December 4, 2016

Since moving from sunny Albuquerque to soggy Bremerton, Bob and I found reading we both like quite a bit at the Hugo House in Seattle, Works in Progress, an open mic for all kinds of writing on the first and third Mondays of the month, 7-9 p.m. (sign up at 6:30 p.m.). 

Here’s a bit of what I’ve been writing since the move. The water has been as good for my poetry as for the moss. So has the moss.

The Welcoming Committee

I think they yelled “homo”


or perhaps it was “om” or “home” someone hollered from a speeding window

as I walked along the tall iron fence around the naval base, before

I turned onto this quiet street and sat on this bench to talk to my notebook.


While the moss picks out a life

between cobblestones, I transform

the indifferent gift of hollered wit

through the alchemy of incomprehension:

Was this the call of longing

for home, for peace, for natural order?

the anger when home, peace, natural order

become a question?

Do I always have to be the questions

no one wants to answer?


I am like this moss, lost

to home, to peace, to natural order, fit only to fly

on wild winds, to root in specks

of earth, to encrust the predictable concrete with life

in all its chaos, to be

soaked and sated and washed away in the next rain.


A passel of school children passes chattily

behind me. Someone has told them

they can be whoever they want to be,

as long as they button their shirts

on the correct side. Perhaps

they are telling each other now. 


I love taking the ferries, and they’re a good, er, “place” to write.

Meditating in the Dark

In shadow where water hides from sun, its surface

takes the shape of Earthly things—

  evergreens like a many-turreted, ivied castle wall

  red smear of little house on shore

  denser dark of the ferry below that shows nothing of earth, heaven or water


The nothing is a membrane

between worlds where a gull floats, pretending

to be a duck far from shore.


There are shores

whose veils of evergreen

I don’t want to peek behind.

My surfaces are as opaque

as water.


This was the first poem I wrote in Washington:

The moss on the stairs isn’t climbing

The sidewalks and bridges, the stone walls of our new city are growing, furred with moss. Mold spores black fronds

in the puddles around our sink. Even the damp folds of my nervous system are growing: green, black and furred red, toxic


and nourishing. People tell me how brave I am, starting over like this. I don’t

understand. I didn’t spore in this new puddle, only splashed down, still myself.


I’ve been watching the last of the move-in bruises fade, the one that came not from boxes but my fist. The silhouette of palm and pinky is faintest stain

seventeen days since you asked me to stop hurting myself, “Please,” and I held back my hands along with the howling I’d dammed with blows.


You’d hoped the good sea air would heal me. It does. You hoped it would heal me

more. I want to tell you: This is life: how it feeds, how it poisons. The same act.

My friend Lee Wilson was such a natural poet that I was sometimes glad he wrote poetry so seldom, because confronted with a greater volume of his poems, I might’ve given up writing in despair.  As it is, when he died in 2004 he left a wonderful body of paintings (scattered to the four winds), an unfinished novel about his time in the mental hospital and its aftermath, and a thin sheaf of poems.  (He tricked me into returning my collection of short stories to him for editing, and promptly destroyed them.)  Both Lisa Gill and I have claimed copyright to the poems (together, not exclusively), for purposes of getting them out there, not fencing them off, and Adam Rubinstein ran off a few copies of a softcover collection in 2007.  I don’t know what its status is now, or whether it is still possible to acquire it.  Meanwhile I want to put some of my favorite poems of Lee’s here, not all the ones in Otros, but the characteristic and poetically outstanding ones.



Lightning strobes dark rows between the corn and

rain fogs my lenses so I can’t see the dark clearly.

         I feel each wet slap of the corn leaves and

you laugh at me from the helicopter

saying I can’t see the forest for the trees

but I say God is in the details

et tu Brute?

And a fist of corn gashes my eyebrow

but I pedal faster for there are many rows

and the night is long.

     One two slap slap

     corn whips me

     I pedal against the grain

     the hard cobs that slap me simple.

Out there on the turnpike

did you expect one yellow light,

a refrigerator streamlined for tornadoes,

a man in overalls pacing worn linoleum

or did you say I bet he’s riding his unicycle

thru the cornfield.

      But I go faster not to think

     and I take milk from a tube, from a pack,

     on my back.

      I’m here in my everest not to think

      of the gleaming things

      and the rusting things

      and the creaking floors

      and the humming motors

      and the spectral linen on the wire

      and the vinegar smell from the cellar

      where the dark recalls to me

      the wet slap of the bent swords of corn.


the other side of the world


I can’t tell them

how when I was six

it was hard to get under my desk

without clonking my head

during ‘duck and cover’ drills.

Farther than Martians

the fogbreathing Russians

circled the world with

a dog in a can.

We might be martyrs

said Sister Marie.

Burnt to a crisp before you can blink

said Dad

and I can’t tell them

that he laughed.

