The phone vibrates twenty-seven times
between Beowulf and lunch. I
snap each time. Students always know.
They look at me carefully, compassionately.
I dial the number. Wait. “What, Mom?”
Labored intake: “Took you long enough.”
She says the chicken’s spicy.
She says she’s always alone.
She says no one cares if she lives.
She is my dying mother.
I listen, stare at the wall,
wait for the tears to subside.
He had it easy.
Monsters and a dragon?
Lankershim Boulevard was better
when Grammy took me to the
Jewish Council Thrift Store
to buy me an out-of-date
Writer’s Market, and I looked up
at her against the naked fluorescent
tube lights, and wanted to write
a story that would make her rich
and me famous
so that we wouldn’t have to shop
at the Jewish Council Thrift Store
There was once a time —
you’ll have to trust me —
when Dad would write notes
for cigarettes and liquor,
and off I’d go to Dales Jr.
And then if I was fast,
he'd give me a sip.
It burned all the way down.
Probably how I got so good at track.
“I want you to stay away
from that guy upstairs.”
Old Shirley’s hair was frizzier
than usual. She held a glass.
“Something’s not right there.”
“Okay, I will,” as I walked
past her window
down the driveway
out onto Oxnard
remembering how he
held me to his chest
and showed me I was happiness.
to not want my City,
to make life here,
far from the streets and hills and men
that brought me life in such breadth that I gulped lust
at every turn, bodies and books and
sweet blessed fog, busses, parks,
crazies four floors beneath screaming
“HELP! HELP!” though there’s only a streetlamp,
three-hundred-dollar theater seats steps from
human defecation (it’s not pretty) —
tether-bridges to windy and windy headlands and
mystical beaches and sex —
where to walk is to be enveloped,
to love her instead of him, once upon a time,
way back when lies meant caring,
and my brain and niceness said I
shouldn’t hurt anyone so I
drowned Aaron in hope and went on screwing
and became good at it and talked about;
but each night, laying on top of her
sweet and forgiving body, sculpted
ballers did sweaty lay-ups in my room,
in my head
and if it wasn’t for those players,
she never would’ve cum,
so it seemed like it was okay.
But it wasn’t.
I tried Return of the Native.
I tried The Glass Menagerie.
Everything by Faulkner.
All I wanted was Sassoon,
maybe a little Woolf,
but I’d lock myself in my room
to read words words words,
and I’d yawn yawn yawn —
while A Room of One’s Own
whispered slyly to Suicide in the Trenches:
“He’s missed the point.
“He’s really missed the point.”
Sushi Streisand Dances with Wolves
mango con limón my dear friend who wants
to be dear so he must be but…
no-fap novenas TED Talks on writing
guys who aren’t built
who really aren’t built
who seriously aren’t built
try try try
“Thy will be done”
when all along, sweet lullaby,
sleeps the not-tried, the true,
until I put on a jacket
against cold San Francisco freedom
Sacred Space — Arrival
The wrinkled woman
resting in the doorway
her bones twitching hard:
“I'm sorry, Sir,”
as I pull my bag into
the Inn on Folsom Street1.
Exposed brick walls try hard
in my suddenly empty room.
I don’t...feel anything.
I thought I’d feel something.
No ghosts. Nothing.
I know the old fairies flew south
years ago. No place for the
Auden-faced. And the demons?
Those super-charged leather
dangers stalking prey in red steam?
Now they cam2 from rented rooms
in Sacramento and San Diego,
their hunting names changed
from Steve to Chase, TwinkChase3,
I don't know what to pray for
or to, not in this abandoned church.
Walking While Thinking — SoMa4
What if the usurpers,
the influencers paying $1.9 million
for a pissed piece of SoMa,
are just waiting for us
What if these squatters,
are the Old City’s fevered urge,
lusting after land and
trading-in sweaty stories
for a kid in an UPPAbaby5,
the ultimate accessories?
Makes sense as senses
now scent safety,
porning lean clean high-pitched
action-figures in Lower Castro6.
Everyone’s lost their balls.
Pause — Phone Call Home
“Mike called,” says the man on the phone.
Back in LA.
“What’d he want?”
“Know where you were.”
“What’d you say?”
“Up in San Francisco. Probably getting disillusioned.”
That’s why we’re at 20 years. More or less.
