POETRY: before we’re done – Robin Wyatt Dunn

before we’re done

Here now, after there, and before we’re done:

Los Angeles, tossed into the wormhole, kept inside the confessional,
nailed to the sidewalk by angry Korean locksmiths, shouting:

“Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!”

The ultimate mindfuck.

Give me your ultimate mindfuck, and I’ll show you the key, out of reality.

We all know it here:

Like Depeche Mode says, one caress, and I’m blessed:

Shivering under the freeway

Standing near a beautiful woman

Getting a new apartment

Going to a show

Standing in a large party

Under the shadow of the Scientologists

Under the shadow of the night.

Give me the shadow of the night, for I am thirsty, and my long wait
must be rewarded.

Let me drink.


It is too delicious. What did you put in it, Los Angeles?

You fucking drug pusher. Pimp.

Give me the night and all its names.

Tell me: am I still wanted?

Am I still needed?

Fight me.

Fight me.

Fight me, fandangle me. Fear me for the flour we’re grinding, hum dee
ho, rum rum:

As Pee Wee Herman observes:

Micka Licka Hiney Ho

And this koan describes a large portion of Los Angeles:  ass lickers,
of course, but more, as they transform it into a mystical right . . .

We know Christianity was built by Roman Emperors to fuck Israel.

It is possible Islam was built by Israel to fuck them back.

Or maybe that was Hollywood.

Dream with me, of the long delivery

And dream with me, of the midnight flash

Come calling at midnight

Left drinking at midnight

Turned toward at midnight

Whose name was eternal

Whose light was an ocean

Who danced

Hum hum hum

Who danced

Hum hum hum

Who was it took the name from the mountain and put it on your forehead?

You terrible mark

Terrible day

Like Cain

We are a city of Cain’s children. All right. All right, fine. I can
dig it, indeed, move it, wheelbarrow it and reassign it in the
categories of meaning to something fruitful, once we are singing

Give me the long delight
In the rain

Kill Hollywood with me, with each of our long knives

If Titus can do it, so can we

Let’s fuck Israel together

And Rome too

Fuck Mecca, and fuck Uruk for good measure, and Gobekli Tepe

Like Ginsberg says, it’s all holy, baby.

The asshole too.

Still, some things are more holy than others . . .

Give me the long division

In the long breeze

Give me the long night

To open the curtain

I am the curtain

This is a temple

Our cult is holy

And there is no night or day

I am not alive

Or dead

I am just barely breathing

Our voice is a thousand suns

And Los Angeles is our plaything

If only for an hour

A day

A week

Five months, at the outset

Give me the strong production schedule

Order twenty pints of blood

Polish your hair

I am rehearsing my lines

We have no need of money

We have honor

Even Cain’s children have honor

Even the voiceless are stars

Burn with me, the permanent midnight

Underneath the freeway overpass

Burn everyone

Burn Tom Cruise

Burn Natalie Portman

Burn our most beloved, anyone you can name

Anyone of our city you can name

Burn them

Burn them
Burn these princes in their holy vestments

Blacken the night with their song.

Blacken the night with me,

And I’ll hold you close

Take me to the river

So we can howl

I am breathing some night I have never seen

Out of the water I can see the stars


This poem was first performed at Second Sunday Poetry in North
Hollywood, September 11, 2016.


Visit Robin Wyatt Dunn online. 

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Waiting Room Blues


I wish there was something worth reading

but the doctor’s waiting room

is like a home for unwanted magazines,

ancient People with pages torn out,

a scraggy looking Sports Illustrated

previewing a world series that was played

months ago.

And then there’s the medical rags,

every sickly base covered

by glaring ads with grinning people

pushing every drug on the market.

Toss in the persistent cougher two seats

down from me and the woman whining

because her appointment’s already

twenty minutes overdue

and you have a whole other disease

that I, unfortunately, can’t help catching:

a low grade virus incorporating

a lack of faith on the part of the medical profession

in the interests and mental aptitude of their patients

crossed with a waning enthusiasm

for my fellow unhealthy human beings.

The only cure that I know of

is a nurse calling out my name

and a doctor poking down my mouth,

listening to my heart beat

and making me deep breathe.

