Sunday, September 5, 2010

Color of blood


Traffic grinding along
Dirty shack streets of
San Salvador.

My hand speaks
the motion of lips
Locked in silence and security.
One slip to fall
in the abyss of lookout valleys
where buzzards keep meat
content with pickin off dead martyrs.

The color of blood is universal
Smiles and memory
Green-fatigued clowns
Swaying hearts and minds
Marked by the white hand of death
Silent weapons called music and dancing
Spring spirits from unmarked graves.


Dogs are barking out
The spell of night
Imprisoned songs penetrate
Barrier veils
Steel bars shaped like flowers
Hold voices back
Echoing cages over windows.

The sweet breath of song
Rings in unison
With the underground passages.

Conciousness inhibiting dreams
Dreams ride up in black Jeep Cherokees
Fortune giving light
Shedding skin
Bodies waving through their
Field of vision.


I am serenaded by sentries
The seed of greed passes on the wind
Landing in a furrow and sprouting
Far above the dark earth
Seed becomes leaf
Leaf enquires to the wind
Around the tracks of the evening
Clothed in fog
We wrap ourselves in a shroud of memories.

The seed becomes real in the speech of poetic days.

The day watches like a crow for
Dogs of intelligence.

Life rings
Hammers return to dust and sand.

New growth like corn
Mingles with jungle bravado angels
Stark faces serious in the wind
As much as the spirit can endure.

This zone commands a red rose
Blooms incarnate blossom bending
Like the young stalk of a child
Wrapped in liberation.

Life Drama

Ivory hands conduct the business of pearls
Dreams transluscent
Transcending dreams.

Your life a scattered prism
Of worried days and regretful years.

Your hands are beautiful
Sensitive remnants.

If the mouth in your palm could speak
It would reveal an ageless memory of toil.

After seeing an old picture of Mt. Rushmore

My cousin
Has a picture
Of her dead mother
My dead Aunt
In front of Mt. Rushmore.

Only Washington is there
Sediment lines run through his wig
He stares into the sky alone
Lord of the land but a soldier and no mystic.

His stony gaze subjugating
How these Black Hills must have stirred and quaked
Under this shuddering chiselled edge
Cutting her veins and hammering
Rock dust away from eon's erosion and decay.


Creeley Cold Mountain intellectual,
Koestler's three-brained ghost,
Daddy beat at the switch,
Between blithe reptiles,
In the halls of justice.

Lorca! Neruda! Snyder!
Hail to the poets !
Thoreau and Emerson wail alone.

A shack for every student
Inner peace to achieve flow.


The faded barn leans to the west
A picture of time and stillness
I glance over my father's shoulder
to glimpse the light in the doorway.

He reads me.
Yep it could use a little work.
He rakes on.
I stand behind him smoking
Hunched over from the cold,
Arms drawn in I agree
With a bouncing at the knees.

Hieros Gamos

The moon lights the earth
With a dim uncertainty.

There is a huge crab in the mud,
Two dogs guard the orbit of the sun.

They bark at the moon and we sit here still.

You have married the sun?
You who only attracts rain?
Which is your castle,
There with the forest
Lurking behind or here,
On the steppes?

Murder the Murderer

Though death be a day
The sun merely raises its glow
To suffuse the night while
In a room of silent smoke
Low candles hunger for
The blood of burns and
The death of flames.

Your eyes
The hours most love
Penetrate the evening with
Bright clairvoyance.
Watch him
Strapped to his cynicism and
Brooding with early flowers
That pluck at his flesh With
Chained petals.

Shadows form
Thrust in darkness
The shape of his killing hands
Splattering on walls in
Point blank flashes of light.


Wind shakes the trees
A saw being bent and bowed
Rattling in your hand
While you hold sutras
Under your arm.

Maya says Abra Kedabra
Holding a snake flute
A soft-skinned gourd.

Perpetual Africa-cum-Dravidia
Sunday-go-to-meeting melodies
Burst forth from
Fiery diamond hands.

The shooting star of mercy
Must have a bleak face
Carrying the weight of seers and
The baggage of saints.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


The old woodsman who left no trace
All he left us was a book
But we cling to it while we slip away

When you can’t tell the dancer from the dance
She gets into a groove
But it’s the music
She’s moving
Swallowed by a flame so soft and without a name
The fire that consumes the deed

It’s just the art
It’s not about the living
These two ideas sometimes together never seen
But go a little deeper
You might find the space where they finally meet.


O climb ye to the highlands
For there you shall see
A baby llama with snow white fur
Gateway to the sun

Creator of all fragile and vulnerable elements
Do you not see the dried snot on their faces ?
The white crust at the corners of their mouths ?

How they thirst !!

This is our plea
For high are we

Jumbling carrots he pretended to know intuitively
A past was forming

Away from the courgettes and the aubergine clouds
Wavering above the hamburger stand
A wickety wackety giant-sized bun
Atop the clattering van
Rooftop people waiting
Fire burning with no condiments in sight
A masked broiler snickers between the crimson flames

A man yells emblazoned with fires of the past
Youth shadows spread along the awning
A young pigioen landing and shitting in your
Coke with lemon

Devilish Gurus With Their Brain Dead Flocks

7 hermetic principles

mentalism, correspondence, vibration, polarity, rhythm, cause and effect, gender

do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law
to create with one hand while the other destroys
fame is like a little dog you have to take out with you everyday

smokin like the tires of some dragster getting ready to shoot off
a parachute across the finish line
tappin the fire inside
stokin my flames with a red hot iron
another buning coal smolders and sparks into the air
poppin my fingers to the cracklin rhythm there

I wont die of exposure
Fame is not my curse
No blessing found in my home
Other than a little verse


Through fate and love our paths crossed
I remember under the moolit sky
Our eyes spoke over the river no words
Branded my heart to this day

