Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Possibility Looms

Could I possibly be any busier?
Could I possibly be more bored?
Could I possibly be any more confused about
What the hell I’m here for?

If “all things are possible” is true,
Then I guess there’s still a chance
That I could be more busy and could be more bored
Than I am in this circumstance.

But, Man I hope that ain’t true.
I hope like hell it just ain’t.
Cuz, if it’s true there’s no end to this rut that I'm in,
I may have to start sniffing paint.

12 2010

Monday, August 30, 2010



I guess you think it's Golden.
I guess you think it's nice.
I guess you you think it's peaceful, lovely,
audible eidelweiss.

But me, I just can't stand it.
I'd rather hear you scream.
I'd rather hear my bones break, shattering,
than quietly kneel and seem.

So, please, say something, sometime.
Say anything you want.
Say anything you feel or think,
only stillness taunts.

8 2010

Friday, July 23, 2010


I blame the walleye. Nearly five pounds of fresh walleye…On Wednesday, while shopping at Super One for tartar sauce, Panko Japanese breading and lemons, my blood sugar tumbled down, like an avalanche. Having wrestled with blood sugar issues for nearly thirty years, one might think I’d have figured it out by now. I haven’t. About the time I think I’ve got it licked, it climbs out of its hole like a long, black snake and clamps on, thrashing and coiling, until I inevitably find a way to choke it back.

It’s temporary. The constancy of the battle is exhausting. If giving up was an option I’d have done so long ago. I ain’t proud.

In the aisle next to the frozen vegetables—no where near the lemons—I finally realized what insulin-dependent diabetics the world over know as the moment of clarity, the epiphanic instant where the brain finally connects, however briefly, with the real-world outside the cranium, blood glucose somewhere south of 45 mg/dl and dropping.

“You finding everything alright, Sir?”
“Under control, Bud.” Epic lie.
“You sure?” The kid is relentless.
“Yup. …Just can’t remember…”
“Do you have a list?” His eyes are wide. Whatever he’s reading on my face, is foreign.
“Of course, I do, Bud,” I say. “But I was supposed to…”

Next, I’m swimming. The floor is my lake. The dirty tile is cool and smooth and I feel myself giggling a little. My shirt is filthy, my necktie ruined. Beneath the giggling is a reptile anger, a penetrating, dull understanding that it’s happening again, lost control in a lifetime of trying. Swear words come out of my mouth.

“Sir, I think your son is here.”

“Dad, drink this.”
“I don’t need that.”
“Drink it, Dad.”
“I don’t--”
“Drink it right now, Dammit.”

Then my wife is there. Familiar, frightened look in her eyes, worried. Kills me. She deserves more. Better. Lopsided deal…

“I’m FINE!” I shout and lie. The louder the shout, the bigger the lie.
“Honey,” she says. “Remember, you promised you’d do whatever I said, whenever I said it, no matter what.”
“I remember.”
“Then drink this. Now.”

I do. Hatefully. It’s an admission of all gone wrong. Lost control. Again. Story of my life.

Cops everywhere. Deputies. Ambulance guys. The delicate choreography of dogmatic professionalism and human compassion is humbling. Inspiring. They’re young. And smart. And good.

“You’re coming around now, Sir. I don’t think we’ll need an I.V.”
“Yes, I’m feeling much better. It’s like magic….Ironic that what’ll kill me in the long run saves me in the short run.”
“You mean glucose? It isn’t going to kill you.”
“Already is...”

I sign the stuff that needs to be signed. Shake the hands of the young men who spend their work days doing good stuff.

“Take care, guys. Thanks, again.”
“No sweat. Take care now. Make sure you eat something.”
“I’ll do that,” I say and, as I walk through the parking lot toward my wife’s waiting car, it occurs to me that more than an hour has gone by since I first entered the store. Time flies when you’re semi-conscious.

“People are good,” I say to my wife.
“They are,” she agrees and kisses me.
“And, you are beyond good,” I add.
“I am,” she agrees, winking, and kisses me again.

As we drive off, I roll down the window and close my eyes, the summer wind warm and buffeting. It smells like my childhood. Big Lake. Swimming with Wade and Jeff. My dad roofing the house. Old Dutch Potato Chips. Peanut M&Ms.

“I love the smell of summer,” I say.
“Me too,” she answers.

As we pull into the driveway, she looks hard at my face, something dawning on her, something big.

“Did you get tartar sauce?” she asks. And I hold up the bag, successfully.
“Lemons, tartar sauce and Panko.” I say. “Totally under control.”

Thursday, June 3, 2010



Rare is the swimming in my head.
Buzzing bees, spinning bed,

Whenever you touch me, kiss my hair.
Rare as magic, light as air.

Rare is the pressure in my heart.
An elephant standing. God’s impart,

Whenever you say, “I love you, Dear,”
Rare as forever. Familiar as fear.

5 24 2010

Friday, May 7, 2010

Why do I live here?

Nursery Rhyme 5 2010

Rain, Rain, go away.
Come again some other day.
And as for your brother, Snow,
Tell him, Stay Clear the month of May!

