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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Federico Garcia Lorca

my sister is dead

and it’s five in the afternoon

red sun and blue moon


Federico Garcia Lorca

my sister is a slow song

to you at five in the afternoon

her breath caressing your ear


Federico Garcia Lorca

my sister still breathes

white fire at five in the afternoon

where you burn singing her moon to be


Federico Garcia Lorca

Por favor! Dance! don’t pray

for me at five in the afternoon

beat your drum for my skeletal sister


Federico Garcia Lorca

the gun barrel of time

will find you exalting death

alive at five in the afternoon


Federico Garcia Lorca

kiss her lips and climb

before five in the afternoon

the face of Cinderella Mountain


Federico Garcia Lorca

there will be no funeral

bells at five in the afternoon

sing my sister home to me


Federico Garcia Lorca

dance her cloud to the moon

white bone teeth and ash

at five in the afternoon


Federico Garcia Lorca

her stone heart will bloom

flood your black rose

red at five in the afternoon

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stonefly nymph

           —for Dave Brubeck

Water: everything, every living thing is

Hard-wired to the sound of water, flowing

Water, from the trickling of melting glaciers

To the thundering of Niagara Falls,

We’re all drawn, all thirst, toward its

Damp promise—be it pool, puddle, or

Brook—we wouldn’t exist without water.


It seems obvious we invented music

Listening to rivers and streams,

The pouring rain, dripping eaves—observing

Nature’s changing, hypnotic ways—

Our preoccupations with weather, lapping

Waves, the howling wind, campfire

Embers and licking flames—always

We’re tuned to snapping sounds, screech-

Scratchings out of sight—day or night—

Those ongoing symphonies of survival

We recognize—each time is like the first time.


Archetypal water drums a bass line

Gravitational call to ride the A-train, thoomp-

Bloomping like Brubeck inside our veins,

Hauling us back to Duke’s blues

On a black-eyed piano-sea, Koto’s Song

Softly killing that old misconception,

Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons’ claim . . .

Silence Is Golden. Complete silence

Is death—dry, waterless death.

The sound of water sings us

Home, wet, to our first best-place,

The amniotic bath—sloshing bones

Dreaming skin, swallow and swim.


Stoneflies crawl for muddy miles deep

Underground following the percussive sound

Of erosion, water over gravel and sand,

Tumbling boulders, tearing at the landscape,

Uprooting trees, floating sticks, leaves,

Fallen debris. Scouring and pounding,

These streambed vibrations

Shake nymphs to rise and dance,

Make seed, then feed whitewater trout

Anxiously awaiting the feast of flies.


When the runoff is done and cloudy

Creek currents settle clear as glass—

Riffles rattling to a clattering roar—

The stream-song invitations, those

Skeleton husks littering the shore,

Announce (like It’s a Boy! cigars):

Dinner has taken wing.


Trout feed fat in eddies then,

When stoneflies flit above the spray

Of that deafening-breathy SHAAAAAAAAY!—

Fast water racing across rocky ground,

Straight-water pushing toward ocean

And sky, creating a rhythm reminiscent

Of Lionel Hampton’s vibraphone—or

Maybe Mingus plucking out liquidy-

Hollow tones—ebbs and flows: rivers

Riffing solos, splashing crescendos.


If water were a stage, some musical metaphor

Praising the stonefly’s Swan Song,

We’d see it feeding a flash of rainbow tail,

Clenched tight in a Cutthroat’s jaws . . .

Now stiffening in the bottom of a creel.

That fisherman might wash blood

From his hands, finger the soft bones,

Wings buzzing his ears, as he watches

A dipper hopping stone to stone—

Inhaling it all—the river’s melody,

Tympanic meditations on a dream.

