Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Excerpt - Novel in Progress

I am attracted to violence from wherever it is that I come. If it is violence against the whites I am drawn to it like a bee to spring flowers. Like a coyote to weaker prey.

My tipi is the only one, a lonely sentinel. I am standing in a small bare space in front of the entry flap, in that space I dance with myself when loneliness becomes unbearable. A long slope flows away beyond me to the east, a carpet of wild grasses swaying in the wind, and on clear days the distant peaks of the Ouachitas are gray shadows low against the sky, easily mistaken for smoke trails except they hang without moving. Today I watch ragged chevrons of geese heading away from the snowy lands, cutting the sky like a canoe prow. I am lonely for my people but I cannot find them, so I spend long days in silence. Within this silence I hear many things that I never heard from within the company of others.

Did you know sand has a voice?

It is true. Sand sings in a constant keening sound, as does the prairie grass. The grass calls to the buffalo as well as the field mice, whereas the sand calls for water. The wind sings many songs, depending upon the season and whether drought or rainy. Rain grass sings with a joy whereas dry grass sounds like the crying of a hungry infant. The spirits have taught me to listen with the ears within my head and not the ears that are pierced with silver hoops. These are the things the elders should teach us, but no one ever taught me these things. The reason, I have come to believe, is that they did not know. I believe unknown spirits have adopted me, have chosen to teach me of the many things that live just beneath the surface of what can be seen, or felt, or touched. What can be seen is a river; what cannot be seen are fish.

I am standing in front of my solitary tipi with its beautiful lightning patterns, looking toward the distant mountains as I decipher the songs of the grasses, when I hear the first shots. They are so far away as to almost be hidden by the song of wind and grass. But I know too well the sound of gunfire, so I cock my head toward the direction from which it comes, and ask the world to stop singing for just a moment, if it does not mind. If I close my eyes and ignore other songs, I can turn in slow circles until I feel the direction of origin within my belly. And now I am like an eagle skimming above the world at a great speed, just above treetops and hills, drawn like a buzzard to the scent of blood.

Flight and Landing

I feel this human's warm hand, rescuing me from the past eon of repose in the damp sand of the lake bank. Oh, God, that warmth is nice.

Now I'm flying, spinning through cool air, spinning sparks of sunlight from my crystals as I soar,
exulting in the sensation that I, a flat rock, am feeling this moment.

Oh, please let this last. Let this last. Oh, please let...

I am the rock, the splash, myself, the water,
again again again,
slowing now,
warm on top wet and cold on bottom;
stalled into equilibrium,
sinking waffling back and forth as the light fades
from green to black to depths remembered in the crystal heart of my being
buried before, those millions of years.

I settle to the bottom and weep.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Lone Ranger, stranger:
kids grown and gone
not even a smoke signal; the
wife has taken her vow of silence,
face in a laptop screen or
asleep on the distant mesa of our
Ponderosa bed:

                This is the BIG Country.

Thirty million buffalo slaughtered
like my creativity, like those
wild Indians who couldn't
conform and died
not trying.  Abandoned bones
lay white in the elements,
worth more as fertilizer:
                the economics of resurgency.

Time passes
and time will tell where this life
is migrating as I strive to link the trajectory of
railroads creeping from east and west,
bisecting  the herd of my great ideas
yet never connecting at all;
relentlessly continuing toward manifest destiny
with the logic of those useless formulas
they taught us
in calculus.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Paul Simon and the Africans thump
from ear to ear through my head;
coffee the color of streams in flood
pulsates like those water glasses in Jurassic Park
each time my foot taps to the beat:
continuous concentric circles
to mimic my own energies . . .
dinosaurs have breached the fence.

                Beyond the storefront windows the
                enduring blue of summer holds the world
                in place for one more day, not yet noon,
                pure robin blue to be washed grey later by heat.
                Everyone would like to write all day in
                refrigerated air, but then life
                would be too easy . . .
                they think.

