Wednesday, June 22, 2011


This is a poem written in my twenties to someone I knew for a very short while. I met him in the lobby of the apartment building we both lived in. We bonded over our mutual loathing of the building's manager. I'd known him for about two months when he went in for an operation to remove his brain tumor. He hadn't lived in Seattle very long and I think I was his only friend. After the operation, I went to visit him in the hospital, where I met his parents. The doctors told him that they'd gotten all but ten percent of the cancer. What they didn't tell him, but told his parents, was that that ten percent was spread throughout his brain and that he had six months to live.

The day his parents told him, a couple of days after he'd gotten out of the hospital, I came home from work and found them sitting in the lobby. He'd kicked them out of his apartment. They told me he wouldn't speak to them. My god, they were so lost! Their pain was just hanging there like a fog in the air around them. I found myself telling them that I'd go talk to him.

The hallway to his apartment is still vivid in my memory. I really didn't know him that well, I had no idea what I could say that his parents couldn't, or, for that matter, why I had volunteered to act as mediator. I remember very carefully not thinking about what I was doing. There just isn't anything in life that prepares most of us for these kind of moments. Sometimes there's nothing to do but move through what we find before us.

I remember knocking on his door, and saying "It's okay, it's me." The door opened, and he let me in and the expression on my face must have been the right one because then he was shaking with his head buried in my neck and I was holding him as tight as I could.

We talked. Mostly he talked and I listened, and eventually I went back to the lobby and told his parents he was okay and would talk to them again. They went to his apartment and I went to mine and shortly after that, they took him home with them and I never saw him again. And shortly after that I moved to another building. 

Sometimes I believe in fate and sometimes I don't. When I do, I think that life threw us together because nobody should have to go through that kind of pain alone. When I don't, I think that if you open yourself to other people, and to whatever life throws you, then sooner or later you're going to find yourself in that kind of situation.


After the flesh, the bone, 
the ivory talisman bound in nerve and muscle
the jigsaw puzzle piece
lifted from your skull. Your life, naked
and pulsing beneath the surgeon's blade. 

Today the battlefield is clear, your enemy defined, 
where all too often scars remain concealed,
tumors camouflaged in forms 
the x-ray doesn't  register, our battles
blind and blundering, obscure adversaries 
dealing subtle wounds we wrap in words
and bind with ambiguity.  I want to goad you into rage tonight, 
want you to bellow and stomp 
and shake your fist at fate, command you 
not to acquiesce so easily to accident 
and random aberration. Command you 
Don't surrender!

Instead I hold you,  
shuddering, against my throat
where skin and bone become a gauntlet
thrown in the face of all our random enemies, 
and reach for the necessary syllable, 
the talisman to lead you through
victorious and whole 
to a country where the battlefield is silent
the puzzle solved
and words like win or lose, live or die
no longer matter.

Monday, June 20, 2011

To Live Outside the Law

To live outside the law, you must be honest.-- Bob Dylan

This quote ran through my head endlessly during my twenties, and then sort of lost relevance. I'm thinking of making it my motto to see where that takes me.

What's in a Name?

What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. -- Shakespeare

In my twenties I lived in a town where people often had adjectives attached to their name, as in Sicilian Sam, or One-legged Al, or Bisbee Bob. Usually,* we did this to differentiate between people who had the same name, like Michael. We had a lot of Michaels. We had Bartender Michael, and English Michael, and Skinny Michael, and Bluegrass Michael, and Little Michael and probably one or two more than I don't remember right now. Just to be clear, Little Michael was smart and talented and well-liked, just shorter than average. 

One night, while Little Michael was working behind the counter at the sandwich shop, a drunk wandered in off the street looking for a fight. English Michael was at the counter ordering a cup of coffee. The drunk clearly thought he'd found an easy target, and he might have if someone else had been behind the counter, but when he started to take a swing -- before anyone else could react or had even fully grasped what was happening -- Little Michael had dived across the counter and pinned the guy to the ground. 

After that, everybody referred to him as Scorpio Michael.

