Archive for August, 2013

grandfather's bed

Airport, Alone — Jcagney


the frayed petal of his text message

krinkles in my palm:

            I caught the wrong flight to los angeles


now we’re separated this leg of our journey.

I stand in the lobby of the airport, lonesome

staring at the words

as if they might change while being read.


Outside, strikers whitecap the tarmac

the sharks teeth of their signs rise, fall in argument

anger ruffling the corduroy of their jackets.

Beyond them, the glowing cruise ship

of a grocery store across the avenue.

Further still, the horizons dark meditation

of rain.  A temple of clouds descend,

all bedhead cumulous and black as asphalt.


Heavy emerald rain corkscrews the air

haloing the strikers raised fists.

They hammer the glass walls

until white veins web across them

snapping loud as ice in thaw,


I hear the rain as if something in the distance

cooks.  Imagine a night flight to Los Angeles

floating mute on soot colored clouds

outlined by yellow sun at dusk.

My phone crushes in my hands like fabric

My face prays with tears.


I’m greatly inspired by Richard Hugo.  His letter and dream poems especially.  Initially, when I began exploring poetry I didn’t realize things like letters and dreams could work as poems.  Now when I’m hit with big budget, vivid dreams I diagram them in a journal and cut them down into poems.  Some residue of dreams remain I haven’t recycled into poems: the dream of driving across a bridge with my father in a rainstorm, Frank Sinatra being projected onto overhead traffic screens.  The one with me swimming through a bayou.  The one where I’m visited by my dead mother and the bowl of food on the coffee table begins boiling with insects…  Dreaming doesn’t happen often enough– usually I lose the fabric of them after I wake.  But sometimes they stick, leaving clear imprints and a nice narrative arc such as Airport, Alone.

Trayvon Martin

My golden-throated friend Dorian Spencer has produced a gorgeous song that’s probably the best response to TM I’ve heard to date.

Trinidad Lighthouse


Memorial Lighthouse, Trinidad Civic Club, Trinidad, Ca.  — JCagney

Bone spur of the lighthouse

Excavated from the hillside

By diligent shovels of weather

Stands purified under the administration

Of the sun; overseer to an ocean

Of scales flashing white and green.


An old man sits at a bench

shepherding the wet painting of the horizon.

As we approach, he pulls the loaded rifle

of his terrier closer to his chest.


They await what has already arrived—

The radiant ignition of ocean

The coastlines dancers of granite & basalt

tossing gowns of sheer water,

foam livid in their teeth


My friend and I stand on a cliff between

a small lighthouse & brick wall.  We stink

of endless afternoons of gravel and coffee;

yet the dog stays at peace in the old man’s lap.


Over the hymn of ocean

my friend, compelled by spirit,

turns to me, announces:

I want to be reborn

as a lighthouse


I imagine him conducting

an orchestra of waves

His tongue an aero beacon

slicing fog like cake.


We turn to the

stone wall behind us and read

the engraved names of those

lost and buried at sea.


the ocean both city and cemetery.

The taken and the disappeared

remain as letters to a vacated name

& the range of years they were responsible for


Were they buried with illnesses intent?

Or lost to the endless curiosity of the waves


What circumstances in life

Will lead you to step into the mystery

of what fevers beneath the surface of the sea?


Will you be weather or rock or lighthouse

Or letters assembled in combination

To unlock a spirit from its tomb


Perhaps the afterlife isn’t above

But below.  Perhaps dog and man know this

& wait.

for the opening of the sacred text

for seagulls to chant names

into the rock wall canvas

for lyrics of the ocean’s song to be revealed


Like children, we approach the old man


as to the appetite

& habits of the lighthouse

& its ocean

But the old man only turns

to stare through us

& silently mourn our sanity

as black fleas

drip from his dogs chest

like blood-clots



It took several rewrites to get this to flow correctly.  I’m finally ready to walk away.

