1

the forest

went for a walk on a wooded island
where no one lives

heard a wild turkey
turkeying in the bush

saw a rainbow
of coloured mushrooms

the sun was shining hard
for mid morning in early September

and I could hear
a cornucopia of mosquitoes, flies, gnats

nothing has changed for me
I see the beauty

as nature rarely lets anyone down
but it doesn’t matter

what I hear on my soundtrack
is my Uncle’s laughing taunts

the sounds of my childhood
around my ankles in a weep

2

Delmore Shwartz said

my dead mother appeared in my dreams last night
and I was so happy to see her

she’s been dead and dust these twenty-three years
so you can imagine my surprise

what ever joy was quickly abated
by the guy playing me in my dreams

he started yelling at my dead mother
that she would “never understand”

the aware and awake me horrified
that I’d wasted the opportunity

mortified that I just didn’t hug her
and hang on

Delmore Shwartz said
that responsibility begins in our dreams

and Delmore
was one clever guy

but the asshole who played me
in my dream last night won’t be invited back

my mother didn’t seem
to like him at all

3

the snore

my wife of twenty years
lying snoring beside me

soft, quiet, napping type snores
you don’t fall in love

because of snoring
or any of the other

innocuous sounds
life brings bounding into marriage

I like to think
that her snoring

comes from a deep reservoir
of calm

the love sighs
of the secure

we are at a lake, it is summer
my wife in repose in a black bathing suit

whispering sibilant greetings
from that place we go to slumber

a code deciphered over two decades
of sharing a pillow

4

another Christmas Carol

it was the weekend before Christmas
I’d returned to the town I grew up in
for a funeral of sorts

an old friend had died too young
and his clan was gathering
to fete him out in style

hundreds came
sang
raised a glass

on the same trip
I went to the local hospital
to see the man who raised me

the man I called Dad
I’d seen him several weeks ago
and he’d been okay

in the intervening days
he had tumbled
he’d fallen headfirst

into his own
deathwish
he’d quit

talking
taken out his teeth
and given up

this man and I
don’t share a name
or blood

the space between us
has always been tempered
by my mother, my sisters

as death approaches
slower than my father would wish
it seems all pretense is gone

I’ve called this man Dad
for fifty years
and when I arrived

and asked if he
wanted a visit
he said “no”

knowing it might be our last
I said those things
I wanted him to know

attempted to say my goodbye
longed for some connect
some eye contact

my voice echoed around his room
and I sat there listening to it
until it was time to leave

I kissed his balding head
and watched his eyes
not watching me

I said my sad goodbyes
and then
walked quiet down the hall

he’d never said
another
word

5

that moment where she smiles

it’s almost midnight
in a few minutes I’ll pick up a book
and head up to bed
I usually read a book of poems before sleep
tonight it will be the Collected Poems of Lenore Kandel
when I get into bed
my side of the sheets will be cold
I’ll cuddle with my sleeping wife for a moment
it is a sleeping ritual, she’ll wake, smile, kiss me
and then curl into my back
as I turn the pages, read those poems

in the morning, she’ll be up for an hour
before she wakes me to shower
I’ll drive her to work
and then back home
where I will make the bed, do the dishes
cook the supper
and then wait for that moment
that comes late at night
where she wakes up again, smiles
loves me

6

Valle de Vinales

we drove out of the city towards the mountains
as the haze of Havana disappeared in the mirror
a ’51 Ford cut in front of our path
belching black smoke
out of its’ sixty-three year old muffler

we rolled through the country side
past the proposed grand canal ditch
and into those hills
that we were told looked like China

at a small private diner tucked off of the road
my wife ate the chicken
and I had the shredded beef
there was lots of salad, beans and rice
tender yucca with sweet oil

in the mountains we found the caves
and in the caves a river
and on the river in the cave
we took a motorboat

the motorboat went down that river
and out the other side
of the mountain

where a man was offering rides
on a saddled long-horned oxen
the beast didn’t seem to mind

driving back to the city
we were quieter
sated

as we watched the Cuban countryside
roll out and away from us
in every single direction

7

Comrades

you are travelling
with a large group of people

guilt by association
idiocy by proxy

it’s simple math
in any large group

you are going to have
a Larry, a Curly, a Moe

the average age on our bus of fifty
is fifty, or more

plenty of years to hone idiosyncrasy
no one is worse than any other

just louder or more devious
or more out of place

my seat mate and life partner
we are not immune

we have our own silliness
our own aging flaws

our tourist bus magically
arrives at our next destination

our group spills out
like wilted flowers
searching for a stream

8

the Beatles

the Beatles tore the 20th century apart
the 2nd World War tore the 20th century apart
Dr. Martin Luther King tore the 20th century apart
the mercury soaked lips
of the beautiful Yasar Arafat
tore the 20th century apart
Michael Corleone tore the 20th century apart
Nazis tore the 20th century apart
Mao Tse Tung tore the 20th century apart
John Wayne Gacy tore the 20th century apart
Woodstock and Biafara tore the 20th century apart
Henry Ford and the automobile tore the 20th century apart
Coca-Cola tore the 20th century apart
Little Joe and Hoss Cartwright tore the 20th century apart
the Berlin Wall and the Great Wall tore the 20th century apart
Women’s Liberation tore the 20th century apart
my sister Sally tore the 20th century apart
AIDS tore the 20th century apart
the Kalashnikov tore the 20th century apart
racism tore the 20th century apart
greed tore the 20th century apart
Elvis Presley tore the 20th century apart
Richard Nixon tore the 20th century apart
and so on