Why do we live here,
Do you suppose?
Long, sultry summers?

Army Worms, Zebra Mussels
thrill our senses...

I'm avoiding the census
and skipping town for
somewhere better,
where they don't have mosquitoes,
somewhere warm, less wetter.

5 2010

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Speck of Heaven (Happy Birthday Evan)

Speck of Heaven

Evan, Evan, Speck of Heaven,
Third son, last born child,
Sixteen years have come and gone
Since the world you entered mild.

And the world is milder with you in it,
A lovelier, better place.
Evan, Evan under heaven, your presence
Proof of Grace.

Son, my son, my precious son,
May the years to follow be
Like specks of heaven, every one,
The way you’ve been to me.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010



What if it never works?
What if things stay the same?
What if the voice that kills and lies
Leaves the other voice weak and lame?

What’ll become of me?
What’ll become of them?
What’ll become of Hope and Love and
Peace and Goodness then?

Who’ll be left in charge?
Who will protect the innocent?
Who, among us, will rise above,
Fearless and beneficent?

What will the earth look like?
Cold and spinning satellite.
What noise will the wind become?
Screaming and shrill through the night…

I say, Let it work.
I say, Let it fail.
I say, in the end, the choice is small,
I either win, or I cry and wail.

And prayer is not black magic.
Prayer isn’t making deals.
So, I don’t know what exactly prayer is,
But I know what it ain’t; and it feels

Like talking.
Not begging.

5 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010

Two Bad Things

Lost my face on Friday.
Don't know where or how.

Lost my face, then lost my patience.
Can't find either now.

So someone told me one time
when something good gets lost,
it drags with it two bad, bad
Makes a hard thing feel more soft.

So if you see it somewhere,
my face, my missing face,
Pick it up and give it back,
'lest it be one of
Two bad, bad things:

My face. Your missing grace.

4 2010

Friday, March 26, 2010



My teeth hurt like hell.
Novocaine don’t work.
Gimme some of that gas, like they used to.

Wipe off that dentist smirk.

Yes, I know you’re in charge.
I know you’re the boss.
I know you’re the Man-with-the-Plan.

The twerp with complementary floss.

I’ll see you in the parking lot.
After work when no one’s there.
I’ll introduce you to how pain works.

Fear and submission lain bare.

You’ll ask me not to hurt you.
And I won’t, not much, of course.
But a little bit of pain, a little bit of fear

Not an infinitesimal speck of remorse.

3 2010

Thursday, March 18, 2010


My daughter, who is six, plays school all summer long. She pretends she is the teacher. She pretends she is the student. Then she's the janitor, "Mr. Hawk," then the aide, the counselor, the substitute teacher, the visiting parent, the school board, the superintendent.

I pretend with her.
She's good at it.
I suck at it.
She has fun. She imitates and dramatizes and throws her voice all over the room. She's everyone and everywhere at once. She loses herself in fits of situation: she's the teacher invoking a "time out," she's a classroom aide crouched over a struggling young reader. She's an administrator signing a document allowing the hire of more English teachers into the district. She's my hero.

I play along, as always, doing my part to keep the magic going. I'm pretty good at it, but nothing compared to her.

"Okay, Britta," she says in her teacher voice. "It's time to put things away now. It's almost Circle Time."

I'm Britta, so I put away the pile of toys and turn off the booming radio and sit down with my legs folded as well as I can. I look and feel like an enormous goon, part of the daily humility lesson.

"Okay, Britta," she begins. "Can you tell us a little bit about your summer, so far?"

"Honey, I really--"


And, instantly, I'm Britta again. Schizophrenia.

"Okay," I say. "So far this summer, I've watched it rain, listened to the furnace come on during the night, dug up frost-bitten bedding plants, had a broken neck, received several rejection letters, been bitten by a hornet and have failed to catch one fish."

"So, are you enjoying your summer?"

"I quit this game, Babe."


"I can't help it," I say. "My legs can't fold like this for so long. My toes are tingling."

"Then you be the teacher," she says.

"Forget it," I say. "I've been playing this too long."

"Then what can we do?" she asks.

"Let's get the boys and Mom and go fishing."

"With worms?"

"Nightcrawlers," I correct her. "Big, fat, squiggly, slimy, blind, mutated nightcrawlers."

"What's mutated?"

"Genetically altered. Screwed up. A mistake of nature."

"Are you crabby, Dad?" she asks, finally dropping the teacher voice.

"No," I say, as honestly as possible. "Just mutated."

...In the boat, we sway over blunt waves. Three bobbers cling to three helplessly tangled lines, held by six hopefully taught arms, connected to the three best excuses for hope in my life. The bobbers dance on the dark water, mesmerizing.

Some feet beneath the surface, three murdered earthworms , pierced and bloodless and drowned, drift lifelessly, awaiting their final humiliation.

"Okay, class," the teacher voice begins. "Let's see if we can have ourselves some luck."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Sitting on the muddy ground, legs outstretched in front of him, the points of his cowboy boots aimed in opposite directions, the man's head lolled forward like a pearl on a string, moaning like a newborn calf.

