Michael Andrews Arts

See Announcements for details on publication of Archilochus poems in Arion Magazine.

Link To The Folowing Poems
And Before That
Distant Horizons
The Devil's After Me
Madonna Of The Laundromat
The Tooth Fairy
Kowloon To Hong Kong
The Fat Man
Guns & Crutches
Flares, Truth And The Cold Black Ghost
Mr. Tri
The Xtian Montagnard
The Mission Gnome
An Old Drunk
The Park On Skid Row
The Xmas Kid
Xmas Goes To War
Xmas And The Whole Damn Family
Daedalus And Icarus
Maps And Metaphors
A Significant Poet
Trashy Lingerie
Mozart's Birthday
A Conversation With Bukowski
4Day Tire Store
Life Is Dukha
Getting Lost
Baseball Caps
A Walk In The Rain
To The Reader From The Heart Of The Moment
For Two Cents
An Event In Autumn
Gumballs
Body Bags
Boy On Curb
Clouds
Generations
L.O.V.E.
On Balance
Peppers
She Broke The Rules
Shoeshine Boy
A Soldier And His Dog
Stones

General Collected Poems

 

 





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Poems




And Before That



Yesterday
old David
ran his fingers
through his long gray beard
and died.

He said--
all I ever did was survive.
The day before that
he was feeding
french fries to the gulls
and said
he was feeling fine.
Ten years before that
he went on a 3 month
camping trip
and when he came back
he talked less.
The day before he left
he buried Helen.
Four days before that
she said
she regretted nothing.
Eight years before that
he closed down
the office supply store
and retired.
Forty years before that
he opened up an art gallery.
They planned to make enough
to retire some place exotic
with beaches and palms
and eternal sun.
Two months before that
he married Helen.
The year before that
he was on his way
to bum around the world.
He could not sleep nights
listening to the calliope
of stars.
The day before that
he graduated
with a degree in law
and told his father
he would never practice.
Fifteen years earlier
he told his grandfather
he was going to be
a mountain climber
when he grew up.
Three years before that
he said he would never
grow up.
The day before that
his mother told him
the truth
about Santa Claus
and the Easter Bunny.
Four years before that
his aunt Bessie
cast his horoscope
and said
he would be a success
in life,
marry three times,
become a famous painter
and die rich
in a foreign land.
The day before that
Dr. Anderson
pulled him from the womb,
slapped him on the ass

and he screamed.


Distant Horizons


The clouds cannot fill up the sky.

I stand at the window--watching,
a celibate lighthouse tender,
eye to the horizon
looking for the weather.

I prowl the streets,
watch my shadow on the pavement
reach for the sea,
the wind pulls at my hair
dancing like flames.

Sea air and crabs,
the salt crush of surf,
the distant invitation of horizons.

I stand at the shoreline--watching.

We live a moment
then die a long,
long time.


123 The Devil's After Me


Jimmy Conrad was no friend of mine.
We hung around together
because we were both outcasts;
me with crutches
and he an ugly frog.
He had his stooge
and I had mine, Steve Dieghton
who had the biggest crank
in the sixth grade.
The school was private
and christian and was run by
Just-call-me-Mack McClendon
who was a Christian,
who was a gunnery mathematician in WWI,
who said, I'm from Missouri – show me,
who said a lot about
Common Bay Horse Sense
and carried a ping-pong paddle
in case you forgot to say Sir;
and his wife Gladys who
was even more Christian,
who wore shapeless cotton dresses,
who dangled her glasses on a chain,
who let me go to school for free
because I was crippled
and poor and a prize student
and no one else
was supposed to know about it
because they all paid
but I got mine for love.

So one day
after the flag salute
the national anthem
and morning chapel
we were playing tag
with a basketball
and Jimmy's stooge, Ronny Delano,
who was a fat shit just like Jimmy
called me the crip
so I hit him between the legs
with the ball
while he was running
and he fell asshole over elbows.
I smacked him a few times
with my crutches because
nobody fucked with the crip
and in the fight that followed
I told Jimmy Conrad
that he was just a fat-shit slob
because he paid
and I didn't
and he ran straight to Mack
and told him what I said
so I fell from grace
about which I felt bad
and said extra prayers.

Fifteen years later
Gladys went to her heavenly reward
for which she was heavily insured.
Old Mack became an alcoholic
and lived next door
to Gorgeous George the wrestler.
I am sure that fat-shit Jimmy
is selling used cars
or insurance in Pacoima.
But the crip got away clean;
his crutches turned to pens
and now he writes poems
and says

the devil made me do it.


Madonna Of The Laundromat


She was the madonna of the laundromat
long chinese hair falling
to her small, lecherous breasts.

She was long and lean
and leaned against the table
reading
bent in an S
one leg over the other.

I watched her at the washer.
I watched her at the dryer.

She was moving like bamboo,
like the music it makes in the wind.

I watched her dryer go round and round
thinking about all those panties.

I watched her fold cute little things
into neat little piles
and I tried like hell
to think clean thoughts.


The Tooth Fairy


I remember
when I was 6
and I was just finding out
that life was a
fizzless Alka-Seltzer
and was very horny
and didn't know what to do about it.
They drove me nuts
ladies on TV
teachers
little girls
at the swimming pool
pushed me over the edge
and I'd pinch
their flat little asses
just to see
how they felt.
And it wasn't fair
the way I wanted them
the way I couldn't have them
and I was losing teeth
on a regular basis
like paying some kind of tax
but I was grateful
that I hadn't gone blind
from all that self abuse.
And one night
I put a tooth
under the pillow
and waited to fuck
the Tooth Fairy
but I woke up
in the morning
with a hard on
toothless
and 25 cents
richer.


Kowloon To Hong Kong


I cross on the Star Ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong
white water surging forward at my feet
and the sea, grateful for my return—
black and gray storm clouds billow,
and pillar high above the city.
The island is silent, and waits for rain.

I stink of jungle and death.
The heat and stench of Nam
has plugged my nose with concrete,
carved my eyes into caves
where dragons live.

The city tosses in her bed, dreaming of me.
She steams with lust as long as I am young.
She is as busy as a whore on Saturday night
changing money, sea traffic, buying and selling,
lights and music, taxis and pimps—
she is in the business of dreams come true.

The ocean's dark, menstrual wine sloshes
among the rocks and wharfs, the islands and trees.
Sea-going vessels, lightning and rain,
the night blankets the seething lust of the city.
She nestles into bed, wiggles her fanny, and waits for me.
I am on a hill watching her lights stutter and blink.
I am writing this poem for the city and its sea,
one more night closer to my death.










The Fat Man

            1945

Before they dropped it on Nagasaki
they signed their names
as though it was an object of art.
They put their wives and children's names on it
as though it were a gift from a loving cousin.
On 8 August 1945 they dropped
it out of a B-29 Box Car named Enola Gay
and killed 125,000 humans.
They merely injured another 150,000.
A few year later Klaus Fuchs,
a physicist in need of a vacation
and a Swiss Bank account
sold atom bomb secrets to the Soviets.

In school the siren screamed
and we had to crawl under the desk
to avoid the flying glass.
Flying glass seemed like the least
of our worries if our eyes
melted down our cheeks.

For every Einstein, we learn
there are a thousand Oppenheimers.

We are the bomb babies.

We know how the world ends.
It has nothing to do with a whimper.




Guns & Crutches

po et, from Greek poietes, "maker," poet from poiein, to make, create

My brother Rick and I have cap pistols,
squirt guns, ping-pong ball guns,
pellet guns and BB guns —
22s, 38s, 30-30s, shotguns
and I hobble on the crutches
until the doctors turn me loose
but they still won't let me
play football or run track
and I hang around on the bars
like the school monkey.

When the draft board sends us greetings
Dean and Lance go into the Guard —
Fort Roberts in the summer
and the Watts riots in season.

Rick draws the Nam and more guns
than a Republican ever dreamed.

In the end the crutches save me
from authority, bad education,
brainwashing, the army and death.

I hobbled after life and eventually,
life caught up with me.
The crutches turned to pens and cameras,
mallets and computers
and I became a maker.

