Listening to Joni sing “Rainy Night House.” I am from the Sunday School. I sing soprano in the upstairs choir. You are a holy man on the FM radio…”

It is still dark on a Sunday morning. A quick scan of The Times and a couple Facebook post assures me sanity will arrive at our shores no time soon. The song ends. I replay it. I drink the last of my coffee laced with lion’s mane. You sat up all the night and watched me to see who in the world I might be.

The Joni singing the song no longer exists. She is only a whisper, something maybe once wished for, but lost during the collapse. I try to remember the person I was then, though my memory is only intermittent flashes of consciousness. An apartment in Laurel, Maryland. I lived there when Neal and Buzz landed on the moon. I went outside and looked up at the sky.

In the winter it snowed. Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning. The following summer we drive to the hospital in Bethesda. I trade in my GTO for a VW bug because, more than anything, it suited the image I wanted to project. I read Herzog, An American Tragedy, Grapes of Wrath, Catch-22, The Great Gatsby, The 42nd Parallel… for a novels class. I read Howl for the first time. Drive to Maine to visit Myra. Muster out of the Navy. Drive to Texas. Dream of living a life writing books. Run in the rain. Drink beer at a bar with a Vietnam veteran and listen to him talk about blowing away a VC girl with an anti-tank weapon. She was taking a shit, looks over her shoulder at the last second, then poof, she wasn’t there anymore.  My friend laughs because it’s the only response open to him.

There is a hint of light outside. I gather up my old fear, let him sit on my lap, welcome him like old friend. There you are, you old bastard, I tell him. Maybe my best friend, the one who stayed. Not death or being unloved—something more poignant. You use the masculine pronoun? Yes.

The sky is turning pink.

It’s the fear of not being good enough, of not getting the work done. He sits on my lap like a small dog and nuzzles up next to me. I get up and pour hot water over freshly ground coffee beans. Then pour a new cup of coffee. Head outside for the morning ritual of watching the sun come up.

Roosters are crowing in the distant east—distant being somewhere past the tree line, past the duplexes down the road. Other birds join in. Cars drive by on their way the church—where else to go on a Sunday morning. My brother joins me for a while. He leaves, but my old friend fear is still there. I take a breath.

Harris tells me I can work out the problems of my life later in the day, but for now just settle into the awareness of being. The top of my head itches. Refocus—

Meditation for me is more an exercise in observing chaos. I take another breath. Remind myself that I can shift my mood by simply shifting the locus of my attention. I feel joy in my face, my forehead and cheeks—the corners of my mouth. I remind myself, though reminding myself is a loss of focus, that the most revolutionary thing I can do is be happy—or joyful. Not a synonym, but close enough.

The morning springs on me like a tiger, caresses me like a lover, is simply there. How suddenly it takes its time.

I wonder if you can see me here, sitting in a plastic chair in my front yard, the grass reaching my ankles.





Listening to Carole King singing “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” from Tapestry—

 I weep softly and sweetly, yearning for no one, but yearning nevertheless. I sip my coffee.

 I’ve already had my trip with the morning news. Dragon breath saturates the room, leaves a bad taste in my mouth. So, I retreat to the soft piano intro—Tonight you’re mine completely. You give your love so sweetly—

I’m still reading Jane Kenyon. She’s eating a tomato sandwich with her mother:

I was alert to the joy of eating
sandwiches alone with Mama, bare
feet braced on the underpinnings
of the abraded kitchen table.

 I am also reading Donald Hall. Donald was almost twenty years older than Jane, yet he outlived his wife by twenty-three years. The equations simply don’t balance the way they should, or the way you expect them to. But then nothing is a given.

They wrote poems. Checked each other’s effort. Lived and died in America.

Even though democracy in America has been hijacked, and it has, last week when I drove east from California to Texas, the land still looked and felt the same. The mountains look like sleeping giants to me, lying face up. The facial features have grown familiar after forty-two years of my driving the route there and back. The woman behind the desk at the motel in Van Horn smiled and talked to me for a few minutes as if everything was still the same. People still pump gas at the stations. The breakfast biscuit at McDonald’s in Ft. Stockton tasted the same.

I love the country between Van Horn and Junction. It’s desert and yet tinted green. You can almost feel the moment when the ancient sea carved the landscape here with deep valleys. I speed through it at 80 mph, think about coming here to write, coming here to find my place in the earth. Though I won’t.

Most people just want to live. I drop a couple pieces of French bread into the toaster. Something to sop the olive oil. The music has moved from King to The Doobie Brothers singing “Black Water.”

 It’s a playlist I name Laid Back Coffee.




On my walk yesterday, the one down the canyon trail to the river, my knees threaten to buckle on the steep decline, I saw a large swallowtail butterfly. Brown and yellow with layered bars or hyphens, like someone hiding in the bush wearing a mask. I have never seen one like this before. It fluttered only a yard or two from me. Of course, I thought of Melinda who dreamed she had become a butterfly weeks before she died. Here in my sliver of wild where the spring rains have produced a foliage so thick it is almost dark—the deep dark woods.

I am only a quarter mile walk from the streets of the new subdivision, but for a moment I allow myself to think I am somewhere else, somewhere deep.

I sip my coffee. It has grown cold and bland, so I will pour myself another cup. I am barefoot. Grounded on a mat. I continue to read Jane Kenyon—Donald Hall’s difficult second wife, I read. She would be difficult. It’s the nature of our species, I would think. God seems to find us difficult—that’s what hell is for, I was told as a boy. I take a breath.

I watch the news for a minute or two. The president is talking about the casualties on D-Day. “There are these guides. They call them guides,” he says.

 I am a wizard, the poet says, but not a guide. I don’t know where the hell I am going, so how can I guide anyone. History has been assassinated, so what could I tell you that wouldn’t shift under our feet during the telling. But there’s no one to blame for it, because blame would suggest a cause and effect narrative. A thread clinging to the real. There is no real.

