Saturday, September 13, 2014

Because I'm Not Chicano

It's because my family's
been living in Cruces
since the 1860's. Its because
my mom's father was
Apache, but there are
plenty of Germans, too.
I grew up watching
my dad's mother
making tortillas
my dad's dad practicing
the fiddle so he'd
play well at the wedding
that weekend.  Any wedding
in Cruces, any time they
needed a strong, resonant violin
player.  But my parents
who spoke Spanish
with me lived in the
suburbs of Albuquerque,
sheltered me from
that life.  So I

went out to Cruces
this summer, went
to Tucson, too
where the other half
of my family
lives.   There
is the pain of the
desert, pain of separation,
the infinite desecration of land
of peoples,
but I am not nor will
ever be a part of the pain
you write.  It's my own
pain that's my muse
and I like Lowell more
than Castillo.  I'm sorry
if this fact offends you.

I am sorry I am not
en la frontera fighting
our battles, which seem
more like yours, not
mine.  I have children
to raise, and their
mother's Irish-Italian,
that is, we are now
Americans and have no
need for tribalism, even
though the world
is ruled by such.

My real friends
laugh, and those who
know my work laugh.
I will go all over
this country reading
and blazing like a fox tail.
For I am hot as hot coal
there is nothing to stop my words
now, no redneck county sheriff
to tell me shut up, Mesican, or
shut up, Indio.  My children
are free and mixed and I am alive.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

South Fair Acres Road

I have been
in the Sonoran
Desert, the high
Chihuahua too,
so dry the desert
took most of my sadness
the way the heat
out there drains
you of water without
you knowing.  108
in Bowie.  Later,
that day in
Truth or Consequences
eating stuffed
sopapillas.  All of,
all of my friends
down in the Great
Eastern Forests
or living or living.
In drenched metropolitan
scenes, havoc
of the suburbs.  Shame
that I, between dry
old cities, could take my
car, take a turn on
some old highway,
drive into the salt
flats, chasing dust
devils all day.  Or that
there would be no
one out there, and I
know this because
from my little hotel hovel
in Cruces it would take me
not time at all
to be in desolation,
away from the river,
a bus ride.  A simple
walk to see the stars alone at night.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

NM HWY 185

When my grandmother
Josefina died, my grandfather
Felipe let all the rabbits
go.  The fat ones,
the wise ones
who knew she liked
paella with rabbit & shrimp
she bought at the Albertson's
in Las Cruces.  A dish
her mother taught her.

Today at the old farm
there's nothing but
wood to burn.  An empty
house, the fields wild with
volunteer cotton.  I couldn't even cry.
There are the old photos
folks I'll never know,
land I'll never plow.  Shadows
from the old hickory
in the yard--a ghost place
that I'll never see again.

So on the ride home, along
El Rio Grande, which is full
of promise, full of water
I fell for the desert again,
I said your name
wishing you could
see the farms and fields
rushing by, the river
at its height, the acequias
which mean so much.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Mariposas Sin Mundo

How long
will the butterflies
last.  Your son
says fifty years.
Maybe one or two left
in the high Montana
Rockies.  He says
by the time you die, dad
the sky will be forever
pale gray unforgivable,
like the sheer weight
of steel on the world.
Like Atlas you say,
holding up a
losing proposition.  I am
always "suffering dreams
of a world gone mad."
My ethos savory
like a burnt offering.
Most of us
happened to Earth, unaware,
weather unpredictable, late
spring and early summer confused.
But the morning glories
still fight their way
out of the clay
to honor the Sun God and
the Prince of Flowers
who'll have nothing
to do with us, anymore.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Guitarists at Noon

It's not as if
they were drunk,
acting like Russian
Cosmonauts.  In the
neighborhood it happened

while the dishes were being
dried, while the floors
were being swept.
Now you know
the august truth:

even a tether can
break.  High up
in granite or even
when you're towing
an old Volkswagen:

you might see it
like a ghost
chasing you.  Like
La Llorona in the
twilight beckoning

while the crepuscular
light does it work, whispers
that you stay.  And let me
tell you there are
so many ways to go

on this ride.  One time
the Hardy boys
jumped into the mix.
You never know what
might happen.  Just

a story here and there
like so many mulberries
smashed into the sidewalk,
signifying summer, all
there is to come.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

King Tiger to Rose Arcade

And then the battle began.   It’s not
a pretty fable, this time the lord
of plenty up against the dark of
nothingness, indefinable unless
you’ve seen a dead body or stood in any
cemetery.  For a long time there was

nothing, some vague threats over the radio.
Even the Apricot trees bloomed.   There were
always rumors of war when we were young. 
Nothing now but old swords swinging
in the wind. In a county not unlike
ours each little town is an armed camp

of rifles and the miles go by
on highways built for tanks and heavy trucks.
If you see the pictures there are
young men holding each other
hostage.  Imperial Moloch and
solitude have brought them there.

