
and started to speak.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Resisting Gravity

This is an older poem, but I recently got it accepted by Zygote In My Coffee which is a fantastic mag you should all be reading at http://www.zygoteinmycoffee.com/

The cycle is starting and
again I’m feeling like writing was never the right thing for me.
That I would be better off hapless, like I was that day,
that the weather shuddered and turned over
and I frowned at the handsome black man
sitting on the curb, his bag in his lap,
his friend at his side.
We were at waiting at the light and
for a change, I wasn’t driving.
He held my eye for what seemed like forever
through the window of our car
and then like he remembered a raunchy joke
he smiled
all those white teeth and shining eyes
still holding my gaze
and I couldn’t not smile. I was so lonesome.
It would be like resisting gravity
even though moments ago you had been stung by a bee
and the sky was so metallic
I would have to punch holes in it
just to see a dash of light.

It wasn’t till later that I realized
I’ve been searching through this city
for something like that strange moment
since the day we got here.
Waiting for someone to hold down my stare
and then turn it all over on me.

I’ve been missing everything I left behind so badly
that we taped the photos up on the walls
just so I can remember,
that yes,
so far
it’s been a good life
better than I remember
or at least better than I let myself remember.
and you tell me it will keep getting better
as long as we don’t have kids
or become stagnant
or stop writing
and I know you are right.
There were other great writing couples
Ted and Sylvia,
Stan and Anne,
hell, Ginsberg and Orlovsky had decades in
those tiny apartments, their life collected in sweat, smeared fingerprints
and a comfortable mattress on the floor,
so why not us?
We got the bag full of tricks right here.
We’ll be the hitchhikers.
We’ll remember the raunchy joke next time.
It’ll be us sitting on that stoop someday
smiling at the red-headed girls that drive by
making them remember
if even for a second,
what the whole goddamn point is.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Yowling in the Next Life

In the next life,
I’m going to come back as a cat.
No more of this pink hairless life.
Instead I will sit on the dock in San Francisco
and laugh,
that white bright laugh
that used to torture the prisoners on Alcatraz.
The sounds they could hear over that quiet bay,
all that gentle conversation, the awkward
dinner dates, the shuffling starts and sputters
of men and women getting to know each other.
The symphony of clinking silverware, coughs, chatter
nervous accents, embarrassed pauses, spaces of silence louder
than laughter.
All of it floated over all that black water
over the honking of seals,
and came through those
rusty, sea-stained windows and
my god, it must have driven them crazy.
The cacophony of want.

Yes in the next life,
I’ll be on the dock, too.
A fat black cat, yowling at your moon.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


This will soon be available online thanks to the lovely people at www.jackmagazine.com

The sea gulls freeze in the air
floating, cut from silk and hung on a thread
just below the clouds that are strapped to the sky
milky white and liquid
the sharp bird beaks cutting a line
as they float like words above me

I can see my breath crystallize in the morning air
and still smell the ocean,
and feel the salt stick to my palms
even all the way up here
over the car exhaust,
and dog shit.

I can still hear the waves, and the roll of broken shells
cracking into each other
over the sharp staccato of Chinese
and the screaming brakes of the subway.

Spring is coming,
tunneling through the ground
upsetting the graves,
overturning the rotten wood and bones of the dead
like a giant nimble worm
blind and intuitive
stretching and contracting in the determination of yearly renewal.
I can hear her rumble,
I can hear her coming.

And so can the gulls,
and that is why they are floating.