2021: A Few Questions

Can you just tell us now ⠀
What it is that you’ve got?⠀
Triple sevens for heaven’s jackpot⠀
After 2000 years in the casino hall⠀
Finally old enough to buy alcohol⠀
Make mine a double⠀
Or nothing at all⠀
If it’s the last call⠀
And that’s all you’ve got⠀

It’s a new beginning⠀
And a whole new end⠀

When the keys punch the headlines⠀
Into your skin⠀
Burning hot like cattle brands⠀
Will you have a choice⠀
Or will it be out of your hands?⠀
Will you see what is written⠀
Will you read your last rites?⠀
Will it be everything black⠀
Or everything white?⠀
Everything day or everything night?⠀
Is it all or nothing?⠀
Just this or just that?⠀
The record keeps skipping⠀
But nobody knows⠀
Where the player is at⠀
Something is broken⠀
Might be the record ⠀
Or maybe the needle⠀
You can get another one⠀
On the corner⠀
In front of the steeple⠀
The gates open wide⠀
The door swings on its hinge⠀
An injection to heaven⠀
Or a highway to seven⠀
Just a shot in the arm⠀
From the holy syringe⠀
What is it you’re drinking?⠀
Tell us again⠀
Do you have music⠀
In your streets with no end?⠀
Do you have love for your children⠀
Stronger than wind?⠀
Will you have my father⠀
To his own father sent?⠀
Do you live and die⠀
On this land planted deep?⠀
Do you know what is yours⠀
And what the earth keeps?⠀
Were you called into existence⠀
At a child’s first words?⠀
Were the lines on your face⠀
Just the flight path of birds?⠀
Will you have artists at work⠀
And writers putting it off?⠀
Will your wretched be righteous⠀
And your faithful still scoff?⠀
Will you make spaces between⠀
The wrong and the right?⠀
Will you have visions between⠀
Blindness and sight?⠀
Do you have multitudes always⠀
Demanding their way?⠀
Do you have anyone asking⠀
What you need today?⠀
Will you have a place ⠀
To keep these words hidden?⠀
A heart to hold them⠀
And break⠀
And be forgiven?⠀

It’s a whole new end⠀
And another beginning⠀

So one last time⠀
And then I will stop⠀
Tell us again⠀
Just what have you got?⠀
Triple sevens for the jackpot⠀
After 2000 years in the casino hall⠀
Finally old enough to buy alcohol⠀
Make mine a double⠀
Or nothing at all⠀
If it’s the last call⠀
And that’s all you’ve got


Solstice Song: 2020

Before there was light⠀
There was water⠀
And before there was life⠀
The water broke⠀
Staring up into that black ocean⠀
Eyes blinded by the falling seas⠀
On this winter’s solstice⠀
No stars tonight⠀
Just a child⠀
Floating weightless and free⠀
In a fish bowl for all to see⠀

Mary and Joseph⠀
They live down the street ⠀
We ate donuts on strings⠀
Tied to their tree⠀
Last Halloween⠀
But tonight is for listening⠀
Country music on the local radio⠀
A long line of cars⠀
With out of state plates⠀
And a man that spoke⠀
“Don’t be afraid”⠀

We walked a path ⠀
That led to the river⠀
Where the waters had broken⠀
The land in two⠀
We saw a man up ahead⠀
He stopped ⠀
And listened⠀
To the darkened forest⠀
A rustling noise⠀
And a woman’s voice⠀
Calling him to come in⠀
We never saw him again⠀

A grown man on a bike⠀
Rides down the boulevard⠀
A woman in tears walks the other way⠀
They cross paths without a word⠀
She keeps walking ⠀
Tears like the rain⠀
From the broken sky⠀
Her cries fill the void⠀
And break the awful silence⠀
He keeps peddling on⠀
Awkwardly⠀
And alone⠀
On his tandem bike built for two⠀

As lightning bolts fell from the sky⠀
Landing on the ground⠀
Unconvincingly⠀
Like actors in silver suits⠀
Performing in a school drama⠀
On daytime TV⠀
One of them curled up in agony⠀
Or defeat⠀
I never could tell⠀
He could barely speak⠀
His voice cracked so quietly⠀
You’d think he was about to cry⠀
“I’ve lost my thunder”⠀
And there was nothing more to say⠀

They say this is the longest night⠀
But I don’t think they were there⠀
When the heavens and earth aligned⠀
And the earth could not be satisfied⠀
Until heaven was laid to rest⠀
Within her darkened womb⠀
And the bride was left⠀
To walk the road⠀
Alone⠀

Before there was light⠀
There was water⠀
And before there was life⠀
The water broke⠀
Staring up into the darkness⠀
A face full of ocean⠀
On this winter’s solstice⠀
No stars tonight⠀
No great conjunction to be seen⠀
Except for the one⠀
Between your eyes⠀
And the eyes of a child⠀
If we can’t see the stars there⠀
How can we expect ⠀
To see them in the heavens?


