even the crazy ones sleep

A young woman of lanky, long hair, earbuds in, black pencil jeans, gave up her seat. She stood in the aisle dancing, her hands undulated in rivulets. Later when a bunch of people exited she sat down next to me and admired my rings. Said she always had trouble getting rings. “I never liked my hands. I think they’re ugly.” She had graceful small hands like a Balinese dancer’s. “It’s because my knuckles are so large. It’s hard getting a ring over my knuckles.” When she exited, she accidentally spilled tea from her open backpack onto a woman near the door.

She stood in the middle of the subway car, ear bud wires tangled around her waist. Her hands undulated above my head. I couldn’t tell if she was high or listening to music. Maybe too much organic food. Didn’t matter. It’s what I do in the morning on my way to work. I watch. I put down my cellphone. “What are you listening to?” People don’t talk much on the subway. Even the crazy ones. They sleep.

The young woman of lanky, long hair had a story up her sleeve. A large honeybee sat on the sepal of her hand with outstretched wings. Like a mosaic. A wolf hunted at the bottom of a mountain, a dark silhouette of a moon cast shadows on her shoulder. There was a house and a door. I couldn’t see where it ended.

She pointed to my ring, the lapis lazuli and silver one that I got on vacation. Extended her hand, her hand with a story running up her sleeve. I now saw how it began with a green stone wrapped in gold filigree. “My grandmother’s ring,” she said. “It’s the only one I ever wear.” By this time, the train had pulled into her stop. The doors opened, then shut. She looked back at me and waved her ringed hand. I watched the doors bow open.

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No Orange for Julius

black busI always told him no one would ride in a black bus. Wouldn’t listen. Threw away his money to redo the fleet. Told him the bus came off like a hearse or some prison transport. Julius blamed the sun. Said he’d tinted the windows amber because people wanted to sleep between transfer points, cities where the railroad line dropped people off and where he picked them up. Places that were off the beaten track, someone running away from a deadbeat husband or on the way to rehab. None of that changed how the bus almost looked like a shiny beetle without wings. It was a free service. Julius was being paid by the county. Making peanuts. He kept telling me COB. I thought he had a disease, but he said, no, you idiot. It’s the cost of doing business. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I’m telling you the truth, I said, but he never listened, not until some guy bought a fleet of school buses from GreenValley District. The guy painted them bright orange and started to compete with my brother. That’s when Julius got another idea. He was going to design T-shirts so they looked like sweat was dripping beneath the armpits. I told him that was the stupidest idea I’d ever heard of. He said, no, you’ll see. People don’t want to work hard; they only want it to look like they do. Long story short. Julius sold the buses and made a fortune. Everyone thought the shirts were funny. The money lasted for a while. He never knew I had his back.

Upcoming Readings
August 30, Oakland (Beast Crawl)
Sept. 13, Oakland (Nomadic Press)
Sept. 18, Berkeley (Poetry Express)
Oct. 14, Alameda (Frank Bette Center)
Dec. 10, SF, (Jewish Community Library)

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Links to my work

The Amazonian

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Discovering Hungarian in Budapest

Chain Link Bridge, Budapest

Chain Link Bridge, Budapest

1. At West End Mall
Up Radnoti Miklos utca, street named after the Hungarian Jewish poet
who died in labor camps months before liberation
in a city that volunteered Jews to Nazi death
ancestral home to parents who squeezed their way
past two World Wars to meet in New York City’s immigrant hot-house.

I am looking to answer a question I have carried in a stone sack
within me for  years, ransack a pastry shop and allow
poppy seeds, sugar, and lemon peel to fill my mouth, and like a moth
drawn to the lightest of things move toward West End Mall’s three floors
of stores sit next to a statuesque ice-cream cone adorned with a red cherry
finish pastries and watch men and women belong to each other as I

try to break the code of this strange language
whispered in my infant ears.

