You won’t mow
The grass today

This morning
8 inches of heavy

Wet snow –
Branches drooping

Several broken
The roses frozen

Your neighbor weeps
Her garden buried

Silent & white
You wonder

What happened
To the birds –

The air shocked
By the possibility

Of a freak
Spring blizzard

Memorial Day
Plans quashed

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Laundry Sutra

bulky warm
no extra rinse
Luna purrs
in her bed
not enough
whatever she needs
to stand and walk
over to me
have me scratch her
head Psychedelic
Pill fills my ears
and water runs
in the house pipes
Sunday paper
poems know
Ginsberg film
shows at The Roxy
this afternoon
so I read
Elegy for Neal Cassady
Allen would be
and Neal dead almost
fifty years
this way
we live in our minds
I walked Cinderella
to find my sister
bright blue
up there
with the widow-makers
and fresh growth
of green wild
flowers and tamarack
so green thick
so high
this view of life
and time shut off
the sprinklers
hang out the sheets
she loves it
guitars wailing
riding the Horse
the Ginz raised
in me today
yesterday high
as Neal
on the right track
as Neil
nailing it
my sister’s laugh
I’m goin’ back
this life goes
by fast
fill your pockets
pick up that stick
keep going
till you
might as well
do another load
Connie loved
Cinderella’s rock
dress the ball
on Petty Creek
doing whatever
needed to be done
like folding
clothes or
doing another load
of diapers
Purex and piss
maybe whipping
up a batch of
buttered popcorn
or million-dollar
fudge marshmallow
sweet treats
for her kids
on Cinder Mountain
you’re leaving
there too soon
we’re leaving here
so soon still
breathing here
gone soon

—for Connie

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We are the walking
wounded, blow upon blow,
day upon day, we cringe,
gird, panic, and endure.

The grass is greener, of course,
until you crest the ridge
and tromp through knapweed
down to the dry creek bed.

For every cool cedar bottom
there is the sun-baked
hillside of rattlesnakes
and loose scree slides.

Groomed trails are hard
to find in this bushwhacking
life. The best we can do is
learn to read the terrain,

trust our eyes, know we were
lost before we started, breathe
into the chest pains, slow
down, look around, appreciate

the trip, the stumble, the fall.
Listen, smell, maybe chant
or sing. Those storm clouds
will rain. The darkness awaits.

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The irascible old radical
cussing on the toilet
in the rest home
wasn’t John Muir, Bob Marshall,
or Robinson Jeffers,
but he lived in the wilderness
of his mind, a Buddhist
warrior who called Ginsberg
a cock-sucking Commie-Kike.

He knew he was losing
it and there was nothing
he could do. Anger
was his constant companion,
and he hated it, certain
the fucking game was rigged.
After sitting on the shitter
and mumbling for 10 minutes or so,
we asked if he needed anything.

He suggested we read poems,
so we obliged, stood outside
the opened bathroom door
and read him our verses
while he sat and shat,
praised and panned them
before drifting off again.

When finally we announced
we had to go, he stuck out
a hand we each took
and shook before leaving
him there hunched over,
eyes closed, the same posture
we’d found him in
nodding in his wheel chair
when we’d arrived an hour ago.

As I closed the door,
I wondered where he’d gone.
Perhaps back up into mountain air
to search for wolverine and lynx
there, or maybe he was living
a haiku in his head,
just floating out to sea.

for Dexter


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the grass is greener
and the days are longer
the drum beats like a stuttering
drunk on the stairs
in the brain of the crane operator

what should he do
in the waning hours of summer?
fire up the barbie
and open a beer?

what do we do
when the canopy changes color?
the interior landscape
a looping conifer dream
betrays the reality
of blindness we didn’t see
scenes of stubble fields afire
abandoned wives
wedded to the stroke of midnight
that October bite in the air
a cloud of breath
shivering death in a rowboat
adrift on those sink holes
on the rez off the map

what do we do
when we’re miscast as our brother?
how do we grant permission
to grow into ourselves?
should we hide the cigarettes
steal the car keys?
it’s too late for mother’s help

we do what we do and
we do as we please
we sing we dance we don caps and gowns
tromp toward what we covet and create
shimmering in the distance
that blurry face
we don’t recognize
the ghost in the mirror

so what does he do
about the vertigo and migraines
trade in the boom and steel
for a rod and spoon
grab the oars and troll
that blue-green hole
sinking mirror of pines in sky?

bang the drum
don’t rock the boat
anyway we end today
should involve crickets
or campfire smoke
maybe the soft sound
of the human voice
whispering a story after dark
the song of the catch
laughing tales of tails
that dumb smile of satisfaction
ignorance the bliss
of staring into a bed of embers
dying in the night
and not knowing
what’s coming up or what’s going down
just waiting in silence
anticipating what’s next
because that’s what we get
maybe another day
possibly another sleep
perchance to dream
or simply we sink in a tunnel
of fading light
another pulse
another pot hole
another shooting star
blazing down that atomic drain

—for Ferd & Chas

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A Letter to My Unborn Grandchildren