Famous Science Fiction Novels

In the end the earth
dies, of course, and either
the detestable aliens
offer us a new ugly
religion or we are
simply ash, our
buildings empty,
on fire. Usually
the humans who are
left learn to sigh
and may even
forget the old
god who got them
into so much
trouble in the first place.

But remember
in some books there are
children picking
weeds and dandelions
from front lawns
all across America.
No one mentions
the wicked step-father
who takes literally
his little patch
while the ghost
of an alien satellite
plays tricks with
his brain.  He will
eventually drive
to the desert
leaving his car
and his jacket
on the road
and no one will
know where he went.

Al fin del siglo,
the largest and widest
of these volumes
echoes off the walls
like a bad opera,
too many notes and the people
really don’t know what
they’re doing, except
that they have special
guns, horses, and parades
like we do here, only there
the masters make clear
their plans, their
domination of the solar
system, the large rocks
that fly by our little
planet, not knowing
we’re here at all.

Midnight and the Jack of Spades

Are you any
busier than you were
twenty minutes ago.
If so, I'd like to know
the secret of your
departure, what
time you left your
room in search
of an awkward
feeling wafting along
the byways
like diesel smoke.
In fact, that must
have been you
speeding by
like fast freight
train, so full of
energy it would
take you miles
to stop.  Now
the years are
just as heavy.  A friend
asked what happens
when we outlive
our dreams, our ambitions.
I said I'm being courageous
enough to get out
of bed in mid winter
at five am to scrape ice
from the car.  The
one my father
wanted me
to own, sometime
in a future he knew
he'd never see.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

H. Is Dreaming Again: Herman Kahn Writes a Letter to the Rooskies

Let’s say the war’s
Begun:  our massive
Machines girding under
The weight of the Rockies
Ready to fire.  Our sleek

Submarines floating somewhere,
Could be the Baltic, could be
Anywhere the cold-free
Burst of neutrons,
Of plutonium and

Lithium 6 over your heads.
Let’s say the war is on
The radio:  the crack
And static of unknown
Commands, the halting

Tone of your comrades
As they see the missiles
Come in, shattering Moskva
And creaming the Urals—
All you’ll have left, all

You ever had left
Was Pushkin and vodka.
I know by now my
Radioactivity surpasses
Yours.  The might of

The laser and microwave,
My citrus screwdriver--
Between the different
Things going on today,
I forgot to call you back.

Monday, April 07, 2014

La Sonnambula

That'll be the day:
the spangled memory
of you in your sunglasses
like Doris Day--
sometime after the endless
long stairways and beautiful
spaces you'll wonder why
there wasn't music playing,
say Brahms or Strauss.

In the Miami
Valley apple blossoms
are counting the days--
up on the hill the last
strains of La Sonnambula
are playing while
I explain my life,
everything in it.
I am moved by your simplicity
and the small decorations
telling me so much. You know

I like the sun too.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Carta a mi Jefe segun de los condicions de los trabajadores

I want to make sure that
everything is tied down
now that you’ve made
garrets of my words.  That you
would ever know I rise at
five to feed my dogs
and the old cat who
lives on the porch.  I wash and iron my
son’s clothes, and watch
while my wife leaves for her job
in Kentucky.  It’s just across
the river.  Back down there
is where I bend my soul if
I want to be free,
guitars and fine mountains. 
Did I tell you I
 know all about love, raising children,
parting forever,
planting flowers in May.  But when
I’m folding laundry
barefoot in the basement
listing to R.E.M., I wonder
if you’re even human, I
mean, I could never reconcile
the starched white shirts
you wear for anything
but a symbol of power,
what my liberal friends
call white privilege.   I continue
to wear my old stained
shirts from The Village
Thrift Shop and Goodwill,
I sometimes stop to help
strangers:  did you know
I once saved a toddler
from drowning?  I was living in Tucson
it was 1988 at a part--no one
saw the kid go over the side,
into the deep end.  They were
all drunk and I, smoking
a cigarette in the deep
cactus and juniper noticed, jumped
right in to save her.  I remember her mother cried.

