Published by Front Range Review in Spring 2015
Aunt Opal Says “Lord Love a Duck”
It is an outpouring of amazement, not to do with ducks
or the Lord, really, but it does frame a moment—a feeling of surprise,
gravitating in the direction of stunned disbelief. It is
the scrubbed-clean invocation of respectful objection
to a June snowfall or a collapsed barn or a cousin’s suicide.
Lord love a goddam duck. Jesus H. What will it be next?
“For the love of God.” Translation: what sort of world is this? Well,
there’s a question we are unqualified to answer. This is the place
in the poem where I normally list all the torments, terrors, and wrong
turns, but to hell with that. Even Whitman probably got sore feet
walking the world. Even Tom Bombadil probably got drunk on enthusiasm
and banged his head. Even William Blake fulminated like
a jockey thrown from his horse.
One of my favorite expressions: the right to complain. This seems to be
something you earn. It is your wages for suffering. Like all jobs,
some get paid more than others. I remember being taught
as a small child to answer the grown-ups’ question, “How are you?”
by saying, “I’m fine.” I almost never say this anymore.
Published by Off the Coast, Winter 2015
the difference between flotsam and jetsam
over the side with the jetsam—not worth
carrying anymore. It gets in the way—a tripping
hazard. This you suspected years ago but found
always a special, secret place to stow it, to bring it,
to need it. Stuff with no tongue – it doesn’t say
good morning or I love you, not a wink or a purr
or a touch—still withholding. The problem is
that even when you throw the stuff overboard,
some of it floats – and that, you see, is
what I have wondered is did she toss the poems?
Eventually everything gets thrown out, gets
waterlogged and sinks. A thousand verses
litter the sea. The ink runs. Desire wades ashore
in tatters. Love lost. More than a storm—
a tormenta—then the sea like glass, empty.
or did she keep them? Folded, at the back of a shelf
in the poet’s area, behind the hats, me with the other fellow.
In the deepest night, we whisper our stories box to box.
There was a time, I say. Oh yes, I hear. There was a place.
A drink, a laugh, a kiss. How many? Oh, I couldn’t say,
he lies. I held her hand. Oh? But not for long. I have a photo
somewhere—in the half light of a half moon. We are brothers,
I say. Half brothers, he says. And in case any of this matters,
one day a small white hand comes for him and
takes him, I think, to the river.
Published by Slant, A Journal of Poetry, Univ. of Central Arkansas, 2015
I Cannot See Your House from Here
because I tore it down while
you were gone
with a bulldozer and an end-loader
and a dump truck.
Took all morning
and part of the afternoon—nobody
was around except a little kid with a wagon.
I gave him your front doorknob.
Billy or Bobby something.
Whether it is better to dwell in the house of mourning
or in the house of mirth—a moot point in this case considering
that you have no house at all.
Sometimes the Spirit overtakes
a person and he acts
according to his (or her)
preordained notions, lips a’tremble
in the rolling backwash of dust and
From my east window I can now see
the mountains far off, and closer in
I can see the florid colors of the billboard-
a little rectangle which portrays
a serious young woman with
wind-blown hair drinking gin.
Well, maybe she’s onto something.
Now I’m going to go search for her
in the mountains where
the wind always blows your hair and
together we may find God
above the tree line – her with
the gin and me with my heavy
in Billy’s (or Bobby’s) wagon.
Published by Bryant Literary Review, 2015
Clown School in France
How do these two things fit together –
the rain falls on the just and the unjust, and yet
all the umbrellas are made in the poorest countries?
How far away from your troubles do you need to get
in order to understand them? The earth seen from space
doesn’t show graveyards. But it seems a long way to go.
And who is hee-hawing in the balcony
of the mad opera of desire? And what is so funny
about the tumult of the heart?
I ask myself – if I had known these answers sooner,
then what would I have done? I would have gone
to clown school in France.
Unschooled, I have learned
that the smaller half of what is sad is funny
and the larger half of what is funny is sad.
A younger man might consider a life in the big shoes,
with face-paint tears and drinking alone in the trailer,
but it’s much too late for me, my dears.
The invisible child is in the park again
or does the wind just blow the swing?
If I could have seen into the future, then
what would I have done?
I would have gone.
To clown school
Published in Stoneboat Literary Journal in Spring 2014
Nominated by Stoneboat Literary Journal for a Pushcart Prize!
For horseshoes press 1, for hand grenades press 2
Please spell the name of the person whose name you are spelling
Please hang your clothes on the line
We’re sorry, the number you have dialed is your own number
We’re sorry, we can’t come to the phone any more.
If you would like to hear more apologies press 9 now
We’re sorry, did you say Iztaccihuatl?
We’re really very very sorry.
For denial press 6, for anger press 7, for bargaining press 8, for depression press 9,
for acceptance press 1
For despair press 2, for dementia press 3
For an apology in Spanish press 5
If you are also sorry press 6
We’re sorry, did you say stabbed?
If you have a Chinese phone select the button that looks like a crooked house
with a bird on the roof
Please hang up, check the number and try again (after picking up, of course)
For Q press pound, for pound press Q, for Ezra Pound press Q pound
We’re sorry, please stay on the ledge and Shorty will be with you
For a press pass prease press 7
We sorry, he not work here. He gone.
