Category Archives: The Man with His Back to the Room

If The River Rises

If the river rises we’ll build your mother a temple where she can make dolls that glow in the dark / whittle teeth from oak & fingers from Mahogany.

When the rains come again we’ll be halfway home & weep with the kids who run red in their own blood…for stallions left to rot in fouled stalls.

After the first snow I’ll uncoil a length of rope & hang the first man who comes to our house & opens his case & tries to sell the remnants of stars.

When you move to another city I’ll bury the dog, crawl under the house & dig for our first song & with a thin heart I’ll leave too…

stop on the canyons rim & let loose the doves.


Astoria, Oregon – November 29, 2002

On the ride north we reminisce about family ties & kids on trial & growing up estranged & how discovery can set us free &

where three rivers converge there’s the constant & submissive sea to welcome & absorb the sludge & sap of continents &

where the monument to Lewis & Clark celebrates challenge & risk we’re encouraged to contemplate transcendence & what it takes

to map mountains & lakes from the bow of a birchbark canoe & how the yowl of a hungry Grisly pawing the air in spring might churn the blood &

how some men assume futility but insist on going on & when the time is right accept the Salmon’s challenge & swim upstream to spawn & die.

The Woman In The Window

wears white & weeps blue tears down her thin cheeks & in her silver hair she’s a nest of chickadees &

around her neck from a silver chain a miniature black cage
where a white cricket lives &

in her heart there’s a hole that has never been filled & in her mouth words she will not speak but

chews them day by day until they are the color of white paste & will be her meal for that night.

The woman in the window cannot find her way in the dark & depends on the moon & the shadows it casts

to make a path for her to come & go & in the day she is motionless in her chair of asphodel & weeds &

looks to the horizon like a pilgrim anticipating a ship or a queen her lost love & when I see her, as I often do,

I wave & she smiles that rare smile & I see her teeth are true & her eyes turn bright as the darkest stars.

Dance I ­ Tango in 4 Parts

Fold back the sheet & find her naked / in Tango / with a man in a white suit & wide-brimmed white hat & a cigarette dangles from his thin lips & she seems startled as he slips his hand lower on her back . . . & see the orchestra is led by a bearded man with bare breasts or is it a woman with a beard (who can tell from here) & as he manipulates her closer to the open door we glimpse his driver below who waits with the wide black car. Close the sheet now & see them dance over the garden wall & down the dark path where the driver has brought the car & see him lift her & twirl her over his back & see her laugh & wrap her legs around his head & watch now / the tango master cracks the whip & has them strut like bears stuttering in the moonlight ­ like squirrels racing their tails ­ like orphaned acrobats tearing out their arms & beating back the air.

You, Who’ve Come To The Gate,

will notice his skin which their fires have charred & you will see his nose
is not…but a plastic snout & wires & his ears no longer & no texture but a yellow waxen shine &

you will notice her stumps where there once were hands which could sew & stir the pot & stroke a young boy’s face & you may note her silence but will never ask, “What have they done with her tongue.”

After: Kosovo 1999


She always relished the first big reds of May. Would rub them over her bread as they did in Gerona when she was a girl &

garlic & oil & salads in winter with green & tart & a Sofrito she slathered on spinach to make it sweet &

crawling on hand & knee in her grandfather’s garden to find the ripest under the vines & peeling them &

scooping out seeds & building her first pasta con tomate y pesto for Niko her Italian &

well chilled Gaspacho for Gabrielle her Spaniard & fried for her mother who calmed their heat with a cool alioli & the ripest

she’d squeeze to a bota & pack her case & ride with you to a cool spring where you’d swim with her under the willows & lie down with her

in the cool grass & tear the bread & spread the ripened cheese & fill your mouth with juice – its ages – green & white & pink & red.


‘Plant trees for your children & the fruit will come for theirs…’

A young herder plays his flute & his leader her jangling bell & in the olive groves the trees are full & soon, before the ripest begin to fall, the women will come & spread the cloths & the young men will climb out where they can & shake the tree & loose the rest & rush to the press & that night the pungent oil . . .

