Mist, the marine layer rolls
along the ridge behind Ventura,
the slope green from fires
last fall. A bi-plane circles
overhead, momentarily drowning
out the construction clatter and whine
of table saws and saws-alls, air
compressors, a chainsaw, generators,
planers, sanders, and hammer taps
competing music for the chickadees
and finches, the back-up beepers,
the mourning dove’s coo, crow caws,
too, diesel engines, tires rolling
across asphalt. Nothing wrong here,
a perfect symphony, this song
where lemons grow beside tangerines
and avocados. Still Ciara only
cares about me. She waits
for me to throw the ball, the stick,
the rock, anything at all and keep on
doing it until one of us dies.
Her black eyes stare at me, two
opaque windows masking the fields
she runs frantically, wildly
burying her bones, tending the herds
she works in her dreams, doing for men
whatever they need, that service
she trades for love, this black bitch,
Irish queen of a small green plot,
her lot, this California back yard.
Mist, the marine layer rolls
Ed Lahey speaks, crawls out
today from my berserkly pit of
copper verse despair, spits-up the green
blood of my cabbage patch mind.
He strides down Galena,
eyes squinting through dirt,
smells a gaggle of gold geese,
horny as Old Sally’s goat.
There’s a knot of air stuck
deep in the stope of his throat.
He’s heard rumors underground
of money words he’d chewed
and penned deep in the honeycombed
belly of Butte then abandoned for
ivory thumbprints—Missoula kisses
for the ink of miner ghosts.
Call it poetry, call it love, call it
coffee stained sheets—call it cat shit
clutter, our pagan mother. Listen,
now! Listen here! Lahey speaks.
You won’t mow
The grass today
8 inches of heavy
Wet snow –
The roses frozen
Your neighbor weeps
Her garden buried
Silent & white
To the birds –
The air shocked
By the possibility
Of a freak
no extra rinse
in her bed
whatever she needs
to stand and walk
over to me
have me scratch her
Pill fills my ears
and water runs
in the house pipes
shows at The Roxy
so I read
Elegy for Neal Cassady
Allen would be
and Neal dead almost
we live in our minds
I walked Cinderella
to find my sister
with the widow-makers
and fresh growth
of green wild
flowers and tamarack
so green thick
this view of life
and time shut off
hang out the sheets
she loves it
riding the Horse
the Ginz raised
in me today
on the right track
my sister’s laugh
I’m goin’ back
this life goes
fill your pockets
pick up that stick
might as well
do another load
dress the ball
on Petty Creek
needed to be done
doing another load
Purex and piss
up a batch of
for her kids
on Cinder Mountain
there too soon
we’re leaving here
so soon still
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.
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.
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
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 pot hole
another shooting star
blazing down that atomic drain
—for Ferd & Chas
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.
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.
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.