Easy. . .
The word rolls from my thoughts
while writing, occasionally glancing
at the shimmer of summer women -- 
sparkly haired and sunny  circulating about my
island of refuge, casting oblique shy smiles
capable of keeping the raptors  at bay
a few moments more.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Safe Room

We don't have a safe room. Just the extra room at the top of the stairs where Michael keeps his gun safe. He always figured that if the children couldn't see them, if guns were kept under lock and key, there could be no accidents.

Michael is traveling. I heard the glass break to the kitchen door; not a crash, but a sharp ping. They are inside. I can hear their whispers. I slide the phone from the receiver. Nothing. Line cut? I remember my cell phone is charging downstairs. I slide into Madelaine's room and wake her gently. "Sshhh," I whisper. "Come!" She sticks to me like a shadow as we sweep Justin from his bed, still sleeping, and I carry him into the safe room. By the nightlight glow I spin open the combination and select an automatic, slide the clip into place, and chamber a round. Justin stirs fitfully for a moment then slides back into dreamland. I sit with my back to the far wall, Madelaine leaning against me, shivering slightly. "Mama?" she whispers. "Shhh." She goes silent. The pistol rests on my knee, hammer back, aiming at the door. Michael was a good teacher.

The stairs creak. Then the hardwoods just outside the door. My heart sounds like a steel factory, loud, relentless. Madelaine squeezes my arm, but stays silent. "Come on, you fuckers," I'm thinking. "You invade my home, you will fucking die." The lever handle moves slowly. I control my breathing and squeeze.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Floating World

Under my wiper blade this morning, this message, ink bleeding through the restaurant napkin from the night's humidity, a watercolor conveyance of this koan:

the moon:
I wandered around the pond
all night long


Now: night breezes stir gauze curtains into a small dance, round and round, playing to the windowsill audience. Sultry. Cicadas sing their call and response love songs above the thick air. The napkin crumpled on my lap, almost forgotten except for the faint scent of her infused into it. From her purse? Her hand? Like charged particles, we attracted one another at this restaurant two months ago. She has carried its napkin this long. The logo in kanji reads:

The Floating World.

Then: she had me floating dizzily, my thoughts an unrepentant fantasy as I nodded my head toward the caress of her conversation, acting attentive while blood rushed in my ears, through my belly and even lower like a Shinkansen of sensuality thundering over me.

Meet me, I whispered as I brushed her cheek goodbye. I thought…no, I wanted to see that slight nod, that affirmation within the black slate of her eyes. The pond, I breathed, then turned to leave, my heart pounding so loudly I was certain everyone in the room could hear it, especially her husband.

Walking back to the hotel on the soft path, which dances beside the edge of the very pond I had intimated, I realize my folly. She would not show. How could she break away? Get control, I admonish myself, hands still shaking as I meander the dark path to my room. A cold shower. An X-movie. Relief.

I’d almost forgotten my proposed rendezvous. No, that's not the truth. I’d not forgotten, nor could I. Then this morning the note on my windshield. In a game of Go she has informed me it’s my move now.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Unwanted Vows of Silence

I've apparently ended a one month vow of silence.

Actually, I didn't realize I'd taken one, but ever since the AWP Conference last month, blogging has taken a backseat. I finally started another novel, so the time has not been wasted by any means, but I could be more productive.

There are times we need to simply stop our daily grind, to step off this treadmill we accept without question. In this multi-tasking, 24/7/365 madhouse, don't we deserve a little time to decompress? To quote the Pogo comic strip: We have met the enemy and he is us. I have filled my life to the overflow scuppers with inane tasks that keep me from shifting into 5th gear and entering the autobahn of proliferation. The paradox is that to achieve focused proliferation, we must first empty the rain gutters of the prolific flood of information (which we shall call "rain" in order to keep this metaphor flowing) that inundates our creative processes. Whew. That was a mouthful.

