Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Inheritance

The Inheritance

The only known use of a Komodo dragon in war by the United States was in the battle for Okinawa. A ten foot long, 300 pound lizard named Syracuse was trained by Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Barry Fiske. We don’t know how he trained the dragon. Though we do know Fiske’s grandfather was an itinerant preacher who became a lion tamer. We do know, between whip cracks the elder Fiske shouted bible quotes, know the chair other’s kept between themselves and lions is where elder Fiske sat and read sermons to lions. In the Fifth Marine Regiment’s morning report of May 6, 1945, “… Staff Sergeant Fiske led a dragon on a raid against an enemy position at 0200 hours …” Syracuse took the foot of a sleeping Japanese lieutenant before crawling back into the night, bringing the foot, still in its boot, to Fiske. A man in San Diego, California, went 263 hours without sleep, no hallucinations. Japanese soldiers couldn’t duplicate this feat, but fear of the dragon kept them from sleeping for days, deteriorating combat effectiveness. No way of knowing if the Japanese believed Syracuse was acting on orders. The prehistoric nature of fear is handed down the generations. We know Fiske inherited the bible, whip and chair which he carried on Okinawa as talismans. At night mortars exploded above the trees, galaxies growing and disappearing in the black sky. Fiske read the bible to Syracuse at the bottom of their foxhole. After the war, Fiske left the Marine Corps, moved to Los Angeles and became a plumber. In a postcard to one of his sons, he wrote, “a man can make a life with a bible, whip and chair.”

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dean Young

Dean Young, quake-in-your-boots poet and wonderful, kind human, needs a new heart. Please consider donating if you can.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Scarifice

The Scarifice

It was one of those rare tap dancing accidents – I broke both feet while transitioning from a Cincinnati time step to a maxiford with toe. As I love the sound of metal on wood floating through a quiet theater, I was rehearsing in the early morning, dancing next to the curtain where the sound is richer, muffled by the thick cloth. My feet tangled. I fell like a clown wearing bulbous red shoes rolling out of a car in a circus tent. A janitor who was about to begin mopping the aisles called for an ambulance. The driver was an amateur medical historian who had just authored an article on bone density in tap dancers and took me to Doctor Timothy Charlton, one of the few orthopedic surgeons in Los Angeles who specialize in tap dancing injuries. Doctor Charlton shook his head over the x-rays. The calcaneus in each foot pushed into the talus with such force that the nerve endings had been unalterably reversed. He had seen this many times, but only as a result of a faulty double stomp buck time step. My only hope of ever again dancing was for both feet to be amputated and sewn on the opposite leg. Doctor Charlton drew a foot on the x-ray showing me what my right foot would look like on my left leg. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I think people are admiring my shoes when they look down for a touch too long while standing next to me in an elevator. Sometimes I dream of that morning. They wheel me into the operating room. Gene Kelly is there wearing green scrubs. A mask covers the bottom of his face but I recognize his eyes. As he picks up a scalpel he begins to tap his foot and is soon doing a paddle roll. The doctors and nurses join in.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Week of Harsh Holidays

(Originally published in the Hawaii Pacific Review, Hawaii Pacific University, Vol. 14, 2000.)

The Week of Harsh Holidays

Sunday: The Weatherman’s Holiday

In classical times this was the day
men consummated a threat and the season
changed. Bitter men call this Revenge Day.
Greeting cards are expected.

Monday: The Day of The Atoned Rock

Candles burn. Prayers end
with a name. Young girls secretly
relish this day: the possibility of aftermath.

Tuesday: Adulteress’s Day

Who wears a blindfold?
Who’s ear is cut off? Anonymous gifts.

Wednesday: The Festival of Catastrophe

Windows are covered with red crepe paper.
Babies born this day are named after hurricanes.
Lavish parties and dances are held.
Only fast music is played. When this holiday falls
on an even date people buy blankets.