*Usually but not always. As far as I can recall, we only had one Sam, Bob, or Al. I have no idea why they got their own adjective. Sometimes people just make no sense.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Rainy Days and Sundays...

Didn't sleep much at all last night. Watching the hours slip by on a digital clock is singularly dissatisfying. I threw the covers off and pulled them up over me again and again and tried not to disturb the cat sleeping on my feet. I  finally fell asleep at daylight. When I woke up, it was raining and the cat was gone. It's raining still. Days like these, I wander around unable to concentrate, awash in regret and vague longings, with fantasies of running away to somewhere with sun and laughter and endless possibility.

It's All in the Details

Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is. --  Mahatma Gandhi 

For years I've thought of myself as a 60's/70's dirty hippie-pinko bleeding heart liberal, but today I had an epiphany. Yes, I was, in fact, a dirty hippie, but no, I did not get my politics from the sixties. I got them from my grandfather and from the Sisters of the Holy Names. 

My grandfather immigrated here from Ireland, belonged to a Union, lived through the depression, thought that Franklin D. Roosevelt was the best president ever, and that America was the greatest country on earth, largely because of Roosevelt and largely because of the way people pulled together (his words) during that depression. 

The Sisters were certainly not conservative but weren't exactly rabid liberals either. They were, though, firmly of the compassionate, love thy neighbor, judge not, suffer the little children, God is Love school of Christianity.

So, you see, even though I appear to be a 60's hippie-pinko-bleeding-heart liberal, I'm really an FDR Democrat taught by nuns. 

Details. It's all in the details.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Memory of Things Gone

The memory of things gone is important to a jazz musician.
 -- Louis Armstrong

Poets too.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

In France They Kiss on Mainstreet

The first Joni Mitchell album I got was "Hissing of Summer Lawns." It was a revelation. The lyrics were written on the back of the album and I studied them like poetry. Studied might not be the right word, actually. Inhaled, decoded, dissected.

Thirty-five years later, it's still a revelation. She creates images, vignettes, really, and uses them to cradle the emotion. She uses metaphor like paint, or film.  Powerful and passionate. I forgot how much influence she had on my own poetry.

Now that I think about it, that was the same summer I discovered "Songs from a Room."  Funny, it didn't seem that fateful at the time.

In France They Kiss on Mainstreet
by Joni Mitchell

My darling dime store thief
In the War of Independence
Rock 'n' roll rang sweet as victory
Under neon signs
A girl was in bloom
And a woman was fading
In a suburban room
I said take me to the dance
Do you want to dance?
I love to dance
And I told him
They don't take chances
They seem so removed from romance
They've been broken in churches & schools
And molded to middle class circumstance
And we were rollin'
Rock 'n' rollin'

The dance halls and cafes
Feel so wild you could break somebody's heart
Just doing the latest dance craze
Gail and Louise
In those push up brassieres
Tight dresses and rhinestone rings
Drinking up the band's beers
Young love was kissing under bridges
Kissing in cars
Kissing in cafes
And we were walking down Main Street
Kisses like bright flags hung on holidays
In France they kiss on Main Street
Amour, mama, not cheap display
And we were rollin'
Rock 'n' rollin'

In the pinball arcade
With his head full of pool hall pitches
And songs from the hit parade
He'd be singing "Bye, Bye, Love"
While he's racking up his free play
Let those rock 'n' roll choir boys
Come and carry us away
Sometimes Chickie had the car
Or Ron had a car
Or Lead Foot Melvin with his hotwire head
We'd all go looking for a party
Looking to raise Jesus up from the dead
And I'd be kissing in the back seat
Thrilling to the Brando-like things that he said
And we'd be rollin'
Rock 'n' rolling

Thursday, June 2, 2011

This weekend I went to Alaska to help spread my mom-in-law's ashes..  The last time I went to Alaska was 9 years ago. To help spread my dad-in-law's ashes.  I know it's not Alaska's fault, but I'm beginning to take a serious dislike to that state.