So, take a break people! A friend just returned from Italy, amazed that everyone there was so happy. I'm envious. Weren't Americans the happy people not that long ago? Who stole my cheese and all that? Sometime in the past twenty years, while nobody was paying attention, our inalienable right to laugh, to relax, and to take a f**king break were hijacked. How did that happen? It was like we woke up from a long nap and they were gone. Our collective mojo is gone and we want it back. Writers can't write without mojo. My mojo is now only a mojito. We call him "Junior".

Hey, we can empower ourselves. It's easy. Let's just say no. Step away from the cell phone, Ma'am. Just walk away, Rene. Let's do whatever it takes to clear away the brain static of too much "stuff". It's what I need to get back my focus for writing.

If you need a getaway place, here's one I suggest:

I suggest it because I'm self-serving and small. Of course it's mine! But it's a good place nonetheless. You should see for yourself.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Writers Hit the Port of Denver

Nine thousand writers.

That’s a lot of people for just about any non-sporting event, but even more astounding is that they showed up at a writing conference.

I’m one of nine thousand. Hear my story...

The Association of Writers and Writing Programs, known as the AWP, held its annual conference and bookfair April 7 - 10 in Denver. Today is April 11, and I’m sitting at my 17th floor writing desk in the downtown Sheraton, thinking about the significance of it all while gazing out toward the mountains west of town, across the vast roof of the convention center, past the whalebone structure of the Broncos’ Invesco Field, to the snow-capped peaks beyond the front range. Denver has been a terrific host city, and the conference location is one of the primary reasons I’m here this year – the AWP is a little later into the spring than usual and Denver is do-able from my Austin, Texas home base. Downtown Denver is clean. There are wide streets and space between the buildings because Coloradans seem to understand the value of sunshine and elbow room and expanse. That wide-open feeling is one of the reasons all these writers were a happy lot by and large. We emerged into the light and it felt good.

Writers are a friendly bunch too. We spend so much time alone at our desks, working on solitary projects that can take years, often not sharing with anyone until that first manuscript is finished, perhaps because we don’t know where this illusive narrative may take itself. Where we think it is going and where it actually goes are usually continents apart. So when an opportunity allows us to get out of our solitary profession and come together with others who understand what it is to write, it’s a love fest. The feeling is like seeing your favorite cousins once a year, who although eccentric in their own right, are far more enjoyable to hang with than your own dysfunctional nuclear family.

We have our idols among us, those superstars of book sales, or wit, or intelligence whom we want to rub up against, to have sign their books, or to enlighten us somehow. Michael Chabon’s keynote address was as pleasurable as a massage, his gruff voice taking us on a humorous dialogue between himself and ‘typical’ fans, with Chabon assuming both voices. There were more speakers and readers than you could hear. Gary Snyder. Rita Dove. Silko. Bass. Keret. Sigh. You had to make hard choices.

Of the more than three hundred sessions, there were often conflicts between several that you wanted to hear in the same time slot, leaving you to pick one over the other on nothing other than gut feeling. Those choices were like playing roulette. Of course, every one you didn’t attend you found out later was the best ever. Isn’t that always the case?

There were the odd venues. I went to The Sun's reading at the Mercury Cafe and felt as if I was on an acid flashback to a 1967 hippie tea room. Fantastic.

The bookfair was so huge, your mind could go numb with overload after an hour, and you’d discover you had only covered one aisle among the myriad. Although I made two or three forays into the bookfair every day, it’s doubtful I covered half of it. Next time I will have a better plan of action: map out in advance which tables to visit and try to take care of those first. This year I kept forgetting where I left off, so often ended up repeating aisles. I also believe chiropractic is in order from lugging around a full tote bag of journals, handouts, trade show trinkets and gimme items. I confess to ruthlessly triaging my stash in order to get it packed for my flight.

I learned many useful things, but it will take me several weeks to sort and process it all. The best snippets usually came from the least likely places – odd panels and the readers you took a chance on, or a random conversation in the atrium bar after the daily sessions.

The drinks were overpriced, as were the hotel buffets, yet that didn’t stop us from socializing like there was no tomorrow. The deejay at the nightly dance was a little dated, but the dancing was exuberantly unpolished, almost tribal. We had the raffish air of nine-thousand sailors making port after six months at sea. In fact, the whole affair was exuberant. These are smart people, these writers, even if you'll never see them on Dancing with the Stars.

