In Butte

Clouds hang low

As Wobbly agitators

Suspended like saucers,

Whole plates of mashed potatoes,

Or maybe platters, paint palettes

Your mother might have dreamed up

To mix the dark oil she splayed

Across nightmarish canvas . . .


Like the cigar smoking mule

That suffocated you while

He rhymed in the caved-in

Stopes of your mind,

The repeated promise of

Eternal harps and gowns, blind

Hopes spun by heavenly clowns

Who claimed they saved Evel

From burning. Joe Hill


Still waits at the pearly gates,

St. Peter is a company man . . .

Frank Little’s playing poker

With Clarence Darrow out front,

Sees you trying to sneak by

With your prayer shawl on.

Recognizing your long ears

And Bowler hat, Joe Hill coughs up

The blood of Christ, refuses to go


To Hell. No cigar, Frankie smokes

Like a presto-log, pulls two jokers

From his sleeve, so Darrow raises

Hell—tells Pete to kiss his ass.

He knows who holds the kings

Of copper hostage, but the fools will trade

Their teeth for rosaries, booze,

Or dentures that don’t fit. The lowest level

Keeps changing like clouds—now bowls


Of oatmeal topped with Sweet and Low.

Today everything smacks of you,

Ed, in this blue sky above me. Like Daedalus

Or Marianne Moore, toads croaking

In their imaginary gardens, this blue

“Bird” is winging it, singing it

Because he can, because he’s flying high

Once again over the labyrinth he sees below.

Unfortunately . . . he cannot land.


            In memory of Ed Lahey

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podunk no horse

you know this place

peeled paint picked flakes

and rusted hay rakes

anchored in duff and shrouded

in weeds the moist smell

of earth in your nostrils

kissing the dirt and smoking

snake grass talking to the notorious

absent you keep coming back to

know you never leave the rutted alleys

at least highway 10 is paved

over and under the railroad tracks

that define your longing east of west

your existence north of south

where kids climb the mountain

and mimic the world wars

construction fire sex that landscape

development parents can’t see

where you explore the spooky forest

massively overgrown and glacially

boulder strewn a creepy quiet

dark mystery of black birds and

bears south down to the river

where you swim in your shit

suckers lying on fishy mud banks

masturbating in the sun

you live for fun whatever

that is on the wrong side

of the tracks by the bum jungle

where hobos camp in scrap

shanties built into the steam train

roundhouse foundations in

the campfire dark of the water tower

where it’s always fall or early

spring matted dead grass

sweatshirt or jacket-cool weather

nose-dripping melancholy

forever this is home to you

the lonelier the better

a comfort zone of observation

muted tones rewound some

instinctive knowing nothing is clear

cycles of history life love death

fear helps but can’t explain

the rosary laced between your dead

grandfather’s fingers dad’s rage

your mother’s voice in your ear

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He lies supine

on top of the covers,

hands on his belly,

beard trimmed,

eyes closed,

the rise of his chest

suggesting sleep,

so I watch him

breathe for awhile.

Usually when I touch

his knee, slowly

he opens his eyes

and says, “Hey, Buddy,

it’s good to see ya.”

But today at my touch

he almost jumps

off the bed,

and I laugh,

both of us scared

half-to-death. I say,

“Sorry, Ed.

I didn’t mean to

give you a heart attack.”

“That’s okay,” he says,

his eyes clouded

milky-blue. When

I take his hand,

he gives me a firm grip.

We shake and squeeze

and shake some more.

He holds on, won’t let go . . .

which is unusual

for him. Often he gives

the fish-fingers, limp,

barely a response,

but today his hand

seems to beg me to stay.

I ask if he can see me,

and he says he can,

but his eyes look

blank to me, far away.

We talk about friends

and poems. I ask

who else he’s seen

or heard from lately.

“Not a soul,”

his standard response,

so I tell him I’m going

to Washington D.C.

for a poetry gig

with Gimp O”Leary.

“That should be fun,”

he says—deadpan.

His eyes close

as I ramble on

about poetry and me.

He comes and goes,

riding the tide of

my pauses and

inflections. Finally

I tell him I’d better leave

and let him get back

to that dream

I plucked him from.

He smiles and agrees,

takes my hand again,

a slight squeeze.

When I turn back

at the door to catch

another glimpse of him

before I go, I note

how good he looks:

resting, clean and groomed

like a corpse waiting

for a coffin. I can’t help

but smile at the irony

of the lunch tray

on the table next to him.

After all those tough

years—breakfast in bed—

Ed finally had room

service, and all the time

he needed to dream.

