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Poetic intermission

I just found the full version of this poem I published on here 10 years ago. I’m not entirely sure what it means, which for me is the mark of a successful piece of writing. Anyway- I give you, The Shit-Can Knight.

The shit-can knight

It is winter but I live for summer-
nothing broken just the frozen ether.
Time on my side nobody lives for never-
just little girls skipping rocks on the sand.
Summer comes and then I live for fall,
and by spring nothing matters at all.
Hammers look for rusty nails and
shit-can knights search for dirty grails.
The hands only want for chopping wood
but guts boil over spill and ooze.
false gods only play cover songs
and they never understand that they don’t belong
where the people live and work and play
ignoring their sins of the day.
False gods shine it all day long
and mmmh-hmmm when they could listen.
It isn’t that they do not care,
pick up the baby-
absent-minded kiss him.

Sweaty Duane Continued. (June slips away)

It was colder than she ever remembered in a place known to her only for memories of the cold. June navigated Chicago as an archipelago of warm harbors. The city bus heaters blew so hot that her hands burned as she thawed them folding over to the floor vents. The library at Wildermuth faced the lake and the 2 block walk from the bus stop to it’s insulated stacks was for many years the hardest winter passage she attempted. When the stubborn winter grip relented sometime near Easter June would make that walk as though she had never been. Even now, so many years later she hunched naturally year-round from a habit of bracing and wincing against the cold. She knew every crack in the sidewalk, but could not reliably describe anything above knee level.

Once safe in the library June would scour the shelves for anything new. The Devil’s Children, The Day the Tripods Came, The Edge of the World, these adolescent visions of worlds darker and colder than her own warmed her on the inside as the library’s gas radiator wheezed heat from the basement like a snoring dragon.

As she slipped out of Duane’s apartment she felt a twinge of panic as the door latch locked behind her, wondering if she should have stayed and waited for Duane’s return, wondering if she wanted that. The gasping cold nudged her feet down the sidewalk as she once again navigated by the meridians of cracks from the curb to the blue-stone caps of buildings uncharted. The library was not as close now, and she no longer had a bus pass, but she wasn’t a little girl anymore and the cold could go to hell.

Baby Evelyn-Sweaty Duane continued.

The night was less kind to Manny. Ambivalent to his pain, he collected himself on the icy sidewalk. Regaining his feet he clutched the front of his coat in a panic, and felt the reassuring folds of his secret letter tucked inside the liner. All day he followed the bus route asking strangers if they remembered her, helpless and forlorn thirty feet below the world. Her cries distraught, but oh the life in her! Those mewling shrieks calling to every citizen of the nation, the entire world, and to the night stars millions of light years above Oklahoma. A child himself at the time, seventeen years before his accident, his awakening, the crash of great clarity that revealed his purpose in the universe.

Dear Mrs. (Baby) Evelyn,

What song did you sing from the bottom of the well? Can you remember? The news said you cried mostly, and your mother could hear you. All of us, everyone, could also hear you. You did not want to be in that well one minute longer. Get me out of this well! You commanded. Late in the night you were silent. Oh what we would have done to hear that defiant cry! Then, better than the obstinate yelp of your dissatisfaction, you sang to us. Do you remember the tune, or even a note? I would sing it without ceasing. I bet the rathole driller dug hard at the throttle when he heard your song. I bet he remembers it still.

I trust that you are well, and understand you have a family of your own. I am so deeply regretful to intrude upon the very life all of humanity once prayed would be your fate. It is for the hope of your family, and all families, that I write.

If we are to find our way back to that hopeful night when our prayers were answered, you must do it. Return to the well. To the strong-throated infant that cried from the well, the whole wide world will listen. Return to the well and deliver a message of peace.

Yours in humble service,

Manny Fiesta

As Duane and June dozed wakeful and safe on Duane’s bed, Manny walked west on Belshaw Rd. towards Marble City, Oklahoma. With some rides he could make it in a few days, or if he walked the whole way, a week. The fold of his cap glowed with a ring of ice growing and melting down onto Manny’s shoulders, but that letter and the promise of it kept him warm until he crawled to the top of an underpass on I-290 W and slept as the sun rinsed across the grey hawkish clouds and the sickly aura of Chicago faded into morning.