Thursday: The Assassin’s Carnival

Parties and dances are also held,
though the music is louder. Promises are made.
Gifts are exchanged. Imagination
is under siege. Doors must remain open after
dark, even if no one is home.

Friday: Electrician’s Birthday

Only two traditions are practiced.
From midnight to midnight sleeping
is forbidden. What people do to stay awake
is unique. Written confessions
are sealed and left with relatives.

Saturday: The Biographer’s Sabbath.

Nothing to do with memoirs or survivors.
Families eat breakfast together. By noon,
a sigh of pity. Men are given a chance
to change their names. The lambs
are slaughtered for dinner.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Reading at Beyond Baroque

I’ll be reading from my new book, Death Obscura at Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Blvd, on Nov 5th a Friday night, 7:30. I'm reading with two other wonderful poets, Diane Martin and Millicent Borges Accardi. I think they charge seven bucks to get in, but it's well worth the price . Hope to see you there.

Here's one of the poems I'll be reading

The Silences

for Deborah

She didn’t speak for twenty-four hours.

This was the first silence she insisted on.

Everything she needed to say was stored

in the cupboard with the thin-lipped

wine glasses that we never used.

Though I don’t remember if she did

actually need to say anything.

The second silence was mine,

not a word for twenty-four hours.

I should have mentioned it earlier, this was her idea.

I should also mention this wasn’t meant to suggest

that she was tired of my voice,

at least this was the last thing she said

before saying nothing. I tossed everything

I needed to say in the corner of the bedroom

with the dirty laundry. And like the dirty laundry

it was soon cleaned. The third silence,

this silence, we shared. Remember,

this was her idea, not mine.

Mine was to sing to each other during sex.

Didn’t even have to be the same song.

I was planning on Italian folk songs.

Early rock and roll would have been her choice,

something by her favorite, The Del-Vikings.

The first time I disrobed for her

she sang, “who am I, the voodoo man;
who am I, the voodoo man.” Thus my guess

on what she would have sung.

But she preferred silence.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Glass Boat Poems

(All four poems first appeared in Poem, Huntsville Literary Association, No. 86, 2001; and are also in The Soup of Something Missing.)

The Glass Boat (I)

Everyone told him he was crazy:

the boat’s own weight would shatter it in the harbor

or the first swell the size of a tall man

would break the bow as its face slid down the windward side.

If his glass boat survived long enough to catch

a large fish surely the thrashing strength of dying muscle

would smash the boat like a dinner plate flung into a fireplace.

That was thirty-one years ago.

Now he only fishes when the late afternoon sun

slides beneath the hull,

flooding the boat with a silver light.

On the voyage home he stares

through the glass bottom

at the darkening ocean,

the resting place of every drowned man.

The Glass Boat (II)

Standing on the deck, surrounded by dying fish and ocean,

he looks like a man walking on water.

Sunlight flattening across the bow confirms

it’s glass, not faith that he pilots to the harbor.

He once broke a leg; one foot on the deck,

the other on the dock as a swell lifted the boat.

Another fisherman set the injury in wooden planks

and newspapers wrapped with old netting.

For the next sixteen days he lived in a public house

above the fuel dock. His wife worked the boat.

The fish didn’t know the difference,

not even when she shoved her fingers in a mouth

to pull one from seaweed tangled on the propellers,

nor did the ocean looking through the glass bow

when she tied her long skirt around her waist

to keep fish guts from knotting the lace hem.

The Glass Boat (III)

The differences between the fog, an ocean

and a glass boat are indistinguishable.

A fisherman on an approaching boat could see

the weather and nothing else until he notices

the dark smudge in the gray. At first he believes

it’s the church at sea priests spoke of,

a soul’s life preserver rescuing it from the weight of flesh.

His belief is like candles stocked for stormy nights.

Coming closer, the glass boat becomes clear,

forcing the approaching boat to turn away.

The man in the glass boat just watches

steam from his coffee rise, pleased

by the way it becomes the weather.