Exhibit — Dolores Park7 Cafe. Conversation, overheard
while eating expensive steel-cut oatmeal.
“And so he's interested in you
finding a tenant for your property.”
“Yeah, and we have so much
Outside, those who can only afford
the sidewalk are no-shows to the
convention of web-developers and
Mommy-n-Me in Lululemon8.
I’m a haunted old spirit:
“The best never survive.”
Walking Richmond9, after searching
GG Park10 for Signs of Life.
They all have money, or They have all the money.
Houses high atop garage doors painted
in expected candy-shop pastels.
Millions couldn't buy in. But it's also an
attitude; they fit. This kaleidoscopic
nursery is their world.
I like the sidewalk now; it’s original,
the hard-marked past, bones of my city,
cast when these houses were just houses,
you could hear shouting because people
shouted back before dot.coms and Grindr11,
when bandanas12 spoke not conclusively,
you had to look a guy in the eyes
and the park was full of risk and joy.
My world: on that older hill,
the one covered in open-faced beauty
and daring, weathered desire.
Processing — SFO13
A cocoon of security. We pay
You can’t pretend in
But here, I wonder with
beating breathing heart:
What would I do
if I was asked for spare change
at the United ticket counter?
If I wanted a cigarette?
If someone stood up and said
preferred pronouns are simply
an expansion of binary imprisonment?
If an out-loud not-texted internet-free
political need happened?
Their aggrieved-teenager answer:
“Is it so wrong to live unencumbered?
Does everything real
have to be uncomfortable?”
It’s easy to get turned around
Now I miss their sandcastles,
the peaceful playset neighborhood.
Nobody who doesn’t belong wanders by.
It’s nice. Just like an airport.
It’s all that’s left.
Reflection — Flying, looking back
San Francisco: where dreams
Only ruins survive;
fate has fashioned them weapons
hope can’t overcome:
marriage bourgeois magazines health
money a future an attitude
I look back as the plane banks
for SoCal, for LA and my
old boyfriend who will greet me
outside third-world LAX14 and drive
the stained and broken 40515 home,
where books and vacuuming
wait; and I see my once-home fading
into a sunsetted Ocean that touches
every time I’ve cared about, waiting,
and I find myself praying:
Maybe you will be broken again,
so like me when you led
my strange and halting body
through cracked unwanted lovely
streets to flowers and eucalyptus,
pro-offered grass in sheltered
shadow and men became yours,
cool-touching breeze, wounded
naked-love in pine-fragranced
gasping way-too-crowded dirty
I miss you.
Shake off this juvenile dream.
Please, God, let us be in love again.
1 past and (somewhat) current location
of San Francisco’s gay leather community
2 interactive filming of oneself engaged in
sexual/intimate acts, either alone or with
others, for a live internet audience, in
exchange for money and/or tokens
3 unblemished young adult male, typically
between the ages of 18-20, who utilizes his
perceived innocence or actual lack of
sexual experience in the pursuit of (generally)
older adult males/“daddies”
4 South of Market; historically, the economically
disadvantaged/“seedy” section of San Francisco
5 high-end baby stroller; average cost: $850
6 once known as GayMecca, the center of San
Francisco’s Gay Liberation Movement of the
7 somewhat successful example of urban
revitalization/renewal; once known as DrugPatch
8 high-end workout wear favored by teen girls
and their mothers
9 neighborhood/district in the northwest corner
of San Francisco, just north of Golden Gate Park
10 Golden Gate Park; known for its Victorian-styled
Conservatory of Flowers and lengthy wooded
trails; iconic location for public sexual activity
11 dating application designed to identify and
communicate with potential gay male sex
partners; lists inclinations and availability, as
well as possible locations for sexual activity
(host, travel, public, etc.)
12 heavy handkerchief positioned in the back
pocket of gay males to communicate sexual
inclination; historically, the color and side of
placement indicated sexual appetite (eg:
hunter-green in right-hand pocket = looking
for a “daddy”). No conclusive guide existed/
exists for the placement/meaning of the bandana.
13 San Francisco International Airport
14 Los Angeles International Airport
15 also known as the San Diego Freeway; largest
connector between the West Side of Los Angeles-
proper and the populous San Fernando Valley
Just in case this wasn’t enough poetry for you, click here.
