Runoff, or, Here There Be Tigers

My desire,
running the length
of corridors, unwitnessed,
untouched, smoldering
in resident ancient bake–
Here there be tigers,
clawing at the sun’s
scorching midriff,
gutting the fame
from light,
until there is
no longer
any difference
between molten blood
and golden dust,
here there be angels,
and interlocked
in God’s double image
of cherish,
engendered by words
running wildly off.


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It was
the length of her longing,
the startling pinkness
and volume of
its expenditure,
that lent the moon
its covetous curves
and fringes,
to be uncovered.


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Dive Bar

To have and to hold
and to let go,
breathing lessons
for skin divers
in mortal dread
of sea changes.
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Dreamlife for the Living

It is really
just one long dream
in thorny intervals
by fictions that we mistake
for realities,
the single white feather
floating like a tangible
sliver of breath
on the river’s cyclical surface
tells you all you need to know,
not an arrogant, fact-totem
brand of knowing,
but the soul’s
unflagging gospel
and history,
crafted in a warm whisper
stretched across Time’s
enigmatic, half-smiling
initiating amen
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Moondrip down her thighs–
No haikus can cover this
mystical turn-on.
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Such Sweet: A Savage’s Manual

To break the company
of skin,
with new
the animal
and the moon
drip hot evenly
in parting unison.
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There is need
beyond words
for which my tongue,
to the
and bib
of cherry
exact placement
of her body
as an open-flowered
of scent
and rapture,
a fragrant tumble,
ribbed silence
and screams,
the liminal, brute
language of


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Stones, Passing

At the carnival
I was most intrigued
by the stone-swallower.
A waifish bronze-skinned
lady with dark hair,
plaited, and slender
I was rapt,
watching the way
she carefully arranged
the stones to form
a sort of pyramid
at her bare feet.
It was a dry
hot day, the crowd
around her
was not large.
Her act
did not provide
the shock
or over-the-top
that some of the
others did.
The crowds
the fire-twirler,
and snake-charmer,
were much larger
and louder.
I preferred the quiet
solemn dignity with which this woman
conducted her ritual.
She held up a
slate-gray stone,
the size of a small fist,
and slowly rotated it
like the magician telling us,
nothing up my sleeve,
and placed it in
her mouth.
She tilted her head
back and you could see
the stone
setting her throat
in relief
as she swallowed.

I thought of a snake
swallowing a rodent.

She repeated this
sixteen times,
sixteen stones swallowed,
and when she was done,
her pyramid of stones
disappeared, she
kneeled down
in the dirt
and kissed the ground
three times.
When she raised
her head
I saw that
her cheeks
were faintly clouded
with dust,
and light as it was,
I could tell
she was crying
because the wet
cut a clear trail
through the dust
on her cheeks.
She nodded, to us,
the audience, and left,
disappearing behind
the flap-doors of a
faded yellow tent
about fifty yards away.

The crowd around me
and I had a sense
that many of them
felt let down by what
they had witnessed.
The fire-twirler,
the sword-swallower,
the snake-charmer,
maybe one of those
would do the trick
for them.

I went to the spot
where the stone-swallower
had been, and kneeling down
saw the vague imprint
of lips
where she had kissed
the dirt.
I thought about
kissing the lips
she had left behind,
but didn’t.
I stared at
the dirt
for a while,
then had my trance
when I
heard roaring
and applause
in the distance.
I looked up
and saw the fire-twirler
triumphantly holding
about a half-dozen
torches, his face both
animated and blurred
behind a screen
of heat and