With the guns we slaughtered tin cans,
but as far as I know
guns never saved anyone
from much of anything.

And in the end, the gun becomes a crutch.



Flares, Truth And The Cold Black Ghost

In the black, Saigon sky
the flares float like slow motion
stars, acetylene and phosphorus
painting the night with truth
about the earth below.

I had a heart then, just like yours
and just like yours, it thought
the world was a picture of the sun
reflecting in a puddle
left by the afternoon rain.

On the morning patrol
the Bouncing Betty
leaps into the air
like an insane Jack in the Box
springing up from Pop Goes the Weasel,
traumatically amputates Pierce's left leg
and leaves the right a shredded beef Hero sandwich.

He screams until the morphine
brings peace to the jungle birds,
asks Doc about his balls
and falls into an ice-cold shock.

They radio for a dust off
and set off the smoke to guide the pilot
when an AK-47 punches holes in Sanchez
like a Singer sewing machine stitches a hem
and the Medivac veers away
and even though Sanchez could die
from the sucking chest wound
sergeant Dunne thinks about how
he hates the little prick when he
mooches someone else's fruit cocktail.

Co Trang's tunnel entrance is big enough for her,
but a tight squeeze for the overfed American's.
She sits in the black cool of the tunnel,
shaking with the fear and adrenalin.
She is waiting around the second bend
for what she guesses must come next.
She plugs wax and cotton in her ears
to muffle the concussion of the grenades.
Her family is a cold, black ghost.
Her father was killed by hungry ARVN
pillaging the farm for chickens.
Her brothers were killed by napalm and bad luck.
Her mother starved to death in a relocation
camp and didn't seem to mind.
The frozen, black ghost lives in her bowels,
which are loose and watery and angry.
It is turning her heart into shiny, black plastic.
The VC gave her food, weapons and a purpose.
She knows the frozen, black ghost
wants to eat many, many hearts
and she knows she can pass it on to others
just like a curse, a cold or a case of dysentery.
She wants to plant the ghost
in the hearts of big, pasty colored Americans.

In the green flaming jungles north of Saigon
a six year old girl reaches up and touches my face
like a flare penetrating a black sky and in the deep,
brown pools of her eyes, she saves my life.

I am sure her heart has never turned black and frozen.
I am sure that we have both kept the promise
made by my face and her small, brown hand,
that our hearts will always pump blood,
that our hands make only love,
that our tears keep the memory.

By lot sergeant Dunne sends Hayes into the tunnel.
It is a relief not to send his best friend, Wilson,
and Hayes is as smart and experienced as
an eighteen year old virgin can be.
He lowers himself into the entrance
and where his toes just reach the floor
his chest gets wedged and Co Trang drives
her knife up into his balls and penis,
deep into his bowels, while Hayes kicks and screams.
She twists the blade and levers it from front to back
and scrambles away from his thrashing legs.
She leaves the knife because she knows
that with it goes a little bit of the black ghost
and she scrambles back into the safety of the tunnel.

Sergeant Dunne holds Hayes down while Doc
pulls out the knife and Hayes passes into
that tiny paradise where pain takes us
when the world finally tells the truth.
Sanchez and Pierce are dead, but the dust off
takes Hayes away where a doctor
with a frozen, black heart will save his life
to spend wondering how things might have been
if only he could get an erection.

By noon it is over a hundred degrees
when they flush Co Trang from the tunnel,
bleeding from her ears and already
deep into her death trance.

Hayes has a buddy named Pritchard
who is dumb, loyal and way beyond crazy.
He beats Trang for a while, then spreads her legs
and rapes away his fear and joy and the last
shreds of his sanity, and two more
follow Pritchard while Co Trang
dreams of her family and of passing on
the hungry, black ghost.

Sergeant Dunne loses his erection when she
doesn't scream or fight or even pay attention.
His eyes fix forever at a thousand yards
and his mind seizes up in rust and sludge,
clanks to a stop and his eyes go blind
with the red and green flames that burn
the earth black and blue and dead, dead, dead.
He puts his flare gun into Co Trang's pussy,
jerks her hair so he can look into her eyes
and the moment that he pulls the trigger
his dreams will swear forever that she smiles.

Sergeant Dunne does not pause to consider
what brings him the joy — the pain,
the love, the hate or the cold, black indifference.
The frozen, black ghost settles into his
lower intestines and reaches up to squeeze
his heart in its strong, black fist.
Sergeant Dunne does not believe that he is going
to live through the day, and
sergeant Dunne does not give a rusty fuck.

Waiting for the traffic to cross Nguyen Hue
a hard faced whore in a blood red miniskirt
puts her hand on my ass and whispers hot,
wet words in my ear, "Fuck you, suck you
numbah one. Ten dollah MPC,"
and her smile almost takes the edge off her eyes
while my prick leaps to attention.
It's the nicest thing someone has said to me
all day long, but I cross the street instead,
looking for a place to change my money.

I shoot this poem into the ice black sky
trying to paint the truth about the earth below.
There are things about war that you don't want to know.
We know that the frozen, black ghost stalks us
in the night, waits in the shadows of a back alley.
We can pass on the disease,
but we can't pass the cure.

This poem can not transmit the truth of it.
And even if it could —

you could never get it.



Mr. Tri

            "We shall never know how many Vietnamese became 'Americanized,' became tragic victims of cultural imperialism.... Few of us who were there can claim innocence. It is useless now to ask what has happened to the Vietnamese who worked for the Americans... It is not a question of their being punished now. The question is if all of us harmed them and how much."
Gloria Emerson 308-9

Mr. Tri is fat for a Vietnamese.
He is also kind of ugly,
one eye just a scar of white
rolling back in his head, as though
it can't stand to look out at the world.

He is the computer operator on the midnight shift.
I don't know who he is connected with
or what clout he hefted to get the job
but it is a one in a million job for a Vietnamese-
10 times the wages, plus protection
and his children get to eat every day.

My job is to supervise
and Mr. Tri does all the work.
He hangs the tapes, feeds the cards,
pulls the printouts.
He is a tireless, energetic little butterball,
sweating in the air conditioning
in his T-shirt and thongs.

I call him Mr. Tri.
He calls me Mr. Mike.

We are friends.

Mr. Tri does favors for me,
bits of fruit and tea, little things
he doesn't do for the other Americans.

One night I am trying
to sharpen my folding knife
and seeing that it won't take an edge,
Mr. Tri takes it home with him.
He grinds out the blade on a coarse wheel,
brings it back, ugly, but sharp-
just like Mr. Tri.

All the operators do things for me
because I protect them from the brass
and the racism of the programmers,
so they think of me as a good man.

They are afraid of most Americans.

For good, god damned reasons.

When all the work is done at night
Mr. Tri curls up on the tape shelf
and goes to sleep.
I have a curfew pass
so I take the grease gun
and drive home in the Scout.

We are friends-
Mr. Mike and Mr. Tri.



The Xtian Montagnard

1
"They are such animals," Dung scowls,
like she had bitten off a mouthful of rotten mango,
"they are like wild pigs."
Dung has a college degree from the University in Dalat.
She thinks that the Montagnards are superstitious.
"Moi," she calls them, savages, and shudders.

Dung is afraid of ghosts in the night
and she believes that communists are evil.
Dung is a good Catholic girl.

She works with us in the slums of MACV
as a technical artist, drawing little boxes
and charts simple enough even for an ambassador to read.
The boxes and charts prove that we are winning the war,
counting up the bodies and totaling up the hamlets,
tracking the fluctuating curve of kill ratios
and the Commissaries supply of beanie-weanies.

Dung has a sister that is holier than all of us together.
Sanh is a nun. She undergoes fantastic hardships in the mountains
where she is busy trying to convert the animals into Christians.

"Not so easy, making Christians out of Moi," Dung tells us.

2
Doug Hardy tells me all about the Yards.
He lived with them as a Green Beret.
He says they're honest, work hard, don't steal and laugh a lot.
The Yards think like the Americans think-
it's the Vietnamese that are lazy, who lie, cheat and steal.
The Yards call the Vietnamese Yuan.

Everyone agrees.

