The Hyster battery is dead

again. You hook up the charger,

turn the dial to boost.

Better check the drip

buckets, snow on the roof,

the sun’s been blazing all morning.

The pack van’s loaded

with scrap cardboard

for a run to Pacific Recycling.

No windshield scraper,

but the heater works. Transmission

is iffy at best. Don’t ask

about the brakes or tires.

Remember to add oil,

throw your tool box in,

and roll down the windows

to vent the exhaust. Your slogan—

“Don’t fix it if it ain’t broken.”

Like the ’64 Chevy

straight truck, holes in the floor,

or the ’68 Freight Liner

cab-over tractor

with Arm-strong steering,

this fleet was in condition

during Nixon’s second term.

The break room refrigerator

motor is burned up.

Better leave your lunch outside.

Paydays, after work,

drive your check to the bank

and pray they’ll give you the cash.

Have faith in the Hyster

battery. Don’t turn your back

on the hydraulic lines. Find

a reefer before spring thaw.

After noon you fire up

the Ford gas-tractor,

shovel rusty snow

off the worn flatbed.

Halfway to the mill,

you break down, again,

have to walk three miles

for a phone. Both fuel

tanks are full. Both

fuel pumps are shot.

You’re going nowhere

slow. Don’t watch the clock.

The overtime rate

(nursing mechanical death row)

helps lube your complacency.

You’re no gambler. Know that

tomorrow morning the sun

will rise, the drip buckets

will sing, and the goddamn Hyster

battery will die—your laughter

extolling the beauty of decay.

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Lying on one side, bottom facing

me, you’re a customized mid-sixties

Chevy nose and grill, the horizontal lines

of the Case three-blade pocket design.

Around back I see the cluster of folded

shanks pressed tight, aligned, begging

mechanical action. Always promising

to be discreet even though your top—

which is actually the side where the Case

insignia (long gone) was glued—clacks

where the simulated bone-handle plastic

was cracked when I dropped you on

the garage floor, then accidentally backed

over you. Each hinge snaps open hard

firm, folds shut an echo in your belly

clear and sharp as the bite of a woodcutter’s

ax in the trunk of a tree a fair distance away.

I like you’re heft, even though it wears

holes in my pockets, you’re the perfect

size and weight in my hand. You let me

cut, chop, trim, scrape, clean, pry and screw.

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The earthy gravity of Seamus Heaney’s poems

and the sweet taste of John Powers whiskey

mixed with a few foot-surgery Percocets


could explain the face droop I feel, the heavy

shallow breaths, but on top of the dumb-slow

hours of pain and recovery, it was the blind


pick-up (no caller ID) and the pace and tone

of my niece’s voice that foretold the tale

ahead of the words: her father, the Little


Hungarian, had left to find my sister, his

Bull-headed Irish lover (gone now for not

quite a year) and tend the roses of their garden


in paradise. And however you want to spin it,

your metaphor about what happens after

we die, I can testify to their story here,


a love story for over half a century, one glass

half-empty, one glass half-full, they were

a team who’d thrown in together for better


or worse. It was a hell of a ride. True opposites.

They never gave up on each other. Call it

love, commitment, ignorance, or fear.


Call it what you want. Year after year

they kept trying to keep a full-glass together.

The meaning of life is in the living.

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Cleopatra does vaudeville

as the bells chime

in time, in time—


the pushy broad is no mime,

yet she swirls white-faced,

she kneels, she dips—


the pushy broad is the writer

of this Black-Geisha script

reaching palms open,


she reaches past the tomb,

past the past, backing into

bloody memory of misquotes


and asps—her statues

swim from Egypt, slither

to the Yucatan—at last


she boards the ark

wearing nothing but her dark

rose and smile—her push


is more stroke than pose.


          for Lorilee Evans-Lynch

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When the Rooster Crows

A techno-neon colored red-blue guitar

muted under Dylan’s cigarette-lipped visage

eyelids closed to open your mind’s eye

on funky rat bastards posing

more lies so pour yourself another

drink some more

love all you want

it’s all you’ll ever need to know

although you’ve been urged to shake up the pattern

try to write longer lines maybe consider the prose poem you know that verse that pushes through to the end of the line regardless of meter regardless of time just keeps on keeping on with whatever you try to say but your trouble is you want to break the line

you want to carve your view

into their minds

fuck with their ears and eyes

your sense of the beat

you want to sing them dancing in the street

to the Easy Rider soundtrack

bring back John Kay

and the Steppenwolf pleasure of taking a goddamn stand

against tombstones in our eyes

like Bob Dylan the Byrds the Animals the Airplane

so many great songs too many bands to name

you went to an art gallery today

what a sweet way to spend an hour absorbing the crafted heart-thoughts

of other idlers like you

one of whom you’ve conned into covering your book

lucky men live in communities

where talented people do art for the love of doing

how else do you place a thousand dollar painting on the front of a collection of poems

most people wouldn’t shell out twenty bucks for

you don’t know which way the wind blows unless you go outside

open the door open your mouth spit your mind

it’s alright ma you’re only tryin’

to continue the show

only buyin’ into transcendence for the length of this poem

we all know sooner or later

that hard rain’s gonna fall

look out your window

we’re all disappearing in our reflection upon the reason

the seasons keep traveling on

so don’t think twice

just go there and drink it in

straight up no ice

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radio hoto

Saturday morning I’d push

A kitchen chair in front of the fridge,

Hop on to be closer to the radio:

