Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bumping Up Against Questionable Materials

Sometimes, in the reckless years
when Dad would still pay for the car
we would play that game, convinced
of the pseudotherapeutic value of the dare,
drive as long as we could
on abandoned roads
with the headlights off.

These days,
I play the same game at parties,
where the hazards are worse
and the guardrails intangible
but I keep the headlights on.
It’s that kind of blouse.

No compass
but the cow-tongued variations
of cocktail solipsists,
I make my way through the voices, confident
in the predictable courtesy of strangers
to step aside
for the blind woman.

All the better
when I find that one immovable object
and get a good sense
through the spilled wine apologies
that I have found the trunk
of the elephant in the room.


Why, it's yet another poem for that tireless activist, Fringe volunteer and all-around fun gal Sandra Diaz! What would we have done without Sandra? Probably gone to bed sober a lot more often, that's for damn sure.

Not the best poem I did for Sandra, but definitely not the worst. Her poems were usually some high-minded storytelling I would try to pull out of my ass about 15 minutes in, or cheap innuendo. I think maybe this started out as the first and ended up as the second. Elephant trunk! Get it?

Saturday, June 27, 2009


1. Death
He pressed himself into me gasping and grunting. His parents garage was hot and smelled of fertilizer. He smelled of Tide and teenage sweat. I was 12 – my first kiss. My first head. My first bleeding. First feeding. I searched out his eyes in the frenzy of those final moments of childhood — they were cold and quite empty. “Thank you,” he said, as he turned and walked back out into the sun.

2. Pain
My father played guitar and most of my happy memories of him are entangled in song. His voice had this effortless joy when he played and I think I loved the look on his face as much as the sound. He and my Mother divorced when I was 2 and he was never what you would call a happy man. But when he played – I saw the clouds part. One year — Christmas eve — family gathering -- he had been drinking one can of beer after another and my Uncle asked him to play a few songs — in part, I think, to slow down the drinking. He picked up the guitar and muttered and sputtered through his old standards, forgetting words and chords. I looked around at my relatives hoping someone would stop the carnage — no dice. He looked down at me afterward and I know I wore disappointment as plainly as the stockings hung over the fire place and as real as the beer sweating into his hand. He never played for me again.

3. Loss
Friends since we were 5 years old, we boasted to the world at my best friends’ wedding. I was maid of honor. Two sisters who couldn’t be more different in appearance and presentation. The bride wore white as she marched down the aisle of that sunlit church, crying and smiling and trying desperately not to stumble on the emotion welling up in her. I cried too. Why not? It was a beautiful moment. One that she had dreamed of since we were kids. And it was picture perfect. I gave a toast that bore tears and laughter from all in attendance. My friend hugged me and smiled — “Thank you.” I am not sure when our conversations went stale but somehow — over the years that followed that inspirational moment — she became someone I could no longer relate to. We were always different — she came from a traditional Filipino family and she followed suit. I came from chaos and worked to make sense of that world through my writing. Our calls became less and less frequent and eventually stopped completely. Then, a few years ago, I got a call. It was my friend and her Mother was dying. Cancer. I tried to find a flight as soon as I could get to her but I was too late ... her mother died on a Monday. Commuters were beginning their work week as my friend sat with her husband in the hospital waiting room receiving the worst news of her life. I held her hand at the funeral. She looked up at me through a tear streaked face: “Thank you.”

4. Hope Nevaeh is 5 years old and possibly the best friend I have ever had. When she stampedes toward me I have no doubt that I will receive hugs and kisses and giggles and warmth beyond reason. I recently released a CD with my original music and Nevaeh — I am told by her parents — knows all the words and sings along regularly. A group of friends congregated on some Sunday evening at their home and I came out begrudgingly. I had been feeling extremely sorry for myself because of low CD sales and other career oriented disappointments. And there was my girl, sweet and wonderful as ever and did not let go of me all evening. My mind drifted away to my troubles as she lay in my lap slowly winding down as five year olds do. And it was the that I heard the most beautiful words I had ever heard “Is it really so hard to fly—cause I seem to forget to try—get tangled up in my mind” They were lyrics from one of my songs and it coming from Nevaeh, I heard them as if for the first time. She fell into a deep sleep and I never felt more hopeful.


