Tag Archives: Poetry

Freewheelin’ It with Bob Dylan

When I run, I have a rock and roll playlist streaming on my iPhone. Today’s selection included “Highway Sixty One Revisited” by Bob Dylan. This piece was one of his first, after the famous folk singer went electric. The song includes this memorable scene:

Well, Mack the Finger said to Louie the King
‘I got forty red, white and blue shoe strings
And a thousand telephones that don’t ring.
Do you know where I can get rid of these things?’
And Louie the King said, ‘Let me think for a minute, son.’
And he said, ‘Yes, I think this could be easily done:
Just take everything down onto Highway Sixty One.'”

Another fun song he wrote around this same era is “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat.” I recommend you check it out.

I don’t like Bob Dylan’s voice. He makes me shiver with nausea and indignation. Bob Dylan delivers his music with all the tunefulness of a steroid injected goat. Yet, despite his bleating, his lyrics are filled with vivid characters and imagery. They can be fun, especially if you don’t try not to listen to him and, instead, listen to it. Occasionally the images come a bit too fast and you just drown in his mental thrashing about. I’m thinking of the words from “Like a Rolling Stone”:

You used to ride on a chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat.
Ain’t it hard when you discovered that
He really wasn’t where it’s at,
After he took from you everything he could steal.


And of course I’m running with Bob. Yeah. This was a blog about running. At least, that’s where this whole thing began when I started writing this morning. I’m at the end of my second week of actual running. In the early part of the Couch to 5k plan, the online coach calls for you to run for two minutes, and walk for two minutes. I end up running for twelve, and walking for twelve. Then I have a five minute cooling off period. Since I walk around the lake in a big loop, I occasionally spot folks headed the other way. Sometimes I see them twice, which defies some kind of mental logic. How can I see the same old person twice and the same Irish setter twice, and they don’t want something either time? I guess I’ve been working in the service industry too long now.

And the two minute alternations? That’s where I’m at physically. I’m taking it easy, wanting to make a lifestyle of this, sort of like what I’m trying to do with writing. I realize I need to lose a bunch of weight, and working my butt off is the only way I know how to do it.

Oh–believe it or not, I’m still writing, although my schedule has been sketchy. I’m a morning person. I like to wake up, and get things done before my mind or body realize what kind of torture I’m putting them through. I’m not a horrendously evil guy, but on occasion my body thinks so. Still, I’m throwing 750 words, or sometimes just a paragraph or two, onto the computer every day, even if you don’t see anything.

Apparently I have old knees. They’re older than the rest of my body–with the possible exception of my ankles–by about fifteen years. The rest of me ages correctly, but my knees and ankles put up stiff resistance every time I try to move. I guess I could probably do low impact exercise like swimming, but this costs money, and requires squeezing my giant hairy body into swim trunks. Also, I need to face facts: I’m not quite there aerobically. Even my twenty four minute sprint walks tend to heighten my breathing until I’m sometimes not sure I’ll make it home.

Speaking of breathing, did I ever mention I use an inhaler for asthma? It’s not a bad condition like some people, but I do require an inhaler. It can be incredibly tedious to have your lung capacity diminish to the point of each wheeze sounding like Minnie Mouse.

As for diet? I just spent the last forty five minutes chopping up vegetables. I’m trying to make a serious attempt at eating more healthy food. This is going… Well, it could be going better. Most days I do well for breakfast and lunch, then when it gets to be dinnertime, I blow it horribly. For breakfast, banana, cherries and yogurt. For lunch, an assortment of veggies, and a dressing I made from yogurt and some variety of spices. I’m pretty much cutting carbs and fat out of my diet in the form of bread. I guess when it comes to it, I’m trying hard to eat things that improve potassium levels.  Avoiding cramps is a good thing. I ate dried apricots, but they had an awful lot of sugar. The other day I bought some prunes. They remind me of the cabin my grandparents owned in Wright’s Lake, way up in the Sierra Nevadas in California.  Great Grandma always had a big glass jar of dried prunes, and she’d dole them out slowly so we kids wouldn’t poop like seagulls. They were always a delicious snack that I’d really enjoy. Oh, and radishes too. I bought a bunch of radishes.  My Farmer grandparents always seemed to have radishes. They grew them in their huge backyard garden. I bought a few dozen of them today, washed them up and threw them in my veggie tray. I guess that’ll be my healthy dinner.