For confession press 1, for penance press 2, for extreme unction press 3, for Room
Service press 4
If you are an astronomer press star
If you are reporting a lost dog press pound
If you are an astronomer reporting a lost dog press star pound
If you can’t find your car
If you wish you could start over as a child
If you married the wrong person and your heart is frozen
We’re sorry, your call is not very important to us
No one will be with you shortly
Please stay on the line.
Published in Off the Coast in Fall 2014
I am learning to play the violin.
I sound like a tone-deaf person wearing Big Job gloves.
When I play I have no fear at all, no fear of failure—
if I quit due to lack of talent or interest
nobody will care one way or another.
Yehudi Menuhin won’t care. Neither will Yitzhak Perlman.
Will anyone ever say Boy that was some sweet violin?
I’m guessing nobody will ever say that.
Sometimes I get an earache just listening to myself.
Still I practice. And I imagine—I’m good at that.
Sometimes, by accident, my finger joins the string—
the bow slides slowly and the most perfect note
sings like heaven. Suffering in the world disappears
for a moment—replaced by peace and praise.
Last night I dreamed I played the national anthem at a baseball game.
After all the ruckus, after the field had been swept
of beer bottles and litter, I was arrested by Homeland Security,
then sent to a dark cell in Yemen where they asked
again and again for the star spangled banner. I played it
a dozen times—they howled with laughter, then went outside
and shot their guns in the air.
Published in Sixfold in 2014
How the Music Came to My Father
Sort of a miracle, you might say because
I never saw or heard him practice. Just one day
there he was playing an accordion in his baggy pants
and white shirt looking like he was holding two bags
of potatoes, squeezing the air in and out of them.
The miracle of it—so sudden and unexpected—I now
picture God reaching down his wavering finger to touch
some other man with musical sensibilities, some father
two doors down, but accidentally touching Glenn.
And there he was, blessed, in our crackerbox house,
playing some nickering old-world polka and a passed-over
father down the street pulled his belt from his pants
and went looking for his boys.
The cosmic error was corrected eventually by
whoever it is that fixes God’s mistakes. We went back
to our yelling and the whippings and the accidental
Myron Floren moment passed. The world I knew
made sense again, and the holy finger must have
only barely brushed against him—he never said this
is going to hurt me more than it hurts you. And now
he’s in a sort of band of accidental squeeze box angels
on 42nd Street in heaven and there is a champagne bubble
machine, and sometimes they go marching in their old
army uniforms down that gold paved road,
shaking with palsy, tickling the ivories,
singing Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.
Kindly Give Up
Kindly give up these seats for the elderly and the daft,
arthritic abuelos singing pharmacy songs.
Kindly give them up.
Where they have been you are going.
Where they are going you are also going.
Give them directions, not to there-
they will find there easy enough, soon enough,
to where else they are headed before there
with always bags of stuff on the bus.
Kindly give them your seats
your help, your hand, your memory.
Eyes magnified by thickening lenses, leopard spotted.
Less admired certainties, less effective remedies.
Less likely recoveries, less remembered memories.
Like strollered babies eying their peers,
they watch each other disappear.
Landmarks of long lives, having passed by here before,
creased old maps, now everything’s changed,
what with the by-pass and one-way streets to the shiny
spotless hospital on the hill where
Once upon a time
What is most depressing about cemeteries is the heavy yellow
machinery—once just a couple of bums with shovels
lowering themselves, making it last.
Please give up thinking of their movement as mass transit.
Picked-up pilgrims along the road, slowly boarded,
carried to clinics, casinos and churchyards,
deposited on corners. Speak to them
in Polish, Spanish, or Serbo-Croat.
Nod in understanding,
Babies once, transported in arms, never alone,
tiny fingers, pink toes wee wee allthewayhome,
soothed, sheltered, spanked, adored. Kindly make
a place for them, give up your seats, soon
the return, to the corner of
Here & Gone, en memoriam, the gray
guests of honor.
Write 50 Times
(for Dave Moses)
1. I will not chew gum in class. I will
2. not chew gum in class. I will
3. not gum in class chew. I will
4. in class chew not gum. I will
5. not sing The Marseillaise in class.
6. I will not, just incidentally, ever work for the telephone company.
7. And I will NEVER put my hand in my shirt like Napoleon Bonaparte.
7. Well yes, I suppose it all started with the gum chewing.
8. And some things just happen, of course.
9. I will remain gum-free, attentive, and responsible,
9a. but possibly not in class.
10. I will not chew gum at my Uncle Inor’s funeral.
11. Tomorrow afternoon at 2 pm. Thanks for asking.
12. I will not chew more than one stick of gum in class.
13. I will not, as a rule, respond well to petty discipline in class.
14. I mean, who the hell really cares about gum chewing?
15. With all due respect.
16. Or bloody prime numbers. Or King Whatsit. Or wretched poems.
19. Like going to school ever did you any good.
22. Bongo the Clown probably makes more money than you
29. and he drives a red Camaro.
34. Christopher Columbus chewed gum and he discovered Virginia or someplace.
37. Actually, chewing gum is a sedative.
38. It helps me concentrate.
39. It’s a health issue really – I could get a prescription.
41. You don’t want to see me when I haven’t had a chew for a few hours.
43. Thousands of people work in the chewing gum industry.
44. Good decent Americans with mortgages and car payments.
45. Next I suppose we won’t be permitted to sleep in class.
46. What’s this class about, anyway?
48. We the People demand to have the right to chew gum!
49. Give me liberty or give me some gum!
50. E chewibus pluribus gumbus!