On 37 I cried in a stranger’s back seat.

I’d known that stranger a thousand years before.

The mountains and streams, silver, blue and green,

were like a movie scene, fabricated pristine.

I cried because they’d been that way a billion years

before human tears, before eyes in front of opinionated minds,

before beauty or thoughts of dying.

I watched it all slide by forever

capturing stills of memory; a fire in a teepee with Gods,

a bear on the roadside, a line of cars at the fueling station

and ravens flying in couples in idyllic skies.

On 37 I cried in a stranger’s backseat.

Who was I to be there? How could I be so lucky?

Did anything mean a damn thing?

Is nothing everything?

Nothing is everything.

We are nothing. Aren’t we lucky?

I cried in my lover’s arms Caribbean Sea-side.

The moon hung there like a mother

over her waters pushing and pulling.

Pulled the water from my eyes

a song from my throat and sang along.

I cried in my lover’s arms Caribbean Sea-side

twenty-six and just beginning.

Again and again just beginning.

I moaned the water’s song.

Again and again just beginning

as the ocean is always showing

with waves like breaths, tides like life,

again and again just beginning.

I cried on Moosehide Slide, Yukon flowing by

I wished for Momma to see what I was seeing.

I wanted to bring my father.

I sat on a rock above Dawson City

in a sacred stand of Sycamore

thinking of my family in Missouri

laughing at how far I’d come

to watch the sun slide along a midnight horizon

with a brother from lifetimes before.

I cried on Moosehide Slide, Yukon flowing by.

Sitting at the top of the world full of love

without a lover at the time, but that would come.

Sitting at the top of the world full of awe

which I vowed to hold on to forever

and I have. Oh, I have.

I sit tonight by lamp light with my memories,

in love and in awe, I cry as night falls

and a rain moves in to fall as well

on the Ozark hills in early Spring.

I will listen to the patter and drift into dreams

in my lover’s arms tonight,

in love and in awe and just beginning.

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There is a steep hill somewhere. It’s one of those hills that doesn’t really have to exist anywhere specific, but it does, and you can imagine it, mostly grass covered with some dead spots of dirt, some cuts and drop-offs here and there, because nothing is picturesque-perfect. On this hill there is a man, still closer to the bottom than the top, walking up carrying a bulging sack over his shoulder. The wind is blowing through the valley (this hill is surrounded by more hills, and mountains, and down below, a river lined and interrupted by boulders). The sound of the wind is the only sound from our high, floating, Planet Earth-camera-angle. It is hard to tell if the man is making progress at all, carrying his stretched-out sugar sack up a mostly green slope through the sound of a howling wind. Then our perspective begins to descend, to drop down to a place of relate-ability, it swoops all the way down, nearly dropping into the river and then slowly rises up the hill along the route he has taken until it is just behind him, like a dog, a dog named Empathy. From here you can still hear the wind, though now it is battling the sound of his boots crunching dry grass as if it were the dry remnants of wax in your ear breaking off and falling on your ear drums like so many ice shelves into the northern seas. This loud crushing of wind-dried high-altitude grass is broken by the sound of rubber boots bending into the slope of the hill. These two sounds, the wind and the boots on the grass, are accented with the heavy breathing of the man, an older man we can now tell, sugar sack hoisted over his shoulder, leaning into the hill, fighting up one step at a time, one sharp exhalation followed by a long, strong inhalation. In-hal-a-tion, exhalation. Grass stomped down like cracking bones. Wind waves of the enormous transparent sea. And our view pans back, sliding back down the hill and just as it reaches the massive boulders of the river bed launches upward, again looking down on the hill and the tiny speck of a man lugging belongings in an old sugar sack, a nearly motionless struggle through what we see again, from our hawk-like perspective, is an endless expanse of mountain-land, no obvious destination anywhere in sight, just a howling wind and a hill to ascend, just another Tuesday in the life of a man.

[It’s 1 a.m. I just brushed my teeth and blood mixed with the white paste and marbled on the basin. The neighbor just came in, her dog yipping. One lamp is on and the after-bar crowd drives down South. The following is a nearly automatic one-off based around a quick note taken in the midst of a busy day at work. It has been a LONG time since I’ve attempted fiction, so I started short. Enjoy and, please, feel free to offer feed-back.]

