Thursday, December 24, 2009


Someone important stood on a stage at a writers' conference and said people become writers in order to leave something behind. There was a time I believed that. Now I'm more of the mind that people become writers to have somewhere to go.

You leave a word on a page. You leave an impression. You take your leave. But where do you take it?

There are always more reasons for leaving then staying. I’m about to leave a job I’ve had for thirteen years. No, this isn’t a journal entry. This isn’t important enough for that, at least not yet. Everyone eventually leaves. I want to say it’s easy. It’s not. It’s almost winter. I drove home in a U-Haul van with eleven boxes in the back. I left my office empty. I left my parking spot empty. When I stepped out of the elevator that, too, was empty.

The history of leaving is synonymous with the history of premonition. It basically works like this, you believe something is going to happen and it makes you want to stay, or it makes you want to leave. Somewhere in the bible doesn’t it say gather your past and go forth? It should. We spend more time thinking of the past than the future. Most poems are written in the past tense.

You leave evidence. You leave well enough alone. You leave a trail. But where did you go?

I attempted to find evidence proving that travel was invented to accommodate leaving more than going. I found arguments for both points of view. That does little for my thesis. But leaving requires honesty. Going, on the other hand, requires hope.

When smoke leaves fire, which one is more sad, the smoke or the fire? The same question applies to a poem and a poet. Leaving can turn any day into a grave. Everything I learned about leaving I learned from women. One woman told me it take courage to leave. Another said it takes courage to stay.

This is how you write a poem, by leaving things behind. A novel is different. You write that by putting things together. You can’t leave your memories, probably why poetry is more about leaving. The poetic act of creation is an attempt to undo something. When that’s not possible, we leave.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Reading at Bergamot Station

I'm doing a poetry reading with Richard Garcia and Katherine Williams at the Frank Pictures Gallery in Bergmot Station on Thursday, Dec 17th, 7:45. I'll hope you'll drop in. I promise not to be boring.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009



My father was dedicated to his work.

No one painted more perfect dots

on dice or better understood their language.

One black dot is the doorknob death uses to enter.

Two are a man’s fists behind his back.

Three, a man and woman with a child.

Four explains a tragedy. Five is a parade of

desperate women in snow. Six, an orchestra of ants

performing the symphony of human emotion.

All of this on a single die? I asked.

“Yes,” he said, “the world is a small place.”

First appeared in The Black Warrior Review, University of Alabama, Vol. 25 No. 2, Spring/Summer 1999; and is also in The Soup of Something Missing.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Inspiration is for amateurs*. You make a decision to be a poet, writer, artist, what-not, and then you do the work.

I was in the checkout line at the supermarket**. The checkout girl told me she wrote a short story. I offered encouragement and suggested she write more. “No, no,” she was adamant, “I’m not like you and never feel inspired.” Inspiration has nothing to do with it.

Perhaps I’m the odd man out. Perhaps I’m the only poet who isn’t inspired. I love reading poems and scribbling them in notebooks. Love thinking long and hard about poetic possibilities. Love testing the limits of language. And I would love for an inspiring moment to move my pen. But it doesn’t. Do great basketball players only launch themselves at the net, spring above others to dunk a basket because they’re inspired? Poetry is work. Work you – hopefully – love. So you do it.

I have to back-peddle just a little.

When I first became a copywriter I read many books about writing, the best of them was The Writer’s Art by James J. Kilpatrick. Somewhere in the book he said that the best writers were poets; no one pays more attention to writing then a poet. To me, back then, poetry was rhyming thoughts about love and flowers. Nothing an ex-paratrooper sort of man would be interested in. Kilpatrick suggested that if you want to be a great writer you should take a poetry class, even if you never wrote a poem after the class, your prose would be better for it.

Then someone died. Someone always dies. A poet died and they read some of his poems on the radio. They didn’t rhyme. They said he was a poet! Something was wrong.

I was wrong. Instead of what I was expecting, the poems struck me as beautifully written***, powerful short stories. I immediately flashed back to the Kilpatrick book, the best writers were poets. Right then and there# I decided I would take, suffer, a poetry class to make me a better advertising writer##. The following day I drove to Westwood and enrolled in a poetry class at UCLA Extension.

Austin Strauss was the instructor. Every Thursday night we met in the basement of a church on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. The first night Strauss read us The Death of Ball Turret Gunner by Randall Jarrell and Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminally Insane by Etheridge Knight. The world stopped. I swear it did.

I had found something to devote my life to. Or it might be more accurate to say something to devote my life to found me. Of course, it sounds corny. But it’s true.

Perhaps it’s fair to say that inspiration found me that night.

There are forces at work in the world that cannot be explained. Science and religion argue about some of them. Poetry tends to steer clear of this argument.

Though my original point was that I don’t believe in inspiration I suspect the previous does suggest that on that night in a church basement in Beverly Hills I was inspired.

An artist must live an inspired life.

Opening yours eyes in the morning, that’s inspiring.

Live fully engaged with the world. "A poet looks at the world the way a man looks at a woman. " Wallace Stevens said that.

*Not that I’m suggesting that there really is anything like a “professional” poet. Most poets make living as teachers. Yes, I know Billy Collins probably make a lot of money from his books. And while I’m on the subject, Charles Simic, Mark Strand, W.S. Merwin and a few others do so. Though all of them, with the exception of Merwin where college professors.** I lived just down the street for a dozen years, had been in there probably three times before and knew many of the employees. If I remember correctly, I went to dinner with this woman previous to this conversation.

*** Though back then I would probably have not used the word “beautiful” to describe writing.

# I remember exactly where I was when I made the decision, I was in my car driving north on Laurel Canyon Blvd in Studio City, California, on my way home from work. I was listening to NPR as I always did, and still do.

## By the way, I am a better, in fact, great ad writer for it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Death Obscura, a new book.

I'm thrilled to announce that Sarabande Books is publishing, Death Obscura, my second full-length collection of poems in the fall of 2010.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

In the Apartment Above the Butcher Shop

(First appeared Fine Madness, Issue 26, 2001, pg 34. And is also in The Soup of Something Missing.)

In the Apartment Above the Butcher Shop

My mother washed dishes in the bathtub

then bathed me and my brother,

set us on the sofa to watch television.

Black and white washed over us.

At the end of each show Mother sat with us

pointing out good people always win in the end.

By the time I was eight I could hear the difference

between a cleaver chopping a flank of beef, leg of lamb

or the thin ear of a pig. You have to be

a butcher’s son to know why this is important.

My father worked for the butcher,

hanging pigs in the window.

Steel hooks through their cut throats.

Mouths open as if they had one more thing to say.

The headless chickens in the cold

box were always gone by noon, an hour earlier

Father wrapped two chickens in wax paper and newspaper,

put them aside until Mother brought his coffee.

My mother shouted

don’t track blood through the kitchen,

when she heard us come up the stairs.

Outside, shadows quietly battled

for control of the streets

-- a sound often mistaken for wind

dragging newspaper along the sidewalk,

a sound we wouldn’t identify for years.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Woman Not Wearing A Hat

(First appeared in American Poetry Review, Vol. 33/No. 1, Jan/Feb 2004 pg 31; and is also in The Soup of Something Missing.)

The Woman Not Wearing A Hat

For two dollars you could run

your hands through her hair.

That’s what the cardboard sign

between her hands said.

A hat at her feet collected the money.

Wind pushing against her hair forced it to sway.

I dropped my two dollars in and grabbed

the hair at the back of her neck.