I leave the butterfly behind and continue down the trail until I get to the swollen river. It has rained for more than forty days. We are treading water.

Connie writes me yesterday, smiling at the notion of my losing weight, buying a “dapper” outfit, and wearing it to HEB. I would wear it to the opera, I might have said. Here we have HEB instead. Anne writes me about how reading Jane Kenyon helped her to write her own poetry. Winston writes to tell me about Donald Hall’s memoirs. Scott writes to tell me he has given away hundreds of copies of Kenyon’s A Hundred White Daffodils. Mark tells me we missed a Morisot exhibition in Dallas. Kicking myself for missing this. Diana writes. Matt writes. I am not alone, the poet whispers to himself.

But there are times when it still feels so very much alone, he admits. The butterfly flutters in front of me, and I wait for the metaphor. A butterfly is sometimes only a butterfly.

I sip my coffee. A refreshed cup.

Yesterday, we dropped off warranty deeds at the water company. I filled out a few forms, signed away some portion of my life, earned the right to live another day. I will need to do something useful today—this need for utility. 

I take a breath. Single breath meditation.

Meditation was frowned on by the authorities of my old school. Something about being a challenge to the church. I mutter something under my breath even I don’t quite hear. I take another breath.

Sometimes I think I am still eleven years old. Whoever the person I am inside, hasn’t really changed all that much since eleven, I want to say, but then I know too many people who would agree.




I am struggling to read this morning—Milosz is writing Merton about Robinson Jeffers, how he is attracted to Jeffers because of his effort to communicate a vision of the universe. “Of course, I recognize that long poems of Jeffers are failures,” Milosz writes. “And I cannot agree with his Weltanschuauung.” I look up the term. I know Jeffers opposed our involvement in the second world war, which led to his being shunned by the reading public—was there a reading public in America—and his poems fell out of favor.

Milosz frees me from the obligation of reading his longer poems by calling them failures. How easy it is to call something a failure. Much along the same lines as saying that all of the great poetry has already been written. A friend told me that once after reading my poems. I quit writing him. All meaningful thinking has already been thought, I might have told him. Or all meaningful lives have already been lived.  All friendships. Love affairs. All the great wars have already been fought, I scribble in my notebook. Now there’s a thought.

Sometimes I feel that those of us who bother with poetry have taken up residence in the Galapagos islands.

I think about Jeffers living in Carmel, in Tor House. I find myself missing the Pacific Ocean this morning—I am sitting on the fire escape of my old barracks in Presidio overlooking Monterey Bay. I memorize the coast line. I have written this before. That perch on the fire escape platform was a refuse of mine for years. I knew when I lived there, it would be. I read a line from a Jeffers’s poem:

I am not dead, I have only become inhuman:
That is to say,
Undressed myself of laughable prides and infirmities,
But not as a man
Undresses to creep into bed, but like and athlete
Stripping for the race.

 I sleep in my clothes, I write. Or I walk around, go to the store, in my pajamas. This dressing and undressing seems unimportant to me. Sweats are the only comfortable pants, and since it is fruitless to dress to impress anyone anymore—you see it in older men, this attitude of fuck you if you can’t take a joke.

The delicate ravel of nerves that made me a measurer
Of certain fictions…

 I take a breath and try to center myself. Jeffers tells us to not be so self-absorbed.  You are not the center of the universe, I think he is trying to tell us. But you are at the same time part of the beauty of it.

Miller wanted nothing to do with the war or the goons who created it. He had little use for the mechanisms of anything which robbed us of being alive—war and business and the maniacs who ran things. Miller ends up at Big Sur. Brautigan writes about Miller’s mail box in Confederate General.

Every day this past week, I have walked to the river, explored my sliver of wild here. I talk to the trees and tell them spring is coming. Grow your leaves and start producing oxygen. You are our last line of defense, I whisper to them. Our last hope. 




I’m in love with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. That in itself should be enough to put me on the list—you know “the list.” Here is a person, full of vigor and life who speaks in sentences. What is she, twenty-nine, and already hated and demonized as being a commie, extreme left—“don’t hate cause you ain’t me, fellas,” she responds. Anyone not in love with her should reconsider.

Anyone who knows me knows I fall in love easily with anyone alive. Trouble is, we live in a time of the walking dead. Everywhere I turn, there they are. Mindless gobs of flesh wrapped in leather, without souls, blind and deaf—but not beyond redemption the poet says. No one is beyond redemption—that’s the point. Even George went to the church and apologized, asked to be forgiven—even Wallace.

It’s never too late to dance.

I play my dance & sweat playlist. Starts with Wild Cherry—play that funky music, white boy. I get up and dance, work out the stiff back muscles, shake it down while facing the morning sun outside my window. It’s never too late to fall in love with whoever and whatever is beautiful, even if it’s just the sun shining through.

I pour a fresh cup of coffee—bubbles of foam pop up on the surface. I eat toast and fresh olive oil. Rub the left-over oil into my face. It’s Friday, thank God we used to say. Though I admit when I taught at the university, I looked forward to Monday. Still on Wild Cherry—I feel sanctified. I dance some more.

I’m in love with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but I’m also in love with you, he says. It’s taken me my whole life to learn that love is chi, an energy that flows through every particle in the universe, acutely aware. We are all simply focal points of energy, he once said at his father’s funeral. And as focal points we fall into the trap of thinking we are alone. It’s a trap—a fear trap. We clutch, thinking somehow we can maintain—but focal points are only swirls in the current. The current is the reality. The swirl is a dance in the current. Enjoy it. Let it go.

 I’m in love with the pick-up make it take it basketball we played in Gregory gym at lunch all those years ago. Skin and sweat. You’re one of those hard core little white guys, David says and smiles. Not much talent, but competitive as hell.

I take a breath.

