Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I want to out-run the clock, look up from my book, see
there’s 10 minutes to throw on a pair of jeans and a sweater,
grab car keys from the dining room table and swing the laptop
over my shoulder. Hi-ho I keep on going.
This morning I had two cups of coffee, watched the news,
spoke with my boyfriend from six states away and finished reading
the newspaper. Time to tap dance on the kitchen tile,
unscrew energy efficient lightbulbs and note what kind of hybrid bird
flies out before I grab the laptop.
Inside the car like an otter beneath a hood of water watching
the sky pull itself into threads of orange taffy, my mind backstrokes
to Chicago and the punch press factory
where I met Johnnie with mahogany skin and straightened hair
and Eola from New Orleans who said:
Life's like powder on a powder puff, just ready to blow off,
when a lugging machine punched a hole through my finger
and the foreman delivered me to the hospital where I spent the evening
filling out worker's compensation forms and didn’t make my quota;
something about the thinness of the sky today,
how an airplane balances on a diagonal wire of exhaust,
or the way Chow Yun Fat did in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,
walking on tree tops, which is a good trick if you know how to do it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Charon Speaks to Psyche

I lived in shadow
along the edge of wet stairs,
watched stone lose out
to the incursion of lapping insistence,
a place where I gathered myself, a sensation
of cold and sometimes not so cold, even warm
as sun bullied its way through iron railings.

Which way? I heard myself ask,
no longer a barnacle stationed for eternity
at some breathing crack
I was never going to leave.

I grew up as the Gatekeeper,
the one who ferries shadows across the chasm,
back and forth I watched men and women,
lips drawn into a horizon as they dredged fear
from a bucket of cold blood, while I, 
who knew the water like the back of my hand,
sang a dirge and understood how some things can only be faced.

Never have I spoken until you bordered my craft,
etching rivulets with your finger across the saw-toothed waves,
consumed by a hope that  toys with us all and makes fools famous.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ode to Oaktown

I wired my sorrows into Klieg lights and let them shine all over Oakland,
city of Black Panthers and Hells Angels and General Strikes,
driving from the Bronx in a green Toyota Corolla searching.

Was it freedom, or a film I wanted to make something of myself,
took refuge in Oakland's Lake Merritt,  caught breadcrumbs and fish,
a wayfarer dressed in boots and dreams of Fifth Avenue Peace Parades

to a West Coast of two-story buildings and pastel houses
and summers where the sun did not bother to get up until noon.
Okay, I said to myself, you have to begin somewhere.  That was my beginning.

Oakland Raiders won the SuperBowl.
I sailed a stroller around Lake Merritt and through her Garden Center,
past houses with calla lillies that hugged grey gas meters

even though they were ugly. Oakland took off her clothes slowly
like a woman who wants to know she is loved. I followed her trail in Joaquin Miller
filled with monkey flowers and second growth redwoods,

nuggets of neighborhoods and librarians, the Oakland Museum
surrounded by a moat of golden koi where children entered into culture,
art, and people who hung on walls together.

Let me park my car one last time and walk to the Paramount,
remember old hotels and faded curtains stuck on brass rings,
where restaurants and condos have become the hope of a business community

that wishes for homicides to fade like fog,
a place I've come to know with gunshots and fireworks,
the way my history has been pressed into a new release.

City of Oakland
Lake Merritt

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The 99% in Crossett, Arkansas

When you're in the belly of the monster
You don't consider if your lipgloss is sticky
Or if your hair spray is crunchy
Or how Steve Jobs, if he found himself in the same situation,
Would've connected the dots.
Even when distraction and evil influence rule the day,
And the EPA is scheduled to show up at the ash pit where you eat your lunch,
And you know that the company the contractors you work for have fungled everything,
Financial titans who threaten to eat their own children,
Who have tempted the spawning multitudes with their own extinction, 
In the great red light of the world's afternoon, inside yourself
There's a quick change artist 
Who can do things accidentally on purpose,
You take a leak on the opposite side of the pond,
Hang your goggles from a side-view mirror,
Pray to gods of the Internet and magicians of High Hogwarts,
This better turn out good.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Blood Thinner

Owner of the house. Senile. A hospice nurse milks the catheter. Packs ice cubes into his stomach pours a cool one. He starts drinking a Blood Thinner With Water. In the meantime, tenants write out checks to Malthus. A realtor for short sales and foreclosures. Karrena is a single mom who collects rent for the house and has two kids. A fish tank bubbles in every room.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Just One More Thing: For Steve Jobs

The lawn was trampled to mud on a rainy day when the skies appropriately opened up and poured forth unseasonal rain throughout the Bay Area; people were taking pictures with their iPhones, speaking quietly, some crying, visually moved by the death of a brilliant innovator who meant so many things to so many.

