Clouds blew their cover
during the night, rain
scudding across the window
in code. I should have known
something was up by the signs
she gave me: fabricated television
appearances, forecasts gathered
from the tornado swirl of tea leaves,
stilettos bought instead of wellingtons.
Perhaps I should have seen this earlier;
not cracked at the checkpoints on her body,
not interpreted her body language
for something else. I always checked
the coast was clear just in case,
always wept in Morse.
The other car nearly hit her, not because the driver was shaving or looking at a map, but because he was writing. At the stoplight she saw his face in her rear-view mirror. He kept looking up at her car, looking down, and writing on something balanced against the steering wheel, as if he was desperate to record a vanishing sight. When she turned the corner he followed her with the pencil wagging. She drove faster. She thought back on how she had driven up to that point, wondering if she had scratched his car and not realized it. Maybe he was writing down her license plate and description. But no, he must have gotten that by now. And he had nearly sideswiped her, not the other way around.
She pulled into the parking garage and didn’t look behind her. Inside, she made sure all the windows were shut, curtains drawn, and turned on the television. The volume was muted from the previous evening when she received a phone call that turned out to be a wrong number. She sat on the couch and watched the silent screen, a commercial for a chain restaurant showing shrimp being dragged through red sauce with a dripping lemon slice pinched above it. The commercial led to the evening news. Somewhere due to heavy winds a tree had fallen onto a house. She felt like she needed to be still, camouflaged. She did not turn the volume up. She listened for strange noises.
After a while she opened a slit in the curtains. The man was visible although his car was not. He stood in the distance on a grassy plot in front of the apartment complex. He glanced at her front door repeatedly and continued to write in what looked like a blue notebook. She wondered if she should call the police. To report what, though? That a man was staring in her direction and writing? He hadn’t spoken to her let alone harassed her. The police would get a good laugh from her story.
She imagined what would happen if she confronted him. She imagined yanking the notebook from his hands and seeing blank pages, or her life story, or a pornographic sketch of her with people she didn’t know.
Her upstairs neighbor was coming home from work. At one time she hoped to enjoy some benefits of mutual neighborliness, such as watering her plants while she was gone, or feeding his cat while he was away. Their initial conversations dating from six months ago were not encouraging. He gave curt answers and always wanted to rush away. His attitude was impatient, analytic. She opened her front door as he climbed the stairs.
Do you see that man there? she asked. He took a quick look. Yes, he replied sharply, implying that of course I see the man there, I’m not blind. He’s been out there writing something all evening, she said. He followed me home in my car. He was even recording something as he drove. See if he’s gone in the morning, her neighbor said. She frowned. She locked and bolted her door.
It was humid so she turned on the air conditioner before she went to bed. She couldn’t sleep. The air conditioner seemed to be making a weird rattle beneath its usual hum. She wondered if it was breaking down, or maybe it had always made that noise but she never noticed it. She reached out her arm to set her alarm clock. Her arm and fingers seemed long, as if extensions had been put on them. She watched her fingers adjust the dials like alien tentacles. After a few sleeping pills she listened to her heart beat faster as the blood slid through it more urgently.
In the morning the man writing in the notebook was gone. She went to the area where he had been standing. There were no traces, no cigarette butts, no footprints, no balled wads of paper. The notebook had not been left behind for her to discover something earth shaking. There was a light fog. A crow cawed from the oak tree. When she passed her neighbor he startled her by saying good morning in a voice that sounded unlike it ever had before.
Anatomy of a Block
Clorox is a caustic blood running through her housewifely veins.
Mrs. Jacobs is in her back yard bleaching the cement behind her house.
She scrubs with white-knuckled insistence, there will be no smell
of dog poo anywhere in this lawn or on this walk.
Next door the borderline personality who recently tried to commit suicide
is ignoring her caseworker to the best of her ability.
“I need your bank statement,” the case worker says firmly.
“Well, I use them to line the bird cage,” the borderline personality answers
and twists her mouth
into a little knot.
The caseworker goes to the bird cage which is,
in the swelteringly hot apt,
emitting almost palpable fumes,
The medical assistance application is there too
One house over, the young lover is lying on a mattress
beneath a window with a lace curtain,
hair blond, eyes, prismatic blue,
filled with sun.
