a poet died

last week, an old poet
named Herschel
(aged 79)
died in our town
he was
a man who’d faced
mighty demons
3 vindictive lovers
and at least 9
unforgiving employers
and no less than 23
relentless creditors
not to mention
long nights
(for nearly 17 years)
at a bar called
the Timberline
surrounded by serious fans
who gathered nightly
to hear him read
his latest
cocktail napkin
and to applaud
his readings
and to tell him
that his words
had moved them


more than
Deepak Chopra
or the Dali Lama
that must be surely
bottled and sold
shaken and stirred
and strained gently
over crushed ice
and blended
so very carefully
until their consistency
is consistent
with Kentucky bourbon…

…fine words…
…words that give comfort
to the fucked up needy
when the night
presses in hard
and the corporate benefits
are extinguished
and the wife has vanished
and the old friend
the last one that
you had on earth
is buried
and the dog is lost
and the boat has sunk
and the Visa card has
been cancelled,
the electricity cut off
and the property

You think of him then
on a cold night
…damned old poet
you envy him
on his last night on earth
he just waved at the stars
and walked away

You wonder

sometimes you wake up
in the morning
and you think
about everyone who didn’t

you think
about that kid you knew
in the 8th grade who
died a couple of years ago
at age 58
from a massive coronary
on a golf course in Gulfport
and you think
about that girl from

…the one who wore
that very tiny
green dress
to the prom
and you wonder
how she’d look
if she hadn’t
drank a 4th
Tom Collins
at the North Star
that night…


(you think of)
the girl from
East Hennepin who was lost
and presumed dead
on Lake Erie
in a storm
about 23 years ago
(accompanied by)
her husband,
…the sailor

and you seriously
think about
the priest
who married you to
your first wife,
and how he must have felt

when he died in an avalanche

in Yosemite
three years ago
and you wonder why

As you are staring
at that face in the mirror
with the whiskers
tinged grey
you wonder
if you’d look like
if you grew it out

if the damned thing
would just get the best
of you too


Sandhills expedition

don’t kiss me good-night
— tonight
sweet Nebraska
don’t let me
die in search
of that
elusive Valentine
don’t call me
names for the sake
of trying to change
my mind
don’t call the place
I’m in – devoid
of sensory pleasure
don’t call the road
I’ve travelled – sublime
or call me one of the
fortunate few,
don’t read the last
words that I wrote
to you and
call it literature
or the last poem
I wrote for you
and whisper
the last 4 lines
to me from the comfort
your cellular phone
from your loft in
San Francisco
or from your cabin
in Oregon
…so, just let me be
sweet Nebraska
with its golden half moon
pushing up over
Scotts Bluff
with Wyoming
being its own same self
to the west
and the wind from
Manitoba wafting through
the open windows
of the 1970 Travelall
let me pitch my tent
in the shadow of
Highway 20
…underfed lanky coyotes of
doom howl
in the distance,
give me one more
before I go home.

great aunt

who moved
to Sun City
to live with
her 3rd husband
a retired driver for
Consolidated Freightways
told me that she
found a coiled rattler
near her pool slider
and a scorpion
sleeping on the gravel path
alongside her garage
and she suspected that
wild animals had
infected Demetrius’
food bowl
(her Pomeranian)
and that Nip’s
water dish
(her Siamese)
was compromised
in some way
she said that
the lifestyle
that she had imagined
when she was a girl
growing up in
Manhattan, Kansas
had evaded her
and now
as she approached
age sixty seven
her expectations had collapsed
due to the uncertain
and turbulent
housing market
and the unavailability
of jobs in the
hospitality industry
and she told me
quite discretely
that she suspected
anti-government activity
in the desert south of town