Just the kind of folks I like to hang around with.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Oh Yeah...Follow Your Heart! Go with the output, not the put-put.

My horoscope tells me I have a choice to make this month -- says it's a Venus vs. Mars thing: On the one hand, a truly solid work and career opportunity, which may ensure long-range happiness and more income. On the other hand, freedom, travel, fun, and ego satisfaction without responsibility. It tells me to opt for the inner happiness with work.

Okay. I've always opted for inner happiness and work. Perhaps it's time for the other choice. Now, don't get me wrong...I'm all about work, but I'm not all about busy work. I don't need a kick to get out of bed and get going, unless there's no creativity to the work. That's when I check out mentally.

Mark Victor Hansen once said, "My wife and I are more interested in our employees' output than in their put-put." That strikes a chord within me. Too many times we are simply going through the motions, doing our work by rote rather than with heart. Put-put...I move a pile from one side of my desk, only to shift it back later. I move things rather than move things out into the world. In my experience, too much of that put-put can give us creative amnesia, into a place where we forget our highest purpose is to put beautiful and useful things out into the world as our tithing.

So yes, I have a decision to make. I'm not worried about me working. I'm mostly worried about busy work that eats up my time, blinds me to the possibilities, dries up my creativity. Maybe I'll opt for the freedom, travel, and fun and then backtrack and see how to make it work into a marvelous career opportunity.

Are you with me?

Let's see how Little Richard has been doing it for the past 55 years. That ain't put-put:

Friday, April 2, 2010

Into Perspective

I was coming back into the neighborhood this morning in my pickup, a rented tiller in the bed, Good Friday, which in my white collar world means a well-deserved day off. Well, a day off from my occupation, not necessarily from "work". I had a to-do list as long as my arm, but I was feeling happy. I'd slept in until almost seven, had breakfast tacos with Terri before we went our separate directions to take care of our individual chores.

I'm driving down the street adjacent to mine and I see the garbage truck coming toward me from the other end of the block. It pulls up to a house and the driver jumps out of the truck and runs over to one of those mobile cans, pulls it out to the truck, hooks it up and dumps it hydraulically, puts it back, jumps into the cab and drives to the next house and repeats the process.

"Holy cow," I'm thinking. "That poor bastard is wearing himself out. No help. Just him."

I pulled my truck up and rolled down my window. The young Hispanic guy came over to see what I wanted. "Man, you have to do all that by yourself? Get out every time and run around and dump the can?"

He sounded almost apologetic. "Yes, it's just me. I can't get all those bags of leaves, but I'm getting the trash. I'm writing down the houses with leaves so we can get them later." He had a myriad of scars through his buzz cut hair, like he'd been through a windshield, or a lot of fights. But he had an amazing aura.

"That's a lot of work," I said, as if maybe he didn't already know that.

He smiled. "Yes, but thanks be to God I have a job."

It hit me like a punch. I smiled and drove on. What do I know about hard work? This guy is so happy to be working that what he's doing is his yoga. He feels like he could do more if he only had some help. He feels bad about leaving those bags of leaves. I'm humbled.

I make penance by tilling and planting the garden. I am determined to enjoy the fact that I am alive and working, thankful to that garbage man for putting things into perspective for me.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Traveling Companions

Master Toady was riding his turtle beneath the hot Texas sun. Two hours they'd been plodding along Hwy 29, being careful to stay far enough out of the slipstream of thundering autos so they could maintain what trifle remained of their collective sanity. Not to mention, the auto drafts had the propensity of turning Toady's pink parasol wrongside out. And no respectable Toad can deal with that. It's 92.78% about appearance when it comes to Toads.

Turtle was getting tired. He was always the one who carried the load, like some sort of turtle Sherpa, and that was getting old. His bunions were acting up and his football knee was a royal pain in the tortoise butt. But he was a player and was also receiving teamsters wages for hauling that lazy-ass Toad around. Despite the heat, it was good work if you could get it. He was humming as they plodded onward in the noonday heat.