I’m in love with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez because she embraces what should be and insist it could be. She is youth pushing aside the brain dead gut of old age. Wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age, the poet says. Mostly we fall into cliché which is just another form of meaninglessness.




I sit in an airplane flying from LA to Dallas next to a man who tells me the world will come to an end in 1975. I had best get right with the Lord, he says. It is December, 1967, and I had left Monterey and language school earlier that day and was heading for Goodfellow AFB in San Angelo for six more weeks of school before heading for Ft. Meade in Maryland.  I had two weeks leave between stations and would stop off in Abilene to chase the pieces of a short story. I smile at the man. And if it doesn’t come to an end in eight years will you abandon your faith, I ask him. Yes, I will, the man says.

But then the world ended in 1975, just as the man predicted. The faithful where called up, and the rest of us were left behind to make the best of it.

A couple days after the flight, I was standing in the grill at a small bible college on Abilene’s east side, wearing my p-coat and a moustach I had grown in Monterey. I had envisioned the scene a hundred times or more. I would stand in the grill, looking cool, and the girl would come up to me. I would say the perfect line and the entire narrative thread of the story would change. I look up and there she is, standing in front of me, smiling, waiting for me to say the words. But I just smile back at her. Hello, she says. Hello. She waits—

I drive to San Angelo a couple days later, through a sleet storm. My defroster isn’t working, and I drive for miles with my head out the window. I stop at a diner in Lawn. Get change for the pay phone and call the base, telling them of my situation. Stay put, I am told. Some guy with a metal plate in his head from WWII takes me to his house for the night. He lived with his mother, a woman who showed me her family photograph albums. During the night, the guy fought his battles in the Pacific over and over. The next morning he fixes my defroster and sends me on my way.

Hello, she says, and waits.

Why didn’t you say the lines. It didn’t feel right. 

Sometimes, even when the scene is unfolding exactly the way you had wanted to too, almost as if you had written it, you have to walk away.

There is something else—

But you were in love with the girl. Yes. Then why—She wasn’t in love with me. Though standing there, she seemed to want me to stop the movement of another narrative. She seemed to want—but in the end, she wasn’t in love with me.

I am twenty-one. A few months in.

Did you ever see her again. Yes.  

Do you regret. No. Regret is a trap.

In 1975 I was teaching at a Jr. High School with a guy who was building a self-sufficient compound in Bastrop. This whole thing is going to collapse, he told me. And only those of us who are ready will survive. He so looked forward to that day. I helped him buy some redwood from a lumber yard where I had worked in 1972. We were friends, only we weren’t really friends.

When the world ended later that year, no one seemed to notice.

The girl lived in the city at that time, and I would stop in to see her from time to time, but the dialogue never fit the narrative right. The last time I saw her I wanted to tell her, but it seemed unnecessary.

There was a pool west of the city where some of us would skinny dip on hot days. In the fall I jumped in a high jump pit at a High School where Tom would later teach.




Met Cleatus and Connie at the Gin last night. How delightful to spend a little time with sympathetic people. Cleatus and I both talked about the current insanity. We spoke in low tones as one tends to do these days. I don’t feel much like writing poetry these days, one of us says. The other concurs.

It’s going to reach 103° today. If I’m going to get my bike ride in, I had better do it early. The prediction is for 108° tomorrow and 109° on Sunday. The lake is being sucked dry by the pumps moving the water to the Georgetown lake.  Some time ago, the growth in Georgetown moved past its capacity to support itself with local water.  Range wars have been fought over less.

There’s also simple evaporation. The trend for hotter and drier is obvious to anyone who bothers with the matter. My lawn is turning to dust.

When the water runs out…

When the water runs out, will they blame the poets. Will they call it God’s punishment on a nation that drove prayer out of the schools. 

I sip my coffee. Take a breath. I talk silently to God—a brief prayer—though if one understands the nature of God, he or she will understand that every thought carries the potential for prayer. With every thought we stand naked before God. Just as I am, without one plea—the old gospel whispers in our ear.

I find myself weeping for the world—but not for me. I take another breath. It is July of my seventy-second year. I am still here—for now. I know who I am, what I’m here for. I am here to take it all in and remember. To remember honestly and as truthfully as I can is my job. To write as much of it as I can, though writing isn’t necessary—still it helps.

In Virginia’s A Room of One’s Own, she writes that the duty and opportunity of the writer is to live in the presence of reality. When you do, there is this freedom that comes with it, a freedom not otherwise afforded. It is an almost boundless freedom—a dangerous way to live. But just a taste of it, and one realizes there is no other way to live.

Not just the writer—any artist, any scientist, any person who desires to be whole.




What makes you happy, Bourdain reportedly asked people. What is your life like. What do you like to eat.

Mornings make me happy, he replies. The sunrise, the sound of birds. That is after I’ve worked out the kinks in my legs and back. Walks through the woods. The first cup of coffee—you knew that would be there. Hearing from you. Talking with good friends, with people who think and like to read. Being with almost anyone who is glad to see me. Music. Joni Mitchell singing California. Simon and Garfunkel singing America though wistfully so. Seeing my children—which extends to their families. Working out. Walking barefoot on the sand next to the surf in Hermosa Beach. Breathing. Writing a poem that works. Writing a poem that doesn’t work. Driving cross country. Getting a pedicure. Cool weather.

My life is a story written in a notebook with a pen while sitting all morning at Sebastian’s with a cup of coffee. Sebastian’s closed down years ago, but the story is still being written there. Sometimes in the story, my character is standing on the platform of a train station, his hands in the pockets of his P-coat, the collar turned up. He is waiting. In his pocket is a letter, read and reread. He waits.

A good cheeseburger with onions, tomato, pickles, mustard, and maybe a jalapeno. A good cold beer.

I did my 4 ½ mile walk earlier this morning. Headed out before the sun cleared the horizon. I getting ready now to head out again on my bike. Trying to beat the heat.