I closed my eyes; she closed hers.

(I don’t recall whose eyes closed first.)

It was the middle of the afternoon.

Perspiration dampened her hair.

I could feel people looking at me.

For years I told people I only did it

so she didn’t feel like she was taking charity.

That’s not exactly true,

for years I wouldn’t tell anyone.

I ran my hand to the top of her head,

turned and left before she opened her eyes.

There’s no telling what a man is willing to pay for.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


(From The Soup of Something Missing.)


After my dog was killed by a car

my parents gave me a baby sperm whale.

In a small wooden boat,

father on one oar, mother on the other,

we rowed past the swells.

The only sound was the oars’ monotonous

work followed by the sigh

of the ocean pushed behind.

When it passed beneath

mother shouted “there, there”

and pointed at the large dark shape.

Father took photos with an old Instamatic.

On the way back to shore,

the only thing spoken

was by mother who asked

if I named it and I had.

Hell's Hell

(First appeared in Doubletake Magazine, Issue 8, Spring 1997, pg. 56; and is also in The Soup of Something Missing.)

Hell's Hell

A waitress clears away the midday plates.
The skinny cook sweats and scrapes grease off the grill,
stopping only for a drink of cold water.
The bottom corner of the restaurant’s window is broken.
The owner’s been meaning to replace the cardboard patch
with new glass since it broke last year.
The three remaining customers ask for more beer.
They’re talking about robbing the beauty supply store, or the bank

next to it, or the bridal salon, pharmacy or bakery.
Together they have enough money
to buy a gun and some bullets.
This isn’t the first afternoon they made such plans.
Back in December they had the same
conversation as they wiped their bowls
of potato soup with chunks of bread.
But today, again, nothing happens.

Wind pushes against the cardboard patch.
It swings as if on a hinge.
A passing woman leans against the window,
curves a hand at the side of her face to block the sun
and looks inside. She sees the waitress, three customers,
but not the cook who went out back to relieve himself.
The waitress briefly stares at the woman's black silhouette.
Only a moment in hell's hell could be like this.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Poems without titles are like anonymous people. Example, there’s a tall man with long, gray hair standing at the checkout register in the supermarket. You say to yourself, “there’s a tall man with long gray hair standing in line at the checkout register in the supermarket.” Not much there. But if the person has a name, title, everything changes. The example continues, you see the same man but in this version you know his name. You say to yourself. “there’s George Washington standing at the checkout register in the supermarket.” A million ideas are swirling around in your head. Knowing person’s title changes everything. Poems should have titles. “Untitled” is not a title.

Titles in a poem can also function like background music in a movie, atmosphere and tone. The article The adds nobility to a title, and if not nobility then a certain amount of importance.

Titles are a struggle, at least for me. Sometimes I go to a list of interesting words and read the definitions searching for one that might work as a title. The word should aptly describe the emotional, not literal, content of the poem.

René Magritte, the Belgian surrealist often employed and interesting titling strategy for his paintings. He would invite friends for dinner. After eating and a couple of bottles of wine he would invite suggestions for names for a newly completed painting. “The Empire of Lights.” “Threatening Weather.” “The Discover of Fire.” “The Voice of Space.” His titles are poems. I’ve used one as starting point for a poem* and titled it after the painting.

I’m one of the few poets who doesn’t read much Wallace Stevens. This is my diplomatic way of saying I’m not big on his poems. Perhaps I should read him again. I’m getting off the subject. Titles. Stevens was another one great with titles. “The Emperor of Ice Cream.”

Haikus are titles. On my to-do list is write a poem using an ancient haiku as the title. And a poem that is shorter than its title? Why not.

The title of this book says much about my philosophy on titles. Ironmongery.
Titles are poems.

* The Magician's Accomplice
after Magritte

A copper tube hangs from nothing
and hides everything above the shoulders.
Chicken wire surrounds her pale naked body.
Six feet across the stage
her blond hair rises from another tube.
The brown curtain is amazed.
Only the polished wood floor saw
the way her lipstick smudged the cuff of his shirt
as he pressed the soft gag against her mouth,
the way the velvet ropes held her,
the way stage lights smiled
on the curve of the blade.
Mountains sit in the audience
wearing hats made of clouds.

The magician bows.
The accomplice drags the body
through the alley, all the while dreaming
of pulling riddles out of eyes.
The magician dreams of being cut in half
or flying from a black hat past
the ropes that raise mirrors over the city.
The accomplice wants to learn
the magical qualities of murder,
how anyone with a knife in hand
can be a temporary god.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Argonaut Years

The Argonaut Years


She dreamed she pulled her face from my lips
and they tore off, clung to her cheek
like leeches which she immediately ripped from her face.
Embarrassed by the unintended meanness
of the gesture she put them in the palm of my hand
to have them sewn back at a later time.
As she told me the dream
I finished brushing my teeth, spit the last
of the toothpaste and water into the sink.
I was an argonaut in her life, but didn’t mind,
love makes explorers of us all.
The neighbor’s cat left gifts at her door.
On the sidewalk, a broken piano
abandoned three days. A man
walking by stopped to play.
When does the decay set in?


This is when the decay sets in.
I wiped the toothpaste from my face
and kissed her but she pulled her face from my lips
and they tore off, clung to her cheek
like leeches which she immediately ripped from her face.
Embarrassed by the unintended meanness
of the gesture she put them in the palm of my hand
to have them sewn back at a later time.
I held a towel to my bloody face,
wrapped the lips in napkins.
It will be years before she forgives me,
years more before I learn what for.
She returned to bed, sat upright,
her knees pulled to her chest.
Her hands, she waited
until I was gone before washing.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Great clowns move seamlessly between sadness and humor and understand the influence they exert on each other. A clown is grotesque, colorful, outlandish. Isn’t a poem? Though few people have ever hired a poet to read at a birthday party. In medieval Europe clowns could say things poets would be executed for. They probably still could.

I was in a bank in Hollywood, California. Standing in line next to me, a man with a white painted face, red rubber ball on his nose and shoes that extended six inches past the toes and curved up. Other than that the rest of his clothes were typical ¬¬- khaki pants and white collarless shirt. In most other cities the police would have been called. I’ve unsuccessfully attempted to write a poem about this on at three occasions. I wonder if a clown, who after reading one of my poems, ever attempted to perform in the smaller ring at a three ring circus while a man poked at a lion with a chair in the largest ring and chimpanzee juggled in the other . Clowns seems to exercise better sense than poets. And unlike poets, most clowns have little to say. Body language, expressions, and props carry the performance. The narrative is based in image. Often there’s music like in a poem, music does more than contribute noise.

A poet is like a clown except not nearly as brave.

“Writers are a little below clowns and little above trained seals,” John Steinbeck.

The white-faced clown is often the serious member of the troop. A sonnet would be this clown. A traditional sonnet is in iambic pentameter as a traditional white-faced clown has red ears. The similarities between clowns and poems are numerous. Prose poems would be auguste type clowns, he is the fool and lower, much lower, down the clown social scale than white-face. As there are forms of poems there are other forms of clowns.

I considered compiling a list of poems about clowns but what would be the point? Though I did compile a list of poets who at one time or another performed as clowns, make-up and all. The length of the list did not surprise me. Subsequently, each wrote to me asking not to be included on this list. This also did not surprise me.

The oldest clown registry in the world is the Egg Register in England; hundreds of years older than the International Poetry Registry and Administration in Geneva, Switzerland. Fear of clowns is called coulrophobia. Fear of poetry is more prevalent though without a name. I plan to create one soon.

