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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photo by David J. Spear

photo by David J. Spear

A mediocre Caesar

Salad at best

Maybe Campbell’s Soup


This little Caligula

Server cracks pepper

And jokes in the groove


Smooth as Aqua Lube

Hits on the blonde

Hostess—not even


A Greek or Jew

Handling the menus

In this Italian bistro


Which could be on the bank

Of the Vegas strip

Another American Classic


Fastidious décor, Dean

Martin crooning “Volare,” TV

Screens, ornate stagecraft


But like the magician

Working the lounge

At the Elko Ramada Inn


Our Romeo waiter

Is working for blow

The Latino bus-boy


For minimum wage to feed his

Addictions—Academy Award

Performances all around


The Coen brothers

Should be all over this

Shit, maybe they are


In the can with it and

John Goodman’s cutting lines

On the toilet tank lid


Like Moloch mixing cocktails

Cleopatra will seem cheap

As these hotel maids


On their hands and knees

Scrubbing the tub

And palming used shampoo


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r. crumb

r. crumb

some days you feel

like a shit stain—

sadly flawed—

& embarrassed by it—

locked outside,

naked on the porch.

of course if you are

a smart-ass, a poet,

one of God’s forsaken

snakes, a rebel

ready to point out

the perfection

of shit stains

in your drawers

or anywhere really,

even on the laundry

room floor, ready

to ignore that

puritanically Boraxed

antibacterial tidy-way

we’ve been conditioned

to judge & implore

the disgusting shit stain-ee

with frowns & barbs

like: what the fuck

is the matter with you?! or

did you forget to wipe your ass?!

truth is: we all do

scratch & sniff

alone in the closet,

in the basement,

in the bathroom,

undercover in our bed.

we go to those secret

spots in our head

where we explore

our foulest shit (the horror!

the horror!) in sweet

shudders & cries,

private smiling sighs

that Palmolive dogs

won’t permit out loud

or even in print—

we’re trained to hate

mutt-butt, lick a rosebud scent—

those sacred-taboo-cows,

the idle-handlings we abhor

in the name of decorum,

conformity, & taste,

but if taste exists, ever

existed, bad or good,

it’s because of little shits

like you who keep

calling attention to

your minor miseries,

& petty jealousies,

your white bread dreams

deferred while you feed

your fat face writing

check after check, minimum

payments on your ballooning

credit card debt, periodically

scratching your sweaty ass

crack, the thermostat

cranked up to waste & spoil.

sticky oil runs down

the troubled barrels

of American guns, & blood

floods the dark streets

of crippled brown towns

where brown people speak

gibberish & eat shit,

where children are born neon

colors in the garden of Eden,

laser tag played out, bullets

dotting their foreheads.

isn’t it obvious, Miss

Liberty, blind queen

of the pilgrims’ pride,

you are a shit stain

on the bed sheet of justice,

a bloody Kotex stuffed

& duct taped in each mouth

of the yearning masses

willing to lie to breathe,

willing to comply, to accept

slavery for the right to be.

your slick jaw set,

clutching your chiseled rhetoric,

that steel gown, cold, unwavering—

a shit flag of genocide

bleached white—only you

have the arrogance to deny it.

the rest of the world has grown

accustomed to your smell.


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Not Now



When I think

I’m too close

to catastrophe

because I am stunned

numbed or knocked

into the ozone

and a swelling

pressure keeps rising

like flood waters

in my chest

when I don’t know

what to do

or which way to go

in my mind or

even in my house


Then I think

now is probably not

the best time

to write . . . despite

that warning

I can’t stop

myself . . . what else

is there to do?


Who concluded that

waiting . . . distance

made more sense?


Complete sense

it’s been argued

must be determined

by committee

the majority concurring

on reality

today . . . tomorrow

is another story to be

considered in the morning


Then death arrives

unexpectedly on time

cloaked alone

and out of sight

a shadow flashing

like an old Kodak

blinding blue

reminding us

to wake up

the fuse is lit

and the bomb’s ticking


The Clock

should’ve been

a Hitchcock movie

starring Cary Grant

and Grace Kelly

or Janet Leigh

and Jimmy Stewart

in a body cast

on the stairs

in the tower

blackbirds cawing

her body falling

the squeaky shower

faucet turned off

by a gloved hand

lights out

water trickles down a drain

someone whispers “why?”


We’re obsessed

with dying

whether we admit it

or not . . . carrying

bags of bone

dust we keep

burying till we drop

ceremonies . . . more

stories to concoct


Still we love

being here

and being with

other doe-eyed

deer in the headlights

enjoying the greenery

the sun and shade

crossing rivers

to rut maybe lick

the air butt and play

twigs snapping

we taste the metallic

gush of fear


Click . . . flash

and fade


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I am aware

that sitting here

in this rental, alone,

unemployed today

& contemplating

my existence with pen

on paper, is an act

enjoyed by the wealthiest few,

those of us who live

on the fringes

in this insulated land

of excess, tacitly permitting

the thefts & deaths

perpetrated in our names.