Duane Gets Paid

Duane wished it would get cold enough to snow.  Sleet stung the back of his neck, exposed between his coat and his uncle’s wool watch cap, seeping into his shirt eventually meeting with the sweat slowly rising from the small of his back.  A young woman looked at him like she was going to punch him in the face, but instead she casually spit on his shoes as she brushed past him, escorting a couple into the Wicker Park Planned Parenthood clinic.  Duane wished them a good morning, as his commitment to his employer was only to wear the sandwich board of a dismembered fetus with the bright yellow ABORTION IS MURDER! scrawled across the top and GENESIS 1:28 along the bottom.  He did not know, nor care which bible verse this was, or if it may indeed sway the decision of anyone seeking help at the clinic.  He assumed his presence at the clinic didn’t really make a difference to anyone other than his anonymous sponsor, who verified Duane’s compliance by GPS and a promise that someone was checking to confirm he maintained high visibility and did not obstruct the message by any means.   Seventy-five dollars for 2 hours work was good money, and Duane needed that cash. He was offered an additional $50 to chant from a list of approved slogans, but he declined, being too diffident by nature to go to such effort.  Standing was good though, although the rain was picking up. He watched the girl’s spit slowly dilute and rinse from his shoe.

There was a girl at his apartment.  The first female to ever enter that space to his knowledge.  He recognized June, because anybody would recognize June if they had seen her one time. He did not recognize the man he had shoved to the ground, and he did not recognize his own bewildering actions in knocking that man down.  He did not expect for her to be there when he returned, although he would not mind it at all.  All night he lay awake next to her while she slept like she may never wake up.  He lay there all night in the clothes he was wearing, only removing his wet boots and his belt, wide awake, skin buzzing with the closeness of not just someone, but her.  For the briefest time he dozed, and dreamed he was driving over a shining highway that climbed miles above the ocean towards the sun. He startled from it in a soaked panic that he would crest the horizon and the road would disappear, leaving him to fall and fall and fall into the sea.   In real life Duane had never seen the ocean, just the lapping shores of Lake Michigan with its cold, stinging rain.

Sweaty Duane continued…

June woke to an empty apartment. Duane was gone. Icy air seeping in around the window frame made her shiver and she pulled the acrylic blanket snug around her neck and rolled her back to the wall.  Duane left her a note on the nightstand, it read, “went to work, don’t leave. Come back if you leave I mean.  If you want to.” He signed it with his first name in a careful cursive, “Duane.”

She had nowhere to go, no place to be and also no reason to stay.  The thermostat ticked and she heard the radiator somewhere far below in the basement wheeze a warm current under the bed.  She had to pee.  The mattress rose against her hips as she sat up, it was an old and formless thing, and she rocked against it to get upright and swing her legs to the floor.  Still wrapped tight in the tattered Green Bay Packers blanket she scuffled in her socks to the bathroom.  It was tidy, if not clean and she lowered the cold seat and pulled her tights down.  She finished and used the last scraps of toilet paper on the roll.  She squeezed a bit of toothpaste onto her finger and rubbed her teeth and rinsed her mouth, then poked around for more toilet paper to replace the empty roll.

The bathroom cupboard held 4 threadbare towels, neatly folded, 2 washcloths of the same era, a large bottle of amber mouthwash from which she poured some into the cap, gargled and spit, a pipe wrench, a coffee mug from Cook County Sheriff’s Office with a scrap of soap in it, and a coarse shaving brush stuck to the bottom.  No paper.   She moved slowly into the kitchen as if she might disturb someone or be caught snooping around where she was not welcome. She found a can of coffee in the freezer and not finding any filters, used a napkin on the counter to improvise herself a cup from the little 2 cup maker on the counter.  She searched the rest of the cupboards as the coffee popped and percolated, not finding any toilet paper there either.  She moved to the narrow coat closet in the foyer by the front door, and broke through the tightly packed rack of men’s overcoats and uniform jackets to reveal a cardboard box against the wall on the floor.  She read the simple label.