In the MD’s knowledgeable hands,

I can be sicker than I’ve ever felt in my entire life

but oh so much better for it.



Let The Ground Breathe With You

Let the ground breathe with you,
not in opposition.

On my morning run
I pass by two elderly women
walking with their canes.
Scent of timeless roses.

Let the ground breathe with you,
not in opposition.

Dew drops line the center of aloe leaves,
the sweat on my unwashed morning skin,
has collected in the center of my chest−
still heavy with last night’s dreams;
I searched all night through alternative realities
for my drunk husband.Let the ground breathe with you.
not in opposition.

A man walks by with his dog,
pants under his breath
“It’s harder uphill, isn’t it.”

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POETRY: BAPTISM – Erren Geraud Kelly


A sea of ushers in white
led me to the water
piano, organ and voices
surrounded the room with

it was the god of my father
and my mother
like the river, cleasing her
as a young girl

Before god
my life was a blur
of childhood dreams and wishes
and then one day, i got the

I stood still, as if
nothing else mattered
like a film negative
being developed
god revealed truth to me

The world became insignifigant
as the baseball i played

The ladies in white
lead me to the water
i step in like a negative
waiting for truth
to reveal itself to

Fearing nothing
to begin again

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FICTION: Good Lookin – S.F. Wright

Good Lookin


I heard about her death five years after I quit. She was a heavy woman who dressed in tacky clothes; they looked like they’d been purchased at a yard sale. She kept her long brown and gray hair tied in a ponytail; she never wore makeup.


My friend, who still works at the bookstore, emailed me a link to the obituary. I don’t know why; I barely knew the woman. She was just someone who frequented the store.

At first I wasn’t even sure to whom he was referring.

I read the obituary, but even after I gleaned the information- she was 64, taught high school English, never married, was survived by a brother- and reread her name, I had no idea who this was.

You remember, my friend’s next email said. The heavy, round woman. I couldn’t picture her.With the pony tail. Wore those awful clothes. I still wasn’t sure, but an image started to form.

Always called the male cashiers Good Lookin.

Now I saw her, as clearly as if I’d seen her that morning.

So her name was Sally Jenkins.


I could never stand her. When she was in line, I’d intentionally ring more slowly so she had to go to another cashier. But sometimes I was the only one at the registers. Then she’d come over with her smile, and I had no choice but to ring her up and listen to her.

She spoke in platitudes and clichés. But her most annoying expression- and she only used this with male employees- was Hey, good lookin.

I don’t know why this appellation annoyed me so; it wasn’t insulting- if anything, it was complimentary in a folksy way- and it’s not that it embarrassed me (and, as I get easily embarrassed, there are a multitude of other things she could’ve addressed me by that would’ve done that). I don’t think it was those words as much as it was those words coming from that face; the combination just irritated me.

Good night good lookin, she’d say after I rang her up (despite the fact that she was (as I learned later) an English teacher, she bought mostly romance novels), and she’d give me her smile, no matter how badly I’d fail at returning my own.


Though I’m fairly certain there were times I liked working at the bookstore- there had to be, right?- most of my memories from that place are of misery and endurance. The more I worked there, the more I disliked it (I’d come to despise the place by my last year); so my most recent- and, hence, most vivid- remembrances are consequently the most disconsolate.

I disliked the customers; I hated the hours; I resented how poorly we were paid; I abhorred fighting for a parking spot on Saturday afternoons.

My best memory from the bookstore, on the other hand, is the day I quit.

A new store manager- the fifth I’d had- hadn’t cared for me and was looking to get rid of me. I didn’t like him either or- again- my job at all by that point. Soon after this manager started, I missed four days without calling out. He phoned my house. Before he asked anything, I said I quit.

It wasn’t a dramatic scene from a movie, with my telling him off and storming out (I was on the phone, after all), but it felt good nonetheless. In fact, it felt great.

All those year I’d wanted to leave, and with two words, I was gone.


I worked at a tutoring center for a while and enrolled in grad school. Upon completing my degree I found work as an adjunct professor. I loved the work- or at least I loved it compared to the bookstore- and my enthusiasm and dedication were such that I was hired fulltime. But the position only lasted one semester; afterwards I returned to adjunct work. And soon I hated being an adjunct as much as I hated working at the bookstore.