My first cup of coffee was delicious.




Listening to Simon and Garfunkel sing in Central Park. Like emptiness and harmony—the Dakotas a shadow reminder that nothing holds together very long. A half million people in the park—each song a kind of elegy for free riding hope.

America was and is Moloch’s America. We worship at his feet. Those who don’t, run the risk of being stoned. Those who do, are eaten alive by the beast. Their children stretched out on the alter—the insatiable hunger for innocent blood, the insatiable hunger for money, the insatiable hunger for chaos and madness.

We hide, as best we can, in the cracks. Seek solace in agave and blues, a walk in a sliver of wild still left to us, though we can hear the tires on the Interstate a mile or so away from the trickling river. A raccoon emerges from the bushes, looks at us as if to say can’t you at least give us this little space. A buzzard flaps its wings and flies from a branch near the top of a dead oak in the canyon.   

Signs and symbols. Walks barefoot on a concrete sidewalk, barefoot in the grass. Tries to breath a new life into his poems, as if a poem could be the glue holding the last pieces of existence together. As if the poem was something more than words. It’s only words, an old lover once told him. And he finds himself a Richard Brautigan character in a short story, waiting for the water to boil in a pot on the stove so he could fix himself a cup of instant coffee.

I want a cup of coffee, he says, when what he really wanted was so much more.

A biscuit and gravy, a fired eggs with a soft yoke—

Ice cold beer and enchiladas, Mark writes to him.

Witness to another morning.

Are you still my sweetie pie, he asks Georgia. Yes, she says. I adore you, he tells her. You are so smart and nice and pretty. Yes, she says, but I don’t wear pretty clothes. But I’m still your sweetie pie.




Another day in my extremely lucky life. The house is asleep. I am listening to Judy Collins singing “In My Life.” I had the news on for a while, but simply couldn’t watch or listen anymore to history being ignored. So instead I take a barefoot tour of my front yard in the wet grass. There are places I remember, all my life, though some have changed…

That was the first song we sang to Melinda when she died. Part of me believes she heard the song in the echoes of her mind. I know I’ll never lose affection for people and things that went before…

The song has been an underlying theme of everything I’ve ever written. At least since 1973 when I lived in Houston, looking after my two year old daughter, playing hide and seek—Daddy, where are you. My typewriter sitting on an unabridged dictionary sitting on a coffee table, me on our old couch composing simple declarative sentences after carefully reading the opening paragraph of Herzog or The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Nothing I wrote then was very good. When I was thirty, three years later, I burned it all, everything I had written to that point. Recently, I did the same thing with most of my hardcopy manuscripts—a second novel written at a café next to the UT campus in a series of spiral notebooks among the pile, written in pen and coffee. The repeated openings of a third novel—My life has turned to shit, Sam Davies mutters…  It’s writing it that counts, the poet tries to explain. Just thinking it out in words.

Perhaps it matters if it’s read, appreciated, celebrated—perhaps. But somewhere in the equation, if the poet is lucky enough, she may realize that a song sung in a forest is still a song. And if it is sung with heart—

I take a breath. Single breath meditation. A clarity of action. Right thinking, right living—

A little over four years ago, I walk from Seton hospital to Central Market to eat lunch and to buy some protein bars Melinda likes. I don’t remember what they were. I look up at the fourth floor window. She is looking down, watching me walk. A scene that has no causal relationship with anything else. A few weeks later, I run/walk the Shoal Creek trail with Laura G. We eat a breakfast of oatmeal and talk—waiting. A few days ago, we hike up a canyon trail in Oahu to a mountain waterfall. The climb is steep enough to be challenging—Laura, Rich, Barbara, and me. The sound of me works better than I.

This morning I stand in the grass barefoot and watch cars driving to church—where else would people be going on an early Sunday morning.

What is your theory of life, my rheumatologists asks me. Without hesitation. That there is no single narrative thread, I answer. She looks at me, waiting for some clarification. And while I do believe in cause and effect, I am not sure it matters. Things happen. The classic bumper sticker—Shit Happens. We talk the world into being, I might have said—the world being distinct from Earth. The earth carries its own reality, but the world is a construct, a fiction, one might suggest. If goons are allowed to tell the story, then we end up living in a kind of hell.

Still, the poet pulls a line from Miller, I am the happiest man alive. Everything turns to shit, goons rule the headlines, racism and fascism is running amuck—but I’m still here creating the world as it should be. I walk the beach at Waikiki and imagine myself happy.
I stand over the deck of the Arizona and imagine myself happy. I sing to my daughter.

I repeat the mantra which has guided me through so much of the bullshit—being happy is the most revolutionary thing one can do. I will live and die a revolutionary, the poet says.




I am up late, not my usual morning letter, thinking about something that happened in Ohio forty-eight years ago that changed the way I saw the world—the change seems permanent at least when in comes to my political orientation and my belief in the American myth.

Tin Soldiers and Nixon’s coming.
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming.

Four dead in Ohio.

Nixon invades Cambodia, explaining that Cambodia wasn’t really Cambodia. This was two years after he had told America he had a secret plan to end the war when the truth was he was bargaining with the government in South Vietnam to sabotage the peace talks in Paris in order to win the election. There was no secret plan, he later admitted. That was just campaign talk, and when he invaded Cambodia a year and some months after taking office, when students took to the streets to declare all the talk about peace to be just bullshit, the guard in Kent turned and fired into a crowd of unarmed students, killing four.

It’s about time they started shooting those bastards, someone said at the agency where I was doing my stint in the Navy. Not everyone said it. Not Captain Root who insisted one doesn’t fire on a unarmed crowd—Not in America. Should have killed them all, someone else said. Not in America.  Sandra Scheuer was walking from class, a hundred thirty yards away. Shot in the neck and died. She shouldn’t have been there. But she was exactly where she was supposed to be, attending class, walking from class. Someone shot her through the neck.

