Archive for October, 2013

off to work

Friday the 13th Part 18
Jason Goes To Home Depot

Jason fingers the new gas-powered
chainsaws & the Chinese steel
hacksaws like new pornography.
He recalls how easy petals of flesh
would open, pollenating
the air with blood.
A young man
timidly approaches him, asks
May i help you
and Jason turns, and quietly notices
a silver cross on the boys shirt.
“Its for my brother.” The boy
acknowledges the stare. “He was
murdered seven years ago.” And Jason
gazes into the boys
eyes like a seer. Jason thinks:
I knew your brother! We spent
time together at the lake!
…I remember
those soft green eyes.
The way they’d
swell with surprise
at his body
being penetrated
with a machete. I was the last
to hold his head
in these hands.
I can still hear his screams,
the way his hair,
with sweat, felt in my
fingers. “I’m just looking
around,” Jason says. “My wife
won’t let me buy another
power tool.”

The boy nods,
“Let me know if you
have any questions.” And
Jason can’t think of any.
–j cagney 2013
I wrote a series of poems all fake sequels to the Friday the 13th movies. In my series, Jason figures he’d marry the last girl who got away… and he does. And she likes his shyness, and he takes speech therapy out of love.


Without Bart, I had to get to San Francisco hours early for the reading I was in. For a 5:30 call time, I was at the Embarcadero eating vegan doughnuts, sipping coffee and journalling by 3. I finally commuted deeper into the city, back to the Mission and a neighborhood I once lived. Behind me, there was a junior high school aged boy who wouldn’t stop talking; he was so bright and alive, yet he monologued confidently as a prison lifer. All attitude and energy and not one fuck was given.

I was a half hour early to the hood and took a walk. The bookstore I thought I might burn some time in was now a hollowed empty shell. As was the other bookstore a block down where years ago hosted a open mic and readers series. That’s history, and the place is now dark and shuttered. No one buys books anymore. A bookstore, you stay. What’s that?

I was here for Litcrawl, part of the Litquake literary festival. I got to the bar minutes before the host of the show and one of the festival organizers. While they set up mics and prepped the live on-line stream, I chatted briefly with a friend who showed up. She stopped by to visit before heading off to her own event later that night. We sat and talked a while. I kept thinking about how she once came up as a potential match for me on this on-line dating site. She never responded and we’ve never talked about it. Its a secret I’m supposed to keep or pretend never happened. I guess I also pretended not to hear her but briefly mention some project she was doing with her sweetie, how she tilted her head phototropically on that word and I also didn’t hear her say she was going to the bar to get a drink. She said this twice before getting up. I didn’t want to drink. What I wanted, I couldn’t get.

Another friend and co-feature for the night showed and sat across from me. He and I performed together years ago, before his marriage and daughter, before he was a published author and teacher. We talked but briefly before the reading began. And it was a solid one. Equal female to male readers and everyone was on point. The room, since tonight was a special event, was packed. Standing room only from what I could see at the mic. And folks appeared to listen and be attentive, those closest to the action. It was a great night. My friend shared something new and the two women who ended the night were both excellent. The woman who finsihed the night touched me greatly with poems on her mother– this before she herself began to choke up with her last lines.

The reading finished even if the night was far from over. People crawled out of the bar to the next closest venue, event. I gave copies of my chapbook to the other readers that night and passed out hugs. I sold enough books to get a burrito and some chips, then walked down to the bus stop for the commute home. I wanted to hear some more work, but not having Bart made getting around an ordeal. It would take two hours between leaving the bar and opening my front door.

At the bus stop, a man stopped me and said he enjoyed my poetry. What to do with a compliment? I thanked him, paused to see if there was anything else I need to do or say, but he just stared and I nodded and pushed on to the drug store for corn chips and aloe water. When the bus arrived, the same man got on after me. We talked since we were both heading to the transbay terminal and the same bus back to Oakland.