I visited 1 Infinite Loop today to see the shrine gathering there for Steve Jobs, Flowers, candles, pumpkins with writing, pictures, boxes of iPads and iPhones, free organic apples that are in the cafeteria every day for employees to take from large galvanized buckets to place on trays along with their lunch or dinner.  The memorial included many Apples with a bite removed, all of us Eve in search of knowledge. 

I work at Apple as a long-term contractor in a group that earlier in the week was getting ready for the launch of the latest “black box” project. Vaguely, like many I assumed it was about introducing the iPhone 5 to the world. The media decried the substitution of a more powerful iPhone 4S for the really big announcement. Nice phone, but so what?

The next day I was notified by my group not to drive down to Cupertino from Oakland because the area was swarming with police officers and SWAT team members who were hunting Shareef Allman. Allman had gone on a rampage following a safety meeting at a local quarry, and had killed three people and wounded six, a single father whom all his neighbors and friends said hated violence and produced a local cable show about conflict resolution.

Fast forward to the afternoon when I received the email from the manager of our group, “This is a sad day for Apple…”

I fell back down on my couch. It was a moment in my life similar to the time when I saw scribbled on a blackboard, “President Kennedy has been shot.” While everyone knew that Steve was seriously ill and  had stepped down as CEO in August, the news hit me in the gut.

This is was a person of my generation, someone whom I as far as I could tell, had helped to shape the idealism and revolutionary spirit of the sixties with his own sense of purpose. I saw so many who had worked toward peace and justice in the civil rights and anti-war movement, sign on to a new cause that offered communication and a collective ethic as opposed to the stultifying hierarchy that had held this country in a top-down grip. This was “counter-culture.”

Jobs understood that creativity comes from people working together. He helped to foster that environment.

It took me years to be able to work at Apple.  Thank you, Steve.  For everything.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Grandmother's Tattoo 6

She listens to his notes dapple the cottonwoods
with sadness and laughter that reaches
toward outstretched leaves.

When Mew finally raises his face from the chin rest,
he signals with his bow toward her.

She must play her part and find Section P.

She says good-bye and walks, the same way he told her,
alongside a rock wall covered with moss.

Her gold hoop earrings play hide-and-seek in her dark hair.
She doesn’t want to get lost.

What if she meets her grandmother?
Will she be angry at Maggie for losing the tattoo?

The stone wall keep winding around.  Stone steps go down.
There is a woman whose skin is the color of moonlight.

In shopping aisles of the dead, she says,
waving her fingers at a swarm of fruit flies,
some of us get marked up and some of us get marked down.
We all get buried in the same store.
Now that’s what I call a bargain!



Her grandmother’s silver hair is stuck at the back of her neck with bees.

Life is a seasoning that tenderizes us,
breaks down our rough edges so we can bend. 
Come closer. Tell me how you’ve been.

Maggie traveled this far on her skateboard to get some place,
goes there now.

Maggie says her mom died several years ago.
Dad is gone for most of the time,
sits in a restaurant and drinks wine.
Worst of all, Maggie has lost grandma’s tattoo.

Does grandma fill up like a water balloon and burst?

Instead she explains how during the war,
she buried herself beneath a haystack and escaped,
tattooed numbers above her wrist.

Until the other day when a messenger boy
gave her the same tattoo. That’s when numbers joined each other like Siamese Twins and shared bloodlines.

Where each number began and the other stopped,
stuck together like teeth to candy.  

Grandma scooped something from the dirt,
fixed it above Maggie’s ankle.
No numbers in the red.

One world.

There on her ankle, a glowing orb.

No countries, boundaries.

My granddaughter, tell them.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Grandmother's Tattoo 5

Facing west, there are aisles through gravestones.
Everywhere, the same thing, cottonwoods blazing yellow. 

A peacock sweeps the ground with his tail.
Hi-ho, he says, and flutters his fanny.

Maggie thinks this is a 3-D animation
or maybe the Pasty Lump Lady with more tricks.
His reedy voice is like a clarinet's. 

Maggie misses her grandmother's tattoo,
the only remnant that remains of her family,
her one connection stolen by a boy
with eyes the color of melting honey.

Or does she miss the boy?

I'm lost, she explains,
gestures toward the broken skateboard,
and I’m on foot.

The peacock extracts a long feather from his tail.

My gift to a girl,
guaranteed to get you wherever you need to go.

He swishes his feathers and disappears into the yellow cottonwoods.

Maggie waves the feather and hopes for magic.
Nothing doing.

She wants to return to a delta of square one,
to pop-up from the middle like a seed from a plum.

But the Pasty Lump Lady has stolen her hunger.

Even so, there’s more to Maggie than pancakes.

At the intersection of Sections I and M,
vines cling to trees like long lost relatives.

In another part of the graveyard,
the sun burns a hole in an apron and busts out.

