The Needle and the Damage Done

Songs possess the power to take me
back in time, drop the needle
onto spinning vinyl, crackle and pop
of a generation;

Subjective as memory can be,
the body does not lie and it is this
visceral recall a tune nudges into being,
cruising in that little red Rambler,
elbows out roll-down windows,
heads pumping time to the radio,
cigarettes dangling from youthful lips,
ringed fingers and doll-shiny hair,
metallic twist of lighter extracted and held
lightly to the end, igniting thin paper rolled
around pungent acrid tobacco drawn
into perfect lungs, damage furthest
from our minds in what is
often termed reckless youth;

How feckless we were, body and soul,
squeezing life for all it could offer
and still ravenous for more, Ripple wine
behind reeking dumpster on the eve
of the new year, heedless of anything
close to symbolic, damn the consequences,
steamrolling ahead into Hendrix and Joplin,
her choices supplanting my own
tender folk poets;

Oblivious as her one-armed stepfather
slunk up next to my prostrate form, asleep
on her cream-colored bedroom carpet,
desperate grapple at his own aborted
youth stitched into the present
before war tore heart and limb asunder,
my repulsion far from the feverish response
of his fantasies;

Now her mother, nicotine-stained Cheshire
cat grin slowly spreading, silly man’s minor
mishap, attempt at smoothing over life-
altering insult, guiding him and his tented
pajamas back to marital bed if not bliss;

No apologies on the bacon and egg morning,
coffee and cigarettes, overflowing amber
glass ashtrays obliterating any trace
of semen smell, small miracle as olfactory
far outstrips deep-rooted traces that vaporize
like smoke into the ethers of rolling time.


That strong wiry body she wore
like a curse, smiling all the while,
nature diffusing her with passion
for dun and verdant, fruit and flowers
astounding nimble fingers, eyes darting
and dancing with delight not reciprocated
in a world of humans she tried to forgive
as we communed in silence, renegotiated
until endings inserted themselves
as they will, all gardens being temporary;

And refusing to take further insult
from a species short on integrity tried
to end it, booze and pills, vomit clumped
in a long tangle of hula hair, cradled
skeleton rocking back and forth, back
and forth, rejoin the living, meet us
again on terms of this earth, let us touch
the sparkle, share wisdom and laughter
while sifting  through mounds of harvest
heaped onto old unblemished porcelain
as we pass time reflecting on budding
cloves and sliding doors to worlds
beyond the veil.


Desirous of returning, perhaps,
furtive glances at the young couple, hands
never far from one another, stroking gently
and they know, these manatee women,
how it changes, that touch,
first a small betrayal, feelings far out
of proportion to events peculiar
to youth they would gladly recapture,
if only wisdom would imbue it;

Then follow the children contemplated
even now, his building a sand belly
and photographing, sending to envious friends
because they say so, faking is funny, oh,
the irony, biological urges blurring senses,
morning passion play marking faces,
masks one sees through, if attentive;

Elder gestures now revealing,
impressing far more than the telling,
(youth’s perception terms it envy,
oversimplifying complexities developing,
years left in the making);

Still, the mind casts to and fro,
fly fisher’s line not quite settling on the waters
of imagination, back and forth encores,
brains sharp as once they were,
bodies standing stock still,
melting candle legs supporting
burgeoned bellies, gravity drawing them inexorably
back to point of origin;
bargain made, body borrowed,
innocence hearkening to a time
they, too, were blissfully unafraid.

Mothers Day Contemplations

So here’s my Mothers Day suggestion:

Try (and this might be really difficult) seeing your mother as a fallible human being, acknowledging her own problems and struggles and faults. It’s hard not to have expectations or fantasies about an archetypal figure like Mother or Father, though possessing this kind of sensitivity far exceeds any Mothers Day gift you may be contemplating. It adds depth to your own character, and is a sign of great maturity.

I don’t know a mother past her fifties who is free from regrets about her own mothering. The struggles of an emerging adult who already thinks she’s fully formed take on a whole new meaning with the birth of a first child. Your mother is growing right along with you, either self aware or in spite of herself. We can’t always have the former, but the latter is assured, whether she likes it or not.

Be kind to this person who loves you so very unconditionally. Do not simply await her endless giving as though it is your lifelong birthright. Realize she is conditioned to sacrifice, and try alleviating her suffering. She will hold you in her heart until she dies, a rare quality to find in a partner or friend. And that is what we celebrate on this day.

Happy Mothers Day, mamas everywhere! me6mos

photo of me and my mother, 1953


I wanted to be short,
landed somewhere in between;
longed for slim hips and blond hair,
blue-eyed Aphrodite piercing hearts
with her Colgate smile.