3
Sanh leaves Ban Me Thuot, which is near Dalat,
in the mountains that are trying to reach heaven,
climbing out of death and insanity toward the clouds.
On foot she travels many days to Dien Kric.
It is the farthest as far can get, past the Da Mrong valley,
surrounded by green peaks that tickle the passing clouds.

Sanh does not get the beauty of it.
She is disgusted with the filth and the bad manners.
There are no cabs, no croissants, no telephones-
just pigs and people living in the dirt
eating grasshoppers and fermented rice.

She is preaching to the Moi about brotherly love,
about Jesus and salvation, heaven
and a major dose of hell.
Hell is something that Yards have a firsthand knowledge of.

They worship trees and stones and babbling brooks.
Every child knows the danger of offending the spirits.
They pour libations to appease the troubled spirits.
The children are busy trapping fish in the mountain streams,
catching grasshoppers for a snack
and chasing the birds away from the grain.

Hell doesn't mean a thing to them.

4
But one man does listen. His name is Ja Had
and Ja Had is a serious man.
Ja Had thinks that when any person speaks
he has something true to say.
It is a big idea, a single spirit
that lives in everything at once.
Y Blar the sorcerer has always told them
that they are born again and again,
sometimes in the rat, sometimes in the tree.
If we eat the pig, the pig may be born as our child.

It is a great sin to waste food.
If we leave a place, we must carry all the food.
The food we cannot carry, we must eat.
The animal's spirit would be angered with waste.
To die for nothing is offensive even
to a spirit that lives in everything.

"Tell me more about this big spirit,"
Ja Had asks of Sanh.
Sanh is worn out trying to explain Sin and Heaven
to the savages. They can't grasp the simplest truth.
But she is eager to explain it Ja Had
who listens with two ears and asks many questions.
They eat grain mush and river fish
sitting under the trees, as the mountains
tickle the clouds, and the clouds
drench the fields.

"If you die without Baptism, you will go to the evil place.
You will not be born again.
You will go there forever.
If you take the water ceremony, the big spirit
will take you to his house above the clouds.
You will never be hungry, you will laugh all day long."

"I am confused," admits Ja Had.
"Y Blar the sorcerer is very wise.
He tells us a different truth.
I must consider if it is possible for both truths to be true."

In Ja Had's house Sanh is talking with K'Brung.
K'Brung is Ja Had's wife for many years.
She asks if the big spirit can give them children.
Sahn is sure that the reason they cannot have children
is because they have already committed some great sin
and they have offended God, the big spirit.
Ja Had is making her listen to Sanh's words.
When K'Tueh returns from the fields
Sanh asks if this is their daughter.
"This is K'Tueh, my second wife," Ja Had says.

For an hour Sanh tries to hammer into them
that to be a Christian Ja Had can only have one wife.
This is not a thing that is easy to understand.
"Why does the big spirit care how many wives I have?
Most of the men have more than one wife."

"They will go to the evil place forever," states Sanh.
"I will return in one month to hear your answer."

Sanh is glad to think she may have a convert.
If she can get one, then she can get others.
If she gets many, the Bishop will be pleased.
She is thinking of hot baths and real food.

She returns to the nunnery and later she tells
her sister Dung all about her Christian Montagnard.

5
Dung pulls the live snail from the pale of water.
She spears it with a small fork and twists it out.
She wraps it in sticky rice and nouc mam
and chews it slowly as she considers her words.
She is telling us about her sister the nun
and her sister's Christian Montagnard.
Perhaps the Moi can learn to be civilized after all.


6
When Ja Had married K'Tueh as his second wife
the heavy gongs bonged across the valley
and the kamboat mouth pipe warbled
like a forest of birds singing in the dawn
and they drank the burning rice wine while Y Blar
performed the ceremony where they exchanged
the brass wire bracelets and then they drank
the fermented honey, sweet and fiery
and filled with many juicy flies and crunchy ants.

It was Ja Had and K'Brung's hope
that K'Tueh would deliver them the child
that the spirits had held from them
even though they poured rice wine daily
at the stone in which the spirit lived
that guarded their house.

Tonight they sit weeping and talking.
For two days they talked with Y Blar.
He tells them of the spirit in the tree
that could make a child for them.
K'Brung thought that would be enough,
let the Yuan keep their big spirit and his evil place.
And after they died, they would have many children
to pour rice wine for their thirsty spirits.

But K'Tueh thought otherwise,
that a place to live forever and be happy
was a very big idea, and all Ja Had must do
is take the water ceremony and have only one wife.
They would still have children to make their spirits happy.
It was only fitting because of their love
for one another that Ja Had should find a place
in the big spirit's house for all of them.

But Ja Had could not give K'Tueh back to her mother.
It would be a great shame, and no man would take her.
She would starve and could not take part in the ceremonies,
her spirit would haunt the entire tribe for many generations,
make them tired, make them sick and bring bad luck.

No, Ja Had could not do that to K'Tueh
even for the big spirit's happy place
and K'Brung said no, refusing to consider such a cruel thing
not for an entire tribe of children,
not even to stay out of the big spirit's evil place.

That night Ja Had made tender love to K'Tueh.
When they finished she fell asleep between
Ja Had and K'Brung as they wept
soft and steady like
the afternoon rains,
when the birds do not sing
and you cannot see the sky.

K'Tueh had told them what must be done.

7
Sanh left the quiet peace of her bed
and the sweet ritual of tea and croissants in the afternoon
and made the journey by foot with greater hope than before,
up and over the high and hard mountain paths.

She allows herself to be eager to see if the seeds
she had planted a month earlier in the hard ground
of Dien Kric had sprouted any converts.
She thinks of Ja Had and his filed teeth
watching the rain beneath the giant mahogany tree,
weighing the threat of hell and the promise of salvation
against his small, young wife and her wide, fertile hips.
They are animals, she thinks, he has no idea of salvation.

That evening she arrives late in the village,
but Ja Had takes her directly to his bamboo and thatch house
sitting high above the squealing pigs on stilts.
Ja Had smokes his sweet mountain tobacco that he has
grown in last year's buffalo pen.
The village throbs with the slow and monotonous repeating
of the simple music of the gongs and the kamboat.
The rain falls as steady and quiet as the tears
of the homeless spirits, who wander without
ancestors to leave them bits of fish and a taste of rice wine.
K'Brung sips the rice wine first.
It is her very best, over a month fermenting in the jar.
She passes the wine to Sanh, who sips
the heat greatfully and passes it on to Ja Had.

Ja Had says, "I am a Christian now.
I am ready for the water ceremony."

"Wonderful," exclaims Sanh, "I am sure
that the Great God will be very happy."

"Will the big spirit give us children?" ask K'Brung.

"I'm sure he will bless you with many children
if you are good Christians," Sanh assures them.
"But how did you provide for your other wife?
Did you find her another husband,
or did you return her to her parents?"

"We did as K'Tueh instructed us.
We talked many days with Y'Blar the sorcerer.
He gave us a medicine for K'Tueh
and when she had died in the ceremony, we ate her."

"You killed her?" Sanh screamed
making herself choke on the fiery rice wine,
"and then you ate her like a young dog?"

"There was no choice," said K'Brung.
"There was no place for her to go
and so she would have died alone and in pain.
This way she died with a purpose.
She died with no pain and with those she loved.
She will be a happy spirit.
And when the big spirit blesses us
she will return to us as our child.
It was the only path that made us all happy.
I miss talking with her in the afternoon rain.
I am eager for her to come to us again."

"When can I take the water ceremony," Ja Had asks?

"You will never have Baptism," Sanh hisses
staggering to door, "you are savages, animals.
God could never love such beasts."
Sanh goes out into night, into the steady
fall of the rain and the endless throb of the gongs
and Ja Had and K'Brung weep all night
in the terror and the sorrow
of a spirit without a home.


8
The following week the sorcerer Y'Blar
makes them a ceremony to ease their spirits
and to appease the spirit of K'Tueh.
He gives K'Brung the medicine made from
the tree of the spirit that brings children.
Every afternoon Ja Had sits beneath the mahogany tree.
He listens to the rain, and sometimes to the birds.
He never plays the kamboat flute.

In the spring a small girl comes to K'Brung.

