Monthly Archives: January 2014

When Things Got Too Weird for Ripley, a poem

illustration when things got too weird for ripley

When Things Got Too Weird for Ripley

Notwithstanding the fact that he still received
more letters every year than anyone on earth,
including Santa Claus — Believe It Or Not —
his sinking fits of despair started to occur

with frightening regularity after the war;
on his way to the far East for the first time
since Pearl Harbor Day, he stood on the plucked
turkey-breast hull of a sunken battleship,

the Arizona, looking down at his well-shod feet
as though the rolled steel were transparent,
as if he could see the innocently disarrayed
skeletons of the young men still entombed within —

Believe It Or Not — his full, delicate lips stretched
over his protruding teeth, speechless for
the first time in fifty-odd years. Oddly, he
couldn’t take his mind off the Tibetan skull-bowl

at home, he felt the hinged roof of the bowl
under his cold, stiff fingers, he tasted warm
sacramental blood and wine, mixed in equal parts,
sharp and bitter against the roof of his mouth

like the blade of a rusty iron sword.
For the cameras, he read aloud the notes
he had with him, but his voice wasn’t his anymore,
it was the gentle, quavery voice of an old, old man.

Although he was just fifty-five, he had the manner
and body of someone thirty years older.
Ever since his first success, he had been
a hard-working, hard-playing man, with the immodest

tastes of an oriental emperor; he earned a million
dollars a year, and knew how to spend it —
on better days, he’d have six smart, well-dressed
women under his roof, for energetic conversation,

for private fun and games. Out on his secluded
spit of land in the middle of Oyster Bay,
they’d barbecue whole pigs, split sides of beef,
and the flavor of the smoked flesh he tore into

was marvelous, marvelous. But, later that day,
on the continuing flight from Hawaii to Japan,
he actually lost track of where he was for a few moments,
and through his puffy, heavy lids, the woman bending

over him with the pitcher of pink lemonade looked
exactly like the love of his life, dead ten years
that month of cancer. Dear, sweet, Ola, he almost said,
then caught himself. Though his temples sweated

copiously, he refused to soil his handkerchief,
letting his shirt become wet, stiff with his salt.
He broadcast live the next morning from Hiroshima’s
approximate ground zero, sitting at a rusty card table,

fumbling with watches frozen at the moment of detonation,
staring dreamily at a child’s embroidered silk slipper
retrieved intact from the dunes of sticky ash —
Believe It Or Not — the only artifact to survive

the blast for many thousands of square yards.
He haggled over price and bought it for his
newest museum, opening next month in Las Vegas.
As long as he could remember, he’d been happily

locked in an embrace with the whole odd eclectic world,
savoring each one-of-a-kind moment his physical bulk
passed through, but lately, and especially here,
for the first time that innocent enthusiasm

which had brought him so very far from Riverside,
California seemed to encircle his tired neck
like one of the great unwieldy money-stones
of New Zealand, giving little joy, though if

anyone asked, he’d still say he’d rather die than
leave it at the side of the road. Upon reaching
his final destination, Shanghai, he saw his dearest,
most beloved city in a panic: everyone knew

the Reds were marching down from the hills —
it was only a matter of time before the soul of China
became engorged and insensible with revolution.
Voracious appetite of old quelled, he stuffed down

a few quarts of sticky rice with Seven Delicacies
for show, for form, so as not to upset his agent.
A week later, back in New York, for the second time
he faltered while on the air, then passed out,

slithering to the floor in his fine wool suit
like a large scrubbed potato, hands scrabbling
against the studio floor, grasping the taped cords
underfoot with a stylish syncopated rhythm,

his young female assistant staring into the camera
like a ritual mask, her mouth a lipsticked
slash of fear, babbling nonsense until they thought
to switch to the test pattern: the perils of

live television. That night, Rip called a neighbor
from the hospital; I’m getting out of here
tomorrow morning, he said. I’m taking us
on a long vacation, God knows we all deserve it.

He hung up the black phone and leaned back dead
before his head touched the pillow. Years later,
his dearest friends all said it was a blessing
he didn’t live to see how the world came to make

his column of physical oddities seem by comparison —
Believe It Or Not — warm, safe, what we dream of
when we dream of heaven, not one of us doubting for
a minute anymore that fact is stranger than fiction.


Filed under poetry

nana’s red blanket, a story for children

illustration nanas red blanket

On rainy days when I was small, my grandmother — I called her Nana Banana – always let me build a fort indoors. She carried her tall kitchen stools out to the living room and fetched the biggest blanket from her cedar chest, which was perched on round feet in the shape of lion’s paws. The blanket was heavy red wool, hemmed on all four sides with shiny satin. Nana Banana had brought the blanket with her from Up North when she moved to Florida, and it was very, very thick and warm. Nana’s wooden stools had flowers and birds carved down the legs, and squeaky cane seats that had been woven by her very own grandfather. The blanket and stools were perfect for forts.

First, I always drew my map. I loved to decide where to build the fort. The furniture had to be all figured out and labeled. Sometimes the couch would be the mountains, other times it would be the forest — or, it might be I was in a big city and the couch was the library or the post office. The shiny coffee table could be the ocean, or a lake, or maybe the zoo. I would crumple up my map and smooth it out and Nana would singe around the edges with a match to make it look old. Then I would go to the building site and lay out the fort’s foundation, which was four stools, one for each corner. Nana would pick up two corners of the blanket and I would pick up the other two. We would billow the blanket up as high as we could and let it float down. It draped beautifully, like an Arabian tent.