The Glass Boat (IV)

The fisherman’s wife looks at the glass boat

from the dock and sees only the ocean’s

heave and sigh and calls it Grief.

The fisherman looks down at the glass deck

and sees only the vein-like currents and skeletons

knotted in sunken ships and calls it Faith.

Fish make names, too, names with long sounds,

familiar noises inside a shell or a hand

rubbing the three-day stubble on a tired face.

When fish look up at the glass boat they see heaven;

and hear its sound, net descending into ocean.

No seagulls follow it on the journey home,

just the foamy wake growing from the stern,

furrows of a freshly-plowed field.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Reading in Chinatown

I’m doing a reading along with four other people at the Jancar Gallery in Chinatown on August 14th, 6 pm. The address is 961 Chung King Road. The other readers are Mike Alber, Karani Leslie, Ben Loory and Rachel Kann. If you come I promise not to be boring.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Poetry Worshops

As in most other workshops safety equipment is required; eye protection, asbestos gloves, hardhat, harder skin, and Xanax are just a few of the things that my syllabus suggests. The more serious you are about poetry the more important the suggestions. Poetry tourists* only need bring copies of their poem to hand out.

Everyone in a workshop falls into one of two categories: teacher or student. Teacher facilitates the conversation. Everyone else in the room is a student**. Though this title isn’t always appropriate. I’ve had accomplished poets in workshops. The conversation is the students’ poem. Again, the idea of appropriateness. What is a student poem? A poem that could improve through revision? What poem couldn’t?

In a workshop, the good poems hold their breath.
In a workshop, the weak poems have three eyes - one stares at its author, the second at the teacher, the third eye is always closed.

Are you writing to understand the world or yourself, I ask at the end of the workshop. A poetry workshop isn't therapy, I say at the beginning of the workshop. Before taking a poetry writing workshop a class in living a poetic life should be mandatory. No writing required, just reading, think and an appreciation for the world in every way. Whoever said "I want to live my life out loud" should write the syllabus.

Basically, my workshop runs like this. Student brings in a copy of a poem for everyone. Someone else reads the poem aloud. Have you ever heard your voice recorded? It always sounds different than coming from outside our head. Hearing your poems read by another person has the same effect. It sounds different. The group discusses the poem. The poet whose poem is being discussed is silent. When the poem is published and read by a stranger thousands of miles away the poet isn’t there to explain. We should hear what people think of our poems and how it affects them without our editorial. At the end of the conversation the poet is allowed to ask questions. But not many. I than offer some suggestions for revisions, and poets to read that I feel they might find inspiring.

In a workshop, most poems are narcissistic.

Most beginning poets write poems that contain too much information. So do experienced poets. Most beginning poets use too many words. Ditto for experienced poets.

Perhaps the most important thing a workshop offers is a reason to write a poem. That sentence might be better without the word perhaps. How long should a poet remain in workshops? Until they no longer need a reason to write a poem.

A sense of community. Poetic fellowship. No one should be alone in the world. At the end of a workshop semester the women in the group decided to meet on a regular basis to share poems and camaraderie. They excluded the men. Not fair.

Another workshop transformed into an informal group called “Purgamentum Auris,” Latin for rubber ear or so they tell me. The name is based on a poem I wrote***. I’m flattered.

Students have written poems in my workshops that I wish I wrote. I often learn from them. Their enthusiasm is contagious. There are people who have been in my workshops that I am grateful for their presence. I hope they know who they are. I don’t need to be in a workshop to keep me writing poems. But I do need poets in my life.

