Category Archives: The Man with His Back to the Room


1] The Souks: day

The boy with fire in his eye & the quick hands of a thief shuttles us beyond the chickens & lame donkeys to see how wood is seduced
from a block to a box & lacquered & inlaid with silver & stone &

copper is twisted & bent & scored & etched & polished &

the tattooed hands of women & roasted dates which hum against the gums & snakes which bite & monkeys & Iguanas which do not…&

mint tea & honey cakes & a single carpet sixty feet across &

deep in the interior on a darkened street we’re led to the peddler of bones who dances his fingers across a board shuttling skulls & knuckles & toes down the alleys of my life which throb & narrow & glow…

2] The Souks: night

Men. & the aroma of roasting meat & fish fried crisp & boiling pots of broth & cous-cous piled high with diced tomatoes & roasted eggplant & chicken & almonds & onions &

Men. Eager & jostling & eyeing the foreign women who’ve come to see & the air thickens & the air stiffens &

a dozen lanterns create pockets of light where young boys box for money & musicians & singers & some stop for a meal & some for a sweet & the menu is the same & the menu is different &

Men…call you to ‘Come’ & ‘Sit’ & ‘Taste’ & chanting & drumming & you may be tossed from your place & whirled around or running

the dark streets where cars & carts converge & you cannot breathe & cannot remove your mask but dance to the drum with your caftan stained & beard askew & a thin chain that glistens on your neck &… Men…

In Pursuit (of grief)

In Pursuit (of grief)
[after reading Joe Stroud’s poem “Provenance”]

“My father had little use for poems, less use
for the future. If he had anything
to show me by his life, it was to live
– Provenance


My father died alone, shot so full of morphine he couldn’t care his wife had left his options to the docs & I, home on holiday, went to work dismantling a life file case by dresser drawer until all that remained was the gavel from his lodge & his ashes which I declined to scatter…

& when the crematorium called & inquired, ‘What’s to be done with the box?’ I asked it be dropped at sea, you know, tossed from a plane or however it’s done & when they seemed perturbed I’d not take charge I lied a bit & said, “It’s what he’d expect.”


Today, when I pass a neatly ordered field of corn or beans or tomatoes, there’s usually a man behind a plow or hoe or walking down the rows & stooping to pick something, put it to his mouth & taste its flesh to know how it’s going & how it’s going to be in the end when he’ll finish what he started.

At War [An Investigation]

At War [An Investigation]

In times of peace the sons will bury their fathers.
In times of war fathers bury their sons.


A young boy has rummaged for scraps of wood & nailed them
to approximate the shape of an AK 47 automatic rifle.

His (soon-to-be army issue) web-belt,
a single string he’s slung across his back,

will have to do (as the love song says)
until the real thing comes along.


There’s a farmer wandering the roads of Rwanda with four bent scythes
stretched across his back:

Death in an old disguise?

Maybe just another scavenger plying his trade?


Cahoots & chortling recruits parade / a pole / they’ve strung with the
heads, hearts & testicles of the fallen.

As the maimed try to rise they flail & collide & it’s then the Minotaur comes,
sniffs the air & finding blood, feasts on the remains:

no bodies left to rot, no bones to store. No relics to hang on your slim


The photographers that survive are always suspect:

“Where were you when he was shot?” “Where were you when the
tanks rolled in?”
“Where were you when she was shattered by the mines?”
“ Where . . .?”

“Where – Indeed.”

Here.     In the trench. In the trench we’ve scooped from sand & broken

where we’ve been trapped in a rain of blood & shredded skin & once a leg &
even arms & when we can,

we run with the stench & the stuff that clings & my film & . . .


If not me than who?

Who will bury this desiccated corpse / already a meal for the buzzards that
hover here?

The joke that passes says, “If you steal from these well-meaning janitors
you will be the first to be swept up in your next life.”

I’m inclined to pass & walk away . . . & yet,
why not these birds?               I mean . . .



                              In the end / there is always / memory

The red color of the flag that hangs on death’s wagon or drapes the box
where Jamie sleeps

is the last your country-men & women will ever know of the blood that was
spilled here.

History is packed with irony & contradiction.   Don’t expect sustenance.
Rather, a snack to oblige & send you blithely on you way.

Look back.

The cabinet is empty / There’s nothing left to claim.


Each drop that falls in the attendant bucket anticipates another soldier

No matter.

There are always more buckets & more bodies to be tossed.

& if it’s one drop at a time /
one drop at a time it shall be.

So, it is said, by the shaman & the priests

who relish the last corpse / as if it were truly the body of hope
brought here to be resurrected

or not.

CCCB (Catalunya Cultural Center Barcelona) September 2004


Onion Eater: Film Clips in Archive

At the city dump,
this oily mist makes the day dark as the night that will come soon as they dig for that last rotten fig or the wormy apple or a maggoty bone.
Their kids are most active; diving here & losing their footing & sliding in the slime & grunge & carrying
off the prized pieces of gristle & sinew & fat.
It seems like underground. The drifter comes to her for solace & a kiss & she turns away & looks to the floor where a roach scurries & now
he goes to the man who scratches his leg & bleeds & scratches his face & bleeds & scratches his arm & his neck & leers at her but will not speak to him & . . . &
at the shore
it’s another who’s come to lay out her eggs – all two thousand – cracked, one at a time, until the beach is full & swimming in eggs &
the tide rises & sweeps away the first row & back they come & the second & the third goes out & back & all two thousand yolks & the tide rises & . . . &
she eats her onion,
gnawing through its pale skin, gnawing the bitter & the sweet, the juicy & the sparse & as she gnaws she drools & bites the air &
tells the story of being herself & the large size of her breasts & the too large size of her ass & the size of her long nose without complaint &
whatever she needs she will have & as she gnaws she talks of what is expected & how & what she will not & spits & bites the air & eats . . .& now the eggs are whipped in the waves & go on to the next life without a life to live & so they will lie in the froth & foam & bear witness &
the garbage mound is rank & the garbage mound is rancid & the harvesters shuffle to the beat of their hunger & their fallen pride & dig & sort & . . . &
even now, no one will speak out & no one will touch the other & the onion eater sneers & the onion eater jokes & she is not afraid & will eat another & bites the air & grins.