Then I chased a grumpy Alex away from the computer and began this blog. Nothing is earth-shattering today. I, ran, I shopped, I ate a little, I chopped vegetables, and now I’m writing. Work happens in an hour.

Oh, and Bob Dylan. He ties things together with his free-wheelin’ness. May your days be informed by his advice:

Look out kid!
Don’t matter what you did:
Walk on your tiptoes,
Don’t try “No-Doz”–
Better stay away from those–
That carry around a fire hose,
Keep a clean nose,
Watch the plain clothes.
You don’t need a weatherman
To know which way the wind blows.

Blessings and donuts to all of you.

Poison Oak [a poem]

Misery is like a tickle. And tickles are fun, like
a laugh, or like running with the wind for awhile.
This I believed before I was an old fat man, and knew
To roll my eyes at human contact, like other adults.

I still remember poison oak (never poison ivy Out
West), and how its seductive red leafy tri-lobed Evil
Was lurking in the forest and caused kids to stray
Through the underbrush. It was sinister, I swear.

Misery loves company most if kids are miserable. We
Were itchy, and cotton-clad, and smelled of acids and
Calamine lotion. If it bursts, it’ll spread to us,
Said adults, eternally fearful of a kinder-rupture.

At school, you’d lose a week of Physical Education.
You’d be sidelined while all your friends–and a
Few enemies–scrambled sweating up and down the
Basketball Court. Boils stick on balls, you see.

Misery is not touching yourself, especially if you’d
Just learned how to do it properly. Awed preteen boys
Spoke in whispers of the one, like us, who scratched
Down there, and it shriveled away. Have mercy, Lord!

So they provided us with a nightly regime of mossy
Green pumice soap, and a chance to bare your body to
The woodporch spiders, and toss your itch-infected
Clothes into a scalding laundry. A fat lot of good.

Misery is an itchy, lotion-pink ten-year-old boy.
Don’t touch yourself, the grown-ups glower. You’ll
Go blind. You’ll scar up. You’ll give your disease
To everybody else. Adolescence: try not to catch it.

Election Day, 1849 [poem]

I heard the lyric quite some time ago:
I always thought John Lennon’s randomness
And wit were best when he took LSD.
He wrote that line where “Man, you should have seen
Them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.” Amid
The cuckoo cast of Krishnas, corn-flakes, nuns
And eggmen stood the Gothic poet. Ha!
That Beatle makes me snort! Until today
I never knew–and never thought–that John
Might have a second meaning. I’d never heard
The dying tale of Mister Poe. Of
Course, John may not have known the tale, himself.
Was he just making joyful nonsense of
A roly-poly sixties mind’s caprice?

So, what I want to ask the universe,
(At least for now, as these things change from time
To time) is why, until today, I’ve seen
And heard no other sketch or song of Poe
Except the ones where he’s a soggy drunk.

You could call this an ode. Or Ravings, fueled
With doggerel. I’ll let you cast your vote.
To you, this may just be a zealot’s tale
Concocted by the minds who always taste
Conspiracy in every word. A loony-pill,
Force-fed to folks who need their human gods
To stink a bit less when they defecate.

You’ll hear the experts talk about his death:
A syphilitic mind, tubercular
Impairment of his lungs, or something just
As simple: like a weakened, love-drunk soul.

Or was his soul a normal one, that found
Itself inebriated with intoxicating drinks?
A sot. I think that every schoolboy knows
That Poe enjoyed his drink, and that he died
Beside a gutter full of vomit: a cautionary tale,
To scare young men who dare to take up drink.

If Poe, by chance, was waylaid by a gang
Of thugs, and dragged and drugged and dressed
To pose as local citizens at polls
(They called it “cooping,” a hundred years ago).
So let’s, pretend for just a little while.
Does it make any difference to us?