There is much to be said for location. One of my favorite places to write is at the kitchen table at night. Something should be said about dress. What if put on baggy pants held up by suspenders and painted my face? What if I dressed like that while I wrote?

The man holding defibulator paddles hunched over the heart attack victim has bright orange hair, a bold stripped shirt and sad black lips painted on the bottom of his face. Saturday night, two clowns sit in a movie theater holding hands. In the jury box, three people in white-face with red ears and rubber noses. Without saying a word, image changes narrative.

The expression “clowning around” deserves more respect.

“A clown is like an aspirin, only he works twice as fast,” Groucho Marx. A poem is like an anti-depressant except it has more side-effects. A poem is liquor except the hangover lasts longer.
A man wearing a white shirt with a large frilly red color stands at the back of a bus slowly making its way through the early evening traffic in Brooklyn. He juggles bowling ball pins. Everyone on the bus watches. Three rows up from him a woman is writing a poem in a notebook. Just a guess, she could be writing a story or the explanation as to why she’s leaving her boyfriend. I am convinced she was writing a poem. The way her face lifted from the notebook and momentarily started at the passing streets, a poet looking for an image. I missed my stop, was busy watching her write.

Desperate Men

(First appeared in Quarterly West, University of Utah, No. 47, Autumn/Winter 1998-99, pg. 4; and is also in The Soup of Something Missing.)

Desperate Men

The strangers worked nineteen hours building a chimney on the roof, pausing only to wave at a curious neighbor or eat a sandwich lunch. It didn’t matter that the house already had a chimney, they built another beside it. No explanation was offered. All the while, the occupants of the house were held at gun-point at the kitchen table. Once the chimney was completed, the strangers tied up their victims and fled. Police found no clues and could only say it was the work of professionals. It was suspected this was the same gang that held a rural family captive for eleven days while they added a second-story extension to their house.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Woman Not Wearing A Hat

(Appeared in the American Poetry Review Vol. 33/No. 1, Jan/Feb 2004 pg 31; and is also in The Soup of Something Missing.)

The Woman Not Wearing A Hat

For two dollars you could run
your hands through her hair.
That’s what the cardboard sign
between her hands said.
A hat at her feet collected the money.
Wind pushing against her hair forced it to sway.
I dropped my two dollars in and grabbed
the hair at the back of her neck.
I closed my eyes; she closed hers.
(I don’t recall whose eyes closed first.)
It was the middle of the afternoon.
Perspiration dampened her hair.
I could feel people looking at me.
For years I told people I only did it
so she didn’t feel like she was taking charity.
That’s not exactly true,
for years I wouldn’t tell anyone.
I ran my hand to the top of her head,
turned and left before she opened her eyes.
There’s no telling what a man is willing to pay for.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Toy Soldiers

(from the Soup of Something Missing)

The Toy Soldiers

When he returned home he found
the toy soldiers had left,
one hundred plastic men
carrying their belongings
in sacks thrown over the shoulder
like a retreating army carries
the essentials of running away:
extra socks, blanket, stale bread,
wallets taken from the dead
to be returned as a consolation prize.
Hadn’t he nailed the windows shut?
Tied the mean dog to the door?
He began to notice other things were missing.
Laces from the black shoe under the chair,
its eyes empty, agape,
a dead man’s toothless mouth.
There was no conversation,
there was just the sound of a woman
brushing her long black hair,
a car coming to a stop,
crows flying off the telephone wires,
dust lifting from their wings.
Later, he’ll tell a friend that’s what it felt like,
dust lifting from the wings.
This was how he invented forgetting.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Heroine In Repose

(First published in the New Ohio Review, University of Ohio)

Heroine in Repose

I wasn’t sure if she kissed me
or simply used her lips
to push my face away. Yes,
the moist warmth was enjoyable,
but when my head was forced
back over the top of the sofa
the intention grayed.

Earlier that day I planned
to quit my job and pursue
a career writing romantic novels
that would be confused as memoirs.
But if I couldn’t distinguish
between a kiss and a push
what chance do I have
of writing romantic novels
that would be confused as memoirs?

After the kiss, and I prefer
to think it was a kiss,
she sank back into the pillows
and watched me
out of the corner of her eye.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Techniques of Immortality

What’s the life expectancy of a poem? Twenty-seven minutes. Yes, the life expectancy of a poem is only twenty-seven minutes. Most poems, according to the International Poetry Registry and Administration in Geneva, Switzerland, are not written by poets. Lines of poetry are unknowingly scribbled by all sorts of people on all sorts of things, and immediately thrown away. Of course, poets would say that a poem is immortal. Twenty-seven minutes is an average*. Considering that this average takes into account Horace, Sappho and Shakespeare you could probably guess that millions of poems race from birth to trash in seconds. Most go to their fates never knowing they were poems. For the vast majority, that’s as should be. For the minority, sadness. Think of all the great lines of poetry you and I will never read! It’s upsetting to think that there are people who don’t know that they’ve created something beautiful.

Darker poems live longer. A suspicion on my part. Poems first composed in notebooks live longer still. Fact. Manual typewriters have the same effect. I hope their scarcity doesn’t bode badly for poetry. Wondering about the life expectancy of a poem while writing is similar to having sex and wondering about the life expectancy of the possible progeny. Since poems live longer than ideas it’s best to write without them.

So, exactly how many poems are you expected to write in a lifetime? How long will you live? Keep each pair of shoes you’ve ever worn and you’ll live forever. Each night before sleep, take five deep breaths, hold the last breath for seventeen seconds and you’ll live to 102**. On a small Greek island they believe the color blue is essential to longevity.

If someone neatly tears your poem from a magazine and carries it in their pocket for two days you’ll live an extra week. If someone memorizes your poem you gain an extra month. If the memorization is the result of a school assignment you gain nothing.

A few years ago an article in the New York Times discussed the life expectancy of various types of artists. It was a slow news day. Poets have the shortest life expectancy. No surprise. At least half a dozen people sent me the article.

* Remove all the poems in the Norton Anthology from the equation, what then would the average life expectancy be? I called the International Poetry Registry and Administration in Geneva, Switzerland, and left a message with a secretary. After not hearing back for three weeks I wrote to them, included an SASE, still no reply. Some of my poems are twenty-five years old. Though none of my good, or what I think of as good, have hit this ripe old age.
** You must start this by your twenty-ninth birthday for it to work.

Monday, May 25, 2009


I’m still working hard at attempting to understand the differences between photography and poetry. After years on the subject, the one, and one of the few things, I’m convinced of is that there aren’t as many as you think. One is supposedly a visual art, the other a literary art; at least that’s what most people would say. But they would be wrong! You see a poem and you read a photograph.

My undergraduate degree is a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. I was taking photographs before I began writing poems, and not just to make money. I wandered through days and weeks with a camera to my eye through four years of the army, sometimes pretending that some of the photo I took were actually art. Back then I consciously thought of myself as a poet who didn’t write poems but instead photographed them. Eventually, I became a copywriter, and then a poet. Photography took up less and less time in my life*. There was a tipping point, after that I thought of myself as a photographer who didn’t take photographs, instead wrote out his photographs. Though my nostalgia for all things photographic infected my poetic life in an unexpected way. I wrote The Myth of Photography*, a book-length poem that re-examined – and at times, re-imagined – the history of photography; and let the result mingle with memoir.