This here was Holly Riggs' contribution to the "carte blanche" deal from Saulius, one of our repeat customers from last year, and one of the most memorable. He came back again to look for some inspiration out of us in the form of his poetry assignments: give me a poem involving death, pain, loss and hope. Don't even have to use the words necessarily, no title needed. This year, he presented Paul Heibing with a teriffic glasswork painting that incorporated some of the lines from his poem. Needless to say, we tried to up the ante for him this time around. I like Saulius - he's serious about reading these, and isn't afraid to offer criticism.

I remember a twinge of skepticism when Holly showed me her take. It's more of a prose piece teetering on journal-entry territory, but wow. Raw. Can't imagine this going out any other way. Keep on, Holly.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Pickleotopus Monster

Down in the valley of Pickle Green,
where the bumpy grass grows strong and tall,
and wind whistles through
with a scent so sweet and vinegary,
blending in like bi-level chameleon,
and waddling along near the dirt,
is the much fabled member
of the mammalian family,
the Pickleotupus Moster.

Zig-zagging with his furry belly,
just inches from the ground,
anyone lucky enough to spy him,
would wonder if he knew his
or had become drunk on fermented crabapples,
but if you could pan out
with your wide camera lens,
you would see the clever creature
eluding a very strange man,
in a tin foil hat,
scanning the ground for any sign
that the storybooks or tabloids were right.
He pushes before him
a razor scooter
with a wheel of old sharp cheddar cheese
taped to it’s front
in hopes of attracting
this wily beast,
and most curious of all,
having once read that the mating call
of the Pickleotupus Monster sounded so
he shouts in high pitched tones,
over and over.

For a brief moment,
he becomes hopeful,
when he suddenly hears
a hissing sound from behind.
But the stories never told him,
and nor will any stories he tell,
for Pickleotupus Monster spit
travels very far,
very quickly,
and is fatal.


All I know is that Dani O, winner of one of our Poetry Smackdowns, wrote this tasty little hallucination. I think she may have been an early afternoon arrival the second Saturday, so this might have been written for one of the little tykes enjoying Kids Fringe events that day. ("Supercalifragilistic" HAD to be a request word.) Either that, or it was the other end of the spectrum, because it's just the sort of title somebody would request if they were tripping their nuts off.

And now I've got the "Hiphoppapotamus" song from Flight of the Conchords stuck in my head.

Friday, June 19, 2009


The place could have been empty,
the other bodies could have been ghosts
mixed with cigarette smoke,
and their eyes merely stars swaying
in the night sky.

For me to watch you dance
was to allow the fabric of reality
to disintegrate,
threads unraveling
into the hemmed edges
of the corners of my eyes.

For you to pull your lips away,
after placing them so close to mine
was a tease,
muting the music
into tiny vibrations,
annoying as mosquitoes
in comparison to the bass
of my beating heart.

Let the walls have their speculation,
as I will never notice them,
and within this moment
that is as good
as never knowing
they ever existed
at all.


See, this is why I'm getting more out of this blog than you. I get to read over the ones I never had time to scope while I was running back and forth to my car for paper/tickets/towels/hurricane sandbags. No idea who requested this one, and while I'm about 90% sure this is Katherine "Lilly" Ramirez' handiwork, I'm guessing on that too. Whoever it is, I hope this got someone laid.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Legend of Spaz Humperdink, Duck Gynecologist

Anyone who has never been to
that porn studio on Old Dirty MacDonald’s Farm
is a depraved degenerate.
The walk alone brings you closer to God,
especially when you can see his beard floating in the cerulean sky
right above the bright red barn
sitting on the horizon for what seems like an eternal march
through pristine wheat fields whispering Heartland of ‘Merica the whole way.

Suddenly you’re opening the barn doors and Dirty Mac, as he’s known,
is inviting you up to the loft
to watch the spectacle unfold below.
Rock Schlonger or Grover Niptwist preps over on a bale of crackling straw.

And someone lubes up the duck.

Spaz never does that. Spaz stays out of the production, sitting back in his white coat and wide hat under the shade of imported gorse outside.

The scene begins with some banal role playing.
“So,” says Rock. “What brings you here?”
“Quack,” says the duck.

The duck never seems confused once the action picks up.
It seems horrified. It flaps and slaps its webbed toes against the actor’s thighs.
But it knows what’s happening.

