Monday, December 31, 2012

Pelican



It's midday on a Saturday in December, 
and the coastline is nearly deserted
aside from a solitary jogger and his terrier
who noses my palm before hurriedly
padding off to catch up with his master.
A squadron of grounded gulls squats
like lumps of concrete on the rain-pocked sand.
Sea stacks rise from the surf on either side, 
stone sentinels sleepily guarding the tide.
Between them, scroll after hissing scroll
roars and curls and foams. 
Swell and crest and collapse. 
I walk toward the bulk of Haystack Rock, 
which looms like the mouth of a tunnel 
opening into the mist.
Squinting against the wind, I trudge past scorched logs
and tangled heaps of puckered kelp, 
past scoured wooden homes abandoned for the winter,
past windswept hemlocks bent over backwards,
permanently twisted away from the Pacific.
I stoop to pry a mussel from the sand,
its blue-black wings hinged by a thread of gristle,
and warm it in my fist within my pocket.
Cheeks scraped raw, forehead wet and stinging,
I stomp my numb feet and flap my arms
and finally surrender to the storm, stop and turn around 
before reaching the rock formations.
I head back, no longer battling the wind
but letting it push me firmly in the right direction
back toward the steps to the street
back to the warmth of the car.
Tomorrow I turn forty. Today, a single pelican
skims low across the water
to pass without a sound into the future.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Flamingo

Thrashing trees, flashbulb pop of transformers.
The roof rattles and knocks, shingles plucked
and flung to the beleaguered lawn. The occasional crack
as some huge object hits the ground. Tantrum of an angry god,
spirits moaning. The earth is shredded 
by the teeth of the hungry storm, then spat out
We are small creatures shivering in our burrows, 
huddling in our ragged nests.
Shuddering in a hollow log, spirit gnawed to a stump.
Trapped in a drafty space beneath a stone.
The waters rise to flush us from our dens. The lamps flicker.
The TVs blink off. Our phones are dead
but we are shivering and alive.
Water floods our cellars, limbs lash at our attics.
Come morning, it will have passed, and we'll stagger around
the remains of the neighborhood, looking for our
migrated lawn ornaments. The garden gnome found smashed
to colorful chunks in the middle of the driveway. Two blocks over,
the uprooted plastic flamingo discovered flattened
in the gutter. But until then, we wait out the storm,
trembling as the earth is pulled out from under us. 
We are alone. We are devoured.
We are so brutally loved.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

When

(for Kirk Reeves)

The guy you'd see around town
playing trumpet on traffic islands
or in front of the second-run movie theater,
always decked out in a white tuxedo
with a Mickey Mouse mask perched on his scalp
has shot himself dead. No more magic tricks,
no more corny jokes, no more puppets
delivering execrable puns, no more
barely recognizable renditions of
When You Wish Upon a Star and When
the Saints Go Marching In.
No more sequined Santa outfit at Christmas.
A local legend, admired for his persistence
if not his talent, he was out there every day,
beaming through his torment until
he couldn't. Borderline homeless, busking
by the side of the road in any weather
but dreaming of the stage, a shot at television.
Fifty-six and constantly at work,
still waititng to collect the payoff. Until then,
the daily take of smiles would have to be enough.
And it was not.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Cassavettes

booted a hole through the speaker. Hurled the hi-fi
down the staircase, where it bounced off the bannister.
Kicked the houseplants, clawed at the screen door,
headbutted the goldfish bowl.
The great wheel had clicked onto a blank space,
signifying the start of an epoch of nothingness.
He couldn't handle it, and took his rage out
on the furnished split-level.
He felt like he'd been tricked into believing
there was some order in all of this. After all,
books sit at right angles on the shelves.
Furniture stays firmly in place thanks to gravity.
But still.
So now he kicks with all his might.
The bulbs pop, the curtains are rent.
The carpet unravels before his eyes.
The plaster turns to powder. The soft beams splinter.
The pictures plunge from their nails,
the empty frames full of jagged teeth
egging him on, screaming his name.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Hotel Soaps

are all you left me.
Wrapped in thick, smooth paper
like miniature chocolate bars,
pocketed from beside the sinks
of countless Hiltons and Travelodges.
You claimed that you hadn't bought
a bar of soap in thirty years.
Even now, they swell a shoebox.
We joked about nestling them
inside your casket, enshrouding your corpse
in stolen washcloths. I don't know who
ended up with the washcloths. 
I wash away the walls
of this skinflint room
brick by melting brick.
You will not be truly dead
until the last sliver crumbles
into chips against my slippery flesh.
It won't be long. Life is short.
There's no sense skimping on the lather.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Tao of Franz Kline