About fifty, and trying for thirty-five, the man had, from the looks of his clothes and the smell coming off him, recently exited the nearby "Country Cowboy Tavern and Dance Hall" and somehow found his way to the parking lot, where, by design or fate, he collapsed against the side of my Jetta where he now sat weeping like a giant infant.

In discovering him, initially thinking he was some wounded animal from his slumped, hulking shape and the noise he made, I was struck with a rush of fear, which quickly became annoyance as I neared him. He was an amazing sight. Part fake cowboy. Part inanimate, drunken object. I thought of poking him with a stick, but couldn't find one. I shoved him with my toe and he rocked, back and forth, like a child's punching bag--one of those plastic, balloonish things with sand in the bottom to keep it upright, decorated with Fred Flintstone or Casper the Friendly Ghost.

I knelt down to see him better, to look into his face, and as I did, his eyes blew open wide, startled; he cowered, then went limp as if realizing it didn't matter who I was or what I'd do or anything else.

"This is my car," I said. "You alright?"
He nodded in affirmation, bouncing his chin off his chest in exaggeration. The front of his embroidered shirt was damp with sweat or tears or spit or beer. His face was puffed and heavy.

"This your car?" he said, still nodding largely, taking great gulps of air, like a child who's cried too long.

I nodded back, though he wasn't looking and said again, "You gonna be alright?"

"Oh, I s'pose," he sighed and put a hand under himself in a vain effort to rise up from the parking lot. He fell back, instantly, his body lumped and wadded like a damp piece of paper.

I reached down to lift him, thinking more of my convenience than his grief; it was late and I had a hundred-something miles to drive.

"Don't!" the man shouted, pulling his elbow away, causing him to lose his balance again and he slid, like a swimmer doing the sidestroke, entirely under my car. He lay there making chucking noises, crying or laughing, nonetheless refusing to move. I felt my compassion waning.

There were other people in the parking lot, climbing into cars, finishing conversations, gunning engines, flicking on headlights. A few people noticed me standing awkwardly beside my car, but no one noticed the man on the ground, his pointy boots sticking out from under my car like the Wicked Witch of the East. Someone yelled "Goodnight!" from a neighboring parking space and eased off into the city. I imagined what he thought of me standing with my hand on my door handle, looking idly at the darkness between my tires.

"What the hell.." I whispered to myself, the cowboy boots staring up at me, jesting. I grabbed hold of them, one in each hand and felt the flesh inside them grow tense as I pulled. I dragged him like a bag of sand until he was clear of my tires, his black denim jeans scratching loudly over the mud. It was a disconcerting batch of moments, each of them a singular instant, collected as if for an orchestrated purpose, like shitty ingredients in an Addam's Family recipe.

When I dropped his legs I did so with vigor and his grunt of pain was the only evidence of his consciousness.

"G'Night," I said and stepped over him, exhaling loudly, glad to be on my way toward away from him, away from the muddy parking lot, away from the night, altogether. Drunken idiots make me sad and angry and lonely all at the same time. As I set my foot down on the other side of his head, the cowboy lunged at me like a barracuda, biting into my ankle, growling like a demon as I tried desperately to shake him off, swatting at his head and screaming like anyone would.

"Let go!" I yelled, jerking and spinning and hopping with all my might until, at last I freed myself, sprawling and tripping across the parking lot. "This is nuts!" I said then, mostly to myself, trembling with shock and anger, adrenaline coursing hard in my veins. I fumbled my keys out of my pocket and dropped them in a jangle at my feet.

"Should'a just drove over my head and squashed me!" the man yelled, still unable to raise himself. He sounded better, less desperate, a bit of hope--even strength--in his voice. "Should'a just killed me under the car!" he bellowed and then thumped flat on his back again, his face to the sky, his chest heaving like a tranquilized animal.

"Should've," I said back, my own voice a rattle, stepping over him again, climbing into my car, my eyes fixed on his, which darted like hornets, unseeing.

As I drove away, the cowboy remained, an inky smudge in the vast, black parking lot, the high yellow lights shining down on him like planets or flashlights or eyes. As I watched him in my review mirror, he waved and taunted, flipped me off, his shadow long and incredible on the low sky.

A hundred miles later, thick summer insects thumping like rain against my windshield, I couldn't stop checking the dark in my mirror, couldn't stop wishing I could.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Never Seen the Devil?

Never Seen the Devil?
Never heard his song?
Never felt his frozen clutch
make weak which once was strong?

Never tasted bile?
Deep at the back of your throat?
Never felt your own blood burn
'round your heart like a boiling moat?

I'll tell you all a secret.
I'll show you where to look.
Introduce you to the Devil himself;
observe his evil book.

The Devil's name's Addiction,
comes to lie and steal and kill.
Adam and Eve's affliction;
from Eden, to booze, to pill.

Kills you while you're smiling.
Eats you while you watch.
Chokes you as you feed him,
fangs poised at your crotch.

So, swallow those pills, my brothers.
Swim in alcohol.
Fill your veins and drain your pains and hide
from those who call

You back.
To life.