Sometimes I imagine
you’re clipping you’re toenails
as your yard men clear
debris and cut your lawn. 
Across the street, the
roofers are speaking Spanglish,
blasting Cumbia into
the early morning of your
placid suburban existence.   I also imagine
you fear
the word vagina, and fear
what will come years from now,
say in 2065:  the world
finally freed from the Christ delusion,
men and women in love
with the earth and with each other—
the camaraderie of
empty icons will be
nothing where
the tree and the mountain
will reign.  But I dream too much:
I know you love and protect
us like children, each and every
one of us, except the atheists
who are here to ruin things.
But I bet some of them
swing on wild stars and planets
you’ll never know, in
dry clear deserts, on high unspoiled
mountain tops, not the dirty
smog smeared industrial
post-colonial spaces
you’re taking us, where our once
fearsome enemies now
work as slaves to make everything
we own, iPhones, batteries, socks.  So that’s
 the way it is.   Mindlessness and contentment
have a way of drifting
this way or that, like a
plastic grocery bag
on a windy day.

Sometime I imagine
you’re sitting in your office,
above us all, looking
down at the town you protect,
the town you project.  O, if there
were a way to take you
forward as to wipe your
mind of delusions!  Of Moloch
who owns the red bricks and statues,
of Moloch the “business model”
you admire.  Of Moloch and his
corporate bullies who
beat us into fear.  Come now.  You must
as I do take the scared
corn meal, spread
it in the early morning
sunlight, in the glare, past
the houses and trees.  “I will have a good” day
you should shout.  “I will be free”
you should shout.
The sun will be glad
for your existence.  On the lawn
seven Mexican eagles will
dance like pagans
in the sunlight.
This like anything else
is a dream, and I often
go to your institution dreaming
it will be a good day
as I have promised the
cosmos.  I take my little
black truck on over and park,
greeting everyone
with the smile you taught us,
the smile you expect,
while underneath there’s
a bunch of us boiling,
not just me, not just the dude
who empties the trash,
who isn’t allowed to speak to
me least it ruin the decorum
that floats over our village
like a heavy wet blanket
from Disneyland.  Or the old math
professor who’s
given up on god.   In the between
the politics of
shuffling from ice to snow,
to the cold rooms
where I profess the only thing
that holds me here
is gravity:  the heavy life
I carried here, my daughter
who attends your classes,
becoming aware of the
emptiness this place promises
if you aren’t a true believer,
If you’ve been brought
up to think and be free.

Now comes the time
I walk to my office in silence and solitude,
alone in my thoughts as I design
daily lesson plans and go over
readings in the big dark
space that is my mind.   From you and your kind
I have learned to keep my head
down, my eyes on a book
or on the ground, least I offend
with my glare or my big native
body.  I’ve heard stories of
how some people fear big dark men
who stand proud and speak
their minds, who become vociferous
because it’s the only way to
survive in a world that denies
humanity and difference.  Yet in the blue
blue sky I see
the last planets fade, and I gain hope,
for I have tasted the sweet air
of the high mountains, I have fed and cradled
my elderly dad while
he slowly died at the VA.   I have beaten
cancer and
bad cops who wanted
to kill me.  I shiver and quiver
in the dim darkness of my
disease which eats
my nerves and muscles.  Yet there are
some of your clique
who think I am a beast, an animal,
a savage without
manners or dignity.  Only because
I have spoken, or as your
one dog said,  surprised you
all at how articulate I am,
meaning I mean nothing to
you and that I deserved the heart attack
machine your boys
strapped to my quivering chest.
As for the rest, don’t worry.   I am finished
climbing mountains
and what’s ahead is
more like a frozen lake or plain
that I must trudge through.  With books,
breaking into sweats and seizures
just to please you.
For more than anything
else I fear you.  Fear if I stop
you will whip me like
they whipped dark men
in ages before, ages before
your young god stepped

from Nazareth to save
us from such cruelty.

Friday, March 21, 2014


I carved a wooden heart
just to see if it would
start.  I etched veins
to see if it would pump.
In return the heart
stayed dry and cool
so I made a fire.  It
bobbed in the flames
like undone charcoal.
It then turned to iron
and I the alchemist
was scared and scarred
by the sacred mess I'd made.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Names of Famous Galaxies

He dwindled among
the single roots
of the night, captured
the fright of his
own vision, much
like a ghost prison
aching right
outside his door
near as a church.

