a writer’s block

Sometimes she wrote automatically, cursively with dime store pencils in notepads filled with lined paper, margined and the colour of jaundice. Other times she wrote with sicks, dissident in the dirt, in symbols with charcoal on the walls of caves or on standing stone.

Now she sat in the dark (there was a small fire), past midnight within the irregular hiss off the nearby highway, in the sage next to her shelter, where she’d always written, or hadn’t, depending on what came in out of the desert, but the words had left her, with only their absence to prove their parting.

A ferry—its deck of verbs and nouns—had taken them across a cattailed river, and she had rolled up her jeans, stepped into the cloudy current, and watched them on the other side, some chatting quietly, cliquey in subordinate clauses, no longer on the breath of muses.

The muses. Drifters, grifters, dreadful friends, changeable with no destination in mind, leaving her kitchen a mess when they wandered in from the roadside, painting their red mark on her door. Stingy pockets, full of gravity and plot, able to bend candlelight over the page, able to make a pen suffer ink. She was light enough for one to carry.

Carry me, she whispered and waited. The fire snapped, dawn beginning early, voiceless and forever.










a writer on the street corner

Is it peace to know that gravity will break you, and that you will fall like rain?

It wasn’t really a street corner thought, but he was on a street corner thinking it, nonetheless. On a street corner with his hat held out, just short of the ice wind blowing beyond the shelter of his doorway.

“Spare change?” he said, to determined people passing.

He was a ruin, he knew. Why should anyone acknowledge him, and toss a coin? He’d be an artefact if found in a jungle, barely identifiable, catalogued and placed in a wooden box. And he was a derelict in this living city. A once stout building, he could say, perhaps of industry. Concrete in his way, wet empty open floors and broken windows.

He often recalled his youth, while on street corners, no reason to beg except for drink. Begging was a vocation, mostly comprised of recesses, separations like mediations. No counting his breaths, however, to achieve his cosmic consciousness. Instead he found transcendence through counting defeats, and by holding other moments in the palm of his bent hand.

Youth had been the greatest of his times. Adolescence with its rage, and its stink of beer and adrenaline. It was black and white now, projected poorly edited and flickering onto a screen in its dim theatre.

Cursed with voice, a pen had been thrust into his hand by frantic mentors — fear not the sentence, nor its subordinate clause. But he’d feared both, and was broken by Joyce, Proust and Hemmingway. And having dropped the pen, he’d walked away, and the years passed fast as verbs.

“Spare change?”

But there had been one story, written in a long summer ago, in a time of thorny joy. The sea hadn’t been far away, and he walked in the wind and saw women breeze-blown with their children crouching over small crabs and shells on the shore. The children in muck, with smiles looking into the sun, which they were forbidden to do. And there were seagulls too, so unhunted a bird that there seemed to be millions, all calling at once.

His story had been about a ship, anchored in the bay. Its lights at night reflected long on the water, each on its shore-bound trajectory, stopping just short. Untouchable colours, like fingers ready on a hand preparing to grasp the seawall.

And yes, there were lovers. The moon and the fog. A brief affair, thought to be over by dawn. But the moon returned the following night, sad and smaller, to find the fog had vanished, having made promises, but leaving no word.

“Spare change?”

There had been at least one poem, as well.

I left you in my drawer
of forgotten monsters…

It had unfolded from there. The stanzas, sedimentary. A ghost in a drawer. All ghost were stories. Rough iron nails in relic jars, rattling when the wine was gone.

His shoes were sail canvas, torn and wet, and he stood over the ship’s bottomless hold.

Peace now that gravity breaks you, and you fall like rain.

“Spare change?”

woman in a doorway

There’s a derelict building, at a corner where two empty streets cross. It’s built in an old style, and was once filled with art; ideas, oceans and the joy of creation. Then plague came, and creation died. Now the building stands empty and without windows, with the wind yelling out in its rooms.

When I stand on the corner, I see a woman in a doorway. She sees nothing, I know, and remains still, even when I touch her hair. She’s a ghost sign, a recounting of a small event in a small life. A backward image, left behind in a floral wartime dress, young and serene in her moment. I’ve wondered if I love her.