The name they give her is K'Tueh.


9
Sanh returns to the afternoon teas and buttered croissants.
She tells the Bishop of her failure
and the Bishop sends her out again.
She has become a relentless convertor of the Moi,
but she never goes to the village of Dien Kric,
circled by the high green mountains
and the ticklish afternoon clouds.

She tells her sister, Dung, all about
the savage that ate his wife.

She prays every afternoon for the salvation of their souls.
For pennance she gives up sweet tea and croissants.


10
Always in the afternoon, after eating
the eggs with the tiny embryos, the tiny
crunchy bones and the immature feathers,
the Vietnamese ladies sleep
away the heat and the war
and the attentions of the American men,
who are crude and aggressive
and sometimes mean.

Dung tells us all about her sister Sanh the nun
and about Ja Had the Christian Montagnard.

"They are animals," she states and then sighs,
"but my sister says they are just children and that
they have souls and she tries her best to save them."



11
This poem is for the spirits of Ja Had the Christian Mantagnard,
for his wife, K'Brung, who makes the best rice wine
and for their child, K'Tueh
who keeps the birds from the rice
and sits with her father under the mahogany tree
playing the kamboat like a forest of birds-
for the high green mountains,
for the ticklish clouds

and for the afternoon rain.








The Mission Gnome


The sun finds her sprouting from cracked cement
and splashes her portrait on the mission wall,
a silhouette of Whistler's Mother in butter and black.
It is six hours to a free lunch.
She is older than caring.
No time to set the world on fire.
Enough time to sit in the morning sun
and hide her knuckles inside layers of socks.
By noon the street folk will be lined up,
gnomes fresh from the mines, around the block,
shuffling in the morning dust,
swapping stories about the cops.
The gutters blow dust and dead shoes.
The sun comes early, stays late.
The smog eats holes in everyone's socks.
This winter will be the last.
Right now, this morning sun and
buttered wall belong to her.
Six hours to a free lunch.
No hurry.

Nothing's Free.



An Old Drunk

The earth presses
the old drunk
into the sky,
doubling him over
unconscious
on a bus bench.
His hat
topples
into the gutter.



The Park On Skid Row

A hot day, sitting on a patch of grass
the smog chews holes in my glasses
and drifts through clouds of children.
The iron bench burns into my back.
The music drifts up from Mexico,
pours out of radio speakers
and soaks into the grass.
The old woman has been on
the streets for sixty years.
She never sits.
She hobbles around the park
stooping for beer bottles and paper sacks
chasing the afternoon wind.
Her friend sits in the shadow of a doorway
wrapping her feet in layers of plastic
while the machos smoke grass,
flex tired muscles, and shout
to mark their territories.
I sit in the sun just like the rest
waiting for death to take him, or you, or me.
It is a telegraph
this park, this wind, the sun.
I will die alone,
in a far away place
in shock and confusion
and no matter how beautiful
I see the world
in that last moment,
and no matter how beautiful
the thought that has finally
fallen from the edge of my mind
to the tip of my tongue
no one will hear
my final words.



The Xmas Kid

We have art in order not to die of the truth.              Friedrich Nietzsche

When I finally got to 6 I discovered
Grubby's sister and Grubby's sister's girlfriend.
They were girls and mysterious and I loved them.
Grubby also got an electric train for Xmas.
It went around and around and over hills,
through tunnels, by trees and station platforms,
people and dogs, cows and cars and tall pine trees.
It had a whistle that blasted away the unknown.
I loved Santa Claus too.
Someday Santa would bring me an electric train,
and maybe a girl like Grubby's sister.
She was an older woman, maybe eight,
impossibly wise and arrogant and worldly.
I worshipped her. She teased me.
They sat on the big round fender of the 48 Merc
dangling their long, downy legs, teasing me,
getting into practice for bigger game later in life.
I said to Grubby, "Let's go play with your choo-choo."
They laughed and laughed and laughed.
"Your such a baby," they giggled, pointing fingers
that shot lasers through my guts.
"It's not called a choo-choo, it's called a train."
It was the first time I understood
the power of a woman.
"You're such a baby," Grubby's sister said,
"I'll bet you still believe in Santa Claus."
The world collapsed in toward it's middle,
like someone just punched it in the gut.
My face was red for being a baby, but now
my stomach turned green with suspicion
that I was about to hear something
I didn't want to hear, something
true and something horrible.
"What about Santa Claus," I demanded.
"He isn't real, you big baby."
I fought to keep my world for a while
but in the end, facts rolled me over
like a steamroller paving the world with truth.
I ran in the house and cornered Mom in the kitchen.
If she would only tell me it was a joke
it might not be true, I might be able to ignore the facts
I might be able to band-aide the world together again.
Well, the jolly old man in the red suit
died from a lethal dose of the truth.
I spent the rest of the day kicking cans,
throwing dirt clods in the field,
digesting facts.
In all my life, I never got an electric train.



Xmas Goes To War

Lights on the tree, flares in the night,
I am sweating in the bed
while the windows buzz with bombs.

"Merry Xmas Laos," I say
and listen to the whine of the mosquitoes.

Santa Claus is coming to town
in a two-stroke cyclo
crazy as a mama-san
cheated for an all-night girl.
Green uniforms and red uniforms,
they all look like generals to me.
I send the maid out for a tree.
The locals are obliged to cheat a round-eye.
We fill it up with lights and bulbs
that we buy in the central market,
and tinsel that Pop sends us from the world.

We are trying to stay sane.

We strip down to underwear
and sweat out the night.
We pile up the gifts from home
and from Hong Kong
and from each other.

Flo never wants to make love
and I never want anything else.
The fortunes of war.
We are at war too.
And in love and in pain
and fear drips icicles at 95 degrees.

The body boxes are stacked and waiting
at the Ton Son Nhut morgue,
waiting for that last sleigh ride home.

"Merry Xmas World," I say.

"Fuck it," I say, and drive on
downtown, dodging whores and deuce-and-a-halfs,
change money with mama-san in the tea-bar,
give my liquor ration to a friendly wino.
I am waiting for the knife, the bomb,
the blind, random shot.

"Like a bridge over troubled waters"
wails from a tea-bar.
I bring candles home to Flo.

We light them up and open gifts.


Xmas And The Whole Damn Family

By stealth I collected all the family negatives.
I sorted and printed pictures for two weeks.
I printed a title page on the Vandercook press,
matted the prints and made four portfolios.
I called it "The Whole Damn Family."
We are all in there.
Xmas morning we open them up.
We go through, picture by picture
and for every one we make Mom and Pop
tell us a story, who it is,
where it's at and when it was.
There is great Gramma Volvasang
feeding bears through the window of the Model A.
Granpa Mike in the Sierras
and Nana and Papa in Malibu Canyon.
Mom like a white blond elf
standing in the field
that becomes the house
that we are all gathered in for Xmas.
Here is Pop, age 8, looking like the devil himself
right out of the Little Rascals.
Mom doing Betty Grable on the Studebaker hood.
Pop doing William Holden on their
first honeymoon in Las Vegas.
Here's Pop kissing a lady
that turns out not to be Mom.
There's Mom, still mad after 40 years.
There's me feeding a fawn apples and cheese.
In those days I was impossibly cute.
Then comes Rick in a Cowboy Hat
a beebee gun, a pistol and boots.
Then there is me with crutches
and Mom and Rick on the Big White Steamer
going to Catalina.
Here is me and Rick and Lance
bristling with fishing poles and the 30-30,
real mountain men following old John Muir
to Sheep's Crossing and the Devils' Postpile.
Here comes Tricia, peaches and cream
and spoiled like a platoon of Angels.
Then Tricia marries John
and they make a Tiffany.
Congratulations, I'm an uncle.
Congratulations, I am old.
Flo catches me somewhere in there
but since we don't make babies
we'll never grow up
never grow up
never grow up -
not us.
Rick settles into Dot
the way a rampaging leopard
decides to take a nap.
Here they are sitting on a log
by the fire at night in the Sierras.
Here we all are
writing notes on the pictures,
laughing at stories, crying at others;
a collection of prints
wrapped up in a box.
In our way, for this time
our lives are as momentous
as the birth of the stars.