Trading politics for popularity,
no idea how to fit in,
delving into purgatorial perambulations;
sex, drugs and rock and roll.

What I got I needed,
painful reminders of mortality and folly;
limbo lover of life and the substantial,
discovered in middle age
when the veils floated free.

Gazing now into silvered glass,
a raven’s eyes smile back their knowing;
platinum crown cresting as artifice fades away,
and I am free.





The old woman clasps worn cards wearily to grizzled chin,

vertical lines set deep as piercing black eyes etched

into an apple doll face.

Sweeping swollen arthritic fingers over lined forehead,

drumming now, listening to the hollow sound

of bony digits echoing against her skull.


Tapping, tapping flat cards to thrust of jaw

ever so gently yet persistently knowing,

as she did,

the message contained within the deck’s images

cast long ago from a stranger’s mind onto paper.


Fear arises, wells up inside her throat,

recalling faces beyond memory

castigating, infiltrating, immolating,

angry as the fires of hell that she knew

more accurately than themselves

their own path unfolding.


What the men wanted and what they got,

whether from her pack or between her sheets,

seldom elicited gratitude;

rather envy and scorn surged

from the recesses of dull minds

expecting picture-book angels,

unready and unwilling to accept

the too-human answer to their prayers.




Into White

It’s complicated.

I think of her lying in bed alone,

ridged shit-stained fingernails

and the blue bulge of veins under translucent skin;

bony hands curved inward, silently cursing agility

they can no longer manage.


Silk lily of the valley embedded in white porcelain;

a Christmas gift from me,

daughter distant as a morning star.

Gazes at them blankly, even fondly,

appreciating, perhaps, their lack of need

at a time when she cannot caretake;

tending blossoms instead with her eyes.


Flowers that remain open like she never could,

not bending slender alabaster necks

just to wither and drop away;

no reminder of where she, herself is headed.

Angry at memories, pushing them aside,

currying instead morphia’s favor.


Don’t ask me to account for anything,

she seems to say;

Let me close my eyes at last,

into that blank slate of white.



Hands and Knees

She drops down, swipes over polished floors,

repeating back and forth motions,

elbows cracking, jaw set and grimaced.

It would be, could be zen,

though it’s clearly frustration in motion,

the drudgery of repetition maintained for decades.


I, too, witnessed the old leviathan dying,

the one who taught her that cleanliness was

as close to God as she was going to get in this life.

You could have dined off those spotless floors

strewn with tears of broken children;

yet there she lay, supine and fretful,

a halo of white frizz surrounding

smooth face, etched only in trails

of anger and betrayal and utter disgust

at a body refusing to quench its damnable

insistence to sustain life, such as it was.


The woman child scrubs until finish rubs free;

yet no matter how many repetitions,

how many rags are rubbed to shreds,

the angst continues, unabated:

something to fill the silent pounding,

the insistent beating of a heart unsure of itself,

afraid of not measuring up,

as though purity could be earned

by the sweat of one’s brow.



We met

at that point in life where a decade

makes all the difference.

No longer fodder for fantasy,

we either fly into dreams of our own

or further into factuality, suffering no fools.


You ask me, What would I like of yours,

when you die?

I am not often thrown off the mark,

but on this, I startle –

not at mortality itself, rather

into sadness that a thing might replace



Not a thing. is my first reply,

crafted for its dual meaning.

Undaunted, you persevere.

I grasp a small porcelain cup of Venetian glass,

its colors and vibrancy visited upon a bygone era;

reminder of the last time you will ever encounter

canals, and gondoliers holding secrets.


We all have a past to ponder,

impressions we store and reflect upon.

Inside this aged person is a young girl,

a budding woman, a cauldron of passion

contained in the receding pith of redwoods,

eternity sheathed in precious rugged skin.


This, I say definitively, This I will take,

if it’s not spoken for.

And once again, I hear its history.


Some claim the trappings, the furnishings, the cash.

I choose memories, and each time my hands

smooth those jewel toned discs,

you will come back to me,

as if you never left.


2012-04-14 17.24.05


She greets them in alleyways,

meets them indoors;

she’s a mother’s sweet baby,

she’s somebody’s whore.

Her fantasies keep her

from going insane;

her children, her future

bound up in the pain.


And for us it is easy,

with lives full and sweet –

moving forward and backward,

eyes avoiding the street.


Her gaze sweeps the horizon,

she longs for a clue

how she got here,

where she’s headed

and it’s all up to you.

I know what you’re thinking:

she’s not mine; isn’t yours –

like the homeless and hungry,

despised and abhorred.


While the shadows among us

seep under our skin;

they becomes us, they fit

like white lies that unhinge

the most stoic and stolid,

where they come home to roost;

and we have to confront

our own human abuse.


~ bj