Dec 17, 2015

In Paranoia of Joy

They’re gonna make an example of me.

What the hell is the difference
between a vision and a thought?

Existential detective,
just putting together everyone’s stories,
trying to see what they’re saying.

Can you ever really know what life’s like for someone?

I’m here in the basement pushing a pen.
When am I not possessed?
Where do these voices come from?
What are they trying to do?
Am I robot?
Is there a microchip in my brain,
a microchip in my brain,
a microchip in my brain?
Am I a fountain of cells?
Am I a spirit guide?
Am I a brain inside
a hundred pieces you can name,
a fleshy vase,
a lava lamp of bone and skin,
an organ holding electric net of jewel-encrusted molecules.
Am I dolphin leaping out
                                               and splashing in
ov                   er                  a
      er         ov      and      er    gain?
          and                   ov

Am I a puppet of the universe?—
wide fur-lipped muppet mouth flapping on about the state of things.

Let the furniture tell the story.
Where you put your clothes,
how you make your bed.
What kind of ice cream you like
and where you bring your dog
or first dates to walk.

Where’s the best place to watch the sunrise?
Your spirit lingers there,
cross-legged on some boulders
in your favorite sweater.
You like to be talked to
by someone who talks about what they know,
or vise-versa.

And then the don’t-know amusements
splash up on the rocks
as the water gets tangerine and pink.
This is how you want to be remembered by me.

This is how I want to be remembered, too,
us here, making each other laugh
in the cold dark morning
waiting for this light.

I just want to know
if you’re actually enjoying this
or if you’re just pretending.
I want to believe this is real and
it passes by just like a dream does.
The memories from either are no more real
but life’s a dream that persists for longer,

and when we are gone
it’ll be the same as dream
us sitting here on the rocks

examples to each other
of how to act in such circumstances,
examples to any passing squirrels,

the splashing lake,
the strangers and stars
of how two humans are

and what matters to us
at this moment.

Dec 3, 2015

Why Meditate?

You sit down on the cushion
hoping to find a temple
bell hanging in your chest.
Snow is on the deck
outside your window.

The furnace blows.

In the powder yard there are
so many branches, sticks, twigs
you haven’t raked up.

Deep Breath In.

Here come the gunmen

crashing into the concert hall
opening fire.
Here drone the pundits pointing fingers
consulting experts who say

Breathe In.
In. Release
the madness unleashed,
fifty toothsome rabid dogs with spiked collars
venomous fangs, red stormy eyes
barking at you about your
childhood, all the shitty things you did and didn’t do.
Mom’s getting old now and still thinks
she runs you, you
really blew up at her on the phone yesterday
when she wouldn’t stop questioning your job,
are you making enough money,
when are you going to
Breathe in.
In. Re-
crease! Those new dress pants
are upstairs on the floor,
they’re gonna get ruined if you let ‘em
sit there like that,
maybe you should get up and fix ‘em.
You can fix ‘em if you do it mindfully, just

okay, Breathe in as you stand up,
Release as you up the stairs.
Very. Slow and gradual
hold out the hanger,
slip the pant legs through
perfect lines folded on the creases,
find the perfect balance
so they won’t fall out.
Downstairs the cushion knows
you’re gone.
Upstairs, you’re all upstairs
as you take slow, mindful steps and your toes
knock over the glass of water
you left two days ago
sitting by the door to bring downstairs
Haha, idiot, but
this is just like all those Zen stories
of the monks who felt their minds opening and then
WHAM! they tripped on a rock
carrying the bucket of water,
and suddenly they got enlightenment
so huuuuuhhh, maybe
this is it.
This is it as you
Breathe in, find a towel
Release, pat the water of the floor.
Feel the cold stain rise to your fingers.
Breathe in.
Yes this is it.
Ha ha.
This is it.
I’ve done it!

You’ve been taken.

There’s no you.
And the AK-47s are still being bought and sold
and fired through heads.
Some heads saying, “Insha’Allah”
others screaming, “God No!”
others holding thoughts of their loved ones
as they bravely raise their hands answering
“Yes, I am a Christian,”
“Yes, I am a Jew,”
“Kill me,”
and where are you


Somewhere in the hallway,
now through the kitchen,

back to the living room,
back down on the cushion

to finish your half-hour,
and I hope you learned something

to benefit all beings.

I hope you

found some


Nov 23, 2015

Good Morning Every One

From my window I see the sky
through the firs’ sparse boughs,

the birch’s branches bare.
The ninja silhouette of a squirrel

scampers across. The mountains
have snow on them.

In the woods across the river
there’s a man stabbing a corpse.

I do not call the cops.
He’s taking the elk home

to freeze for the winter.
Ducks paddle upstream, in a row.