The water between us your mother carried you away
I ran back to the caravan and headed East they say
And now back westward today
If she’s gone off to rest
May peace shine it’s light all her days

We stopped a while to breathe the air
Play a tune
Wash our clothes

Your home sat still like a rock by the river
Animals at your command
I left my gloves of leather
For you to find in the night

Koan # 1

I always find my bodhis in the street
The first sip is joy
The second gladness
And the third serenity

Number four is madness and the last ecstasy

The sparrow hops along the veranda again
Feet wet laughter solemn
Rocks are space
I’m mostly human making kindling
An gobbling down food
Paramita of Dana you can’t fall offf a mountiain
When you get to the top keep climbing

Zen lunatics rucksack wanderers in the zendo
Making up haikus reciting koans
Walkin in Tamalpais

American Taliban

Borderline mission across the river we started
Tacit agreement to leave it at that
On one would fire the very first round
Till the generals retired to the old home town
Shallow like the river runnin across our eyes
Try to make things clear see through better eyes

He said take off the gloves on this one
They let him freeze and bleed
Freedom of religion depends on what you believe

When I went over the border I went to training there
Fighting the red backed Alliance
I knew something was wrong when they called him a killer
Put his picture on the front page
The timing wasn’t right just like all the others
Striking fear in the souls of the world

Unimpressed with the devil who turned us upside down
Not academic or spiritual that was my take on it

I was really impressed with Malcolm X so I took up a gun in Allah’s defense
Then I went to learn Arabic pretty soon in Pakistan memorizing the Koran

What I didn’t tell anybody was I went over the mountain
Underwent some training there
By our US funded allies caught up in a battle
Held and starved as prisoner until US troops saved me

Thought it was all over then Rumsfeld gave the order
Take the gloves off he said
And they put me in the cold
Gunshots left untreated
Strapped down and naked

The picture spread all over
The son to terror’s Godfather
Charged with treason intent to kill
A soldier’s reason and Allah’s will

Looking Through the Stacks

I always listen to what no one else does
Don’t make no reference to the TV
Lookin through the stacks to find a good read

I lost my privilege at the library
They wouldn’t loan me Don Quixote
Now im thinkin of layin my money down
Lookin through the stacks to find a good read

You can go and do just as you please
I turn away rom what’s on now
Nobody did anything to phase me
Now you can just erase me
Lookin through the stacks to find a good read

House of Clowns

Livin in the house of clowns
I know some people who’d dig it
Don’t get me wrong
Just a big change form solo trapeze
Movin from ringmaster on down

Lady Stardust

Lady stardust I see a distant twinkle in your eyes.
Under the billboard checking the hood
Fired one up sparks fire for free
Something grounded me in reality

People on the streets like little satellites
Orbiting around and around
Some girls voice from America never heard such a sound.

Asleep you find some things you hide
Open eyes can’t see
Somehow we know in dreams reside
The key to misery

In daylight hours we toil in vain
The nighttime promise shines
Gold and silver
Flowing wine
Running in our veins

The trees we climbed the conjured hills
The pastures with dandelion snow
Like children round the circle sing
Round and round we go

Crooked Line

The myths of old don’t work no more
You know we’ve got to bring those gods down
Stories told of knights so bold
Kings rattling their crowns

King of Thieves and the Queen of Hearts
Spewing a crooked line
Turn your head on a dime
Now way to change your mind
Walkin that crooked line

Get out the rake
Not too much of a disgrace
Leaves fallin on your face
Underneath the dying sun

Another purge in sight
Coup de tat tonight
Troops rollin to the border
Wake up from your slumber
Far too many in number
An unknown chart in the street today
I wanted to ask what they were saying.

After the flood the gates swung wide
Everyone watching for the rain in the sky
Not a drop fell

I hide in the oak maple and pine
Starting to choke on the assembly line

Seven Generations

Just like that river
You cant step in the same one twice
Keeps on movin
With every roll of the dice
Im not bettin
You’ll clean up what you let behind
That’s for seven generations down the line

Seven generations down the line
How will the look back on us in time
Like some kind of medicine or some other kind of wheel
Turning and turning
My reflection in the pool put me in my place
Predator cruel move with animal grace
Then I saw you there ripples showed what I had in my mind
Seven generations down the line

You can tame the beasts but they stil wourk out of their cells
Here on the outside they don't care how you’ve felt
I’ll put my hand in those cages one more time
Seven generations down the line

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Dreams So Real

Klamath Falls on Friday morning
20 degrees of solitude.

Flatbed gypsy in gray polyester
Not surprised by The Pig
He was anonymous and so were we.

Journeymen walking rows.

World's largest catfish 1.5 tons 21 feet long.
Umatilla River by Ron Gollyhorn a logger
From Ukiah down wind from the cattle ranch of
George Antioch.

Through the Blue
Mountains by La Grande
Emily stood tall.

Around and around in Portland
Bridge over San Kwai
Piper, Stephanie and Jane
Warm with many lists.

Work to be done
What about the little one?

Powerful lands
Stillness and peace
The slow work of Earth.

Nice Picture

ad inhaesio

Drunk with passion, ruled by motive.

There is a picture
Of a man in a yellow raincoat
Standing on his capsized dinghy.
One arm covers his eyes
While the other holds
The lantern in the rain.

We paid witness to Venus
In daylight
By a slivery
Silver moon.

The clouds are different
Around here as though their
Vapor was determined by
Trees and brush or the
Juttin rock.

They absorb the colors of
The ground
For their own beautiful use.

We were disappointed
Big light over the hills
Orange brightness flashing
On and off.

We pass closely by but see nothing.

Then from behind us after a time
A refinery burning
Petroleum and we thought
It might have been a saucer.

Never again for seventy-five
Thousand years yeah
Nice thing to know.

The Pig

Flights of fancy
A truckload of thought
Packed so nicely
The idea runs !!

Bless the Pig
Symbol of all good.