Daedalus And Icarus


Daedalus was a simple soul.
He loved inventing things,
sitting up till dawn
stoking his brain with problems,
solving riddles,
pondering imponderables.

One day he met a girl and the world changed.
Naucrate was a mystery he couldn't crack.
She came without operating instructions and
she kept him in a constant state of befuddlement.
Suddenly he had mortgages to pay,
bean fields to plow, and picket fences to paint.
He couldn't think straight anymore.
He slept all night long
without a single brainstorm.

One day Naucrate gave him a son.
Icarus came as a complete surprise to Daedalus
who spent the next year awake,
elbow deep in runny infant shit,
pondering the mysteries of generation.
Icarus didn't like thinking at all.
He liked candy, fast chariots and loose women.
He sure as hell didn't savor problems.
Naucrate swore off sex in order
to spoil Icarus like soft brown bananas.
Icarus absolutely hated riddles.
And he really didn't give damn about imponderables.
Icarus liked sweet barley cakes,
fondling his erection
and smashing Dad's models of labyrinths.

One day Queen Pasiphae jumped Daedalus' bones.
It didn't clear his mind, but it was better
then plowing the bean fields and eating worms.
King Minos took umbrage at this and imprisoned
both Daedalus and Icarus in the Labyrinth.
He needed someone who could think.
He was a king, so he had problems
and he wanted Daedalus to solve them.

Naucrate became a priestess of the moon
and let her genitals shrivel to dust and leather.
Pasiphae turned to white bulls for comfort.
Minos forged swords, minted coins and hired detectives.
Daedalus plotted escape, dreamed of flight
and constructed the machines of freedom.
Instead of helping him try to escape
Icarus was busy kissing the king's butt,
begging for a sycophant's job
and sniffing around the princesses.

Daedalus invented wings with wax and feathers.
He dragged Icarus, kicking and screaming to the nearest cliff,
strapped on the wings and gave him the boot.
As they flapped along he told Icarus the facts —
don't fly near the sun; it will melt your wax.

Icarus never believed a word the old man said
and after taking a few swoops and dives
he lets out an heroic, "Yahoo"
and flaps toward the sun.

Five minutes later he plummets
past Daedelus, with a horrified look
stamped into his simple face.
It is the first time he ever
figured anything out.

Daedelus watches Icarus make
his one and only big splash.

"Fucking idiot," he mutters to himself
and flaps over the horizon
into a truly spectacular sunset.



Maps And Metaphors

Mexican Hat, San Juan River

I climbed the canyon wall,
stone so hot
it boiled blisters
on my fingers.

Three false trails,
only one worth a damn,
gets me to the top.
It should only be a quarter mile to the road.
I guess on the direction by the sun and the river.
Half way down the road
in a litter of beer cans
and 1940 automobiles
I find a map someone threw away.

This map
was not even the wrong territory.
It's Alabama,
a place I never intend to go
since my grandmother died a baptist
and a racist.

I walk down the littered highway.
Words don't get you around the bend.
Your feet do.

It's a god damn steep hill back to camp
with 40 pounds of food
and a half gallon of cold milk.
I watch the cars drive through the asphalt
like it was hot black butter.
I'm going to try to get a ride.

If we didn't have fingers
and a thumb,
god,
we'd all be some kind
of metaphor.




A Significant Poet

The phone is armed and dangerous.
Suzanne shoots out of the receiver
like an armor piercing bullet--
"The LA Poetry Festival is having a contest."
I hide my wallet. It's another rigged poetry contest.
"It's for the best poem," she tells me.
"You ought to submit.
You're a ... significant poet in LA."

Between the lines I can hear "barely significant."
If I squeeze my ear into the receiver
I can hear "well, maybe in South Bay."
I have a book on the bookstore shelves.
It's called "The Poet From the City of the Angels."
I wasn't even asked to read.
The Society of Political Poets wants
me to make the contest look legitimate.
They want my money to pay for the prize
that they intend to give to Eloise.
I sold my pot to piss in for an empty notebook
so I guess I'm out of the running.
Eloise is well established up the ladder.
She paid her dues, a card carrying member
of the Society of Poetic Politicians.
The poem never did matter.

Ain't no way I'm going to win a contest.
Contests are for hustlers, not for poets.
I couldn't hustle an ice cube off an Eskimo.
Suzanne is right. I could never write
a poem as good as Eloise can. Suzanne
knows -- I don't count enough to even read.
Tu Fu died in oblivion and shame.
Tu Fu never won a contest either.
I won't insult him with post mortem praise.
Where were we when he needed an audience.

Tu Fu knew what I found out--
a poet that leaves his poems to unborn children
is planting dandelions on his grave.
Pissing on your grave won't make the roses grow.
For all the difference the poem will make
it is better to dig an honest trench.
I've got no time for contests.
I've got to program some idiot's accounts payable.
I've got to earn my minimum daily requirements,
beans and rice and some wilted broccoli.
Piss on poetry.
There's more meaning in a bowl of alphabet soup.
There's more nutrition in a gulp of Pepsi.
Words are the piranhas of the heart.



Trashy Lingerie

60 pound dumbbells, 15 reps, 3 sets, my shoulder vibrates
in a scream of exhaustion and I rack the weights,
collapse onto the bench, gasp for breath
and I know that old men in good shape
are pressing roses between the pages
of poetry that everyone will soon forget.

A guy walks through the gym to the back room.
He is in serious need of pumping iron
and is carrying a load of tripods, lights and cameras.
He is followed by the trashy but aging blond
with the gorgeous ass outlined in see through mesh
and the seam that runs from her swollen clitoris,
down her vulva and up the crack of her ass.

7000 pounds of iron pause in mid-air
and 37 sets of dilated eyes mark her triumphal progress.
She is followed by the cute blond in the oversized
sweatshirt revealing nothing about
her perky breasts and tight little fanny,
carrying an armload of make-up
and a no nonsense approach to boiling testosterone.

Then comes the model,
Asian mixed with French, maybe Filipino,
a painful sway of black hair
brushing against a number ten ass.
She is wearing a look-but-don't-lust jacket
that every male hormone in the gym
is screaming to burn into ash
and she is carrying an armload of trashy lingerie,
agonizingly skimpy camisoles,
butt thongs with postagestamp beaver patches,
filmy nighties and spray on leotards.

My pectorals give out forever.
"Don't go in the back," the guy next to me says.
"They're shooting skimpy underwear."
"I don't want to see it," I swear.
"There is already too much in life that I can't have."
"Yeah," he grins, "like going into the Porsche dealership."
"You got it," I say, "with expensive dreams
and an empty wallet."

The trashy but aging blond gives me a smile
but the model doesn't notice a single, desperate soul.
I unhinge my bike, fold my towel, slip on my sweatshirt
and get out before the shoot begins.
I don't go to the beach in the summer
and I stay the hell out of Baskin-Robbins.
Hard muscles and a dying pecker--

old age is not for sissies.




Mozart's Birthday

Monday, 27 Jan 92

I tell the class to be specific in their poems.
Describe what is in front of your nose.
Tell me about the smells, coffee brewing and onions frying.
Tell me about the temperature and if your butt hurts.
Let us say that music is playing —
tell me what it is, Mozart maybe, and not just any old Mozart
but Mozart's Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments.

All day the radio has played nothing but Mozart.
Happy birthday, Wolfgang, I think
and drag my tired ass into the truck, fire it up
and on the radio the man is saying that the last piece
they are playing today in celebration of Mozart
is the Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments, Kochel 361.

Serenades and serendipity —that's the poet's life.

The man says that the Serenade was performed
only once during all of Mozart's life.

There's no artist like a dead artist, I think
when I think that I've probably heard the Serenade
maybe a hundred times, maybe more, maybe five or six versions
and it here it comes floating electric through the air —

I have heard more Mozart than Mozart heard.

He probably didn't need to hear it more than once.

I do.


A Conversation With Bukowski

It embarrasses the shit out of me, anyway.
Me, too. I've given a lot of them, but still I always feel like a damn fool. Really, I do.
Well, you haven't had anything to drink.
I talked to you on the phone once.
What'd I do? Snarl and hag?
Um, um. You said 'Buy the books.
Oh, buy the books. That used to be one of my passwords.

