conversations i’ve never had

 The tabletop is full of returns.  I haven’t seen her for two years.  I stretch my hand across the tabletop.  How are you?  I am filled with genuine concern.  How did you fare without me? 

Well, I just drove across the Continental U.S. to be close to you.  I had a run-in with a very mean meathead in Wyoming.  I slept in Moab and roasted marshmellows with a young adventurer with yellowed hair and bits of yarn in his socks.  I saw the sun rise over the Grand Canyon.

Was it a cop?  In Wyoming?


How was South Dakota?

I’m not that patriotic, and I hate Theodore Roosevelt.

Did you see Crazy Hose?


How was it?

Awkwardly built and full of homage, but not to crazy horse, but to the guy who built the thing.  Some architect – I don’t remember his name.  It was fine.  I’m taking the Southern route next time.

Through Texas? I squeaked.  She still hadn’t taken my hand.

I’m driving straight through the Klan parts.

Good for you!   I laughed heartily, holding my stomach with both hands.

Put your hand back on the table.


What’s this?  She traced a line down fifteen short vertical slashes somebody had carved against the wall.

It’s the scoring of days that imagined sailors spent on a ship far away from their loved ones.

I told you to put your hand back on the table because I still have feelings, but you and I need to have a conversation before I’m willing

to take your hand.

About what?  I’m here.  We can talk about anything, but don’t you think you’re being a little dramatic?

            You mean that you think I’m being a little dramatic.

The silence filled the space between us.  I automatically assumed marriage.  I didn’t want to fight.

I’m not here to fight.  I’m here to ask you to marry me.  It’s legal in California you know.

            Do I have time to think about it?

                        Is that a yes?

            No.  Maybe.

                        When are you leaving?


I checked the oil and the tank is full.  You can use the same car.

            You don’t suppose that this is a bit on the silly side.

                        What’s silly about two people going back to the place they came from?

            No matter how far away?

                        No matter how far away.

No matter how soon?

            No matter how soon.



Pablo Neruda reads her a love poem on the steps of the library.  She falls in love with his enunciation.  It is a word without hesitation, or with.  It is truth, says she, that he will love her.  Will he leave her?  Is it possible that near the mildewed locker banks, returning that first week of high school, he will ditch her for a taller, sturdier girl with Lee Press-on nails and a Soul-Glo?  Is it, in fact, the responsibilities of aging that will charge through him and catch fire and flatten him into the ashes of a solid job:  lawyer, banker, doctor, import-export entrepreneur.  Even IT.  No drummers.  No amateur botanists.  Definitely, no poets.  Is it the pressure of an aging middle-class, a mortgage, crappy healthcare, her inability to conceive, the dissenting speech of her relatives for so sour in their peanut is a mixed-class, mixed-race relationship, or the possibility that he is also staring at a fine man who is walking down the steps, translations in hand, his ass so tight, the fabric frisking it, the poise of a stranger’s hands by sunlight, book-slinger, the ancient sheath of hair, the risen shoulder, the diminishment of her self, and the lack of interest in what he is saying, that will revise her summer romance?


Sometimes I stand           just

there. The great passion

of my life looks                             exactly

like the tide receding,                      just

like I am standing                             still, just

like I am not moving,                        and the water

around me filling up the      two holes made by                     my    two    feet.

I think what magnificence it is this longing for the                  waves   that    soon

will                                                                         come rushing               toward me.


Today, I finished sending this woman I know the 30th poem, out of 30.  Doing it was incredibly meditative and fun for me, although after a while, I started wondering about all the reasons we read poetry.  I think that maybe I should be sending myself 30 poems each day.  I told a dear friend that I was sending 30 poems, roughly once a day, and he asked me to send them to him as well.  When he told me that he wanted this small expression from me, I felt something deep inside of me smile and awaken.

His request made me realize how grateful any of us should be to have someone to love, even if that love is not romantic or exactly what we thought we wanted, it is actually one of the highest forms of love — we need someone to whom we can give our love, as much as we need someone to love us.

So, I’m going to start with the last poem I sent out today, because it means so much to me.  I wonder at our ability to give more to others, than to ourselves.  Or, is it that by giving to others, I am also giving to myself?

Thoughts, my Friends, thoughts.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and is tune is heard
on the distant hillfor the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
an the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Maya Angelou

Valentine for Los Angeles

For Tracy K. Smith


the smokeshop man is a bearded antique

he exchanges salaams in the morning

why do you always go back?

he gives you a red lighter

it tumbles from a bleeding sky into our

hands, that nebulous queer place


over breakfast we discuss significance

the resemblance between Christopher Dorner

and          everybody          else

the mountains are murdering things

when the smoke evaporates

you eat grapefruit next to the ashtray


the afternoon is drying the salt from

your body, licking the drops i smell

peaches and truth     do we hang

overripe in the garden?     are we stars

shot through the canon of the universe

punching rough holes in the ground?


Our fights remind me of making up

love me   love me     you are this magnet

with   dark   dark   eyes     at night we are two

questions blurring into each other     we laugh

about how close people are from one day

to the next, from everything was okay to


complete and total disaster

but we don’t know it yet.

Variations on a Storm

When the hurricane came

I rushed outside

With a cigarette

With a video camera

My hair was wild

As if I had not slept the night before



When the hurricane came

A bird did also

Stole my video camera

Smoked my cigarette

Down to the butt and the filter

Ran its claws through my hair



When the hurricane comes

Its light will be sharp in autumn

Its clarity will be one-eyed

Like a bird that comes down

Takes me from myself

Casts away my slumber


pictures of you

the ocean is old

my lover is young

swimming is forbidden


open your window

i called to her

“butterflies are fluttering!”


“this wine, too rich

i’ve yet to finish

my second glass”


with drunken breath

she braids

her names


upon my chest

watches them sink

they settle my skin


the next day

our words

make love

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