Going West

On the road to Denver
Near Boot Hill
Where myth and reality
The Pig blazes through the
Cellophane membrane
Toward antipathy.

Tontitown, Arkansas,
home of Bessie the
ton o tits cow.
We thought this utterly ridiculous
But we weren't there.

Beginning to see the outline
Of the Delectable Mountains.
Nebraska just seems like a barnyard with
Barren trees and the
Smell of antiseptic restrooms
Icy roads left unsalted.

Denver 248 miles

10:15 a.m.
The road looks like one of
Frankenstein Monsters' neck scars
All stitched up and life-inflicted.

Horses and cattle put
Together in fields
Full of mud huts
Villagers squandered
Left abandoned.

Past the Applegate drain near Paxton Road
Entering Keith County and
Mountain time zone now 9:30 a.m.
Woop Woop !!

South Platte River on Big Mac Drive.

True love ain't hard to see

Now these are hills
The jailbird takes the rap
half a mile from Ovid
The Metamorphosis takes place
And The Pig flies away.

Red Lion Road
Sagebrush troopers
Storming to rainforests
And over deserts.

Iliff and Beaver Crossing
Crook, Sidney, Sterling.

Butch to the rescue
Bad voltage regulator
Can sing some grief and sorrow
Sunday November fifth
On the road to Fort Collins
Debbie Does Donuts topless donut shop
Geraldo show was there.

News items:
Antone Wood, aged 11, the county's youngest inmate
The Ute and the Knight family with Nighthawk lawyer
Boulder tribes looking to reclaim ancestors' bones.

--Fall 1989

Thursday, July 22, 2010


I am so sorry Czeslaw
I know you won the prize.

Someone stuck a feather
deep inside your
road-side dog.

But it was a gift for me
Probably from a Lady I'll never see.

It was in the space between
Salvation and the damnation and
Pursuing a goal.

In a funny way
Things started meshing together.

The feather, your words, the song of death
And so I crossed myself with
the feather and
examined its silvery spine in
The light of my lamp.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

This is For the Ones That Didn´t Get Away

This is for the ones
That didn´t get away
Grown large over time
Escaping nets
Fame spread around school and
In tales of old fishermen

This is for the ones
That didn´t get away
Jumping over boats
Shiny flips
Teasing adversaries and their sons
Just a glint
On the horizon dips

This is for the ones
That didn´t get away
Blackened not
By Creole mens´hands
But crude oil barons
Shoving barrels
Tearing at our backs
Giving protegé commands

Sarasota, June 2010

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Blood of The King

Sometime around 1958, Saint Paul, Minnesota

My birth mom Charlane carried the blood of The King. Pretty lofty words, you might think I was descended from royalty, but it’s not exactly like that. Actually this was The King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. Now what is this boy talking about?

You know the scene, screaming girls and Elvis shaking his hips. Charlane was there, in some Civic Auditorium in 1958. I can’t say I was in her womb, but perhaps my connection to The King is a bit more subtle, a bit more elusive than being a teenybopper’s soon to be adopted son drifting in fluid while Elvis and Scotty Moore work it out on Mystery Train. I can’t make that claim, like being conceived at Woodstock or something.

In the midst of all the screaming and crappy sound system, girls were throwing things up on stage. Not like notes or roses, but pictures in frames and big heavy notebooks to sign. One of these objects hit him square in the forehead, drawing blood. There was a hush in the crowd as the music stopped for a second and Elvis dabbed at his wound, looking vindictively into the crowd for help or to find out who threw it. Suddenly a flurry of handkerchiefs floated onto stage from the front rows, girls were pouring up to the front and laying out there handkerchiefs for Elvis.

He was so thankful and polite. He leaned down to choose one and a girl gasped, cupping her hands over her mouth. Elvis dabbed the blood for a moment and smiled at the crowd again, backing away toward the band. He counted off a One Two Three and went into Teddy Bear just like that, putting pressure on his wound the whole time.
As the song was finishing, The King walked toward the front of the stage and, according to Charlane, looked straight at her and then didn’t really throw, but let go of the handkerchief, and like a leaf it flew down into her outstretched hands. The red stain was still wet and warm.

She kept the memento for some years, and I’d like to think it was still there in her room, folded neatly under glass, red stain peeking through, the day I was born. But the story goes that her Mother, who was quite a serious non emotional person, threw it away one day in a cleaning frenzy. It’s not clear if she knew what it was and thought her daughter didn’t need it or if it were just an oversight, another non descript item lying around. It could go either way.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Hills of Home

Winter 1995, Tacoma Bluegrass Festival

Ralph Stanley is one of the legends of Appalachian banjo and singing. He was playing at a bluegrass festival one early winter, and after one of his concerts we saw him sitting out at the table where they were selling his CDs and merchandise. He had a bumper sticker saying Ralph Stanley for President which I bought and stuck on my guitar case. He had been selling the same bumper sticker for twenty years they told me later.

We got to talking with him and his son, a fine singer and guitar picker in his own right, performing with his daddy on the road since he was a boy. Ralph was in his late sixties, this was before his appearance in the Coen Brothers movie, when he sang Oh Death and won the grammy that year and started doing all those TV appearances.

He was only about five feet tall, coming from a long line of miners I guess. He didn’t say much, but he really radiated a peaceful and spiritual energy to all of us without even cracking a smile. Like a little Appalachian bodhisattva, we all thought he had the mountain inside him and every time he sang, the wind in the hollows blew up and through him.

Later in the festival I was talking to Peter Rowan, once with Jerry Garcia in Old and In the Way, still the highest selling bluegrass album of all time. We were talking about Ralph, and Peter told me he had been up to Ralph’s Hills of Home. Up on the hill you can hear the Stanley Brothers being played out of little speakers next to Ralph’s Brother Carter and their mother’s graves, 24 hours a day, leading them home. A little further up the hill, Peter told us, no music being piped out, but two more gravestones--father and son biker family who had loved Ralph for many years.