"Wha chu humming there, Tortoise?" asked Toady.
"He ain't heavy, he's my bruvver," replied Tortoise, hoping to keep the ironic inflection from his tonality.
"I doan like it," says Toad. "Do you know any Elton John?"

Tortoise craned his supple neck back to look at that ungrateful carrion he was carrying.

"Tumbleweed Connection. I know the entire album."
"Don't like it," replied that bastard Toad.
"Where are hawks when you really need them?" It was a rhetorical question at best -- one posed by tortoises for millennium.
"What say?" asked Master Toady.
"Din't say nuthin," grumbled the turtle, contemplating suicide beneath the tires of a passing eighteen wheeler.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wanted: A Two-Book Deal

I’ve obviously taken a vow of silence without being aware of it. I sit at my keyboard or with an open legal pad in front of me and…


What happened to all my ideas? Where do those ideas skitter off to? They remind me of autumn leaves racing away upon the wind, migrating across the lawn one step ahead of my rake.

Think you have a lot of ideas? Just try writing about them. That seems to be the fastest way to assassinate them; tame them like toothless dogs. I’ve had people say to me, “Oh, you’re a writer. Listen, I have a really good idea for a book.” (Not a novel, memoir, or self-help…simply a ‘book’). Of course, I’m not convinced at this point, so I remain non-committal. “All I need is for someone to flesh it out. I’m sure it would be a bestseller.”

They want someone to do what they consider to be the easy lifting—the actual writing. I want to say, “Hey, no problem. I’ll just whip it out in my spare time now that you’ve graced me with the idea for a blockbuster. We’ll both be millionaires in no time.”

If it were only that easy I’d have quit my day job a long time ago.

Everyone thinks they have the idea for a bestseller, a hit sitcom, a grand slam new reality show. But that’s about the place their little idea car sputters to the side of the road, out of gas.

Writing is (usually) enjoyable, but it still feels like work most of the time. And most of it is work done on a speculative basis. It’s similar to writing a dissertation only you don’t get the doctorate until a publisher picks you up. And guess what? A lot of us optimistic masochists would still write. What’s up with that?

I’m one of those strange people who isn’t overly afraid of risk. I’m in the design/build business and sometimes build homes on a speculative basis. They can take almost as long as a ‘book’ by the time I scout locations, plod through the financing and closing process, design it, budget it out, and then get to the ‘easy lifting’ – the actual construction phase. I also get to tie up most of our savings and then leverage myself into debt up to my armpits. The difference is that at the end of the process I have an actual asset with a tangible value. Even if I have to hold it for a while, I can generally sell it for a profit. When the market is good, I build a lot; when it’s bad I don’t. Pretty simple dynamic.

Now let’s look at spec writing.

At the end of a year or more (usually a lot more) of writing, my asset consists of something the size of a ream of paper, or a CD disc if it isn’t committed to paper form. What’s the value of my asset? Nada. Zip. Nothing…unless I can sell it. And nobody knows what that market is doing, especially not the publishers themselves. It isn’t as if there’s an up or down market. From my experience, it’s always a buyer’s market when it comes to ‘books’. In home building, I don’t build speculatively when it’s a buyers market. I have to sell in order to feed my family and buy myself more ‘books’.

Unlike the home building business, anyone can be a writer. I don’t recall any government entity requiring a license, or liability insurance, or a performance bond to write. You just open a vein and go for it. What makes it that much harder for all of us hardcore word addicts is that there are a lot of vanity writers clogging up the blogosphere and driving agents nuts with silly queries. Ever heard of vanity builders – people who go through the heartbreak of it all because, well they just “like to build”? I suppose there are a few, but we refer to them as ‘rich people’. Bored doctors’ wives and the like. There’s no shortage of writers who for some reason, act as if they don’t care if they ever sell anything. That’s crazy. Could you see me doing that with houses? Money for your work is a kind of barometer of how your work is accepted. At least in the building business.