Spaz waits until he hears Dirty Mac yell cut.
Then he strides in, casual as you please, still blowing steam off his coffee.
He whispers to the duck for a moment, tells it that it’s beautiful. Tells it that it’s still wanted. Tells it that it’s loved.

Then he checks. “Nope,” he says, “she’s fine.”
See, a female duck who so hates her mate can alter the path of her fallopian tubes, keeping the sperm in a permanent maze. And Spaz could tell if she had done it.

She did it. Every time.

Still, totally worth the five buck admission.


Oh, how I love the play this poem got. I remember the couple who ordered it well: cute, youngish, dapper, the type of folks I would have pegged for inspiration culled out of some Conor Oberst song. Sure enough, the girl provided the mandated words for the poem - "cerulean," "spectacle," and "gorse" (it's some kind of shrubbery).

And then her boyfriend writes this title to go with it. Was he pissed at her? Was he just one-upping her? I'll never know. Trevor Fraser wrote this, because ... well, if you know Trevor, how could you NOT give this to him? He proceeded to memorize and read it at the Poetry Smackdown the following night, to equal helpings of laughter and controversy. I always seem to think the Fringe celebrity judges will have a weirder sense of humor than we do, but Jameson Beane in particular was straight-up horrified by this poem. (Though to be fair, the version Trevor read that night specifically mentioned the duck being raped.)

Me, I found it educational and, um, edifying. According to Trevor, the thing about the fallopian tubes is totally a real fact.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Blue is the Color of the Sky on Tuesday

She was the giving kind
as she wondered at lunchtime
in the shadow of the storm
as she stared at the wayward clouds
what they saw
when they looked down:

Droplets of humanity
swarming into their humungous schools
in plazas
and parking lots,
what must we seem
to gods with such aptitude for shape?

Obtuse images of dragons
puppy dogs, elephants
fat fairy tale refugees
faces of old lovers
or perhaps
just another passing cloud
like them
mindless of these fancies and masquerades
only making their way
through the blue
on their way to the next rain.


This one's just full of mysteries. I have a fuzzy recall on exactly how this title got picked, or who picked it. It obviously wasn't literally inspired, as anyone who was actually under the sky during Fringe can tell you. But that's all secondary to the main question:

Exactly what kind of fluffy Bob Ross bullshit was I trying to write here?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Anna, What Fresh Hell Have You Brought Us?

We hated her.
Tommy, Corey, and me.
Our stomachs sank in unison when we saw her coming
a harmonic chord of utter despair
played in the key of oh-fuck-major.

During recess her obloquies bruised deep
raising goose eggs on our souls
that far outdid what rocks thrown by the boys
made on our foreheads.

“Hey smegmas!” she’d yell to us from the swingset
“you’d better come give me a push
or I’ll vomit in your lunch bags!”
So we’d go over to her
because we never got used to the taste of her digested breakfast
on our ham and cheese sandwiches.

Once during science class she took my fecund bean sprout
which I had carefully cultured with aerated earth in a Dixie cup
and left the room with it, only to return a few minutes later
with a perfectly pinched-off turd resting atop the soil.
But damn, if I didn’t have the second-largest harvest in class.

In gym she would aim the kickball right at Tommy’s new braces
and broke Corey’s front teeth during a game of tag.
In English her colloquy with me consisted primarily
of cleverly crafted insinuations that my balls hadn’t yet dropped
and would instead collapse in on themselves to form a vagina.
Decades later I finally comprehended what she’d said.

Her laughter was a demon’s backwash
burning our throats when we were thirstiest
and turning our guts into distilled anticipation.
Our breaths caught until the next encounter.
Putty in her hands
and unwilling
to resist


The Anna in this piece is not the Anna McCambridge of Visual Fringe fame, one of our favoritest and frequentest customers. Not literally, anyway. But she did order this one, and I can definitely see the inspiration. See, Anna's motivations are different from most of the people who come to the booth: she likes to fuck with us. She likes to give us words like "obloquy" and "fecund" and "colloquy" and laugh when we sort through our beer-addled brains for the definitions. (This one was one of about half of the Anna gauntlets that we got all the words right. As we'll see in later posts, that wasn't always the case.)

Curiously, though, Anna's pretty loosey-goosey about titles. This one came from the greeting Paul gave her when she came strolling up with that shit-eating grin of hers.