the bill

I dare you to come after me
I dare you…
…to taunt me from the shadows
of the side alley on Williams Street
after I have been drinking at that
no-name joint next door to the
pizzeria that’s open all night
and I dare you to try to find me
in the morning when sun is
five minutes from rising
and the last hangers-on have
toddled off to the serenity of
comfortable beds and crisp sheets
and morning love
and champagne cocktails
and I dare you to locate me
through some long forgotten
personal ad in a bankrupt
or from the 1978 Mankato, Minnesota
telephone directory
or through some
mutual friend whom
I haven’t spoken to in 15 years
or some
long retired
derelict watchman
from a Denver train yard
who reported my death
two decades ago
and I dare you to show up
where you aren’t welcome
poking and prodding me
telling me I have to
pay up one last time
submit to a final examination
so I can make plans
for the next transaction
and I’ll watch idly by
as you exhibit your superiority
in matters such as these
I dare you to locate me
when I don’t want to be found
when I want to be left alone
But you will find me in the end
you’re a treacherous old


last night

I could have written

a fine poem

but I didn’t


I called the dogs

away from the porch

and we walked

into the last, long


of early evening


late summer rye grass


the end rows,

of a corn field

that flanks

the Missouri River


we passed,

the railway siding

where a half dozen cars

sit rusting, emblazoned with

rail logo like: CARGO

like: CN…


big old seventy ton


they wait like

forlorn old derelicts

abandoned steel horses

from a long ago war


determined and alone

for a ride – a hookup

for the run down

to the yard

in Kansas City

or Topeka


so we go on

the three of us

me, KD, and Goliath

up a hill,

then along

the gravel path

that leads to

Union cemetery


they buried

a soldier

three weeks ago today

…we see the small flags

that are planted

in the earth

marking the grave

no headstone yet…

…it’s too early

but there is time

plenty of time


it’s quiet here…

… and it will be

for the next

ten millennium

and for another

ten millennium after that


we take the stillness


…me and the dogs

and we walk home

taking a direct route.

points west

Some days,

I miss the hinterlands

some days

when the inland rains

don’t let up

and the gators

have snapped at the

last golfer on the course

in West Palm Beach

and the biggest python snake

in the world has been captured

in Kendall —

swimming in the pool

of a famous – but now

disgraced athlete

and the most informed

newscaster in the nation

has rushed to

Miami Beach

to report on the latest

scandal involving

some pseudo-politician

…it is then

…(and only then)

that I long for the plain pine bench

in the birch grove

on the shore of

some Lake Woe-be-gone

six miles southwest of Hibbing

…the one we used to sit on

when we were both nineteen years old

and we would both look west

far past Fargo, and Bismark,

…not stopping there…

on past Missoula and Couer d’ Alene

raising a toast to the setting sun

believing that it held the answer

to a tough question

that neither of us dared to ask

both of us thinking that if we

could just

watch it drop below

the horizon

on Venice Beach –

– just one single time

that our lives would change


time spent

When it’s late at night…
… 2:45 AM
and you listen to the wind
blow through the palms
on Singer Island
and the wind whispers to you
that the past
17 years have been
a commercial success
in spite of it all,
remember that,
the damned,
fickle, late night wind


Lying to you
telling you that
you really haven’t lost
3 homes to foreclosure
and that your position at the
brokerage —

the one that was arranged
by your cousin Sid
was simple destiny
yours to use or abuse
and the time that you spent
for two and a half years
was just time
owed the pensioners
for your sacrifice
at the hand of the
consummate professional,
the ultimate Satan
although it resulted…

…in the destruction of
your constitution
…the dissolution of
your marriage
…the demolition of
your soul,
(although not necessarily
in that order)
but in the end
your time
in Federal Prison
was a walk
in the

when I wanted to be Johnny

When I was fifteen years old
someone asked who I wanted to be
when I grew up
and there was only one guy
I could think of
so I said
“I want to be just like

Johnny –”

— Johnny Carson

not because I wanted to
be a TV guy
who wore great suits
and lived in Los Angeles, California
(which was a long way from…
Minden, Nebraska
and far from Las Cruces, New Mexico
and far from Hibbing, Minnesota
and St. Charles, Iowa
and Laughlin, Nevada…

where I grew up…)
but maybe it was because
Johnny was so much unlike
Uncle Morris, who
drank each evening, and
lost the farm to the bank
and lost his wife to a charlatan
and his children to The County.

Perhaps it was because Johnny,
exuded behemoth cool
with the cigarette carefully hidden
beneath the desk
(the minimalist)
each breath measured and timed
that reassured me each night
at ten thirty (Central Time)
that sanity ruled

after all.