My Father’s House

What do you see?⠀
A land taken by zeros?⠀
More zeros than you’ll ever know?⠀
By money changers⠀
That take all they want⠀
In exchange for their soul?⠀
If that’s all that you see⠀
You’ve only read headlines⠀
In the red letter press⠀
This isn’t your land⠀
This isn’t my land⠀
This is my father’s house⠀

Some small success⠀
Some chance at a dream⠀
A life built for two⠀
But what is life if not pain?⠀
A standalone shack⠀
In a narrow ravine⠀
All that’s left⠀
And it’s all that he needs⠀
But this isn’t his land⠀
And it sure isn’t ours⠀
This is my father’s house⠀

This land he travelled⠀
Paving the roads with his bike⠀
He’d led them all onward⠀
Riding further each day⠀
Riding for their lives⠀
Through sweat, tears, and smiles⠀
Roadside sandwich breaks⠀
He watched a wayward driver⠀
Drift out of her lane⠀
One from his flock⠀
Laid to rest that day⠀
It wasn’t her land⠀
And he wished it wasn’t his⠀
This is my father’s house⠀

A son that knows⠀
Too much about too many things⠀
Nothing to gain⠀
From his father’s love⠀
He’s moving fast⠀
And his dad moves too slow⠀
The son doesn’t see⠀
Just how much his father carries⠀
But one day he’ll know⠀
That his father’s failure ⠀
Was his greatest success⠀
And that he’s not the only one⠀
That was carried in those arms⠀
It’s not his land⠀
And it never will be⠀
This is my father’s house⠀

So get out of this house⠀
If you think you’re any better⠀
Get out if you think⠀
Your owed a damn thing⠀
Get out you bastards⠀
You never lived here⠀
You only came when invited⠀
To feast on his generosity⠀
There’s no gates of gold⠀
It’s worn down and rusty⠀
Broken and dirty⠀
But we’ve kept it clean⠀
It will never be your land⠀
It will always be his⠀
This is my father’s house⠀


Her Name was California




He’d laugh this little howling cackle that pulled you into his slipstream as you made your way along the path, down the makeshift rope, repelling into the cove below that you’d never seen breaking before and now was suddenly cracking it’s sonic water booms on the reef below. Everything made him laugh. And almost everything he laughed at led you to math, calculating the odds of survival. ⠀

Some friendships are like this.⠀

He led me to a burning mountain. He led me to wildcats prowling in broad daylight. He led me to a cabin where I spent long evenings watching dragons in the heavens war against the winds on earth below while Jack Kerouac sat on the recliner by the lampstand fearing the dark. He led me to the psychic who knew more of me than I even know and probably still has all the secrets she summoned from between my words dried out and saved in glass jars for seasoning on vegan tacos for the next visitor she entertains. He led me to the Captain who loved her and didn’t speak much because she already knew his words anyway. He led me to high ridges with views in all directions. He led me to a trailer where a Stranger poured me a glass of bourbon and shared Her cigarettes in the dark. ⠀

Her name was California.⠀

She led me to fields of poppies glowing red with love for all and none. She led me to highways that carry hearts to heaven and hell. She led me to destinations even deeper still. She led me to kelp beds anchored to the skulls of conquered peoples. She led me to endless lines of barbed wire fences that scraped into my flesh and instead of bleeding the wounds poured out cheap wine and could only be bandaged with brown paper sacks. She led me to the top of the steeple of the first mission on her skin where the air was as thin as the plot in these verses and where the smoke has been rising since it was burned to the ground in 1775. She led me to her far north where the trees were once taller than any lie ever told. She led me to a path on the edge of a cliff following a friend as he laughed his way down the mountain. ⠀

And she led me home.


Medicine Cabinet

When the music ends⠀
The lights go on⠀
And everyone slowly leaves⠀
Yet somehow the room is strangely dim⠀
Somehow darker than it was before⠀
When the house lights were off⠀
And the music filled the spaces⠀
Between the empty glasses ⠀
That are now also slowly leaving⠀
White rings on the wood tables⠀
As we hum to ourselves ⠀
And dissolve back into the cold night air⠀
And warm beds that await⠀

If we’d known then⠀
That the music would end in this way⠀
We’d have stayed all night long⠀
Played all night long⠀
And drank the bar dry⠀
Letting the jazz⠀
Lead the revolution⠀
Until they came with lights blazing⠀
To pry the saxophones and drumsticks⠀
From our cold dead hands⠀
To confiscate the pianos⠀
And abolish this beautiful night⠀

So now we sit in the quiet darkness⠀
Of a bright winter day⠀
Humming sad tunes to ourselves⠀
That we’ll later play softly ⠀
On our contraband pianos⠀
Sitting in our empty rooms⠀
With the lights off⠀
Because everyone knows⠀
The piano is just a medicine cabinet⠀
And the music will never end


Anaheim Bay

I was born in Anaheim⠀
Happiest place on earth⠀
I once got stuck in Hell there⠀
When Mr. Toad’s wild road broke down⠀
And I swear on my life⠀
I have seen with my own eyes⠀
Snow White⠀
Sucking on a cigarette⠀
We weren’t supposed to see that⠀
And we weren’t’ supposed to be here either⠀
In Anaheim Bay ⠀

But here we were⠀
After crawling under the fence⠀
While a large swell was pushing small waves into this bay⠀
An unusual event⠀
The warships weren’t fazed⠀
Some other kids were already here⠀
Further up along the shore⠀
They must have snuck in somewhere else⠀
They had boogie boards⠀
Playing in the shorebreak⠀
One of them ate sand⠀
The other rode 50 yards along the shore⠀
On a zipper of a wave⠀
Laughing⠀
But also hiding⠀
In Anaheim Bay⠀

