Saturday, July 22, 2017

five senses aren't enough

I need more eyes
another pair of ears
spare nose and tongue
a second skin.

To see
the million million signs
and writhing vines,
the ganglia of wires
strung
post to post
to balcony and roof

banana trees
between the motorcycle dealer
and the cafe.
the mansion and
the bridal dress shop.

The lotus wrought in iron
on the window security bars.
The chrome lotus
spear points top the spikes
of golden fences.

More ears to hear
the swarms of scooters
the crunch of gears
in the wheezing buses.
The roosters that never cease
their crowing noon or night,
the yowl of a tomcat fight,
the plaintive notes
of Isaan instrumentals
or elevator covers
in the mall.
The mellow flow
of spoken Thai
even though
I understand so little.

Another nose
to separate the mix
of jasmine leis, roasting meat or corn
diesel fumes, the sweet perfume
of the Belgian waffle stand
at Victory Monument Skytrain station.
The musk of muddy earth
and rotting leaves.

A bigger tongue to taste
the bite and spice of larb
or nam prik ong.
the pungency of basil
the cool restorative crunch
of cucumber.
The nectar that is
fresh sweet lime juice.
The comfort of warm sticky rice
with mango.

I need a second skin,
shedible as a naga's
when the rain refuses to fall
and the street feels like a sauna.
Another skin to keep me warm
in the over air conditioned train.
And a special skin, at least an acre
to enjoy the midnight breeze
while gazing at  the glow
of clouds lit up
by the vast metropolis below
when curtained lightning
sends a fifteen minute storm
to wash the trees and streets
and forgotten sheets
left out to dry
the day before.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Bird life

Bangkok cocks crow
ur-early, three hours
before gray dawn.
The swallows wait
for the light before
they zoom past
the balcony
on the 14th floor
in tight formation.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Butterfly

So she told me her name
-Butterfly.
says that she is an African warrior queen.
her outstretched hand is crusted with dirt,
because it seems the last bath she had
is a question for her royal history.

She's almost always there.
sitting crosslegged on the sidewalk
with the purple blooms of agapanthus
nodding in the breeze over her head.
a big half-dressed african warrior queen

with missing teeth and missing mind
but the sweetness of a child.

I walk past her spot on the sidewalk
by the park-with-no-name
every afternoon.

so I give her a dollar or two
sometimes a five,
whatever I might have
in my pocket.

She likes cigarettes too,
says -I love smoke.
and laughs her big
six-front-teeth-missing smile.
so I tuck one into
whatever folded green
I give her.

Today I told her I was
going to be gone for a month
and gave her a five.

She says
-I know what peoples had to do.
Says it like the punchline of a joke
that only she understands.

I hope she makes it 'til I come back.
Because you know,
even to simple-minded African warrior queens,
dark as the 85% cacao chocolate bars
next to the checkout at Trader Joe's,
crusted with filth and kind of crazy,
who sleep in the dirt under the poplars
in the park adjacent to the office towers …

things happen.

and five weeks from now,
I might not see her.
Eating her cheap pancakes,
and she won't ask me for a Camel
or a Coke with lots of ice.

I said good bye Butterfly,
see you when I get back.
and walked on to catch my bus.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Safeway


His voice is a dog fight
on the beverage aisle.

The security guy,
interrupts the text
he's writing to his lady,
tries to calm him.

Unsuccessfully.
the shabby guy
slams a twenty ounce
plastic Pepsi bottle
to the floor.

The pressure bursts
the seal of the cap
and the escaping jet of soda
spins the bottle like a pinwheel.

A small group of seniors
down from Chinatown
gather by the frozen vegetable case
whisper in Cantonese behind their hands
and watch the unfolding drama.

The store manager
comes out from the stockroom
to size up the situation
and tells the would be
Pepsi purchaser
to get out of his store.

The guy is growling
something about uranium
and anuses and the Gulf War.

Dumps a pillow case
filled with his clothes,
two dog-eared books,
and a roll of toilet paper
into the sticky puddle.

Happy? Are you happy now,
you son of a bitch?
I fought a war for you.
For this?

The store manager yells
get out of my store
and don't ever come back.
The guy stomps out of the store
leaving all his stuff behind.

The manager prods the pile
on the floor with the toe of his shoe
tells a stocker who has come over
from the produce section
to clean up the mess.

The books and clothes
and toilet paper go into
a hefty bag (on sale in aisle 6)
and after all the Pepsi is mopped up,
he puts out a yellow warning cone:
Caution - Wet Floor

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ant Farms

Hundreds of them.
no. thousands.
every ten feet or so.

Ants erupting
from the gap between
the sidewalk and the curb 
on Avenue B.

