Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Los Vatos

Domingo drives, arm out
The window, tan olive skin
Against purple metal flake,
Riding low, blue exhaust notes
As the small block
Purrs and roars with
Stoplight rhythms.
Junior and Cesar jump in,
Screw-top bottle rattles
Belt buckles and key rings,
And someone turns
The music up,
Inky bass rumbles,
Bright horns, percussion
Sass back, and the
Sun sets west of Chico,
And they roll, these
Sons of poverty, heirs
To stubborn dirt, the car
A royal robe letting everyone
Know they have arrived.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Test Anxiety

Fill out your answer sheet
With a number-two pencil.
Make neat black circles.
Do not leave anything blank.
Make no stray marks.
Your exam will be machine scanned.
Raw scores will be recorded.

Fill out your pencil sheet
With answer number two
Circle neat black makes
Do not blank anything. Leave.
Make no marks strays.
Your scan machine will be examined
Recorded scores will be raw

Pencil sheet fill out
#2 answer
Black makes circles neat
Leave. Do not blank.
Stray marks no make
Examine your scan machine
Answer raw records

Answer, out
Black, blank
#2 stray
Scan scan scan
Raw circle
Do not blank


Thursday, October 27, 2016


Jesus died for your 
sins, and the dinosaurs died
for your gasoline.

Less light falls today,
an early bed, a chance to
turn in, turn inward.

Seats for seven, but
six are empty—the car’s solace
for the sole driver.

Men in suits talk tough,
thousands of miles from the
soldier on fire.

War is not fought from
a chair; countries are not led
from the battlefield.

Don’t imitate me—
It’s like an echo, always
coming in second. 

The annoying fly—
I’d let you live if you stayed
slightly out of reach.

In the museum, 
a girl sits, trying for the
most charming selfie. 

They put on ears, tails—
It’s nothing new, this human 
worship of felines.

The cat kneads the soft
blanket, remembers happy
times with his mama.

Monday, November 23, 2015

November haiku

I just stepped outside 
under the nearly-full moon. 
It smells like winter.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Practice, Rehearse, Repeat

The snow is falling, visible in the cone of light from the streetlight. I am passing underneath, in a long coat, hat and scarf, carrying my clarinet in its rectangular case. I am walking from, not to, a music rehearsal. I am warm, thanks to my clothing, but in my soul also. I have just experienced a shared musical experience, a closeness in which I felt at ease, involving many individuals making an increasingly unified sound as we follow the score and the conductor.

We are all in grade school, and the instruments have not been in our hands for long. We are simultaneously working on breath control, counting, and reading the language of music on the printed page. Our conductor has tremendous patience, but he too was here once.

I am alone and content as I walk up my street, maybe humming a bit of one of our pieces. I’ve left behind the room with the brilliant wooden floors and the warm heat, knowing I’ll be back, as the ritual of individual practice and group rehearsal continues.

I’ve carried this scene in my head for years. I don’t know if it happened exactly like this, but it is real—as real as anything. It makes more sense to me now, and it is a window into my personality. I’m an introvert who enjoys social situations. Just as important, however, is the down time, the alone time—socializing takes my energy, and the recharge is essential.

Music is solitary and social. It is communication on another level, going beyond spoken language. It’s solace, comfort, challenge, frustration, reward, affirmation—and may it always be so. Music teaches me many things: how to count and be aware of rhythm, in everything from my steps to my heart; dynamics—when to be loud, when to be quiet; when to play, and when to rest.  Music forges friendships that sustain.

The frequent scene now is a furnished basement. There are four adults, and the occasional grade-school spectator. There is no conductor, just our small ensemble, all around the same age, playing music broadly described as “rock.” I place my hands now on the bird’s-eye maple neck of an electric guitar. The music is in my mind, not on a page, so I may close my eyes. The boy under the streetlight is there, too.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Interviewing the Critic in My Head

Who are you?
I am your inner critic, that voice in your head. I often say things like “you're no good,” “you don't deserve to do well,” “it's not going to work out.”
How long have you been at it?
How long have you been alive? Forty-six years, although the first few years were rather slow. Things got busier when you started school, and interacted with other kids. That's really when you first started feeling different. That definitely opened the door for me, and gave me the opportunity to get going. Things like being an only child, being adopted, I can easily work with that stuff. It was easy to convince you that there were things wrong with you. You've given me lots of great material over the years. It's easy work, but also challenging at times. I like to keep old themes fresh.
What makes you happy?
Seeing you frown, hearing you sigh, knowing you'll give up. I feed off you.
You're telling me you're a parasite?
Oh no, no, not that. We are more, ah, symbiotic. There's no real separation.
Do you ever get bored?
Sure. How many times can I hear you say “I suck”? I thought you were good with words. Throw some synonyms up in here, bro. Then there are those times when you're really happy, like while riding your bike or playing music, or actually enjoying some intimacy. All these other committee members show up in your head. They are like annoying cheerleaders, and I can't compete with them.
What is your favorite time to work?
Oh, there's lots. When you're driving, when you're trying to fall asleep, when you first wake up. You start your day with me, not with your coffee.
What do you do when you're not criticizing me?
Research. I go back over your thoughts. I keep them very highly organized. I'm a bit anal-retentive, actually. If you're feeling good, I'll take the time to dig up some old stuff, things you may have forgotten, like when that sketchy guy yelled at you in the ShopRite parking lot. Remember that? You brushed aside his question. He called you an ignorant, arrogant m**********r?
I had forgotten about it until just now, thanks. Do you hate me?
No. We always hurt the ones we love. Without you, there is no me. I suppose a mental-health professional would call that co-dependent. Hey, we all have to eat.
What do you want from me?
Nothing but your time and attention.
What keeps you going?
Knowing that we've made it this far. It's fun to try to stay one step ahead of you. I like the challenge. I can't wait until your next date.
Are you an optimist or a pessimist?
Optimist, definitely. Things are getting better all the time—except for you.
Nice try. I call shenanigans. I'm not taking that bait in the middle of an interview. Do you ever get lonely?
Oh, sure. But I like being alone. You're an introvert, and that carried over to me. There's a difference between lonely and alone.
What's the most personal thing you're willing to admit?
Sometimes I feel bad for you. I really do. But you're that shiny red button that says DO NOT PUSH. You make it easy. I can't have just one potato chip... it's like that.
Do you define yourself by what you do?
Didn't I answer that in the first question? Here's another thing you suck at.
If you couldn't do what you do, what else might you do well?
Well, I'm a disembodied entity, so I can't enjoy arts and crafts. I dunno, I guess I could do a lateral move to another part of your mind. A job is a job. Are the cheerleaders hiring?
Any plans to retire?
Nope. I'd be bored out of my—uh, your—mind.

Friday, March 27, 2015


I have agreed to the terms
I have been to the mountaintop
I have called you by name
I have done the deed
I have embraced

You have all of me
You have been waiting here
You have compassed this mountain
You have my hopes
You have eliminated the impossible

We have a savior
We have begun
We have come into this house
We have discovered moons
We have everything we need

I will survive
You will know
We will not be shaken