the spray stain of blood

and brains on the window pane

reminded him of home


penis popcorn

family apples


or not

haunt the empty

bowls collecting dust

in cold or hot

cluttered rooms

inside your head

where you reside

unable to find

the exit

the stairwell

to take you down

to your heart

your gut

the bowels clenched

against your cock


out of control

locked out

of the basement

elevator stuck

on the top floor

till the power goes out

nobody knows

where it goes

when olive oil

pokes her head out

of the medicine cabinet

maybe you blow

into the roots

to sweeten the apples

or a black rose

certainly fertilize

the family tree

more branches to prune

dirt to sift

you dig

fill the bowls

the bowels

your cluttered mind

juggling game

times and deadlines

heedless as bluto

or brautigan still dead

and headless

on the floor

of shelly duval’s


his willow stick

fishing pole

charcoal tipped

from roasting wieners

like the glistening

one she watches you

pull by hand

like popeye opening

a can of spinach

before it’s too late

before the dreams

and the day-shift

writhe to coagulate

clot and dry into

one two three

strikes you’re out

no balls no skin

no legacy only this

pile of parchment

and maggots etching

a hemingway end

identical parties

for the bald twins

bawling out

wimpy for stealing

freaking the fucking

trout out

about discovering

love cannot be

caught nor won

written into a yes

because love just is

until it’s not

and how your throbbing

cock got involved

is the old wolf

in sheepskin

but wolves need to eat

kids to take care of

their nibbling and nipping

pups pawing and yipping

prowling the woods

like dick howling for willard

to pull in another

bowling trophy

to pull off another strike

pick up the spare

in that final frame

pull the trigger

kill the light

and end the poem

the bat-boy’s feast

this all-you-can-eat

maggot ball

step up to the plate

and swing away

one two three

strikes your out brawling

balling and crawling again

in that old ball game

batter-up load-’em-up

number forty-four

let her roll nothing

doing no score

what is that stench

you have no stomach

for you hurry to the shutters

let some light in and watch

your step it seems

like somebody spilled

a bowl of tapioca

pudding on the floor

but it sounds more like

egg shells as you cross

the room panicked

for air an open window

you can only imagine

the smell of silence

ringing in your ears

drowned out by

the roar of hundreds


of blue-black flies

buzzing still

nobody’s home


for Gatz and Richard Brautigan


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dead wire

I visited Uncle Paul last night

At his house in Dillon, a dream so real

I was shaken upon waking

In the early morning dark

To find him gone as my mom,

Again. The soft-muffled, warm


Tone of his voice was reassuring as

The smile that framed it. And this

Was after Aunt Sukie had died, when

He lived alone. Even then he was

The perfect host, as if the effort to please

His guests could help distract for awhile

The absence in his chest, his day,

His bed—an aching hole

The whole dream of her couldn’t fill.


She was still with him (but not with him)

All of the time . . . at breakfast, at night

When he woke alone and called out,

Crawled out of bed, turned on the lights

And searched every room, hoping

To find her ghost waiting there—

In the basement, the pantry, the hall closet,

On the stairs, wherever she was at—

He wanted to bring her back

Or follow her away, leave

His charred landscape, return to verdant days.


He knew it was silly, maybe even a little strange

To some that her housecoat still hung

Behind the bathroom door. Like her hair

In the brush lying on their dresser, he clung

To her sweaters in the closet and her blouses

And coats—the aroma of her clothes—her breath

And skin held in his nose. When his legs failed,


They moved him to assisted living

Where he resided till his body finally quit.

How does a broken heart keep beating

For ten years? I bet if we drove

Down to Dillon on the Day of the Dead,

Uncle Paul would be kneading

Bread on the kitchen table

And waltzing in the dining room

In a cloud of flour dust

With that wiry haired girl of his dreams.


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–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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