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nothing brings you

into the moment

this present

of breath and light

any more-so

than pain

with its constant

plea of      NOW

and NOW      I’m here


fuck your plans

your appointments

your jobs

your past

the matters

that matter most

don’t matter much

when pain arrives

and decides to stay


the mundane

that dust ringing

in your head

patterns      shapes

colors      lines

shadow sounds

hold sway

in the eye      mind


driftwood riding

rising      flung

swell to crest

cast ashore

then pulled out

to sea again

seemingly the same

always changed


a pulse beating

both sun and moon

churning up the old dark

miracles now fathomed

why you still roll

hung in blood and air

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my soul lies

with me here in bed

soft and warm


it sings “look to me

for love, curl cozy

into these deep eyes”


an eternal present

crawls my chest

i feel its pulse


count its breaths

my soul knows

how to find me


those nights i’m lost

and cannot sleep

alone without it

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Cunt—now there’s a word
that will finish a poem
before it gets started.
Fuck—is another show-stopper

that could land your ass in jail.
Using those “kind” of words
aloud or in print is considered obscene,
inappropriate, or unnecessary—offenses

against the “gentle sensibilities”
of the general public, yet
we have no problem
teaching our children it’s okay to kill

other (most likely darker) children
far away (or sometimes not) whose
hing-hong squawking, wrong-thinking,
terrorist-talking parents want to destroy us

and steal our freedom, our God
blessed way of life, our nuclear arsenal,
our gas barbecues and Barbie dolls. It’s okay
to fuck people if you’re making good money.

That’s just business in the “free” marketplace.
It’s okay to fuck-up the Earth—plants, animals,
water, sky, people, and dirt—if you’re waving
green under the red, white, and blue.

If this irony wasn’t so sadly true,
maybe those “bad” words that bite and spit,
that so aptly express our animal instinct
to metaphorically rip and tear out

the throats of these selfish mother-fuckers, maybe
then “fuck” would fall out of use, but as long as man
continues to persecute and hoard in order to get more
toys, to collect more shit, keep piling up cash,

chasing that consumptive dream of satisfaction
that never quite satisfies, I will continue to scream

every time the stench of blood or oil
dumbfounds me again, leaves me agape and amazed
that we still play this game. I know anger
is my albatross, my cross to bear, and I figure

if you’re still here, Dear Reader, you must know
what I mean, you must sing in this choir, have carried
this “thing” all of your life, too, and like me, most likely,
you’re just fucking tired of it, the same old shit, and

you believe love is the only cure. But you can’t shut up
when these fuckers murder, pollute, and abuse.
I refuse to watch my mouth in the name of decorum.
The obscenity is too great. There’s fucking blood on my shoes.

—for Bob Bauer

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The Old Poet Sees the White Man

indian woman

Two stools down, two white guys

rebuild – sheet rock and tape – the house

they’d worked on all day, tossing

back pints of Miller beer. Beyond them

an elderly couple sit chewing

on burgers, still collared up warm

in their polyester coats – two cigarettes

burning in the ash tray between them.


Not a regular, but not a stranger,

the old poet orders a burger and glass

of Guinness, props his cane between his knees,

cracks open a peanut and nibbles

on the fruit, lets the shells fall

among the husks piling on the floor.


The door opens and an Indian woman enters.

All heads turn, pause, and return.

She walks past them, the length of the bar,

her gait smooth and sure as a cat’s,

disappears in the direction of the rest rooms

or the alley exit. One bartender washing

glasses nods knowingly at the other guy

flipping burgers. On TV, Dallas, America’s

Team, battles the Redskins for bragging

rights – top dog of the NFL cellar.


The old poet recalls a sweat he took years ago

up Spring Creek, catches himself humming

a song – Charlo’s Walking Bear.

The polyester smoker points out to his woman

an all-Irish Butte baseball team in the gallery

on the back wall, laughs, coughs and rasps,

Down in Finn Town we hammered those Micks.”

The dishwashing bartender grins, pours

the Finn couple free beers on the house.

One of the carpenters kills his pint, raps

the empty hard on the counter, and stands up

to stretch his legs, “No shit,” he says,

every fuckin’ board – twisted as a cork screw!”

The bartender laughs, grabs a fresh glass,

tilts it under the tap, and draws another brew.


The Indian woman comes back, appears

headed out the door, but pulls up

next to the poet – who gives her a smile

she doesn’t return. She digs in her pockets,

drops coins on the bar, and unwads two

crumpled bills. The bartender keeps rinsing glasses.

His ears, then his eyes acknowledge the money.


He wipes his hands, asks flatly, “Whatta ya need?”

