Saturday, October 5, 2019

Music Making

For Nicolas Erickson

Barefooted by a Missouri river,
you finger pick your steel-string.
A weary caravan procession
carrying your only possessions,
memories, stirs the dust off
your dirt-road throat.

Your children doddle in a distant
yard. The sister lifts her face
to the falling, grape-like, clematis
blooms near the window of the dining
room. Her brother kicks the seedlings
spinning off the dandelions.

Though the physician's incision
sprouted her hair, he grabbed
your son instead, giving him
the first born's burden.

Underfoot the twins would
chirp sounds only they understood.
You'd scold them to use words
and receive their tea-saucer stares.

On the couch with a neighbor,
your two-year-old daughter, kung-fu
gripped his temple, jealous of Daddy's
attention. You laughed at her ferocious precision.

You'd often return home prune-skinned
and silent, having rinsed your day
down restaurant drains, and your groggy-eyed
boy would greet you and fake a high
laugh to brighten your face.

Above the rippling water, your young
son and daughter mingle among the tired
travelers, who follow your song in search of home.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Labor Is the Millstone that Grinds One Back Into His Mother, Dust.

I have seen all the works
that are done under the sun;
and, behold, all is vanity
and vexation of spirit.
     Ecclesiastes 1:14

The wages of dying is love.
     Galway Kinnell


Work shapes a man's hands
and weathers his face
into a cracked candle.

Diversionsbedding women,
beating men, indulgent eating
or drinking gin
are time wastes
between tying one's boots
and bowing back
to work. When he leaves
lusting, he returns
the same man, if colder.

The toll of toil only equals
its profits, but one's fortified
by the fire of its kiln
and stands ill composed without it.

Life is empty and vain,
but work keeps death at bay.

If one's lucky, the tedium
of living reaps knowledge,
though knowledge heaps
silos of sorrow,
but wisdom relieves
one of madness.


Look at the street
sweeper. She's oblivious
of all else, and one-by-one,
flicks the butts
into the pan. A passerby
grazes her broom. She's
not startled. She turns
away from the glare off
the street puddle to better
focus on the litter.


And now this bartender.
He grabs the long-
stemmed glass, overhead,
and thumbs the wine
bottle over it; snatches
the high-ball tumbler
behind his knee and shovels
the ice. In a pint glass,
he taps Guinness shy
enough of the top
for the foam to rise. Patrons
call for him, nailing orders
with fists to the bar. They’re
ignored. The pallid cleavage
and red noses tip toward him
his task obscures them.
The spirits and sweat rise
from the wood. The thunder
guitaring from the speakers
cloaks the crowd. Skirts
and collared shirts, high-heels,
and wet beards, soiled dollars,
broken throats, ashen faces,
and the serene street
lights outside the ever
opening door are not
even whispers to himhe
who serves his duty
more than them.


The mother's an exception.
A life is her occupation.
Her baby wails from morning
till well past the gloaming, and teethes
her nipples purple. Her single
child tries her wild
with love, pain, and worry
that plasters her flatly
against the barrier of sanity.
While weeping over the soiled
clothes she pours into the washer,
a grease streaked wisp of hair
sticks in her mouth.
Unlike the others she feels
for only her daughter.
Though she, like them, sees
nothing while in motion
now the laundry spins
her chest is tight,
her mind is numb,
she only wakes to the room
when she tastes salt on her
lips. She wipes her eyes
and brow, and the wailing returns.

What a piece of work
is woman... how express 
and admirable?
In action, how like an angel?

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Irish Rover

(Astoria, Queens)

When Darren is at
the bar, don’t go far.
If Ania sees a stupid frat
boy, she’ll kick him scarred.

Gerry is a gentleman.
He keeps the place top
notch. When a man
is looking at crotches, stop

him. Ask Michéal to punch
him. A few regulars
are always there. A hunch
tells me you’ll see cars

lined up for Schilacci.
He’s my manager. He’ll
tell you of the bees
wax or the best feels

at the “worst birthday
party ever!” He’s clever.
He’s the best. If you say
you want a drunken fever

and to be a fool? Pull up
a stool, but Moses knows
how to keep all the pups
at bay. He can stow

a face in a trash can
if you ask him. Tuesdays
through Thursdays, Mike stands
broad shouldered and stays

till the house is clean
of crazies. He’ll toss
your ass out if beans
and marbles are lost.

(I said “beans” for rhyming.)
If you have bad looks
from a stranger, a shinning
eye will get your books

cleared—will get you
barred from the best
bar in New York City. Stew
on Irish messages. Jest

with Eanna and he’ll
treat you like a pal.
Call me a steel-
toed boot wearing Al,

and I’ll call you a
truth speaker. If you
know meyou’ll know a
woman named through

a war between her father
and mother. She’ll tell
you that daughter
called “The Grey Castle”

can sing better, for her
name in Gaelic means
Leslie. Yes, I shared
that meaning through seething

teeth. Don’t approach
my Mrs. It’ll get you
rosy punched and roach
kisses. You’ll be a few

inches under and food
for worms. Guess what?
The 25th anniversary brew
is starting on August

sixteenth. Two months
after Bloomsday.
I haven’t forgotten; cunts
can’t burn journal pages. Stay

true to the Irish Rover.
Never go over your tab.
See you soon over
At my bar, and save a cab

for home. You’ve earned it.
Now, get going and get lit.

