This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
BEHIND YOUR CURTAIN
Behind your curtain
was a stage flat
that looked like a brick wall.
As time passed,
the brick wall became real.
You used to bless me with teenage smiles.
Then the smiles came to an end
and everything I did
got on your nerves.
So, I closed my curtain
and knew better
than to step out for encores.
A few years ago,
I visited a restored home
in West Los Angeles.
The owner had a curtain
in his living room-pulled open to reveal
a picture window
enabling a view
of a flower garden,
a small swimming pool
and a guest house.
It's the kind of sight
you would have loved
in the year
when we were both fifteen.
WHAT HENRY FONDA SAID
The "I know just what he meant" moment
came as a result of reading a paperback book
of Larry King interview transcripts.
Henry Fonda was on Larry's show
(think it was the radio one)
and Henry said something about how children
are wonderful actors
when they play games
such as cops and robbers
until the age of eight or nine
when they start being self-conscious
each time they fall down.
For me, this epiphany didn't occur
until I entered
the seventh grade
(junior high was only two years in our town)
and was made to realize
that older children existed.
And each time I fell down,
I became extremely self-conscious
because the audience watching
(and sometimes laughing)
was bigger than it used to be
when I played superheroes
or cops and robbers
or international spies
and no one cared at all.
HIDING IN THE NINETIES
It seemed like a way to control the uncontrollable:
Rise from the single bed in the tiny apartment
Few people besides me entered
And go out into the Angeles sunlight
With the invisible armor,
Almost no spoken words,
And no smile
Although once I was tempted
When the woman sharing the elevator
With me at the Wilshire Ralphs
Asked me if I liked gourmet chocolate
And I was afraid to say too much
Because, although I was attracted,
I thought she wouldn't like the person
I thought I really was.
POEM FOR ARNOLD--NOTES ON A FAILED CAREER MOVE
It seemed liike a good idea in 2003-get rid of that grey-haired, hot-tempered
hectoring middle-school principal of a governor.
Gray Davis was his name.
It was a grey-flannel name that,
in the words of the time-honored cliche,
came direct from Central Casting.
You tried to go PG-13
with that 2-Arnolds-for-one
clone movie few people saw.
It was clear from test screenings
that TERMINATOR 3 was no TERMINATOR 2.
And your dignity probably couldn't stand the idea
of playing Yul Brynner's old robot-gunslinger role
in a remake of WESTWORLD
for less than your usual salary quote.
So what other choice was there besides Governator?
Hell, look what it did for Reagan.
I'll pass over the last seven years in silence
except to say that you found out the hard way
that there are two kinds of leaders
subject to legislative gridlock:
Liberal (aka Progressive) Democrats
It was your curse
that you chose to walk through
Door Number Two.
I help till the soil at Hostile Acres.
Almost everyone carries a gun except me.
Tried to learn once.
Almost shot my big toe off.
Some people came looking for work the other day.
Didn't take long until the hired hands began talking:
"They're taking our jobs."
"How do you know whether or not they're American?"
"Make them carry IDs."
"What about injecting digitized guest-worker chips under their skin?"
"Let's just tattoo a citizenship barcode on their forearms."
And so on and so forth.
Then a few shots rang out.
This is what I heard a few minutes later:
"It was a lone nutcase with a gun."
"The nut's still alive."
"No, he's dead for sure."
"Thank God we can carry guns in public for protection.
The maniac got dropped
and we just let him bleed out."
"There was a little boy caught in the crossfire.
Don't know who shot him.
Don't know how he got hit."
Next day, we heard the President
on the field radio
saying that, at the very least,
automatic weapons should be banned
from use by the general public.
A chorus of disapproval:
DON'T TAKE OUR GUNS AWAY!!
NO GUNS, NO SAFETY!!!!
WE'LL BE KILLED FOR SURE!!
HE'S NOT OUR PRESIDENT!!
And so on and so forth.
Then I heard a round of gunfire.
The radio was destroyed immediately.
The overseer yelled:
PUT AWAY YOUR GUNS!
And we went back to work
tilling the soil at Hostile Acres-happy to hear nothing
except the sounds of our own voices
voicing the beliefs
we don't need education for
because we know how right we are in our guts.
watching you write
sometimes I can’t read the words
you are writing
on the yellow legal pad
as a part of therapy
for your post-aneurysm brain
sometimes I can read the repeated letters
and fragments of words
what you are trying
your mind can still speak in complete sentences
but the process of translation
from brain to hand to pen to paper
is far from precise
and when I don’t understand
and the process of writing begins again
I pray I get your meaning this time
for your sake
A BRIEF HISTORY OF ORANGE COUNTY POETRY
Bachelors and spinsters
working at paycheck-to-paycheck jobs
during the day
go home, change their clothes
and go out into the spoken-word night
as either Zeus and Hera
or King Herod and Salome.
I'll let you decide which.
In a movie called SEMI-TOUGH,
a minor character had this line of dialogue:
INTELLECTUALS ARE THE JOCKS OF THE MIND.
I can remember hearing about those acclaimed muscleminds
who kicked sand in the faces of puny poets:
YOU'RE NOT NEARLY GOOD ENOUGH FOR A FEATURE!
Some of them quietly bandaged their wounded egos
and later became the literary equivalents of
Charles Atlas and Cory Everson.
Others gave up
and just came down to the water's edge
to stare at the day's latest
I was at a coffeehouse
run by a saber-toothed tiger
when I saw this:
a poetry host
(who just wanted so so much to belong)
was run over by a more acclaimed poet
who graced the open-mike
for what seemed like ten minutes past eternity.
