On the dead

dsc_0019Every other Saturday the gardeners come,
but I will never know all their names.

They are in the back now blowing out leaves,
tearing out the dead,
raking up beds,
making it all go away—

But the next morning the leaves are back
like the dead
they keep falling too:
nameless, indistinct,
gathered by curbs, the ground,
unseen by most,
a vague clutter.

The next day after sunrise the lake has turned from pink to gray,
and I think there’s nowhere else I’d rather be today.

And the knobby old hand that leans by the lake,
the arm of a tree that has no leaves,
has caught the colored bobs of an angler’s line,
that dangle from the branches like Christmas balls
from a tree dragged to the curbside
to be taken away—

Oh to the dead and unknown,
will someone please
make them go away?

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The Green Study’s “Positively Happy Nice Story” Contest: Honorable Mention

Check out Michelle Green’s blog The Green Study and a post of mine she featured today as part of a cool contest, focused on the theme of joy. EnJOY! — Bill

The Green Study

canstockphoto14284461An Honorable Mention goes to Bill over at pinklightsabre. His essay “The Expectations of Joy” reminds us to recognize joy in the moment it happens, because it can so often be fleeting.

He was sent a Green Study Coffee Mug, a goofy Minnesota postcard and I donated $25 to the American Red Cross on his behalf.

 The Expectations of Joy

By Bill at pinklightsabre

Joy is so rare and unexpected, on the opposite side of dread, which by definition seems to last longer. It’s why it’s so hard to find on Christmas morning or your wedding day because you expect it, but joy comes on its own terms. It’s like something you spot outside your window but by the time you go for your camera, it’s gone. And it doesn’t photograph well, you have to be there.

There was my uncle Frank who lived alone, never married, worked…

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Carson Street, revisited

This post continues one I started two years ago, about the time I lived in Pittsburgh, featured on Freshly Pressed.

Bingo Quixote was his stage moniker but his real name was Bob, Bob Zimmer. Myki said after I left Pittsburgh Bob had his first art opening but Lloyd attacked him, and they had to call the police. He got on top of Bob, pinned him down by the arm pits with his knees, started choking him. (Myki was playing cello.) Lloyd, who never drank, did that night, and Myki said he was probably jealous of Bob. Everyone was sad and embarrassed for Lloyd, who was a kind of guru on the art scene for everyone else. People started gossiping, saying Lloyd must have real problems.

Lloyd had Q-tip white hair from the time I knew him, like it’d always been that way. Like the other artists, he had a look: leather cowboy boots and jeans, belt buckles, sports jackets from the Salvation Army. The one time I went to his house he showed me the room where he kept all the jackets; he had a gray set of metal lockers he got from the Y when they gutted it and Lloyd asked if he could take the lockers, and now each one was full of sports jackets all hanging the same way. He went to the thrift store Monday mornings, that’s when they got their new shipments he said.

Lloyd smoked a pipe in the café where I worked and people gathered around his table like a prophet. One time he said the thing about art is, you have to know your medium. He tapped his pipe into the palm of his hand and looked at each of us and repeated it, know your medium.

He made glass mandala sculptures you could hang in your sitting room or wherever, to meditate on. The glass tubes were special for reasons he was proud of I can’t remember, some tie-in with Eastern religion or mathematical properties and LSD I think.

Lloyd collected mannequins in addition to the sports jackets and experimented with sunflowers, mixing species to yield multiple heads, and it must have been late summer that afternoon Myki and I went, for the sunflowers were all taller than us, even Lloyd, with their necks sagging down from the weight of all those heads, the three of us pie-eyed with pollen. He had a claw-foot tub he kept in the back outside and sometimes bathed in, there was a hose with an attachment and he probably kept his boots on, I think.

And he grew marijuana before anyone else did, or maybe I just didn’t know that many people back then.

Myki described the gallery off Carson, near our apartment. I didn’t know Bob was painting, he was more a poet when I knew him, a stage performer. I was working at a café with a coffee roaster in the front windows on Carson, and after a few months they let me learn it too, the coffee roasting, as a back-up to the kid who did it full-time (Christian), who’d gone to school in Boston for classical guitar but now just roasted coffee and drew strange pictures in his book, the one he was supposed to keep for roasting notes.

I thought with so many musicians and writers in the neighborhood we should use the stage to host an open mic thing so we started that on Wednesdays, and after a couple months the owners came by one night (they had been drinking) and the place was packed, and I remember how they smiled and slapped me on the shoulder and shook my arms and a couple days later Pete, one of the managers, said Bill, we want you for management, and they promoted me, and that was it.

I was getting ready to leave Pittsburgh and had my last coffee with Bob. It was 1995 and the open stage was closed now. There was a band called 210 I was promoting and we featured in a special performance at the café, designed as an acoustic, hour-long set, but 210 plugged in (and didn’t say anything about it to me before), and then played too long, and the neighbors complained about the noise, and the next day they said there’s no more open stage, it’s over.

I needed help with my writing, I told Bob. He was familiar with it, they all were, because I performed the same set of poems every week without much change. (I was MC, so no one could kick me off stage.)

Bob said I just think you need to live some more, that would help. I didn’t have much to write about with so little I’d seen, so young. Bob sat opposite me at the two-top out of character, no longer Bingo, just Bob with his beard, his soft voice—he seemed about 80 he was so wise, probably just 30.

This memory I’m sure of, though it’s as thin as a dragon fly’s wings and changes colors when you turn it, would probably break if you tried too hard to hold it, flickers out of sight again, and it’s gone.

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My writing partner, Penn State ’88

Dave Kravetz, his eyes through the smoke watching me read his poems, all those papers in his gunny sack, his camo jacket and cigarettes, his bleached hair a frozen wave crashing over one eye, his bad temperament (some story about him getting violent with his parents and threatening them with a gun, he wouldn’t talk about)—his bad smoker’s breath, his chapped hands, how the fingernails looked more like toes, misshapen, transplanted, cloven. Walking the campus with Dave laughing and smoking and pushing each other, two young writers hanging on for dear life.

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Life lessons from dreaming dogs

IMG_2833The dog in her sleep quivered,
you would have thought she was dead
she looked so still –

some replayed scene imagined to make her believe she was somewhere else, living.

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Mid-autumn morning

img_6337Sun blotted to a smudge,
that’s all. No wind, only
jets, frogs,
barely a sound
when the last leaf

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Rain prose, the election

cropped-swords09.jpgToday the weather just turned. There was no beauty in the rain, no music in its falling, just a cold, dark rain. It was like that moment in the debate she said about his time in Mexico “he choked,” and the whole tone shifted, the rain came down harder, the drops indistinct, the rush and static of fire sucked the air right out of us, and everyone went up in flames. All night long it beat down like that and blew: it choked the gutters, gathered in pools, it left us feeling damp, made the ground look beaten down.

Still I walked to the lake with a broken rib in my umbrella and the water rose to swallow the shores, it came up over the rocks and rushed from the spouts like a vein, the way it bubbled out.

Still I walked, pants dripping wet, so I could try to get it out, this feeling. Anyone who knows anything about spots knows there’s only so much you can do to remove them, the stain leaves a shadow. No one knows how it got there and now it’s like the whole world can see, it’s right there staring at us on the dining room rug.

Image borrowed from the Tarot, the nine of Swords.

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