Always upstream,
always in a row.

No one takes a straight edge to their line.
I’ve never known a nun to smack

the wrist of an eagle
for missing its supper.

God does not need us to scold
one another. Our

fingers can point at many things
but the Indians used to point the way

with their lips.
A nod and a kiss

to the direction they wished
to go.

God was once, only
once perfect,

but that was long before rulers.
Now God learns perfection through us.

I tell you,
we’d do well

to learn it through ducks.

Oct 29, 2015

The Break Cafe, October 29th, 2015

There are a handful
of things I know
for certain right now:

I have good friends
with small but not unpowerful jobs.
Sean didn’t charge me for this tea.

I know anxiety
and how it can swipe the whole jigsaw puzzle
to the floor in a second.

I know right now
I’m breathing deep and serenely as
Billie Holiday lyrics pour
gently from the teapot stereo
over the leaves of a saxophone.

I don’t know where I’ll be
next lifetime, though I have
a feeling some nothing of me
outlasts this body, the same
nothing of me that outlasts this mug
of tea once it’s empty.
The same me that limps down the street
wearing all of my clothes
and a few garbage bags
waving sharpied cardboard at cars
for the hope of chicken bones in my beard
in the coming days.
The same me that is the body
of a taxi cab honking hurry hooray
for today get the hell out of my way.

There was a tremendous mural
under the bridge over the Yellowstone
in Livingston. It was dated
September 11th, 2001
and prophesied the end of all war.
There were childish drawings of buildings
and soldiers burning, angels
flying down from heaven
to catch the falling, to lift up
the wounded and the screaming and
the dead with X's on their eyes
There was a huge redwhiteandblue tag for
next to it.
I am letting the cool waters of the Yellowstone
bring peace to us all.
In that place, in that month
it wasn’t a mighty river.
It was low and slow and gentle.
Some places it was just
a wide trickle over rocks
and I crossed the river
back and forth in these places,
my feet hardly getting wet.

I’m sorry to say
this is how peace comes.
It doesn’t come blaring from the intersection
green light go, wait your turn,
halt, halt, stop everything
everyone stop.
I mean
it does, but not everyone recognizes
it all the time.
And even when it does
crashing descend upon you
it’s unsettling,
quiet unsettling
how you never noticed
it’s always been there for you.
It’s always been there in you.
You’ve always not been there
in it
and now
the river smashes your dixie cup,
crumples your tea pot
you are rolling over and
down against the rocks bashed
banged brow, face mashed
legs and arms twirling like a mangled
piece of farm equipment
I’d be more specific but I can’t
you’re so old and rusty misshapen
I can’t even identify you.

Not to worry.
When the Spring floods subside
that old metal is just
a former shell of something.

It’s being buried solowly in the bank
by moss and lichen and mud.
That’s not you anymore.

Gather you legs.
Meet me by the side
of the Yellowstone in September,
the side closer to the peaks
and let’s weep before that picture
of our brothers and sisters dying for nothing.
Let’s scream our madnesses silently
into the gentle flow of water, for this
is how peace comes to us truly—
in slow sips of breath,
one Sinatra song at a time,
the warm tears on our face,
the mug lifted,
the ring of tea
left on the table
slowly evaporating.

Oct 16, 2015

Damn You Charlie Wong!

I know what makes me happy,
it’s just hard to get there.
My nose starts itching 
from the grease. I reach
into the backseat for my
                   Which one
should it be? The nine
to five suburban driveway
dream, or some wandering
mendicant never setting down
roots. Long ago he said,
“Here’s what you have to de-
cide: do you want to warm
your feet by your own fireplace
or someone else’s?”
                                         I have
so many sweaters. The green
cotton hoodie, two black wool—
one with buttons, one with a zipper—
a thick, lined flannel that passes
as a jacket and as a shirt, and then
all the gray pullover hoodies
I’ve accumulated from running
track, different organizations over
the years.
                       The years add up,
yep they do, and if I knew
I was going to live to be 200
I’d have a totally different
plan, but I’ve got to plan
on 80, so this’ll have to do.
I’m 27 soon, “Marrying age”
I said to her
                            the other day.
We wanted soup at Saigon Garden
but we were in that awkward window
between lunch and dinner. They were
closed till five, so Frugal’s
was my choice. I wanted
a burger and some fries. Her
stomach hurt. Then she downed
a breaded chicken sandwich and
moaned, “I have no self
I remember playing Yahtzee in the
evenings with my parents. I remember
a Saturday morning in the English off-
ice, November, he had fingerless gloves
and Wish You Were Here on, he was
typing up poems and I thought,
“Damn that sweater looks comfy.”
Then he tore into my poems with a
red pen and I
                              was so thrilled
every time I met a girl who
played catch with my heart.
All the late nights holding hands
on our backs in the grass at
Lorel Park, staring up through
the orange Chicago night sky
until we saw stars, until
it’s getting late, I’ve got to
sneak back home, but let’s do this
again and again and again
                                                  the Autumn
turns to Winter and I happily pull
my sweaters on and we happily keep
each other warm by fires
                                                and then
Spring comes and Summer and we end it for 10,000 reasons.
The years add up. Despite what I
believe, I am getting older and I
am wondering if it isn’t time to
grow up a little, forgive myself
for my childish past, ask for
a second chance,
                                     and a third
of my life is gone now
                                           if I live
to be 80.
                      If I live
to be 80.
                                    That’d be