9

Che

in Cuba
he is present everywhere

perhaps loved most
because he didn’t live

long enough
to diminish his legend

being a revolutionary
is romantic stuff

building a nation
and an ideology

as Fidel will tell you
can be hard on one’s reputation

Che’s beautiful charismatic face
never ages, never compromises

the old Grandmother sits under glass
behind the old palace

as tourists get sunburns in sandals
spend their hard currency

on cigars and hats
they will never wear again

somewhere in Bolivia
the ghost of Che cringes

crumples his fatigue coloured cap
in frustration

10

it’s so hard to know what is true

it’s so hard to know what is true
this is the same all over the world
burning monks try to tell the truth in Nepal

the Berlin Wall is now in pieces
in a million different homes
scraps of painted concrete
sold by East Germans
and enterprising Poles

ghosts sing silly songs in Rwanda
and the Taliban still shoots school girls

Nelson Mandela, who was so angry
he saw black and white and red
walked out of that stone-breaking prison
and turned the other cheek

while somewhere in Serbia
a monk, desperate and holy
forgives himself in a sea of pivo

Leonard Peltier may have been at Wounded Knee
he sure as hell was at Little Big Horn
now, well, you know where he is now

it is so hard
to tell the truth

like the butcher with his thumb on the scale
we try to balance
what we know
with what we need
we try to reckon with reason
tell ourselves the story
that makes us feel best

dogs bark their barky bark
and cats meow and growl

I’ve even seen
a cat who could bark like a dog
when the occasion called for it

although she felt guilty about it
when discovered

it was the first time I saw
that animals are liars too

11

“We Are Dust”
Mujahedeen saying

Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness
Is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last.
Charlotte Bronte, 1847

in our country tolerance is waning
as the world turns right

all those long battles for human rights
papered over with short-sighted dogma

heartless theory where
ideology trumps reason

historically, we know all these things
just ask the Jews of Berlin

all those crazy Russian cats
playing jazz in those cool gulags

ask the Cree how ideology
worked out for them

as the Jesuit crows descended
like black rain

as the future faded fast and final on Hiroshima
in the bright light of a promised dark

we are dust
specks under the illuminating sun

what we take from this earth
and each other

the measure
of our complicity

what we give back
our only chance at grace

12

who the smart people are

“The truth is, most wisdom is embittering. The task of the wise person cannot
be to pretend with false naiveté that every moment is new and unprecedented, but
to bear the burden of bitterness that experience forces on us with as much
uncomplaining dignity as strength will allow. Beyond that, all we can ask of
ourselves is that bitterness not cancel out our capacity still to be surprised.”
-Phillip Lapote

so Nelson Mandela is now
where he’ll never have to crush
another rock

so is Tito, so is Jimmy Stewart
“we are dust” cry the Mujahedeen
“Ask the Dust” suggested John Fante

it’s hard to know
who the smart people are

I suspect the best of them
never reveal a thing
they keep their wisdom
to themselves
hold their cards close to their chests
never raise their hands

at home
in their quiet rooms
they lament over idiocy

put their pants on
one leg at a time
wait, patiently
for the next thing
to happen

13

worms

there are enough
stars in the sky
for all of my wishes
and all of yours
too

my reasoning
is no better
than yours

we climb over
one another
like we were monkeys
in a puzzle

like we were alligators
in the reeds
our big bug eyes
breaking surface
all that menace
underneath

you need what I have
and vice versa
we all want
our version of joy

the apple in the tree
doesn’t recognize the picker
doesn’t care about much
at all
apple sauce or gravity

we will eat the apple
or the worms will get it

if we eat the apple
or not
the worms will get us
eventually

14

Rock Haven Motor Hotel

she got into my cab at the train station
knew where she wanted to go

it was a motel just west of the city
I was much younger then

and she seemed very lonely
we talked the few miles

talked through the red lights
and the green

and when we arrived at the motel
the Rock Haven Motor Hotel

we were on a first name basis
and for a tip

she asked me into her room

it was clear what she wanted
what she needed

and I was willing
to give her some of it

but by the time
we were through

it was clear
I didn’t have what she needed

she cried while I got dressed
and cried some more

when I kissed her goodbye
I closed the door softly

got back in my taxi
turned on the light

let the dispatcher know
I was back in business

rolled the big car softly
over the noisy gravel

and back out
onto the street

15

how else would we get through the night

ghosts can hold you in your dreams
those voices you hear on a windy street
the reflection on a store window
when no one is passing by
we all see them, hear them, ignore them

we are tired, distracted

but when did you think they’d appear
our ghosts know when we need them most

I hear dead poet friends
reading their dead poems

see my mother in every
Judy Garland movie

It is the same for you all

they watch over us
while we sleep
how else
would we get through
the night

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