Tuesday, December 16, 2014


You opened my life
The way I open an orange:

Delighting in the appearance
Of what entices me.

Carefully tugging away
The thin outer skin
The casing that holds the flavor.

Pulling the sweet inner life apart
In sections
Understanding the content
By degree.

Savoring the tart taste
By the slow reduction
Of its parts
Until it joins my life.

So have you done with me.

Monday, December 15, 2014

How Funny

It was an amazing sunset
The kind that forms tears
In the corners of my eyes.

I had very recently been abandoned
After twenty eight years
Of a very troubled marriage.

I felt like ash.
I felt that way constantly.

Coming from a meeting
With the police brass
I was still in uniform
As I fell into my lawn chair.

I had an open bottle
Of red wine
I bought years ago
From a little place
I occasionally visited.
I am not a very good drinker
But a little wine seemed about right
This evening.

I looked at the sun.
But it was also alone.

I took a sip.
Then a sip more.

The golden orb of the sun
Sparked from the thinning branches
Of my maple tree.

It was becoming chilly
So I huddled deeper into my blue jacket.
It felt wrong to drink wine
While still wearing the badge.
But I was alone.
Nobody would notice.
Who would care?

Hell, I was always alone.

This time I took a long pull
From the shapely bottle.
Then another.
And another.

I drank half the bottle
And didn’t feel a thing.

Weak wine.

I drank it all.
The whole thing.
It was about as potent as grape soda.

I didn’t even notice
The sun had set.
In fact it had become full night.

I must have fallen asleep.
The bottle
Still in my hand
Was amazingly empty.
And weirdly funny.

Damn weak wine.

I stood up.
Or, I tried to stand up.

I fell flat on my face.

I started to laugh.
Laugh hilariously.
I crawled all the way
To my back door
Laughing all the way.

The grass was wet with dew.
My uniform would need dry cleaning.

That seemed so funny!
I laughed again.

I crawled into my bedroom.
I crawled into bed
My badge catching
On the blanket.
That was funny!
So I laughed.

The empty bottle
Remained in my right hand.
How funny!
So I laughed.

Tomorrow I would write that winery
And tell them how weak their damn wine is.

And I laughed.
Then I slept for twelve hours.

Damn weak wine.
How funny.

Cherokee Poker, 1876

To any novice
Watching the card game
Our conversation
Seemed harmless

It was not.

It was threat
Lethal in escalation.

Isolating on words
He used repeatedly
I perceived intent.

So I did not disengage.

I countered his thrust
With my parry.

I made contact.
He flinched
But slightly.

His next effort
Was a bit less invisible
And the eyes of others
At the table
Fixed upon us.

He called me a bald-faced liar
And a cheat.
Fairly direct, I thought.

Long ago I learned
When it’s time to play your hand
Do it deftly.
With purpose.

So I did what I knew.

I told him if he did not apologize immediately
I would show him to be
The dainty
Son of a bitch
Mule skinner
I knew him to be.

He could not walk away from that.

This time he flinched more noticeably.
His honor now much in question
He would have to match my mouth
Or leave with his tail tucked
Between the crack of his hog-like ass.

Or he could kill me.

He sputtered
Blew fumes
Turned crimson
And blustered
Declaring my scalp
Would flutter from his lodge pole
In the morning.

Or words to that effect.

That provided grounds
Upon which any jury of my peers
Would agree.

So I shot him.

And I was right about the jury…
Except for one detail.
They are hanging me in the morning.

But I can keep my scalp.

No Dream*

Closing my eyes to sleep
I thought of her
Hoping to steer my dreams
In her direction.

Upon the spark
In her hazel eyes
I considered
Their autumnal blaze.
The welcome in them.

When I awakened
It was 1:11 a.m.

I’d had no dream.

Face into my pillow
I tried again.

Her lips were turned
In a perpetual smile
Though not in expression of humor.
They extended invitation

When I awakened
It was 5:45 a.m.

I’d had no dream.

I lay on my side
In the early predawn.
I thought of her body
Soft skin
Perfectly proportioned
And anxious for love.

When I awakened
It was 8:22 a.m.

I’d had no dream.

But I will try again tonight
Knowing that the only thing worse
Than having no dream of her
Is having one
Knowing she sleeps
At the side of another.

*Reminding you these poems are sometimes personal and autobiographical, sometimes purely fiction. I'll let you guess which is what. Just enjoy them for what they are. I'm betting we have all tried to direct our dreams in Hollywood fashion, usually with no success (whether the dream did or did not occur!).