...

I can't believe I'm reading in Redondo Beach.
Doesn't the San Andreas Fault dead end at the Sweetwater?
Michael!
–They're tearing the whole area down for condominiums.
I'll end up reading in condominiums for $1,000 in some small room. . . . 'Charles Bukowski reading in condominium #113.
" So . . . another bottle, Darling?








4Day Tire Store

          Los Angeles, 12 Feb 92

          "He (the District Chief) told them specifically that if they did not personally see an incident, then it did not occur."
Gloria Emerson, Winners & Losers


The rain boils on the pavement
like a sizzling monsoon in a distant jungle
in a war far, far ago.
It wept when it killed our joy there.
It weeps now as we rot
in this stinking, wet desert
while the rich folk scream in their canyons
about mud on the carpets,
rain in the mansion
and rust on the Beamer.

A child sits in the hot, green rain
in that far, far war ago.
Her stomach is an overripe melon.
Her eyes are as dead as a sun baked trout.
Her legs are broken pencils.
Her clothes would not survive a modest washing.
Her death doesn't make a sound
as it falls in the forest of broken lives.
No one hears her final sigh,
so no one asks if a someone really died
until the rain boiled the pavement today

and I looked out the window.



Life Is Dukha

Every day I am becoming Buddha.
I can't seem to stop it.
Soon I expect to be as bald as a summer squash.
I am growing a respectable pot belly.
I am down to three grains of rice a day.
My arms will turn to sticks.
I am beginning to smile as if I knew secrets.
My hands keep making funny gestures.
My eyelids seem to be getting fatter
and they are almost always shut.
I talk in riddles that don't even make sense to me.

I don't get it.
I used to be a comer.
I got old instead.
I used to be a poet.
The world had other ideas.
I used to make money.
Now I'm looking for refrigerator boxes
and staking out freeway underpasses.
I used to have things on my mind
but life took away my voice.

The universe keeps bringing things to my doorstep.
And the universe keeps taking things away.
I never had a chance.
I guess I never will.

Be careful what you want.
If you want it bad, you'll get it bad.
Buddha said that desire is the root of all pain.
Learn to live without wants he said.
He called this sage advice.

I call it learning to live
with lowered expectations.

Holy shit! my ears are growing down to my shoulders.
I am beginning to stink like a man
who wears cheap serenity for cologne.

I am beginning to attract disciples
like a compost pile attracts flies.

Life is deprivation and ecstasy.
Life ignored my art and strangled my thought.
Life is a series of broken dreams interrupted by death.
I made no difference and I will die without a voice.
Life wasted me.

I have never been so glad to be alive.

I hate the stench of wisdom in the morning.
The price for understanding is everything you've got.
Just about the time you figure life out it's gone.
The deepest realization is the most profound ignorance.
The more I know the less I understand.
God save me from one more revelation.

Hell, now I can't get a hard on anymore.
I have finally learned to live without love.
It's a matter of spiritual triage, a matter of lobotomy.
I see a beautiful woman these days and I just get tired.

I can't seem to get rid of this god damned golden aura.
My legs are frozen in the lotus position.

It turns out that
the best cure for a headache
is the guillotine.



Getting Lost

Wiedenbruk

The road goes on from
X on the map.
Feet slap the pavement,
holding down the earth
and no one knows where
the last step falls.

The great adventure
is getting lost



Baseball Caps

I use words of one syllable only
when speaking to men in baseball caps.
If the cap is rotated backward
I just grunt, use hand signals
or speak in cliches,
the current euphemisms,
hip platitudes
and sports analogies.
If they are lip reading the sport section
or are mentally disengaged
in front of televised sports
I avoid contact entirely.
Usually the mouth is agape,
saliva trickles south on a recessed chin
and the veins are roping
along the neck and temples.
Women in baseball caps terrify me.
Backward or forward,
they look both cute and smart.
They look like they are about to
give me five dollars
to wash the windshield
of their BMW convertible
or hold their place
in the ATM line.
Whether or not
I need the five dollars
I shut my mouth
and do what I am told.



A Walk In The Rain

\

At times we are the dreamer.
At times we are the dream.
A child's
head pressed
against the window pain.
Summer rain.


To The Reader
From The Heart Of The Moment

The heart of stone beats slow.
The sky is ripe lemons bursting.
The storm licks its tongue through the mountain's fur.
The rain stalks across a summer lawn of hemlock and pine.
The sun mints gold on the hems of cloud.

Add S to a word and it cuts two ways.
It all comes down to a twig lying in the dust.
For a moment of your time
and an infinity of my mine
the cardiovascular pulse of the mountain
flutters to the beat of the hummingbird's heart
and that twig is all there is of clocks and rulers,
the only moment that ever ticked,
the sum total of every thought,
all there ever was of galactic clusters,
the history of bipedal brains,
this poem —
and you
reading this page,
closing this book,
putting it all back on the shelf

and walking out the door.




For Two Cents

Cusco Train Station, 1976

10,000 hard days
plowed up his forehead.
30,000 skimpy meals
pocked craters
in his cheeks.
He is sleeping
on the steps
of the Cusco train station,
folded like yesterday's
newspaper into
each 90 degrees.
3,000 days of grime
ground his clothes
to a loose
collection of strings.

He could not
have touched a woman
for 30 years.

He has a sack
of cocaine leaves
to chew when
his stomach begins
to digest his spine.

He catches me
taking his picture
in his tourist pose,
screams about
stealing his soul
and in the end
I have to buy it
for 2 cents.




An Event In Autumn

A leaf falls,
the earth shakes.

I watch a spider
crawl into the fire.

The leaf flies
back into the tree.




Gumballs

It takes a long time
to get 4 pennies.
It takes most of a summer
and it takes
sacrifice and patience
and now and then, a scam.
"Red," I say,
"I've got to have a red one."
The first one out is green
and I give it to Grubby.
Grubby will eat
any color he can get.
Blue is not so bad,
so I put it in my pocket.
I know I'm in trouble
when I get the orange one,
but Grubby doesn't mind a bit.
My last penny
falls into the slot,
I twist the knob around
and it clatters
through the gears.
The gumballs rumble
and I hear one
rattle down the chute.

"White," I yell. "I hate white."

White is no color at all.
White has got no taste.
It follows the other two
into Grubby's puffing cheeks.
My kid brother
drops in his only penny,
twists the crank,
pulls out a red gumball
and pops it in his mouth
and that's the way life is.

Blue – is not so bad.




Body Bags

for the 5th Cavalry to the tune of Camptown Ladies Sing This Song

The 5th Cavalry had a hell of a good time
with the new guys who got shipped in by the planeload
walking on their own two boots, the green grunts,
the boys with the clear eyes, clear skin, clear consciencenesses.
They would have a barbecue, part of the on-the-job-training,
learning to laugh at death like real men;
six-by loads of PX beer and roasted hot-dogs
and they would all get drunk together
and they would laugh and chuckle and swig the suds,
and they would wear these silly cowboy hats
so they all looked just like Custer riding to his last stand,
and they would put their arms around one another
and they would sway back and forth, back and forth, singing
         you're going home in a body bag
         do-dah
         do-dah.

And they would.

They would chopper out to the boonies
and three weeks later they would come back,
and they would come back only two ways;
in a body bag
or out.

And the ones that were 'out' weren't green anymore,
and they didn't wear the silly cowboy hats, and they never laughed,
or they laughed too loud or at the wrong things,
and they never sang and they still drank the PX beer,
but their eyes looked to infinity or they jerked all over the place,
and their skins turned into roadmaps of hell,
all lines and roads and intersections and stop signs,

and their hair sometimes turned white,
and they got old, not wise,
and not real men,
just old.

And the ones that were 'in' the body bags were just dead.
They never even got old; just dead,
and they died in ones and twos
and by the baker's dozen, by the gross, and by the ton.
And they put them in the bags and rushed them to the freezers
before they turned black and rotten and the bags would fill up
with stinking gas like balloons that someone forgot to color.
And they didn't sing anymore,
and they didn't get the PX beer either,
but they got their wish

         you're going home in a body bag
         do-dah
         do-dah.