Photography is a primitive form of time machine. Poetry is always in the present tense, though it is often written in the past tense. The emotional experience of reading a poem is immediate. Just because they are called still photographs doesn’t mean they can’t move.

People should pose for poems in the same way they pose for photographs. As of yet I haven’t hired a beautiful woman to sit naked in a large red chair in front of me so I could write a poem but I have every intention of doing so. A hand gun laying beside a folded newspaper, half-eaten apple and five bullets scattered about, morning light pouring in through the window – this will be the first in a series of still life poems I plan to write.

Imagine the entire world, each and every tree, person, building and cloud in one photograph. Now begin taking things out. Take out billions of things. Keep removing until you’re left with a woman standing under a streetlight at night. She’s smoking a cigarette. Her arms are folded just under her chest. Behind her is a 24 hour Laundromat. That’s a how a photography works, edit out everything except your subject. Outside of the view finder the rest of the world might exist but outside the photograph there’s nothing. Elliot Erwitt said “photography is simply about seeing.” See something interesting and press the shutter release button. Poetry works the same way. Imagine each and every word in the dictionary forming the uncountable amount of images and thoughts that make up the world** . Now start to remove things, remove words, and then remove more words. What you don’t say in poem is as vital as what you do, well, almost.

I find it comforting to discuss a poem as if I were discussing a photograph and vice versa.

*Today I again think of myself as a real photographer, shoot with a Canon 5D and print with an Epson 2880.
**Sections of the poem have been published in the Southern Review, Washington Square, Main Street Rag, Lake Effect and Agni (online).
*** The world available to poetry is much larger than that available to photography in that poets can write about the past in a way that photographers cannot photograph it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


While the sun makes no sound, at night I hear the moon scrape against my window. There was a time, long before we were here, that Moon was much closer to earth. Everything was better because of that. Since then, Moon has moved to a position some 250,000 miles away. Though don’t underestimate its importance. We need each other, Moon and earth; Moon and I. Anything written in Moonlight is off to a richer start than what might be written under other circumstances. It is a ridiculous oversight on behalf of Whoever that the sun is vital to life on earth in a way that the Moon never was. Strangely, as I wrote that line I was overwhelmed with an uncomfortable sensation. I am a poet of Moon10 and feel that I have just betrayed a lover.

Let me start over.

Man has been attracted to Moon in a way we never have to the sun. Yes, the sun is farther but that’s not the only reason there is little discussion about visiting. The sun possesses little poetry. Moon is rich, its topography a poetic table of contents. Earth has the Pacific Ocean, Moon has the Ocean of Storms11. Earth has the South China Sea. Moon has the Sea That Has Become Known. What I might write on a bamboo raft adrift in the Sea of Crisis! The Sea of the Edge is a place no man has returned from! Though men have returned from the Sea of Tranquility. Sea of Clouds. The Foaming Sea. Federico Garcia Lorca was a poet of the Moon*. The night he was murdered I’m convinced he fell into a puddle of Moonlight. I’ll probably never wade though the Marsh of Epidemics but I will write as if I have. Make Moon a planet, that’s what I say! One night in North Carolina I threw a rock at Moon. I apologize. I was drunk. And I was young. I’ve seen Moon in a bright morning sky. You’ve never seen the sun in a dark night sky. Ian Randall Wilson** has complained about my use of Moon. In fairness to his concerns Moon as metaphor, simile, pawn of figuration or whatnot does border on sentimentality. This is a border I have hopefully not crossed.

* The Moon of the Difficult Work

The moon like a puddle of milk.
If you toss a cup of moon into the air
what will it come down as?
The moon like a pale breast.
The moon like a hole in the black sky.
The moon like paper discarded by a hole punch.
Like the back of my eye, the moon, held between dark fingers.
The moon like a stranger.
The moon like a friend.
The moon like something forgotten.
The moon, a welt in the sky.
The moon is swollen.
The moon sinks
The moon sings.
The moon is the sky’s graveyard.
If there were no moon, would the sky need a new name?
Would that name be moon?
The moon of seven days ago.
The moon in another man’s poem.
The moon where I hang my hat.
The moon, what I reach for after I spit
in my hands and begin the difficult work.

** Ocean of Storms

A shark’s tooth in a previous life,
I shivered in the mouth’s broad horizon.
Felt electric fear as I sliced flesh.
Warmth blossomed.
I could taste the depths.
If I could I’d dig a hole
in the water for a dry grave.

In the next life I want to be
a tooth in a shark’s mouth
hunting an ocean on the moon.
Wreckage like praise.
Sublime fable.
The difference between
immortality and grief is delicate.

Friday, May 8, 2009


We parked on the side of Mulholland Drive, above the San Fernando Valley. Two in the morning. Only a couple of minutes into our commotion, the point you’re committed to the conclusion but clothes remain wrapped around legs and arms, not yet completely shed; a tapping on the window, a California Highway Patrolman and a flashlight. This is not about lust. Cars are the topic. So far, I’ve owned nine in my life. At one time or another, slept in three of them; also had sex in three. To me, a car is utilitarian, never saw them as status symbols. Most other people do. Currently, I drive a hybrid, my commute is fifty miles each day.

I’ve never written a poem about a car, though in one poem* a car co-stars. My favorite line that I’ve written that involves a car, “The bank robber fell asleep at the wheel of his getaway car.” The rest of the poem** has nothing to do with cars.

The first car was invented in Germany, 1886, by Karl Friedrich Benz. A four cycle internal combustion gasoline-powered engine drove a small chassis with three wheels. Top speed, 8 miles per hour. It’s much more difficult to establish the first car poem. And the first poem?

Was it Harold or Patrick who told me that a car is a monastery? Was it the front or rear tire that I urinated on in reply? Context is everything. There is a misunderstanding. Poetry in motion has nothing to do with poetry; nothing to do with cars, either. Many of the world’s most accomplished car designers are trained at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, by coincidence, the college I graduated. Large, glass-walled rooms, boys in wrinkled shirts sculpting quarter-scale cars from damp clay. Isn’t everything made this way, sculpted? Yes. If a car begins as damp clay, how does a poem begin?

Driving to work just as the sun was making its way over the Santa Monica Mountains, two lanes over, a silver Jaguar was sliding down the freeway just a tad faster than I was. Relative speed made it seem like it was doing ten miles per hour. A swatch of reflected sunlight licked the Jaguar from the front of the hood to the top of the windshield. The windows were tinted, the silhouette of a man with sunglasses was the only the thing visible inside. The dark brown hill lining the freeway was a blur. I’ve never seen a more beautiful car.

A car is not a poem, but a poem could be a car. I’ve driven poems, perhaps more accurate to say, poems have driven me. I’ve tried to write in a car but it never works for me. As soon as I start to scribble poetry in a car a tiredness overwhelms me. My eyelids seem to grow thicker. The other day I arrived to a meeting early, decided to kill twenty minutes sitting in my car. Happened to False Prophets by Stan Rice with me, read two poems, began to write. Within minutes I was asleep.

According to a 2006 story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, a man was found dead sitting behind the wheel of a 1994 Honda Civic on Laurel Drive in Rocky River, Ohio. There was an open notebook in his lap. The police officer on the scene told a reporter it appeared that “the guy was writing a poem, imagine that, dropping dead in a car on a snowy Monday night.” I could imagine that.