Ignoring the elephant is what we’re good at—
comfortable folks strolling through routine.
Yes, I’m guilty of privilege, born white
with a pair of balls, but I have tried
to do my part pointing out what reeks
of ignorance and hypocrisy. Yet,
like the teacher who resists screaming
at his class every day lest they
become inured and ignore him,
I haven’t stooped to address the daily mess
spewed by this racist misogynist.
Remember the little boy who cried
“wolf” or “terrorist.” As Goebbels knew,
“a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.”
Humanity knows this pose. Every empire
manipulates fear to maintain control.
It’s who we are, what we’ve done, as Americans.
Think of the Indians, slavery, old Jim
Crow swinging in the magnolias and oaks.
Think of women scrubbing on their hands and knees
the afterbirth from his bedroom floor, then
preening in the mirror, powdering his whore.
Of course the elephant must be ignored
because the truth, the shame, the embarrassment,
the horror, the admission, the failure is
too much to hold. Those sins of omission
are the hardest to bear, the easiest to deny.
Though social evolution happens faster
than biological adaptations, it is still too slow
for the lifespan of one man or woman.
All one can do is follow the golden rule
and point out the tarnished elephants
not trumpeting in American living rooms
their fears of losing control of boardrooms
and bedrooms, that good-old-boy’s
Biblical, White-capitalist credo
established to maintain itself, the status quo.
You know that voice: “Don’t give the bastards
an inch, it’ll set a precedent, all the apples
and dominoes will spill across the floor
like spent shell casings from AR-15s.”
Yes, change is slow but inevitable, so
when we’re gone, I hope your songs
acknowledge that we tried, worked
and died to be better, someone like you.

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Playing Favorites

what was your mother’s favorite flower?
i don’t recall a stand-out flower.
about the only thing she ever grew were tulips,
a few limp pansies, and the irises
that grew on their own—you couldn’t get rid of them—
but she liked them. like she liked the wild
rose and lilac bushes in the yard.
she’d gush about mother-cole’s mums
and begonias, those prized yellow roses,
but i don’t know that she had a favorite . . .
maybe i get that from her,
beauty is beautiful and unique,
no one thing lasts, holds sway, everything changes
everyday . . . how can there be one
favorite anything? it’s a goddamn miracle
just being here. she adapted well.
whatever you chose to give her—simply that—
would have made it her favorite that day . . .
because you chose it. her favorites
changed with the slant of the sun,
the hue of the season, the beat of her
heart playing the day.

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Guy Lombardo’s orchestra played
while the black and white crowd waltzed
the ballroom, and folks swayed
in overcoats snowy outside
on Times Square singing Auld
Lang Synge after the countdown
to end or begin another year,
ghosts of themselves on our Sylvania
TV. I remember those sweet moments inside
after sledding all day into the night, then
waiting for that grainy ball to drop
and interrupt Monopoly
or Yahtzee with cups of cocoa
to toast the wonder of hope
and nostalgia we held so dear—back
when we knew each new year would be
even better than the last.

Do you remember
when that started to change? Was it the first
hangover? Those stalkers shadowing
you under the mistletoe? Maybe
one to many failed peace accords. Or
was innocence lost with Dick Clark’s microphone?
The first time you hurled Tom & Jerry’s
in the snow?

I’m not sure, but I know
I can recapture some of that sentiment
standing outside after dark in the cold,
whether sledding or skiing or staring
at a fire, being close to the frozen
ground, and it doesn’t matter if I’m alone
or with family or friends, it seems to me
the key is being out and cold and wet,
a little closer to death, then going in
where it’s warm and dry, knowing
that I’ll survive tonight, and by
repeating this formula,
we may grab the time to dream
big enough for luck
to find us next year.

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Plastic Jesus

The plastic crucifix draped

with my grandmother’s rosary

hung above the dresser

in our parents bedroom,


Jesus glued to the cross

he’d been knocked off

after a drunken tumble

my father took the night


his forehead caught the corner

of the cedar chest and bled

a mess like a wine bottle broken

on a Jackson Pollack canvas.


My dad had found the crucifix

hanging on the only wall left

standing from a bombed-out

house in Belgium, 1944,


and brought it back home.

They survived the war

and the trip across the ocean

much like his Irish mother had


with her rosary beads in 1916.

Today what’s sacred to me

are my family’s stories

of conflict and hope nailed


in these Christian totems,

their struggles with fear,

their yearnings to live free,

to know, to trust, to be


honest with, loyal to one

another. Like my Old Man,

I refuse to buy that

pie-in-the-sky bullshit


designed to keep us in line.

Not blood, but glue drips

from Christ’s feet and wrists

(my father’s blood wiped clean


long ago). The Virgin Mary

and The Son were rubbed away

by my grandmother’s thumbs

on that old wooden rosary, now


faded as my dad’s faith in

the afterlife. My Old Man’s

“after life” is me, as my own

afterlife belongs to my sons.

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I can’t even find time

to write the irrelevant,

irreverent form letter,

for Christ’s sake,

let alone wax

poignantly about peace

& joy, chestnuts

or snow, those memories

in slo-mo of dark

mornings we danced

across freezing wood floors

to dig for socks & long johns

in dresser drawers,

bedroom windowpanes

glazed in ice—

we’d run to the living room,

smell coffee, bacon

cooking in the kitchen,

listen to larch kindling crackle

& the trash burner roar,

Mother’s slippers scuffling

the linoleum floor—dishes

clattered as we buttoned

& tugged, pulled on our clothes,

hypnotized by the glow

of icicles & colored bulbs

silhouetting the fir tree

we’d cut down

up Madison Gulch,

the literal presence of wonder

in our black & white eyes—

an evergreen rainbow

topped with a blue star—

it was our chromatic

invitation to dream.

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