Greens & black & gray & pink & purple & cracked & whole & pitted & stuffed &

cured with onions & garlic & peppers hot & peppers sweet & thyme & tarragon & dill &

sampled with breads from Barcelona & cheeses from Pamplona & a cool glass of Fino from Jerez &

the oil you’ll drizzle on ripe tomatoes & onions & anchovies & toasted baguettes & this you’ll serve in the shade

of a misty August afternoon as the families gather & the kids race to soccer & the women shuffle & riffle the cards &

grandfathers stare like pilots into the distance for that perfect place to land…

To This Country

of swollen rivers & lives dismissed like deformed dogs, I’ve come to drink your tears, to intrude on your raptured fog. There’s

a butcher, red vest open to the sun, knife in one hand, a basket of bull’s balls in the other. I order mine with mustard &

there’s Audrey with her yellow teeth & skin like putty who offers to wipe my slate clean & pours a cup of Darjeeling & whispers your name

as if it could bring you back whole: Josie…shush…Josie…& there’s a gunner in green fatigues nursing a baby &

a naked dancer spread-eagled on the kitchen table pulsing open & close the lips of her vagina & Henry the florist holding

a wreath of carnations & iris & lilies & a banner which reads: Smoke One For Her Sake…

In this country there are men dusting off their eyes for one last look & drinking urine & cursing the dark &

runners who turn downhill to avoid rain & a conductor tempting fate & stirring a restless pot of gunpowder & beans &

masked men who open their faces at midnight & women in the upstairs rooms who fiddle & sing & rub glass in their wounds.

Some Memories of Paris

The Giant Figures of Ousmane Sow: Pont Des Arts – 1999

A light wind riffles the surface of the Seine just below this reincarnation of the battle of Little Bighorn: a bend in another river where determined men slaughtered each other one June afternoon in 1876 . . . 200 of Custer’s cavalry & uncounted Cheyenne & Sioux each with a weapon to deploy & each a life to surrender.


You have come to kill me . . . here . . . on my own land & I hate you for that & the hair & skin which I cut from your head is justly mine to show of you for what you are now.


This warrior has come with the rest to face his death & where he falls he arches up in one last rebellious surge of form . . . back bent like a bow & heart . . . like an arrow & eyes . . . to the sky.


Two Moon’s rides high on his horse’s back & leaps up & . . . up & up & over the bodies of the dead & dying horses & men & into an onslaught of fire & blood . . .


When Cheyenne go to war they wear a hat they shape from the skin & hair of a Buffalo cow & four arrows: two to do battle & two to hunt game in the spirit life.


I am Gall, tactician & master of strategy & war & younger brother to Sitting Bull . . .& I am the Sun & the Bear & the Buffalo & I am here to salvage what is left.


Hearing her story jars memory back to those jagged nights waiting for the driver to run his game pacing half-pumped half-charged a delirious dance of lines & spoons heart-throbbing vein-popping rituals gone bad.

In my dream she disappears upstairs with him while I’m driving in the rain his two dogs panting after the car. I see them in the window he’s laughing his tongue in her ear her hand down his pants.

In the next frame, beside an eclipsed moon, a troupe of Rumanian dancers skim the razor tumbling through hoops-on-fire, smoke & shattered glass, balancing ballet with terror.

There are dogs barking & orange blossoms. Only after the unmistakable screech of rubber churning on asphalt brings me back can I be sure I’m alone. Chasing shadows down alleys will toughen my resolve.

Will anyone repair the lights? Whose mistake was it anyway? Will you be sure to write? I’ve only $40.00 left & a sink full of dirty silver. Can’t you see the walls are closing in? Watch out! We’re not alone…are we?

In the penultimate frame, a magician in a black greatcoat wills a snake to slither from the mouth of his young assistant. She has green eyes & flicks her spirited tongue in my direction.

The light is still lit & I can see her. She’s on top now & sucking his cock while he deftly peels a pear letting its amber skin fall in tight coils on her bobbing hair.

A queen bee settles in the palm of my hand driving her spike to muscle. Will dinner be late? Who’s left to take stock? Will there be enough time to say good-bye?

In the last frame, a tanker steals from the dock & is soon out of sight. If I listen closely, I can still hear the faint beat of cormorants & gulls trailing in the fog.