* The Invious

An automobile washed up on shore.
Was found laying on the passenger side,
could only imagine the side mirror was crushed;
could only imagine the difficulty
someone would have had climbing out,
if they hadn’t exited prior to the moment
the surf tumbled it into position.
It was found at low tide.
Drying salt water
gave the blue sheet metal
a patchy white sheen.
Seaweed clung to the bumpers
and was caught
under a windshield wiper blade.
The headlights, and this is the strange part,
though faded, still glowed.
A gift from Neptune
or the result of an accident
-- we’ll never know.
There were no witnesses when it arrived.

We tried to imagine
what else might have washed up
but returned to the ocean before dawn.
This was the same beach
where last month a woman walked
out of the water after being missing for seven years.
Her torn white dress clung to her thighs.
She carried her blouse and two broken shoes
that she put on at the road just beyond the sand.
She waved off the two men who rushed to her.
There’s so much we don’t know about the ocean.

** The Short Season of Sleep

A zookeeper carried a bucket of raw meat
into the lion’s cage, then yawned, sat down
and began to doze. The lion was snoring,
its tail sweeping the ground in a dream.

The bank robber fell asleep at the wheel of his getaway car.
The money in the paper bag next to him closed its eyes.
Not even the dentist could resist, eventually resting
his head against the face of a slumbering patient, the small
drill left to twist harmlessly in the cavern of the mouth.

The sleepiness was contagious, drifting from one heavy eyelid to another.
The last thing anyone remembered were the voices of people
singing lullabies as they strolled arm-in-arm through the town.
Not wanting to wake his passengers, the deaf bus driver waved
and didn’t sound his horn as he drove past the choristers.

No one knows what music the bats made that night
as they rose from their cave into the quiet sky
and chased a somnambulist walking along the river.

This was how the short season of sleep came and we discovered
the only difference between sleep and death was the waking up.
The next day this was discussed by everyone except the schoolteacher,
who remained at the desk in front of the classroom, her head tucked
into the fold of an arm, her blond hair moving with the breeze.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Seaport Diner, Port Jefferson Station

(First appeared in Mudfish, a literary journal, though I don’t remember which issue; and is also in The Soup of Something Missing.)

The Seaport Diner, Port Jefferson Station

My mother and a cousin decide to go to The Seaport Diner,
my father’s favorite, for a cup of coffee on New Year’s Eve.
Though he’s been dead for six years, they take him along.
The black marble box that holds his ashes is placed
in a shopping bag, then on their table next to a window.
On another night the waitress might have asked about the box.
But tonight the diner is crowded, she doesn’t notice
that two women asked for three cups of coffee.
There are many ways to suck the marrow out of time’s bones.
This is my mother’s. No one’s seen the inside of the box.
Though at times I’ve thought all of heaven was within.
By refusing to bury it my mother is unwittingly hiding
my father from the devil. At a small table in the center of the box,
my father sits. Ashes piled to his knees, he remembers
flames and fears he’s in hell. If he walked forever
he would discover the wall and on the other side of the wall
my mother’s hand holding the spoon she stirred coffee with.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Original Purpose of the Box

The Original Purpose of the Box

In The Museum of Antiquities,
a guard in a gray uniform stands against the wall.
Once, he heard a woman say “I don’t believe.”
Once, he saw a child grow frightened.
Once, the guard told a man with an old camera
on his shoulder that photographs weren’t allowed.
Invention is a series of tragedies.
The original purpose of the box
was to contain the emptiness.
Though scholars once thought
it was invented as a place to hide

a length of silk, dagger
or a crucifix from a borrowed god.
In the middle of the room
is where the first box sits.
Tragedy is a series of inventions.
Each wall, the nuance of a different disgrace.
The floor, camel tongues stitched together.
The ceiling changed with the weather.
At night the guard takes the box home.
As he rides the bus it sits on his lap
as if it held his lunch or a gift.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


“My father's ghost watches TV in the living room.” This was the first time a ghost appeared in one of my poems, was with this opening line of The Jesus in the Garden.*

Ghosts have been a literary device for thousands of years.** Poets have successfully called upon them time and time again. Shakespeare more successfully leaned on ghosts in his plays than in his poems. The urge to compile an anthology of ghost poems is overwhelming but I’ll leave that to you.

The word ghost, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, didn’t really work its way into the language until about 1590. Back then it meant something else. To ghost was to breathe one’s last, expire, die. Today’s use of the word came later.

Staying on topic, some important facts about ghosts. These are things you must consider to successfully write about them. A man must be dead fifteen years before he is eligible to be a ghost, eighteen are required for a woman. No explanation as to the difference.*** The biology of the dead have yet to be studied with the necessary rigor. Ghosts cannot talk. Ghosts simply watch. If you want someone to return as a ghost bury them with an umbrella. This increases the chances by thirty-two percent. Researchers working independently of each in three different countries came to this same conclusion. “Haunting” is a construct of the living and something never practiced by a ghost. That noise you heard the other night was mostly likely a burglar or a cat knocking something over.

Identity thief is rampant among ghosts. Nothing to do with monetary gain. Somewhere in the transition from living to dead to ghost a giant confusion takes place. The ghost of a thirty-seven year old taxi driver from Buffalo, New York, who was murdered could take on the history and consciousness of a twenty-two year old Japanese from Tokyo who died of cancer. Imagine the dismay of a young Japanese man when the ghost of the taxi driver recounts their moments of intimacy. It would be impossible to convince the taxi driver he isn’t the Japanese girl. Ghosts don’t do this on purpose. I was attempting humor when I called this identity thief. Things like this happen all the time. Consider the imagistic nature of poetry and this could be a problem in a narrative poem that insists on an authentic confessional point of view.

A noise in the hall woke me. This was many years ago. I lived alone in an apartment in North Hollywood, California. The sound resembled that of a stick hitting a wall, was coming from the hallway leading to the bedroom. Just as I lifted my head from the pillow Rocky ran in. My father’s Great Dane. Rocky was large, even for a Great Dane. When his tail hit the wall it always sound like someone was banging on the wall with a stick. Rocky died of a heart attack years earlier, around the time my father was first diagnosed with cancer. I was so happy to see him I began to cry. He squirmed in my arms and climbed on the bed as I hugged him. His wildly wagging tail swept things from the table beside the bed. A minute later he turned, ran down the hall and disappeared.

The next night. I don’t remember what woke me, but I lay in the dark with my eyes close. Someone sat beside me on the bed. I could feel that persons weight push the side of the bed lower. I didn’t move. I didn’t look. I didn’t have to. Intuitively I knew. My father. My father’s ghost was sitting on the side of the bed looking at me.

When my father died of cancer six years earlier I lived in a different apartment, but in the same building. Four years after he died I moved into a two bedroom. The night before this he sent Rocky to find me.

The part of this that confuses me is that this was about six years after his death. Since than I have come to learn a man must be dead fifteen years before he could become a ghost. There is still so much we don’t know about ghosts.

Now, tell me a ghost story.

*The Jesus in the Garden
My father's ghost watches TV in the living room.
My mother's in the bathroom, busy cutting her throat.
Supper will be late. In the garden, my brother practices
the violin next to a statue of Jesus. Concrete robe, arms
outstretched for stain. I imagine Jesus standing
for the sculptor. Arms heavy without wood
to lift them. Boredom closes my eyes. There's a crucifix
above my bedroom door. At night, the tiny Jesus
struggles nails from his hands and falls. He reads the bible
and complains. By morning he's back on the cross.
There's hammering in the basement. My grandfather
builds oak tables for his daughters, makes them round
as a heavy moon, too large to fit through the door;
then smoothes the wood with his palms,
rubs blood into its pores. My brother plays
a few notes of hysteria, the garden's favorite music.