Friday, March 5, 2010

Ants ...minus 50 mg/dl

In the basement there were ants. Across the cement floor and up and down the cement walls, black ants streamed and feasted on the infinitesimal chunks of carbohydrate that filtered through the floor boards from the kitchen above or arrived some other way in the flaking, mildewing basement.

In the middle of ceiling, a single light bulb cast damp, yellow light, under which, Cooper sat on the floor with his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands, sweating steadily. Twenty minutes ago the ants had made way for him and altered their maniacal course while he slowly sank to the floor after lurching down the stairs in the dark and yanking on the yellow light. Now, comfortable with his relatively immobile presence, the ants regained their original course, began traversing over his slippers and bare ankles, several of them making their way up his calves toward the creases behind his knees.

Still, Cooper sat, only dimly noting the tickle of the ants on his skin. He was down there for a reason. As he sat, rubbing his sweaty face with the palms of his hands, he struggled hard to recall what the reason was.

He looked at his watch, which he had begun wearing to bed during college when the height of the loft in his dorm room left him unable to see his desk clock unless he rolled halfway out of his bed and risked tumbling to the floor. Even these twenty years later, he still felt embarrassed about how he looked with his watch on his wrist in the middle of the night. The fact that, saving the watch, he slept utterly naked, made the watch even more embarrassing. He may as well be wearing sunglasses, he thought as he twisted the watch in a grinding, friction-inducing circle around his wrist.

It was 3:22 a.m. He’d been down there 28 minutes. He’d woken with a start, a voice from his sleep sharply imploring: “Go!” As he sat on the basement floor with the ants drizzling over him, he remembered stepping into his slippers, standing up, rubbing his fingers through his sweaty hair and walking toward the basement. Nothing else, except for the intense feeling of compulsion—a pulsing physical demand that he could not now mentally articulate. So, he sat on the cement, the cold of it shivering through him like a dull electrical current.

“What the fuck…” he said to himself and slumped his head backward onto his shoulders. He stared at the bare yellow light bulb and the tattered pull-string that rested against it. He wondered if the string represented a fire hazard and let the thought pass—would’ve burned by now, etc.

Ants, now a good stream of them, negotiated their way across the lower half of Cooper’s body. They climbed through the hair on his inner thighs and finally into his crotch. Cooper stood up quickly then, brushing them away, crushing them, their bodies rolling over themselves into little antballs, falling to the cement floor as other ants stopped, inquiringly, and then moved on toward the other side of the basement.
Cooper realized, suddenly, that he was shivering violently. Cold sweat continued to drip out of his scalp, squeezing from the pores on his back and chest.

“Fucking freezing,” he said to himself and stepped toward the stairs, the muscles above his knees wobbly, as if he’d been running.

In the kitchen, Cooper left the light off and stood in the center of the room in an effort to determine whether or not the kitchen was warmer than the basement. He wasn’t sure. Despite his incessant sweating, he was very cold.

Cooper opened the refrigerator and guzzled the last swallows of orange juice from the plastic gallon container. Not enough. As he pulled the jug away from his lips he remembered that the reason he’d gone into the basement was to get the “lots-of-pulp” orange juice from the spare refrigerator they kept down there for overstock or large items that didn’t fit into the fridge in the kitchen. Cooper’s kids hated pulp. Theirs was the “no pulp” stuff he’d just finished off. There’d be hell to pay in the morning.

“Fuckin’ A,” Cooper said out loud, appreciating the sound of his voice in the dark room. “They can drink pulp,” he said. Again, he appreciated the sound of his voice in the room. Then, suddenly, he wasn’t alone.

“Who’re you talking to, Dad?” said a voice. It was Nick, the oldest son, ten years old. “What are you doing?”

“Christ, you scared me,” Cooper said, his head now thumping as the sucrose flowed outward from his gut, blood sugar rising vainly with every heartbeat.

“Well, you scared me,” Nick said. “I could hear someone walking around in the basement and I didn’t know what it was.”

“It was me.”

“I know.”

“So it’s go-back-to-bed-time,” Cooper said. Then added, “For both of us.”

“Did you drink all the orange juice?”

“There’s some in the basement.”

“The gross kind?”

“It’s fine. Go to bed.”

“I hate that pulp kind.”

“Whatever—its bed time now. We can fight about it in the morning.”

“I hate that pulp kind.”

“Listen, Nicholas,” Cooper said, his voice shifting down a gear. “I said its bed time now. We can worry about the juice in the morning.”

“Dad, you always drink the rest of the good juice. I hate the pulp kind. All that crap floating around in it.”

Cooper’s head thumped—the price of regained cognition. His ears rang with the pulsing of blood through his carotid artery; the building blood pressure pressed against the skin of his face. He could barely hear.

“Nick,” he said. “I don’t feel very well. You need to go to bed and so do I…”

Then, he was kneeling, the points of his kneecaps stabbed painfully into the narrow birch planks of the kitchen floor. Then the floor was on his face, cool and dusty.