Since the poetry host
wanted so so so much to belong,
he swallowed his pride and discomfort
and let the esteemed poet
off with a mild caution.
Suffice to say
the esteemed poet
finished his poetry
at his own convenience-not that of the host.
We posed with plastic penguins.
We read from the stages of punk/rockabilly clubs.
We looked for positive writeups about ourselves
in OC WEEKLY.
We even wore bathing suits
for fund-raising calendars.
And we took comfort in our certainty
that we were better, faster, stronger
and far more literate
as poets and as people
than those amateur poseurs from Los Angeles.
For we were forged in the crucible
of being laughed at and dismissed
during our day jobs
by good Orange County Republicans
who keep their Bush/Cheney bumperstickers
forever affixed to their oversized SUVs and trucks-on-steroids.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF LOS ANGELES POETRY AS I KNEW IT
When there was an El Nino storm,
people still went out to poetry readings.
That was 1998.
NEXT magazine was the beacon
telling you where to find the word banquets.
And the first place I went
was the Midnight Special Bookstore
on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade
because it was listed in NEXT.
Politics in the air at Poetic License.
Poems with "Free Mumia" messages.
Lots of fingersnaps for a line or even a word.
People filled with strong notions
of what was right and wrong.
Just about every reading
was filled to capacity.
And it was easy
to find readings
every night of the week.
It was also possible
to make acquaintances
and real friends.
In those days,
people weren't always worried
about being Published.
You could go to Kinkos
and print your own DIY chapbook--
breaking even by selling it to other poets
Went to the Rose Cafe
and was exposed to poetry as Disciplined Art.
Long introductions for features
and open readers told to return
next week when time ran out.
(Eventually, the Rose Cafe
became the template
for most readings in Los Angeles and Orange County today.)
Those were the days
before venues and readings closed,
gasoline prices climbed,
popular poets and hosts moved out of state
or left the Earth entirely,
remaining poets began feuding
and a quiet movement began
to encourage uniform standards of quality.
raise the bar for booking features
and discourage the kind of open mikes
that attracted musicians and comics.
For some, this was a great notion
Oracles said that it was good for poetry.
I heard phrases like "layers of meaning"
used ad nauseum.
And other poets said not to complain
about changes in the scene--
or other poets themselves.
For it was perceived as
causing the entire scene
to suffer grievously
from intemperate words.
And today, there are fewer venues.
And just a few poets with power-some of them use it more generously
Recently, there was a rainstorm
in Santa Monica.
It wasn't as strong as an El Nino.
And people did come to the reading-but not nearly as many
as on a torrential night
thirteen years before.
CRYING MYSELF AWAKE
I don't like tears and
the struggle to breathe.
But there I was
at eight o'clock in the morning
Thinking of schoolyard bullies,
overloaded work schedules,
Perfect plans for the future
that dissolved the following day,
Obsessing over how I helped make
bad things happen to me,
Forgetting how I helped make
possible the best of my life today.
You see me crying.
You pull me close.
And I'm quick to say
that none of this
Has anything at all
to do with you.
SYMPATHY FOR CHARLIE SHEEN'S DEVILS
Please allow him to introduce himself.
He's a man with wealth and no taste.
He destroys hotel rooms,
and leaves New York in haste.
Hope you guessed his name.
Amusing you on a sitcom
is the nature of his game.
He earns a lot for not acting.
More money than what's paid to others.
When he makes a big big mess,
he's bailed out by CBS and Warner Brothers.
Hope you guessed his name.
Employing publicists to tell "official" stories
is the nature of his game.
There will be
no HOT SHOTS THREE.
Just more hookers, anger and psychic pains.
If he feels the need to stretch his talent,
he'll make another ad for Hanes.
Hope you guessed his name.
Keep watching TWO AND A HALF MEN every week
so he can continue playing his long-running game.
FOLK MUSIC AS WOOLY MAMMOTH
PRESERVED IN ICE
(inspired by the PBS fund-raising special
JOHN SEBASTIAN'S FOLK MUSIC REWIND)
Did you see old man John Sebastian
on the Public Broadcasting System?
He now looks a little like George Segal
and sounds a lot like Peter Coyote.
Did you see old man Barry McGuire
singing EVE OF DESTRUCTION?
He now looks like a retired WWE wrestler
and wears NYPD patches on his black T-shirt.
Did you watch this tribute to old folk music
in the comfort of your home
as people protest and die in far-off lands
and American media propagandizes
about the evils of WikiLeaks
and the perfidy of Julian Assange
(the timing of the latter is rather convenient)?
Did you once gather for communal singing
and peaceful demonstration
until you "grew out of it"
because too many people told you
that standing up for the rights of others
was passe and not likely to lead to good job offers?
Of course you did.
And I did too.
EXTRAS ON THE BEACH
It was a summer night in 1990.
We had just finished work
on the feature film version
of CAPTAIN AMERICA
starring J.D. Salinger's son
Matt the actor.
(Guessing you haven't seen it either.)
There were five of us.
I was thirty-one.
Two other men in attendance:
one was older, the other younger.
And two young women
in their late teens.
Nothing too scandalous to report.
The other four drank
from a six-pack of beer.
Then the two young women
took off their shoes and socks
and walked into the water
as a perfect South Bay sunset arrived.
It was one of those rare good days
when I wasn't worrying
about who I should be
and where my life ought to be.
And it was that other kind of rare day
where I didn't mind
not having jobs lined up
for the rest of the week.