2. Near the Chain Link Bridge
I wear a badge of pure white,
a strand that expanded to a tell-tale swatch,
my grandmother Lenke’s mark on me,
not the yellow star pinned to a sleeve.

She did not have to wear that, entered Ellis Island
pregnant with my Aunt Clara, bastard child
who revealed the secret on her death bed,
how Lenke was stranded alone

banned to the United States
to give birth to a baby, her sister’s bindle
tucked inside a sewing machine.
Lenke’s parents saved three lives, but not their own.

They say by the time she reached 30
her hair gleamed as white as enamel,
and when she baked, she set out her cakes 
with cloth and napkins.

I looked for her, my namesake,
my missing chain link
suspended over the Danube
running down my spine

and when the pot-bellied waiter
came to my side and winked twice,
my mouth opened up in Hungarian,
and he knew what I wanted.

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The Amazonian

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July Fourth Meditation on Love

It was July Fourth and early enough that most people were still sleeping in their beds unless they’d decided to get up to stake out a spot at a local picnic ground for their family’s festivities, spreading out the blanket or assembling the portable barbecue. It was quiet. Even the cats that usually jump into my bed were nowhere to be seen and I didn’t go looking  because that would’ve meant I’d have to fill their bowls and change their water, which I wasn’t ready to do, still drinking my coffee with its sweet taste of Half & Half and watching hummingbirds buzz the feeder on my patio. Tonight my daughter was leaving for Latin America. My condo would once again revert to single occupancy, not that I was broke up about it; we’d already said our good-byes following a European trip that brought us to Spain, Italy, and Hungary, spending if there is such a thing,  too much quality time together. A few weeks back I realized that she reminded myself of someone I knew, and that someone was myself as a young person: obstinate and opinionated. But there was something else about this July Fourth: something about a confession that bubbled to the surface. Maybe it wasn’t a confession, more like a question that I needed to answer, clear the way for a new energy path or some such woo-woo that I was willing to allow in a world that needed help from wherever it came. I’d already responded to an online astrologer who’d predicted that I was embarking upon a “transit period” where many miraculous things were about to happen. I had walked seven miles a day with my daughter to righteously earn the role of tourist. Several days ago I scrubbed my couch cushions clean and allowed them to dry on the patio, full-sun. In Europe, people hung their clothes out on the line, the way my mother did back in the days growing up in the Bronx, pinning each shirt and moving the line forward with a screech of the pulley’s rusted wheels. I wanted to return to a more primordial, essential time. And what was that question? It had to do with love.

For the past several years I’d been online dating. I can chart that time through certain phases, like Picasso’s “Blue Period” or Joan Miró’s “surrealism,” except mine had more to do with data collection, not art. I met each date in a café, restaurant, or bowling alley; my initial impressions gathered from a “profile,” the online calling card offered to anyone who cared to look. I provided a fair summary of my likes and dislikes and what I was seeking, and pressed Send. What followed were several responses. But you see, I was healing a broken heart, and during those first several years, I was seeking a replacement—his replacement and I sought out a certain kind of man, and each time I met with someone, sized him up hoping in my fretful way, that he would “be the one.” He never was. How  fair was I being to all those lovely men? Hopefully, I’ve changed. I have moved on in life and still continue to date. But I am puzzled. What is love and how will I ever be able to recognize it? I thought I had. Is it just about “chemistry” that sine qua non that we can’t spell out until we feel the heat?  Should I be looking for fireworks?

My daughter calls from her room. She needs help packing.

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Truisms

It’s not necessarily true that Italy has the best gelato and that every frame has to house a picture; however it is true that Italian men are conditioned by years of playing soccer to have broad shoulders and narrow waists, which can be said of Spanish men as well;

Footballs flying past outdoor tables can be pigeons, never parrots, as parrots are shy birds that take their camouflage seriously, and therefore, make the best ambassadors;

All great paintings depict two things: either faith or war while museum security guards are the most accomplished people watchers in the entire world;

It also could be said that there are no great paintings of security guards

or how the sun never sets on the Internet
in an airbnb without a window and no blankets.