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To be there in that moment,

blood & sweat freezing

to skin—elbows & shins

bruised, swollen—the turf

hard as stone—you

crouching, feet measured

by feet right & left,

legs spread shoulder width—

twisting cleats, digging in,

finding that bite,

then dropping to position,

chest parallel to the ground,

head up, butt down,

weight evenly distributed

in the three point stance,

fingers & knuckles numb—eyes

level, focused, unwavering—

knowing this is your time

& showing nothing, neither the halt

nor the leap in your heartbeat

as the mountain in front of you moves

where you want it to go,

gives you the angle,

the leverage you need

to explode at the snap,

create that gap for the stars

to shine on blue collar guys—

those unshaven fat-asses

buried in the trenches,

the insignificant nameless freaks,

the ones who up until this moment,

the image of your block,

were but the obscure

Zen monks of football.

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Honorable Men


Shakespeare was right

My Old Man knew it

And the Founding Fathers agreed


Greed, fear, and jealousy drive

Humanity goosestepping toward the edge

Desperate men are easily conned


The dupes, the pawns, the patsies spin

A little shit-smack magic

Twitter-rope and flatter the gleam


On those pitchfork tines

Where’s the peanut trick, Baby?

Who’s your daddy’s concubine?


Something’s happened here again

And what it is precedes despair

But it’s fairly goddamn clear


To the Buffalo and Billy the Bard

The Common Good needs the queer

Around to blame and hate, they love to


Follow celebrities and forget

The wealthy die every day broken

By the grave, truly Death is


The only thing to believe in

Really, capitalism is insane

Always in the name of religion


We murder each other hoping

For the dream of money and ease

An idea that distracts our attention


In the shell game of life

Too foolish to live for each other

Today, to share and care


To hold together in the dark

And simply love one another

Accept the truth—nobody wins

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benny reynolds

It didn’t seem fair

to the horse

trying to buck him off,

Benny’s feet almost dragging

in the arena dirt. Literally

he was larger than life

for this butch-waxed,

popcorn muncher sporting

four-inch rolled-up cuffs

on his husky jeans.

Benny Reynolds ruled

the day all around

at the Powell County Rodeo:

steer wrestling, bull riding,

saddle bronc and bareback,

he dwarfed the stock,

made it look too easy.

And since the Old Man

had wrangled horses

in the Big Hole with Johnny,

Benny’s older brother,

he took me behind the chutes

with him when he went

to congratulate the Kid

and check in with the Melrose

boys. Of course I did

and didn’t want to go.

I felt embarrassed, unworthy

of meeting someone like that,

somebody of mythic stature: a King,

the Superman of Montana

Rodeo. I hung back a step

behind my dad, peeked

around him, felt my face

go red when Benny’s eyes

caught mine and he smiled at me.

John waved us in and offered

my dad a beer. Benny sat

on the opened tailgate of a pick up

truck, stuck out a huge paw

the size of my baseball mitt

and shook the Old Man’s hand.

He was all angles

under that black cowboy hat

and those arching eyebrows,

big boned, long armed and legged,

even long jawed. But all those

oversized features seemed necessary

to support his huge grin

when my dad kidded him

about “drawing all nags.”

He blushed, shockingly shy

as me, and nodded his head,

stole glances at the crew-cut little-

fat-kid while Johnny and the Old Man

sipped on Great Falls Select

and reminisced about names

I didn’t know and days working

on hay rakes and beaver slides.

Benny was quiet. He listened

and smiled. He did remind me

of “a kid” in a giant’s body.

He was what every child hopes

a hero will be—gentle,

kind, all modesty, humility,

and strength—possessing super-human

abilities—yet capable of calming

a panicked colt or scratching

a half-feral barn cat behind the ears

before putting out the lights

each starry, big-sky night, then

snuggling into his mama’s arms.


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may be confused often

with arrogance

and stupidity,

chest thumping, posing,

the fear of backing down,

being perceived as weak

or afraid, afraid

to be compared to women,

the weaker sex

real men must protect

from the other real men

coming for them,

brave men who venture

out into the dark,

into battle, alone

or in posses

determined to possess

whatever they’re after

including women

(of course) who oblige

(hide their children)

and lie to survive . . .

man-unkind survives

souly because of women

and semen in spite

of ignorant men

who feel nothing

is more worthy than


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Nirvana Unlocked


The inmates sit

In a circle

On a cement slab

Behind bars


One blames self-made

Bad luck—one points to rage

Just one names cowardice

More claim anger and hate


They’ll never leave here

And all agree their choices

Sprang from fear—what they

Want is to understand


So they sit

And meditate

In silence

Face themselves


Meet the man in the mirror

Know he is guilty

Because all men are guilty

As all men are innocent


And incarcerated and free

All men need to forgive

Themselves—bring peace

Step back and see


Step back and watch

Pause—listen—just be

Prisons contain bodies

The human mind is liberty

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I Should Have Played The Piccolo