Brushstrokes black as smokestacks, black as derricks,
black as scorched wicks. Black as the inside of a boot.
Smear of grease on a mechanic's cheek.
A black wing against a sky white as freshly poured concrete,
white as rolling papers. A train trestle clatters across
the oily river. Spokes of a wheel click and whir.
A turkey buzzard dives from a half-finished scaffold.
A ragged jackdaw darkens the bleached asphalt. 
All the colors and gradations 
of the world have dropped away, replaced by 
rogue sumi-e slashes, Zen koans gone haywire.
The days motionless yet fleeting.
We are shadows cast against the plaster.
We are flapping canvases stiff with tar.
We are lumps of coal blanketed by the snow.
Our skeletons charred black,
stark against a sky white as bone.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Supplication

A hawk stands on a branch beside the river,
a gargoyle atop a cathedral of trees.
The congregation stills itself, and whispers
in the thin October foliage, not me.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving at the Portland Art Museum


Soutine's little pastry chef is doing his best
to prepare the meal with the ingredients at hand. There's no turkey, 
but the Lipschitz Prometheus is strangling a vulture
that could pass for some kind of poultry,
and Courbet and a couple of the Dutch offer a variety
of fruits and vegetables, looking more real
than the ones the rest of us will be eating.
Father Wood's stern portrait will be there,
as well as Soyer's poor Russian woman, though they'll make her
chainsmoke her menthols outside.
Dinner will be served in the Native American wing, of course,
where the hollow Kwakiutl masks will hover around the feast dish,
trying to work up an appetite.
The cardinal will deliver the blessing, nearly yelling
to be heard over the cobbler's children
who wiggle at the card table, tickling all the baby Jesuses.
Afterwards, everyone will return to their hooks and pedestals
to sleep it off, leaving only Hanson's poor dishwasher
to clean up alone, until the Russian woman shyly approaches
and asks him for a cigarette, and if he'd like her to help dry.

(Thanks to LaValle for the idea)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Saltines

We waltzed across the surface of the cracker,
stepping across the stones of salt, cautiously skirting the holes.
You and I, tiny Fred and miniature Ginger.
Your black toes gleamed, your construction paper tux was immaculate.
My gauzy gown furled and unfurled like a morning glory,
clinging to my curves. There was cellophane stretched
across your open mouth and when we smooched,
my tongue smashed against the barrier of smooth plastic.
All four of our hands were shoved inside a single pair of kid gloves.
Arthur Murray would have been proud
of his pupils shrunk to the size of cake decorations.
 Foxtrot, cha cha, samba, quadrille;
we danced them all across the cutting board,
our countertop dancehall lit by the orange glow
of the stovetop spirals, and at the end of the night,
when we climbed back up into the cupboard,
we fit together perfectly; one of us the slot,
the other the flap inserted to close the box.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Desert Windfall

Stationed in Kuwait, ostensibly to fix generators,
you steal apples to feed Adam, 
the base's lone resident camel.
If caught, you could face a courl marshal.
You stand before a wall of sand, hair too short
To be ruffled by the wind. Your fatigues
appear splotched with dust and vomit.
Your emails are agreeable and bland,
No doubt rifled through for digital contraband.
Still, you tell your wife about the apples,
And she tells me, our conversation
Punctuated by static and silence
No doubt the army brass has more pressing matters to attend to
than pilfered fruit, than a dromedary's cidery diarrhea.
There are wires to be strung across the desert.
There are driverless caravans to command.
There are steel-tipped seeds to plant.
Finish your job and come home, my friend.
Your house still stands intact outside of Denver.
The wildfires you watched from your porch 
Have been extinguished
Keep humping your toolbelt through the dust.
It's autumn here and the orchards burn 
And burst with apples waiting to be picked

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Ringing Chord


Every Tuesday night at ten
the accordion doors in the back
of the Chinese restaurant clack shut. 
The barbershop aficionados huddle around 
the banquet table, paunchy retirees 
in button downs and polo shirts,
eyes wobbling through their thick lenses.
They shovel dumplings into their soft mouths,
hurriedly slurping their egg drop soup,
until their leader gives the signal
and begins to  walk them through each part
-the lead, the baritone, the plodding bass, 
the feathery tenor- guiding and sculpting each word 
with his hands as well as his lips.
Four at a time, they push back their chairs
and crowd together at the foot of the table.
Eyes squeezed shut behind their bifocals,
they strain their necks and croon,
singing only the tags- the last four bars
which encapsulate the entire composition,
the climax as four winding paths 
snap into perfect a capella alignment
and cause a harmonic shudder to pass through
the flaming silk phoenixes, the caged dragons
on the walls of the restaurant.
They spend hours entwining those strands
into a thick melody, voices vibrating
with an otherworldly frequency
not unlike the way you vibrate as you lie there, 
quivering, lashed to the motel headboard,
forgetting the rope burning your wrists
as you lose yourself in song.