We watched for awhile⠀
And we were about to leave⠀
When we saw a surge pushing down the jetty⠀
I ran to it⠀
On water⠀
And rode barefoot⠀
And I mean just barefoot⠀
No board at all⠀
Banking into it with speed⠀
Knees absorbing the chatter⠀
The rebound wave off the jetty approached⠀
Up and over the section⠀
Carving back to the whitewater⠀
A cross between barefoot skiing⠀
And roller skating⠀
Until the wave flattened into deep water⠀
In Anaheim Bay⠀

My brother yelled⠀
The kids were waving frantically⠀
The cameras on the cell tower turned⠀
And focused⠀
Someone heard a buzzing noise⠀
I wasn’t too concerned⠀
Until they showed me notebooks⠀
Full of polaroid snapshots⠀
Of what They did⠀
To the Italian ⠀
That snuck in here last week⠀
You don’t want to know⠀
Apparently they don’t mess around⠀
In Anaheim Bay⠀

I’ve heard They’ll track you down⠀
Even weeks later⠀
When you don’t expect it⠀
When you’re alone⠀
They’ll surround you⠀
Pound you⠀
Till your face looks like a salami⠀
(I saw the photos)⠀
Above, beside, below⠀
It’s hard to say where They stand⠀
With the law⠀
Perhaps They are the law⠀
And They’ll do what they must⠀
To make you regret⠀
Your trespass⠀
Into Anaheim Bay⠀

But I haven’t seen Them yet⠀
It’s been awhile⠀
And every time I think of Them⠀
I also think of that strange little wave⠀
And the feeling of the cool water⠀
Slapping my bare feet⠀
At speed⠀
Beneath the shadow⠀
Of Their warships⠀
In Anaheim Bay⠀


17 Mile Ghosts

Pay the toll⠀
A piece of your soul⠀
And leave it there as a sign⠀
A cardboard box⠀
Full of rocks and socks⠀
From which we will rise in their mind⠀
Extrapolated⠀
And captivated⠀
Forever to walk this lonely line⠀
They’ll see us standing⠀
Calling out in the night⠀
With bare feet wet from the brine⠀
They’ll slow to a stop⠀
They’ll wonder how⠀
The water and ethers combined⠀
If they listen we’ll say⠀
It was because we payed⠀
The guard at the gate to get by⠀

So heed my words⠀
And stare straight ahead⠀
For it’s from this earth you were made⠀
You belong on it truly⠀
Its dirt is your body⠀
And these guards are made only of shade⠀

You’re a plumber⠀
A builder or an electrician⠀
Whatever it takes to convince them⠀
To let you pass⠀
Without taking your cash⠀
It’s not the money it’s the darkness it gets them⠀
So give them only a nod⠀
A two finger wave⠀
And a subtle but sure acceleration ⠀
With confidence high⠀
Drive right by⠀
Subterfuge will be your declaration ⠀
That you belong in their night⠀
But this day is all yours⠀
Like Dali, and Griffin, and Vincent⠀
Masters of sight⠀
Pursuing their vision⠀
Trespassing all baseless tradition⠀
Their work lives on⠀
But they are gone⠀
At rest and free from earth’s friction⠀

So when the future arrives⠀
And they ask our ghosts why⠀
We’re still here and still walking this path⠀
We’ll tell them plain⠀
We believed the guards⠀
Who said we’d have to pay to get past⠀

So stay free in the sun⠀
And when the day is done⠀
Just move right along down the line⠀
And pay not a dime⠀
To the liars in wait⠀
Who seek to trap you in debt for all time⠀


The Morning I Was Created

On the morning I was created⠀
I crawled out the back of the old yellow van⠀
Wide-eyed and blinking⠀
Wondering where my brother had ran?⠀

He ran to the sea⠀
He ran for his life⠀

Past the razor’s edge of the earth⠀
Into the mist where the horizon is long⠀
Where the black dots line up and wait⠀
Is that really where my brother had gone?⠀

He ran to the sea⠀
He ran for his life⠀

I unearth sandwiches buried in sand⠀
Sealed plastic baggies with PB and J’s⠀
Perfect gives from Mother Earth⠀
So why did my brother rush into the haze?⠀

He ran to the sea⠀
He ran for his life⠀

Looking around I see girls on the move⠀
Their bikinis and bodies these young eyes amazed⠀
What were we talking about?⠀
And how did my brother get past them unfazed?⠀

He ran to the sea⠀
He ran for his life⠀

He told me to join him before he ran off⠀
I was unsure of myself and scared⠀
Of the ocean and its blackened depths⠀
What made my brother think I would dare?⠀

To run to the sea⠀
To run for my life⠀

To follow him out and beyond⠀
To the great sea where its rhythms unfurled⠀
To leave the logic of land for the great “into-ocean”⠀
But he was my brother and did he not rule the world?⠀

So I ran to the sea ⠀
And I ran for my life⠀

Bewildered by movements unknown⠀
I tried and I tried and I tried and I tried⠀
I couldn’t get past these white rolling waters⠀
“Where are you, brother” I cried⠀

Scratching the sea⠀
And scratching for life⠀

“Turn and go” was all that I heard⠀
So I turned and I goed with all that I could ⠀
That little white wave pushed me along⠀
And my brother watched as I stood⠀

