“You know how you tell a native
from a tourist?” asked the damp guy
not-nursing his scotch.
Why do they always talk to me?
I shrug my shoulders.
I shrug again,
leave twenty on the bar,
check the phone —
finish the bourbon, find the keys,
slide the ball-cap on backwards,
position steel-rimmed sunglasses,
hit the mirror,
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While I wait for the light,
wonder which words to use —
whether “immature” or “innocent”
best conveys America —
an unfortunate unhoused woman
dies on the sidewalk cuddling
garbage and a teddy bear —
her last moment unhinged:
it is too much, too much,
so she passes it on
to the passersby —
who sit in traffic
with closed-up windows
thinking “Poor Soul”
thinking this is so sad
thinking at least she’s in a better place
unable to explain.
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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.
I have a book for everything,
tons stacked on shelves, ready
next to my bed, vital voices
everywhere guiding and guarding.
If I want to make a soufflé
(because every so often,
one wants to make a soufflé),
Julia is ready to help,
mistress of the art of no-collapse.
Become a better lover?
Not possible, but just in case,
diverse manuals proffer advice,
presenting tasteful drawings of
joyful possibility (though these
are not in plain sight — relatives).
Stories to frighten and stories to love —
page-turning tales that taught me
winning The Lottery isn’t always a good thing,
sometimes one needs to stand like Atticus
against an army of stupid,
and yes, leaving the comfortable Shire
means one will likely get burned,
but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.
And speaking of burning:
when I’ve made a mistake,
when it’s time to make right with God,
there’s a book for that, too.
I’m happy. My world is secure.
I’m as wise as the wise,
should I ever want…
someone will happily
show me what that is.
All we’ve talked
silly me, impatient you —
until we ease into each other
to enthrall Dark.
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“Do you love him?”
We walk the Sea Wall.
He studies the sound,
Grouse Mountain, green-black
cross-hatch of hemlock and fir.
He talks past water
lapping round rocks,
love near water
breathing distant trees.
“Because it’s okay if you do.”
I love this place.
“I love that mountain.”
He loves the mountain.
He loves me.
All that love.
“Two trees in a forest, eh?
You and me.”
Side by side,
friend I love;
side by side,
“Yes, you and me.”
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I imagine you shocked at my lifeless body,
dead on the floor, carpet stained with me.
You don’t believe it. You think I’m playing.
I’m not. It dawns on you I’m over.
I hear your no no no, just
like you did when the dog died in your arms —
see tears slide down your abandoned face,
feel your torment love confusion hate.
I miss you more than my self,
know the price of life is death,
pay the cost of love with loss…
just as customer service asks for my credit card.
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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 —
vapid sissy-fire before
an incredulous emptiness —
I bent without a friend,
alone on the side of the road,
“Speedos are way-sexier
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The desperate horde
hanged the mighty witch high —
as she watched from behind,
“If I’m as mighty as they say,
and so well-versed in
dangerously Dark Arts,
do they really think —
can they really believe —
this is over?”
And so the mighty witch
swayed in nature’s caress,
seeding her folk with everlasting
before moving to California.
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She ate cotton candy and
watched Seattle seabirds hold
steady in nondescript
and almost forgot the scar
he stretched around her heart
before she died.
Now, a thousand miles down-coast,
glass house above sunset sky —
that’s where she’s always been,
soft blanket, now, soft light —
a story she likes,
a dusky sea —
her intransigence now just a word
describing another mother,
someone sad far far away.
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