Friday, October 19, 2012

It's September and I'm Erasing All Your Emails

Just before sundown,
clouds of migrating swifts
spiral into the chimney
of the school, like gnats
sucked into a drainpipe.
It's dizzying, even from 

down here. A hawk will 
occasionally scatter the flock
and even though I cringe, 

I'm also thrilled, secretly 
hoping to see the killer 
snatch himself a meal.

Thousands of mayflies 

bounce in the sunlight
above the pond, dropping 

then springing back up
as if yanked by rubber bands.
The insects dance like 

television static, one last
jitterbug before last call. 
One settles on my arm.
I flick it away as gently as I can
and watch the ducks
as they skim the tiny bodies 

from the water.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Saline Flush

A briny whiff away from the coast, just beyond
the plywood-storefront trough of Cloverdale,
in the husk of a barn reborn as a flea market,
in a glass display case, nestled amongst
the souvenir thimbles and novelty salt shakers
stood a plasticine pony, on whose saddle was mounted
a little pickaninny, his head like a scorched buttercup.
Brand new, handmade, wide-eyed and grinning vacantly.

We drove on, past the Holsteins which stood rattling their bells,
past the herons hunched with their spears poised in the shallows.
We laughed at the ubiquitous tsunami warning signs
that depicted a faceless figure chased by a cartoon tidal wave.
We visited the stubby lighthouse that squatted stubbornly on the cape
with its head full of lenses, listened to the crash and hiss of the tide
that combed the crags with its foamy fingers.

At the end of the day, we wove inland through the sitka forests,
my feet half-buried in balled-up receipts and cracked mussel wings,
while far behind us, that tiny figurine dismounted from his steed
and got down on his knees
and gazed up at that sky of glass
to pray for the those tablets to scrape
deep beneath the surface of the Pacific
and unleash the hungry crest to chomp down on the shore.
He prayed for a countryside scrubbed clean
of all its antiques and tchotchkes,
for scattered livestock and herds of crippled sinners
hobbling for the hills, never looking back
but still turning to salt anyways.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee

My latest book of poems culled from The Carrion Call has arrived, and I have to say, it's my first collection which I can honestly say I'm happy with. I hope you are too! Illustrated with photographs taken by yours truly.

 Buy your copy here: Hit the Deck

Friday, October 5, 2012

Song of Eryops


There was an age when amphibians ruled the Earth.
They were fiercer in those days. Toothed frogs. 
Salamanders dressed as crocodiles. Electric axolotls.
Their king was Eryops, a lumpish brute
who, as despots do, declared himself the apex of evolution.
Just think of the power of being equally at home
on dry land and in the drink! The proud beast didn’t see
the price of that compromise, that by straddling both worlds
they mastered neither. And so, what do you imagine happened
when he led his people inland? The sun squeezed them dry, of course,
and there was no pond to soak their crackling skin.
And so the amphibians were forced to reluctantly adapt.
The most stubborn -or cowardly- of them slunk back to their soggy homes
to be replaced by creatures who had made up their minds
about which side of the fence the crawled upon,
who were brave enough to leave the muddy banks behind.

Of course, though their reign is all but forgotten
the amphibians are still with us, and they thrive,
if more humbly than before. Their domains shrunken
to puddles and ponds, they govern from beneath stones and logs.
No longer behemoths, most of them are small enough
to squirm in your palm.
Eryops throws back his lumpy, misshapen head
and bellows, filling the sticky air with his song,
lamenting for a kingdom lost, then lumbers away
to stuff his mouth with prey
to stifle his sobs.
.

The New Client

1. Haul yourself up to lie on the muddy bank.


2. Get used to your new lungs, the way they heave and blow
in contrast to the delicate fluttering of your gills.

3. Dont worry about predators, you are the first,
an enterprising aeronaut exploring a virgin marketplace.

4. Blink the ooze from your eyes and look around.

5. Roll in the dust to protect your glistening hide from the rays of the sun.

6. Try out those legs. Youll get the hang of them in no time.

7. Enter the embrace of the earth who displays her wares for you,
exposes her teat and implores you to suck.

Your credit is good here, she assures you. We welcome your business.

8. Straighten your tie.

9. Prepare to introduce yourself to your fellow creatures, shaking whatever appendage they offer in greeting.

10. Try your damnedest not to lick your chops.