rose hill blues

    chorus 52

funny you should mention

them ol clickity-clack blues

i been rollin round with dr. sax

searchin for my walkin shoes


so its funny you should mention

you got that hobo moan a-goin

cause ol master jack he cracked

them railroad blues stoned


and he spun it for the ding-dang-dung

punny fun of it, spent his dues

pulled his daisy with bowery bums

who dug his high-ballin blues


it’s funny how it rattles the panes

and slam-bams you to sleep, switchin

trains, bells and whistles in your black-rain

dream, empty bottle in hand, fingers twitchin


i’ll be damned if it ain’t funny how

that beat-hip trip rolls round again

and the bluesmen join up singin

in boxcars robert johnson hymns


brother we’re all takin for a ride

we’re all born to sing a kind of blues

that’s why we love trains in the night

that’s why we refuse to choose


just lay down, listen and snooze, lose

ourselves like kids tucked-in on rose hill

listenin, schemin to hitch and sing

bobby mcgee or maybe woody guthrie will


set us free as reds in the land of white

kerouacian mimics tippin back a pint bottle  

like blue-black runners powderin the night

and casey jones speedin dead at full throttle

                for Jack

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A Jug of Cranberry Juice

today’s a day to celebrate

don’t give a fuck

open up those pearly gates

do something really stupid

poke the bear

push your fucking luck

buy a bottle of irish whiskey

and a quarter ounce of cocaine

pretend you know shit from shinola

lebanese from moroccan hash

be alf that big-mouthed

alien cowboy on the town

hog-head machine operator

raised by outlaw wolves

a zappa-joe gigolo

giddy-up-gimp on rubber toes

a dead ringer for

ray charles in shades

asshole extraordinaire

the king of pain

navigated the vodka train

after too many whiskey derailments

so i raise my voice a glass

to one of a kind

a bitter pill and true friend

finally on the move again

traveling at the speed of light

for Keith

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Is a gay black man

Who loves women and Muslims and Jews.

My Jesus got off

That slivered cross some

Two thousand years ago, rolled away

His stone and went back to smoking

Behind the Salvation Army thrift store.

Sometimes my Jesus is a Dick

Like Richard Nixon,

“Don’t do as I do. Do as I say.”

Grab your boot straps and get along

Little Commies. My Jesus

Thinks Christmas is an obscene

Consumer orgy. If he believed in Hell,

That’s where the richest

Assholes would be.

My Jesus swears

That churches are heartless as nails

Or stone, pinched claws

Determined to line out wild souls.

My Jesus believes

In freedom, balloons, and hypocrisy

Some of the time. He walks

The talk and like my sister

Falls down a lot, but

My Jesus gets up again

Because he’s a man,

And getting up is what men love to do.

My Jesus has balls

Enough to call bullshit

On all that whack he’s credited for—

Like walking on water

And rising from the dead.

My Jesus knows the power of story,

He’s seen it deployed with guns

And grins again and again.

My Jesus dreams we’ll grow

Tired of killing each other,

Grow tired of feeling afraid

And learn to live gently

Until we retire, until

We return to our subatomic selves.

My Jesus knows

The kingdom of Heaven

Is inside my head

Next door to the serfdom of Hell.

And sometimes some days

He rides my melancholy tsunami

Over steeples and freeways,

Funerals and white sales,

Hurtling bruised and broken

Onto stinking mudflats, bankrupt

As the American Dream,

Tears blurring the blue moons

Of his eyes, the stars in my night

Sky—bright rimmed puddles, dark

Rings of light. My Jesus

Celebrates the mornings I wake

Up. We both imagine he dies

With me. My Jesus doesn’t pretend

To know what will happen.

He’s just happy to be. My Jesus

Is the king of vulnerability—

He’s all about love and service,

Responsibility, for him

There’s no judgment day.

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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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