On the sea⠀
And on my life⠀

I had never felt so alive⠀
As when the white foam gave way⠀
To smooth water before it⠀
I was made a brother that day⠀

We ran to the sea⠀
We ran for our lives⠀

And to this day we still run⠀
But I’ll always remember just how elated⠀
I was to join my brother ⠀
Back on that morning when I was created


Kindling

Some things are easy to overlook⠀
Others take a little more work⠀
Natural beauty⠀
Simple love⠀
So often get left where they lie⠀
While the headlines print bold⠀
On our aching flesh⠀
These haunts where our demons lurk⠀

Crashing stocks upon the shore⠀
Homes condemned to their blight⠀
The need to eat⠀
A will to survive⠀
We’ll do what we must to get by⠀
Sell our daylight for leprechaun’s gold⠀
That will vanish⠀
In the dark of the night⠀

We wake to a frozen sunrise⠀
Empty and cold and ruined⠀
It’s easily missed⠀
But always there⠀
The lift in our hearts at the sight⠀
Of these earthen glories before us⠀
By which we know⠀
That we are nowhere near the end⠀

So we’ll use our bodies for kindling⠀
To build this blaze bright and warm⠀
Our skin burns hot⠀
This smoky font⠀
A poetry of ash in the wind⠀
As we soak in the beauty around us⠀
We are fire⠀
Just in a different form⠀

Some things are hard to overlook⠀
Others take a little less effort⠀
The pressing needs⠀
The desperate pain⠀
Can grow louder till all else recedes⠀
While the light within and around us⠀
Steadily burns and waits⠀
To bring joy in the midst of the hurt ⠀


The Ocean is Just Leftovers

It’s true, she loves the river⠀
And it’s steady constant force⠀
The ocean is just leftovers⠀
And she prefers the source⠀

She leads me through the briars⠀
Stinging nettle, oak, and sorrow⠀
Some pain for the present moment⠀
But the rest we’ll save for tomorrow⠀

The path is narrow and overgrown⠀
If it’s even a path at all⠀
Two roads diverged and we took neither⠀
She heard the river’s call⠀

Down the bank we scrambled and slid⠀
Grasping roots along the way⠀
These roots they hold back mountains⠀
They can hold us here today⠀

Scraped and bruised and winded⠀
At last we find relief⠀
We swim and laugh and stub our toes⠀
Even blessings hold some grief⠀

My mind drifts off to the coast and its songs⠀
Why oh why am I here⠀
I followed her and would do it again⠀
But we should have brought more beer⠀

How we ended up together⠀
A mystery untold⠀
I am a pool of simple pleasures⠀
She is the mountain, faithful and bold⠀

It’s true, she loves the river⠀
And it’s steady constant force⠀
The ocean is just leftovers⠀
And she prefers the source


Verbal Alterations

A collection of short poems originally penned in 2012, now detached from their original purpose…

__________________________

A fine line
Divides the pursuit
Of overwhelming
Joy
From sheer
And loathsome
Irresponsibility

The high tide line
Divides
The rest

__________________________

On that Day we harnessed
History’s joyous
Laughter

But there was nobody around to hear it

So instead we
Split the Difference

__________________________

Under
Watchful Eyes
We pretend the Machinery
Will clean up the Remains
Of our Freedoms
Lost Forever
To the Systematic
Fire

We Burn your Money
And
Weep with your Love

__________________________

We drank
The last drop
And we left
The Sea
To Swim
In its own
Salty tears

We
Are
Bigger
Than you

__________________________

Drifting
Freely
Toward an Unknown
Moment

When it
Arrives
All of our eyes
Will be
Fixed
On
You

__________________________

It was already
Gone
Before we arrived, yet
It could have been
Different
If we had only
Tried

__________________________

We never did imagine
The Golden
Acceleration
Of our free fall
Would yield
So many left turns

And
No rights at all

__________________________

Distant words
Form
An altogether natural

State

Of thinly veiled
And
Unformed Rhyme

__________________________

We focus on the flight
And ignore
The objects at our feet

The Bird
Has been dead for weeks

__________________________

The river only Dreams
For those who Sleep
Otherwise it’s Life

__________________________

We lay tracks
To remember briefly
What the Unthinking
Water has always known

__________________________

Each passing storm
Brings a clearing of Mind
Revealing
The spiral rhythms
Of color
In your eyes
Both fragile

And totally free

__________________________

Wishing for another moment
To capture
The Inconvenient
Gaze
Of a child’s
Bright
and silent future

__________________________

Recklessly crashing
Upon unmoving
Geology

The cycle
Broken

Yet
Our Coffee
Remains
Unspilled

__________________________

These trembling walls dance
With their Maker’s invisible Spirit
As we wage War on Tomorrow’s Past
Victory was better an hour ago
And Defeat is a low-tide

Rising

The Distance is calling Our name

__________________________

Memories
Roll softly over
Unbroken
Glass
With each
New
Morning
Washing away
All knowledge
Of what came
Before
We lost it All

__________________________

Crawl
Out of your
Cave
And into the
Spinning
Daylight
of your new
Mobile
Home

Welcome Back

Now move along

__________________________

The beautiful
Convergence
Of powerful
Lines drawn
In constant
Contrast to
Our desire for
What we know
To be right, but
Somehow never
Seems to happen
In our daily lives
Filled with sprints
To the green horizon
In Every effort to not
Be swallowed by the
Accelerating pace of
Life in the intertidal
Zone

One last breath


Another Barb on the Wire

3 days. One family of 5. One campsite. 2 children lost (only temporarily). 7 miles hiked. 6 paintings completed. 3 paintings I wanted to paint but was thwarted by barbed wire. 1 global pandemic making things awkward. One long poem to show for it all...


