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⠀

Precipice

(A Long Way Down)

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⠀

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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.

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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

Overlook

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 ⠀

She Loves the River

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

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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

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Late Arrival

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 Continue reading Late Arrival

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