Brer Bear, Brer Fox, & Brer Rabbit

Bustin’ the chops of that tar baby,

So stuck on himself. I still remember

The whole mess: losing his temper, vain

Wit—too smart for his own good,

& Uncle Remus’s low voice, soothing

As the sound of whittling wood,

The meadowlark’s liquid refrain.


I couldn’t get close enough

To that magic box (so hard to hear).

I’d examine the glittered fabric

That covered the speaker, smell the oiled

Wood & that sweet-warm hum

Of tubes & dust & electricity,

Watch the greenish glow lighting the dial

Behind the window—& then I’d fly away.


Mother listened to Arthur Godfrey

Or Art Linkletter while she cleaned house,

Didn’t have time for The Edge Of Night

Or As The World Turns. Outside

We shoveled snow off Dewald’s driveway,

Listened to basketball broadcast live

From the old RCA cabinet radio mounted

On the wall of their garage. Clad in sweatshirts,

Stocking caps, long Johns, & Chuck Taylors,

Our hands red-cold from dribbling wet pavement

& retrieving out-of-bounds snow-balls,

We were Panther heroes of the game

Winning shot—a last-second toss from the terrace.


One evening my dad hauled the radio down

Onto the kitchen table to hear a Heavyweight

Title fight. Liston & Clay. He searched

& tuned through static crackles & whirs,

Buzzes & whistles till we heard the ring

Announcer’s scratchy words: “In this corner . . .”

Muffled by the roar of the crowd. Ding!

Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Fading in & out,

Waves of punches floated, jabbed,

bobbed & weaved, & then it was over

So suddenly, before we’d even tuned it in—

Sock & shock. No butterfly

Fix. The bear stung by the bee: Ali!

No Viet Cong ever called him “boy.”


Even after TV stole the show

(those images of Kennedy, The Beatles,

Men walking on the moon, Gunsmoke, Jack

Benny, Ward & June ) I listened to AM

Radio each night in my bedroom:

Rock ‘n’ Roll from Chicago, New York

& L.A. The Wolfman howling about white

Rooms & white rabbits, black magic

Women lighting fires & rolling

Stones, blowing open the doors of perception

On the eve of destruction, California

Dreamin’ in strawberry fields, & old Puff

Smokin’ those Nashville cats in purple

Haze hats—tumbling dice

With the hurdy-gurdy man.


Can you dig it, Ziggy? Ground control

To Major Tom. I’m not the man you think I am

At all. No. So surrey on down, sky pilot—

How high can you fly? You’ll never reach

The spirit in the sky dancin’ in the street.

They say video killed the radio star.

Imagine that, Sundown. You better take care.

Come to me & take my hand. No? It ain’t me

You’re lookin’ for, Babe? Can’t you

Hear my heartbeat, you heartbreaker? Shake

For me girl. Lay across my big, brass bed.

I want to be your backdoor man. If you’re sad

& feelin’ blue, go out & buy a brand new

Pair of blue suede shoes or a night on the town.

I’m counting on you. Lord, please

Don’t let me down. I need somebody.

Not just anybody. How can you laugh

When you know I’m down & out & I can’t go

On? Just take a sad song & make it better

By turning the radio on & taking me away

From here, dear Prudence, Roxanne,

Gloria, Michelle, my belle, Holly

Holy Hell—I love to turn you on.

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Now I’m seeing you, Old Man,

From the inside out, and I think I know

You better today, finally recognize

Your silence, your sentence, your view

From that over-stuffed chair

Where you stared back at me looking

For who you were. Still, I try to read your lips

On my mouth in the mirror, the eyebrows

And grin, mugging those tired eyes,

Your baggage, the bitter loneliness you

Couldn’t hide tumbling across the tournament

Of lies. Occasionally we’re awed by beauty

Passing by our observation posts. Wry

Patience is learned in waiting rooms.

We haul this hollow business, our husks

Of bony air, those weathered chrysalises

Decaying, into the storm. Don’t they call it joy?

Rebirth? This transformation to dust?

Their version of “love” you called a crusade,

A bloody sideshow of lust—and your cynicism

They were quick to call selfishness—

An excuse to drink, escape the labors of the lost,

Practice avoiding your duty, their job.