I. Going Nowhere

Another Barb on the Wire
Hours to days
To months and soon years
We sit between these walls
Going nowhere
Slowly
Trapped in the microscope
The giant eye upon us
They locked us down
We loaded the van
A quick escape
Our desire
Another barb on the wire

II. Fair Wages

Stretching the legs
The will to live
Denied by the barrel
Of loaded guns
Pay to play
All the way
To the cemetery
A reminder that in this life
We all receive
The same fair wages
Both the great and the small
The honest and the liar
Each another barb on the wire

 

III. Spoke Too Soon

Screeching tires
Come to a stop
It's called camping
When your tent is a Ford
Frisbees and beer
Appear
Just before we discovered
The bookstore is in the hospital
On life support
And our youngest would not
Read another word
Until the new day dawns
We stood in the belly of the whale
And circled it seven times
As the dusk bled into the dawn
Setting out at first light
To fulfill our obligations
To the stars who spoke to us
But in our reply
We spoke too soon
And now we patiently await
The lifting of the clouds
Ever higher
And it's another barb on the wire

 

IV. Making Amends

The veil is lifted
The light is a flood
And I'm drowning
In a world torn asunder
Erosion on the western edge
Will rip its way to New York
In time
This is the first anniversary
Of the beginning
Of the end
It's a teacher
Like sickness
Like death
Like marriage
The lesson to be learned
It's about making amends
It's about that which cannot be sold
Because there is no buyer
It's just another barb on the wire

 

V. Burn No Bridges

We venture through the thicket
To where the logs once rolled
Into the ocean
Of Babylon's market
We stood against the wind
We lost a child
And found him again
Across the bridge
And angry
Burning footprints
Into the ice
We return by a different path
Stepping lightly
Into the dark
Past the hobo camps
Where a deer steps out of the shadows
And calls another child
To vanish in the trees
Search parties and satellites
We cannot force the time
She'll return when she pleases
Because she too was there
When we stood against the wind
Altogether now
We sing in a circle
We roast the mallows
And let them burn
More fuel for the flames
But not the chocolate
For it belongs to us
To fuel the fires within
Because after all
Calories are a measure of heat
And besides
It's better to burn no bridges
When it's only our hearts
That are on fire
Yet another barb on the wire

 

VI. Bridging Continents

Another gray morning
Greets the child
Asleep on top of the van
We'd be leaving today
Packing up camp
Sailing away
Like the Russians
When they gave up
California
In 1841
And after a headcount
Determined
There had been an extra
In their midst
Since 1812
He hid himself in this valley
Like a stowaway
As the mainland sailed
Away from the ship
With only his memories
Bridging continents
As he hacked out a new life
Through the brambles and the briar
He became another barb on the wire

 

VII. Spring in July

Unlike our lost children
The past is the past
It's not coming back
A ranch with no cattle
A park full of grass
With blood sucking armies
Hidden beside the path
A leisurely walk
No fences to hop
Just identical faces
Behind every mask
With identical fears
And identical tasks
Like Summer in Winter
And Spring in July
The feet they are blistered
And the situation dire
But all in all
And at the end of all ends
We're each just another barb on the wire

 


All This Time

A Song for Santa Cruz Island

I might have been a late arrival
But I’ve been here all this time
I was here when the plates collided
I passed the bread and wine

I was here when we emerged from weeds
When the heavens gave us fire
When our songs kept our mother awake
When the rainbow held us higher

Vizcaíno saw me here in 1602
He called me by my name
The island of Bearded people it was
And to this day remains

I saw them come and plant the grapes
To sip the nectar from the vine
Prohibition shut them down
But the idea was never mine

The sheep were led to slaughter
And silent so was I
When the cotton gin reduced their worth
To diamonds in the sky

I saw the pigs run feral
Chased off by dogs who fell from the air
The pigs are gone and the bacon fried
You’d never know they were there

My name is Stanton now and so it was
On the day I signed
And gave the land unto the guards
I was ill but I wasn’t blind

They will keep it from abomination
A trampled barren place
But I’m well aware they’d sell the air if they could
As well as these lines upon my face

It’s for the good I’m sure they’d say
They’ll save the earth with money
Listen at the gate when I pass in the night
I’m laughing but nothing is funny

I did what I must and not without Caire
How I longed for a better hand
It was them and their lawyer’s greed
Or else it was the land

I’m the homesick Italian that built the Chapel
With bricks of my own red earth
And I’m the one that’s buried there
Whose death precedes his birth

At the altar I have heard
The mighty man’s confession
And to the courtyard I have marched
In his funeral procession

I stood last night beneath the moon
Where they’ve sold God for the highest bid
I may have defied their lawyers decrees
Breathing a graven image in the mist as I hid

From watching eyes I was not seen
Except by the all-seeing lens
To which I danced and jigged about
As one does when among their friends