The cost of that liberation

is paid in blood & pain,

guilt & profit—war has always been

good business. Fighting, clawing

to dominate & destroy:

the law of survival—individual

& tribal—has to evolve,

or we may as well fly

like lemmings to the sea.


It seems so simple

looking out this window

at the squirrels & deer,

cup of coffee on my desk,

feeling my melancholy breath,

the silence that allows

this tinnitus in my head,

& occasional creaks

from the joints of my house. My back,

once covered by the Canadian

border I almost crossed

during the Vietnam War,

is up against it today. I am

a wanted man, a fugitive for

refusing to pay

a bum ticket in Kelowna, BC,

so there’s nowhere to run anymore

for a guy with no credit

who drives a one-eyed

old Mercury station wagon.


Oh, woe is me, my Bic pen

is exhausted. I throw it away

& grab another. I miss my mother

today, & I guess that’s probably why

I’m singing the blues—musing about the fate

of man. Doesn’t everyone love their mother?

So how can we justify killing

each other: mothers, children, soldiers,

lovers? How can we open

another beer and turn on the TV

while we pay our brothers to murder

sisters miles away in the name of money

disguised as rhetoric? I remember thinking

how crazy those little lemmings

must be (like the kamikaze Japanese):

suicide to save the species.


Holed up in Montana, I’ve held out

like the lemurs, isolated most days,

but the pirates, the poachers, the night snipers

are here—patrolling around the clock.

Who knows when they’ll come

for my hair or my tongue?

Maybe after the bushmeat

& oil markets collapse,

or they’ve taken my sister as part of the pact

to destroy my effort to love what’s left.

Maybe then I’ll be ready

to roll over in the end,

after the curtain comes down

& the lights go out. Who knows?

Right now it’s snowing outside.

The honeysuckle & roses are dormant.

I peel a blood orange—nothing

moves out there—

& this cup of coffee is cold.


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sarris & anna

The clip-on Yellow Submarine

style John Lennon shades

found in the jockey box

of my mother’s car

after she died, provided

the cover I needed to hide

the streams of tears I shed

watching the likes of these two

young lovers professing

and celebrating their promise

to care for one another

in front of their families today,

and for the life-till-death commitment

of their sisters and brothers,

that full-on crazy-assed

family of friends who dance

and sing down the aisle

behind them Mardi gras style

under a ceiling of bright

blue sky, the aisle being that

parting of the crowd, those

gathered witnesses for these

twinned hearts’ need to proclaim

their decision to walk hand in hand

to the end of the line—that

beginning we don’t understand . . .


So they do it, they cheer,

they dance and sing, they kiss-

celebrate this thing, this vow,

this marriage, a pact

to sail stormy seas together,

weather close quarters, sirens

and morning breath, all hungers,

temptations, tempests, or thirsts—

those old desires to jump ship

and party every port . . . We toast


The dream, to make this moment last,

hold onto the happiness of these

lovestruck fools, the parade of hoots

and smiles, the hugs and laughs—

now that the service is history

(and my first lesbian wedding

is in the books). When I look at

the vine-less trellis, now standing

alone in the meadow, a homemade

latticework archway of sorts,

hung with sheer curtains

and made for the last outdoor

family affair (a cousin’s Christian

marriage: guarded and guided

by traditions and rules). I see

how it provided a backdrop,

a focal point, an opening, a frame,

call it a door for whatever

allusion we choose to see

or ignore, help us . . . to enter

and write an old new-story,

one we can follow back and

forward for thousands of years . . .


And still the breeze wafts

the transparent linens lightly . . .

as it tousled the bride’s blonde

curls earlier when she stood

before us and kissed her bride,

and I leaked beneath the waves

of this sweet green sea, happily

grinning in my Yellow Submarine.

And I believed (because

that’s the way it seemed to me)

God was busy as usual

just letting things be.


—for Sarris & Anna

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mostly cloudy

jarvis birds

j. jarvis


poets of the american century

poets of the american dream

poets of the american west

poets of the american scene

cooler than christ

sweeter than coke

hotter than pussy

better than dope

they are the ears

the voices of the dumb

they are the fears

of the unleashed tongue

worms in the pasta

sand in the bed

they are the shit on your finger

the masturbation you just did

who the fuck are these poets

these fagots begging flame

who the Hell do they serve

which whore and what reign

i’m the fucker of failure

i’m a sucker of blame

I will do you for nipples

and bottles of shame

tell me your truth

tell me your lies

let me write you, be you

let me wear your disguise

I will try to portray

your ache scratching to scream

try to sing it, release it

this confusion of seems

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