I’m one of those mercenaries who would like to be paid for my work. I get two house deals fairly often. I design/build for a client and their friend now wants me to design/build for them. It’s cool. It’s called making a living. I’d like the same opportunity when I write.

I have two novels sitting vacant right now. Anybody have a good two book deal for me?

You can move in tomorrow.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Hey Folks, It's Excerpt Time

An excerpt from Grand Finale


            Ray knocked on Johnny’s side door. 
“It’s open.”  He was cleaning the snake charmer at the kitchen table.  A handful of thin red cartridges sat in the middle like so many pick-up-stix.  The pungent smell of nitro solvent and gun oil filled the space.  “How’s Annie?”
“She’s still sleeping.  I think she’ll be okay.  Face is a mess though.”
Ray looked around the room.  A collection of cereal boxes were arranged on the Formica countertop like library books on a shelf.  An insurance company calendar and a photo of Pope John Paul were the only decorations on the visible walls.  Bright light streamed in through the lace curtains of the breakfast room window, illuminating the shotgun shells and a garish ceramic rooster centerpiece.  The lace curtains and rooster seemed oddly effeminate to Ray.  The old man’s head was cocked to the right to keep smoke from the dangling cigarette from streaming into his watering eyes.  The morning light reflected silver off the days-old whiskers on Johnny’s wrinkled neck.  A packet of smokes, a Zippo lighter, and an overflowing penguin ashtray were arranged next to the cleaning swabs. 
Johnny peered at Ray for a moment.  “You look like shit.”
            “Should have seen me before I showered.”
            “Ain’t you got a doctor?” 
            “I did.  They’re probably wondering where the hell I disappeared to.”  Ray sighed deeply.  He decided to fill Johnny in on his entire backstory – the job, Jen, the ever-increasing headaches, Bahrani’s diagnosis.  The old man continued cleaning the shotgun,  listening without interrupting.  “So I’m afraid to go back to Kansas City,” Ray concluded.  “Afraid they’ll take me in to run tests, do biopsies, do whatever the hell they do and I won’t get out again.  Maybe if I ignore it, it’ll go away.”
            “Don’t you figure they’re trying to find you?  Your wife?  Somebody?” 
            Ray shrugged.  “Yeah, I suppose.  But I really don’t think they give a shit if they find me or not.  That’s the feeling I’ve had the past couple of years.  Like I could fade away and it might be months before anyone noticed.  This, what should I call it…death sentence, has only exacerbated the feeling.”
            “It ain’t a death sentence yet,” said Johnny.  “I got to tell you, Ray, whining don’t become you.”
Ray didn’t speak for a few moments.  It sure felt like a death sentence.  And now these feelings for Annie were complicating his plan to head into the Canyon.  Today he wasn’t so certain he was ready for death whereas last week he was confident about the plan.  Christ!  Last week?  Had he only been in Las Vegas for a week?  Any events older than that seemed to be pages from someone else’s story.  He hadn’t thought of any of it since he’d come home with Annie.  This new life felt like home.
“So you’re still thinking about the Grand Canyon.”  It was a statement, not a question.  The old man laughed.  “Going off to die like an old dog.”
Johnny lit another cigarette.  A thin cloud of blue haze hung in the kitchen air.  He peered at Ray through eyes half-closed against the smoke.  “You know, we ain’t so different as you would think.  Neither one of us has shit to live for.  Except Annie and Rachel.”  He glanced at Ray’s poker face.  “C’mon, I seen the way you look at Annie.  I may be a dinosaur, but I ain’t without sensitivity.
“Look, Ray, let’s cut to the chase.  Tact ain’t never been one of my strong suits.  Or so they tell me.  You got a brain tumor and I’m old as salt with heart problems to boot, so I’m thinking we both got one foot in the grave.”  
Ray wanted to protest Johnny’s hard take on their situation, but blunt as it was, the old man was right.  Ray wasn’t ready to hear it stated that directly.  It sounded morbidly final to hear someone else vocalize what he had only thought to himself.  He started to speak but Johnny waved him off.