But it was a different kind of hatred: in the bookstore, there’d never been a future; at the college, there’d been one, but it had been snatched back.

I decided it was again time to move on. I ended up doing- even though I didn’t know this at the time- what Sally Jenkins did: teach high school English.


I’d been a high school teacher for two years when my friend sent me the email.

I’m now 37; Sally Jenkins was 64, which means all those times she called me Good Lookin I was around 20 to 30 and she somewhere between 47 and 57.

But why think of these things? They don’t matter.

What matters is that my high school job is starting to grate on me, even though it hasn’t done so completely. I’m making more money in the public schools than I’d made at the bookstore, tutoring center, or college (even as a fulltime professor), but if you’re miserable, or sense you’re going to be, what does that matter?

It angered me somewhat that my old coworker sent me the email about Sally Jenkins, a woman I only knew peripherally. It annoyed me that I remembered her face and her voice saying good lookin.

And it especially infuriated me that my friend thought I’d be interested.

I read the obituary- a couple of times- but it was with voyeuristic curiosity rather than concern.

I don’t like looking into the past, particularly my own. It doesn’t take you anywhere positive. All it leads to is what you’ve divulged about yourself to others, and sometimes- and who needs to know this?- what you’re revealing to yourself now.

Visit S.F. Wright Online.

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FICTION: Chocolate Éclair – Peter Emmett Naughton

Chocolate Éclair

Oscar never expected to make it to fifty.  Neither one of us did.  It wasn’t the violence in our neighborhood or even some of the things we got mixed up in as kids; we just couldn’t imagine ourselves with gray hair playing checkers on the stoop like my father and Oscar’s uncle did every evening.

I think we thought that the world would have changed by then.  That science and medicine would’ve progressed to the point that people didn’t get old anymore or that the world would be so messed up that no one would be living at all.  The future is strange that way.  Hope and dread carry equal weight when you can’t see beyond the curve in the road.

What I remember most about that age was wanting to hold on to the good moments. Sometimes I’d catch myself in the middle of one of our midnight revelries, after we’d scored a pack of cigarettes or a bottle of booze, thinking about how good everything felt in that moment and knowing that it wouldn’t be that way forever.  People assume that kids aren’t aware of stuff like that until they’re older, but I was and it always made me a little sad.

The best thing that Oscar and I ever did back then was also the worst trouble we ever got into.  It was the reason Oscar went to juvy and my father put me in a military academy, and the reason we stayed friends when we both finally got out.


That July had been unbearably hot.  It was the kind of heat that leeched into your skin and followed you around even after you’d gotten out from under its blistering rays.  We spent the first half of that month indoors, searching out shade along with whatever scarce pockets of air conditioning we could find and only venturing out after the sun had gone down.

Everything felt subdued that summer.  There were almost none of the normally ubiquitous pick-up games at Vargas Park and even the hustlers hanging out on the street corners seemed sapped of their energy.  We were all just wandering around in a daze trying to think of some way to keep cool.  The movie theaters were so jammed that there was even a line for the kids sneaking in the back.  Oscar and I saw the same sappy romance movie five times in a row until the usher finally got wise and kicked us out.

We spent hours walking around department stores pretending to look at shoes, jeans, watches, even cologne, though the girl at the makeup counter usually gave us the stink-eye if we loitered there too long.  We went through every fast-food joint and late-night diner in town getting endless soda refills until they insisted we order something else.  By the middle of the month we’d been kicked out or run off of every place we could think of and there was still no end to the heat.

That’s when we got the idea.

“What we need is a way to take the cold with us.”  Oscar said.


“You know, something portable so we don’t have to keep running from place to place.”

“We could wear ice packs around our necks; you know those ones with that blue gel stuff?”

“That ain’t gonna work man.  Those things would be luke-warm sacks of slime ten minutes after we got out the door.”

“Well maybe we could recharge them?”

“Huh?”  Oscar said.  He was looking at a pair of girls in cutoff jean shorts walking up the other side of the street.

“I was saying that we could refreeze the packs at like 7-11 and stuff.  In those cases where they keep the ice cream.”

Oscar looked at me for a moment and then a smile slowly spread across his face.