For years

I never thought

Myself a poet—

I didn’t understand

Most of the poetry I’d read

Or care to decode it—

That convoluted

Cryptic high-dollar lingo

I needed Webster

To help me plow through

And still never knew

What the fuck

Was going on—

I couldn’t unwind

The syntactical mysteries

I’d find at every turn

Of phrase—another puzzle

And intriguing when I was a kid

When everything was a mystery to me

Like the sound of my tongue

Liquidy and clippity in my mouth

Articulating whispered

Gibberish and words

Against my teeth and lips

The roof of my mouth

A foreign music to echo

In the ear of the soul

That queer landscape

Inside my head—an edgy fear

Of the unknown

The universe of the mind

Like prayer—our search

For a reason to go on

Playing along in this game

We’ve evolved into buying

The belief in the significance

Of our particular

Existence having meaning

Believing those stories

Of myth or religion

Or science—the chatter

To support a collective mission

A unified awareness

That we must sacrifice

The glories of individual ego

And work like ants

For a better tomorrow

For a true day of reckoning

A day of understanding—

When the answer will arrive

Like a golden key

Gleaming on a purple pillow

Along with the secret knowledge

Of which door we need

To open to find

Universal peace and love

The big Why—

And if we buy into that notion

Of our ability to know

We give ourselves way more

Power than we know

We can have—and I want

You to know that I know

I don’t know shit

And don’t care to pretend

I do—I know today is

Upon me—and coyote will be

Back—where is the trickster

In the Christian-corporate model

There is no silliness in the boardroom

No laughter at the gates of Hell

I’ll take wily Old Coyote

Losing his ass again and again—

That roadrunner, oblivion

Is too quick for me—give me

Beauty or give me head

And fuck the rest of it

Men have been the managers

The progressive masters of fear

So let’s give women a chance

To screw it up some more

See what they might do

With this cursed boys’ camp

Of indentured servitude

Maybe trade a little tenderness

For drudgery or despair—give me

Free love and saddle shoes

I bet the Buddha was a gay blade

Who played the piccolo—

A poet and a Mommas’ boy

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Threading The Needle


Mother’s sewing box

sat atop The Old Man’s chest

of drawers. It was made of cedar

covered with tin, painted gold,

the lid hinged. It held thread

and needles, stick pins and safety

pins, lace, yarn, razor blades and two

thimbles, a tape measure and

Sucrets tin filled with more pins

and a needle threader. 

There was a pair of scissors

and a Zip-Fix (the modern marvel

tool that fixed broken zippers

on the garment!) plus lots of

scraps of cloth, a bra strap

extension, a hand-me-down

pin cushion, basting tape,

and a hem ripper.


Of course there were buttons: all kinds,

shapes, and sizes, because at heart,

this box was mostly Mother’s

button-repair station. Granted,

she sewed on plenty of knee patches,

hemmed cuffs and dresses,

those dutiful extensions, but

she never claimed to be a seamstress

(though she darned a few hundred

wool socks in her time) mainly

she tried to keep buttonholes filled.


I don’t know why I was surprised

to find her inside the sewing box

(undisguised by the pungent odors

of wood and metal) but there she was,

pins between her lips and horn rims

perched on the end of her long,

German nose, digging for a bobbin,

some color that would match

the thread of her chore

paused under the pressure foot

of the old Singer machine

that vibrated the kitchen table

with every seam she’d treadle.


Her lines may not have been factory

straight, but nobody cared much

about appearances in a little iron-horse

town where the darkened bedrooms

reeked of cigarettes and whiskey

in the middle of the day,

and the church pews were filled

with women and kids.


I discovered it rummaging

through boxes of Mother’s stuff

I’d packed two years before,

after she’d died unexpectedly

at eighty-nine (hard for us to imagine

her not being around all the time).

I was looking for her recipes

and rolling pin when I found the gold

box and opened the lid, whiffed her

setting up the Singer and peering 

over her rims knowingly

as she asked me to sneak in her room

and grab the sewing box.


One always tip-toed, coming or going,

in the dragon’s lair where snorts

and snores sawed the thick, smoky,

booze-sweet air, shades pulled,

doors closed. That dragon breath

conjured monsters, battles,

fires forged in the gut—horrors

no one wanted to know. That smell—

vivid as Vitalis, moth balls, 

or fresh trout in a creel—taught me

how to navigate Hell.


But no outside fragrances ever

penetrated the sewing box.

It was as stable as the woman

who dug through it 

searching for thread and a button, 

just the right color and size . . .

stitching, patching, threading

the needle once again to secure

our cuffs and collars

against the cold and wind

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