One day the Father overdosed on heroin and all his biker buddies, dragging the teenage son along, took him up to the Hills of Home on their choppers, propped him up against a tree next to Carter and his Mothers' graves and shot him full of holes with their various guns. They called for Ralph but Ralph was on tour in Belgium at the time. The bikers left the bullet-riddled corpse up against the tree, a note tacked to its chest with one final wish--that their friend be buried next to Carter and Mama Stanley at Hills of Home.

When Ralph got home he was told of the crazy incident and request by his family and the people who worked at the house. He just looked at everyone and said well if that old boy needs a way to find his way back home, then we ought to oblige him with a little resting place up here, but over yonder next to the hedge, not next to Mama and Carter.

Ten years later the son repeated the overdose at a much younger age than his Father had, and the bikers just made a quick call on their cellphones to make the immortal wish.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Before the Deluge

Spring 1992, Chalatenango, El Salvador and LAX

The FMLN banners were in the streets, people were waving flags, giving speeches and selling souvenirs. Way different than two years before when we had to pose as Agronomists when crossing over into rebel territory to visit Miguel Angel.
We made it up to Chalate in the Pastors for Peace Caravan and spent most of the day sorting out the donations. Garden supplies, computers and computer parts, baby clothes, school supplies, household items. We had to turn a lot of stuff away in Portland, like sweaters and electrical appliances, as you can imagine, and we thought well intentioned progressive folks were hoping to unload some of their stuff lying around.

The Caravan was a US and Canada joint effort, with 35 big cargo trucks, not eighteen wheelers, but moving van size, all crossing the border at the same time with the press and border patrol there, sometimes harassing them for hours. I went by plane and met up with everyone in San Salvador.

Because a lot of the donations were earmarked for certain provinces, we first unloaded everything from all of the trucks and then re packed it, each truck with a particular destination, like Chalatenango in our case. We did this sorting at the University where the six Jesuit priests were murdered, and countless others, many students and faculty, had been disappeared by ARENA security forces or private death squads. One guy pointed to the large silver 20 story building looming above us. It was empty, the windows were mostly shattered, and he laughed when he told me the Duarte government of the 1980’s, during Reagan and the height of the war, kept putting new windows in and the rebels kept blowing them out. It was like a game, and no one ever used it as a business or office complex. I thought of the great black obelisk in 2001 A Space Odyssey.

While we were unloading the trucks, a lot of people living in the town wanted to talk to us, and a couple people took me aside to ask for more help. Money for the family, they wanted to give me an address to send things, or just to hear their stories. I didn’t understand very much Spanish but listened intently until one of the coordinators asked me to help carry something or what have you, urging me not to give anything extra, no one was allowed because it wasn’t fair to others.

We spent a few days in the same village, and that’s where we met Comandante Maria Serrano, from Mariah’s Story the Documentary. In the middle of the village there were big trailers exactly like the ones at big construction sites. These were marked UN, and these ever present letters were on air conditioned trucks all over the country, diplomats, civil servants and office workers, swooping down in their helicopters to pour over data and coordinate the cease fire and Peace Accords agreements.

There were a few tables set up in the center of the town with UN people. Leading up to each table was a long line of ex combatants from the rebel forces, carrying a weapon to be dismantled. These were the terms of the cease fire, it had to be monitored down to every last known gun and soldier. The rebels had to give up their weapons, many of them stolen after retreating government forces left them behind. After all, many in the ARENA army were forcibly recruited, often sons were snatched off park benches or bus stops by police officers and taken to military barracks, forced into conscription under threat of death. The line of soldiers extended up the path and into the mountains behind the town. The sound and smell of soldering and welding filled the air with a metallic, sulfuric patina. Straight faced UN people, way too far from Geneva, wrote on clipboards and filled UN wheelbarrows with pieces of broken weapons to be carted off to a run down tin farm building.

They took us to the cache of dismantled weapons. Bazookas, pistols, all type of machine guns, rocket launchers and sniper rifles. Raining down death on whole families, now inert in a pile. They told us we could take anything we wanted so I scrounged around, only a couple of us did. I found a Chinese made AK47, its barrel sawed off, welded together and the firing pin pulled out. The wooden stock was intact, as well as the bullet magazine and trigger. Put a cardboard tube on the end and wrap it with electrical type and by God you’ve got a real looking machine gun. I supposed it was more memorable than buying one of the plaque mounted guns they were selling in the Zocalo, it held more personal meaning for me to select it from such a variety of choices.

When the two weeks were over, the delegation split up and went back home. I was flying through Los Angeles, LAX, and hoped I wouldn’t have any problems. I cleverly wrapped the AK47 in a towel and put it in the middle of all my stuff in a big suitcase. No radar picked it up, so far so good out of El Salvador.
Coming into customs at LAX, we were standing in line, one nervous guy in front of me, I thought he may have something in his little bag, he was getting jittery. I was not feeling nervous at all. I looked over and saw a shorter line and got into it. When I got to the desk the lady asked me if I had any foodstuffs to declare and I said no. Apparently this was the line specifically for people with fruit baskets, wine, or whatever food items you were bringing back home. She asked me to step to the side please and a couple officers would be over in a second.

I stared into space and felt two huge figures approaching me from behind. I didn’t want to turn around. They came around to my side and I was staring into the chests of two huge LAX Customs Police, fingerless gloves and looking up I saw the inevitable crew cuts. They were twins, I thought, but didn’t ask for confirmation. I heard one of them ask me to please open my suitcase.

Now I was getting a little nervous. As I unzipped the big suitcase, they asked me if I had any weapons. I didn’t flinch and said no, but I think it came out a little uneasy cause then they asked me if I had anything made of metal in my suitcase.