Rumors circulated about how the four dead students were infested with STDs. There was the rub. All those hippie students getting all that free sex, or so the stories went.

Nixon called the students bums. He shows up at the Lincoln Memorial to talk to some protestors there and ends up wanting to talk about college football. He just didn’t get it, someone said.

A few days later, the governor of Maryland called out the Guard to occupy the University of Maryland where I was attending night school. How do I explain—

The bullshit.

Nothing much has changed. I watched the president talk to the NRA today. How so very much he looked like Mussolini. His physical presence, his mannerism, his scowl. How so very much like Mussolini. But Mussolini got the trains to run on time.

Today, I don’t think it will be the guard. I think instead it will be some version of a militia. Some 2nd amendment folks spurred on by El Duce. But it might be the guard.

Somewhere in the equation Kurtz will be reading The Hollow Men.
The bullshit, he says at the end. The bullshit. The bullshit.




What are three things on your bucket list, someone asks on Facebook—three things to do before you die. I don’t have a bucket list, I want to answer. Have I done it all, or am I just short of ideas.

I would like to be in shape again, I offer. Not for just a day or two, but get there and stay there for the duration. I want to sit with a good friend, or a group of good friends, sip a little tequila or a cup of coffee, and talk a better world into being for as long as it takes.  I want to look deeply into the eyes of someone I love, who still loves me back. But I’m not sure that’s a bucket list.

It’s raining outside. I stepped out into it for a moment. A little cold. Sip my coffee. Best time of year—everything is green.

I think I want to fly. Not in a plane or hot air balloon, but just fly—like Peter Pan. That’s not possible. Not eligible for the bucket list. I take a breath. In my dreams, I still fly. Also in my imagination. But in that world, I simply smile and the sick are healed, anger gives way to joy. You look deeply into my eyes as we lay on the cushions of a high jump pit.

I’ve seen the Grand Canyon three times. Autumn in Maine once. Been on the observation deck of the Empire State building. Listened to Grace Slick sing “White Rabbit” while sitting in a friend’s car in San Francisco, 1967. Stood on the sidewalk next to the spot in Dallas. Watched all of my daughters graduate from college. Held five daughters and four grand daughters in my arms. Watched a ball game in Fenway. Took the ferry across the sound to and from Seattle. Ran the trail around Town Lake several hundred times. Ran the trail next to the Concho. Played miniature golf in San Angelo. Climbed San Gorgonio one summer with Bryan and Chuck. Once hit a ball so solid that it sailed over the pine trees beyond the right field fence. Swam naked in Lake Travis—also in Still House Hollow. Been in love more than once. Been loved more than once. Had my heart broken more than once. Baked bread. Changed the oil in my car. Adjusted the valves in my old 1970 VW bug. Made it through boot camp. Wrote a dissertation—full of typos. Wrote four books of poetry. Had a pedicure. Sang to my daughter who had just died. Drove cross country from Texas to Utah to Chicago back to Texas to Florida to Maryland to Maine with her when she was two. No car seat. Fought in a karate tournament and won fourth place. Ate breakfast in Lordsburg, New Mexico. Ate breakfast in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Stood on the very steps where MLK gave his I have a dream speech.

I could sit here and write these all day long and not come to an end. I don’t have a bucket list. But I would like to be in shape again.




Friday night, after listening to readings all day and into the evening, we sat in a motel room sipping on some outstanding tequila and bourbon, depending on taste, and talked about what we had heard, about the role of the writer or poet, about how a person can learn he can do more than one thought possible while serving in an airborne unit, why a person from eastern Oklahoma has difficulty writing iambic pentameter when she spent her childhood speaking in trochees,  about how the 1 percent has always been at war with democracy, how they are perfectly willing to destroy the world in order to own it, about the flaws in democracy—stupid people can vote. It’s just there, and keeping them from voting is not the answer. Somehow we have to overcome stupid.

I’ve always loved Mrs. Dalloway, Drew said while talking about who he likes to read. But the list is really too long to remember. I do read my friends, he added. Mostly read my friends when I’m not teaching.

—about the difference between hung and hanged. Get it right most of the time. I hung the picture. We hanged the bastard—one uses a rope.

I have a pile of new books on the table bought at Scissortail.

Saturday morning. My car is covered with ice. I sit at the motel breakfast table with John talking about how we write mostly love poems—the numerous times we have been in love, the sheer luck of finding someone who loves you back. But being loved back isn’t really the point. He and I both know it. How do you explain in words when Trump is president of the United States, when there is a constant war on words and beauty. We sip our coffee and promise each other we will keep the faith without really saying we will.  

Nathan says we have to continue to stand and speak against those who would rip the world from us. We owe it to everyone we have ever loved, to our children and grandchildren who follow us, to our grandparents who came before. The narrative is crucial.

I don’t have a basement, I told him. Or an attic. But if the time comes, when the time comes—when we have to offer sanctuary, to hide people being hunted down—we have to help. Assuming we are not the ones hunted. Did you think we would ever be saying that here. Yes, I told him. My answer surprised me, but then I realized I have always known.

We talked about fathers and step fathers who beat their children, who break their wives’ jaws. The poet seeks the beautiful, yearns for the beautiful, but also has to see through the bullshit enough to know things, to admit to things, and even to embrace what is not beautiful. The demons are always there, ready to take you unaware.

I sip my coffee. You do know that polymyalgia rheumatica is an auto-immune disease, she says. I’m beginning to think everything is an auto-immure disease. Do you meditate. I write love letters. Can’t make the forty minute morning ritual work for me though. I breathe. I can’t either. Can’t stop the noise in my head.

We once talked about meeting in Santa Fe and talking about poetry one afternoon, but life interceded. That was a little over four years ago, when I was living in Las Vegas—not Nevada.

The Buffalo puts his arm around me between meetings. Everything is right between the two of us, he asks. I sure as hell hope so, I want to tell him. You are one of the important people I love.


