The Steps


I think I’d like to dance with you,
but I never learned the steps.
I can feel the rhythm.
I know how to flail and twist.
But I’ve never been shown where the elbows go
or how to use my soles
to count to seven then step,
back, two, three, four…

It’s hard to see what’s right in front of you
when you’re clinging to a melody
not sure of what comes next.

Everything’s so precarious.
One slip and you’re tumbling through space and time to the dance floor far below.

But you seem to know where you’re going and I think I’d like to go there too. And I could, I believe, with my elbows raised,and my toes pointed, and my eyes wide open and watching as you slowly show me the steps.

26th and Main

I found happiness hidden inside a discarded box I pulled out of a trash can on the corner of 26th and Main.

Someone must have tossed it there with a casual flick of the wrist as they made their way to the train station.

Happiness wasn’t at all what I’d expected. It was mottled, scratched, and dented; fashioned out of bits of wood, old watch parts, and scraps of aluminum and tin; and the whole thing was held together with electrical tape and string.

I had no idea how to use it, and I almost threw it back in again, but then how many times had I already done that, I asked.

I’ve been carrying it in my pocket and a few times every day I take it out and look at it. No instruction manual. No touch screen. No money back guarantee. Just a small engraving on the bottom written in block letters as if labeled by a child.

“Look around,” it says. Sometimes that’s precisely what I do.

What She Did Was


What she did was is she would look around and make sure no one was watching, then she’d take off running. At full speed she’d pump everything, her knees and elbows, her hands loose like mittens on a string threaded through coat sleeves she never bothered to slip over her fingers. It was all flop, flail, fly.

She made pebbles and birds fly, too. She made the sun chase after her and search for her beneath the tree leaves.

One day she attacked a hill head on, and, in her heart, she won.

So what she did then was she danced right there on the peak. She twirled her arms and hopped on one foot and then the other. On that day at that moment, if anyone was watching, she just didn’t care, so what she did was she called out to all the birds and told them to come on back. And hurry.

Farm Boy Goes to Hollywood


My father let me drive the truck. It was orange and white and rusted, and the son of a bitch was big, which is how I felt behind the wheel half the time. The other half I felt small.

The cattle fields were rough and the thing bounced so hard across the hoof prints I thought my head was going to  pop through the roof.

When my dad wasn’t looking, I’d stop following directions and floor it through the turns. I wasn’t old enough to take it to the gravel or the blacktop, but there, in the cattle field, anything went. You could be a man; you could go for broke.

The cattle were afraid. I, on the other hand, was a stunt man or maybe even the star of the show, a thirteen year old Burt Reynolds on the verge of turning twenty or thirty or whatever age he was, and a hundred angry smokeys were perpetually in hot pursuit.

Lament of an Unknown Poet


My words will never know the feel of a hesitant dissection
or the ink from the trembling pen of a first-year English major
who is asking herself how she wound up in a place so very strange
and far away from home.

They will never know the thrill of being scanned and combed
and underscored
by her damp green eyes 
as she thinks about the friends she left behind,
the boy whose heart she broke,
or the Irish Setter who is probably lying by the sofa,
whimpering and wondering when
she’s going to return and toss the rubber ball again.

They will never be her reading assignment,
the academic equivalent
of an arranged marriage,
one in which she might learn to love my work
despite her initial preferences for Chaucer.

They won’t even have the chance
for an accidental meeting
on the third floor of the library
as she’s making her way
through an anthology for a paper due
on Wednesday by 10 AM.

Her thumb will never brush carelessly against them
as she turns the page and lifts,
sending every stanza floating
for a moment
in an arc
before they softly land
on a chewing gum wrapper
she’s been using as a bookmark.

No, the beautiful girl from Kentucky
will never even know my words exist.
They’ll live out their lives in chests of drawers and envelopes,
in shoe boxes on closet shelves,
and occasionally in a frame
hung in a hallway
among some photos of the dogs or grandchildren,
and the women who hold them
will be relatives and friends
and perhaps an old lover or two
who may not even appreciate them
but care an awful lot for me.

Flicker and Flash


One year, I spent the summer writing love notes to an invisible woman,
jotting them down on sticky squares of paper,
writing them at different times and posting them
in different places, uncertain about the habits
of a person you can never quite see.

I looked for signs but never found confirmation,
was never quite sure if she’d read them
or even noticed them, but hoped a great deal,
wondering if my words had power, wondering if
they could make the invisible visible again.

I imagined her fading in as she read the first,
fading out as she moved to the next,
and running, desperate to read them all,
from one note to another, faster and faster,
until she flickered quick and bright.

Always out of sight, she faded even further
and my thoughts moved on to other things,
but I know one flash of ghostly light
would’ve sent me carpeting the floors and
papering the walls with the silly, little, yellow things.

The Lousy Service at the Idea Cafe

imageWouldn’t it be great if your ideas arrived fully cooked and ready to consume?

You could dig in, enjoy them, then sit back and wait for the next delivery. And I’m sure you’d appreciate it if they could at least show up in a timely fashion.

But, you probably know this already: the service at the Idea Cafe is lousy.

Here’s how it usually goes.
You try to make a reservation and the surly voice on the other end of the line snickers and says, “You can come by anytime you like, but you’ll need to bring your own chair.”

So you squeeze some time into your busy day, bring your chair, and speak to the host who couldn’t seem less interested.

“Um, where should I sit?” you ask.