Today I rise with a mist in my eyes
Tired from last night’s dance
I called out from among these ancient trees
And I answered with a glance

And here I stood among the saplings
When first their roots went down
The mighty eucalyptus whose beauty invades
Like a king in quest of a crown

The fox and the eagle and the vanishing trees
The trees they love to rhyme
The eagle loves the fattened calves
But the foxes they are mine

I might have been a late arrival
But I’ve been here all this time
I was here when the plates collided
I passed the bread and wine


Thou Shalt Not Steal




In the home where I grew up⠀
A porcelain monk lived on the kitchen counter⠀
Belly full of cookies⠀
Admonishing us not to steal⠀
Back when the house was full of sneaky fingers⠀

I saw him enter the kitchen one day⠀
30 years ago⠀
Something clearly wrong⠀
Part of him had vanished⠀
Struggling for the words⠀
To tell me that my grandpa was gone⠀
His father⠀
The pastor⠀
The preacher⠀
Thou Shalt Not Steal⠀

Fiercely independent⠀
Now 78⠀
Yet socially engaged like a teenager⠀
A calendar with no empty days⠀
Erased by a global pandemic⠀
A solitary castaway⠀
In the island of his own home⠀
In the socially distanced archipelago of our lives⠀
The dispatches from neighboring islands indicate⠀
That something was clearly wrong⠀
Talking differently⠀
Slurring words⠀
Isolation taking its toll⠀
Or a stroke of something worse?⠀

I’ve traveled this road all my life⠀
And so did my father⠀
Miles on our odometers until the math became meaningless⠀
Never expecting to find him at the end of the road⠀
Beneath these parting clouds⠀
No longer driving⠀
Not even moving⠀
In his chair⠀
Eyes rolled back⠀
His face lifted to the heavens⠀
Feet still on the ground⠀
But getting lighter with each labored breath⠀

911⠀
Caught before he drifted off⠀
3 more weeks in the hospital⠀
Confined to his little room⠀
A castaway once again⠀
He’d build rafts out of medical equipment ⠀
And attempt to set sail to freedom⠀
Always thwarted by the tide of nurses⠀
As he floated down the corridors toward the exit⠀

He’s back home now⠀
In the house where he raised his children⠀
But at any moment⠀
I brace for the news⠀
That he’s built a raft out of old family photos⠀
And managed to sail away⠀

We hope his sailing days are done for now⠀
His final voyage a long way off⠀
But when it finally comes⠀
And his home is left empty⠀
As that porcelain monk ⠀
I will remember⠀
That there is nothing⠀
No illness⠀
No hardship⠀
Nor even a global pandemic⠀
That can steal our joy⠀
Or our hope⠀
Or our love⠀

Hold on to what matters⠀
And say to the thieves that try to take it all away⠀

Thou Shalt Not Steal

(more…)


Precipice

Plein air painting overlooking Patrick's Point State Park and Agate Beach on the Humboldt coast of northern California



My sister loved this beach⠀
With it’s small rocks worn smooth ⠀
Tumbled in their own strange victory⠀
A full spectrum of color⠀
Joseph’s coat made of earth⠀
No wonder his brothers sold him⠀
Jealousy runs deep in the quest for treasure⠀
What good are these precious stones anyway?⠀
Were they not made to be coveted by thy neighbor?⠀
And yet my sister envied nobody⠀
She saw treasure in the ordinary stones⠀
The ones that are left behind⠀
We didn’t know at the time⠀
She was about to leave us behind⠀
To live our ordinary lives⠀
On the edge of this precipice⠀
It’s a long way down⠀

When the heavens rage⠀
On the deeper waters⠀
Far beyond the horizon⠀
Venting frustrations⠀
About her people on the shore⠀
And their love of treasure⠀
And their spite for truth⠀
The release of her fury⠀
Sends pulses across the sea⠀
Until the Outburst from above ⠀
Meets the Unmoved here below⠀
Determined to pound rock against rock⠀
To chip away at the rough edges⠀
On a single stone⠀
Swirling in the undercurrent⠀
Because heaven knows⠀
That from the edge of her precipice⠀
It’s a long way down⠀

And the stones of earth⠀
Were gathered together⠀
On that day when the two became one⠀
And the winds howled and shrieked⠀
Right into the watery womb⠀
A first breath breathed⠀
And sight was received⠀
By the stones that till now⠀
Had only swirled beneath⠀
Full of rough edges⠀
And yet soon to get smashed⠀
And made smooth again⠀
Even now digging in⠀
Scratching into the storm⠀
The earth against the water⠀
In a race toward the shore⠀
Stones lurching upward and looking down⠀
From this watery precipice⠀
And it’s a long way down⠀

March of twenty-twenty⠀
A sickness is spreading ⠀
Turning our lungs back into stones⠀
We’ve shut the world down⠀
We’ll put it back together later⠀
But nature never falls apart⠀
She lives on her own terms⠀
And she is always open⠀
So here I stand⠀
Painting this beach⠀
That my sister once loved⠀
And all those smooth stones below⠀
Colors blending into one shade of gray⠀
You can see it all from here⠀
Everything that’s coming⠀
And everyone that’s going⠀
I watch my step⠀
On the edge of this precipice⠀
It’s a long way down⠀


An Invitation

Plein air painting of the beach at Houda Point looking out to Camel Rock on the Humboldt Coast of Northern California



I read the invitation on the last falling leaves of our apple tree.
Fall days like this are the best.“Come as you are” is all it said.So we went.Barefoot and happy.Soon enough I found myself standing on the wet sand while painting this one as this shaded creek flowed out to sea around and beneath my feet, pulling no small part of my life-force from my frozen soles and out to sea with it.Next time I get invited to this party, I’m gonna bring boots.Just in case.