I wonder if they recognized the man
By looks or speech? I doubt that any fool
Could be so foolish as to kidnap Poe.
Not if they knew his popularity.
It wouldn’t mean, of course, that brawlers,
Buffoons or crooks would find a lesser joy,
Distinguishing themselves, by torturing
A famous poet rather than a farmer.

They likely threw him to the mud (the rains
Were hard that year), and trussed him up, and forced
A handkerchief of ether to his face, and filled
his veins with laudanum, and head with booze.
They made him wear another’s clothes, you know;
And then they dragged the sorry costumed man
To every polling place in Baltimore;
And forced their masquerade. “Now vote! And vote!
And vote some more!”

Oh, what a silly thing,
To make a poet vote, not only once,
But more–a half-a-hundred times. Did they
Not realize that poets need no date
Or special paper ballots when they vote?

Poe was on his way to Philadelphia,
But halfway there, he stopped in Baltimore,
For what, God (and Poe) alone know why. What we,
However, know from history is this:
They found the West Point Virginian fop
In baggy trousers and a farmer’s straw
Hat, lying in the filth behind a pub.

Poe died alone in bed, within four days,
Without his choices and without his mind.
They say the preacher cousin managed five
Or fewer minutes at his coffinside,
and then his thoughts and tongue dried up in sync.
The rains were hard that year, and kin was, too.

Would it make any difference to you
If writers chose to vote, instead of drink,
Themselves into an early, early grave?
You see how I’ve become the Coopers’ fool?
I don’t think I’m alone, myself. I should
have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.

Spotlighting [poem]

Hold the lamp just up there, boy, and don’t move it, .
The deer’s just ahead, eyes all dark and unfocused and silent,
Against the line of fir. Can you see ‘im? It’s just a forked-horn.
He’s just a little thing. Oldest brother leans a rifle against the unrolled window,
And with a thump, The buck drops.
In a whoop, the creak of moving metal,
Three brothers climb out of the cab,
One with a gun,
Two with a Case knife,
All three sharing the jug of Canadian Mist.
The deer tongue slopped from his black muzzle like a wet sponge.
Hold the light on him! Hurry! Closer! We have to dress him out fast.
The forked horn never even noticed his own eyeless attrition.

They make short work of the deer.
It was, after all, just a little thing. It looked even smaller
Hanging from its legbones inside our garage,
Like a pink and white dog all skinned out, chest cavity open.
His head is loose, nearly unhinged, its tongue a ludicrous slug.
The grown-ups pass the congratulatory whiskey jug
Once around the circle, then twice.
My youngest uncle mussed my hair. I held the lamp, after all.
Now don’t go shouting all over school about this.
We wouldn’t want anyone to be getting ideas.
Strictly speaking, what we done, it ain’t exactly legal.
I nodded gravely. I’d held the lamp. I understood that night,
When I went to bed, it all made sense.
It’s surely not lying to say I did.

But later, when I am trussed upside down from the rafters,
Head facing greaseward, I want to cry cry out. My voice doesn’t work
As I try to spit the sponge-tongue from my esophagus.
I scream unutterable things as the red and blue lights spin
Around the garage, where my core has been split wide open,
My skin pulled from my body like a tight, wet shirt,
My entrails left behind in the huckleberry patch, high on a hill.
I try to tell them. I try to shout to my uncles. It is too late.
I’m just a little thing! I didn’t know the light would make anyone die.
I’m not from this place! Sacramento! Sacramento!
The brown denim sheriff—the one who, not six months before,
Had ordered my country cousins shot in the head for smoking dope,
Led me, his eyebrows and crew cut smirking at me all the while
To the his county jail, where lawbreakers go, and where they feed roadkill
To boys who hold the spotlight, until they puke on the cement cell floor
Right up until my mother flips the electrical switch and wakes me.
Big day ahead. We don’t want to be late for school.

Immortality [poem]

Waterdogs are a kind of newt that  lived in the waterways and forests of southern Oregon. The story behind the poem  was my step-father, newly returned from Vietnam Conflict, who bit the head off a waterdog at a party. They’re notoriously poisonous. Years later, people were still talking about the day Ol’ Al bit the head off that thing.  The poem is meant to be jarring. It was written well before January 2007, but that’s the earliest version I could find of it.


Continue reading Immortality [poem]