Turns out he is a reverend and author. He reached into his satchel and pulled out a novel he’d published, set in Oakland. We signed and traded books and talked. Truthfully: I interviewed him, uncomfortable as I was with silence hanging between us since we were travelling together and, well, “He started it.” He seemed quiet as I naturally am. But the conversation was cool. We got in the long line for the bus back to Oakland and waited for a half hour. Here, he turned to the man behind us and asked if he could take our picture. Then we stood quietly next to one another, reading each other’s books. I began his– its not bad. I don’t want to describe it as Ghetto/Urban Fiction, but what else to say? The cover has a hooded out of focus man holding a gun out towards the reader from beneath huge block lettering of the books title, as if the letters were bars, falling to enclose the character or crush him.

Reading the book and noting how one scene flowed into the next, I wondered if the author mapped out his story or just sat and wrote and let it happen. I didn’t ask. The answer is another question: “Why am I not writing a book right now?” Earlier, at the bar with the woman I knew, I mentioned how playwriting seemed like my next logical move. She looked at me and smiling longingly. She told me how while she was unemployed, no writing took place. She promptly disarmed all my excuses that kept me from sitting and thinking and working.

The bus was bloated and left several dozen people still in line as it pulled off. But the trip was peaceful and smooth. Strangers were talking and laughing. They had to, standing so close with one another. The man, Rev. Author, found a seat behind me. When I got off, we shook hands and I promised he’d see me again. I meant it. I was down to visit one of the churches he volunteers for. Both popular and legendary churches in the east bay, and despite my church upbringing, they’re churches I never thought to visit. Until now. And after reading a chapter, I was down to finish his book. Never would have touched it if I hadn’t met him…

I climbed the hill back home and saw the moon was full. My best friend sent me a few texts. He couldn’t make it to the bar and listened to the live stream of the show on line. It was a good night.

Giving A Poetry Reading

Posted: October 11, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Fort Mason

He called and asked months ago, and I mean months, for me to read at his venue– a bookstore in Fort Mason, San Francisco. I put it in my calendar and forgot until last Monday he called to remind me, then immediately apolgized for not being able to make it.

I got tickets to the game, he said.

So after work yesterday, instead of going home, I walked over a few blocks the a bus stop and headed to the Marina District.

Usually, a few days before a reading I’ll sift through my poems and figure out what looks good to read. Truthfully, I’d felt depressed for weeks and haven’t been able to sit and concentrate on anything especially the silence required to write. But since the start of the month I’ve been journalling a lot–which helps free my mind, taking the thought trash out. I’ve been journal-typing as well as writing longhand. And its worked. Two days this week I was caught by a thought, an image in my mind, and was moved to immediately sit and make notes. Two poems look to be forthcoming.

I got off the bus and immediately dug through my backpack, flipping through my notebook and tested a poem by reading it aloud. I passed a children’s playground and a baseball diamond. I passed a young couple holding hands. The poem sounded better than I remembered.

Fort Mason Center is in the Marina District near the Golden Gate bridge. There’s several boats out in the water and children ran on the patch of grass I saw in the distance. I found a bench and dug through my bag to figure out what I wanted to do with my set. I had a chapbook to sell, so I could read a lot from that. But I still felt ill-prepared and was near disappointed with myself. All I could see was everything I hadn’t done or finished or remembered to bring.

I was early and alone. I didn’t bother posting the reading on Facebook– when I read at this venue the last year, nobody responded to my invite. And tonight there were so many local events competing. During my busride, when a friend of mine called me back, responding finally to my early morning voice mail, I didn’t bother mentioning it.

A huge parking lot and a lot of empty spaces. Most of the people I saw were in white jackets, all kitchen workers on break from the area’s restaurants. A few stray tourists and resident joggers. But nothing moved except me. I walked around to the far side of the building, sat on another bench, looked at the water and passing ships and boats and meditated.

