Piedras Blancas

Avi climbed up the yellowed sandstone rock that had once been part of the headland bluff but now sat six feet in seawater during high tide and fronted by sand during low tide.  He stood completely naked because he’d always wanted to be naked on a beach in Big Sur or near Big Sur and the rock was there so he stripped off his jeans and sweatshirt and shoes and climbed until he reached the very top. From the top of the towering rock he looked toward Piedras Blancas lighthouse and the hidden winter home of the elephant seals we’d seen the day before that seemed fat and lazy but could move in unexpected ways and were actually quite fast.  Every year a tourist or two learned the hard way that poking the blubberous giants could get you crushed underneath an angry ton of lunging seal.

Who knows why men feel the need to get naked before the ocean and then sometimes in it or why Avi thought he wouldn’t get wet standing high above the ocean or why he thought no one back at the Piedras Blancas Motel could see him when all we needed to do was look out our windows at the lighthouse to the left and him to the right.  Maybe Avi knew and that was part of the thrill of it all but I didn’t think so because of the way he scanned the beach and the coast behind him and then crouched on top of the rock like he was surveilling the motel until he found himself safe from prying eyes.  He stood again after that and looked carefully over the edge of the front of rock and swayed a little before recoiling at a wave that rushed inward but only made it halfway up the rock and since it looked like a pretty big wave Avi relaxed a lot and scanned the entire Pacific Ocean from left to right before he made the sign of the cross and began to pray.  I thought there were other things I’d be doing on that rock but to each his own and I knew anyway that he was probably going to pray from the top of that rock before the entire western hemisphere of seawater, that’s just who he was,  but I guess the couple in the next room didn’t know because through the old wall that had been repapered so many times small bubbles had long since become large domes of trapped air I heard:  “Good Lord there’s a naked man on that rock over there!” 

The voice was female and older from Milwaukee or Fond du Lac but definitely Wisconsin and was loud and very moral at the same time.  Another lower more resigned voice told the woman to put down the binoculars and give the man the peace God intended when she said he was PRAY-ING in such a way that it sounded as if Avi was committing a high crime which I found hilarious because their lovemaking the night before was a high crime and had woken me up for almost seven minutes and then left me with thoughts.  The woman went on to say that she thought Avi was a CATHOLIC even though he didn’t look it because he’d MADE THE SIGN OF THE CROSS and that she thought the entire display was disgusting and perverted and very inappropriate and had half a mind to report it to the management.  The man repeated the word management with irony and I could almost see him sweep the shabby expanse of his motel room with his arm to prove his point.  She continued undaunted:  “I won’t be able to look out there without seeing him.  Him! He’s ruined this vista forever.”

I looked out the window again, differently this time because I’d heard what the woman next door had to say about Avi ruining the view — vista — forever because he was naked before his God with his hands down at this sides but turned out towards the sea and he was beautiful and didn’t someone in the bible once dance naked before the Lord?  He stood still against the San Simeon headlands and light-blue almost white sky and slowly lifted up his palms as if offering the earth and all its wonders to the waiting heavens. That was when a wave sliding from the rock back to the sea created a crescendo of seawater that an incoming wave rode until it crashed and cracked and spumed upward to the sky white sea-spray upwards upwards to shower the rock and the man praying on it who did not move but stood there in the glorious surprise of the world still and true, still and true.  Shivering and surprised and completely himself in the world.

This communion was interrupted by a knock on the door that startled me and that I didn’t want to answer because it was probably the woman from next door  that had enjoyed seven or eight minutes of lovemaking and was now angry.  But the knocking was tentative and plaintive and I thought maybe Avi deserved a bit of privacy out on his rock under the sky so I turned from the window and walked to the door to peer through the peephole and saw the motel manager Robin who we met the day before  standing outside the room.  I opened the door and saw a car rush past her on the highway alongside the motel and a bottle of white zinfandel and two wine glasses that she extended with a bashful smile as she explained:  “For tonight and watching the sunset.  It’s spectacular.”  As I took the glasses and the white zinfandel she leaned in and looked straight up at my face and said:  “You’re a very lucky man.” I swear I saw a small slight wink before she pulled away and started walking as I said thank you for the unexpected gift on a morning of unexpected gifts with only a little bit of dampening coming from the voice next door.  But that didn’t really matter as I set up the white zinfandel and glasses for later and went back to the window where I was tempted to find Avi again on the rock but decided to leave him alone and in peace with the ocean and sand and his God as I turned to the lighthouse and imagined its slumbering seals.

Piedras Blancas Motel after it had seen better days. (San Simeon, CA)


Dillon Beach

The wind from the ocean blew up the dunes that sunny Sunday when I was twelve and my mother sat beside me under an egg-blue sky on morning-cold sand that lay under the stars the night before and now formed to our bodies if we wiggled back and forth to make little troughs for our legs and butts.  “In the Name of the Father,” the priest began, his voice muffled by the wind rushing up the dunes and carrying his words someplace else away from us, but we knew the drill and made the sign of the cross sitting in the sand with sixty other kids and the chaperones who cooked our food these past four days and made sure we didn’t get into fights in the tents.  We were like happy dogs on the beach, running everywhere because you can run everywhere when you’re young and then sleep and run some more later.  The tent was different.  