From his sideways-prone position he could see under the refrigerator. There were mats of cottony dust there, shifting like tumbleweeds at his breath. Cooper was interested in the tumbleweeds and puckered his lips and blew on them. They twirled like a tornado in their confined space between the refrigerator and the floor and eventually settled somewhere between them, suspended in space—simultaneously too heavy and too light for gravity to decide what to do with them.

Newton,” Cooper said and heard himself say it. Apparently, he’d been saying it for a while. Above the sound of his voice, there was a lot of movement. There was activity—strange and phrenetic. The sounds of people he didn’t know. And above that, further away, the sound of Nick talking in frightened tones. Cooper strained to make sense of Nick's voice, but the adult, louder, closer voices were overpowering.

“What’s he keep talking about?” one of the voices was asking.

Another answered, “Something about Newton.

“What’s that mean?”

“Hell if I know….hell if he knows. He’s really out of it.”

Cooper listened to the voices sailing over him, amused. The dust tumbleweeds rolled and stirred beneath the refrigerator with his every breath. He felt himself laugh, a single, belching laugh, like a hiccup.
“So, give him the Glucogon; what’re you waiting for?”

“Yeah, you’re right; I got it right here. I was hoping the kid would get out of here so he wouldn’t have to see his dad get rolled over and stabbed in the ass with this harpoon.”

“The kid’ll be fine. Give him the Gluc.”

Cooper waited for it, knew it was coming, and then felt it—the stab of the long, heavy-gauge needle in his hip. It hurt. He heard himself making a noise and was embarrassed about it but couldn’t stop. He groaned long and soft—an exhausted, resigned sound, representative of the out-of-control feeling he hated and denied and hid.

“How you dooin’, Nick?” he slurred from his place on the floor, and the dust tumbleweeds danced like dervishes.

“Feeling better, Sir?” one of the paramedics was asking, packing up his things in a plastic generic tackle box. Cooper squinted at him with the one eye he could open. He was young and handsome and confident—cocky maybe, Cooper thought.

“A little,” he answered. “I suppose I’ve been making an ass of myself.” The words were still coming out slow and thick—his mouth not yet fully connected to his brain. “Gimme a sec.,” he said. “Glucogon is kicking in…”

“You’re fine, Sir,” the paramedic said. “We’re in no hurry. We’re going to wait around until you’re ready.”
“And there’s some paperwork,” the other paramedic added.

“Where’s my wife?” Cooper asked, surprised at how alarmed the words sounded.

“She’s got the other kids downstairs. They woke up with all the action; but this guy here won’t budge.” The paramedic nodded at Nick and Cooper saw him giving him a wink, as if they were part of some private conspiracy that didn’t include him.

“Yeah, he’s my guy, alright,” Cooper whispered, his strength ebbing away as his blood coursed hard, working to dissipate the glucose that now saturated his bodily tissues. He imagined his blood as an angry, warring swarm, absorbing, annihilating, killing off the sugar in his cells, leaving the dead skeletons behind as litter, which piled up in heaps to be metabolized later, spit out in tomorrow’s toilet and sweat and water-drinking binge.

“Sir,” the paramedic was saying. “Can I have you sign these for me?”

Cooper’s one eye rolled open, not readily.

“Or should I have your wife do it?”

“I’ll fucking do it,” Cooper said, and sat up, abruptly, surprising the paramedic who stepped back a little, which Cooper liked. “Got a pen?”

“Right here,” the paramedic said, nimbly arranging the pen in Cooper’s rather inflexible grip. He squinted hard at the paper, but the lines of print were like streams of gray fuzz.

“I can’t read it,” he admitted and dropped the pen, heard it rattle on the floor.

“Not a problem, Sir,” the paramedic said. “We can wait.” And then his partner,

“Or we can just have your wife sign,” he said, his annoyance thinly veiled.

“Whatever you want,” Cooper said back, exhaustion rising up in him like a heavy, wool blanket, extinguishing his ability to care about anything but closing his eyes, lying down, going under. “Do what you want.”

And then he was alone in the yellow world between dreaming and not-dreaming, the movements above him vaguely felt, if not seen, the voices audible, if not coherent, the sense of knowing, acute, if not trustworthy. He lay there, the birch floor beneath him, cool and unmoving, everything else a-swirl.

“Dad?” he could hear. It was Nick, he could tell, but responding was out of the question. With all the strength he could muster, Cooper tilted the corners of his mouth, a smile he hoped would say “I’m alright.”

Below, in the basement, the ants kept their march. Their unending line as constant as time, their numbers uncountable, their determination, pure, the world beyond theirs, invisible.


From the collection "Sweet Blood and other Stories," a collection of stories in which diabetes is a fundamental character.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


The car, coursing down the sunny summer freeway, is the perfect incubator. One hundred fifty-something miles ahead of them, eleven years of marriage behind them, the alignment of opportunity and necessity a lesson in psycho-spiritual geometry. Pythagoras would have been proud.

"Can we talk about something?" she asks.

"Sure," he says, turning down the radio and absently shifting his weight as he drives, steadying himself. "Like what?"