NAME OF DECEASED: Alfred Edward Duval


CREMATED ON: 11/27/2014


She slowly closed the curtain of clothes and backed away from Uncle Alfred’s resting place, turning the knob to close the door as if she might awaken him. The coffee maker stopped. The radiator no longer hissed through the vents, and June thought of Duane, in his silence, day after day.

Chuck Says

Chuck says it doesn’t matter what you write.  Chuck says once you make a move like gathering and categorizing your art you say, “What now?” That’s a hard thing to get past according to Chuck.  He says go ahead and write whatever.  Go back to your roots and antagonize friends about bikes.  Write some real stuff then change the names and make it fiction. Send June, Duane, and Manny off to war, or make them dress up like Stormtroopers and go to Comic-Con.

Rail about politics or write a letter to your old high school friends you just can’t see fit to hear from anymore.  Tell them you would rather heave vomit into the toilet until blood vessels pop in your eyes than listen to their platitudes that things will turn out okay, that your friends who are not white, male, straight, or who conveniently have avoided or evaded any sense of dysphoria will be fine.  Chuck says it is OK to write about that.  It was just time for reform and if you haven’t served than maybe you don’t exactly understand freedom and appreciate freedom as much as they do, which is why they feel obligated to remove it from your life experience. Write a how-to guide for black people to follow when stopped by the police.  If they would simply follow the orders of the law enforcement officer than everything will be fine, routine.  In every instance they tell you, if you look at the details, the black people did something wrong and got shot, even Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Jordan Edwards, and those kids who got themselves shot standing on stranger’s porches begging for help in the night.

My old homeboys.  We called each other homeboy, gave ourselves nicknames like rappers on television.  I’m the Fresh Kid, and we did our best to ape black culture  because it seemed so much cooler than our own.   Chuck D and the S1W- pride, loyalty, courage, and even a uniform- kind of like the military.  Defenders of Funk forever right? Right up until the funk gets shot. Get your asses in your deplorable baskets and don’t come out until I say when.

Chuck said it would be OK if I wrote that.

It’s hot and humid and everyone feels like partying, but I don’t feel much like partying.  I feel like digging a tunnel in the floor with a trap door and a little room underneath where me and my sweetheart can tip-toe down the ladder and stay very still and quiet until the knocking on the door goes away.  The WiFi sucks down there too, but it is cool and surprisingly dry with the fan blowing.

Maybe it will be easier to write down there.  Manny can get organized to talk to that woman about getting back in the well and healing America, and Duane and June can finally get his uncle’s car running and get on the road to Florida, because honestly, the author knows not the first thing about Gary, Indiana so this story needs to get on familiar ground.  I mean, fiction is hard enough right? Or maybe that’s the point, to make it hard.  That’s what Chuck says.  He says don’t put puppies in your song because people like puppies. That’s the worst kind of art.  Write a song about black kids that makes people feel as warm as they feel about puppies.  Now that is art, so Chuck says.



Sweaty Continued- Manny wakes up

Lying on the icy sidewalk Manny Fiesta came to after what, he could not say. He knew with great conviction that he was significantly responsible for Barack Obama becoming the first black man elected as the president of the United States of America. Not through his single vote, which he had not used since voting for Bill Clinton in 1992, but through the blasts of electricity that cracked from his brain and then spread like the veins in a leaf, connecting him to all leaves, everywhere, to spread the sense of urgency that Mr. Obama, the senator from Hyde Park, just 20 miles away from where Manny lived, must become President.

Back then, Manny was first learning of his powers in the Central Florida heat of July, 2007 as he suffocated beneath a tarp under an I-4 overpass.

The Artist Retreats.

I worry I procrastinate too much. We may never film the Paddle-boat Sonata where plastic bobbing boats of itchy fiberglass churn in a lurching murmuration designed by yours truly, and my co-founders of Slippery Horse-wink LLC, or Walm ART, or any of the hundred other names of production companies and art galleries never founded.  Filmed from above on a tiny lake in Alabama, our volunteers would launch on my command and draw a beautiful plait of wakes to a banjo accompanied by a Wurlitzer, hence the name.