It’s important to spend time with people who know more than you know, the poet says. To realize you aren’t even close to the boundaries. To feel your capacity to love all this is still in tact.



P. S. Dorothy Alexander, though real flesh and blood, has become the metaphor for almost everything I admire. She told me, she is really the one writing these letters, and I believe her.


I ran into an old friend at HEB yesterday. HEB is Texan for grocery store. She and I were in the adult dance troupe when our daughters were young and taking dance. That was twenty-four years ago. I miss that troupe. I was forty-seven doing tap and jazz dancing—what fun.  If I had it do over, he thinks, though having it to do over is too often a trap, I would have taken dance as a boy.  Dance and karate—which are similar. I would read more, he tells himself.

Truth is, I don’t know if I would have had the social courage to take dance as a boy. But what fun. I dance now. I imagine myself Zorba on the beaches of Crete. Or just smooth gliding on a hardwood floor to a bluesy jazz. Barbara and I took tango lessons. One evening, needing the room, we danced in an Austin parking lot, singing our own music. People stopped and looked. It’s been awhile, and I’ve forgotten most of the steps.

You look great, my friend smiled at me. So do you, I said. I count smiles, I told her. She smiled again.

On the flip side, a guy on Facebook, a friend of my cousin, begged me to let go of my hate and watch a clip where a governor of some state was calling people who want to band assault rifles naïve—as if a single solution would solve the problem. We have a culture problem he said, blaming the rise of pornography and video games as a root cause of mass shootings. We didn’t have these mass shooting fifty years ago, I think he said. I muttered something about the UT tower shooting being fifty two years ago this summer. You can roll your eyes and be smug if you want, the governor said to the audience.  Let go of your hate, my cousin's friend begged.

I always been known for my hate, I wanted to tell him.

When we were young, we didn’t have video games, but we played war all the time, killing each other with toy weapons. I think it was more fun our way, because we roamed our island neighborhood, hid in ditches and behind threes, used our own sound effects, and actually fell to the ground when shot. We also had rock fights with the local Puerto Rican kids. We threw rocks at each other without animosity.  It was just something boys did. Once the PR kids outnumbered us so much, that a few of them came over to our side to make it more even. Because we were very young, and kept at a safe distance, our rocks rarely hit their mark. When one did, we scattered.

We also played baseball with these kids.

As for porn. I remember some kid showing me pictures when I was in the eighth grade. That was in 1958. I was a little confused as to how I was supposed to react. I was never drawn to porn, something about watching always seemed boring to me. But then for some reason I don’t carry around very much puritan guilt over sex either.

I wanted to respond to the FB post, but realized I would be talking to a brick wall. Let go of your hate.

Truth is, I don’t think we will resolve the divide in the debate about guns, about abortion, about climate change, about public education. The problem in no small part due it being a debate and not a dialogue. But dialogue seems impossible—except maybe on a personal scale. Certainly not on the flat screen.

I sip my coffee. I was good to see my old friend at HEB. For a brief moment, I felt alive again.




My copies of García Lorca arrived yesterday in the mail. The title misleads a little, though I have hurried through a poem or two in translation. But it’s not the Spanish poet so much, or even Ginsberg in his supermarket—more the notion that a single poet could somehow disrupt the imposed order of things, that the goons who have declared themselves God’s chosen would drag him out in the middle of the night and kill him. García Lorca becomes a standard—something Neruda understood.

Love, both passionate and quiet, and justice—the sharing of the earth, seeing beauty in a single dandelion blossom, a beauty free for anyone with eyes, a child’s belly full, the warmth of an open fire, workers huddling around the flames in the darkness before daybreak, their hands stuffed in the pockets of their jackets—is the connection we have with the beginning of the world.  You and I knew each other then, the poet says—from the beginning of the world. Try to remember, the poet urges.

So my books have arrived, and I have this imperative to market, to push—Bill Hicks whispers in my ear something about marketers being the spans of Satan.  I give it a try and already feel disconnected from the poems I tried to write. This need to somehow be recognized which is beside the point—as if to be recognized is somehow the same as being loved which it is not.

Meanwhile, Donna is in Nicaragua, trying to help. She is more and more finding in the mountains where Sandino once carried out his insurrection a refuge from the insanity of what we have become here, a nation of greed and crumb snatchers. The ethics of I’ve got mine, you get yours. A land where the money changers have taken over the temple.

And I am writing these little poems, because these poems are who I am as much as anything.

On my desk, under the glass cover, directly in front of me, is a photograph of Barbara posing in front of the Monterey Boat works in Monterey, California, 1977. Our first California trip together. She is looking back at me, wearing shorts, her purse hung over her shoulder. We had driven her Datsun across the desert without air conditioning. We had stopped in San Angelo for me to meet her aunt Laverne—Laverne a beautician who once talked me into dying my eye lashes—this will make you so pretty, she said. Barbara looks back at me, then and now in the photograph. In a story we drive down the coast toward Big Sur and climb on of the hills along the coast. But that’s only in the story.

I sip my coffee. Take a breath. Take inventory of my fingers and toes. I am still alive, the poet says. But how much longer, Bob writes him, saying he will drive up to collect his copy of the book, neither of us know how long each of our narratives…




I send out the rough draft of a poem, then almost immediately edit a line or two, moving subjects and verbs. Understand, the writing of a poem doesn’t think or care whether it’s good on bad, at least for me. Only that it pulls me into a world where I can find or create the space to live. Figuratively, literally—whatever. To take the next breath, though breathing we are told is automatic. One can’t simply holds one’s breath indefinitely, even if children have tried.  Still, there is the pull toward nonexistence.