A mass evacuation,
some alert passed
from nest to nest?
mobilized for battle
or immanent disaster?

The little black ones
that mom and her sisters
called sugar ants.
Maybe because
how if you left out
anything sweet,
a couple bites of berry pie
on the counter.
or missed some spilled
RC Cola on the floor,
in the morning it would be
crawling with a crew of ants
hauling bits in a long caravan
to some crevice
under the cupboard
or the stove.

sugar ants sure don't
smell sweet when you
rub them off your arm.
they smell like some
kind of bitter mineral.
I can bring it to mind
right now.

if you had an invasion
in the the house
it was a pestilence.
but Uncle Milton's Ant Farms
sold millions as a novelty.
You bought the slim
clear plastic case
with the silhouettes
of a barn and a silo
farm animals,
some sand to fill it
and a certificate to
mail to Uncle Milton
to get your ants.

Put them in the farm
and watch them build
their tunnels. Feed them
sugar water and tiny bits
of fruit. A few weeks or
months later they all died.
It's only natural, the lifespan
of harvester ants is brief.

Then the farm sat on a shelf
gathering dust unless you
were as fascinated by ants
as Edmund O. Wilson.

There were other kinds
of ants on grandpa's farm
down in the San Joaquin Valley.
The little red ones.
The ones who bite.
The ones who swarmed your feet
if you weren't careful
playing out in the melon field
or the barnyard.

I heard about a new kind of ant problem
down along the Gulf Coast
a species that is attracted to
electronic equipment.
Like transformers. Air conditioners.
Televisions. Laptops. Cell Phones.
They're called Crazy Ants.
Invaders from Brazil and Argentina.

Could become a real serious thing.
Suppose you're tapping and clicking
away on your favorite social media,
and a mob of crazy social insects
attracted by the magnetic field
in your router or you cable box
get electrocuted and short circuit
your set up. No tv or internet.
No air conditioning. If they
got into your home circuits
and the refrigerator shut off,
no ice tea and your Bud Light
would be warm. 

What would the consequences be,
if these socialistic invaders seeking sweets
commandeered millions of cell phones!
cut off all the tweets from reaching
a swath from Tulsa to Pensacola?
Marched on Sherman's path
from Atlanta to Savannah?

Might have to build a wall.
Round them up
and put them in Ant Farms.
And make Brazil and Argentina
pay for it. I, for one, plan to boycott
the tango and and the samba.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Hot days on the way


He was standing under the bus shelter.
humpty dumpty belly, red warriors cap,
skinny legs sticking out of cargo shorts
feet shod in pale beige workboots.

A tall can of beer sitting on the ground
and some song I didn't recognize
playing on his phone.

He says, you know women,
they forgive but they never forget,
you know what I'm saying?
You look old enough to know.

I'm stayin' at my sister's, she's cool
but my wife, I was married for ten years
but we was together longer than that.
and when it's time to go, it's time to go
but I still needed my stuff, you know my clothes,
my car, somebody else was driving it,
that ain't cool. When I was young
I probably would have done something stupid.

I was born and raised in the Mission,
I was a old school stick-up guy, I did my time
at San Quentin and I'm through with that.
I got a job backing up trucks at Parc 55,
my brother's a supervisor there
and I get twenty bucks an hour.
So I got my money and my credit score
is 640. That's good, right? that's really good.
So I've been staying at my sister's
for a couple of weeks and I got my drink.
She threw me a birthday party, I just turned fifty.

How'd I get so old? You been
around the block, so you know what I'm sayin.
Sometimes you just got to talk to somebody
somebody you don't know, because if you
talk to people who know you they bring up
old stuff and I'm through with all that.
Well here's your bus, I'm not taking the bus.

Five of us get on the bus and I find a seat,
get out out my book and start to read.
At the next bus stop, a young guy gets on
and starts to walk towards the back.
The bus driver tells him he needs to pay.
He slides a couple dollars into the machine.
Asks for a transfer.
Bus driver says, it's two fifty,
I'm not giving you a transfer until you
pay up fifty cents.
The guy says he put in tres.
Driver says no you put in dos.

Somebody in the back of the bus calls out
He put in three. Driver says no he didn't
and I'm not talking to you.
Back of the bus guy says
He put in three, why don't you do your job.
Drivers says, one more comment
and I'm going to put this bus out of service.
I don't care if it's six thirty in the morning.
Everybody shuts up.
The fifty cents remains missing in action.
So does the transfer.
We sail onto the bridge.
The traffic is light and fast
on this early sun-spiked Friday morning.