** The International Poetry Registry and Administration, Geneva, Switzerland, indicates that the first poem with a ghost in it was written in 1343 B.C. Only two fragments of the poem remain, “return to where / and prayer” followed by what seems to be nine lines later “the ghost of that daughter/ loved, yes and”

***Domesticated animals, dogs and cats, have been proven to become ghosts, and there is no waiting period for them. There are documented cases of wild animals becoming ghosts.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Then What

First published in the New Orleans Review, Loyola University, Vol. 33, Number 2, 2008, pg. 172

Then What
for M.

Four years after burying the cat she decided to dig its remians.
The gardening spade used to plant flowers along the porch,
she would dig with that. Surely the skeleton would tell her
something, but if it didn’t, then what? When she pushed
the spade into the ground the moon was low
over her shoulder, like her father. Below the roots
of grass the earth was soft. She dug with her hands.
Isn’t it enough to be curious? That would be the answer if questioned,
though she didn’t plan to share this with many.
And behind her on the clothesline, a blouse and the white underwear
she meant to retrieve earlier but was distracted by a phone call.
She remembered the grave deeper, but in minutes
touched something brittle and curved. The underwear billowed
in a breeze that grew into a gust and glowed over her and the grave.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


In the last three weeks I’ve drawn nineteen self-portraits. Two resemble me; a third almost does. I prefer charcoal to pencil. In the mirror my left eyebrow is an upside down checkmark laying on its side. In a photograph it’s flat, as it turns with the side of my head it drops off like the shallow slope of ridge. A raised eyebrow indicates suspicion. The only possible explanation is that when I look at myself in a mirror I look at myself with suspicion. What would a self-portrait teach you about yourself?

Poems are self-portraits.

In Picasso’s 1907 he captured his nose, eyes and forehead.

The mirror sits on the table; a Stanford drawing pad, four charcoal pencils, razor for sharpening, kneaded eraser, and a steel ruler are also on the table. Other things on the table include a glass of chardonnay and an ashtray with a smoldering Santa Damiana cigar. My eyes vowels. My nose is a consonant.

There was a time I believed if I wrote a self-portrait, I mean a detailed life-like rendering in nouns and verbs, it would be a prose poem. I no longer believe that. Now I’m positive it would be a lyric poem broken in two stanzas of six lines and forty-one words each. A face is always formal. Self-portraits are always confessions.

Vincent Van Gogh did thirty-eight self-portraits. He hides his face in none of them. I’m using the word hides in the most literal sense. There are more important meanings and innuendos for “hides” and none would be incorrect.

I’m absolutely positive that Keat’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is a self-portrait.

Try describing yourself, your face, in twenty-nine words. Explain your hands without using an adjective.

When was the last time you read “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” by John Ashbery?

Each word you write becomes your personal property. No one would deny that our possessions speak loudly about us. I sat in a chair and wrote eleven lines describing the bookcase on the other side of the room. Each book was looking out at me from its spine and doing the same.

When writing your self-portrait do not start with “I am.” Never use a roller ball pen to write a self-portrait. Never write a self-portrait in the afternoon. Rules are important as they are reliable frames.

The Son of Man was the title of Renee Magritte’s self-portrait. In the painting he wears a bowler and a suit and stands in front of a wall, the sea is behind the wall, and his face is behind a large green apple. Self-portraits are poems. The poet is not required to reveal himself in a poem.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Submitting poems to literary journals.

Sooner or later, everyone writing poems sends them to a literary journal. Without fail, editors or readers at these journals stuff the vast majority of these poems into an SASE and return them to the poet with a cursory and, often abrupt, rejection. Long live poetry.

Today I received a rejection in the mail. At least, I think it was a rejection. The envelope was clearly the SASE I sent with my poems. The same rubber stamp was used to address both the recipient and return address. But there was nothing inside. The editor returned an empty envelope.

Perhaps this would be a good time to ask yourself why you write poems. Perhaps the empty envelope was a code. I wasn’t trained as a code breaker in the army but I’ve read enough spy novels to attempt deciphering the emptiness. And I think I’ve figured it out. It works something like this. If the SASE contains an actual rejection note, the message is clear. He doesn’t want the poems. If the only thing in the envelope is a short length of green yarn the editor is undecided and is asking for an additional eight months to make a decision. If the yarn is blue you’re expected to send five more poems. Opening an envelope only to discover nothing inside is code for “I love your poems and will publish all that you sent.” I’ve gotten empty envelopes from literary journals four other times over the years. With these others it turned out not to be code for “I love your poems and will publish all that you sent.” This time I’m being optimistic.

Consider Van Gogh’s sales record. If he was a poet he would have published only two poems. Do you feel better?

Don’t take this as complaining. As far as being published goes I haven’t been as lucky as some but have been luckier than many. The word luck causally isn’t being used casually.

I sent a manuscript to one of the better-known presses. Five weeks later. “… finances prohibit us from publishing anything else for the rest of the year … send it back next year we’ll read it with an eye on publishing it …” I set my computer to remind me to send it back to them exactly one year to the day. And exactly one year to the day I dropped it in the mail. “Your voice no longer fits our editorial vision.” It took about a month to get that reply.

Before any of my poems were published I was happy simply writing and sharing them with the poet community I surrounded myself with. I thought it would be nice to be published but that wasn’t a deal breaker.

I stuffed five poems in an envelope with an SASE and cover letter and sent them off to a journal somewhere in the middle of the country. One week later I put the exact same poems along with the exact same cover letter in another envelope to the exact same journal. This gives me meaning to the term simultaneous submission. I printed out two copies of the cover letter, one remained on my desk. I made about a dozen other submission the day I sent to the journal that would soon hear from me again. Making it somewhat understandable how I might have forget that I sent to them when a cover letter remained on my desk. Five weeks later I got a reply. A standard, impersonal-good-luck-in-your-future-endeavors. No comments about the duplicate submission. A week later. The SASE from the second submission and an enclosed letter, “thank you for thinking of us … we would like to publish three of your poems.”

Has there ever been a group of people anxious to work for free like today’s poets?

Inside the SASE was a small torn piece of paper, roughly two inches by one, seemed to be the top left from a larger piece. The name and address of the journal was faintly rubberstamped there. Hmmm. I wrote and asked if the rest of the page was mistakenly torn away. Of course, I sent an SASE with my question. The reply was quick. Inside the standard number ten envelope was another small, very small, torn piece of paper with a scribble of an answer. No, what I originally reviewed was not a mistake. It was his way of saying he “didn’t want the poems.” I sent him 500 sheets of high-quality paper, twenty-five pounds, ninety-four brightness, with a note saying that I understood the economics of publishing a literary journal and the paper was a donation.

The list of journals that treat poets with respect and I am grateful to for publishing me is much too long to include. That so many poets run the gauntlet and continue to submit to is testament to our need for attention or our desire to share. Either way, I’m happy you send them out. I subscribe to about a dozen journals on a regular basis and often try others on a rotational basis.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

In Fact by Yannis Ritsos

I sat with my mom (who reads Greek) and a Greek/English dictionary and we did this translation, another poem from Muted Poems.

In Fact

Did you hear the bird
at that height?
It was him.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Speech by Yannis Ritsos

This is another Yannis Ritsos poem from his book Muted Poems. Translated with the help of an aunt who reads Greek.