They still plow with horses

he said.

And I can’t tell them

of an awkward pause

in our asphalt games

waiting first for the nose

then the belly

of a B52.

I can’t tell them

how eggbeaters became machineguns

how jars of dust became grenades

how nuns described our maybe torture

how the magazines were warm with cleavage

and next page a row of morons

in the snow, in the mud, in the clearing,

the white and black of black and white

from Hammerland

from Democratic Snowbear Land,

long blocks getting smaller

toward the trees, burnt in the eye of

the mind like staring too long at

germs on a slide and I can’t tell them

how I practised hunger

how I practised cold

and was ready to kill

when I was six.

I try to forget

but if I won’t

then I kon’t.


I Want


for her, good planets

where pears are yellow

and apples are red,

with sky at the top,

house in the middle,

bolts from pretty suns

that dad stands under

tie blown out by wind

in town’s grid turned green

I want like she wants

to walk dappled paths

in orchards’ lace weave

and to sleep in nests,

before, tall on lines

between sky and land,

we lust for dark oceans


Flapper With Hoop


They found a grey wall

and powdered her down;

they gave her a hoop.


One calf to the floor

one knee to her chin

hands at width of rim.


To be calm naked

or be somewhere else

she thought of Greek girls

black glazed and sideways

walking on a vase,

describing circles,

hoops around hard sky;

one of them falling

breaks the orange clay

finding wine inside.




peeled by men

who find spots

to pass time


in mess halls

are spotless


The Wonderful Day


Archie’s not likely to pierce his nose

he laughs

and flamingoes skitter

not to be petted

on a long lawn under palms


in the comics they’re blue

and don’t move

these shadows

that fleck us like dogs

and patch us onto paths in Eden


salsa from the veranda

what’s a veranda?

is a march

Veronica’s hips obey

we wave our bubble wands

she bursts in soap and lilac oil


Archie’s not likely to get tattooed

logos are for business he says

we buried our rubber tomahawks

after the fight over Betty

in the years before Business Ad.


pink house pink sunset

congas calling up the moon

kids necking by the limo

whole jars of blue

for shadows pointing east


Archie’s flat smile

flashing before each olive

wonder what it’s like

with no canines

a mashing bar


no dogs howl in Archie’s night

gallons of yellow for the lamps

projecting hourglass Betty

on upstairs window shades

don’t ask Archie what he dreams


there are no symbols says Archie

each number is a dollar

each dollar is an object

I tell him he’s drunk

and he strokes my face with a bill


Archie and I bought these panels

we’re locked in

where not much happens

I’ll write a letter

if I can remember


Kikibear the Cat


Kikibear’s color

is café au lait

with orange squeezed in


Kikibear’s voice

is nasal

like mine


Kikibear’s breath

is a cavendish

of tuna and bones


Kikibear is the pharaoh

it is written it is law

so he marks my laundry

and my walls


Kikibear is a complete thought

with teeth


[Two Men Dying]


Stand here playing an air

guitar for a while, and composing

as much as I’m not hearing,

before the two of us

may seem slender pink birds that this morning

is framing over green, and this

a spring trailing behind our tropical yearnings

with hours somehow less bright, less green,

with hours in which the seconds froth

above our expanding moment and across the sky

in its brightness, until we are almost aware

we are passing.


[Lee left this poem untitled.  The speaker is one of a pair of gay men, both dying of AIDS, who lived in Lee’s neighborhood.  This is also the poem I mentioned in a previous post, created by making a Mad Lib out of an Ashbery poem.]


The Fish


are down there all the time

and they never get any towels or blankets

and their mothers don’t twist their ears

to make the water come out

and they never get any french fries


This entry is already long, but next in alphabetical order is the poem that has been my favorite poem since 1970, when I read it first:  William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey.”  I would be hard put to it to say what makes it my favorite—I’m not much of a nature worshipper, nor given to mystical intuitions of a single Spirit moving through all things;  I like the poem’s scaffolding of blank verse but not being confined to the line, instead taking its rhythm from the natural way of reading the poem aloud, had it been prose;  but really, talking about why I like it is like trying to answer why one loves one’s romantic partner:  if one can say why, the love is probably evolving into some safer and tamer emotion.  When I was receiving daily radiation treatments for prostate cancer in 2009—about the farthest distance I could be from the “recollections in tranquility” Wordsworth’s poem describes—I used to say it to myself.  This poem has been, more than the rare experiences of nature available to my mainly urban life, “the nurse, the guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul of all my moral being.”


Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey on revisiting the banks of the Wye during a tour. July 13, 1798


      Five years have passed;  five summers, with the length

Of five long winters! and again I hear

These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs

With a soft inland murmur.  Once again

Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,

That on a wild secluded scene impress

Thoughts of more deep seclusion;  and connect

The landscape with the quiet of the sky.