 He sat on his front porch smoking from his pipe—glass pipe—looking out at the rutted driveway, now puddled and empty, through a screen of streams of rain falling from the awning. Yawning, his eyes watered. Doc Watson’s voice crawled out of the open windows of the house as the man slowly rocked his chair, the back legs a fulcrum. 

            The neighbors’ house on the next hill (the hills cut in two by the gravel road) was an inconsistency, white in the grey of everything sitting in mist, two cars parked in the drive. There were no sounds aside from Watson and the precipitation falling on anything that might catch it with resonance: the puddles in the ruts of the driveway, the birdfeeder hanging from a metal shepherd’s hook standing in the yard like a young tree, the leaves on the real, living trees, the junk car in the side yard and, of course, the tin awning above the man’s head.

            His kids (two daughters) had moved out, and far away to separate cities in different states, years ago and his wife had left last week (to live with her sister, she said), taking much of the décor, nearly all of the kitchen’s utensils and everything else, in the way of objects, that might have reminded him of her. Her scent still lingered, however. That smell, of lavender and amber, lay embedded in the topmost layers of everything that remained; it was without a doubt remnant in the bed, it sat on the couch, it stained the carpet, and it was set into the walls. That scent (the strongest link to memory) was why, on this rainy day, he sat outside, on the porch, under the tin awning like a drum; smoking herb from his glass pipe, the world there was wet grass and his own smoke.

            He knew it had been years since they’d had that invigorating connection of youth in love (though he still loved her). They had been close then, travelling away from their Midwest lives, to the coasts, to the wide-open north, to other continents even. They were lovers. They were in love and young and would always be in love they were sure. They had kids knowing this. They were close then, as parents; long nights awake in shifts for their restless daughters (three years apart), taking turns likewise brewing coffee, cooking meals, reading stories to the girls before another restless night. They were close later too; watching the girls closely, listening even closer, as the two of them began to date boys, drive cars. The man and his wife had been together for a quarter of a century (and in his callousness, his aged indifference, his taken-for-granted way of loving, he never doubted twenty-five more and on ‘til someone’s death).

            Then one day (our day) he sat on the porch, in his fifties already, his wife having been gone about a week. He sat smoking weed there under the tin awning being tapped by the light rain, water collecting in the grooves and pouring over like a curtain in the man’s view as he exhaled looking through it all at the past, a series of snapshots, inaudible stills (a few movements at best, like a dream) projected onto the land they’d chosen. He sat there just outside the front door of the house they’d always wanted, since before the girls, in their twenties, travelers hoping to be self-sufficient, free. There he sat leaning back in his chair, the other one empty, smoking, the rain falling just loud enough that all thoughts were awash with it. The prime of his life and all of its images took on the sound of slow rain on a nearly abandoned hillside, just a man and his pipe and a life that would never be the same.

 

 

Death (Very Mysterious)

January 30, 2014

I overheard a woman say to her friend that some other woman’s “father died, very mysteriously, from, uh…an, uh, explosion.”

There doesn’t seem to be a mystery. The cause of death seems concrete.

He died, very mysteriously, falling from a third-story parking garage to the concrete below.

The wolf, as far south as Missouri, died, very mysteriously, from a 300-yard rifle shot.

The sparrow died, very mysteriously, when it mistook the pane-glass window for open air.

The spider died, very mysteriously, when a boot landed on it from above.

The lifelong smoker died, very mysteriously, from complications of cancer.

Everyone died, very mysteriously, from [anything] and it was painful.

Sorry for your loss, lady. It’s not your fault living and dying seems so mysterious.

This morning I sat by the window at the coffee shop, next to the front door, because it’s cold outside and I figured no one would sit anywhere near me. Three women, dressed rich, self-consciously inflected voices, high leather boots, no jobs, sat down. They were gossiping about a friend who was divorcing her husband. They weren’t scared for her, because ‘she has her own money.’ They didn’t know ‘why women would get married these days when they have their own money.’ They were all married, dressed rich, high leather boots, with no jobs. They didn’t have their own money. They had money. They were highly concerned with money. They talked mostly of money and men.

 

I put in my headphones and listened to 75 year-old music with no words.

Living is Heavy Business

October 4, 2013

You wake in the morning

and everything is golden.

The earth has made another small rotation,

still revolving around the sun

which now cuts through the blinds.