No excuses, he said, no regrets, next to the washroom
you hear her washing herself, the thin old woman.
She placed her three rings on the still damp glass shelf
and her false teeth on the washbowl lid. Outside the sun
is humming between the trees and above three birds are shouting,
they can’t see the three drowned in the well below
– the same three whose swollen stomachs our two fingers touched.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Small Promise by Yannis Ritsos

I've begun translating some Yannis Ritsos poems from his book Muted Poems. I'm doing this with the help of an aunt and my mom who both read Greek. Ritsos was, is, a truly great poet. Happens to be my favorite.

Small Promise

Trees, mountains, the street sign on the yellow pole,
the green in the fog was the hills below. You looked,
didn’t see. That hidden absence that hid the view
until morning came out, and from the wall the old woman with the basket
took the eggs one by one, studied them
and threw, as hard as she could, against the wall.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


First appeared in The Iowa Review, University of Iowa, Vol. 37, No. 3, Winter 2007/08, pg. 135.


I bought a nine year old pickup truck
for the convenience of Judas,
the one hundred year old tortoise
she gave me when she left.
Two or three times a week,
I took Judas to the ocean.
He rode in a plastic wading pool
filled with water that I secured in the bed.
Awkward and slow on land,
his four hundred pounds curved
through the swollen ocean’s clouds graceful
as a ballerina in an old Dutch painting.
The red that blossoms from hands
when you nail a man to water is a map.
I held the sides of his shell, followed like a cape
through schools of silver fish, through
the thermocline’s floor, through dark-patches
where whatever sinks sinks faster.
Deep in the ocean it rains, Judas showed me.
Deep in the ocean nurses sleep in salt-crusted caves,
Judas showed me. I held breath
in the balloon of my mouth.
This is where I first thought sacrifice.
I was a shoe box filled with the past,
Judas showed me this, too.
Notice how briefly she was in this narrative.
Ascending, air expands in the lungs.
Ascending, a survival principle.
This, of course, is a theory. Other theories
include providence and literature.
Squeeze a beating heart tight as you can
and you’ll fall asleep; yes,
for this there is no explanation.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Sitting in the lobby of the Chicago Hilton,* a poet from Houston told me her Muse was a pair of shoes. “Huh?” “Shoes, I put them on and feel inspired.” I shook my head. “Would you mind if I wrote a poem about that, you and your shoes?” “They’re silver, high-heeled Ferragamos, around $3,000.”

The Muses are from Greek mythology. There are nine: Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia and Urania. There father was Zeus; mother, Mnemosyne. They were on the payroll to inspire artists, musicians, writers and poets. It’s been about 2,500 years. Artists have credited them to varying degrees. Unfortunately, there have been cutbacks. None of the original nine remain employed.

What’s a poet to do?

I stand by everything I previously said about inspiration. Nutshell, inspiration is for amateurs.

There is a difference between inspiration and The Muse, or A Muse. A Muse is what you are moved to write about. What moves you to write would be called inspiration. I could hear you slapping your hand on your desk, “subject is not a Muse.” Yes, it is. I’m glad we cleared that up.**

The last two years have found me writing many surrealistic love poems. Rereading the bunch, most are a about a specific woman long gone from my life. Strange, I didn’t write about her while we were together. Pain is an effective Muse. Yes, the person returning your love can be a Muse, but he or she often becomes The Muse of sentimental poetry. Yehuda Amichai said when he was in love he wrote war poems, when in war, wrote love poems. War is a Muse.

The woman in the lobby of the Chicago Hilton also told me that she wrote four poems about her shoes. One of the poems was about her wearing only the shoes and writing a poem. Is that art imitating life? Two years previous to this conversation I wrote a poem† about a woman taking a shower while wearing a pair of red shoes. The Muse for this poem is a woman I dated. Malicious women make more effective Muses. I know what you’re thinking, “get over it, Rick.”

I own ninety-two fountain pens. Whenever I begin to scribble with one I want to write a poem. Muse. Whenever I look at a photograph by Michael Kenna I want to write a poem. Muse. Later tonight I plan to sit in my favorite chair, smoke a cigar and scribble line-after-line of what I hope will be a poem. No Muse.

* I was there for the 2009 AWP.
** Since we’re putting our cards on the table, do you really believe Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia and Urania ever existed? I do.
Originally appeared in the New Orleans Review, Loyola University, Vol. 33, Number 2, 2008
The Virtu
This wasn’t the first time I watched a woman
wear high heels in the shower.
Closed-toe this time, her toes weren’t painted
and she didn’t want anyone to see.
After she told me this her head tilted back.
Water masked her face in a way
not possible if she was still turned
to me as I stood at the sink shaving
-- or I might have been brushing my teeth,
either way, an inconsequential detail.
Water darkened the red shoes.
Though the damaged world spun beneath,
her balance, of course, was perfect.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Encyclopedia of Sand

The Encyclopedia of Sand
for Kathy

Abandoned Silica, the most migratory, is found
on nearly all of the world’s beaches.
Morning Sand is the most rare,
its extreme heaviness prevents migration.
Carried aboard Greek warships
between the toes of soldiers
fleeing the Persians, its weight
forced eleven ships to the floor of the ocean.
From a public phone on a wooden dock
in Costa Brava at four in the morning,
she reads to me, The Encyclopedia of Sand,
a small book she found
in the airport in Frankfurt.

If I lay my hand on the map
she is the distance from my forefinger
to the heel of the palm.
The moon scrapes my knuckles.
In the lulls between her words
I hear the ocean fling itself at the shore
like a drowning man. She takes off her shoes,
pours out sand to see if it resembles any in the book.
Behind her a passenger ship is moving away.
She doesn’t see it but I do.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Plan

(First appeared in the Harvard Review, Harvard University, No. 14, 1998, pg. 91; and is also in The Soup of Something Missing.)

The Plan

I walked into my apartment after work and my left foot was immediately overwhelmed by the warm air. Why didn’t my right foot also enjoy the climate change as quickly? I looked down. My left shoe was missing! I was wearing it when I left the store. No doubt it was stolen by that one-legged bastard Dr. Gorlick. He sat across from me on the bus, eyeing my new shoes as we wove through late afternoon traffic. Not once did he mention the polished leather’s soft glow, the imported style. His envious silence was confession enough. In the few minutes I was asleep -- I always take short naps on buses -- he slipped my shoe off and hid it in his black bag. I know he’ll wear my shoe while he treats patients tomorrow but not on the bus ride home. So I’ll disguise myself as a policeman wounded with a bullet in the stomach. The ambulance will deliver me to his office. My disguise will be so effective that as soon as he finishes treating the wound I’ll arrest him. Before sleep tonight I’ll read a book on police procedure. His crime should not go unpunished because of a technicality on my part.

Monday, February 16, 2009


The difference between memoir and poem is similar to the difference between fire and ashes. Decide for yourself which is which. Ragged chunk of ice and puddle of cold water was my first impulse. Decide for yourself which is which.

Every poem is a memoir. Every memoir is a wish*.

I once knew a man who didn’t know me. No argument in a poem. Memoir requires an explanation. Someone’s written a biography in verse. Haven’t seen it but it’s something I feel as I write this sentence. Considering the economics of publishing it probably won’t be published. Even if it’s brilliant, it probably won’t be published; economics.

The difference between biography and memoir? Biography has a referee.