In Sierra Leone the intruders cut off her hands & his arms & her legs & they cut & left & in the chaos which is the hospital for the disabled all the appendages have escaped incineration & march or crawl or stutter or stagger like an army weathering winter but not in Sierra Leone…it is too hot in Sierra Leone…Here – they march like an army drenched in sweat & blood that leaks from their ruptured veins & they hunt in the bush & the back-streets & alleys for ‘Junior’ who did the cutting & wore his name plainly & with pride & his eyes glowed & his machete & he spoke mumbo-jumbo & preached freedom & peace & butchered & left this young girl, no more than fifteen years, to be fed & cleaned & used by the merciful or those who are not.

Even Dreaming Comes More Slowly

but there’s one with fast water & mountains & cars that hold the road as if I might complete some trip

as if destiny were a fact & all we need do is be there like a giraffe needs tall trees & it

seems to play well unless the torrent is swift & logs & dead cattle & here’s where a bend comes in handy

& a quick swim to the other side & a bonfire & someone hands me a cocktail with a cherry in it & my old friend Dave is laughing

with a new girl on his arm & invites me to take a break & I do going faster than we should down that

mountain road when the lights of the town come into view & there’s a fire at city hall & a patrol poking

their noses in our windows wanting us to explain which we can’t or wont or don’t in time & they chase us

toward the river & the careening cattle & David jumps with his love & I steer into oncoming

lights before I’m clear of debris & wanting to get back to my dinner but can’t find the way &

the last I see are the stains on my pants & the need for a bath & no one I know is in the room & my cocktail is warm & the cherry

Night – Carrer Sant Pau

The street is Carrer Sant Pau & it leads to the bar Marsella where a small boy sits in a chair & prods me to buy his pipe which he’ll fill with his special mix of Asia & Africa & he slips between the slivers of light & is back with a jar & I strike a match & the band plays softly at first & louder & the boy is gone & his mother comes & lays out her cards & I’m told I have to choose & I take the red road & she leads me back to America & a dog I ran from & a girl I kissed in the basement & my mother who always behaved & my father who hid his stained collar like a sore & then I chose the blue road & she took me back to Angelica & a night in Marrakech when the breeze came off the desert & I heard the tapping of camels on the road & she knew how to apply tea to a burn & her lips to a swelling & after that I chose the black road & the peddlers of knives & potions & I bought one of each & ran ahead & heard my own voice in my ear & stopped & asked for the last & she opened her hand & in her palm lay a silver key & I took it & asked her to come & we danced & she left a flower in my lapel & I smiled at her decision & turned away & went on.

This Is A Story Someone Is Trying To Remember

If I can, I will tell you of the deer dying in the yard & starved pullets that wander in circles in the snow &

how I need to find the place they scattered my father’s bones & to hear my mother’s final words.

If I ever can,

I will tell you again of my need to caress my first wife & not be thinking, ‘ Would Gloria take me back as I was.’

When I remember,

I might tell you volumes of lies that disguise faces & florid afternoons with wine & sesame cakes & visits from . . . but

chances are slim & the train will leave soon & before I go I wish you well &

warn you of the blizzard that will come in the night (as it will) & the family that eroded as some do &

the marriage that was doomed & the evil that kids do to one another &

if you remember to tell this story as it was told,

I will send you a letter with a number & a key & when you find what you are looking for

maybe you will remember me.

A Dressing Gown

It may have once embraced the moist & perfumed skin of a Japanese Geisha as she plucked the strings of her Samisen & sang praises to her prince . . .

It may have served as the leisure robe of a dark-eyed Tahitian goddess as she tempted the passions of a lusty sailor from Lisbon or Marseilles . . .

Its green satin sheen may have once graced the long lean body of a fiery courtesan from Barcelona or Paris or Marrakech . . .

& who will know & who will come to tell.

Today it hangs in the privacy of my bedroom where my lover comes to treat me to her unique & eager style of love &

when she lets it slip Oh so slowly from her shapely shoulders it colors my dreams with its red & yellow peacocks & pheasants & soaring hawks &

as she straddles my mouth & treats my lips to her exposed sex I hear the peacocks scream & feel the hawk’s breath in my ear & it’s then

I roll her on her back & ride into the night remembering the light & tawny lovers of the earth & the dreams each has shared with each.

She Wears A Scar

that curves from her lip across her cheek to her ear.
She was cut by a man who found her home &

when she smiles (which is rare) it rises like another mouth &
puckers like it would open & speak &

when she runs (which is often) her features tense & her new mouth glows
like a wire – hot & powerful &

she wears one glass eye on a thong around her neck to see in the dark &
a needle taped to her leg &

she flies a black flag with a man’s face at its center & has etched a red
scar on its cheek & the number 6 between its eyes &

at the end of her street she’s painted a door in the eight foot wall & when she must, she opens it & runs through &

down the hill to the river & to the ship that carries her back
to the beginning.