“Hear me out, Ray.  We got a little problem here in the form of Mr. Winston C. Culpepper, bad-assed pimp with a nasty habit of beating on women.  Other women I don’t really care about, but one I do.  I’m thinking that neither one of us has much to lose so maybe we should be men enough to take this bastard out.”
“Take him out…like kill him?” 
Ray wanted to pay back in spades anyone who would hurt Annie, but he was the guy who had once rushed a rabbit with a broken leg to the veterinarian.  A rabbit he’d found on the roadside.  The only person he’d ever seriously considered killing was Paul Provenzano but that had been figurative.  He was a spineless coward, no doubt about it.
Johnny formed a pistol out of his thumb and index finger, pointed it at Ray like he was shooting.  “Bingo.”
“Can’t we just have him arrested for assault?  Get him out of the picture?  Johnny, killing a man has never even been on my radar, even if he damn well deserved it.  Maybe it’d be easier if I was in the mob like you.”
Johnny chuckled.  “You mean the witness protection thing?”
Ray nodded.
“There ain’t no witness protection thing, kid.  It’s a story I made up so people would leave me the hell alone.  It ain’t like you have to go into any detail with a story like that.  You just let out some hints and ain’t nobody going to ask you shit about it for fear you might go John Gotti on them or something.”
“You weren’t in the mob?”
“I’m a teamster from Chicago.  Closest thing I got to the mob was seeing Jimmy Hoffa once.  I retired.  My wife died.  I came west.  End of story.”
“Jesus Christ,” said Ray.  “You had me believing.”
“I got a lot of people believing.  It’s a good racket.”
Ray placed his elbows on the table and supported his head in his hands, thinking.  All his life he had avoided confrontation even when confrontation would have been the appropriate response.  Inside he despised himself for backing down, for refusing to stand his ground, but he could rarely find the fortitude if it meant creating a scene. 
You’re fucking dying, Ray.  How much more time you think you have to make a stand, to erase all the bullshit times you wimped away?  His stomach churned with nervous energy just to think about going after a pimp.  A street-wise, probably armed and dangerous pimp, who had no qualms about beating women.  He felt nauseated.  When do you stop this shit, Ray?  Are you going to go to your grave afraid?  He took a long deep breath and slowly let it out.  He saw Annie’s battered face in his mind’s eye.  He thought about this bastard tormenting her after he left Vegas.  Fuck it.
“Okay,” he said. “I’m in.  But you’ll have to do it, Johnny.  The actual killing part.”
“All right,” beamed Johnny.  “Don’t worry.  I don’t have any qualms about killing him.  I was in the Corps.”  He reached a hand across the table, and Ray shook it.  “Look, forever ain’t that far away for the two of us.  Let’s do something honorable.”
            Ray felt surprisingly lighter.  Honorable.  It had a certain lofty sound to it.  Much better than murder. “You have a plan?”
            “Not presently.”
            “Well, the start of a plan,” said Johnny, looking more animated.  “Tonight we’ll go down to Fremont Street and observe our man.  We’ll come up with something.  If not, we’ll just shoot the sonofabitch and be done with it!”
            “That would simplify it.”
            “I believe in directness, but that would be too easy on the bastard.  I want him to squirm a little.  To feel some fear.”  Johnny pushed back from the table.  “I got errands to run.  Don’t say anything to Annie.  She don’t need the worry.”
            Ray nodded.  He stood and walked to the back door, pausing in the sunlight.  “Johnny, this goes against everything I believe in.”  The old man started to say something, but Ray held up his hand.  “I didn’t say I wouldn’t do it.  I just said it goes against everything for me, and I mean it.  I’ll help how I can, for Annie, but you’ll have to do the dirty work.”
            Johnny winked at him.  “Okay, kid.  I don’t want you getting your hands dirty.  We’ll head out about eleven, after Rachel’s asleep. You take care.”