How could I explain, it wasn’t illegal what I was doing, check that jittery guy for the cocaine instead. I said well you know the war is over and the rebels gave up. I have a souvenir from the war, uh they were selling them as mementos you know, end of twelve years of Civil War and Communist insurrection.

They looked at me without saying anything, but one of the twins unsnapped his Glock, motioning with his chin for me to open the suitcase and remove the contents. I glanced over at the other people in line as my hand reached the towel. They were looking at me too, watching as I put both hands under the towel to lift it out, like a little baby in swaddling clothes, all the time explaining now you know its just a souvenir and its completely dismantled, you know the UN was there and they destroyed all the weapons and then gave them to people, so I just got this one…I was handing him the towel, but the other twin unsnapped his Glock, kept his hand on it and put one foot back. Open the towel sir.

The stock of the weapon came into view first and then the rest of the weapon, stark against the fluffy white towel. I saw one person in line lean back to the person behind them, eyes trained on me, as they whispered something. The customs people in the booth craned their necks to see what was going on. The twins were mesmerized. I pointed it right at them, finger on the trigger. They asked me questions about where and how did I get it, was it really a souvenir, what about this 12 year civil war I was talking about. One of them smiled and asked me if he could hold it. I gave it to him and he examined it, nodding in approval and verifying that indeed the weapon was useless and they could see no reason why I shouldn’t be able to take it home with me, just like any old basket of fruit.
I did put a cardboard tube on the end and covered it with electrical tape. Some friends rented Clinton St. Theater in Portland for ninety dollars one Friday Cabaret Night and used it in a short play they had written. I don’t remember what the piece was about and I don’t remember ever getting my AK47 back either.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Great American Novel

1983-1988, Iowa City, Iowa

I had a friend who was related to the Governor of Texas, Ann Richards. Her name was Robin, and she played third chair trumpet with me and Chris Abbott, first and second chair respectively. Her dad was one of the first adults I remember meeting who was literary. I mean he looked and dressed literary, salt and pepper beard, dark rimmed glassed, patches at the elbows of a corduroy suit jacket. My other literary person was my dear friend Judy Atwell, who allowed me to read all her Emerson collection one long weekend sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes. Robin’s father looked literary too and his daughters were all very cultured and intelligent, but with oversized rear ends every last one of them. I really liked Robin a lot, she was my best friend, and I think her dad knew that when we met. We had a short discussion at the doors to the high school, I had just finished giving a speech at High School Graduation, which he liked and commented on, and I told him I wanted to write the Great American Novel. He told me with a laugh that someone had better do it soon and wished me luck.

I chose University of Iowa for just that reason, starting with pre journalism but soon getting into the International Undergraduate Writer’s Workshop.
Flannery O’Connor was a quiet student there in the 50’s, writing her masterpieces of Catholicism and entropy. Dylan Thomas lived there a while too, drinking himself to death and pissing people off in Mama’s, where we always went for fitty cent Pabst Cans on Thursday nights. A wide array of writers came through Iowa City, though it seems to be known best for Bridges of Madison County.

Probably the most legendary figure of Iowa City was Kurt Vonnegut. He moved there in the late 60’s or early 70’s in a Volkswagen to become faculty, and wrote a lot of his most famous novels there, actually becoming famous and rich there. I lived in his house, the famous Vonnegut House, for about four years. He had been gone for a good ten years by then.

The house sat way up on the hill, just next to the woods, and we even had a barn out back you could live in. Next door, through the bushes, was Black’s Gaslight Village, a series of small studio apartments which began as a collective living idea and turned into Bohemian heaven while Vonnegut was there. Many tales of wild parties, complete with wife swapping amongst the intelligentsia still were echoing in the halls of academia.

For as many years as anyone could remember, the house had been the site of the biggest party of the year, held on May Day, complete with May Pole, bands in the barn all day and all night, endless kegs, usually New Orleans style food for some reason, and lots of psychedelics and anything you could get your hands on. People had free run of your house, everyone could be trusted, even my friends who shot up in the basement were careful not to put their needles in the common trash, they always put them in a separate bag. Divin’ Duck and Totem Soul, the band I was in, played endlessly from the barn to hundreds of dancing hippies.

We also had John Irving during the World According to Garp and Hotel New Hampshire days. I saw him speak and he had this really thick upper body from being a medal winning wrestler, but he was really smashed and gave a horrible speech and reading. After twenty minutes he was gone.

I also took a creative writing class with James Alan MacPherson. He probably doesn’t remember me, I was always really stoned. I tried really hard but didn’t quite get it. I didn’t get his class either, he read from Appolinaire or de Maupassant or something, some stories about Farmer’s Wives and stuff like that, trying to tell us where it all came from. We had to sit for hours and listen to him read before we could get to our stories. He was really shy too and didn’t say much about the work, like he hadn’t read it. I don’t think he read mine. I guess it was for us to do, it was a workshop after all, and we had to give each other constructive criticism. He didn’t win the Pulitzer for giving speeches I suppose. I finally read the award winning stories years later that he wrote of life in Chicago 1968 and was blown away they were so great.

I wrote my final story and got a C. I went to his office and he looked at me like I didn’t have a clue, and he was right about that.

A few years later I had a Modern Literature class in Ames, during a time when I moved back there for a year, when I was 22 or so. Jane Smiley came to the class and spoke to us about how to be a writer. She was really tall and lanky, and was eating a Snickers bar, apologizing because she hadn’t eaten that day. She seemed really nice, like her name implied. She talked about the two books she had written, saying they were in her and the story was just waiting to be told. It isn’t work, it’s like going on a journey, you sit down and your mind takes you to new places and you meet new people. The job of the writer is to introduce those people and places to people you never really meet, making them feel like they are there with you. She won the Pulitzer a few years later for an epic tale of Greenland, a really big book that you wouldn’t even be able to take on a short holiday.