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This is the text which inspired the story I performed in a Story Slam a couple of years back. The theme was “Risk.” Here’s a video clip of the presentation (sorry, it’s sideways, but then again, so am I).
One more time, John, I catch ya one more time and I’m gonna break your hands.
I went to my room and imagined my hands being broken by my father, and what that would mean. My hands were my second sight, my access to projections, and if I couldn’t use them I couldn’t escape.
Escape, when I was a kid, was necessary. My house was often a combat zone, fueled by drugs, booze and gambling. The epic battles between my mother and father could lay any nervous system to waste, and I usually escaped through books, but then I discovered playing with my hands. Which looked something like this:
(demonstration of handplaying)
I can’t really see anything anymore, but back then the images and voices were so vivid, and I’d go into a happy trance hanging out with cartoon characters like Scooby Doo, Shaggy, Barney Rubble, Droopy Dog.
Walking around the house, hands flailing, voices flying, completely unreachable, my parents thought there was something wrong with me, or that, god forbid, I was a retard. Back in the day, retard was a common putdown in my neighborhood.
You’re eating soup on hot summer day? What are you a retard?
You still take baths? What are you retarded?
You play with your hands? You. Must. Be. A. Retard.
At first my mother and father hoped it was a phase, that I would grow out of. When it continued, they feared that their son might indeed be brain-damaged, after all my mother had gotten into a car accident and fallen off a horse while pregnant with me (though not at the same time). And so began the scare tactics to normalize me. Shame-based stuff like straight up aggression: One more time, John, I catch you one more time
Yet the threat I most feared: Dr. Caldwell. The monster my parents conjured, Jaws to my swimming, or Boogeyman to my insomnia. Dr. Caldwell allegedly ran an institution for special kids, for the mentally defective. And if I didn’t stop playing with my hands they’d be forced to send me away to live there, on Caldwell’s Island of Misfit Toys. (Which, ironically, is where I wound up living by choice when I moved to Taos).
I tried to play with my hands in secret, on the down-low, but always got caught, and the scene would repeat itself: Ohp, that’s it, we’re calling Dr. Caldwell, the phone picked up, numbers dialed, me screaming and pleading to never do it again, and so it went. no matter what, though, I couldn’t stop because my Imagination felt so much more like my real home than my actual home did, and my hands were how I got there.
One special episode comes to mind, when I was able to take my younger sister with me. It was Christmas Day, and there had been a blowout coke-party the night before, and my parents were dead to the world. My sister and I were waiting by the tree to open our presents, and it kept getting later and later, until we were on the other side of noon. To occupy my sister, I told her I would take us both to Oz, and began playing with my hands. Even though I’m pretty sure she didn’t see what I saw, she could feel it, she loved the sound effects, and the whorlygig of my hands. We escaped into Oz, together, for a little while, and it felt good to bring someone else into my imagination, especially someone who didn’t look at me as a future psychotic.
In a sense, playing with my hands morphed into writing and storytelling. There’s a great Quentin Tarantino quote: I’m making movies for me, and everyone else is invited. I love this idea of an open invitation for a shared experience. And I have to say that my parents now have a different perspective on “hand-play.” They understand that it was part of a creative process, that it was a child’s necessary means of survival. My father now sends me posts that celebrate and affirm the weird and freaky people of the world, and has told me that he looks up to me for doing things my own way. I think the Dr. Caldwells of the world, real or imaginary, are the demons and fears that we face in doing what we love, what is necessary for us as individuals, and that it’s a risk worth living for.



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The Monk That Got Down

Today was strange.
The sweet, quiet, solemn, solitary
who lives in the cork-lined antechamber
inside me
was dancing.
This is not something I have ever seen him do.
I went to visit him,
expecting the usual: him
hunched over his mahogany desk,
pen in hand, eyes narrowed
hawklike tracking the words that
bled black onto his parchment,
but this time I was shocked
when I entered to what could
only be described as monk-funk,
a check-a-chow-check-a-chow-wow-wow
blaxploitation guitar riff, backed by a sledgehammer
bass drum husbanded to cavetemple chants,
and there was my monk, engaged in self-contained
spells of spastic bop, which soon flowered in range
and elasticity, his arms freewheeling Baptist-revival-style,
his sandaled feet doing the hot coal jitterbug,
and if all that wasn’t strange enough,
my monk was wearing a purple three-piece suit,
the kind that stylistically crossed Prince with Dean Martin.
I was astonished.
This was unprecedented.
My monk
had lived inside
the cork-lined antechamber
inside me
since forever,
and not once
had I seen him
wear anything but his brown robes,
nor had I ever seen him
bust a move of any sort.
He was not a move-busting monk,
he was a still and solitary one
who split most of his time
between scribbling on parchment
or meditatively pacing
around the room
staring at
or into
the cork-lined walls
or at
or into
the bare floor,
but really those
were just impressionistic
reference points
for his staring
and dwelling deeper within
Once when I asked him
if he got lonely,
after all I was his only visitor,
and my visits were few and far between,
he smiled and said—Happylonely
and his crescent smile,
so sweet, so gentle,
made me want to cry.
My monk,
the happylonely, quiet, sweet, solitary
who, at this very moment, is standing on a chair,
rhythmically pangliding his index
right to left, his other hand slapping
thunder against his thigh as he shimmypops
from knees to chest.
I close the door
and leave my monk
to his impromptu getdown.
Dance motherfucker dance,
I hear him shout
to no one in particular.
I have never heard my monk curse,
nor speak three words in succession.
His radical behavior concerns me.
And excites my sense of wonder.
Does this mean
that the others
living inside me,
the ones whose behaviors and patterns
were regulated and predictable,
their methods of operation
habituated and specific,
does this mean
that they might start
transgressing expectations
and defying conventions
and acting differently?
In what ways
would they act different?
And what will that mean
for me
as their singular, host entity?
I return to the door
of the antechamber
peer through the peephole
and see my monk
dancing freely
and wildly
amidst the parchment
that is now whirling
confetti-like around the room,
and I begin to understand
the true nature of revolution
just a tiny bit more
as I walk away from the door,
happy to know
there’s a dancing monk
who lives inside me.
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