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

We Are the Less*

Watching heroes fall
Is an especially ruthless experience.

To have a hero
Requires action
Requires enthronement
And no little trust.

When in painful times
I assemble the thinning ranks
Of the few I’ve so ennobled.
I think on them
And they bring relief
They bring honor.

So, when one of them
Is made to step from behind
A false front
I encounter pain
Rooted in an unwise
Foolish nomination.

Yes, I know this is America
Where innocence is presumed.
I also understand any charge
Can be reduced to
He did / She said.
But there may never be a court of law
In which the matter can be resolved.

That forces deliberation.

Mr. Cosby
I doubt you much care
What one person may think.
But you were on a remarkably
Lofty strata
Among the few that could
Arbitrarily and instantly
Mollify my melancholy.

You are no longer funny, sir.

You no longer have substance.

We who adored you
Are among the victims
(albeit nothing like those you violated)
Of your pathetic behavior.

We are the less
For having made you the best.

*My personal thoughts on Bill Cosby's impersonal behavior.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Her bones are those
Of a finely timbered ship
Crafted for the seas
And not the harbor.

Her flesh is that of canvas
Full of salt and spray
Billowed with purpose
Prepared for endless crossings.

Her mind is as the wheel
Steady 'neath her Master’s hand
Ready and longing
To be free of line and gone.

Her eyes are those of the compass
Sighting the sun
Fixing her place under
The stars and moon.

Her spirit is the ship’s creaking
Pressured by the tossing sea
Battering waves
And tensions of her rigging.

Her hearing is as conch shells
Passing 'neath her keel
Searching whale songs below
And storms aloft.

Her nostrils, filled with breeze
Drink both salty savors
And coastal strands'
Earthy scent.

She tastes the tang of oceans
The bitterness of lost mariners
The sweetness of discovery
And relish the spices of harbors.

She rolls in the seduction of trade winds
The sharp pang of storms
In the volatile Caribbean
And sorrows tendered in her wake.

How I would serve her
Canvas full
With decks awash
Leaning into the shoulder of storms!

A worthy vessel is she
Made for the lifting of seas
A matchless maiden so free
From Boston to the Leeward Antilles!

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Texaco Station

It had no charm.
It smelled of gasoline and grease
It had a gigantic red star
On a high post
Near the street
Emblazoned with:

You can trust your car
To the man who wears
The star
The big
Texaco Star!

Along the front of the station
Roof top-tall
Brightly colored plastic pendants
Snapped in the breeze.

Near the door
To the small office
Stood a squat
Red Coca Cola cooler
The kind with a maze
Of runners each bottle
Must navigate
To give a boy with a quarter
A painfully cold soft drink.

Mitch ran the place.
He had a pencil moustache
And dark green coveralls
Stained with oil and dirt.
Mitch had a goofy smile
Beneath dark eyes.

Laying across the service bay
Between twin rows of pumps
Was a rubber hose
That chimed a bell
Telling Mitch
To get out there
Clean the windshield
Check the oil
Check the water
Check the air in the tires
And pump that Ethyl gasoline.

Deep within the cavern
Of the garage
Was a 1966 calendar
Featuring a naked red head
Cupping her enormous breasts
With a “come hither” smile.

As a kid
I always found reason
To visit the garage
When Mitch was busy elsewhere.

The white tile station
With its cracked concrete bay
Dirty glass
Girlie calendar
And the tactile textures
A boy must not forget
Is long gone.

It does not matter
What inhabits that address today.
What matters is that
Once upon a time
There was a service station
That remains
In the memory of an aging man
Who cannot forget
He once was a little boy
That loved
A greasy
And forever gone
Texaco station.

The Broken Stradivari

It fell to pieces in his hand
As he took the stage
His violin, from another age
Simply broke apart, crumbling
As his heart did.

Replacing the instrument in its case
The violinist sat to grieve
His tears daubed by his sleeve.
The ancient violin, now gone
Had been his friend, so dear.

For three centuries it sang
Melodies so sweet they made him cry.
It seemed as he may die
And trembling deep within
Could not keep from it.

The manufacture of Stradivari
From so very long ago
The body, neck and scroll
Had finished the race prescribed
And to thousands, was grace, incarnate.

All we, like the violin
Will soon complete our course
And will, by death, be forced
To silence our voice, our song
Yet must rejoice we had one.