When I began writing the poem, the sky was completely grey. Now, only an hour or so later, the grey has given way to sunshine and blue. No meaning implied. It was grey and rainy, and now the rain has stopped. I walk barefoot outside in the wet grass and find as much sensual pleasure in that particular act as in any I have know. Walking barefoot must thus be a sin, the poet chuckles to himself. This is what I have to offer—nothing more important or dear. In the poem Emily is waiting in her Massachusetts’s grave for the robins to appear. It’s what the dead do in Emily’s poems. They wait in the ground, because that is all that is known to us.

I write to stay alive, the poet has said more than once. I walk barefoot in the grass. Reach and touch my wife’s arm as she sleeps beside me in bed. Take a breath—deliberately. The writing, especially when the writing leans toward the lyrical, though perhaps not too lyrical, pushes me into the details. I describe the clutter on my desk, and each item carries its own narrative—tiny causal threads somehow becoming the symphony of a life lived. Mine, yours, ours, theirs.

This morning, writing the poem wasn’t enough, so I write this explanation of the poem, which probably means the poem wasn’t enough.

I am rereading Jorie Graham’s “The Dream of the Unified Field.” It’s a long poem, and I usually fail to make it through long poems in a single reading. Rilke sidetracks me beginning with the fourth line of “The First Elegy.” For beauty is nothing / but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure… Here, I am already sliding into Erickson’s Our Ecstatic Days.  Here, I am reminded of the relationship between loving someone deeply and the accompanying fear if one dares think it through. But then I have already left Rilke’s poem. Jorie Graham is bringing her daughter the leotard she forgot to pack in her overnight bag—your tiny dream in it… I am already lost in the daughter’s tiny dream with seven more pages of the poem to read. I set her book down for a moment. Then I return to it.

In a sense, I am Orwell’s condemned man. I side step a puddle on my way to the gallows.




I tend to see beauty more in the feminine than in the male, but that’s perhaps an indoctrinated bias. This morning I’m watching clips from Woodstock, and I discover beauty in every scene. I move from face to face, from form to form, female and male and fall in love again with my generation at that moment in time. Though the truth of it, I find a beauty in the pictures of soldiers in Vietnam too, more grim and haunting, but it is there for the seeing eye. Being young is enough, the poet says. But then as I grow older, I discover something about the transcendence of beauty, about how it swirls around you just waiting to be seen, smelled, touched, heard, felt.

There is also the ugly. Faces puffed and stuffed with Eliot’s straw. We see it in the goons who want to rule. But we also see it in the bloated bellies of starving children—though in those faces, in the eyes, something beautiful still clings.  There are arguments put forward that without the ugly, we simply wouldn’t recognize the beautiful. I had an old friend, a philosophy teacher, long dead now, who described the notion as the bowel movement theory of pleasure. That pleasure was the release from discomfort or pain. Without sin and its corresponding misery we wouldn’t realize the euphoria of redemption. That heaven is somehow realized in its opposition to hell. The notion hangs like a bad painting on the wall. Maybe it’s true. Maybe even God couldn’t come up with a better plan.

I sip my coffee and let myself miss those scenes from the late sixties for awhile. But I can’t linger there too long.

Yesterday, we went to a park in Round Rock to celebrate Isabella’s fourth birthday. All four of my grandchildren were there. The world is still new to them. They play, they eat chocolate cake.

All children should play and eat chocolate cake. We don’t need starving children as a foil to laughter. I mention that to God. We don’t need starving children, the poets says again for emphasis.

I try to explain my belief in limiting wealth, in simply capping how much any person could own. I offer a figure or forty million, arbitrarily off the top of my head. I would also limit inheritance, believing that each person should somehow earn it. If a person can’t be happy with forty million, he or she should be put out of their misery, I explain. But what about—and why shouldn’t a person be able to keep what he (or she) has earned. But there are starving children in the world, starving people in the world. We are running out of water. When those problems are solved, we can raise the wealth limit, I say. But people with property have rights too—but you don’t have the right to hoard water, when people are dying from thirst, I say. I don’t agree with your radical ideas—Of course not. And they are only ideas. I have absolutely no power to implement them. Still, merely to express them is dangerous—if anyone is listening. Ask Fred Hampton.

For myself, if I suddenly found the forty million I’ve been telling people for years I have stashed away, I would have to give most of it away. Oh, I would keep a couple million, I would guess. But I already have more than I need. Until we run out of water—

In the meantime, I will take my morning barefoot walks. It’s really cold this morning.






Fifty years ago this year we had the Tet Offensive, MLK was assassinated in Memphis, JFK was gunned down in LA, the clashes at the Chicago convention, Nixon elected president—I got married the first time that year, drove with my new wife from Texas to Maryland were I was stationed, rented an apartment in Laurel, bought a couch and a bed…

My college apartment mate was killed in Vietnam that year, same day Robert Kennedy was shot in the head. There is a London scene in a Steve Erickson book where a character runs into Robert Kennedy walking the streets alone at night. Kennedy tells our character that he knows if he runs for president he will be killed. Knows it to his bones, and he struggles with the burden of what he knows he will have to do and why.

I was supposed to graduate from college in ’68, but had dropped out of school in ’66 and joined the navy. Dropped out after my father had kicked me out of the house during thanksgiving dinner for something I had said, I was always saying something out of line—my father going back to his bedroom for his gun. My UT college roommate, who would later fly B-52s in the late stages of the Vietnam war, was with me.  We escaped out the back. I never believed you when you said your father would pull a gun on you, he told me as I drove him back to Austin. I dropped him off and headed back to Abilene. I had transferred from UT to Abilene Christian that summer. Something to do with being kicked out of the house, a rather routine occurrence, and my falling in love with a girl there. That the girl didn’t fall in love with me was another reason for my leaving school.

In ’68 I was working at the agency, married—a hurried and unplanned moment, went to night school, read as much as I could, trying to make up for years of not reading. The almost four years I spent in the Navy was an awakening for me, not dissimilar to Edna’s awakening, when I found myself coming to grips with who I was and wanted to be and the conflict existing between that person and the world at large. The conflict has never been resolved. There is always who I am and who I am expected to be—I dance on the thin line between the two, which is a kind of nonexistence.