Every night I sweat in bed
whether or not Flo lets me have the air-conditioner on.
Flo hates the air-conditioner, but I sweat.
It's always hot and hotter and everything rots;
books and shoes and food and bodies, and the pillow that I sweat into.
Even when the air-conditioner is freezing I rot in my sleep
and Flo says that I grind my teeth so hard that the noise wakes her up
even above the conditioner and the B-52s and the bombs,
and I say, "It's the stink, the pillows are rotting."

So one day I got some body bags
and put them on the pillows to keep them dry.
Flo said, "Oh, where did you get the plastic bags."
I said, "They're body bags" and she tore it off
and said that she couldn't sleep on it.
"Jesus," I said, "they're just big goddamn plastic baggies."
But after a few nights the sweat would just lay in puddles,
and the bags made noise when the bombs would plow up the night,
and I tossed and turned, grinding my teeth,
and the body bags would crinkle and pop
like they were singing some song I've heard before.
But the worst part is that they would sigh, whooosh,
like gas leaking from a balloon,
like they were trying to breath for someone
who couldn't catch their breath
from too much laughing or too much singing.
And no one is singing anymore
because we are all in some kind of body bag.

And that's the difference I guess:
outside the bag you can still hear the bombs
and the crinkle and the breathing and the singing,
and inside the bag
you never hear
a goddamn thing.

                  do-dah
                  do-dah.




Boy On Curb

San Cistobal de lasCasas, 1979


Can a sorcerer go to the moon, for instance?
Of course he can, he replied. But he wouldn't be able to bring back a bag of rocks though

don Juan Matus

Some things go across.
Roads go across and stripes on sweaters
and stripes on telephone poles and telephone wires
and buildings
painted with crushed blueberries and strawberries
have lines that go across and the shadows of men
and mountain ranges and horizons go across
but some things go up.

Standing men point up and a single mountain
goes way up
and a string with a weight on the end goes up
and kites go up
and the moon.

My shadow bumps its head on the curb and I stop.

There is a boy sitting on the curb and he is sad.
He is sad because his kite is trapped on a telephone wire.
The moon is just in back of the kite.
I say "cheese" to the moon and get a picture.

The little boy doesn't give a damn if I take his picture or not.
He is busy trying to figure things out.
He is trying to decide if he is beaten or not.

I walk on down the road into one of many worlds.
You can have it any way you want in your universe
but in my world
the boy gets up.

He gets his kite down or he builds a better kite.
One day he walks down the road and out of town.


He travels to other stars and other galaxies
and he flies his kite right up to the moon and says

"cheese."




Clouds

Storm black

dusk wind
tearing dust
and trash.

Sky
solemn ink
a floating mountain
a sky cathedral

chasing wind

bringing rain.




Generations

Hand Petroglyphs in an Anasazi Ruin 1976

Hands.
Hands splashing over stone.
The stone that made the cliff.
The cliff of the painted snake
and the snake swallowed the river.
The river swallowed the sun.
The sun beneath its belly.
Its belly a twisting river.
The river a quarter mile across the sand.
The sand white and burning beneath the cliff.
The cliff pushing against the sky.
The sky falls into night.
The night eats the sun.
The sun paints the snake.
The snake brings the generations.
The generations paint the cliff with hands.
Hands.

It was forest once.
The people gathered food from the river.
In the best times
there were many people.
So long ago
the earth drank the sky
dry as sand.
The river cut deeper.
The land became desert.
A new people came.

The people
painted generations of hands on the cliff.
Painted the snake.
Painted the sun.
Left nothing

but bones.




L.O.V.E.

Bucareli Parking Lot, Mexico City, 1979

I got dressed up and I went downtown.
Well I walked up, and I walked down
and there weren't no love—
there weren't no love around.

Willie Nelson

It's a 47 Chevrolet
junked in a Mexico City parking lot
right in the Zona Rosa
where the ladies work for it
and the discos hype it
and the young virgins dream of it
and the men hunt for it
and everyone is afraid of it
and few find it
and most lose it
and there just never is enough of it.

It comes to this:
some unknown poet crawls into a dusty parking lot
and paints his best work
on the blue nose of a 1947 Chevrolet hood.

It says L.O.V.E.

I can't imagine what drove him to it.
I am sure that he crawled away to die;
or that maybe it was a suicide note;
or just some student practicing English.

God knows, it could have been enough
but there is only so much mileage in anything.
A few hundred thousand brings it to this
ass-end backed into a crumbling brick wall
for a lousy ten pesos a day.

Brad and I patrol Hamburgo every night
stalking love in the sidewalk cafes.
A lady in fluorescent blond and a Toyota
wants to have a party with us,
wants our hotel and room number.
When we tell her that it's the Panuco at six bucks a bed
she suddenly remembers a previous engagement
and she promises to call but it doesn't seem likely,
the Panuco does not have the class to be listed
and you have to be able to afford love;
it doesn't come cheap and it doesn't come easy.

Every time we take the bikes out of the lot
the guy makes us cough up everything we owe him.
He doesn't trust us. Why should he?
It isn't love; it's common sense.

After 300 thousand miles that's what you get: common sense.

But love made it this far: Mexico City and 40 years
and someone says it doesn't run
anymore.

I don't know. I've got to believe
that those old Chevy sixes run forever
but I can see it's got no one to drive it
and it's got no place
to go.




On Balance

Upper Chiquito Creek, 13 August 2000

I am 75 years old and it all seems like one long day.
John Muir

We are old,
the pine and I.

We have far
more of our lives
in our memory
than we have

in our dreams.




Peppers

On A Newspaper Review Of A Robert Altman Film:
Three Women Morelia Market, Mexico, 1979

Peppers green, peppers red, peppers blue
peppers peppers peppers everywhere
hide me, I scream, I can't get away from peppers
jalapeo peppers, little deadly peppers, ground peppers
peppers black, peppers that make you sneeze
the pepper that ate Tokyo
peppers that make you swallow your teeth
peppers bell, superpepper, the pepper from outer space
peppers as harmless as mushrooms
behind every great man is a good pepper
peppers that will make your car battery sing with volts
peppers that will strip the chrome off your bumpers
peppers that will melt the fillings in your teeth
peppers in my chorizo, peppers in my eggs
cream and sugar in your coffee, senor, or peppers
chili peppers and doctor peppers
peppers in my curried chicken
peppers on peppers
the day of the peppers, pepper uppers, pepper trees
peppers eating out a whole new stomach
peppers between my teeth
a girl named Pepper
peppers that sank a thousand ships
I admit that the flies don't like them
and they keep the meat from rotting
and they don't stink like onions and garlic
but they are in the restaurants on the table, pickled and smiling
like there is nothing to worry about
I order something safe
and some sadist in the back of the kitchen
is salting my waffles with peppers
they come floating with bananas in my cornflakes
they sit like gate-crashers on the edge of my plate
waiting for me to make a fool of myself
daring me to take them on just one more time
and like a fool, I do
and I run off to the north screaming
for raspberry frozen yogurt
and someone hands me some cold milk
with instant peppers mixed in it
or the ice cubes come with peppers frozen in them
peppers green and peppers red and peppers blue
fierce like all the women I ever loved
they fall in love that way, burning and full of gas
but beautiful as peppers on bright blue plastic
sorted out according to color
and stacked to please the eye
pointing south
or peppers on a Mexican newspaper review
of a Robert Altman film--Three Women
women indeed
never trust a woman that puts peppers on her ice cream
she will eat your liver with Taco Sauce
she will leave your heart pickled on a restaurant table
she will put peppers in your boots
to keep away the scorpions
and other women
and when the sun peels your skin
like paint off an old building
they say that peppers keep you cool
and one bite later I break out sweating and screaming
and cursing all the peppers that ever were
tears in my eyes, coals in my mouth
snorting flames and napalming taste buds
that flop over and die and they never come back
gone south for the winter
Oh yes, I can't taste anything anymore but peppers
I load a syringe with peppers and shoot it up my veins
save me, I yell, I am going to the pepper half-way house
I am a peepee when it comes to peppers
to any kind and all kinds of hot stuff
I scream for ice cream and they all laugh
at the big dumb gringo spitting out gobs of peppers
crying on his knees under the table of the local cantina
and somewhere in the back stalls of the market
I find the pepper pushers
and I see them there like pubescent girls in an Easter parade
beautiful and innocent and dangerous as a moray eel
and like a fool, I get sucked in again
a pretty face, a pretty green pepper
and there I am, staddle-leg over a bunch of pretty peppers
and I take them the only way I can
on film.