And their cure for you and your ilk, promised

New life, a key to your prison cell and guaranteed

A position in Clown-Hall. Scoffing at those

Gatekeepers of Hell, you knew they could hide

But never deny death row. And the meaning

You strove to find gave way to gray hair

And repeated lines till finally you put

The books aside, sat down and waited

For the change. After fifty-some years

Of murder, tears, hypocrisy and pain, you

Just quit—booze, reading, or ranting about it—

You clammed-up—there wasn’t much to say.

So now when I see you in me and know

I’m running out of words to spew—losing

Interest in my witty ways to grab attention—

I wonder who is who, you in me, maybe

Me in you. This spark we carry forward,

This flicker in the flames, flare and ember,

Spirit or DNA, burning and dying—

We disappear and appear again

To give in—this losing is what we do.

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heart lake

Eighty degrees, a slight

breeze, blue sky, bird

calls, butterflies and bees—


a perfect day to celebrate.

Though surely love survives,

thrives in any weather,


desire demands heat—lust

wants it all now, like this July

tongue licking thighs to flame.


Love does what it says

it will because the promise

is a bargain made with itself.


It is what it believes. True

love cannot be taken

back. Once given, it is passed


along. The only way to get more

is to give it away. Like a fan

creates a vacuum, to stop


loving stops love from

coming in, and without love

there is no dance, no song.


No one cares once love

is gone, lost. We are going

to die sooner than we think,


so why stumble like zombies

craving meat and brains. Hearts

may break, but love remains


if we can forgive and love

ourselves. The world will follow

suit: a heart played calls for


a heart. That’s the trick, letting go

allows love to flow in. Always

lead trump—and shoot the moon.

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wedding shot 001


Waiting wasn’t a problem for him,

he’d brought something to read, yet sitting

there for almost an hour in the waiting room


at the proctologist’s office, while

the badger in his ass huffed & scratched,

dug & growled (as it had for the last six months)


was enough to fan smoldering piles to flame,

prompt him to plan his wake & epitaph — maybe lift

a line from Carver or Plath.


Hours prior to the appointment,

he’d stood & stared, mesmerized by April rain,

a steady downpour all day:


noticed small buds bulging at the tips

of branches; puddles blooming into murky

ponds; & recalled the pure happiness


he’d felt the night before: lying there

wide awake after crawling back into bed

from his midnight trip to the toilet,


he slipped his arm around her,

pulled into her heat, felt his

heartbeats waltz her breath, & thought:


Who cares what’s next?

The prognosis is death but tonight,

I’m the luckiest asshole alive.

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Ode on a Maverick Son


thomas sayers ellis

the voice

the cadence

the chant and beat



the bard of D.C. streets

raps us up and down

these pillars a-cross

the gabled tower ceiling


he raps us rapt

stompin the floor

and whap-tappin

the microphone








for more than a grinnin

hour or less than it takes

to walk those crystal stairs


he mocks the talk, rocks

the cock-jivin po-em-men

entertainers crowin Dick

Gregory for Flip


Wilson or Nipsy

Russell big Bill

the Cos and Little

Richard Pryor


smilin white

teeth agleam burnin

his ventriloquist stream

the chorus preacher


of dreams deterred

recurred and referred as strange

fruit Huey’s slurred panthers

echoin fros and horn rims


thump, a-thump, thump

pick it up, CUT IT DOWN

thump, a-thump, thump

PICK IT UP, dig the sound


thump, da-bump, thump

MOVE IT OVER all around

thump, da-bump, thump

TURN IT OVER, burn it down


bippity, bippity-bap


keep rappin that milk bowl

bread happity, clap-slap


Malcolm X SHOT dead

smart and sober, just

like that, another SHOT

another SHOUT in the dark


hate is black and white

red-green as Christmas

Oh, children, it’s just a SHOUT

away, just a SHOT away


SHOT away, SHOUT away, away

away, forty-five years back

Charlie Watts felt the beat

as black is black


and blue stoned shelters

on the streets still scream

brother Baldwin’s fiery

news from mountaintops


roll on, Thomas thunder

give us your go-go

ed-ja-cation, N-intimidation

those master-con tribal-ib-ulations


some fate or gate or bait-

your-nation idea

of Gandhi Christ Buddha

Holy Moley Allah Moses



go forth and propagate

illustrate conjugate

articulate Mother-me


lover of too much fun

bop stomp, stompin puns

this rattlin ivory hall stutters

high hats and chopper guns


chained between chandeliers

his tongue is one gone down

done and dirty son of a

native song singin along to


Albert, B.B., Freddie

M.L. King dreams his pulpit

table snare of conga drums

like Baraka rollin beyond


Le Roi’s blood-brother Ali

never throwin in the towel

just burnin down the house

all butterflies no bumblin clay bees


for Thomas Sayers Ellis


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