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Down Here

We’re different down here, it’s true:
quick to laugh
quicker to shoot,
it sometimes makes no difference;

hot like the weather,
warm as gulf tides…

     Carl and Junior will do anything
     for you;
     fix your brakes or watch
     your back against strangers,
     but they’ll turn on you like mad dogs
     for the slightest provocation,
     inadvertent shoulder bump,

     They tolerate Jesus ‘cause he’s Mexican
     and can work like a mule;
     works like their fathers could,
     holds his own
     and they got to respect that…

whelped from sturdy stock, we’re
bred for drought and meanness,
lean and rough
as livestock;
we can run all night
rough at the edges
ragged as white trash,
sweat-stained and ripe
wearing out early in the heat of summers,

our time measured in dog years,
retired to the porch so early,
too angry,
too fat.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Commit to Commitment

I’m wondering this morning just what is it that separates a person from the pack?  What does it take to stand out in a talented field?  It’s easy to feel like your own talents are insignificant when you’re afloat in the vast ocean of other talents.
“Unless you’re the lead dog, the view never changes.”
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that luck has much to do with it – being in the right place at the right time, etc. – but my chances will be a heck of a lot better if I am ready when that time comes.  What is the old saying? 
Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”
Read that line again.  It’s important.  Olympic athletes are wonderful examples of commitment and preparation in order to be ready when the opportunity presents itself.  Their discipline and dedication is the icing on a cake created by desire, long hours and years of practice, choice, forfeit, support from family, and a myriad of other attributes and opportunities –  some obvious and others not so obvious.
I think often of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, in which he reveals that many non-obvious circumstances like birth month can become the tipping point (no pun intended) for mega-success.  His premise is both fascinating and daunting to consider.  It makes us wonder whether having “the right stuff” is enough.
Well, it certainly can’t hurt.  But we must hone that right stuff through our commitment.  I must take care of the variables I can control and have faith that the ones I cannot are going to favor me.  And I should learn to be happy with my progress and talents at the end of the day, whether recognized by the world or not.  That’s it. 
Yogi Bhajan, the Master of Kundalini Yoga, a true Saturn teacher, put it in his undeniably direct way:
Life is a commitment. All of nature is committed except you. Commit!
And live that commitment. Beyond that you will find there is absolute,
infinite freedom.
So, with that in mind, I think I’ll get back to the task at hand: honing my own talents.  See you on the podium.

Friday, February 12, 2010

And Unquiet Time

Quiet Time

He killed the engine, and sat listening to it ticking, waiting for the fine chalk dust to settle. Lacy'd been driving him up the wall lately with her incessant chatter and he just felt the need to get out here on the ridgeline, along the very edge of the escarpment, to have time to think.

He drained the remainder of lukewarm Coors, crumpled the can, and hooked it back behind the cab to land amidst the barbed wire remnants, a salt block, and another dozen cans from the past week's quiet times. The broken land stretched out toward the reddening sky -- not a building, or a power line, or a cell tower to be seen. Ain't good for cattle, he pondered, but damn sure good for nothing. The hot engine finally quit ticking like a pocket watch. He got out.

Stretching his lanky self, he leaned against an arthritic fence post, feeling its warmth through his shirtfront. Lacy'd given him that shirt on their third anniversary. Now he was wondering if they'd see a fourth. The wind picked up as the afternoon heat started to diminish. He watched the big red sun fall perceptively now toward the irregular black line of horizon.

Starting a conversation with God seemed an impossibly big task. Bigger than this country. Far bigger than that sinking orb. And why the hell would He want to listen to my piss ant story anyhow? I'm certain as hell he's got bigger fish to fry.

Returning to the truck, he sat another minute looking west before starting it up, then turned her back toward town, watching the stars come alive. He knew there was a God involved in all this, but didn't quite know how to strike up the conversation.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Time is Now

Just a fragment of light happening at an exact moment of passing
creates such photographs,
either in our mind or
on photo stock, which
we retrieve in the future and stare,
longing for that other place
other time;
yet all that we know and have,
all that we reach for and grab
is in this moment
this moment is