Lake House Memory

The coffee pot sticks a little
to the warming plate.
Sliding-glass door’s a bit rusty.
I love it cracked open,
lake-smell gets in,
grass and summer rain, 
trees on the breeze — 
maybe the morning doves
will come again.

It’s good to feel stiff old shag,
see stacks of books we’ve partly read,
stacks and stacks. 
Your grandpa’s kitchen table,
Ruth’s worn chair,
dusty Mantovani on the player.

Paintings hang crooked, 
curl on paneled walls,
fading in memory and slow-days,

that other house, the city one,
already forgotten.

*

Good Ol’ Gal

The grandmother never existed.
I made her up — the convalescent home,
the diabetes, a high school lie.  
Her name was Betsy,
and she never asked for candy,
or walked me through the Depression.
Hand-made soap, aero-planes —
the whole shebang 
kinda not true.

But she was a good ol’ gal,
always ready to listen to my 
teen-boy problems, so open 
to “these new-fangled relationships” —
“It’s not like we didn’t mess around
in our day,” she once said.
“Just don’t get anyone pregnant!”
She knew there was no girl,
nodded when I told her how 
all my friends — you — stared at me	
like I had depth, like I was heroic 
just for visiting The Elderly.

Well, Betsy would’a liked that.
She would’a liked that just fine.
If she had ever existed.

*

Sea Wall with Mountain in Background

“Do you love him?”

We walk the Sea Wall.
He studies the sound,
Grouse Mountain, green-black 
cross-hatch of hemlock and fir.

      “No.”

“Sure?”

      He talks past water
      lapping round rocks,
      love near water
      breathing distant trees.

“Because it’s okay if you do.”

      A canopy.
      I love this place.

“I love that mountain.”

      He loves the mountain.
      Vancouver.
      He loves me.
      All that love.

“Two trees in a forest, eh?
You and me.”

      Side by side,
      friend I love; 
      side by side,
      roots entwined.

      “Yes, you and me.”

*

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Shimmering

I tried to run just like them,
the gods of track whose ankles worked
as they shimmered before crowds,
High School Heroes of ambitious dimension.

I plodded desperate for legs, 
then arms, then breath 
up the curious street of my youth.

My feet slapped ridiculousness
as wild elbows jabbed wildly
at dreams I didn’t fit — 
lungs wheezed 
vapid sissy-fire before 
an incredulous emptiness —

I bent without a friend,
alone on the side of the road,
and thought:

“Speedos are way-sexier
than this!”

*

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Any Day

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.

Beowulf.
He had it easy.				
Monsters and a dragon?  
Any day.

*

North Hollywood Elegy

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
again.

*

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.

*

Roam around the stories here. They’re pretty good.

I’ve Tried

I’ve tried
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,
in love.

I tried 
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
in me
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
great personalities
no-fap
try try try
John Cage
no-fap
“Thy will be done”
Los Angeles
Christianity —

when all along, sweet lullaby,
sleeps the not-tried, the true, 
until I put on a jacket
against cold San Francisco freedom
and smile

destiny.

*

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Notes: San Francisco, Ruins (2018) — annotated

Sacred Space — Arrival

The wrinkled woman
resting in the doorway
hustles aside,
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.
Industrial.  Rough-Masculine.
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,
ever-so-sweet-and- 
special Chase.

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

to die?

What if these squatters,
these supplanters,
are the Old City’s fevered urge,
lusting after land and
Better Homes-ness,
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.
My boyfriend.
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
in common!” 

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. 
Somewhere.
Or sometime?

⥨

Processing — SFO13

A cocoon of security.  We pay
to pretend.

You can’t pretend in 
bus stations.

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
by children.

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 
and memory
lay buried.

Only ruins survive;
fate has fashioned them weapons
hope can’t overcome:
marriage bourgeois magazines health 
money a future an attitude 
clean pecs
success.

But still... 

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,
just 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 
Heaven…

I miss you.

Shake off this juvenile dream.

Please, God, let us be in love again. 

Notes:

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 
        mid-1970s
7 	somewhat successful example of urban 
        revitalization/renewal; once known as DrugPatch 
        Park
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

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On the Phone, 1978

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.

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Oxnard Street Poet

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.
Lovely day,
awesome morning,
top of the world,
hello, hallo,
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
and care
and age.

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