Our film noir musical, Certain Death, starring my cat Iggy portrayed by finger puppets spectacularly ward-robed and shot in a shoe-box diorama also threatens to never arrive at the box office.  The images trapped in two dimensions struggle to rise from the page. Our naked fingers are on to other things.

Sweaty Duane and Black June still sit in Duane’s uncle’s apartment, awkwardly wondering if they are to be together, in passing or forever, or if they are simply pinky players in Manny “the Thumb” Fiesta’s story. Left standing at the stove, Duane holds an egg while June’s stomach growls.  Are they ever to eat?

The added pressure of the triple threat, not content to write and perform silently as Chuck’s dark conscience in Glitter Chariot, I now have two musical projects to not finish, with all of the instruments not yet learned.  Only Had One and Squirrel Bullet, headline stolen afternoons to an audience of birds and the eponymous squirrels, and one cat who fears not Certain Death.  Our nihilistic hit single, Sad Right Now, written and sung by an 8 year-old ingenue in a boon-docked Air-stream, drones on in d minor awaiting verses and a chord change.

These and all things stand behind the current masterpiece in waiting. When the earth eventually rolls around and points the humble panhandle of Florida towards the sun, and the dank, wool blanket wraps its loving folds around our town– I will revive and rinse myself beneath a fountain in the garden, or to put it meanly, an outdoor shower.

Yes! Once those waters flow from the garden hose and onto my beading head, all projects will be finished, all works rendered done.




El Viejo

There is an old man sitting in his old man chair,
He feels the price of every year.  His fingers tap merenge
rhythm for no one but himself to listen.

Dear wife brings his slice of cake, a glass of sherry, she thinks he wakes.

Not asleep, just gone for a ride, through the upstate Jersey countryside, he,  his brother,  nothing dies– the larder full of harmless lies.

The Florida grass is thickly green, the heat a soaking, sickly thing as sprinklers run, condensers hum is this success? And have I won?

Mis hijos, men- m’ija then, comes to watch the television. Fireworks fall outside and in, he holds her hand inside of his.

He drags the beat a hair within, the timing late, but on the one. Let it arrive but not too quickly– ¡da te prisa!, pero  en el uno.





The Self-Immolation of Reverend Moore

Wanting something is the wrong way to go about getting it done.

Nobody knew this like Reverend Charles Robert Moore.  He wanted so many things.  The ruling in Brown vs. The Board of Education ended legal segregation in the United States, and the young reverend was fired from his post for celebrating this in the most cautious sense from the pulpit.  He would not make that mistake ever again, to be cautious in the face of injustice. He stood outside the governor’s mansion protesting the executions of 150 prisoners during Governor George Bush’s tenure.  He defied the traditions and doctrine of the Methodist Church by opening the doors of his church to the nascent Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays in Austin, but being tolerated by the church was not enough for him.  He stopped eating, and on the 15th day of his fast the bishops acquiesced to his demand that the church accept responsibility for its contribution to the suffering of the gay community, which they did by proclamation.  His faith took him to India, Africa, the Middle East, Chicago, Austin, and ultimately back to his hometown of Grand Saline, Texas where his deepest memories of shame and inequality were born.

Reverend Moore made a mess of his life.  All three of his marriages ended because he could not make room for the comfort and love of relationships that distracted from his desire for justice. His children suffered his absences.

At 79 years-old, in 2014, he was elated by the election of Barack Obama, the first and only black President of the United States, but the hatred and racism that accompanied the moment left him heart-sick and stricken with defeat. His lifetime of wanting had brought him nowhere. He was still in Grand Saline, Texas, a child unable to make a difference. Charlie Moore was a coward, a failure, a loser.

On June 23rd of that year he drove to a strip mall on the edge of town in Grand Saline.  He paced for hours in front of the Dollar General store, while curious watchers noticed him, musing about his circumstances.  They watched him finally open his trunk, pull a foam pad from it and place it on the ground.  Those watching assumed he must be praying, perhaps a Muslim.  He kneeled and lifted a container to his head and poured liquid all over his legs, his chest, and his head.  Being June in Texas it was a steamy afternoon.

As the fumes from the gasoline choked his breath away, he pulled from his pocket a lighter and sparked it.


On the windshield of his car, he left this note.