The day is leaning toward dinner.
The girl will put on music and dance
on the bed in her lingerie.
Love will rotate
a wheel of fate,
every color bright,
turning them closer to the act of consummation.
Tyler wriggles out of his father’s hands
to defiantly pick pears at the tree
in front of the house of the old lady
whose Oxycontin has expired
because with the acupuncture
she doesn’t need it anymore.
And the man at the health food store
is giving the same advice
as yesterday to the same woman
who will visit him tomorrow
with the same question.
they’ll scour their houses into immaculate obedience,
resist the caseworker, self-mutilate,
and line the bird cage with excuses.
pull off the blue slip and consider
the dangers of making love,
pluck fruit from the tree,
flush drugs down the toilet,
and ask questions, and more questions, at the counter
of some dubious authority,
without ever really
expecting to know or hear
Beyond the Blue
there is no borderline
between sea and sky
waves are pushing their colors
up towards the air, bloating
their calls and songs to bold
it is a world within nature
presenting itself, or what
cannot be represented elsewhere
separated from the mind
the frame always trying to capture
a few fish swimming in the waters
Across Nebraska at Night
Those last thirty miles into Valentine
always last the longest.
Too long, too late,
my lollygagging dawdler,
to cross the Big Muddy before dawn.
So ease on down that yellow lined Highway 20
as it spins out across the sand dunes
where Old Jules still sleeps
out on the barbed-wire rangeland
that skirts the Pine Ridge south of the Niobrara.
There are coyotes out there howling and
Rocky Mountain Oysters are served
with cocktail sauce on the side.
So infrequent the odd oases
appearing out of the black;
at Cody where Frenchy Merriam shot Old Man Murphy
and Bassett where they hung Kid Wade for horse theft.
The Sioux come down now
to buy their beer at Whiteclay
and the boarded-up roadside motels
on the outskirts give way to the wide open night.
At the side of the road stands a deer, watching
you wait for the whoosh of semis headed opposite
and the Brown County Sheriff waits in the dark.
Thank you, deputy.
I’ll watch out for George Jones.
Where are you, George Jones?
I can’t find you, George Jones.
Once again a no-show, flipping
back and forth on the dial while whistling
past orange construction barrels.
We’re headed towards the temples of Ceres
that appear shining and monstrous as
first light spreads out across the grasslands.
the economy of lust
he told me about it,
about the thirty years of
marriage, of hormones
spiking up and down
and the depression that
came last year after
his wife’s estrogen
bottomed out, how
hair grew on her face
the inside of her
thighs were like an
Main Street, an
empty lane with
trash in the gutters
bits of newspaper
blowing in the wind.
The sound it makes when it hits the floor
Green-eyed, the muse’s throat swings itself from the rafters. Gentle creaking and the shadow from its feet fall over mine and over mine making me wonder if it was too soon. Bulging now, they ask a one word question. “Because I have no more words for you,” I answer.
I wait three days before I cut it down.
The Painful Birth
The shadows grew flustered with color. Their depths became lurid, pulsating with hidden meaning. Trees shifted nervously as they felt their bark become an agonizing skin. One’s suffering was particularly dreadful. The cold air, fragrant with the earth’s seasonal decay, had comforted it for hundreds of years. But suddenly it had become humid; drumming with the activity of invisible fingers – fingers that stripped the bark away, that polished the raw flesh until it was smooth, rounded and white.
Roots recoiled out of the ground. Branches merged together and lost their splintered netting. Birds, carrying building materials in their mouths, flew elsewhere. The canopy of leaves exploded, tearing apart the living embroidery. And the sun illuminated what the modest trees had been hiding.
The surviving buds and leaves wafted down, settling on the white figure that was stiff with pain and the fear of separation from the forest and the maidens of Artemis. Knots in the bark disappeared except for two – and they became parallel and uniform: liquid, living galaxies of light. This chosen unfortunate felt its sap become thin and quick, running down a filigree of paths that marked a fleshy interior.
When the trunk split, it cried out. And the sound drove the homeless birds flying through the torn ceiling. Around each piece there were vines and lianas, grasping fruits and spinning tendrils. It dragged behind it the emblems of its former life: clouds, mangroves, tropics, forests coniferous and evergreen.