“Now that’s an idea.”

“I think my mom has some in our fridge.”

“Forget that ice pack shit Benny.  You just came up with something a whole lot better.”

“What are you talking about?”

“A truck man.  We’re gonna hijack an ice cream truck.”

I started laughing, but Oscar wasn’t.  He just stood there with that same big grin on his face.

“Are you serious?”

“Hey, it was your idea.”

“No it wasn’t.”

“Jesus Benny, first good idea you get and you’re not even smart enough to take credit for it.”

“We can’t steal a fucking ice cream truck Oscar.”

“Have you seen the lard assess that drive those things?  All we have to do is get him out of the driver’s seat and it’s ours.  Besides, it’s not like we’d really be stealing it, just borrowing it for a while.”

“You’re nuts man.  I just got over being grounded and my Dad said if I get busted again he’s gonna send me to military school.”

“Then we better make sure we don’t get busted.”

“I’m not doing this.  No way.”

“We’re gonna be Seniors next year.  Do you wanna walk into school as the losers we are now or as legends?”

“Even if we managed to pull it off, who the hell’s gonna believe us?”

“That’s the easy part.  Now follow me and keep your ears open for Turkey In the Straw.”

“Turkey in the what?”

“The ice cream truck song.  Jeez dude, don’t you know anything?”


We spent the better part of two hours combing neighborhoods, looking for packs of kids gathered at curbs and listening for the telltale musical notes. The sun had gone down almost an hour ago, and we knew that only a few drivers stayed out after dark.  Oscar asked around and tried to get a bead on where any trucks had last been seen, but all we came up with were a bunch of false leads and misinformation from kids who either didn’t know what they were talking about or just felt like messing with us for the fun of it.  It was the same kind of thing that Oscar and I did whenever someone pulled over and asked us for directions.

“We’ve been all over everywhere man.  When are we gonna call this?”  I said.

“How the hell do you ever expect to do anything if you just give up all the time?”

“It’s a dumb idea.”

“It’s your dumb idea.”

“How does that make it better?  Besides it wasn’t really my idea.”

“Sure it was, and it’s a good one.  We just have to stick with it.”

“I just don’t think we’re gonna find one.”

“You got something better to do right now?”


“Well then how about you quit whining and we keep looking.”

“Whatever.”  I said and kicked a can off the curb into a storm drain on the other side of the street.

We’d gone another four blocks and crossed back through the basketball courts at Vargas Park when Oscar suddenly stopped.

“Hold up.”  Oscar said and put his arm in the air.  “You hear it?”

Trees were rustling in the humid breeze and there was the rattle and creak of chains from the swings as they swayed lazily from side to side.

“I don’t….”


I closed my eyes and strained to hear, but there were still only the sounds of the park in my ears.  Then, off in the distance, I heard the faint whisper of those familiar musical notes that always sounded to me like they belonged in a nursery rhyme or a campfire sing-a-long.

“That way!”  Oscar pointed and we sprinted back across the park as fast as we could.

We rounded the corner at Kensington and nearly ran smack into the back of the truck.  There was a knot of kids all standing next to it happily licking and munching at bars and cones as the last girl in the group stood by the window, impatiently scuffing the toe of her sneaker on the sidewalk while she waited.

I turned to Oscar. “So what now?”

“Quick, act sick.”


“Just bend over and start moaning.”

I doubled over and began clutching at my stomach as Oscar led me around to the side of the truck.

“Hey Mister, my friend is real sick.”  Oscar said just as the driver finished handing the girl her Chips Galore ice cream cookie sandwich.  I let out a low moan and kept my face pointed at the ground.

“What’s wrong with him?” the driver asked.

“I dunno?”  Oscar said.  “He was fine a minute ago and then he just started grabbing at his guts.”

“Did he eat something recently?”

“He had a hot dog from that cart over by the park.”

“Christ kid, don’t you know anything?”  the driver said and started to climb out of the truck.  “That guy’s been chased off by the cops three times already.  Nothin’ but rat parts and newspaper in those dogs.”

I moaned again, louder this time, and sunk to my knees.  The driver came around to where Oscar and I were and put a hand on my shoulder.