The old poet sees smoke, bleached bones,

black wings cross her face, framed

in the back bar mirror. “Ya got cigarettes?”

she asks quietly, “Marlboro menthols?”

He pulls a box of regular filters from the case.

Menthols,” she says. Slowly, he grabs another

brand, shows her, says, “Four and a quarter.”

Her hands close on the mound of cash.

Four and a fucking quarter?” she asks.

Holding the pack up, halfway over the bar,

he warns, “Hey! Watch your mouth.”

Grabbing her change and mumbling, “Goddamn

robbers,” she turns and lunges out the door.


The bartender returns the pack of smokes

to the case, blank faced – his one eye twitches.

Nobody’s talking. Then the Cowboys score.

Happy Hour begins, and the bartender

pours. The poet’s burger is up. The old couple

moves over to the keno machines. America’s

Team pulls out an overtime squeaker.

As the carpenters get back to nailing it down,

the old poet chews slowly, nurses his beer,

and glances at the white man

eating crow in the mirror.



          –for Vic Charlo and Ed Lahey

First Printed in Connemara Moonshine, 2002, Camphorweed Press, Seattle, WA

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Suspicious Circumstances


Ravens found her face down, floating

in the irrigation canal up North Crow

Creek, her home below the Mission Range,


this woman who walked on her hands.

As far as anybody knows, nobody knows

what happened. No witnesses. Why is it


some have all the luck? She lost her father

at eleven, her mother at nineteen. Orphaned

in a cow-town on the rez. She raised horses


& eyebrows — her door always open to drifters,

doubters, girl friends & dogs: the big family she wanted,

craved. In what slick disguise did Death arrive that day?


Was he quiet as the stones & driftwood

she collected from the ditch, or bitter-sick

as jittery hands haunted by screams — the agony


of wicked blood? Either way, the result eddied

in debris. The vulnerable are so vulnerable: no

matter she could work a chain saw all day long,


strong as the man she was in her heart.

She never felt alone outside: clearing brush,

burning fields, walking nights through the pines.


Before or after the cold surprise, maybe

Death showed her a pasture on the other side —

some country where ravens fly & water flows.

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Clouds hide the top
Of the island, and the cool
Mist evolves into light
Rain. We walk past the old
Homestead and campground,
Take the trail up, climb
Into the fog and shoot
Pictures of each other smiling
Cheek to cheek in sunglasses, coats
Zipped to our chins: old friends
Traveling a new path flanked
By white-chalky rock and dew
Laden spider webs . . .

And since we are walking and can’t see
Where we’re heading, our eyes
Focus on the ground, our ears
Lead us up the hill into that
Cherished chill, a blind stumbling
Toward a wolfish kind of lair,
Our breath palpable in the air. We howl
Like Zevon’s London clowns
And joke about the view: all the crow’s
Feet and wispy silver hair.
We walk and walk into the veil,
Knowing the ocean and cliff
Edges lie ahead . . . somewhere.

Wandering the fog for hours
On top of this island plateau,
The first voices we hear
Before we glimpse the sea
Are seals barking in the coves
Below. The water’s blue
Arrives and dissolves in vapor waves
As we climb down closer to the channel,
Potato Bay. I hear a rumble
In the distance, far away,

And I’m suddenly aware
Of how lucky I am to be here
And not knowing where I am,
Where I’m going, but scrabbling
My way up, then down into a hole,
Cold and backed to a boulder
In this crevice, collared
Against the wind, the fog
Loosening its grip, opening
And closing its curtains on water—
Doors and windows unlocked . . .

Our hungers fed, we walk
Back along the cliff-line
Scanning caves and craggy
Faces, teal-green pools and rusty rock,
Canoes moored on beaches
In the bay below—eagles surfing
The currents overhead.

You are sorry the sun hasn’t delighted
Our view of Santa Cruz, warmed
Us in California fashion, but
It’s a perfect day for beauty—
A day we’ve seen with more
Than our eyes, a day where God’s
Breath beads in your raven hair,
And the echoes of your laughter
Linger in my ear like water trickling
Over stone. I watch the two of you
Stroll slowly, heads down, together.
Shoulder to shoulder, you pause
And giggle, then move on
Into the mist—I stop long enough
To watch you disappear.

—for Beth & Pam

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