The Dining Room

A plein air oil painting of stonework overlooking Camel Rock at Houda Point on the Trinidad coast of Humboldt California



It can be anything you want.
Stone stairs lead down to an empty room that couldn’t contain the view so they left the walls and roof off altogether.It can be a community kitchen where breakfast burritos are served to surfers exiting the water on a cold clear morning.It can be a music hall.It can be a shelter from the wind.It can hold a fire and 7 kids too young to drink but drinking anyway.It can be a house of prayer.It can be a place to remember.It can be a subway wall full of graffiti where the train stops here and here alone.It can be a hiding place from the law.It can be a gathering place.It can be a quiet place for conversation.It can be an amphitheater holding the entire world in captive attention.It can be all of those things and more on any given day, but today it was the Dining Room where a rough dozen artists were fed a breakfast of breathless morning beauty on a bluebird day, followed by a lunch worthy of kings served by one of the most generous people I’ve ever known.There’s never been an empty room that held more inside than this one.


Out of the Lighthouse and Into the Light

A plein air painting of the view from inside the Punta Gorda Lighthouse on the Lost Coast Trail in Humboldt, California



Just a reminder to never abandon your light.
You will wind up empty, forlorn.
Graffiti on your walls, occasionally funny, sometimes crude.
But mostly just the illegible names of spirits brought in by the wind.
And the markings of lovers whose bodies were dragged in by the tide.
Your doorway darkened by the ghost of a travelling painter.
Stealing your light.
Haunted.


Carry My Body

A plein air painting of a broken down hunting cabin on the Lost Coast Trail in Northern California's Humboldt County



Not quite a proper backstory, and not quite a poem, this one took a rare detour into something else… either way, hope you enjoy the tale.


Food running low. The hunter prays for a kill as he reaches into the dusty cabinet for his last handful of oats before the sun sends the shadows scattering to hide behind every rock and tree they can find. Out the window in the pre-dawn light he sees movement, but when he looks intently there is nothing. Just the grassy flat leading to the precipice over the sea.

But he can’t shake the feeling he’s being watched. And he is. I watched him like a ghost all afternoon as I painted these crumbling remains of his cabin. I watched him bumbling about inside while waiting out the days of rain. Talking to his horse. Carrying the bodies of the freshly dead in the afternoons. Drinking himself stupid under the moons.

Separated by nothing but 30 paces and time, he saw me once or twice and muttered something to himself. The third time he threw a rock with a yell. His aim was good. It passed straight through my chest.

When the painting was finished I packed up my gear while he gathered up his belongings and tucked things here and there into his saddlebags. When we were both ready, he led his horse toward the spot where I stood, nearly looking me in the eye, but in a distant way. He stopped and turned, practically standing in my shoes, and looked back at the cabin one more time. But this time he saw it through my eyes as the earth reclaimed it’s walls and floors, timbers and beams. What was built for man, was now a palace for squirrels and was soon to be nothing but a high patch of ground for the morning shadows to hide behind.

As we both stood there, I watched his memories scatter in the wind. His heart hung in tatters, like a prayer flag on the barbed wire fence, and he let the rest of himself blow away entirely, leaving me there alone with his horse’s reins in my shaky hands. I’m no horse rider. It was all I could do just to mount the beast, but it knew the way, and it would carry my body home.


Harmonic Convergence

Plein air artwork of the coastal trail at Harmony headlands on the San Luis Obispo county coast of central California



 Every little canyon has its own song 
I don’t have much ear for music 
Painting is how I listen 
And also how I play along 


She Loves the River

A plein air artwork painted beside the Smith River in Northern California



Painted on location, 2.5 miles from the road. A challenging back-country hike with all my gear to paint this one-day late birthday gift for my wife last year…

It’s true, she loves the river⠀
And it’s steady constant force⠀
The ocean is just leftovers⠀
And she prefers the source⠀

She leads me through the briars⠀
Stinging nettle, oak, and sorrow⠀
Some pain for the present moment⠀
But the rest we’ll save for tomorrow⠀

The path is narrow and overgrown⠀
If it’s even a path at all⠀
Two roads diverged and we took neither⠀
She heard the river’s call⠀

Down the bank we scrambled and slid⠀
Grasping roots along the way⠀
These roots they hold back mountains⠀
They can hold us here today⠀

Scraped and bruised and winded⠀
At last we find relief⠀
We swim and laugh and stub our toes⠀
Even blessings hold some grief⠀

My mind drifts off to the coast and its songs⠀
Why oh why am I here⠀
I followed her and would do it again⠀
But we should have brought more beer⠀

How we ended up together⠀
A mystery untold⠀
I am a pool of simple pleasures⠀
She is the mountain, faithful and bold⠀

It’s true, she loves the river⠀
And it’s steady constant force⠀
The ocean is just leftovers⠀
And she prefers the source


Late Arrival

A plein air painting of a eucalyptus grove on Santa Cruz Channel Island off the coast of southern California