The day is come when I again repose

Here, under this dark sycamore, and view

These plots of cottage ground, these orchard tufts,

Which at this season, with their unripe fruits,

Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves

’Mid groves and copses.  Once again I see

These hedgerows, hardly hedgerows, little lines

Of sportive wood run wild;  these pastoral farms,

Green to the very door;  and wreaths of smoke

Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!

With some uncertain notice, as might seem

Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,

Or of some Hermit’s cave, where by his fire

The Hermit sits alone.


                                          These beauteous forms,

Through a long absence, have not been to me

As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye;

But oft, in lonely rooms, and ’mid the din

Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,

In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,

Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;

And passing even into my purer mind,

With tranquil restoration—feelings too

Of unremembered pleasure;  such, perhaps,

As have no slight or trivial influence

On that best portion of a good man’s life,

His little, nameless, unremembered, acts

Of kindness and of love.  Nor less, I trust,

To them I may have owed another gift,

Of aspect more sublime;  that blessed mood,

In which the burthen of the mystery,

In which the heavy and the weary weight

Of all this unintelligible world,

Is lightened—that serene and blessed mood,

In which the affections gently lead us on—

Until, the breath of this corporeal frame

And even the motion of our human blood

Almost suspended, we are laid asleep

In body, and become a living soul;

While with an eye made quiet by the power

Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,

We see into the life of things.


                                                       If this

Be but a vain belief, yet, oh! how oft—

In darkness and amid the many shapes

Of joyless daylight;  when the fretful stir

Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,

Have hung upon the beatings of my heart—

How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,

O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer through the woods,

How often has my spirit turned to thee!


And now, with gleams of half-extinguished thought,

With many recognitions dim and faint,

And somewhat of a sad perplexity,

The picture of the mind revives again;

While here I stand, not only with the sense

Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts

That in this moment there is life and food

For future years.  And so I dare to hope,

Though changed, no doubt, from what I was when first

I came among these hills;  when like a roe

I bounded o’er the mountains, by the sides

Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,

Wherever nature led—more like a man

Flying from something that he dreads than one

Who sought the thing he loved.  For nature then

(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days,

And their glad animal movements all gone by)

To me was all in all.—I cannot paint

What then I was.  The sounding cataract

Haunted me like a passion;  the tall rock,

The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,

Their colors and their forms, were then to me

An appetite;  a feeling and a love,

That had no need of a remoter charm,

By thought supplied, nor any interest

Unborrowed from the eye.—That time is past,

And all its aching joys are now no more,

And all its dizzy raptures.  Not for this

Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur;  other gifts

Have followed;  for such loss, I would believe,

Abundant recompense.  For I have learned

To look on nature, not as in the hour

Of thoughtless youth;  but hearing oftentimes

The still, sad music of humanity,

Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power

To chasten and subdue.  And I have felt

A presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts;  a sense sublime

Of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

And the round ocean and the living air,

And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:

A motion and a spirit, that impels

All thinking things, all objects of all thought,

And rolls through all things.  Therefore am I still

A lover of the meadows and the woods,

And mountains;  and of all that we behold

From this green earth;  of all the mighty world

Of eye, and ear—both what they half create,

And what perceive;  well pleased to recognize

In nature and the language of the sense

The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,

The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul

Of all my moral being.


                                           Nor perchance,

If I were not thus taught, should I the more

Suffer my genial spirits to decay:

For thou art with me here upon the banks

Of this fair river;  thou my dearest Friend,

My dear, dear Friend;  and in thy voice I catch

The language of my former heart, and read

My former pleasures in the shooting lights

Of thy wild eyes.  Oh! yet a little while

May I behold in thee what I was once,

My dear, dear Sister! and this prayer I make,

Knowing that Nature never did betray

The heart that loved her;  ’tis her privilege,

Through all the years of this our life, to lead

From joy to joy:  for she can so inform

The mind that is within us, so impress

With quietness and beauty, and so feed

With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,

Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,

Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all

The dreary intercourse of daily life,

Shall e’er prevail against us, or disturb

Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold

Is full of blessings.  Therefore let the moon

Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;

And let the misty mountain winds be free

To blow against thee:  and, in after years,

When these wild ecstasies shall be matured

Into a sober pleasure;  when thy mind

Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,

Thy memory be as a dwelling place

For all sweet sounds and harmonies;  oh! then,

If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief

Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts

Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,

And these my exhortations!  Nor, perchance—

If I should be where I no more can hear

Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams

Of past existence—wilt thou then forget

That on the banks of this delightful stream

We stood together;  and that I, so long

A worshiper of Nature, hither came

Unwearied in that service;  rather say

With warmer love—oh! with far deeper zeal

Of holier love.  Nor wilt thou then forget,

That after many wanderings, many years

Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,

And this green pastoral landscape, were to me

More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!