“Can you stand son?”

I glanced up at him and shook my head slowly.  This man was the antithesis of a lard ass.  He had a hard, angular face, blonde hair that was so light it was almost white and bright blue eyes.  He looked like Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner.  Oscar and I had seen it in the theater six times during one of our marathon sessions.

“I think I better phone for an ambulance.”  the driver said.

“It usually takes them a while to get here, especially in this neighborhood.  I don’t know if he can wait that long.”  Oscar said.

The driver looked at me for a long moment and then turned back to Oscar.

“Yeah, you’re probably right.  Help me get him into the truck.”

I felt the man lift me up under my left shoulder while Oscar got under my right.  The driver had to hunch down to match Oscar’s height and they staggered me over to the truck like a drunk after last call.

“I gotta phone my boss and let him know what’s going on.  I’ll be back in a second.”  The driver said and jogged over to a payphone on the corner.

“Quick, shut the door.”  Oscar said and climbed behind the wheel.

“I don’t think we should do this.”

“What are you talking about?”

“He’s a nice guy.  I don’t wanna get him in trouble.”

“He’s not gonna get in trouble.”


“You wanna go to the hospital and explain to a bunch of doctors that you’re not really sick?”

I shook my head.

“Then shut the damn door already.”

I closed the door.

“Hang on.”  Oscar said as he put the truck into drive and floored it.

I heard the driver screaming at us as we pulled away, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying.  I thought again of Rutger Hauer and an involuntary shiver shot up my spine.

We drove for blocks, neither of us speaking.  I wasn’t sure if Oscar knew where he was going, or if he only wanted to put as much distance as he could between us and the scene of the crime.

“So…what now?”  I asked.

“Well for starters we’ve got us some portable refrigeration; so soak in that cold my man.”

Until Oscar pointed it out, I hadn’t really noticed the pleasant chill surrounding us.  I was still thinking about the driver, expecting him to pop up at any moment and rip us to pieces with his murderous android arms.

“It’s great and all.”  I said.  “But what are we gonna do; just drive around ‘till we run out of gas?”

“Oh no, I’ve got much bigger plans.”

“Such as?”

“You’ll see.  We need to get this puppy back home first.”

“Back home?!  Are you insane?!”

“Not right outside our houses dumbass.  Just in the general neighborhood.”

“I thought we were trying not to be noticed?”

“It’s not like the driver knows who we are or where we live.”

“Yeah, but someone else might see us and call it in to the cops.”

“No one is gonna do that, especially not after what I’ve got planned.”


It took us nearly half an hour to get back to our neighborhood with Oscar going down out of the way side streets and through adjacent alleyways trying to keep off the radar.  Even avoiding the populated areas with the music turned off didn’t stop some kids from trying to flag us down, but we just kept our heads low and accelerated away before they could get close.

Eventually we made it over to Seventh Street and Oscar pulled over, parking the truck underneath a tall, yellow streetlight.

“This is still pretty close to home man.”  I said.

“That’s the point.”  Oscar said and switched on Turkey In the Straw.

“What are you doing?”

“Just wait.”

I watched as kids from Seventh and the block over and our block started making their way towards us.

Oscar picked up the C.B. microphone and flipped a small silver toggle switch.

“Welcome Vargas Heights!”  Oscar’s voice came booming out from the truck over the music.

“We are Los Hermanos Congelados here to welcome you to the first ever Vargas Heights free ice cream night!”

For a moment it was silent and then suddenly there was a loud whistle from somewhere followed by a teenage kid yelling “Fuck Yeah!” at the top of his lungs.

This sparked a barrage of hoots and hollers from the gathering crowd as kids from every direction started piling up against the truck.

I grabbed the mic out of Oscar’s hand.  “Have you lost your mind dude?”

“C’mon man, look.”  Oscar said and pointed to the swarm of people outside the truck.

He put an arm around my shoulder and grinned at me.  I tried to say something, but when I looked out at the sea of people I became silent and my face broke into a smile.

“We better hurry before they tip us over.”  Oscar said.

There was a barrage of voices calling out orders as Oscar and I dove into the freezers in back.