Then it was
the end of winter.
He saw the geese
and was undone,
happy as a lamb.
It all sang back
at him then,
small Oak pollen
bursts in the air,

before he sneezed
big gusts of spring
himself in the dark.

Epiphany of the Cross Writes about his Father, H. the Magician

My father, born summer early morning
sunlight among the nuns, was taken
to the place they take the small ones:  a room
with little bears on the wall, slots of oxygen
tubes and metal.  Surviving that, he made
his way from where he came, a blank
hot land he could no longer stand, dryness
taking hold of everything.  He
took his stand and left the West for good--
finding wetness and rain everywhere
he was finally good.  Now growing old
he sits alone counting his rib bones,
testing out his time, the days and seconds
left behind like postcards or love letters.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Letter to 1964

Now in this day
God has been defeated.
The waters run naked,
dirty.  And we're all
fried by the field of grass
you left us at the roadside.
Faked, bottomed out,
our new century is a deep
lake so blue, endless.
On what night
did you arrive and
under what stars?
Here the sky is cracked
colonized by signals,
microwave beams.
I'm trying to be alone but I
can't.  Your songs
don't need any religion,
they're holy by
all accounts.  By our
days you were numbered,
anointed in time
for color TV.

Friday, January 17, 2014

We live in the valley of the moon

Charlotte Osborne and her two sons lived in the Spanish-style brown stucco at the end of the cul-de-sac, where the alley also ended.  Across the street and the cause for the cul-de-sac was a Lutheran Seminary.  In that neighborhood, people came and went, students, immigrants, missionaries.  In fact, her neighbor was a professor at the seminary as had been her husband.
Lately, both Charlotte and her neighbor, the professor’s wife, Marge, had been having a hard time managing their dogs and their teen age children.  The dogs ran wild and loose, biting people, and the kids walked through people's yards and spaces without thought, indifferently vandalizing cars during the spring when it was graduation or Prom.
I can't say much about Charlotte’s kids except that the two boys were blond-haired browned-eyed truants, hoodlums and generally unruly.  Her dog was vicious, as was Marge’s.  One day that dog even attacked my dog as we walked by.  Poor Angus would never go down that street again.  I remember the day her dog ran around in my yard chasing a cat. She was of course aghast when I chased her off.  Her son called my dog a pussy.   They were generally feared in the neighborhoods as freaks.
              The turn is this:  sometime in 1992, before we got to Saint Paul, there had been a huge raging fire in that neighborhood.  It was probably a colder day in early march Minnesota.  Lingering kids at home, you know, pre-school kids, snow and ice, temps in the 20s.  And there's not much on tv.  So you suit up the way you usually do, and you take your dog with you.  Dad’s building a fire for the kids to warm up.  There's the faint smell of eggs frying.
            Out in the hills it's a little colder than you expect, but you get through the town into the woods that run parallel to the freeway.  It takes about an hour:  the woods are grey, no green buds but signs of animals abound:  raccoon tracks. Deer droppings.  But the hard ice-free trail feels good and as you’re hitting your stride, there's that smell--like paper, like paper burning.
       2 miles away your husband is setting his library and his home office on fire, having piled a set of theological tracts and academic journals into pyramid of sorts.  He's taken a fire starter, that is, a greasy tar soaked piece of plywood, and set that on fire with a big green kitchen match:  strike anywhere.  The fires really getting along by the time you get home.  Not realizing it's your house on fire.   There's some screaming.  In what was your husband the professor’s office there's nothing but flame and destruction.  Like a movie but it's not.  Your two sons running down the stairs, slowly, slowly so slowly you hope they make it to the open front door.  Something about the dog.
       Sure there's dire fire engines everywhere and cops too.  Most of the south side destroyed by fire.  Tiny pieces of burnt book paper everywhere, and ashes.  The last thing you see before you faint is the sun rising and your two sons fighting with a fireman to get back into the house to look for your man and his dog.
*          *          *          *
Nobody really knows what goes through the suicidal mind, what processes drive one to self-immolation and familial destruction.  David was professor of New Testament Studies and Jesusology.  Not the most popular professor in at a small college, but dutiful, knowledgeable, and able.  Some students found his formalism and his traditional attitudes odd.  Others championed his conservatism outside of the class, and even wore bow-ties in his style.  For a long time he had tried to finish an extension of his dissertation, dealing with core of Jesus, how we believe in him, and under what circumstances, in what conceptual terms.  His evaluations had never been bad, and well, that one time he yelled the Dean had been long forgotten.  He did publish regularly in B+ academic journals like the Midwest Quarterly. 
Whether his sons knew him was another thing.  They’d been in Boy Scouts together and had climbed hills and dales all over Minnesota, they’d become expert with canoes, being able to trundle through northern Minnesota in the summer for fun in the vast systems of lakes and rivers that offered a natural peace anyone can love.   We just don’t know much about mom except that she loved to run.
No letter. No one had seen David’s suicide coming, at all. Not Charlotte, or the boys.  Or his colleagues.  What was most fierce-some was the act of his death:  the piling of specific books, tracts, and journals, the quick immolation of his stacks of papers, notes, essays, and journals, sheer walls of flame, the furniture gone, David and his dog somewhere in the middle of all of this.  After 2 days his sons stopped rooting though the burned out part of the house. 
Some days in late July you’d see Charlotte and her two boys cooking weenies and burgers on the grill, ketchup and mustard on the redwood table, bowls of salad, glasses of lemonade.  Other times, you’d find the boys in the alley tossing a ball back and forth to their new dog, who seemed to want to kill everything it bit or caught or even saw.  The house had been repaired, the room taken apart carefully, the house rebuilt in places.  But there was a big basement window and you could see stacks and closets full of what must have been David’s clothing.  The dog would bark and snarl through the night, madly.
The biggest mistake that Charlotte and Marge made was getting mean dogs.  For what ever reason.  Perhaps the need for comfort and safety drives some people to allowing their dogs to become mean.  Or maybe the meanness of life filters to the heart, anyway, all the time.    In the summer of 1999 Marge’s giant black poodle attacked my Wheaton Terrier, Angus.  The cops were involved.  Next year, Charlotte’s dog attacked my dog from across the street.  The cops also told me that they had to take Charlotte’s poodle away as it was deemed viscious and dangerous after attacking one of the officers.  The worst part:  the cops believed me, but as they pointed out, Charlotte’s family and Marge’s family felt entitled since they were homeowners and I was a renter.  “Just stay away, they’re crazy” Officer Friendly advised.  There was a short war, though.  My partner dumped at least a quart of honey on one of Marge’s dogs when she caught it in our yard chasing a squirrel.  Her kids then vandalized our car.
There are other incidents, mostly repetitive. 

