–for Pam


While the troll roots

In the basement

Snuffling dark

Corners, cobwebs

In his beard,

The Zen Mother

Holds a meditation

Upstairs, aware

Of the beast scratching

At the floor of her

Ears, in her lair

Mirrors & the heat

Of flesh invite

All the young

Sirens to sing.

What he craves

More than gold,

More than blood,

More than the sweet

Feminine scent &

Soft breath on his neck,

Is the taste

Of her metaphysical

Sweat as she lies

In savasana waiting—

His dharma forever

Crawling the stairs.


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“La Cucaracha,” crawls out

the mouth of the old poet sleeping

on his back in the rest home

bed. “The cockroach,” I say,

and he smiles, eyes closed,

doesn’t lift his head, then drifts

off again to what’s left

of his revolution, Irish or

Mexican—this peasant poet

indulges neither weed nor whiskey

these days. He naps and suffers

no hangovers, no critics,

no fools. The beauty of his world,

this purgatory of clean linens

and polished floors, is in the comfort

of the drugs that walk him through

that pecan orchard years ago,

a leggy-blonde artist-activist on his arm—

when the sound of bees stopped them

to listen. What was her name?

The beauty who left him cracking-up,

breaking down in the barrow pit

mud after she refused to open

her checkbook, go along with his scheme

to live off the land and strike it rich

mining gold and art in Alaska. The dream,

rerun of that mistake, furrows his brow,

twitches his face, but pales against

the nightmare of waking, of sitting

in his chair and staring at TV or

the series of breathing cadavers

stashed like wrinkled mannequins

behind the curtain in his room—where

shuffling nurses in starched uniforms

stop to snap him into his triple-X

bib that catches everything

but the words he can’t chew or spit.

Nothing fits his mouth anymore.

La cucaracha, la cucaracha,

why does he sing, what does he know?

La cucaracha, la cucaracha, scuttles

out his ear and under the pillow.


—for Ed Lahey


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Maybe the wagon wheels out front

or the ropes bordering the menus

drove me to make a beeline

for the horseshoe window booth

in the old West Broadway 4B’s,

slide across that slick-hard plastic,

brass tacked and barn red,

and grip the rim of the Formica table-top

like the lap handle on the Tilt-a-Whirl

at the carnival each summer (the best

ride!) at the Western Montana Fair.


Our Dale Evans costumed waitress

handed out menus with cartoon bees

buzzing over a corral scene of horses,

fences, lariats, and cow-folk covered

in wipe-clean plastic sleeves—

no ketchup or coffee stains. Each

of the bees had a human face, cut-out

photos of Bill, Billy, Buddy, and Barbara,

the 4 B’s was a real family cafe.


Our waitress sashayed back

in her hooped skirt, flipped over

and poured my folks coffee cups

to the brim, pulled a pencil from her hair,

beehive, and started taking orders: one

Cubed Steak with fries and Thousand Island

for Dad; a Chicken Fried Steak for Mom,

Blue Cheese dressing; a Hamburger

for my sister, no onion, and a large Coke;

my brother always ordered the BLT

and Vanilla shake (which my dad

usually changed to a glass of milk).


When she looked at me and asked,

“What can I get cha, Hon?” I ordered

the liver and onions, a large Root Beer.

She laughed and looked at my folks

who shrugged, so she started collecting

menus, “You sure you’re not pullin’ my leg?”

She smiled. I shook my head. My mother

assured her it wasn’t a joke, I really

loved liver and onions. Miss Kitty

winked at me, “In twenty years of hashing,

Sweetie, no child’s ever ordered that

from me.” Mother nodded, Dad grinned,

my sister rolled her eyes,

and my brother glared at me.


On her way to the kitchen

the waitress turned and said,

“Are you sure he doesn’t want a

Pabst Blue Ribbon with that?”


The men sitting at the table next to us

turned and laughed. One suggested

a side of hearts & gizzards. Then more

people around us laughed. And I

wondered how they knew or why it was

so funny—but I liked it just the same.