"Well, I don't know--nothing, really," code for Get Ready, this is going to take a while... "I just was wondering about some stuff."

"What stuff?"

The road stretches on ahead, black mirage-water puddles appearing and disappearing one after the other. The silence isn't bad, just is. Then:

"You're not as nice to me as you used to be," she says, finally, and looks at him, knowing this will need an explanation, but watching for his reaction first, to gauge which explanation to use. She has several.

"I'm not?" he looks at her, honestly asking, leaving the car to the road for several seconds.

"Not saying you're mean," she insists, squeezing his knee, assuring him. "Just not as nice--like in the little ways--that you used to be."

"Hmmm," he mumbles, turning his eyes back to the road, noticing he mirage puddles, tucking under the car at a greater pace. "Maybe it would be helpful to know, specifically, what you mean by nice," he says. "Because, to me, not as nice means pretty close to the same as mean...so....I'm confused."

"You're not getting it," she says, letting go of his knee and facing deliberately forward. "It's like you're trying to make an argument out of this and I'm just trying to talk."

"I'm just trying to talk, too," he says, feeling the pitch of his voice elevating, adjusting his hips in the seat again. "I'm sure as hell not trying to fight--I was just driving...All I asked was for a definition of what you mean by not as nice."

She faces him again. "Alright. This, right now, actually, is a good example. All I'm trying to do is talk. And you're either defensive or just not in the mood, preoccupied, whatever--but it's obvious you're not really into it."

Sighing, loudly, he re-affects his grip on the steering wheel, purposely letting some time pass. "Hey," he starts, "I love you. I want to be nice to you. I want to be nicer to you than I've ever been before. But, since I think I am being nice to you and you think I'm not, I just need some help understanding your definition of what nice means." He looks at her. "Is that unreasonable."

"No," she allows. It's not unreasonable. It's just not nice."

"Holy crap."

"Not nice in the way you used to be years ago."

"You've lost me."

"Before, you never would argue with me the way we do now--the way you are right now!"

"I wouldn't have?"

"No way...."

"What would I have done--what did I do, back then, when we talked about stuff? What did I do when we argued?"

"Well, for one, we didn't argue very much."

"But we did talk...right?"

"Of course. A lot."

"And we agreed on everything, always? I don't remember that."

"Don't patronize me; I didn't say that....My point, in case you care about the point instead of caring about shutting me up, is that, before, even if we did disagree or something, you were nice about it. Respectful. Loving. Nice....I'm sorry if I can't explain it better. I just know nice when I see it."

"Me too."


"I'm not an idiot, either. I know what nice is. ..and, frankly, I think I'm nice. Not perfect, obviously. But nice. How am I not nice?"

"You wear me out."

"You ain't alone."

"Feels like it."



Ahead, on the freeway, a murder of crows takes flight from a deer carcass, the sun shimmering in waves off the pavement.

Fifty miles later, she opens her eyes from a frown-filled, neck-cramped nap. He's been watching her and feels a flat sense of gladness to see her waking up. He's missed her. She smiles at him.

"I love you," he says.

"I love you, too."

"I'll work on being nicer."

"I'll work on being more articulate."

They smile at each other. She touches his leg. He holds her hand.

"It's too hot in here," she says.

"I know," he responds and rolls down the window, the A/C irritates her throat.

"Not so far!" she chimes, her hair blowing madly, "I hate that wind in the car!"

"Sorry," he says and rolls up the window. "Not sure how to cool it down without the wind or A/C."

She stares at him--eye-darts--and slowly shakes her head, incensed and fuming, the frustration incendiary.

He drives on, his face like the Sphinx. Adding up the miles in his head.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Stopping by Woods While Skiing with Blythe

Stopping by Woods While Skiing with Blythe

Whose woods these are I think I know...
They're mine, from taxes that I throw
this way and that, year after year
and rarely do I see them grow

to things made real, things made dear
for me or mine to see or hear...
This moonlit trail and falling flake,
Quiet evening, peaceful prayer.

Skupocjen Spruga, her skis, they make
a perfect sifting sound and take
my breath away, makes me weep,
the distance of her snowy wake.

Skupocjen Spruga, dark and deep,
And we have blessings yet to keep,
And miles to ski before we sleep
And dreams to keep beyond our sleep.



Friday, February 26, 2010

Christmas Eve 2008

Christmas Eve, 2008

Outside, a train hurls by, a hundred feet from where I write this. A thousand feet beyond that, a small pack of brush wolves contemplate the evening as they do every other, unknowing and uncaring about Jesus.

The alpha male blinks against the wind, dimly recognizing his responsibility, while, around him, omagas lounge and doze, protected. An excellent life, if ignoble.

...a month ago the alpha simply murdered two of his newborn male pups. Devoured them, absently, coughing up their fur, his mate baring her teeth in vain, helpless against him; his terrible instinct unexplained, unexplainable.

Except for science, which understands it, not having to forgive it.
And religion, which forgives it, not having to understand it.

...We hurt those we love, for millions of reasons, unexplained, unexplainable. Just true.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Halloween 2000

Fall fell in October when I became less brave next to ghosts than I had been as a child. On the 31st Mom's cancer was back to kill her. For me, it didn't feel like anything--a deep empty sea of knowing.