“Anywhere ya like.” she says while chomping her gum, smoking a cigarette, and texting her boyfriend.

You stare. She drops the cellphone and gives you a look. “Just park your ass, honey.” she says.

“How long will I need to wait?” you ask.

“As long as it takes, sugar.” she says.

You take a deep breath, find a spot, and do as you’re told.

Then you wait.

Time passes. You can hear the ticking clock and you wonder who you have to know to get a muse around here.

Finally, someone talks to you, some guy in cutoffs and a wife beater t-shirt.

“Someone says you want ideas.” he mutters.

“Uh, yeah. That’s why I’m here.” you say.

“Well, it ain’t that easy, pal.” he says, “You have to do something.”

“Do something?”

“Yeah, do something. You think we just give these things away?”

He has a point, you concede. “What would you like me to do?” you ask.

“I dunno,” he says, “Whatever it is you do. What are you? A writer? A painter? One of those business people? Anyway, doesn’t matter. Whatever it is you do, you have to start doing it.
That’s the way we work. Don’t like it? Go watch TV.”

“No, no.” you say, “I’ll do it. Just bring me some ideas. I’m hungry.”

“You and everybody else, pal.” he says and walks off.

Once again, you do what your told and start doing your thing. Eventually, an idea arrives.

It’s not what you ordered. It’s cold. It’s tiny, undercooked, and half or more of the ingredients are missing.

You flag down Mr. Cutoffs and say, “Excuse me, this isn’t what I ordered.”

“Yeah, but it’s what you’re getting. The rest, my friend,” he says, flashing a toothless grin, “is up to you.”

So you do what you can. You move it around on your plate. You look at it and think of ways it could be improved, what could be added to it, and what you can make of it. And when it’s time to leave, you wrap it up (You don’t bother to ask them to do it.) and take it with you.

Later, you unwrap it, throw it in a crockpot, and leave it to simmer and stew. You pick up some ingredients here and there and toss them in. You take a peek and a whiff and a taste every now and then. You stir things around and start to notice how much better it’s becoming.

And one day, you think to yourself, “This stuff is ready to serve.”

You dish it out and scoop it up with a spoon and you have to admit it’s pretty darn good. You share it with others and they like it too.
“Where did you get it?” they ask.

“Oh, I got it at the Idea Cafe.” you tell them.

“Oh, do they take reservations?” they ask.

“Not really.” you say, “Besides, You can always get in. You’ll just have to bring your own chair.”

Saturday Morning


She is two years old and seething with anger and desire. Her arms stretch like chubby rubber bands being pulled upward and almost snapped by an invisible force she has no time to question.

Her eyes pour out raging waters. “Cacka,” she screams. “Cacka!”

High atop the flat peak of a rugged mountain lies the object she cannot live without. She slams her fists against its base and lets the curses fly.


When she sees me, she takes a quick, deep breath. Her head droops and her shoulders sag. “Cacka,” she whispers.

She watches as I scale the porcelain, wood, and stainless steel terrain to obtain everything that has ever eluded her.

“My god,” her eyes say, “he’s a giant.”

“Crackers,” I say as I hand her the sacred sleeve. “Eat those at the table.”

Forest Crashing


I’m sitting on a black rock, seeking knowledge from a wise looking chipmunk, but before I can learn anything useful, the damn thing takes off and darts beneath the bones of a fallen and forgotten tree. That’s how all these creatures are: skittish and untrusting. The birds scatter in all directions every time I approach. The squirrels act like I mean to do them harm and climb up fast to the high limbs like bottle rockets with legs.

They never go very far. Just enough to let me know I’m not one of them. I guess I’m getting used to it, but sometimes I say, “Come on, guys. I’m out here every day.” They just twitter and chirp and all that other woodland stuff. I think I hear them laughing.

The ticks and mosquitos, on the other hand, they all love me. They buzz around my head and try to hitch rides home on my ankles. Meanwhile, I can still hear the birds flapping just a few yards away.

Sometime I imagine that the flap, flap, flap of my tennis shoes on the trail is the sound my wings would make if I had myself a pair. That’d be something. Really something. Those little snobs would treat me different then, I bet.

But right now, I’m too big and slow and loud, I guess. It’s just me and the ticks and mosquitos trying to eavesdrop on conversations taking place just a few safe feet away from us.

You Have My Permission

You have my permission
to draw pictures.
You have my permission
to hang them on the wall.
You have my permission
to look stupid,
feel foolish,
and allow yourself to wobble
like a child learning to walk.
You have my permission
to tell the truth on a sheet of white paper.
You have my permission
to burn it when you’re done.
You have my permission
to start something, forget about it,
and remember it again when
you’re half way through a novel
you’ve been meaning to read for years.
You have my permission
to offer things for sale,
even if no one buys them
and the critics form a mob
and gather on your lawn
with torches and bullhorns
and scathing reviews
that your mother will clip out
and send to you
along with a recipe
for chicken tetrazzini.
You have my permission to offer those things even if you can’t meet the demand.
You have my permission
to curse the gods,
or thank them,
or ignore them,
even the ones you don’t believe in.
You have my permission
to write a rambling poem,
much like this one,
and turn the thing in, unedited,
as part of a homework assignment
for which the teacher will give you a failing grade.
You have my permission
to give that teacher the finger.
You have my permission
to ask me
who the hell I think I am
and why on earth
you would ever need my permission
for anything you wish to do.