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old school

more like unschooled . . . we lucked out

more like unschooled . . . we lucked out



i’ll drink anything

but i buy cheap canned beer

fix my mower

with a coat hanger

start and stop it with the choke

i wear second-hand clothes

till they’re threadbare

my old lazy-boy scratch-post recliner

turned thirty-six this year

my grandmother bought it

three years before she died

i don’t own

a cell phone

i’d rather piss and moan

about all the timely essential and

important bullshit i’m missing

in the back yard of the digital age

and just for the record

text is not a goddamn verb

fucked is

which is what i am

in this new school playing

on the new millennium field

although i think

i understand

why we don’t live forever

some young fucker

(fuck! now there’s a versatile fucking word)

would finally come unglued

and pound me out of existence

just to shut me up

put both of us out of our mutual miseries

long before i ever flipped

the calendar page to begin

another century





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if he’d made it

in the Cali

real estate game

he could have

popped the forks

onto his back-

hoe and drove 

that big fucker

uphill so 

he could roll it

into place

another myth


with personalized


plates moved

from Porsche

to tractor

still rolling

down the old

stoned path



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The neighbor is moving

Stacks of planks

To the backyard,

Digging his way into the construction

Zone he rented officially today—

The bathroom and kitchen still

Unfinished—and I wonder

Where he found the long planks.

There’s no question

Where the young girl

Following him came from,

Her posture and gait

The same as her dad’s.


Last night I visited a friend of mine

Who’s been battling melanoma.

I hadn’t seen him in a month,

And he’d lost a lot of weight,

Resembling those photos of Buchenwald

Ghosts at the end of the war . . .

Still he’s upbeat about his death

Sentence, thinks he’s got it on the run,

Though he appears to be on the ropes

And struggling to hang on, he’s still

On his feet, still bobbing and

Weaving—determined to win.


A couple weeks back I bumped into

Another old friend I hadn’t seen in awhile,

And he got that grave look on his face,

Asked if I was alright—he was afraid

I had cancer. Of course I laughed

It off, told him to kiss my ass,

Assured him I was dying

One day at a time and took his curse

As a compliment for dropping twenty pounds.

We’re so vain and oblivious—

And that’s probably for the best—

But after seeing Bob last evening

And slipping on his shoes, size C,

I was reminded why they fit perfectly—

All things are a reflection of me—and cancer

Is here like the birds and the trees.


Survivor of another day

Under the summer sun, one more

Promising afternoon in this green

Dimension listening to the blues,

I gave up on the answers

Years ago, long before I gave up on the questions,

And pretty much think if I ever did

Consider taking a stand on an issue

Like “What really matters the most?”

Most likely I’d vote for this moment—

And I know that’s totally selfish,

But I think it’s true—that we best

Honor being alive by living,

By paying attention and loving

Our breath, the air—being here.


Turns out I’m notching love stories today:

The new neighbors working, bees

Gathering on the clover, the cats napping

In the shade of Mississippi blues

Flooding my ears and filling my heart

Like skinny Buddha-Bob

Smiling hollow-eyed in his hammock,

Sipping vegetable juice from a quart

Mason jar, so happy to see us,

Glad we took the time to stop by

And share our voices, praise the mysteries—

Tomorrow and yesterday—

Toast our weepy joys and cramping guts

From laughing too hard or from crying

Too much—the sweetness of loss,

Of holding on—we love to

Live this dream.


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Orange whipped

By dust storms

Blown choking

Her throat & eyes

Leaking salty

Blood beading

Those lips

I crave to lie with


Words stinging

The heart’s cries

Shit happens

Stirring the coals

Dry kindling

Snaps no surprise

Pine fumes warm

My bulging

Veins pounding

Chanting licking

Up rain drenched

Canyon walls

Press face

To stone face

Cool tongue

& hollow stem

Still probing

For shade


Everything waits

On water

Just about


Burning in me

All I’ve conned

Into being

Who’s hot

And what’s not

My bowl of tea

She knows it all

Exists for me

Fuel for this





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And the poem begins

With a bellyful of Guinness,

As it should on a winter night stroll

To hear an Irish fiddler play,

Stroke and pull the bow,

Finger the Celtic ditties

My grandfather hummed

When he high-graded his bag of ore—

One brogan tapping time.