Summer 1994, Mt. Shasta, California

Some friends told us they saw a woman down there dressed like Jane Fonda in Barbarella. She was hiking on the icy trail coming the other way, asked a couple questions and then disappeared. When they saw where she had gone there was just a cliff into a deep ravine. On the way home they mentioned it to the Parks guy, concerned that she may have fallen in, but he just said oh yeah that was a Lumerian, they live inside the mountain, you can go look it up in the public library.

We didn’t go looking for Lumerians, but one summer me and my girlfriend Maya went to Mt. Shasta on fourth of July weekend. Sure enough in the parade through town, a bunch of people dressed in purple robes, their banner reading Welcome Lumerians as if they were the Rotary Club. I guess they were actually giants when they lived inside Mt. Shasta, but assumed human form when surfacing above ground. They built great big cities underground with everything the giants needed, modern sewage, shops, great big houses that looked like the pueblos of New Mexico. They had tunnels going from Mt. Shasta to other power centers around the globe like Joshua Tree, the Pyramids of Egypt, and Mecca. The giants could go back and forth underground, engaging in trade with other Lumerians, or conspiring the peaceful transition to extraterrestrial rule of the earth in the next millennium.

Maya and I luckily found a nice remote place away from all the hordes of campers. There was an old trailer in an open field, but it looked like no one had used it in a long time. We parked the car and set up camp. It seemed like I could hear drums on the other side of the valley, but Maya could not hear anything.
As the sun was setting, we went out to the end of a fallen tree and looked out at the field and the changing colors. I didn’t see any Lumerians, and that trailer looked way to small for a giant, so I began to relax.
I had a bright tie dyed tee shirt on, and a butterfly started flying around me. Pretty soon a whole flock of them started lazily swooping and hovering around me like I was the king of the butterflies.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Good Guys vs. Bad Guys

1983, Nevada, Iowa

Our high school was so small you could be the good guy and the bad guy. In other words, if you had a good enough reputation with the other students, if you were popular, being a good athlete was a big plus, then you could practically get away with murder.

One way of being popular was to have a car. I had an Econoline Van that would seat up to 12 people, tinted windows and card table in the back complete with drink holders for the long hauls. We spent hours and hours driving around and drinking, I was like chauffeur to the stars, cruising around the loop or heading over to Ames to see what was happening in the big city.

The night before graduation we loaded up the Econoline for the biggest night of our adolescent lives. We wanted to do something big, make an impression, leave a mark. I drove, as always, but this time I put an American flag on my head, trying to emulate my hero Abbie Hoffman. No check points or cops to stop us, we headed over to the school armed with dozens of cans of spray paint.

I waited in the Van while the others attacked the school with aerosol. Class of ’83 rules, Mr Ball Sucks Balls, Stop the War in Central America, written all up and down the announcer booth at the football field, all across the front doors of the school, over the windows to the cafeteria. Graduation was only a few hours away, the misty solvent still pungent in the morning air.

No sleep and it was time to go to the graduation rehearsal ceremony. I was playing in the concert band as well as giving a speech because I was student council president and it was customary to give a short speech to sum up our careers at Nevada High. Mr. Ball, the principal, was at the podium testing the microphone when I walked in with my trumpet, and he looked right at me across the auditorium, saying some vandals attacked the school last night and he would find out by the end of the day who was responsible and they would not graduate.
I couldn’t tell if he was eliciting my help, thinking I might know something, or if he thought maybe I was one of the spray painters too. Hey I just drove, what my friends did with those cans is none of my business.

For graduation we had planned a big surprise, everyone put me up to it, and expected me to unofficially graduate those friends who had dropped out or had been kicked out during the year. I was to stop in mid speech and call the five or six names, handing them a rolled up piece of paper when they came to the podium amidst thundering applause. To make a long story short, I chickened out but half of them didn’t show up anyway.

I wanted to say something profound and leave an impression on the townspeople. I basically said not to expect much from a generation grown up on Brady Bunch family values and Ronald Reagan’s sense of right and wrong and what the truth is. Overcoming all the brainwashing would not be easy, and standing up to the powers that be, whether they be your teachers when they try to feed you the Myth of America and expect you to swallow it, or your president when he gets on television and tells you the Sandinistas are coming through Texas any minute now, would be a life long challenge. Some of us would be up for the struggle while others would swallow the pill, sedated by the false dreams of consumer culture and war mongering in the name of democracy and the American way of life. The class of ’83 might not change the world, but some of us were going to try.

The spray paint had all been removed by the time the townspeople filled the auditorium, and Mr. Ball never mentioned the incident to me again.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Malecon Romance

March 2000, Havana, Cuba

On our first trip to Cuba, Arthur was hoping to get to know his wife Sady a little better. They had only been married a few months before we arrived, tying the knot after three days on Arthur’s first trip down with other friends.

Actually, it was an accident that they met and got married in the first place. Initially Arthur was going to meet another woman there, and had seen pictures of her and everything. Kind of like a mail-order bride. On the way to Cuba, in the plane, his friends told him oh by the way Art, she’s pregnant. Of course he flipped out, stuttering angry words through his gaping, toothless mouth, drool spilling on the food and drink tray. This is how I imagine the situation, I wasn’t on this trip. When he and his friends arrived, they definitely understood that he wasn’t going to marry a pregnant woman. Apparently he was hoping, at the age of sixty, to have a child of his own. Or maybe it was just more complicated for the U.S. Special Interests Section in Havana to deal with. The pregnant woman’s replacement was another friend of this group, and actually had experience with disabled people, so she was brought over to meet Arthur.
It was love at first sight. Sady was thirty years younger, a big woman, like his ex-wife, and I’m sure he felt like she could take care of him. He told me they had sex a few times, the first time in seventeen years for him, and he was madly in love and couldn’t wait to see her again.