So, how does this work? I mean memoir. This morning I remember a cranberry scone and cup of coffee. Sixteen years ago? If I was writing a memoir that year would be missing, suggesting what, that I wasn’t alive, or was asleep. Do you write everything in a journal?

Twenty-three years ago? The parking lot behind a movie theater on Ventura Boulevard. It was night. Just stopped raining. I slid my arms around a woman. She pushed her tongue into my mouth. I don’t remember her name. I like to think she remembers mine.

If you don’t remember something it didn’t happen. Every instant falls into the past immediately and immediately memory takes custody. Writing is how we honor memory. Good or bad memories. Writing is honoring the past. The past is everything.

Sometimes, and I mean just sometimes, I write something I didn’t know I remembered. Sometimes, and I mean just sometimes, I write something that causes a hand to reach from my stomach up through my chest and squeeze my heart. As I’m reading, as I’m writing, as the heart tightens, I have no idea why. Hiding behind poems is a convenience.

I’ve written poems that are too personal to dislike, for me, though that doesn’t make them good. Hopefully, I’ve exercised good judgment with them and only inflicted them on very few people. Memoirs are fitting places for apologizes. If I write one the apologies would be pronounced and deep.

“Truth is an unfortunate dilemma.”** Memoir.

*Though it might be more honest to say every memoir is wish on a two-way street. Memory traffics in trickery.
**A Personal History
It's simply a coincidence
that all the women I've ever loved
kept anteaters as pets.
But now, rearranging my past
I tell people it's not a coincidence.
The nuances of a personal history
make a man interesting, subtle differences
that causes a person to pause like a break in the wind.

I only recreate simple details,
things as easy to believe as a passage
from your sister's diary describing
how she gave her virginity to the kid
with curly hair who lived across the street,
the same kid she always ignored.
This was on the afternoon she didn't feel
like going to the movies with you and your
friends. Truth is an unfortunate dilemma.
Take the skin on my face, it's turning
dark as the wrong side of a dime,
walking is becoming difficult.
If I start to limp I'll say it's a war injury.
When properly developed
a past has the aftertaste of candy.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Collections

Appeared in Swink Magazine, Los Angeles, Issue 2, early 2007.

The Collections

I abandoned collecting magnifying glasses
after I sold them to the president
of the Magnifying Glass Collectors of Wisconsin
whom I met by coincidence on a plane
returning from Grandfather’s funeral.
With the magnifying glasses gone
there was more room
for my shadow collection.
My favorite shadow
is of fire hydrant lying across a sidewalk
tangled in the shadow of a bicycle.
I captured it with Scotch tape,
keep it in a cigar box of its own.
It disappoints me, instead of seeing
the shadow most people only see
a knot of tape. I keep the rest
of the collection, nine shadows
to a box, in a kitchen cupboard.

In my family, men have always been collectors.
Grandfather collected violin strings,
owned one thousand and seven when he passed away.
He bought them from school teachers,
violin repairmen, even from children
who hated practicing while friends did fun things.
And Father, he kept stacks of unused bricks
hushed in the weeds behind a shed.
It took me years to understand
that it wasn’t bricks he collected,
like me he collected the shape of absence,
the missing light, the unbuilt things.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Doors are as useful for entering poems as they are for rooms. A lover abandons you, for example. You write a poem. Sadness is the door to the poem. Yes, sophomoric, but clear. Another example. You dream that your father’s ghost visits. How many poems are there about that? Doors, poems. Poems, doors.

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you everything there is important to know about doors.

Doorknobs were invented before doors. When I first heard this I was skeptical, too. This came to my attention while reading a draft of an Alexis Orgera poem. Dinner in a Thai restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica. Alexis and I often dined there. I chuckled a touch at the doorknob line. “No, no, no, Rick, it’s true,” Alexis said quickly. “Come on,” I said even more quickly. Though there was much honesty in her voice I still had difficulty believing doorknobs were invented before doors. According to her poem they were invented almost a thousand years before doors and thousands of miles from where the door would be invented.

Alexis’ sister, Kendall, a college student, had discovered the truth about doorknobs while writing a paper on the dynamics of entering a room*. The history unfolds something like this. On the Greek island of Icaria, I think 1187 BC, a stone was placed at the entrance to an important room. Before entering, a person would pickup the stone and thrust their hand clenching the stone into the room. This was supposed to be a warning to any evil gods inside that they were armed, the stone, and should leave. The Romans adopted this tradition and carried it to what was to become Germany where the door was invented. It’s not hard to see the similarities between stone and doorknob. And as demonstrated earlier, door and poem.

You can force your way into a room. You can’t force your way into a poem. Though many poets have taped a poem to a door then kicked it down. Anger at poems, a force multiplier. In fact, in 1898 the Royal Irish Constabulary, when teaching new members to kick down doors, pinned poems to the about to be assaulted doors**. This practice only lasted five months. To be honest, I am suspect of this fact. But as stated earlier, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you everything important there is to know about doors. Doors, poems. Poems, doors.

The woman who would try to kill me in a matter of minutes stood on the other side of a door. I was asleep on a sofa, the closest to the that door, the person woken her knock. Though now I remember the sound as something that more resembled the palm of a hand slapping cheap wood and not that of thin flesh over knuckles banging on a door.

So much begins that way, a knock on a door. Doors order the world in a way walls could never dream of.

There is always an instant when murderer and victim are on opposite sides of a door. There is always an instant when a poet and poem are on opposite sides of a door.

I couldn’t describe the door. I could describe the room. But I won’t.

Jeans, t-shirt, army-issue socks, dog tags – that’s what I wear. She also wears jeans. The door is only slightly open. She takes a step back, adding another two feet between us. Her shoulder-length brown hair is tousled. The door is only half-open when I see the gun, nickel-plated 9 millimeter semi-automatic pistol. The gun is level with my stomach. She pulls the trigger. The gun is at the height of my shoulder. She pulls the trigger again. I begin to duck and close the door. She tries to point the pistol at my face and pulls the trigger a third time. The door slams. Quiet.

Doors resent locks but appreciate their necessity.

She had never seen me before. Not even in a photograph. She didn’t know my name. I didn’t know hers. It was a mistake. I wasn’t the man she was hoping to kill. She never apologized. The why of this story is unimportant. The role played by the door is what’s important. The door remained closed.

Doors appear in twenty-three of my poems, most prominently in The Burdens. I feel completely confident in saying that all poets eventually write about doors.

* I can’t imagine what her major is.
** I wonder how many of these Constables were poets?
*** (This poem first appeared in Quarterly West, University of Utah, No. 47, Autumn/Winter 1998-99; is also in The Soup of Something Missing.)
The Burdens

The man carrying a door on his back resembles
an insect crawling across the pavement.
Excuse me, he says to a stranger, do you want to buy my door.
My grandfather stole it from prison when he escaped.
Before that it belonged to a brothel.
No, the stranger replies, prison doors are bad luck.
But brothel doors are good luck, the man with the door responds.
The stranger walks away.

The man carrying a door on his back
can’t stand up straight or turn his head
to see the man carrying a window on his back.

The man carrying a window on his back resembles
a streetlight reflected in a puddle.
Excuse me, he says to the man with the door,
do you want to buy my window, it belonged to my sister
she jumped out of it when she was fifteen.
Before that it belonged to a church. A suicide window
is bad luck, says the man with the door.
But a church window is good luck, the man with the window responds.

They trade their burdens the same way the man with a chimney
becomes the man with a staircase on his back
looking for anyone who wants to climb them.