Hold The Phone

Posted: August 21, 2013 in Uncategorized
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rotary phone

Hold the Phone – Jcagney


There used to be one in every house
with its own end table or altar.

ours was a wire stand crammed
with phone books– the first internet.

if you remembered to clean it

you’d wipe it down like a baby –
its umbilical cord would braid itself
over all the stories & lies transmitted—

You’d have to stand on a chair

to let the long cord unkink

; the handset

a satellite spinning weightless
above the rug.

you could slow dial
if you didn’t want to talk
but had to.  you’d
listen to its metallic purr

watch the plastic wheel rotate

and as it rang
wondered what the house

or room

on the other end looked like.

ours would scream in the empty
living room and you’d run to it.
tell it from the kitchen

you were coming,
even as your footfalls

shook the plates on the wall.


momma could tell who was on the line
just by hearing it ring.
She’d say: Jesus!
before picking it up–
not because it was Him calling–
but rather she knew she was going to need Him
before she hung up.

Grandpa would call every day
& hold the phone.
You’d stand there and listen to him
breathe for a while.
You had to wait– even if you knew what he wanted

And what he wanted was

nothing.  Just nothing.

Where yo momma, he’d finally say
His mouth full of toothless m’s.
Momma would lean back on the couch,
his voice in her ear
and they’d exchange breaths for the longest time.

She’d sit like that for a while


her fingers turning solitaire tarot

on the coffee table.
Sometimes she’d be leaned back

on the couch and  I’d put my ear to her stomach
listening to what was going on in there

until she had to get up
and do this or finish that.

Call waiting used to be called Patience.

You let the phone ring & if no one picked up
you called right back, let it ring some more

Call forwarding was when someone would call
and it wasn’t for you.

You’d have to go to the yard
where she squatted over tomato plants
or you’d hang out the window above the driveway
or shout through the bathroom door: Phone!

Long distance only happened Sunday nights–
You shouted over the width of states.

The callers voice so far away they sounded other worldly.

You had to talk quick & with purpose–
remember your report card and ask about the dog–
because time was money tumbling from someone’s palm.

In school, I could talk for hours about nothing.
Or prank call.  I talked with a girl once

While slowly pouring water

Out of a gallon pitcher into the toilet.

It took the longest time before she asked:

What are you doing?!?

Oh, just standing here, I’d say.

Obscene calls don’t happen any more.
I miss them.

One day

my father caught one
and said: Hold on for a minute

Then passed the phone

to Uncle Jerry who just drove in from


He took the phone, listened
for a good while, frowned, then started cussing
till black flies tumbled from his mouth.

That was when hanging up on someone really meant something.




The photo appearing with this poem was taken two days ago.  It has a ring tone.

Reading it aloud, I like the poems tone, even as it annoys me for being so informal and folksy.   A workshop could make this more muscular.  To me, the line breaks are aligned to the poems speed.  It demands to be read with your hands in your pockets, thinking.

The After Life… with God

Posted: August 20, 2013 in Uncategorized
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After Life with God – Jcagney


The other side of the white light is a stage light. 

God’s monologue subsides as the last breath

eases from my chest.  Relatives gone on before now sit

in audience cheering my entrance.  God’s

hair is a tsunami shadowing a beach, cresting over remarkable

brown eyes.  He’s in a tweed 70’s leisure suit & yes, he smokes


& listens with his body.  He’ll erupt in convulsive laughter, smoke

pulsing from his throat in volcanic exhaust, his chest giggling light.

On thick, yellowed fingers he counts off the remarkable

failures of my life—cold nights spent high & alone.  In hiccupping breath

chuckles: That was pretty dumb, huh?  Don’tcha think?  God

laughs at clips of me being clumsy, vulnerable, human.  I sit


& squirm watching memories projected like a scenes from a sit-

com.  The audience nods or stares in cool detachment as I smoke

blunts & kiss girls searching their bodies for the scent of boys.  God

laughs an aside, No—the burning bush was not cannabis and the light

of the applause sign gets the audience to laugh in one oceanic breath.

“To fail is to learn.  In pain lies instruction.  What is most remarkable


about life,” he says.  “Is that anyone survives it.  And what is remarkable

about you is patience and faith.  Despite what many believe, I don’t sit

in judgment.  Eternity’s too short.  Folks judge themselves.  In one breath

a prayer inhaled blossoms into a curse.  Your own hope dissolves in smoke.”