Edna ends up swimming from coast of Louisiana out into the gulf, heading for Castro and Cuba. She swims naked in the warm gulf waters.

Nixon had a secret plan to end the war, which he later admitted was only election bullshit. Meanwhile, the war continued. Mistah Kurtz—he dead. The beginning of perhaps the most significant poem for my generation, though most of us had not read Eliot at that time, most still haven’t. Still we knew them, the hollow men, the stuffed men. Then we became them. Marlon Brando later playing the revised role in a different locale. Robert Duvall playing the best supporting actor we could offer at the time—I love the smell of napalm in the morning. Smells like—victory.

Joan Didion scribbles the year before about a generation who had lost all sense of narrative and family. The narrative which loaded her down with some ill explained guilt, as if we had turned our backs on the gold rush days of early California, on the morality of the wars years—and had instead embraced the rootless hedonism Bork found to be the result of individual freedom and the notion of equality. Religion, morality, and law, Bork prescribed—plus, he added, hard physical work and the fear of want.

 Yep, that’s always what we, the common people, needed. Hard physical work and the fear of want, which I suppose means not getting paid very much. Helps promote the virtuous life. Though Bork never subscribed such a virtuous life for himself. Class envy, he snarled. Apparently some people are to be allowed to live above the fray.




I am watching the news today, last night—it’s a circus show difficult to ignore, nor should we, seeing that the fate of the earth may hang in the balance, or if not the spherical  planet we call earth, the nature of our presence in it. I am reminded by Hitch—do we miss him yet or still—that such worries are probably futile. We will not survive all this, he suggests more than once. Hitch certainly didn’t survive it. Didn’t he drink a lot, a woman coming out of Central Market asks me as she sees me sitting there reading his book Arguably. Have you read Hitchens, I ask. I’m sure he drank too much, she says and leaves me there. Perhaps a factor in his death, but something will be, if not drinking too much. I eat too much, spend too much time watching the flat screen news.

I go to the grocery store and worry about finding the shelves half empty because something has happened to the food supply or the supply chain. I worry about the mob calling for an overthrow of the government, for the dismantling of our institutions, by force if necessary—and while they may not represent populous in general, they seem to be reaching critical mass enough to unbalance the equation. But then I thought that about the left in the late 1960s, and that proved to be nothing more than heavy breathing. Don’t they know that without a stable government, everything crumbles. Or is that just some notion I have. Something would take its place no doubt, and if we want to look at recent history, some form of organized crime. I find myself thinking about the words mob and mobster. But whatever, chaos would have its run of it for at least awhile, at least long enough to undue what is left of the American culture. And the shelves would probably go empty during that span.

I sip my coffee and try to focus on being appreciative for what I have been given. I could claimed to have earned it. I could give you my vita explaining all I’ve done to earn it, but I know so much is simply a matter of luck—the when and where and to whom I was born.

I woke up this morning holding my daughter’s arm, talking to her as she lay dying. I tell her it will be okay, that she is surrounded by angels. This is not a dream, but my very awake and vivid memory working overtime. Not every morning, but so many mornings start this way, as if I were waiting for her to tell me it is okay. I roll out of bed, go through the necessary morning rituals, then make a pot of coffee, walk outside barefoot.

How do you get through the day, a friend asks—a friend who recently lost… I think about sex, I tell her. That helps. More than drinking. Sex helps, she asks. Thinking about it, I correct her. It also helps—I start to say, but that is not how the sentence should begin. I find it more and more important to think as clearly as I can, to be as honest as I can, to live and let live as much as I can, to know that I already have enough, more than enough, and to immerse myself in just being alive. That death will come on its own, whenever it wishes, and that I will not run from it. I’m not sure I will embrace it either. Maybe, if I have my way, and that’s never a given, I will simply acknowledge it without much fuss. If I have my way about it.

In the meantime is does depress me that we have elected a boorish pig as president. Makes me realize I really don’t belong here in this land of twitter and iphones. I walk outside and stand barefoot in the grass.










Last night I was listening to a Trump apologist explain that the context of Trump’s rant about shithole countries was immigration based on merit not race. The context was also chain migration, the allowing of family members of an established immigrant to come to the country. It’s okay for a man’s wife and children to come in, the speaker was saying, but why let his seventy year old father in. What can a seventy year old man contribute.

It is a soulless argument—without God. It is an argument from a dark pit in hell.

The poet could suggest the sanctity of life should come into play, but these people, the ones to whom he would address his argument, are already dead and have no understanding or appreciation of life. The phrase sanctity of life is only words to be used when convenient, when maneuvering for leverage. I know the rebuttal—sanctity of innocent life, the only innocent life being the unborn. 

I sip my coffee. Pause for a moment to give thanks for the farmer who tended the beans, for the person who picked them. Too often I take them for granted.  For the people who processed them, who transported them, who roasted them. For the people who made my grinder and coffee maker. All so I could sip my coffee hot and black, watch the morning through my window.

I am seventy-one. What do I contribute. The question could be easily asked. The sum of my production could be described as writing a few poems and these love letters. As far as the father of the immigrant—

In Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut has Kilgore Trout go into a men’s room to take a leak. When washing his hands, Trout notices “a message written in pencil on the tiles by the roller towel.

What is the purpose of life?

 Trout plundered his pockets for a pen or pencil. He had an answer to the question. But he had nothing to write with, not even a burnt match. So he left the question unanswered, but here is what he would have written, if he had found anything to write with:

To be
the eyes

and ears
and conscience
of the Creator of the Universe
you fool.”

 So here I am, a seventy-one year old man, seeing everything I can, hearing everything I can, and scribbling messages to God. It’s the best I can do.

In the end, there may very well be a God, the poet whispers in your ear.