And yeah, there are books. (Click there, on “Books”)
My grandma stood outside the door
to the garage. The cord went through the
crack. I wouldn’t hear what she was
saying. The drier spun to her voice.
“Get away from the door,” my grandpa said.
“I want to hear what grandma’s talking about.
I think it’s me.”
Grandpa’s eyes changed. He took out a deck
of cards from the drawer. “Wanna play 21?”
He set the cards on the kitchen table.
When she finally came in, I was concentrating
on my Ace. One or eleven. Her hands
surprised me. They were on my shoulders.
“Eleven. See?” She pointed to the eight.
I looked back and up. Her hair was lit from the
ceiling. She was my grandma.
I decided right then:
she was my grandma.
Older than the sidewalk cracks and
street, settled on his flaking porch,
he remembered the Valley when it was trees.
“I’m ready to not be old,”
he said as I passed by.
His eyes were uncommonly blue,
for an old man.
He said: “They published my poem.”
I was on my way to school,
about to not stop.
“Once I get the book,
I’ll read it to you.”
The book cost $49.95.
He held up the flyer they sent.
But he was proud,
so I said nothing.
“Hallo,” he’d say,
waving from his chair.
“Hello,” I’d say,
not wanting to be rude.
top of the world,
have a good day.
Joe was great-uncle wrinkled,
and I had class to get to,
I was a Senior.
But everyone should talk
to a grandpa sitting on a porch.
He asked if I wanted to read his poem.
The book was thick with cheap paper.
I was late but said yes
and the poem was about apples
and I didn’t have to make something up.
It was worth more than the book.
“Do you like it?” he asked.
“I want to read it to my English class.”
Joe gave me his book.
He said to be careful with it.
“I never got published before.”
We sat watching cars
speed down Oxnard Street,
heads moving left to right
then back again, ready.
Joe made coffee
and I listened to stories.
He voted for Roosevelt
and Nixon, twice —
“bet you no one’ll ever tell you that!” —
He didn’t like his grand-daughter.
He said I wouldn’t either.
“Uppity. Ugliness is inner.”
He said if you wanted to get
a pothole fixed in LA,
put a movie-camera next to it
and the mayor would come fill it himself.
He so near the end
talked to me so near the beginning,
said we were bookends on God’s shelf.
His hands trembled, so I carried the cups.
“That’s what age does,
shakes us loose
from the inside out.”
The Oxnard Street poet and
an uppity kid who learned to listen
to words warmed by coffee
The sun feels good in this world, warm, wide-windowed breeze and your brown clone sunglasses with golden wire frames. I think I’m falling.
With you, my skin is tanned to sand, porch-picnic-ready, your mom asking “So is he treating you good?” When I say yes, she gets that twinkle so I know what she means. I nod, shy; she smiles, proud of her son.
I sit in your world and we all eat chicken and talk about school and TV and how you know when you’re in love. (They had a lot of wine.) Here, your parents are mine; they don’t have to say I’m welcome.
Now I remember: Mom hides fear in her smile while dad tries hard to forget me, sewn up tight as he feasts on fury. I am a billion sand-pieces waiting for glass.
“Come on,” you say. “The road’s too cool for that.” So I wrench out of then, kiss this forget that for now.
Beginning Middle Man. Its poetry is surprisingly straightforward, honest and strong, adult without apology. All gay-eros, all the time, a way of remaining true to what I’ve known since I was 17: if we’re not talking about sex, then we’re not talking about ourselves.
These poems are like most men I know and love, rough around the edges and awkward in the extreme. But still beautiful.
Library of Memory,
finger on the spines
that hold together
Oh, I do not like this book!
(Though I’ve read it a thousand times.)
I was too young to understand.
How was I to know?
sags the shelf
that ought to be
in the Restricted Section
(like the old days, when you had to ask
for the books with drawings).
These spines are warped.
I move on.
My, this one is beautiful.
Just look at its golden cover:
“Full of greeting cards and fairy tales.”
Here, I learn right from wrong
and begin to build My Best Self.
Things work out in this book
(just like a Hollywood movie).
Grandma really likes it.
I really should read it someday.
But they said I could take out only one.
Maybe this one? Bright and Sunny Days?
And there are other rooms,
futures I’ve never visited,
a place for faith. Philosophy.
I really should…
as I bow my head,
reach for Mistakes
and turn to you.