That night, after the trick-or-treaters, I lay in bed breathing and listening. Outside, black, naked branches shiver in the wet wind and, beyond that, in the inky night, winter creeps forward like a slow, giant boulder, like the pressing heavy dream of Mom's thickening cancer. Like November itself--nothing but cold and darkness beyond it.

Head vacant as the surface of the moon, I walk in the night, against traffic, south on Highway 33, head down and listening, toes kicking air.

A raccoon twists itself in the dirt at the side of the road, half dead, fresh-hit by the whizzing traffic, mud-blood damp in the fur. Crazed with pain and the short prayer of death, yellow eyes beg--spitting black gums and pointed small teeth, it hisses like piss on a campfire. With a boot on its throat, I help it strangle until it stares back at me, silent, still angry but quiet after all.

Alone, on my couch, thinking that nothing but the sight of you can move me. But you're dying and I'm not, and that's that.

"I'm good at staring," I say to the man in the t.v. "I'm good at keeping my eyes burned open." But the man says something else, not even talking to me.

Outside, the dark and the wind and the blowing rain rattle the house. Makes me small, dares me to listen. And I do, to the branches, scratching the windows and the tin of the gutters, the noise like a memory of everything lost--yet to lose. A gray basement fear grows in my stomach and spreads outward, warm like alcohol, under my skin. The black sea of knowing flooding in.

She'll be dead soon and no prayer can stop it. And no sin.
If nothing is sacred, everything isn't.
My right boot has blood on it from the raccoon, dark like chocolate. But I don't taste it. I just think about it. But I don't do it. I never do it, just keep thinking about it.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"Would you like to cut the umbilical, Mr. Thill?"
"Sure, I guess so."
The doctor, a few years older than me, a little condescending--or maybe I'm just insecure--holds the thick umbilical cord in his hands, spreads it out in front of me like a guy rolling pasta, offers a span of about 5 inches. He nods with his chin to a pair or scissors tucked into the breast pocket of his Zubaz-colored smock.
"Take the scissor."
I do.
"Got it," I say, levering the blades back and forth, for practice. They sound sharp. The cord is thick and tri-colored, blue and brown and bloody, glistening mucous. I aim the scissor at the cord and something in my bowels catches, a flush of adrenaline pulses.
"Not sure I want to be responsible for this," I say, lightly, nodding back and forth between my wife and our still-tethered son.
The doctor indicates a bit of impatience and holds out the cord.
"There you go--go ahead and cut it."
"Sorry, Son," I say as I surround the cord with the blades. "Sorry to disconnect you from the best care you'll ever get." Cutting the cord feels like meat. Like steak. The scissors make a "Shhhhht" sound as they separate my new son from my new wife.
"Nice work," the doctor says, and gives me a wink. Like I'm some kid just learning to fly a kite.
"Screw you," I say, under my breath and my wife hears, rolls her eyes.Then she closes them, exhausted. Happy.
"Your the one who did the 'Nice Work'," I tell her. The feeling in my chest for her is like heavy, wet clay. My knees are suddenly weak and my eyes start to water. "You're amazing," I tell her, and she grabs for my hand, and finding it, squeezes and drifts off to sleep. Ten seconds later she snores like a sailor.
I put my head in my hands and cry like a child.
Across the room, my new son, freshly separated from what had been his world, lies silent and peaceful as a leaf on a tree, waiting and innocent of wind, rain or darkness.


Happy Birthday Nicholas Thill

Happy Birthday, Son,
your broken world undone;
your heart a wrought-iron stake,
impales your life and makes
you break

The promise.
That you are.

...which all who know you see,
your life as meant to be.
The dragon's voice gone mute,
your freed mind now astute.
And yours.

Happy Birthday, Son,
your hopeful world, as one,
united 'gainst the lie,
while oceans will I cry
for you.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

me, jeff and ray

January, 1983
Ray and Jeff and me at Ray's house. Snowed in like Shackleton, Ray's dad at the match mill. His mom brings us Pepsi and I can't drink it so I don't--I pour it out in the planter and it overflows on the blue rug. I drop a couch pillow on the stain and no one knows.

Ray's brother, Mitch, down the hall with a girl. We hear them laughing like chimps, not giggling, but laughing, his changing voice cracking, her coquettish tones sing-song.

Bootlegging music--from LP to cassette--Grover Washington Jr., Chuck Mangione, Earl Klugh and Al Dimeola. I wanted The Doors, but Jeff was in charge.

"The last thing you need is more Doors."
"The last thing you need is more authority."
"It's not authority I have, but taste, you dolt. Just let me get you this stuff first."
"Hey, Mr. Stylepoints, I love this jazz shit. Lay it on me Hep Cat; I can dig it as well as you can."
"You guys, knock it off," Ray says from his chair. It's his house, so we stop, to pick it up later...it would end like it always did: Me punching Jeff in the face, or Jeff restraining me like a spazz younger brother, condescendingly sweet, unwilling to crush.
"This guy's guitar is amazing," I say, changing tone. "This music makes me want to drive..."
"Then you should get your damn driver's license, Late Bloomer," Jeff says. And Ray laughs like crazy, sounds like his brother. His mother pokes in..