The air is cool when you pull back the curtains,

coffee brewing, while the news turns to music.

Then life starts happening, the parts that make living

heavy business.

You have to go to work or school, or both

at this age. I’m twenty-seven now,

against some odds, cruising toward the old man

everyone knows I’ve always been. You find out

Grandma is in the hospital again, your little brother

whose diapers you changed, is one slip away

from prison, you battle who you used to be,

who you want to be, you battle to be who you are,

someone you know as well as the neighbor

across the street cultivating the perfect yard.

All of a sudden that light that was golden

turns red, the sky pink and impossible blue.

The insects start in with their hallucinogenic rhythms

and everything else shuts up and you have no clue

what to do with yourself. There is wine and bourbon,

your books, your porch and cigarettes, your beliefs,

which seem silly the higher the moon rises in the sky.

There is your love, if you’re lucky, and if you are

there is the impending weight of it all running out.

You take a long walk in orange streetlights, wishing

for darkness in a forest, or company. You walk

until you grow tired, done,

feeling like this could be the moment it all caves in,

the sun and moon and all, when its nothing

but disjointed dreams and wasted time,

when there is no time at all. You make it

to bed with a book or a movie and enter

a fantasy before sleep. Tomorrow you wake up

and there are still occupied hospitals,

prisons, battle fields, factories, restaurants

and theaters, and you know nothing is real,

but everyone, everything, is alive

and living is heavy business.

A friend of mine, a damn fine poet,

wrote, It takes an ugly soul to write good poetry.

But souls aren’t ugly. That’s not what he has.

Sometimes it takes an old growth forest

a river                         an ocean

a six-pack    a bottle of wine    or bourbon

lost love      new love       good love     love making

a long walk          a big climb from some dark depth

a place we all find ourselves all of a sudden, then again

sometimes it takes work to dig that deep

to reach that forest

to do all that drinking

to find that love

It takes work to write good poetry.

It’s easier for some than others,

but souls?

Souls aren’t ugly,

not without work.

There are days, which sometimes become weeks,

when I’m walking alone down the road

and one of these Ozarkian Black Bear Bulls

comes out from behind a bush of some front yard

and pins me to the sidewalk, sits on my chest.

I never see them, but there can be no doubt.

It sits there for awhile, then lets me up,

but doesn’t let go, clings to me

like I’m an old Oak. I’m not,

much as I’d like to be; I’d like to have that

ancient, sturdy surety, letting bears circle

and sniff, climb all over me and still stand firm,

unchanged. That’s not how it goes.

The way it is I have to take deep, purposeful breaths,

breathe through all that weight, carry it around with me

until the release, when the beast sees some other fool

walking alone, unawarely awaiting the burden.

I heard what it sounds like to be alive

in a living room tonight.

Some might describe it as God,

but I don’t believe it,

unless God is a stark time change

from something that makes you think

to something that makes you dance.

It happened standing between an open red door

and a little lamp on the floor,

between people talking, smoking cigarettes,

illuminated and the type of live band that sneaks you the key.

The key unlocks no doors, starts no cars,

its the kind of key you carry with you

walking in the dark through wood smoke

in streetlight under the tree alive

like a child’s fantasy. The key

only found in the crevice of dying insect songs

in late September and the smiling youth

of a dark living room.

Just Before An Equinox

September 25, 2013

Tonight a friend of mine said

a lot of people and their noise

calms him and I agreed.

He only makes noise when there is space for it.

There were a lot of people drinking,

making noise.

My friend and I were relatively subdued.

My other buddy’s sister was making a move

on my roommate, whose latest love,

a married woman, ended things yesterday.

They talked, my buddy’s sister and he,

and then they, too, grew quiet.

I drank three or four glasses of wine

sitting in a black wire chair

in the middle of all of that noise and despair

feeling calm

until last call.

My roommate, a brother of sorts,

who was that inside-out knife fight sort of sad,

and I drove around looking for my lover

who we found drunk and beautiful on the corner

of a ladies’ night, covetous hounds around.

We picked her up and drove home

through my buddy’s tears, those Fall, full October moon,

end of the world tears.

When we got there the crickets were singing their song,

cats bawled painful lust, dogs barked and the air bit hard.

We all sat on the edge of the world,

its impermanence digging into our bones.