The first day they were alone for quite a long time, but I sensed something was wrong. Sady didn’t look too happy and basically treated Arthur like a baby. She paid more attention to me than to Arthur, and she hooked me up with her sister Loida in the meantime. It seemed like Arthur wasn’t having his honeymoon revisited like he had hoped, and things were getting tense between them.

I acted like a marriage counselor for them, but it was really not going anywhere. I couldn’t be a shrink for them and offered no advice. I simply interepreted. We sat on a park bench together and Arthur explained how he wanted to have a baby. Sady looked at me for some validation, some comprehension of how ridiculous it sounded. I offered none. She told us that it would be dangerous, the child could be born with defects. It could get passed on. This was refuted, but she said when an old man comes, it doesn’t go up as far so this can also lead to defects. We were going round and round. In the end, he conceded to the fact that, at least on this trip, he wasn’t going to have sex with his wife unless a dramatic change of heart occurred.

It wasn’t part of my job description, but the next thing I knew I was wheeling Arthur downtown looking for hookers. Maybe this was the caregiver part of the job, or the intepretation part. In any case, it wasn’t my suggestion. We went down to the sea front wall known as The Malecon, dozens of young women with their uncle-pimps lined up all along the long walkway, waiting for the American Dream to arrive. Arthur was a blue-blood American, that’s for sure, but not exactly a woman’s dream come true.

The moon reflected off the water as we wheeled along, looking at the girls like they were in a shop window. When we stopped in front of two girls it was as if we had put a coin in the slot, because suddenly they came to life, acting all flirty and nice. They couldn’t quite figure out who was the John, or maybe both of us were looking. I explained Arthur was my Uncle, it was his birthday and we wanted to do something extra special for him. We decided he would have both girls for an hour for fifty bucks. That’s two girls, one hour, fifty bucks. I don’t know what the prices are like in other parts of the world, but Arthur and I both thought this was a good deal. I wasn’t going to participate because I had to guard all the stuff hanging off Arthur’s wheelchair, the digital camera and booze and other things we were carrying around.

The uncle-pimp took over once the deal had been set up. He directed us across the road to a waiting car, a 1960 Bel Air with Soviet tractor parts to keep it going. We climbed in and drove a couple blocks to a little house. A woman in full Santeria priestess white dress and yellow beads met us at the door, as if she had been called in advance. I didn’t see anyone make a phone call, maybe Santa Barbara told her. We wheeled into the living room and went to close the deal. I gave the uncle-pimp two 20s and a 10 and he put it in his pocket. I told him I was going to wait outside while Arthur and the two girls spent an hour, not half hour or forty-five minutes, together in privacy. The girls were flanking Arthur, who was in drooling ecstasy, one of them sitting on his lap. The priestess whispered to the two girls and they all shot me glances. They must have thought I was going to be next because they still couldn’t believe Arthur could possibly perform anything more than slumping over and shitting his pants.

I saw them disappear into the room. The uncle-pimp then tried to trick me. He pulled out the money and showed me the 20 and 10, claiming I still owed him another 20. I was drunk, but this was no time to get into a fight. I gave him the old swindler’s knowing smile and told him it was a good try, but I had seen him pass it to the priestess before she went into the room with Arthur and the girls. This was true, I was expecting something to come up, but they couldn’t do anything no matter how hard they tried or how drunk and stupid we seemed. He didn’t let up, getting in my face and saying he was going to stop the girls, this was robbery. We call them sinverguenzas, a true rascal this one. I couldn’t keep from laughing it was so obvious, this high handed caribbean way of getting a gringo’s money. I guess they think eventually you just give them the money to shut them up and get their stinking breath off your face.

Coming out of the room, the priestess produced the nefarious bill from her bodice, waving it in the air. She had heard us quarreling through the wall and guessed I couldn’t be taken for a ride this time. The uncle-pimp’s memory came back to him when he saw the 20 and we both chuckled. He put his arm around my shoulder and lead me outside to a couple milk crates in the alley. I kept my eye on Arthur’s wheelchair and all our stuff just inside the open door. The priestess came out to join us, and the uncle-pimp walked a few houses down, saying he’d be right back with something special for me.

I asked the priestess to order a bottle of rum for us and she sent a young girl scurrying to the store with a crumpled up ten dollar bill, promising to bring back change. She was back in a couple minutes and I offered the priestess a drink, pouring her half a plastic cup full of the two dollar aguardiente. I followed with a burning shot straight from the bottle. We sat and chatted and waited. She asked me why I didn’t want to go with the girls, they are very nice and good price. I told her it was a birthday present for my uncle Arthur, maybe we’d come back another day for me. Not likely with Loida around, I thought. She hardly let me out of her sight.

The uncle-pimp came up the street with a young girl and told me I could take her for 15 dollars one hour. We didn’t look at each other. She must have been 16 years old. I repeated that this was a birthday present for my uncle and I wasn’t going with any girls tonight thank you very much. He was insulted and called me maricon, faggot. I could see the girl looking up at the moon, giving a little bite of her lower lip, a little hip jutting out. I just said no thanks, your cousin is nice, but no thanks. She hit the uncle-pimp on the shoulder with the back of her hand, clucked her tongue in disgust and skipped back down the street. He glared at me like I was costing him money again by not playing along.

Again the priestess intervened, shaking her head at us and saying they were all open to whatever preference people had, it was okay. I tried to explain that I wasn’t homosexual, but accidentally said amiga to the uncle-pimp instead of the male amigo and his eyes bugged out, pointing and saying now you see, its true, maricon. I let him run with this idea and figured Arthur was just about ready to pop out and we could just get the hell out of there.