Maggie draws warmth around her like a cashmere sweater.
She accidentally drops the skateboard to the ground. A chase.

In Section C, she finds the skateboard.
There’s a boy playing a fiddle, his face as white as a ruffled shirt.
The fingerboard has a ketchup label,
the fiddle, Norwegian Codfish.

He says his name is Bartholomew, Mew for short,
sees the feather,
and tells her he used to play softball with the peacock.
And you?

Maggie of the Misfit Foot. She tells him everything.
He not so much.

I rescue music from garbage heaps. That’s all,
and begins to walk away.

She wants him to stay, offers the skateboard as a sacrifice.
And like a man about to buy a new car, he considers--

Solid wood. Gold rims. No financing. Sweet.

He plays the fiddle until his music fills the grove with sunlight.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Grandmother's Tattoo 4

Chewing on words like camp, railroad, gold teeth.

Little snot go wipe your nose
or Mr. Potato Head will plant a carrot between your toes.

She wakes up to a day that is half night,
morning throws off a purple bathrobe.

Birch trees point trunks
like arthritic fingers in different directions.

Hungry. She combs her hair with two fingers,
jumps on the skateboard to hunt for breakfast.

Mountains breathe an ancient cold in her face,
which makes her think of pancakes,

yeasty bubbles erupting from a warm skillet
with the sweet smell of maple syrup.

She steers down an aisle hoping to find a food court,
bends her knees and waves her hands, a thrasher,

leans toward a clearing with white tents
surrounded by grave markers and live peacocks.

Her gold wheels screech to a halt. A woman
whose flesh is attached to her arms in pasty lumps
steps out to meet her.

Maggie throws caution through a window, and breaks silence.
She asks for food.

So. Hungry Girl got money?

Maggie is only a poor girl without an allowance
who happens to be hungry.
And why is hunger, she asks herself, 
not its own winning argument?

She knows the only thing her fingers will find is lint.
She digs inside her pocket anyway.
Her hand strikes an empty seam bed.

Not so fast, says the Pasty Lump Lady.
Not so Lackawanna Railroad.

She says if Maggie dislocates a wheel from its axle
and gives it to the Pasty Lump Lady, breakfast will be served.

Pasty Lump Lady steals Maggie’s hunger.
She feeds her pancakes, eggs, syrup, until it is time to fold up shop,
uses the glint from the gold wheel 
to wrap sunlight inside her apron.

It was daylight just a few moments ago.
Maggie's mind is a basket filled with broken stuff.

She stuffs the skateboard under her arm.
Time to pack up what she jumped off.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Grandmother's Tattoo 3

Yoo-hoo! Girlie!
What's the big rush like you've got a date or something?

There's no one here to give you the right time of day,
and in case you're wondering,

I'm the voice of the graveyard,
alive, but not in your 1-2-3. Capice?

So much for introductions.
So much for this and that.

Let's get real and nail the coffin.
You're Maggie of the misfit foot.

Here's what to do:

Under the lidless eyeball of the sun,
keep riding until you find Section P. 

When you hear a kid
playing music from a garbage pile,

take his hand and he'll help you find your Granny.

That was it? Really?
To trust a voice echoing through leaves?

Somewhere a railroad car screeched to a halt.
Or maybe it was a dog barking.

Soft smell of cypress.
Maggie rolled the skateboard beneath her head.

A handbook of dreams wheeled her away:
      Snowberries attract birds and require little water.

At an airport security check:
      Everyone must remove all belts and empty pockets.

A host asked during a game show:
      What do most people want to see when they die?

There is a light above her head.
She never asked to be here,

alone as the tongue in her mouth.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Grandmother's Tattoo 2

Would she rather be at the shopping mall checking out clearance racks
than sailing on this red shoe of a skateboard moving her closer to the abyss,
not that Maggie knew what the abyss looked like.

Maybe a new department store where designer clothes 
were scattered higgledy-piggledy on tablesnot even hangers.
The Abyss. 

Forget shopping. Right now in this moment,
the first order of business, 
to rescue her grandmother's tattoo
from the hands, calves, or chest of that buffoon

who had absolutely swept her off her feet,
only to abandon Maggie to an off-duty traffic cop
who hoarded skateboards.

Now she was inside her own video game,
her hands clammy with a thin coat of luck.

On her left, 
she saw a mountain as sharp as a swear word,

and sailed her carpet to its widow's peak,
looked down once again, saw the tabula rasa 

where in former times, her grandmother's tattoo
had encircled her ankle. Now robbed, bare, uncertain,

Maggie felt she was the last live link in a line of women, 
who had arrived here.

And where was here?

She heard an old woman's voice,
Your eyes are open like a cow on the hillside.

All she could see was a slope 
covered in a tureen of red autumnal leaves

marked by several hundred monuments
pimpled with rocks.