Irish brogues lilt the lobby

And stage of the Music Recital Hall,

Wheedle restrained laughter

From the standing room only crowd

Of students and gray-haired patrons.

Tonight nobody dances in the aisles.

Stinking of beer and nostalgia,

I find my way to a balcony seat and ease

Into polite company, close my eyes

And smile in the dark, let the fiddler


Transport me to that third floor flat

In Butte, America—Irish refugee

Camp—corner of Montana and Dublin

Gulch where my grandparents arrived

In ‘17 from Galway with my uncle

Who died in the mines, and where

My father was delivered squalling

In the dust and smoke of an industrial

World that promised little more

Than more misery and grief. Still,


The fiddlers, that voice of the Irish,

Raged while the people danced

And drank, cried and cheered and died—

Free to sing—unlike this auditorium

Audience’s quiet contemplation of

Art and sound, prescriptively punctuated

By evenhanded applause—reminiscent

Of academic poetry readings: arching

Brows followed by nods, and often

A pensive gaze. No hoots,

No whistles or cat calls.


I suppress a beer burp

That could clear the balcony,

Pucker the stout-gas my ass wants

To let go, and use my telepathy to ask

The master of the bow, “So who

Do you love, James Kelly?

Who do you love besides your father,

The Chieftains, and the music

Inside your head?” You must have loved

Your grandfather when you were a kid.


Was he a doodler like mine

Who mumbled all the time these tunes

He’d sing drunk or sober? Old Martin

Fiddled with his tongue, pick

In hand, rode those rhythms he mouthed

To accompany the day. No one

Bothered about his songs as he shoveled

Away. Damn few understood a word

He said, and he sang continuously:


Hi-dill-dee, dee-dill-dee, dee-dill-dee, die-dill-dee,

Dee-dill-dee, dee-dill-dee, dee-dill-dee, die-dill-dee,

Hi-dill-dee, dee-dill-dee, dee-dill-dee, die-dill-dee,

Hi-dill-dee, dee-dill-dee, die, dee-dee!


Fuck the queen! An’ pass The Paddy!

Remember to mind yer fuckin’ manners, laddy!

The fiddler is speakin’, ye blatherin’ arse!

So, shut it! The souls of the ancestors

Are talkin’. Let yer lips like yer feet take a stroll,

Do the walkin’. Just be careful ye don’t stumble,

Take a tumble in the weeds, turn up dead

As Old Man Brown. Give it a whirl!

Try dancin’, not gawkin’ like a fuckin’ fool

At the girls who could teach ye a thing or two

About fiddlin’ around, dancin’ in the dark,

And ridin’ the sweet strokes of Kelly.


Hi-dill-dee, dee-dill-dee, dee-dill-dee, die-dill-dee,

Dee-dill-dee, dee-dill-dee, dee-dill-dee, die-dill-dee,

Hi-dill-dee, dee-dill-dee, dee-dill-dee, die-dill-dee,

Hi-dill-dee, dee-dill-dee, die, dee-doo!


–for James Kelly



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       –for Crazy Horse, the band, and the boys