There’s something about immersing myself in the places where I paint that is hard to describe. It’s not the art studio, it’s a wild world out there and it always has been. The past emerges and mingles with the present. Undercurrents of metaphor and meaning rise to the surface and sometimes I try to venture out of the shallows and get a little swept away when I go to jot down notes afterwards. This was one of those times… ⠀
___⠀

I might have been a late arrival⠀
But I’ve been here all this time⠀
I was here when the plates collided⠀
I passed the bread and wine⠀

I was here when we emerged from weeds⠀
When the heavens gave us fire⠀
When our songs kept our mother awake⠀
When the rainbow held us higher⠀

Vizcaíno saw me here way back in 1602⠀
He called me by my name⠀
The island of Bearded people it was⠀
And to this day remains⠀

I saw them come and plant the grapes⠀
To sip the nectar from the vine⠀
Prohibition shut them down⠀
I watched it happen but the idea was never mine⠀

The sheep were led to slaughter⠀
And silent so was I⠀
When the cotton gin reduced their worth⠀
To diamonds in the sky⠀

I saw the pigs run feral⠀
Chased off by dogs who fell from the air⠀
The pigs are gone and the bacon fried⠀
You’d never know they were there⠀

My name is Stanton now and so it was⠀
On the day on which I signed⠀
And gave the land unto the guards⠀
I was ill but I wasn’t blind⠀

They will keep it from abomination⠀
A trampled barren place⠀
But I’m well aware they’d sell the air if they could⠀
As well as these lines upon my face⠀

It’s for the good I’m sure they’d say⠀
They’ll save the earth with money⠀
Listen at the gate when I pass in the night⠀
I’m laughing but this isn’t funny⠀

I did what I must and not without Caire⠀
How I longed for a better hand⠀
It was them and their lawyer’s greed⠀
Or else it was the land⠀

I’m the homesick Italian that built the Chapel⠀
With bricks of my own red earth⠀
And I’m the one that’s buried there⠀
Whose death precedes his birth⠀

At the altar I have heard⠀
The mighty man’s confession⠀
And to the courtyard I have marched⠀
In his funeral procession⠀

I stood last night beneath the moon⠀
Where they’ve sold God for the highest bid⠀
I may have defied their lawyers decrees⠀
Breathing a graven image in the mist as I hid⠀

From watching eyes I was not seen⠀
Except by the all-seeing lens⠀
To which I danced and jigged about⠀
As one does among their friends⠀

Today I rise with a mist in my eyes⠀
Tired from last night’s dance⠀
I called out from among these ancient trees⠀
And I answered with a glance⠀

And here I stood among the saplings⠀
When first their roots went down⠀
The mighty eucalyptus whose beauty invades⠀
Like a king in quest of a crown⠀

The fox and the eagle and the vanishing trees⠀
The trees they love to rhyme⠀
The eagle loves the fattened calves⠀
But the foxes they are mine⠀

I might have been a late arrival⠀
But I’ve been here all this time⠀
I was here when the plates collided⠀
I passed the bread and wine


What Lies Behind

Plein air artwork of the coast at Little Dume on the Malibu coast of Los Angeles County, California



A friend I had just met earlier at an event in San Diego invited me for a rare visit to this exclusive piece of California’s coast. I absorbed it with all my senses as we surfed all morning and I painted all afternoon.⠀

So what exactly does lie behind these locked gates? Here’s a few things that come to mind…⠀

There’s bamboo and nasturtiums⠀
Shelter from the wind⠀
The rich and the famous⠀
And a few of their kin⠀

They’ll question you silently⠀
Check who you’re with⠀
To be sure that you’re nobody⠀
So they know who to dismiss.⠀

There’s a boathouse on stilts⠀
A pretty woman walking down the street⠀
Surfers walking back up the beach⠀
Blood still dripping from the soles of their feet⠀

There’s yoga pants and selfies to shoot⠀
A slippery rock holds a sign full of laws⠀
Merely suggestions for the leashless dog⠀
That nearly got paint all over its paws⠀

There’s fires burning on the higher hills⠀
Smoke blowing out of the canyon⠀
Heroes and children stand watch at the gate⠀
With garden hose, bucket… and shotgun⠀

There’s black cars with blacker windows⠀
Caviar and music for the blind⠀
Leave your shoes at the door, my friend⠀
All this and more⠀
Is what lies behind


End of the West

Plein air artwork of the pedestrian overpass at T Street on the Orange County coast of Southern California



It’s the end of the west
It’s the setting sun
It’s a train-wreck that’s only just begun

It’s a crowded bar
It’s the law of the land
It’s illicit activities obscured by hot sand

It’s a war at sea
It’s the first shots fired
It’s victory in sight, though not the one desired

It’s a shift in the wind
It’s an outgoing tide
It’s the last man standing as the captain died

It’s a history lesson
It’s the name of the street
It’s a blank stare from the strangers we will never meet

It’s childhood freedom
It’s only in jest
It’s just getting started but it’s the end of the west


Dividing the Rest

A fine line
Divides the pursuit
Of overwhelming joy
From sheer
And loathsome
Irresponsibility

The high tide line
Divides
The rest

Consider us divided
And
Conquered

Even the Spaniards
On the tall ships
Know…

Both victory
And defeat
Taste better
With a dash of salt
And lime