I would crawl inside, and underneath the dense red blanket it was dark and quiet and far away from everything. From that place I could go anywhere in the whole world — or, I could stay right where I was if I didn’t feel like traveling. If I wanted to fly, Nana would make plane noises. If I wanted to sail, she would be the water and wind. Always, she was there to help me get to where I wanted to go. Later, if I crawled out of the fort and needed to buy something, she was the shopkeeper; if I wanted to sell something, she would be the customer. It seemed like I could always talk her into buying — no matter what it was I had for sale!

Sometimes, though, when I was tired and cross and just wanted to be by myself, I would take a flashlight into the fort and read. I had pillows and sofa cushions inside so I could be comfortable. Nobody would bother me under there — they’d act like they didn’t even know where I was. On days like that, sooner or later Nana Banana would silently push a bowl of popcorn or a plate of cookies through my door. The whole world shrank down to that warm, dark space underneath Nana’s red blanket; under there, because of her and how much she believed in me, I just knew I was the smartest, bravest, most important person ever born. But the best feeling of all on those long, stormy afternoons was when the rain finally finished — and I realized I was ready to leave my retreat and go back to the bright, quick, noisy life outside. Dinner that night would taste so delicious!

Please, tell me, tell me! Where will you build a fort, next time it rains? Once inside, where will you travel?


Filed under for children

hypocrisy in america

hypocrisy the american way

There is an interesting case which was argued in front of the Supremes on January 14th:  a Wyoming man is suing to prevent the Forest Service from building a rails-to-trails trail section, 28 miles in length, on his land.

The man’s parents were “granted” the land by the federal government in 1976, subject to the federal government’s previous grant of a right of way for a railroad, which in fact operated on the property from 1904 to 2003.

The man’s lawyers argue — so very poignantly! — that even money isn’t enough to compensate the man for his loss:  “Just compensation, however, is cold comfort for having to endure the disruption and inconvenience of having essentially a ‘linear park’ on one’s property:  [I]t appears beyond cavil that use of these easements for a recreational trail – for walking, hiking, biking, picnicking, Frisbee playing, with newly-added tarmac pavement, park benches, occasional billboards, and fences to enclose the trail way – is not the same use made by a railroad, involving tracks, depots, and the running of trains.”

In a newspaper interview, one of the lawyers calls the federal rails-to-trails program “a massive land grab.”  Hmmm.

Let me get this straight.  The land in question was granted to the family by the federal government, which had already granted a railroad company a right of way, which railroad tracks operated actively across the property for about 100 years.  Now the family doesn’t want the feds to make a rails-to-trails segment on their land.

So, there’s this “non-profit foundation” involved in the case.  RIGHT!  Nonprofit sounds good, right?  WRONG!

Their statement about their “tax-exempt” purpose states:  “NARPO is a non-profit, tax exempt foundation dedicated to principles that private property ownership must be maintained in the hands of citizens and not the government. NARPO’s major goal is to assist property owners in maintaining their complete land ownership and resisting government confiscation. We hope to keep you up to date on the latest court cases and federal and state law changes that effect the property rights of reversionary property owners to railroad rights-of-way.”

SO, when people were homesteaded property by the federal government, AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT RESERVED RIGHTS OF WAY ACROSS THAT VERY SAME HOMESTEADED PROPERTY, THEIR DESCENDANTS, who profited and prospered by the federal government’s actions in “homesteading” property to their ancestors in order to “encourage the development of this nation,”  SHOULDN’T BE MADE TO HONOR THOSE RIGHTS OF WAY?  Oh, I see!  You got the land from your government, your government told you it was maintaining some rights over that land, but now, when the government wants to USE those rights, you don’t want to let it!

Oh, this seems legit.

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Filed under legal writing

Hitchhiker Dream With Beatles

illustration hitchhiker dream with beatles

Hitchhiker Dream With Beatles


Driving 70 miles an hour, I noticed two young men

walking down the side of the highway.  One caught my eye —

tall, lean, broad-shouldered, his thick hair flashing


bright in the harsh summer light.  Not knowing why, or how,

the two came to be there, I pulled over.  The blond

wanted to drive, the other sat next to him:


I, now a passenger, leaned in from the back seat,

asking Beatles questions.  How did Paul meet John, anyway?

What was the first date they sat down together


to write a song?  What exactly were they wearing

at the time?  No answers forthcoming — but I told the men

not to worry, I’d happily fill in the details.


Paul had on a twill safari jacket, I said, and John wore

an ugly plaid blazer.  It was late fall; the rusty leaves

twirled on their branches like pinwheels, and Paul was in love.


His girl, Peggy, was tall, full-breasted, and her hair

was black, curly, down to her waist.  John was terribly shy

with women, a bit jealous of Paul; soon enough John found fault


with the girl — her face was uninspiring, her nose crooked.

John was right; Paul gave her up.  Peggy married

the next man who asked her, divorced him in a year.


She’s on the dole now, lives with her mother,

who’s a real bitch and a half; won’t wear her teeth

or her hearing aid, loves to drive poor, lonely Peggy berserk.

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Filed under poetry