"Everything okay in here? " she says, ultra cheerful. She eyes the snow out the window, piling up in drifts. We'd been there since the morning before and it was getting to be twilight. Her mind as easy to read as "Encyclopedia Brown." Are they gonna be here ANOTHER night? None of us say anything, although I manage a shrug. "Well, let me know if youz guys need anything," she offers, and turns on her heel and disappears to check on Mitch.

"Nothing's okay in here," Ray mumbles when she's gone. Jeff and I look at him and then at each other.
"What's that?" I say, just to say it.
"Fuck it," Ray says, loud and resigned, implying Now Drop It, so I do and so does Jeff, who stands up to change the music and set up the next tape.
"Ray, you're next," Jeff says. "What do you want taped? You want that Maynard album? Par brought Chameleon."
"Whatever," Ray says. "I'm going outside."
Jeff and I follow him, out into the snow, where the wind cuts our skin and snow stabs our faces.

"What the hell are we doing out here?" Jeff says, looking at me, but talking to Ray.
"We're standing here," I say. "And freezing our asses off. That's what we're doing!--hey Ray, what's the point?"
Suddenly, Ray has a cigarette and tugs on it deeply. He's either crying or the wind is making his eyes burn, yet he stands, facing the wind, exhaling into it, vainly.
"Hey," Jeff says, stepping closer for a better look. I step up, too, put my face next to his. "What the hell's the matter, Ray?" Jeff says, demanding, on the verge of annoyance, the pitch of his voice tight, hinting at fear.

Ray takes a deep breath and speaks monotone, as if bored or exhausted or utterly uninterested:

"Some day, 25 years from now, you guys will be married and have teenagers, making out in their bedrooms and spilling pop on your carpet. They'll bug the shit out of you, with their friends and their music--like we annoy ours."

"Yeah," Jeff and I say, almost in unison. And then, "So? ...why are we standing in a blizzard to hear that? Who cares? Twenty five years is a long way away."

"I'll never make that," Ray says and drops his cigarette. It sizzles for an instant, then is buried for good.
"The hell are you talking about?" I say, and Jeff says,
"You're wrong."
And we trudge back to the house where Grover Washington Jr. is finishing "Let it Flow." Ray comes in last, his mood changed completely. Grover apparently the magical touch.

"Love this album," Ray whispers and then, "Let's play Jim Morrison," he says and winks at me. "American Prayer. Rock and roll poet."

Jeff shakes his head, disdainful, but obedient. "Rock and Roll Poser," he says under his breath. But Jeff knows to accommodate. He knows Ray is right. He knows I don't know and never will and never can. And the snow keeps snowing. And the music steals on.

Monday, February 22, 2010


...In a former life I studied linguistics. I love language, the representational, metaphorical reality of it. The word "chair" doesn't mean anything at all other that what it means to each, individual human being's notion of what a chair is. Therefore, my idea of chair is totally my own and necessarily distinct from everyone else's. ...because my experience of chairs, early on and still, continually inform and affect the picture of "chair" that comes up in my mind when I hear, speak or see the word "chair." So. How many human beings on planet earth? How many, in the history of humankind? All but a tiny subset of that big number possessed at lease some understanding of "chair." Yet, every single one of those understandings is/was distinct to that individual understanderer...know what I mean? So, that's gazillions of notions of "chair." And we're talking about a freaking chair here. Noun. Inanimate object. Not a concept. Not "love" or "hate" or "loyalty" or "Goodness" or "God" or "Free Will" or whatever else we kill each other over. We're talking about a damn chair. We're talking about a chair...(this is my impression of Alan Iverson, ie: we're talking about practice...practice...practice) ...Plato, in The Republic is all over this notion of "forms" or "chairness." Read his cave allegory. Makes this point much better and more originally than I. ...But my point is not necessarily to concentrate on the "form," the presence or absence of "chairness," but the absolutely incredible gift of language. And, as great a gift as it is: wow... it's still absolutely amazing that we can communicate with one another at all. ...

So...next time someone says: "I love you so much...words can't express it," or "I know what I mean but I just can't explain it" or some other such nonsense, tell them: "You DO have the words to express it. So get on with it, lazy ass. Start expressing. Start explaining. It's a total copout to say you can't express how you feel." ...just because we may not be able to explain or express ourselves PERFECTLY, that is no reason to not attempt it, especially knowing that our particular expression of whatever it is we're feeling, thinking, etc. is 100% distinct to us. In effect, we, ourselves, are the perfect living masters of our own expression. So...NOT attempting is like Mozart saying, "Well, I can't really get this tune on paper exactly how I want it, so I'm just gonna lay on the couch and watch college football and take a nap."

Attempt, for God's sake.

Breakin it in...

Grateful to Mr. Gore for inventing the internet. ...and Global Warming. ..."What hath God wrought?"