At the last stoplight before we reach
the Transbay Terminal, a full dress
Harley Superglide, with hard shell
saddlebags, a windshield and a
big sound system is playing
an old James Brown song: The Big Payback.
It's loud enough to be heard for blocks.
And it sounds so good. I can't sit still.
Like that other old J.B. song says,
 "I got ants in my pants and I need to dance."
I can't help but think that R&B has never been
anywhere near as good as J.B.

Up on Market, the morning maintenance woman
is disinfecting and hosing down the plaza
between Peet's and Wells Fargo. Just like
every morning before seven.

A truck on Fremont is unloading kegs
at Harringtons, the doorway sleepers
are waking up, a guy sitting on a sleeping bag
with all his stuff piled around him on the sidewalk
is buttering the pancakes of his MacDonalds
breakfast special.

Every street has bodies sprawled
under blankets or tarps, and
women garbed in shorts
and stylish sports gear
with tunes plugged in their ears
jog past the soggy sandwich buns
tossed in the alley and and the bums
now bathed by the sun's low rays
that find their way up the canyons
of the streets.
The tv weatherman said today
the heat is on it's way.


Friday, June 9, 2017

The Good Shepherd


Every town and city
has a heart.
Podunk diner
or courthouse square,
some center where
the energy congeals.

If you have a message
to proclaim, that's where
you need to go.
The crossroad in San francisco
is Powell and Market
where cable cars turn around
and the BART riders
emerge from underground.

So on this fine June day,
I tucked my bible and
my water bottle in my pack
and looked for the best spot
to stand.

A big line waiting to ride
the cable car was stretched up
Powell and the homeless
and the hustlers leaned against
the low wall around the pit
of the BART station entrance.

Across from the would be riders
looked like the best place to start,
captive audience, you know?

Over the years,
the most important thing I've found
is to choose the right piece of scripture,
something that connects with people
on the very day you speak.
-if you want them to hear you.
if you want to give a message
that cuts through the noise.

So I chose the story of the good shepherd
from the gospel of John, chapter 10.

"Good people, I have something I'd like
to share with you today. Yes you, all of you,
bless you on this fine summer day.
It's a story from the bible which
I ask you to consider, especially today.
I think you'll see why.

There are a lot of shepherds in the bible, right?
That's not too surprising. After all that's how
a lot the people of the time supported themselves,
with their flocks. For food and clothing.
Even to this day, there are many shepherds
in that land.

So when Jesus spoke to the Pharisees
they knew what he meant. When he said that
he was the good shepherd, the one who lays down
his life for the sheep. And when he warned them about
the hired hand who is a not a good shepherd,
who runs away when the wolves and thieves come
because the hired hand cares only
for the money he can make from the flock.

You see where I'm going with this, right?
We hear claims from high places,
the very highest places in our land
from our leader, our hired hand
that only he can protect us from the wolves.
But his speech is filled with lies
and he seeks to fill his pockets
with profits from us, his flock.
We're getting fleeced, you know what I mean?

But Jesus told the Pharisees that he was the gate
and that his sheep would know his voice
and follow him. How do you think they
would know his voice? Was it sweet
as a dove cooing in the olive tree?
Did he speak with the majesty of a king?

I think not. It was the completeness
of his love. And his promise to give up
his life for them. And he did.

But his love went beyond the flock
gathered there to hear him, he said that
there were other flocks not present
who he would gather
and bring with him through the gate.
Some of you probably recognize
that his promise was to live with him
in eternal life. But what of the others,
the flocks ungathered? As some of us are not?

I don't deceive myself, that I'm gonna
bring you into the fold today, but I still
have a gift for you, one that reaches
beyond the ashes or the grave
where we all eventually find
our respite from this world.

And that is simply this:
what persists after we have left?
Love. In the hearts of our families
and friends. And for some of us,
far out into the world.
like the stone tossed into the lake
sending ripples to the farthest shore. Love.

For all the flocks in all this world.
Like the good shepherd.
So I caution you, beware of the hired hand
the shepherd who seeks benefit solely for himself
and confines his concern for his flock only as long
as it profits him and burnishes his name.
and even then he will abandon them
to wolves and thieves.
God bless you, and enjoy this day.

The cable car rolled down Powell
and the people waiting drew out their tickets,
some resumed looking at their phones
and a few aimed their cameras at me,
to memorialize this San Francisco side walk curiosity.
The homeless sitting on the sidewalk
nudged their cups a little closer to the crowd
and one young woman put her hand
to her lips and blew me a kiss.

They climbed onto the cable car,
with excited eyes and smiles
and as it began it's journey over Nob Hill
to Fisherman's Wharf.
Some of them waved goodbye.

I opened my water bottle
and refreshed my throat
and waited for the next line to form.