To be homeless is to live in a different city, to walk an edge that’s cut into the circle of the world, begging, finding yourself in plate glass. Here, I hunker down and sleep in steel corners, invisible to evil and street Christians driven mad by creed.

Here, I divide time with a knife. There are decades in my belly, and monsters eating decades. I hold screams in my hands.

Stepping out of an alley, I see the woman in the doorway. Birds in empty windows, creeping like fascists, whispering like outlaws. There are no gardens here. No moon. The trees have walked away.

I cross the street and stand with my ear to her heart. Does she breathe? Then sit down on the stoop next to her, and look away. There’s a streetlight in the next block, and then planets.

the truth about cats

When I was a kid, there was old Mrs McKenzie, and her big jungle garden where cats would roam, crouched in devout sparrow prayers, or trolling for mice with panga minds. They might even have been movie stars; whiskers were in fashion.

It was the sixties then, after and before mania had pressed them in with gods. When they were cursed by us, as defilers of backyard sandboxes, cowards of down when caught in trees, and floozies with their vortex spines, impossibly twisting round gullible ankles.

There were dogs, too. Needy and competing for garbage can swag, with hair-triggers and barks like bullets. But a cat on a fence was dog bulletproof, even if a rock thrown by a child could knock him for a loop.

Tony Andrioni could hit a cat from twenty paces, and hunted Saturdays and summer vacations, with pockets of stones, and his Drysdale arm. Sending his victims under cars, ill-eyed and with murder in their claws.

I will say nothing of the moon, orbiting like the damned, causing tides of cats, betrayed by tattling eyes, glaring out from asylum, ready for their moment of swollen rowdy alley cat kink, though many were pretenders, out for a flash from their warm human homes, returning without shame at the first here kitty call.

These were cats, and I swore when I was young that they thought without thinking, moved without motion and manipulated man without affect. In my childish bloom, I could only say, aw, nice pussy, and pet them like anyone else. It was before I knew the truth about cats: that the apocalypse would be theirs.

3 rules

In the neighbourhood where I grew up, we had three rules.

Beware of the guy on the curb, with dark glasses, saying — Crazy man, crazy — snapping his fingers out of time to absent music, and smoking cigarettes without inhaling. This is the guy who bought his zoot suit at a department store with his mother’s money, instead of from a teamster off the back of a truck in an alley. This is the guy with the loafers where there oughta be spectators, and corduroy where there oughta be sharkskin.

And never ignore the passions of a one armed woman, the one on Union Street who washes dishes at the White Lunch, and reads the Raymond Chandler novels to the old blind Navy boys. The one with the room over the butcher, just up from the Dime-a-Dance, where the cheap .38s explode on Saturday night, but the cops don’t show because they’re playing blackjack in a room at the Ivanhoe Hotel.

And never accept absolution from ol’ Father Nick at St Mary’s Cathedral. The guy with the pencil mustache and the patent leather collar. Who smells like sulfur the way some fellas smell like Aqua Velva. Who clips his nails in the confessional, anoints the dying with hair tonic and locks the joint each night with a Solomon key. Who cheats at bingo, calls Jesus Jake and offers up saltines and Orange Crush for the Eucharist.

These were the rules we lived by in my day. Things have changed mightily.


Used to be Lola got what she wanted. At the bar in the dim lush life light, young in the satin evening. On the edge of men with all of their fear and fraud, and Fathers’ Day verse tucked into watch pockets, who missed their suburban trains with intent, who snapped their fingers and were Frank Sinatra.

And all of the girls who believed their cocktail omens, who wrote their poems with lipstick on the windshields of Buicks, who were adored but never worshiped. Did they know that that was it, to love it? Dizzy in a club on Broadway. A Night in Tunisia, and the chore of fitting whole lifetimes into a single evening. Amber stones of Birdland. Tibetan cool, when all was well with jazz, and the dark wet night could have been masculine or feminine, or a gender we don’t know.