Which is exactly what happened. After only about twenty five minutes Arthur appeared in the doorway with the two girls. He was smiling as they held his hands and rubbed his bald head. I asked him if everything was good, you still got a good half hour if you want it. He groaned a satisfied no that’s okay lets go and we thanked them and wheeled up the alleyway toward Calle Obispo to get some pizza and recount another conquest.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Spring 2000, Portland, Oregon and Havana, Cuba

My friend Arthur was married for twenty years in Portland, the last 17 of which were celibate. When his wife asked for a divorce, he was crushed and went into a fit of depression, starting to drink again after 15 years of sobriety. In the midst of his rise to the depths of the gutter, his great Aunt, a benefactor and philanthropist and friend of Oregon National Parks, bestowed One Million Dollars to Arthur in her will. The party had just begun.

I had just got back from one year in Costa Rica and everyone supposed my Spanish was pretty good. My friend Derek knew Arthur and told me he was looking for someone to accompany him on a trip to Cuba, all expenses paid, to act as interpreter and caregiver. I had never done either, but decided to meet Arthur anyway and see if there was a good rapport between us.

I didn’t realize how severe his Cerebral Palsy was. Some people have only a dignified gait, or you can see it in their hands and mouth, the signal from the brain to the muscles choked off, like there was a short in the line somewhere. For Arthur, this little glitch in his brain messages caused him to stutter and at first he was unintelligible, I couldn’t understand a word and Derek had to interpret for me. My first thought when seeing him was as long as I don’t have to wipe his butt, I’ll do it. Talking to my friends and mulling it over, I came to call it Doing the Deed.

Arthur had a big jug of Carlo Rossi red wine on the table at all times and three glasses, water, coffee and wine, each with a flexi straw popping out. He sidled up to the edge of the table and miraculously wound his Gene Simmons tongue around the straws, alternating between the drinks as we talked. I had also stopped drinking in Costa Rica during the last few months, but it was becoming apparent to me that if I was going to go to Cuba with Arthur, I was probably going to have to start drinking again, just to be on the same wavelength and have the same excuses. I was hoping the drink would make me into some pickled Buddha, able to withstand the many difficult situations that surely were to come on our adventure. Besides, he was going to pay for all of it, so drink up snakes, as I always say.

A few days after our first meeting I decided to go, even if I had to Do the Deed. I still didn’t know, it just didn’t seem respectful or discreet to ask. Derek said he didn’t know, he had only seen Vicky, the morning caregiver, going into the bathroom with him, but he never saw or asked specifically about it.

We began planning. He needed everything arranged, plane tickets, how to deal with money down there, documents to present at the US Special Interests Section on behalf of his new bride, Sady. I went to his lawyers, the bank, Cuban friends of his wife, made hundreds of phone calls, and in the end if I hadn’t figured out all of this, he wouldn’t have had anyone to help him. He thought he could use his credit cards there and he wanted to buy some property as well, so the family could move out of Old Havana and for him to use when he visited. He of course knew of the US embargo, but some things just didn’t cross his mind.

At one point in all of the configurations I did indeed have to wheel him into the bathroom, he only had caregivers in the morning and at night. Once I got him on the toilet, he asked me to peel him off a few slabs of toilet paper and put them folded in his lap, then I could go out until he called me. I even heard the flush just before he grunted out OKAY behind the door. I didn’t have to Do the Deed after all, and my conscience was clear for not asking such a trite question.

Things went smoothly despite the fact that now I was full blown back into the whisky. I even got both hands on that Carlo Rossi when times got lean and slugged back a few bloody drinks to keep me blind. We hit all the bars, people knew Arthur from way back, and he paid for all my drinks. The waitresses took a liking to me as well, just for being his friend, but the whole thing was too twisted for them, I ‘m sure they thought I was taking advantage of this poor man.

We went through Cancun Mexico to change flights to Havana, and stayed a couple days there. In the Cancun airport, I forgot my wallet in the checkpoint, with $750 in cash, and almost had a heart attack before the trip had begun. I had to leave Arthur in the terminal minutes before the flight was to take off, run back and ask the girl about the wallet. She seemed disinterested and disappointed, going to a little desk, bottom drawer way in the back and fishing out my fat bankroll. She handed it over with a limp gesture and a kind of scolding look, but I didn’t count it until I was out of her view.

Horrible place, Cancun. It was like a strip mall on the beach. We tried to meet people but they just stared, and the waiters copped a bad attitude. I told everyone he was my Uncle and that worked pretty well, after all we both had blue eyes and they understood the bonds of family down there.

We finally arrive into open arms in Cuba, and after a few days in Sady’s house next to the garbage dump, we rented a nice family place on the outskirts and settled in for the month. Sady knew some musicians from the old vaudeville type variety show she used to promote and act in. They worked around this little touristy beach town, I don’t remember the name, and we heard great Cuban and Mexican music all the time from this great quintet, all singers and multi instrumentalists.

One twilight evening we were sitting and enjoying a concert on a thatched terrazza along main street. Jesus was improvising like crazy, making up verses about me and Arthur, making fun of us. I understood about half, but it was really funny and everyone was laughing. The people in the restaurant looked at Arthur in wonder and amazement, but I think most people thought he was mentally retarded, like a child. When he leaned back his head and opened his mouth so I could pour him another shot of whatever was at hand, Jameson’s or White Rum like moonshine, there was a mixture of laughter and disdain from the people.

During a break, I was talking with Miguel, the band leader and cousin from Mexico. He was really wasted and we were laughing about everything. I told him the joke about how do you make a Cuba Libre. He cringed and looked around as I gestured the punch line, stroking an invisible beard with Cuba and cutting my throat with an imaginary knife with Libre. He said when you joke I sleep. He was afraid some country bumpkin police might give him some trouble, or some overzealous patriot would put the finger on him for being anti revolutionary.

Arthur came over and laid a $20 bill on Miguel for the music. This is for the whole band he said, and Jesus and Antoine the percussionist saw what was happening. The next thing I know the other band members were having a huge shouting match with Miguel glaring silently at all of them, taking the leader stance. Jesus told me the next day that they didn’t get any of the money, but Miguel took what would be basically a month’s worth of tips and pocketed it.