The reading takes place inside a bookstore. The coffee shop half of the bookstore was dark and shuddered. When I arrived, two people behind the counter barely acknowledged me. I was a ghost or they were. I began combing through the bookshelves as gradually more people wandered in. I heard my name mentioned– James hasn’t shown up yet, someone said. They began setting up chairs and the other featured reader apparently came in. I wandered around unseen for a long time until the guest host came over and found me, recognizing me from a previous read. He asked me to write out my introduction for him, so I pulled some paper out of my backpack and scribbled down a couple of lines. Then– he introduced me to the nights other feature, a older woman who turned out to be the lover of a famous writer I’d admired since I began doing poetry in the 90’s. She offered me to go first, so she could get herself ready, she said.

Not very many people, 12-15. All regulars, I presumed. Usually features read for 15, 20 minutes. They gave me a half hour. My heart sank over all the poems I forgot to bring. But it turned out better than expected. I read two poems I’d been re-working the last day or so and they both were received well. From the podium, I can hear and feel how the audience is receiving me. Between that and the feel of the words and lines (and breath) in my mouth, is the space where I find if a poem works or not. I’d look up at the crowd– a few people kept their eyes closed, one woman smiled, the man she sat with nodded along with me as I read, as if picturing the words running before his eyes. People clapped, generously.

And the woman who followed me, the woman I didn’t know I’d already heard of, came up with a stack of books in her arms, books that date well past the early 70’s. She looked professorial. I loved her, her voice, attitude. She had a warmth about her that charmed me. In each of the books she had, there was a napkin for a bookmark. She’d pick up a book, go to the bookmark, read and then refer to a stack of printed pages on the podium, read a poem from there, then choose another book. She was funny, accessible and real. So many readings can be dry or academic, but she was fun, slightly profane and grandmotherly in a way that charmed my heart. I wanted a copy of the book she was selling, but when I overheard her say $15, I let it go. I had $20 bucks left and not much more in my bank account until the 15th. But at the end of the reading, as people mulled around and shook hands or whatever, she offered to trade books– not sell. I gave her two chapbooks for her thick memoir. Then, I wanted to get out of there.

So many times, after readings, I kinda disappear into the night and get home alone. I’m not good at selling or schmoozing or chatting. I want to do the poems and get paid and get outta dodge. A couple of people bought copies of my book (lunch money tomorrow!) and a couple others were so generous and sweet in regards to their response to my work. I thanked them, all the while taking baby steps to the front door.

One woman, older and blonde, approached carrying a huge bag in front of her, hugging it with both hands while a purse hung off one shoulder. She and I left at the same time, talking. In my heart, I wanted to do what I’d always done– wander off alone quietly. But it turned out, she and I were heading to the bus stop together. I relaxed myself. Tried not to think things I always think, but just relaxed, talked and listened. I kept my heart open for her while thinking– isnt’ this what I preferred? To have friends, to be around more women, to not feel so alone. We crossed the parking lot and were soon off speaking of writing and poetry and on to movies and that new music documentary I haven’t yet seen. Then, after another block, music. She said she writes muscially and is inspired by jazz. What kind of music do I listen to. Everything, I said. In my mind, I flashed on my Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton’s Jolene and how much I love them, then added: Even some country music.

At the bus stop she opened up, talking about her years attending the bluegrass festival, her passion for Steve Earle and Merle Haggard. The bus came pretty quick. It was crowded and we didn’t feel obligated to sit with one another and continue. It was nice. Letting go of my shyness, remaining open to her, practicing conversation, practicing presence. She wasn’t attractive to me, it wasn’t that… As a younger man, I often felt myself shut down, like my rib-cage is a kind of clam shell of insecurity that shuts around my heart and I never know what to say. Things have changed. Over the years, I’ve overprotected myself so thoroughly I feared I’d become an emotional hermit. Apparently, little by little, I’ve grown.


Halle Berry full of honey
The Oscar is with thee
Blessed Art Thou Amongst movie stars
And Blessed art the state of Ohio from which you ascend.
Halle Berry, Mother of Fair Skinned Actresses and Models
Pray for our skin & complexion, Pray for the Loveless & Lonely,
Pray for us fans standing in rain to worship movies both
monumental & merely okay–
Pray for us thru the hour of your end credits

Or next talk show appearance or Oscar telecast

May you glow and shine in miracles over us all
Now and Forever

–jcagney 2013