Thursday, August 15, 2019


for Maryanne Ventrice

At the end of your life,
you’re gonna be all used up.”

When does it end?
The redbud holds no blooms.
When will it be spring again?

Her leaves were torn by autumn winds.
Winter became cold so soon.
After the frost, will it end?

Summer dried her broken limbs
and lightning struck her through.
Please let it be spring again.

If she had a forest of friends,
instead of dry grass and a few
stones, she’d not hope to meet her end.

Her twig ends do not bend.
Green grows not in her shoots.
She doesn’t know it’s spring again.

Early chirpings have hope to lend,
though her trunk’s core is a tomb.
This redbud has met this end,
though it’s finally spring again.

Saturday, August 10, 2019


For Jan Tilley

Death is a form of rebirth.
We've come down to Earth,
or we were born out of star
dust to be a light far

from where we're born. Death
is our friend; she'll be
there in the end. Breath
tends to fend for keeping

us alive. The darkness
wakes us to what matters.
My friend, your kindness
leaves others in tatters.

Thank you.

Friday, August 9, 2019


I’m late-night writing,
and I break some ripening
garlic to cleanse my blood.
I find myself searching

for bulb skins beneath 
the refrigerator—thinking:
"Tater can’t eat these
garlic skins. It’ll hurt him."

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Marriage: An Epic Poem

I've been working on this for a while. This section is somewhere in the middle of the poem. I'll likely continue it indefinitely.

Today we celebrate
our being husband and
wife for fifteen years.
Every day I love you
till I'm more into
your aura. Our color
will soon be violet
I'm blue; you're red.

Passion told me
my life is ending
tomorrow. I told passion,
"I begin again." Lovin'
is easy. The cousin
of "hating" is at the opposite end
of the spectrum. Indifference
is the enemy. Hints
are clues on how to be
together. I can't see

without you. I've
told you that striving
for the sun can lead
to Icarus' feathers in the
sea, but if the sun

"could change to a
softer hue of blue,"

never mind, I've begun
to change myself for
you. You know, cutes,

the emperor penguin salutes
no one. The male protects
the egg all winter, protects
the answer to the equation
of love. We've had abrasions.

We've weathered waves
that've crashed brave
couples into the sea.
Mermaids may believe
saltwater can breathe
sailors to life or death;

I believe we'll see
each other in heaven's
lament. Rilke said heaven
has a greater heaven, created
by Orpheus' lamentations
for Eurydice. Execution

could not quiet Orpheus'
head from singing. With us,

nothing will stop my
poem. Nothing. Sigh
a little. Smell the magnolias.
I promise I will never leave ya.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019


This poem is by my mom, Dawne Erickson.

I know what invisible is
because I can no
longer see you. My fingers
feel as though they
are callused, when your
skin is separated
from my touch. A song?
What is a song,
when you’re not here to bring
the melody? Deafness
closes in on me,
because your laughter can’t be heard. Light?
Have I gone blind without
your smile to light
my way? No taste
or smell gifts me now,
without you, the umami
of my soul. All my senses
now collide. All my senses
now have died.

Saturday, July 13, 2019


There’s more than a few
people I know, but Jose
is the best. No way
can anyone compare to blue. 
I mean a “Kind of Blue.”

Time takes its toll
on others, but not my
friend. Every tear cried
with joy brings a bowl
of fruit. Let’s stroll. 

Near the end is where love
is. T. S. Eliot “arrived where
we started.” Your hair
is your flair. Look above. 
“All you need is love.”

Friday, July 12, 2019

Mr. Miracle

You write the truth more
than you know. Floors clean
themselves with dirty, lean
words. If those who adore

you, read your work aloud,
you’d be in their consciousness—
around the world. Blessedness
is a gift not given. I’m proud

to know you. Keep your
Texan privacy. Cheap are
words said in vain. Bar
talk goes down drains. Bore

no one. Heap love on
mercy needers. We all
need mercy. Above all,
a greater heart beats on.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019


Friends for life are hard
to come by. Birds, especially 
blue birds, have to gently
sing their songs. Shards

of hearts litter sidewalks.
I know a mate named Mark
who’d give crumbs, not hearts,
to these kind creatures. Talk

to me and you’ll see
that a poet can hear
what many others fear
to see—life can be

forgiving, even for kind
fellows. The best finish 
first, occasionally. Fish
and that’s what you’ll find. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

[Working Title: Bloomsday]

The patrons play and fall
regularly in the streets.
Puke splatters the walls,
and the Irish stand tall,
till they don't. Punches
fall and faces crawl
into the gutter. Hunched
back travelers brawl
and wail for the stench
the smell of sheets,
washed and dried clean.

"Let's get out of here!"
said the woman, pear
shaped, to the man agape
with fear. He apes
himself. He knuckles down
to the rippling ground,
and says, "No more."
His last breath is floored.

On this day we sing
into the pissing wind,
and allow others to fend
for themselves till night's end.