boom, boom, baby

boom, boom

baby boom, out go the lights

’cause tonight’s the night

your rollin’ the apple

your stirrin’ the pot

sha-boom, boom-boom

give us all you got

this one goes out to all of you

old yeah-yeah gray-hairs

who grew up in rock and roll

wanted to go to that mansion

up the hill or across the tracks

to austin’s practice shed

off the back wall of his garage

to hang out in the sound

to sing along

to be found with the band

hanging on

to that back beat, ride

the slide, the bottleneck

the wah-wah bar, dig on that

fray-cornered music man amp

your foxy dark side of

the stairway to fire

that groovy vox-ified

paranoid garage band

and roll, roll on, roll into

another one, smokin’ deep

purple traffic on the water

pipe, done . . . cough

done, done, done . . . done-done, d-done

roll another one, ride

your creamy satanic majesty

a three chord cranial lift

to the arena of pounding drums

where all you needed was love

and thumping bass notes thumbed

to dance and fly around

the fire chasing sparks chasing

stars beyond tree shadow

silhouettes, feet stomping, hands

clapping, the sticks and guitar

picks pulling you along

into sound forming words

that lose their meaning

to gain their heart, this part

that starts in the vibe

in the groove that wants to go

and go, roll on and on

keep rockin’ the snow

off that old garage

and roll your boom-boom

baby into a song

that will never be played

the same way again in bleeding

raw fingered stumble and sting

a squealing pig on ice



bing, bing, bing,

sweet brown-eyed girls

light those things, those big

cigars, panatellas, pass that sweet

cherry wine, let your hair down

smell her collar and neck

lick that salty sweat and nose

that musk-oily scent, her

hairy fairy-moans, the zeppelin burns

inside that two-story shack

you called the peter-eater

son, you were ruined for good

like many a dope-boy

driven mad and hard as

rock and roll, it was that first

best place always and forever

till a few years later when

you found yourself

singing those obscure verses

of amazing grace

at funerals for the ones

damaged and done

by too much silly-assed unending fun

so you amped up on the teary blues

got down on the slow notes

in the beat dirge of mourn

before you picked it up

again and sang it, wang it

flang it high past the sun

boogie fly celebrations

skin climbing to air

closed your eyes to soar

rode the draft back down

blew the doors off your dream

that flow of electric tones

and crackling voices that scrape

the throat glottal, the show

a gravelly, noise-filled

broken blind hole, the void

existing outside beyond

the flames, inside, closer to

the source, the bass line

in bone cage, the one

everyone can play, then

add a creepy-crawling guitar

haunt it up, rev it wild

you can’t fuck this up

make it run, make it slide

prance and scream

then glide through the night

stars winking like lit cigarette tips

when you light the fuse

watch it quietly sparkle-glow

then hit that number

to erupt in meteor tails

hendrix’s trails, blue stars

on tattered red stripes

grandiose explosions, machine gun

riffs searching for more sky

what they do not know and cannot

find, find you swirling, head banging

in the strobe’s flash, kissed

by the vision of drum sticks

hatcheting the dark

experience, that effort

to slash and play

what we know not, who we are

is what we say and all

we want to be

is to be here with the band

forever on stage

rocking in the back or rolling

in the front of the shed

maybe on the floor with her

screaming for more of

the apple of dischord

your hometown garage band

wired crazy as the horse

with no name, homegrown

high in the rockin’

mountains of the west

plugged in

and blown away


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Mass Hysteria




for JimBo


At twenty I believed anyone who didn’t

agree with me

about Marx (Karl or Groucho)


was a humorless, money-grubbing bastard.

I measured the world

by blisters & shit-eating grins.


My conclusion: workers of the world unite

(raise your eyebrows

& duck walk in circles.) You worka too much


for too little pay. Turn some serious dough

into funny money.

Don’t join the circus to tame the clowns,


never trade the sunrise for a real estate tip.


At thirty I became a father,

grist for the mill,

let go of the Communist Manifesto,


traded my ideals for a washer & dryer,

health insurance –

the deluded assurance of a savings account.


I learned to live every day, every hour,

for tomorrow.

It was no laughing matter. I thought,


what did I know? In Moscow Marxists

were eating their dogs

& a B-movie clown told jokes in the White House.


I drank & worked overtime.


At forty I barely survived my father’s death,

exhumed his radical heart,

the one he inherited from his Wobbly old man,


a hand-me-down black & tan doodle-heart

years in the mines

& whiskey couldn’t kill. The comedy of it


all — economics, revolution, utopian dreams.

Are we molded

more by our stories or our genes? We work,


we laugh, we cry, we eat, we drink, we screw,

we die — talking all the time.

Systems are random & chaos a pattern.


Feed the huddled masses duck soup.


At fifty will I wear my trousers rolled?

Will my children

scold me for singing out loud & squandering


their college tuition on a day at the races?

Give me a farce, two

tickets to paradise. We’ll party until it’s time.


You grow old, you grow cold as proletarian

dreams, you grow bold

at the promise your shadow will lengthen.


Tonight at the opera it’s all horse feathers.

The tenor of the troupe

is fat. The king snores through an aria, our queen


loses her dress. Fuck it, the business of debt.


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