He hangs his head.  Now let this be my testimony: God weeps light.

Hard tears, glowing bright as lemons fall from the eyes of God.


That this man sniffling We’ll be right back, to an assumed camera, is God

a TV host, vulnerable, perfect in his imperfections, strikes me as remarkable.

On floating monitors, silent nature videos play for commercial breaks: light

shimmers on water in electric leaves, violets nod in rhythm to wind, the sun sits

as a crown on a hilltop fluorescent with flowers.  God pauses, inhales, & smoke

unfolds in a kaleidoscope of roses embroidered along his breath.


Do you have any questions for me?  He asks with coffee scented breath.

I wonder if he is bothered by people who do not believe in God.

I wonder about the afterlife earned by people who lived as slaves & did smoke

from hell’s ovens ever reach heaven or why people with remarkable

gifts are often so sad.  Do dinosaurs roam heaven?  Does he sit

among the elderly in silence?  I ask: What’s your best work?  He says, Sunlight.


God’s breath smells like emotions at a wedding.  He sits back

smoke hanging in air like wings and says: Wouldn’t you say so?

About sunlight?  So simple, weightless and remarkable…


I dedicated to my friend, Joanna Spencer.  May she rest in Peace.

Commentary on this is kinda moot– I’ve always idolized Tom Snyder and that God might host a talk show that the recently dead appear on to cover their lives amuses me greatly.  Guess that would make a good writing sample or a play.  Go to it.  I’m off to collect words for another sestina…


wave or mountain



Keeping monks hours, I arise

at midnight to a false dawn

where the sun pauses at the horizon

and creeps sideways like a crab.


Our crew chief materializes at the door

salmon roe dripping from his palms.

Midair, he draws the sign of the dollar.

Then, I am Lazarus summoned

and am clumsy as any thing

newly risen from the dead


The hallway is already busy

men in ripped rain slickers lay stretched out

along the floor in pools of fish blood–

obscene parodies of their former mainland selves.


We genuflect beneath the smudge stick

of a Marlboro

As we return to our ice sanctuary

And pray on our feet beneath a malevolent god–

a huge, metal tank furiously hiccuping fish

and drooling arctic water.


It stands, at the altar, a cross.

Like good apostles, we bow our heads anointed

with debt and poverty and fish scales

while believing that our lives prior to this

was a vision had between shifts


We use herring for our communion.

They represent our sins and spewed

before us every 15 seconds are a new

assortment of reasons to repent.


After eight hours, I spend

breakfast on deck

surrounded by a quarantining ocean.

So barren and desolate

Even islands cannot grow here.


Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye,

there appears a stalk of kelp

on the surface of the water.

I blink twice

before I can look directly at it and see

it is Not a corpse

floating                        forgotten

it’s just… uprooted seaweed.


But the apparition still frightens me–

because this is the first time

I’ve ever seen a dead body

and was            envious



I worked 16 hour shifts on the processor.  After work and maybe just before dinner, I’d stand on deck in the freezing cold.  Sometimes dolphins, sometimes mountain ranges in the distance.  Most of the time, nothing.  The job struck me as what being in a military work prison must be like.   Repetitive, isolating, endless, hard labor.   The natural surroundings fed me; the ocean, the wind.  As the end of a full month approached, kind of felt myself going mad.  I guess we all were.   I remember standing at a urinal and suddenly bursting out singing R.E.M.’s The One I Love.  At that age, I’d never loved anyone.  I shared a cabin with 16 people, all of us in bunks stacked three high.  Down the hall more people seemed stuffed into an even smaller space than ours.  Mine was the top bunk at the door, so when the crew chief would barge in, I would look and see the silhouette of a blond dude in a rain slicker, tendrils of cigarette smoke rising around him like soft jail bars.  Out in the hallway, dudes sat on the floor waiting a couple of minutes for start time.  I took the job for money, natch– but after a while it didn’t seem worth it.  This was the time in my life when i learned some money isn’t worth the process it takes to make it.

What About Bob?

Posted: August 16, 2013 in Uncategorized
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Who was it said Poems are never finished, they’re just abandoned? 