*          *          *          *
            In the early summer of 2003, my partner and I stayed up late one night to burn paper.  Lots of paper.  Box loads.  We were moving and wanted to rid our lives of old bills, old papers, old evaluations, old writing.  Our landlord had a wonderful, cast-iron chimenea and gave us full permission to “burn away” as she exclaimed. 
It was warmer and dryer that early summer in Minnesota, and it would be out last.  The trees had all bloomed and blossomed, greenery grew like a song on the air.  Kay’s chiminea was large, wide, heavy gauge iron.  A true burning machine.
You know what it’s like.  The fire starts, the smell of paper is not like the smell of wood burning.  It is sharper, more acrid, bitter and white in substance, thick and unrelenting.  
            We had sacks of paper.  The fire reached out of the chiminea and tried to touch the sky.  Bolts of flame would leap as we tossed in old syllabi, useless textbooks, bills and letters, mass mailings, old student papers and evaluations.  We howled in drunken excitement.  We fucked on the hard concrete patio as the fire raged in the round tub of the chiminea, as the thick white smoke fumed over and into the neighborhood, missing no home or company of guests.   Our dog Angus ran in crazy circles up and down the hill and our young children slept the sleep of innocents. 
            The cry in the night.  Almost 3 in the morning.  The fire still hot and burning, with three phone-books and a whole box of student evaluations to burn.  We sat in out sandals and shorts, in t-shirts smoky as the air, with pokers, rods, and an actual pitchfork to control the fire.  Cigarettes and wine.  We had a hose and lots of water available.  The cry at night.  A shrill yelp, a horrifying shriek.  A ghost, or so I thought, wandering down the hill on the stairs the city built 30 years ago.  Charlotte, naked, her white breasts burning in the light of the fire, her pubis startling.  Charlotte crying.  “Is there a fire?  Is there a house on fire?” Her pale body fluttering in the wind as the fire rages.  Her dry bare feet on concrete, the sounds of summer birds.  The last papers, the hose and the water.  I still see her floating up the hill like the ghost she must be by now, almost chanting as Marge takes her home.