However, its new circulation, the sparks that seemed to fire everywhere and nowhere, were insistent. And it walked forward, poised and praised, marked with triumph and transition.
Name Dropping For A Deceased Wife
for Beth Partlow-Draime
I never thought I’d look back on
her in memory. She seemed so
fastened to her being and her
of the world! I watched her joy when she
read Joyce and Kafka,
Chandler and Hammet , or James Cain …
and even William Morris
and Lovecraft. And the times she appeared
to be mesmerized by
Erik Satie and Brahms, Van Morrison,
and Leonard Cohen,
playing on our
as she tended
and squash in
the garden behind our house in Echo Park.
And the many passionate and lazy afternoons,
her red hair in twined
through my fingers as I
held up each strand to
steaming through our
There were her cryptic
post cards from
across the U.S.
on the way home to see her folks
in Kokomo. The one from
a bus station somewhere
in Texas said simply,
“I’m just listening.”
There is no getting away
from her courageous and
to get the oppressed
Soviet Jews out
of Russia; and there
is a tree planted
She made the bigtime
when her friend
Si, published an article
about her in
the L.A. Times
Boris Penson and Mikhail Baryshnikov are in her debt.
But mostly I remember the way she held a
drinking glass full of Jameson’s whiskey
like it was a China tea cup.
Every moment of those
are somewhere in
like soft gray rain
Burning The Complete Works of Sylvia Plath
The suicidal Muse ran up and
down my walls screaming for
Sylvia Plath. It wasn’t my
Muse; it came with her. She warned
me about something like this
happening if my writing
became too positive or
encouraging. So, I called her
“Look,” I said, “it’s running up and
down my walls screaming for
“Calm down,” she said, “just turn the typewriter
off and it’ll stop.”
“What?” I said.
“Turn the Corona off and it’ll stop.” she said
The Smith Corona was a gift from her when my ancient
Remington bit the dust. I told her to hold on a minute and
went over and turned off the machine. She was right, the
thing just disappeared with a puff of smoke. Back on the
phone, I told her it worked. She was silent for a moment.
“What are you going to do now,” she asked.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“Well, I mean, you got the thing stirred up
somehow and now every time you turn
the typewriter on the Muse is going to get
out and cause havoc. Each time it gets
“No shit?” I said, shocked.
“No shit!” she replied.
I thought for a moment. “Will burning the
Complete Works Of Sylvia Plath work?”
She was thinking now. “Well, you could give that
a try, probably wouldn’t hurt to burn all the Ted
Hughes stuff while you’re at it.”
“Thanks I appreciate the help,” I said and hung up.
I didn’t have the Complete Works Of Sylvia Plath
and nothing by Hughes, so I went out and bought
them. When I got home I went outside, threw them
in an empty trash can and was about to torch them
when something like a spiritual revelation hit me.
I grabbed the the Complete Works Of Sylvia
Plath out of the trash can and ran inside, turned on
my oven and baked her with the oven door open for
an hour. Then I gingerly took the smoldering books,
holding them with a pot holder, outside and threw them
in the trash can with her former old man, and torched
them good. I watched the books burn to ashes, then
emptied the ashes in my septic tank. I felt something
lifting from me and I knew it was over.
I went in and turned on the machine. It purred
like a kitten. I waited for a moment and then
typed my first line: The Suicidal Muse ran up
and down my walls screaming for Sylvia Plath.
Coming Down From The Mountain Unenlightened
We trudged down the mountain path
to the water
like warriors beaten.
Our whiskey bottles empty,
all of our mescaline eaten.
Five days without bathing, we threw
and stinking, clothes and all,
into the ocean.
The two girls stripping down to
their panties and bras.
Thomas claimed he saw
a flying saucer.
Lucy swore she had
a brush with Big Foot
on a rocky ridge above the jade cliffs.
But the rest of us
knew that mescaline
was the cause.
And we mixed our trips
with a few cold beers
to level them out a little.
I laid in a foot of water
staring up at the mountain,
thinking how normal everything appeared.
After five days of
and discussions of
astral projection, change shifting and time
travel, nothing in the world
looked any different
We dried ourselves in the sun and
headed down 101 for home, still unenlightened