Mom held my hand while we listened to the cool priest say cool things, and I wondered if she thought this was okay, having mass outside with a bunch of sixth graders when my dad said public schools had no business getting into the religion game.  I didn’t know about that because dad was behind in his child support and the priest said things about nature being God’s temple and how cool it was to get outside to worship God, so why not be here in the sand thinking about Mark Sager in the tent the night before and Shawn Ayre who was mean but seemed to want to get close to me in his sleeping bag, moving inch by inch by inch until he was right next to me with his arm resting just where my side met the ground. I was sleeping on my side and his hand rustled against me and didn’t move even when he fell asleep and continued breathing deep and low, deep and low.  I went back to thinking about Mark Sager with his shock of blond hair when all the rest was brown and his baby-faced smile.  He wore V-neck shirts to school and his skin under his throat looked tanned, but we were poor so I wore one of my mom’s V-neck shirts to school one day.  It was cut too low for playing four-square and the kids started to laugh even though I was better than them and could kick their butts in four-square.  Mark Sager and I weren’t friends anymore after that but our tent requests were already made so he slept far away from me in the six-man tent that smelled like a wet dog, lined up next to ten other tents that probably smelled the same.  He tried to switch when we got to Dillon Beach but they wouldn’t let him.

Mom held my hand as the priest said a muffled Gloria that was also carried away and then the readings began as I thought about the sea anemones we touched the day before, how Aaron Mills put his tongue into one after being told not to and had to be taken to the chaperone’s motorhome to make sure his tongue didn’t swell up too big.  Mom and I sat in the cool sand under the white-blue sky and listened to the readings and then the homily, which was probably more about how the beach was God’s temple and we didn’t need walls to pray to God for whatever we needed, so I prayed that mom would forget what Arvelia Johnson told her over the chili pot, and she seemed to forget because she held my hand all the way through the mass.

The wind was warming up and the sun was on my back.  I was no longer cold from the night in the tent next to Shawn Ayre with his closed eyes and arm on my sleeping bag right up against my back. I wanted to roll over to see if he would move but also didn’t want him to move at all, and then it was morning and the tent was cold and wet-dry, dry but the air inside was the kind that made your hair sticky.  Beach air.  Mark Sager told me not to look at him while he got out of his sleeping bag and that woke Shawn Ayre up but he didn’t move his arm away, in fact he moved it closer, further into the fold between my side and the ground so that I was caught a little.  I could hear his breathing change when Mark Sager opened up the tent flap and told me again to stop looking even though I mostly wasn’t, and then Shawn Ayre’s arm was more under my side so I rolled a little towards him and onto his hand and I could feel his fingers through the sleeping bag move near my butt before he whispered “fag” so that only I could hear it, so I rolled back on my side and then he sat up and said, “Hey, look!  Beckman’s trying to roll on top of me!” Suddenly everyone was awake and pointing at Shawn Ayre’s arm almost buried  under my side, and he’s acting like he can’t get it out, like I wanted it there and he was innocent when I knew he wasn’t because I could see it in his low eyes.  The kids laughed and said “Fairy” and ran out of the tent in their shorts yelling “Fairy” until a teacher told them the next word he heard was going to get twenty pushups.

I was alone in the tent until my mom came to get me and we walked up the sand dune to mass.  Maybe she didn’t hear.  Maybe they kept quiet around her because moms would never want to know what Arvelia Johnson told her and what they went yelling through the tents until they were told to shut up.

We sat in the sand until mass was over and the priest said “Go in peace” and a teacher stood up and started telling us about breakfast and how we would be leaving Dillon Beach after eating.  “Don’t leave anything you don’t want the ocean to get,” he said.  His sunglasses shined light back on us and we all started to laugh because kids were diving out of the way of the rays. Then I started to stand up but mom put her hand on my shoulder and we sat together until everybody else had gone to breakfast.  She said, “You know, you don’t have to like them.”  And I decided I didn’t like them, not even Mark Sager, but I still liked Shawn Ayre because he had low eyes and kept his hand there but then made me look like I was a fairy.  I squeezed my mom’s hand and looked at the sand between my legs.  She said, “I couldn’t wait to get out of school.”

Even though she probably heard, I became quiet and peaceful in the cool sand under the warm sun, and thought I didn’t care so much if she did hear because she hated school too and now all the kids thought she was beautiful and friendly and she was the most popular chaperone on the beach trip.  We got up and walked down the sand dune and into the camp and left for home.



I once fell in love.
I once found a prince.
He stood on a beach
dark against the rolling surf,
full with the universe.

I once flew into
daring rough hands,
mute, lucky, held —
an odd fish silent and ready,
silent as hope.

“Why couldn’t you be a woman?”

In rowdy hands
I wiggled the signs,
did my best to become
sexy, curvaceous, something —

but slipped lonely-homeward
back to the sea that rushed for me.


Miracle of Life

“You came out talking.”

I hold my breath against this metal world,
this chewy phlegm and snot-dripping contraption, 
close tight my eyes against the green-gowned monster
and think:

“What the fuck!  Deceiving womb!”

Sweat and salty tears now on my cheeks —
why is she crying?  Narcissist.
I was the one ripped into a rotting cell that tasted of —
is that excrement? —

birthed into man’s horrendous hall,
his macabre theater of death and religion.
And she’s crying?

I scream.
(Was that the “talking” you heard?)



Coming home from college for the first time, I told my mother what I’d learned in my philosophy class: “Your fifteen minutes of passion condemned me to death.”

Her response: “Sounds like your philosophy teacher needs to work on his stamina.”


New doctors are like puppies.
They have to play with all their toys
and can be wildly cute.
Fresh out of obedience school,
all they know is rules and cutoffs; 
they cannot yet lay by the fire
because they are the fire
and have trouble being still.

Old doctors, like old dogs,
aren’t so eager.
They know our secret heart,
the love we’ve spent against
coming back

and smile
as we wave
So Long.


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.


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.



      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.
      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.”


More poetry HERE.

And if you’d like a short story, click HERE.

Eternal Coast

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,
California oceancoast,
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.


More poems? They’re HERE.

And then there are the BOOKS here.