I begin writing a poem after I assume some understanding about or appreciation over what I’ve just seen, experienced or remembered.  Sometimes the poem comes out in one chunk and I let it rest for a while, then go back and tidy it up:  Remove, add, clarify. 

Sometimes there’s a poem that stems from a experience and I don’t know how to express it.  Take this Psalm for Mother Sims, for example.  I love the memory of it, but I’ve never been confident it works on page or as a poem. 

Some Backstory:

One of the few visitors I ever saw while my mom was in the hospital was Mother Sims– an evangelist and preacher who came by the house a lot to visit and get her hair pressed and curled by my beautician mother.  I always admired and liked Mother Sims– she had a sweet disposition, was accessible and real.   

A week before my mom died, I was in the hospital and Mother Sims walked through the door.  I watched her pray for my mom and she and I talked then as my mom couldn’t.  However much I respected her before, after that afternoon my love for her grew exponentially.  I didn’t see her again until years after the funeral.  I reconnected with her after returning to one of the churches I used to visit as a kid.

I was surprised to see her still alive.  She told me where she lived and I promised to visit, which I did.

One of my last visits inspired this poem. 

If anything I was at a loss as to how to best tell the tale, how to format the piece.  Then it occured to me, maybe I can model the poems’ structure on how verses are written in the Bible.  I simultaneously like how it came out ( I like the numbered lines as a kind of list) and was underwhelmed by the result.  I guess I want a poem to shake me or aggressively punch me in the gut.  This is just Pleasant.  Neither stunning nor awful.  


Psalm of Mother Sims & A Blues From The Book Of Bob

1.  I stand at the foot of the evangelists bed, glancing shyly over the oceanic patience of her sleeping face. 

2. Not since my mother & grandfather died have I been in a place this void of expectation

3. I look around.  What else is there to do here but sleep?

4. Briefly, I turn away from staring at Sister Sims face,

5. And study the arctic blue ember of a television angled on a dresser in a room across the hall. 

6. The blue box is a pet, and is the rooms only color and conversation

7. Some people won’t visit places like this

8. With its smell of antiseptic death reaching far out into the surrounding orbit of barely used sidewalks.

9. Minutes cascade down my desire to leave; 

10. I turn towards the nurturing light of the exit wanting to walk out, when she stirs

11. She lifts a thin hand to her nose and scratches.  Her moist eyes crack open, the diamond of consciousness glittering beneath long black lashes.

12. She compels me sit along the white-capping sheets on the shoreline of her bed

13. We hold hands.

14.  I remember years ago how she drew a cross in olive oil on my mother’s forehead & called in favors from Jesus who at that time would not do any.

15.  95 now, she says—

16. She anoints herself my godmother, wriggling her spine straighter and sitting up in bed

17.  She recites my lineage from memory, en epic poem of names as if they were combination to something locked.

18. She is regal and alive and more lucid than some men a quarter her age

19. In one of her stories, she says something that, in this place, makes me laugh

20. The woman in the next bed is stirred by my outburst–snatches up the dividing curtain as if skirt checking virgins in Catholic school dorms

21. She stares at me and does not Stop.

22. It is a brutal gaze I cannot return

23. The woman drops the panel, rolls onto her back, then begins moaning to the ceiling a bluesy dirge for someone named Bob…

24. Bob!!!  Bob!!!  His name a death rattle in her throat.

25. Bob!!!  Standing out there in the hallway right now—  drinking and cussing and won’t come in.

26. O Bob.  What’s wrong?  Where are you?

27. Its safe to come home, now.  All is forgiven…

28. Your warm dinner is here with us!  Take your place at the table, Bob.  I’ve been cooking all night and ironing kerchiefs for the place settings since dawn.

29. Sweat is my cooking grease, Bob!  This love has been deep fried golden brown just for you

30. Bob, she says.  Come on in from the hallway.  Bob?  Bob!!

            31.Oh, shut up.  Shut her up!  Mother Sims Says

32. She closes her eyes again & sneers in disgust at even the curtain separating them

33.  Mother Sims reaches over, grips my arm tight.  Tighter!

34. As if to keep me from falling in to whatever pit that womans’ mind now frantically lathers