She Broke The Rules

Tehran, 1974

I'm walking down Eisenhower--
the only street in Tehran
named after an American idiot
instead of an Islamic idiot--
for all the world like a free man.
The men are busy picking their noses,
scratching their crotches
and exposing pathetic equipment.
The women see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing.
The more nothing they see,
the more the men go insane.
They call every woman a whore,
with the single exception of mother.
Not a one of them has figured out
that this makes each man's mother
every other man's whore.

Instead they talk dirty and wag their weenies,
cop feels and imprison their sisters.

So when I hear the crowd gasp
I turn just in time to see this lady
swing her purse at arm's length.
The purse is loaded with
powdered brick and plumber's lead.
She hits this guy along side the head
and lays him out, flat on the asphalt.

"Hal-a-fucking-lew-ya," I think.
I don't know what this asshole did,
I just know that he deserved it.

The next thing that crosses my mind
is a picture of this mob of angry morons
beating a single woman to death--
a taste of Islamic justice.

"No goddamn way," I think,
puffing out my chest like John Wayne,
flexing righteous biceps,
flashing the heroic glare.
If they want to hassle this
Iranian Joan of Arc, they are going
to have to go through me--
But the men don't do a thing.

About thirty women jump the lady
and right there in the middle
of Eisenhower Street
they beat the liberation
clean out of her.




Shoeshine Boy

Cusco, 1979

He has sat here
for a thousand years.
He is 4 years old,
going on retirement.
He is waiting for
a passing pair of shoes
with a faded shine
and a five solé coin.
When he was a boy,
he once found a toy truck.
It was yellow and
rolled on thick rubber tires.
He played with it all day
until he got hungry
and then traded it
to a boy who had a mother
for a shoe shine kit
and that day, he became a man -–
a self employed entrepreneur,
free to pursue his dream,
free to starve to death.

The very next day
he bought his own meal.
Now, he buys one meal every day.
The day before
he found that yellow truck,
his mother died giving birth.
His unnamed brother died with her.
He never had a father.
He never buried his mother.

He is older than
the oldest CEO
of the largest corporation
in America.

He is poorer than
an unemployed factory worker,
but rich enough to own a sweater.
He sleeps out of town
in a shallow cave
where he has hidden
a few utensils
and a blanket
with only three holes.

When there are no shoes to shine
he stares at the mountain –
the green of it, the height of it,
the clouds that hide its peak.
He wonders what is on
the other side of that mountain.
He wonders how far
the other side goes;
perhaps another city,
perhaps another mountain.
Sometimes he remembers
that yellow truck
and recalls that other boys
sometimes played.

I am just a passing
pair of running shoes
with a camera,
and so, I never
come into his world.

He wonders how far
that yellow truck
has gone by now.
He thinks that all the boys
on the other side of
that mountain are playing.
He thinks that
all the other boys
have a yellow toy truck.

One day, he dreams,
he will buy more than one meal,
one for lunch,
and another to sleep on.




A Soldier And His Dog
Under The Flame Tree, In The Dawn,
In The Rain, In San Juan Del Sur, In Nicaragua,
In May, In 1979, In The War

You know, he added very gravely, it is one of the most serious things that can possibly happen to one in a battle--to get one's head cut off.
Tweedledee

We come riding the hard way through the fog banks of gnats to the border
where everyone has a gun but us and the guns say--No Way Out.
We spend the night hiding in a motel where the landlady doesn't want us
and in the morning the 50 calibers start to gut the city of Rivas to the north.
We get out with all our parts and ride back through the guns to the border
where they still won't let us through the lousy 200 meters to Costa Rica
where the whores work for love and the lobster are as long as your arm.
When the mortars come in we all get behind the stone wall
and listen to the bullets whine and tumble over our heads.
Now and then they skip down the dirt road kicking up a little dust
lazy-like, like they are going no place special
and bullets just have no moral sense at all--

they don't care who they kill.

Just as the National Guard troops are about to get overrun we jump on the bikes
and ride out down the dirt road where the bullets skip along in the dust
and we make it through the monsoon rain to this little town on the Pacific
complete with fishing boats and tankers in the harbor and a beach with surf
and palm trees and gasoline for 4 bucks American for 1 gallon each.
We are alive enough to write this now because Comandante Zapato
didn't want to have American journalists killed in his town.
He saves us from all the badasses that don't like the way we talk,
the way we dress, the place we come from, the color of our hair,
and the fact that we have no guns.

They have guns:
lots of guns, tons of guns, all kinds of guns; M-16s, BARs, Israeli Galils
and I get to look down the barrel of each and every one of them
just a couple of ounces of pressure from being garbage.

We escape the clutches of the town con man who tries to hustle us with
the old Guide-That-Speaks-English Gambit and the I-Love-Americans Trap
and he shows us his wife that he has just beaten, and her father
who is dying of old age, malnutrition, a broken hip swollen
with sepsis and just plain sick-and-tired-of-it-all.
We choose to stay at the Hotel Estrella instead, the only tourists in a war zone.
We get the whole top floor with a balcony that looks out over the palms
and the beach and the surf and the harbor to a sunset filled with pink and orange and salmon and pelicans diving in the surf for dinner.

The town has no dinner, no electricity, no water, no mail, no telephone,
no radio, no refrigeration, no tea, no love at all and No Way Out, No Way Out,
No Way Out--No Hay Paso; so we sip hot Pepsis, we are of that generation,
and I am scared--scared of places with no way out and scared of how
I've seen these things before in another time in another jungle in another war
where I have seen the amazing things that some men can do to other men
when they are bored or paid or scared or right or just plain mad
but Brad has never seen what a sane man can do
and it never comes into his head that we are that close to dead.

They keep telling us that there are no mosquitoes in San Juan del Sur
and when the sunset splashes synthetic dyes all over the sky
the first 3000 mosquitoes fly through the balcony window
and I spend an hour rigging a net, cleaning the ear infection
and slapping antifungal cream into my crotch
and I settle down to watch the sun go down
thinking of all the things in the world there are to miss
and watching the sun like a movie in a 5 dollar show
because that's the way to live--
like every sunset is your last.

Death does not frighten me.
It offends me.
I unfold my knife and lay down under the net while things go black
sweating and glad to be alive enough for the mosquitoes to still want me.

In the morning I am only a little surprised to wake up breathing.
It is raining.
Light is just beginning to smear grease across the harbor.
I go out on the balcony and look down the street past the roofs and phone poles
to where the road bends and heads out of town.
Just across the way is a bright orange flame tree like the ones
I used to see in Vietnam and I think about small worlds and the way humans
go for the jugular and I start laying plans to get me through the day.

I think about sunset.
I think about killing and getting killed
in the dark
in the night
in the mosquito net
in the rain
in my sleep
in my young young youth
and I see that the Comandante has put a guard on the hotel to keep
the other Guardias away and the Sandinistas, the local militia, the bandits,
the town con men and all those guys that have all those guns
and the only other thing they want is us.

He is sitting under the blood tree in the rain.
He is scratching his dog just as though he were as sane as you and I
holding down the world, protecting the innocent
and keeping that black crazy fear away
and I know better
just like we are all innocent
aren't we
just plain folks
and I remember the way the eyes of sane men go crazy and empty and mean
when the time comes

and for just that moment before the sun comes up
I cry.




Stones

The Sierras

The great and mysterious
made men and stones
from earth and spirit
and from the winter mist.

Every stone,
like the face of every man,
is a picture of character
and understanding —

and like every flower,
portrays the wisdom of death.

For every man
a sacred stone

is waiting to be found.