‘Bomb Pop!’, ‘Push-Up!’, ‘Strawberry Shortcake!’, ‘Candy Crunch!’, ‘Drumstick!’, ‘Chocotaco!’, ‘Toasted Almond!’

We pointed to people and tossed them their ice cream as others surged in to take their place.  It was loud and crazy, but no one got in anyone’s face, there was no shoving or fighting and some of the bigger kids even made sure the younger ones got what they ordered before getting their own.

‘Lemon Squeeze!’, ‘Mouskiteer Bar!’, ‘Dreamsicle!’ ‘Malt Cup!’

Oscar and I kept diving into the chests, quickly sorting through the boxes for the next order. By the time everyone had been served the truck was nearly half empty.

“Now who wants seconds?”  Oscar shouted and the crowd responded in-kind.

I arched an eyebrow at Oscar.  “Seconds?”

“When are we ever gonna get another chance to play Robin Hood?”

I grabbed an armful of ice cream sandwiches from one of the chests and flung them at the mass of out-stretched hands.

Oscar high-fived me and sent out a wave of snow cones.

We kept on throwing until every bar, cup, cone and sandwich was gone.  By that time I was laughing so hard that I thought I might throw up or pass out.

Oscar got back on the C.B.

“Thank you Vargas Heights for letting us treat you tonight!  It has truly been our pleasure!”

We were just about to pull away when we heard someone start to chant.

‘Hermanos Congelados! Hermanos Congelados!’

Soon the chant was picked up by the rest of the crowd.

‘Hermanos Congelados!, Hermanos Congelados!, Hermanos Congelados!, Hermanos Congelados!’

“Good night Vargas Heights!”  Oscar and I yelled over the loud speaker as we peeled out from the block and sped down the street with Turkey In the Straw blaring from the roof.


We returned the truck to the same corner where we had taken it.  We thought that way the driver would be sure to find it, but we didn’t think about the fact that the cops would be watching the area.

By the time Oscar and I got off the truck we were surrounded by flashing lights and loud voices telling us to get on the ground.

Oscar told them that he had stolen the truck by himself and picked me up after.  The driver had already said that I was there from the beginning, but the cops still put the primary blame on Oscar, maybe because he said that it had been his idea or maybe because my father was friendly with one of the sergeants at the station.

That’s how Oscar ended up spending the next year in Juvenile Detention while I spent my senior year at Oakhurst Military Academy.

We both came out of it changed and neither one of us spent much time with our old crew from high school after that.

I thought it would be the same for us too, and at first it was, but then one day I was sitting on the stoop in front of my building and Oscar came by with this big, stupid grin on his face.

“What’s with you?”  I asked, it coming out harder than I’d intended.

“I was just over by Seventh Street.”

“Oh yeah.”  I said without looking up from the magazine I was reading.

“They still say it.  Whenever they hear Turkey In the Straw they start chanting.”

I started to ask Oscar what he meant, but then I remembered.

“Los Hermanos Congelados.”  I whispered.

“Los Hermanos Congelados.”  Oscar repeated and we exchanged a sly smile.


Oscar made it ten years longer than either of us ever thought we would.  He was killed by the same heart condition that had taken his father two decades sooner than it claimed Oscar.

At his funeral I saw a lot of people from the old neighborhood.  They had all come out to pay their respects, even the ones who barely knew him.  Neighborhood folks are always good that way.

I only stayed for a few minutes.  Just long enough to pray for my friend and slip a small piece of paper into the lining of his casket.

It contained only three words.


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Open letter to the founders of Kinfolk

Silent sober disco is the stock photo’s
notion of fun, washed-out matte backdrop
and brushed metal because there’s no trouble
cool blues can’t overcome. Hair worn straight
and parted to the middle like middle school
but better, better products with kelp & sea grass.
Ocean water our palliative and we feel rich
and vacuous to desire it, tap our chips to say,
Yes, I will pay for what the earth gives in abundance,
or if not, then not in entire dearth. It gets me down:
silk only ever coral or dove gray or taupe, languid
acreages of chambray, girl & boy faces scrubbed
angelic of all but the goldenest side-slanting light.
Used to be a day when top buttons were left open,
flesh deltas trawling a viewer’s imagination.
Me, I’ve got other plans: shack in the burbs, Toyota,
skinny jeans past all point of return. Dirt.
Dirt beneath the nails, on the soles, gathered
in the deepening creases of my eyes. No, I will
not glamor your vision of age, posed on acacia stool
before Leibowitz backdrop, gauzy Eileen Fisher swoop.
It’s recliners & Smart Ones for me. You’d be shocked
at the lure, the lull of comfort.