May 1, 2015

Brass Skin

The woman next to me at the bar
just hollered, “WALKER!”
in my direction.
Shrill and piercing
like a golf ball flying into a mailbox


I don’t blame her—
she’s drunk on a Friday afternoon
and eating peanuts.

Here are the feelings today:
ambivalence, and

That last one’s always there.

Well, almost always.
There are times
after a run,
in the morning looking at the mountains,

I think about everything that might happen,
everything that’s inevitable, and
it’s all okay.

Old age, homelessness, shitty jobs, fuck-ups,
horrible diseases I say thanks every day I don’t have
yet, death, yes
all okay.

That feeling never lasts more than an hour though
'cause next comes giddiness that maybe
I’ve left all my troubles and worries behind
once and for all, and that’s

always pursued by a feeling
of manic anxiety.
Then suddenly

I’m back in my own skin,
my mind the hammer
of a church bell
at noon.






In a Very Golden Sunset

Will sets the ash tray in the center of the table,
“So most people think this is their body
and the rest of the table isn’t,

but that’s not true.
This whole table is your body.”

As he says this,
I feel the birds rising out of the field
across the street in my chest.

“My family is hurting,” he says.
I nod.

Leaving the brewery, we wander
to the cracked abandoned lot nearby
to smoke cigarettes and continue

our talk.
Will says something about Jesus and a rock

the ground
next to us.

There’s a trench surrounding the entire lot,
and I see a little boy dash from one tree

to another.
Another rock comes arching towards us.
I see the top of his head bouncing.

I pick up a rock
and lob it underhand over the lip of the trench.

We exchange
crossfire briefly
until a woman’s shout

from the trailer park across the street.

He hops out the far side of the trench,
picks up a bike in wait
and rides off through someone’s yard.

Will and I say peace, and I ride off
in my car, M. Ward sings

This river that we ride
has always been alive.
O my soul one hundred million years.

Apr 30, 2015

Baltimore, Spring 2015

The pizza place in Whitefish, Montana has CNN on,
which is playing live footage of Baltimore S.W.A.T. teams
lining the streets, pulling up in tanks and paddy wagons.

The pizza place in Whitefish has CNN on.
They’re there to enforce a curfew till dawn.
The customers watch and chew their cheese.
The pizza place has CNN on,
which is playing live footage of S.W.A.T. teams.

Svladi is Icelandic for Coolness

“Measuring cups, play a new game,
Front of the class, measure your brain,
Give you a complex, then give it a name.”
—Andrew Bird

Tonight I was reminded
that in kindergarten

we had these religion worksheets
we had to complete

every week. Crossword puzzles and
coloring in the pictures.

My teacher Mrs. Svaldi
reported to my father

that I had colored a person purple
and a dog blue.

She was concerned.
My dad informed her we had a kerry blue terrier.

In 2015, it astonishes me
that in 1994, a middle-aged woman found it

preposterous that a 5-year-old boy
would color a person purple

and a dog blue.

Apr 28, 2015

The Long Highway Shifts

Life is a lot of grief.
I looked up from 
writing that and saw
a clock.
                    My dad and I
walked into the Kohl’s at
the strip mall this morning
to buy a suit for his father’s
wake. At the end of the
parking lot was the interstate.
“As much as I miss you and
Mom,” I said, “I don’t miss that
          The morning my mom called me
and told me Papa died, I played banjo
staring out my living room window at
the mountains, then went for a run
down the highways lined with pine and
fir and spruce so dense, ten trillion needles
pointing into the air, pointing into my skin,
breathing in the snow and exhaling into me.
Imagine, trees breathe! You can’t hear it
so it’s like they’re already dead. I was so
thankful the horizon was the end of a high-
way, a forest, and over the trees a mountain
peak. I was so grateful I didn’t see a car
for three miles. I was so thankful I didn’t
slip on the the thin ice that was everywhere
because it got warm after it snowed.
Everything melted and froze again,
melted and froze, and now
conditions are shitty and
you have to watch it
while you run
down the long

You're the Best

The set up, the rise both take a little time
no one ever laughed at a joke that was just the punchline.
I mean I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was 9,
but by 10 I was riding no hands in the sunshine.

