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.

*

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.”

*

More poetry HERE.

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

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.

Words, 1988

He’d be dead in three months.  Bob.  
The big guy came walking up the 
driveway, eyes fixed on the lawn.
Dad was watering.  Same jeans
he had in the 70s.  Same brown
flip-flops.  He didn’t stop moving the
hose back and forth.  I stood watching.

“Listen, we gotta talk.  Bury
this thing.”

It’s what everyone wanted.  The whole
block.  Just make up, some said.
He didn’t mean it, others said.  He said he was
sorry.  I just wanted them to be friends again.

But I knew my dad.

“Mom, you gotta talk to him.”
She pointed to the ring not on her
finger.  She shook her head.
She went back to her coffee.
She knew him too.

“Go home, Bob.” That’s all dad said.
Bob looked at me, then back at the 
lawn.  “I said I was...You know what?
Fuck it.”
He walked away.  Home.

Dad coiled up the hose.  “He
talks too much.”

When Bob was dead, his wife
waved me over, drunk on her porch.
“I’m sorry,” she slurred.  “Bob never
should’a said those things.”
She reached for my hand.  

“Honey, it was just a joke.” Her pinkie went up.
“Honey, he didn’t care about that stuff.”
She rubbed my hand.

I shifted away.  I left.  Dad was on the
porch, standing.  I went into the house.  
He followed.
“You want to go get some new
brake pads for your car?”  

More poetry. Always, more poetry here.

And stories, for people that want to lose themselves for a bit. Here.

For Now

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.

More? Click here.

Beginning Middle Man — Poems

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. 

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Amazon.com


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“Browsing”

Library of Memory,
finger on the spines
that hold together
me.

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?
(I knew.)
One night
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.
Horrible!

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.

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“Parking”

“You should call security.
These homeless people.”

     But there was something else,
     some bit of sadness —

“...always think it’s tragic
when I’m the one paying rent...”

     — behind still-hopeful eyes,
     as a silly heart-shaped balloon 
     floated forward, started to sag.

“in our building? Was he good looking?”

What?

His eyes shut mine
against the breach.
So much to give
as you focus parts,
abs and arms alone,
always.
But those weighted lips,
like waves,
carried dreams

until they reached my shore..

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