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Keller Avenue Strip Mall

It’s a strip mall disguised as a plaza
where I used to take my cats to the veterinarian
on that one day when maintenance
inspected apartments and no pets allowed,
kept going back to the vet even after my place turned condo
we could keep dogs, cats, lizards, whatever else
we wanted. The pizza shop wasn’t very good and got bought
out by another pizza shop that wasn’t very good, but they were very liberal
about handing out packets of Parmesan and hot peppers
and made change for a twenty, if you really needed it,
something the market selling everything from beer to
sandwiches to Fruit of the Loom T-shirts
would never do, which the man behind the counter of the dry cleaning store
would do, especially if you were a regular customer,
and then an acupuncture office moved into a space
once occupied by an exercise studio, but that place went under.

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The Amazonian

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Sant Feliu de Guixols

Women made the fishing nets
valued throughout northern Catalunya
like the black lace
they specialized in knitting

fine and delicate.
Manuel Zalvide in charge of licenses
punished fisherman
if they were caught using any others

from this town on the Mediterranean
named after a preacher man
from northern Africa, Felix, who was
rescued by two angels from drowning.

Women performed their own miracles
worked in factories to manufacture
cork stoppers
for wine and oil but couldn’t stop

the town’s port from being bombed
repeatedly
during the Spanish Civil War
a gateway to the island of Mallorca.

Now tourists eat gelato
gather plates of tapas
late into the evening
swim at the playa

where the sea wall
looks like Jupiter’s child
had spilled her blocks on the way home
all the letters washed away in the tide.

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Desolation (after Josef Llimona’s statue at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya)

I’m headed toward a terrible outcome.
How can I be sure? Ask anyone.

They’ll tell you. How my Italian marble
is too white and how I give in to myself

way too easily, slumped over my arm
without coordinates or any place to go.

A little understanding please
no finger-pointing or shaking heads

as though I’m guilty of some terrible crime
picking me apart

from your pillar of self-importance
snapping selfies with a dumb smile.

Stop trying to make me
into something I’m not.

I mean that woman drenched in purple.
Does her husband even have a dick?

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Playing Doctor

He strokes her hair
As she suckles his cock
A grown girl
At mama’s breast
Reaches inside
To taste
What he’s made of
For the sweet milk
Double-timing
In iambic
Pentameter
A hungry lick
Doesn’t let go
This lover man
Now her woman
Comes crying out
Loud his birth pang
A surprise ending
She drinks the rose
Thistle and hemlock
She gets it.

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The Amazonian

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Ballad of the Homeless Woman

She lived behind the cyclone fence a few blocks from the freeway going down to Silicon Valley, hers an intertidal zone with big box stores like Home Depot and a 24-Hour Fitness where cars skidded past platoons of day-workers in hoodies who waited for the call. Glad she didn’t have to stand there. Near her tent was a Shell Gas station that charged fifteen cents more than the High Street Gas & Food on the other side of the overpass selling burritos for $3.95. No car of her own. She walked or took the bus, knew how to turn a five-dollar bill into several meals at the Dollar Store on International Boulevard where she used a microwave near the bathroom to heat up containers of Top Ramen, got herself a free cup of coffee even though the manager said he was sick of her smelling up the place. She washed at the Mexican restaurant on the corner whenever Tatiana was behind the grill. Night-time, she heard the AmTrak on its way to Sacramento, looked over the fence to see cloudy faces. High in the sky, she watched airplanes take off from the Oakland Airport, but at this particular moment she came up short, a bulldozer as big as an elephant, remembered when her aunt brought her to the zoo after her mother had left; said she would send for them as soon as she found work. An elephant had reached into her hand to vacuum a peanut from her fingers. Inside the fence, the bulldozer knocked down everything; a man with a blank face told her to leave. She took off like an airplane on a run-way going home.

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