* A poetry tourist is someone with no real interest in improving their poems and will never write a poem after the workshop ends.
** I once had a student bring her therapist to class. She had trouble being in groups. The other students thought she was a friend auditing the class. Of course, I couldn’t resist calling on her.
*** Ex Cathedra

What no one knows about me
is that my left ear is made of rubber.
The original was lost in an accident
when I was nineteen. As Dr. Gorlick
sewed it to side of my head
he said it needed to be replaced
every eleven years to appear to age
along with my face. Vanity compels me
to replace it every thirteen.
A rubber ear isn’t as uncommon as you think.
One president and two movie stars had a rubber ear.
The actors appeared together in a movie
without knowing about the other’s prosthesis.
Each morning I apply a lotion to the ear
so the rubber doesn’t discolor. Cell by cell,
the body replaces itself every seven years.
It’s simple science. I laid on my side
as Dr. Gorlick sewed. A nurse held the ear in position.
Lidocaine and something I don’t remember
prevented me from feeling the blood
run down my neck and cheek.
But I could taste it and began to spit.
The nurse put gauze pads
between my lips and apologized.
Things like this happen all the time.
Someone bleeds, someone apologizes.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Reading Tonight

I'm reading at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program 17th Annual Publication Party tonight, 7:00pm – 9:30pm (Doors open at 7pm; readings begin at 7:30pm) It's at the Skirball Cultural Center is located at 2701 North Sepulveda Blvd., just off the 405 Freeway and Mulholland Drive.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010



In 1889 it snowed twenty-three times in Cleveland, Ohio, and each time only at night. Yet newspaper articles from that year make no mention of this. One hundred years later, 1989, it snowed exactly twenty-three times in Cleveland, and again, only at night. Professor Beth Wingate, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, wrote in a scientific paper, “the author unfortunately is unlikely to be alive in 2089, but if in that year it snows twenty-three times in Cleveland and only at night, this will be a phenomena not a coincidence.” Where science ends faith begins. This never changes, and is the reason most ghosts are seen in the dark.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Democracy

The Democracy

The election is finally here. Once and for all, it will be decided which pencils will be legal, the softer lead number four or the hard number two. The count stands at 763 for the soft and 879 for hard. If the number fours become illegal I’ll move to a place where the smudge of a word won’t make a man a criminal. I can’t understand why some prefer to write words barely dark enough to be read. This is the same way we decided the size of napkins in cafes, and learned to drink without spilling, not even a drop.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


I'm in Denver for AWP 2010. I thought it was spring but it's snowing outside. Something uncommon for a man from Los Angeles to see on an April morning. What do you call a gathering of poets? A stanza would be a good answer. I haven't written anything for Ironomgery for months. It's time to gather the words and see what they say. Soon.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Man in the Vat of Honey

(First appeared in Press, Issue 2, Fall 1996; and is also in The Soup of Something Missing.)

The Man in the Vat of Honey

The nurse sat in the waiting room writing

to her sister. In a small and glorious handwriting

she wrote that she hadn’t yet found a husband

among the injured men; and she was disappointed,

a sailor she liked drowned when his ship broke apart

in heavy winds. His body was now held

in a tall vat of honey behind the clinic. This was the way

corpses were kept during monsoons when the ground

was too thick with water for burials. She imagined him

sticky-sweet and folded at the bottom of the vat

as he might have looked on the ocean floor before his body,

released of fear and breath, ascended. She once sat

with her ear against the vat, hoping to hear what the dead say

to themselves, waiting as she would wait for the ground to dry.

But the only sounds were from alley cats stretched

across the lid, their coarse tongues licking the dried honey.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ordinary Melodrama

Ordinary Melodrama

The woman squeezing cantaloupes
with her fingertips is searching
for the beginning of her bloodstream.
Her days pivot around single incidents.
Egg falls from a fork and leaves
a yellow stain that resembles
The Shroud of Turin. About that
she is certain, her father took her
to see it when she was young.
She buys a clock for the bedroom.
The dog is put to sleep.
She wraps his body in a sheet.
This is what she does with the past.
The woman’s husband is a surgeon,
deaf in the left ear. Occasionally,
he opens the coliseum of her
chest to inspect the heart
for the pain inside the pain.