A World War I battle in Belgium

Lying on the ground,
the dead at Langemarck
tell lies
long and bitter

tell of
lost sacrifice,
future glory;
dark and cold,
young field-grey regiments,
“holy grey rows,”
broken hawks lying
on the broken ground

tell tales
long and bitter;
the guns that
mowed them down
amid the broken stumps,
the blunted trunks of trees

cold and silent.

The wind blows
on the blood and the corpses,
blows through the eternal cemeteries,
the hallowed memorial hall,
keeping count of the fallen,
the good cause, the bad generals,
rank by rank,
faithful and innocent boys,
hardened soldiers creep
in the silent fog;

the wind blows,
leaving them all
dead as stones.

We feign reluctance,
loose the doves of peace
and go to war anyway,
sweep consequences
under the rug and
across murderous fields of fire
run like maniacs,
soiling ourselves,
terrified and
whistling the thin
whistle of death;

run like lunatics
while vicious and efficient,
the machine guns
ring in our ears,
quick delicate,
the bullets zipping,
the cartridges clinking
on gun carriages
like holiday bells.

Among trundling tanks
and nosing artillery,
regiments, battalions,
slaughtered like poultry
and the singing, so they
say, the singing of
the Deutschland song,
silly as Mother Goose,
presents the public face
of Flanders’ castle of the fallen;
the faces
not forgotten, never lost;
the singing boys,
the marching dead,
go on and on,
howling like wolves,
over the uncaring ground.

Langemarck, Langemarck,
who cares about your old battle,
tortured away and
misrepresented here?
Painted whore of
a landscape that never was.

Who cares to speak
at the cost of speech
the worn-out truth or
tell a few more lies?
Guild or corrupt
the graceful and sensible lily?

At Langemarck’s start
the living bodies lay and
trembled on the earth,
pressing down hard;
poisonous gas and
torpid mud drowned out
the noise of guns
until all was drowned in death.

Listen, listen,
you can hear death’s
clear clarion in the
report from the High
what was said
no more a lie
than the cost of
battle, the devotion
to bits of dead bodies;

these dead at Langemarck
left living love and life
to the women and children;

let them lie.




“Most suicides happen shortly before dawn.”
From “Bitter Fame” by Anne Stevenson

I think we will meet again old friend–
You who took a quick way out
(Who ever dared call it an easy way?)
In the darkest hour, on a night
Of endless, cold rain.

We went to school together
Worked in the same factory
Played baseball on the weekends.
A decade apart we married the same woman.
Even that scarcely rocked our friendship
(Although I could have done without
The “hand-me-down” jokes.)

For years we had little use
Or need for the medical profession.
You used to say, “I’ll only see a doctor
If it really hurts, or I’m really scared.”

Spitting up blood is scary all right
And the docs confirmed what you
Already knew—lung cancer, stage three.

I took you on a long hiking trip.
Your only special request was
“Don’t bring a camera.”

We talked very little
But there was a linkage,
At night we would stare into the fire
Hour after hour.

Afterward, back home
You called it “martyrdom by injection”
And you rode a carousel
Of pills, vomiting, pain, and confusion.

Confusion was the worst.
The only complaint I ever heard was:
“Sometimes I lose my grip.”

The funeral was a cold affair
Of his and my wives,
Ex-wives, wannabees, baby mommies,
And a confusing welter of children.
It made me think
Of the hawker at a baseball game shouting,
“You can’t tell the players
Without a program.”

To my utter disinterest,
I found I had inherited
All your fishing gear and guns,
Even the one you used at the end.
Odd: I thought it would have been
Police evidence or something.

I put the stuff away.

The years soldiered on,
So did I.

Until today: I was diagnosed
With lung cancer, stage three.
Doesn’t that beat all!

Where, where, where did I pack your gear?

I think we will meet again old friend.


MAY 2016