So come and unwind don’t be so confined
by the obsessive expectation everything should be sublime.
The dumb mind finds something wrong everywhere,
step back—take in the air and the errors.
We are heirs to mistakes that our parents made anyway,
every day children and adults both misbehave
like "Never leave a mess for someone else to clean"?
I guess unless it makes you money is what they mean. My nose got

broken when that bully knocked me over playing tag,
and the pot found in your pocket really pissed off your dad.
My boss said she doesn’t like my snarky attitude,
but I was just jokin’, I didn’t think it was rude.
Your girl told you that she’s been fucking some dude.
On the rocky road to life we’re all bumbling through.

Now—step forward boldly. Make your moves slowly.
No one knows or has it all. Inspect your thoughts closely.
                           To find your balance takes a whole lifetime
but it was still a great day when we couldn’t make that kite fly.

The Adventures of Surrender Duck, Chapter 17

Surrender Duck paddled past the banks of Bigfork.
On the shore was a man lying on the ground, barely conscious
in ragged pants and a bloody shirt

“Are you okay?” Surrender Duck asked.

“Ooohaaoowww,” mumbled the man,
mostly to himself.

“Where are you headed?”

The man did not respond.

“What is your name?”

This duck is quite persistent
the man thought.

Surrender Duck encouraged,
"I will help you. Hop on!”

So Christopher did
and rode Surrender Duck downstream
all through the afternoon.

They came to several rapids
and each time Christopher was afraid
they would be destroyed by the rocks,
Surrender Duck would shout
"You just gotta roll with it!

Sure enough, every time
Christopher and Surrender Duck
emerged unscathed.

As it got dark,
Surrender Duck and Christopher were laughing,
telling stories of where they came from
and of the family and friends they missed so much.

They built a fire
and Christopher caught a rabbit for them to eat.

As they curled up in the dark woods,
Surrender Duck hummed a lullaby
and Christopher felt the world
and all of his troubles
fall away into the night.

When morning came
and Christopher awoke,
Surrender Duck was gone.

The coals were still hot
in their makeshift fire pit,
so Christopher caught another rabbit
and had breakfast.

Apr 25, 2015

What Gives?

Every time I drive
from the Flathead to Missoula
at least once
after I pass someone
I see them in my rear view
giving me the finger.

An Old So Long So Long Ago Love Letter

So long prairie sky.
The ears of corn have heard

what I have to say.

I’ll see you in the mountains
mingling with the magpies. 

Don’t know what I’ll do when I get there
but I’ve got $800 and some ideas.

The landlady of the boarding house
has a room ready.

Chicago, you were good to me while you were,
but now

I’ve got to get out of the billboard squawking.
Take me through Milwaukee,

past Madison,
let the earth look like the earth again.

Come on, rocks.
Come on, hills that work themselves up

into ridges.
Come on, ground

that suddenly drops out from under you.
I want to look down

and down you, staring
at your voluptuous belly, hips

of river banks where I can sit
and watch the water plunge by me.

Plunge on by, water.
This rapid world shoots by so fast I think

I’m an eagle.

Apr 23, 2015


Yesterday at the Cubs game
a foul ball fell
right into this girl’s beer.

Everyone around her saw it coming.

Stop trying to write the story before it happens.
You can’t outsmart the path you’re on.

This is an experience to be experienced,

not figured out,
not planned,
not safe,

just surrendered to,
obliterated by.

The cup was resting on her knee, suddenly


How much of your day did you plan on?
Yesterday when I woke up
I still had a job. My whole week
had a schedule.

You can watch her face on the video
drunkenly realize what has happened
while everyone around her shouts
“Drink it!”

Today I have absolutely no plans.

She hoists up the cup
looks around
and chugs it down.

It’s the staring into the face of fear
that makes me love so fiercely.

Now there are all these men proposing to her,
and maybe that’s this sexist predatory thing—
a chick who likes beer and baseball,
sweet, I want her—

but I also fell in love watching that video.
To watch someone embrace the unexpected
so spontaneously, joyfully
is beautiful.

The crowded universe
will laugh in my face
and wrench away my fingers
one by one
from whatever I’m holding.

She’s got that roll with it drunk going on,
her body bobbing in the waves of
this moment, this
moment,  this moment.

I’ve come to know
I never dance so well
as when I’m shaking with fear.

She drinks her cup dry,
head tilted back
kissing a foul ball.