For the present, in this day
Make melody and song
Be confident and strong.
Sweeten and endure your tribulation.
May your allure be charming!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

December 4, 1919, Green County, Arkansas

Today, December 4, is my dad's birthday. Had he lived he would be 95 today. He was not an easy man. He gentled as he aged, but as a young father, there were times he was hard. Distant. He never wanted to take our family to fireworks on the 4th of July. As a kid, that made me angry. I couldn’t understand. There’s nothing more awesome than fire in the sky! I hung on relentlessly one summer. We argued in the kitchen. I was intent on wearing him down. Finally, he reached into his shirt pocket, withdrew a pack of matches, lit one and threw it into the sink. “There’s your fireworks,” he said. Of course, I whined and threw a fit which he ignored, having walked into the bedroom. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I understood him on that night. When he saw fireworks, he didn’t see “fire in the sky.” He saw German 88’s raining down hot shrapnel, sometimes exploding in tree tops, making millions of lethal splinters as well as shrapnel, that sliced into the bodies of his friends. In retrospect, I loved him all the more. He contracted cancer after he retired. He was not doing well. I took a week to spend with him. Most of that week we watched wrestling, which I wordlessly despised. After an hour of this, one afternoon, dad said to me, “I killed a boy.” His eyes never left the TV screen. I was sure I misheard him. But he said it again. “I killed a boy.” His track was stranded, out of gas, in the French countryside. A burning house illuminated them in the night. They were cut off. Stranded. Two Hitler Youth came down the road, pushing a motorcycle that was also out of gas. Schmeiser Machine guns were strapped across their chests. Dad shot them. The next morning they made contact with their unit, got gas, and left. But before they did, dad went to see the boys, lying in the road. A tank had run the bodies over, making them only dimly recognizable as human. He told me that story with zero inflection in his voice. He did not cry, or choke up. He just told me what he did. Then he did look up at me. He said, “Every night, when I go to bed, I ask God to forgive me. And every night I see that dead boy.” No amount of wisdom or counsel could fix him. I’m sure I’m doing dad a disservice. He was an intensely loyal man. I saw him take a swing at a bully neighbor whose bully kid had harmed an innocent. He worked in weather any of us would hurry from, to be sure we were fed, clothed, cared for. I’ve spent a lot of time doing a poor job. I’ll just say that my dad is still my hero. I’ve spent 61 years trying to be something near what he authentically was. I thought he would take pride in me the first (and only) time he saw me in uniform. But it had the opposite effect. He nearly cried. And not out of pride in me. He was afraid (rightly so) that I would become a target. So I never told him about the times his fears came close to being well-founded. I’ve always wanted to match him. But he’s gone now, so that’s pointless. The best I can do is just be the best imitation of him that I can. I miss him so much. He is my hero. Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you.
~ James

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Stream of Consciousness*

Oh, God.
What’s in his hand?
Oh, shit.

Got him aligned
Center mass.

Drop it!
Drop it!
Do it now
Or I will shoot!

He’s coming.
Hard and fast.
Eighteen feet
And closing.

Get down!
Do it!
Do it now!
Get down
Or I will shoot!

He’s not yielding.

God dammit!


Blade center mass.


Acrid cordite.
Gun smoke
In my strobes.


What’s in his hand?
Something metallic.
Still coming!


Falling clumsily.
Crimson bubbles.
Four bullet holes.
Blood from his mouth.


Pedestrians watching.
Too quiet.

Go see.

Oh, Jesus.
He’s a kid.
A fuckin’ kid.

Oh, God.
Oh, God.

Twelve seconds.
Oh, Christ.

*I spent 22 years with one department. I've had the training. Very thorough. I know personally officers that have had to take a life. It is, I assure you, nothing like what you see on Law and Order. As I write this, tears stream my cheeks. I have seen the bodies. My hands are shaking. Nobody ever wants this. I have used, in this work, profanity no gentleman uses, until he has to draw his weapon. Then vocabulary is of no consequence. My life was threatened. I understand. Vocabulary is simple phonics, at that time. If I have offended those of you looking for Helen Steiner Rice, well...I cannot apologize. I'm dealing with PTSD. Or, it's dealing with me. This is not an attempt to re-live Ferguson. The dynamics there were different than those I suppose here. What happened in Ferguson is terrible. I do not know Officer Wilson. But he is my "brother." I understand him. Most of you cannot. But I do. This is a shitty poem. It's far too real. I thought, and re-thought whether to post this work. At the end of the day, I think it's right. Think these thoughts. Put yourself out there. Try it.