Opera on the Half-Shell

Soprano:Seagulls, various
Basso Profundo:The Seal
Chorus:Beach bums
The Band:Banjofish, Harmonicafish, Washboardfish, Jugfish
Act 1, Scene 1:Dogman, walking the beach.
He contemplates, life, death, and hotdogs.
Dogman:This hotdog sings the mustard, sings the relish, relish the sky, relish the beach, my tongue in a pickle all day la la.
Beach Bums:Yes! Yes! Sing with relish!
Dogman:Sing with abandon! But abandon means bereft. I sing and am alone forever, my lungs lost in a forest of breath.
Beach Bums:No! No! He must not be lost!
Dogman:Like Popeye I smoke the spinach of storms. I flex my blimps.
The Seal:(Burps).
Dogman:A great fishyness fills the air…
Seagull:Yessiree yamma yamma fishfishfish.
The Seal:God said let there be squid, and there was squid.
Seagull:Yamma yamma squidsquidsquid.
Dogman:Clams are an open book of wagging tongues, shoal-mamas. I attend death at their pearly gates.
(Clam harmonica  plays…)
Dogman:I see the angry red kimono of sky open, naked sun flashing the sea.
Beach Bums:What do you see, oh what do you see?
Dogman:I see ramshackle clamshackle clamtastic fantastic hallelujah.
The Sea Hag tosses my fate like dice eyes.
Snakes in the house of Fate, spots scratched out, rolling blind.
Seagull:Yamma yamma
Dogman:The sky’s white lei’s of lightning, welcome to stormwash.
Flowers of heathen dance shock my neck.
My Popeye’s sailor pants are salted and scrimmed and scrummed.
Beach Bums:“O Fortuna
velut luna
statu variabilis,
semper crescis
aut decrescis”*
Dogman:Oh monsterous fate! Whirling wheel, malevolent and vain.
(Clam harmonica, repeat)
Dogman:Is there no shelter from this sky? Is there no hotdog for those shriven of sin?
Seagull:Yamma hotdoghotdog. Absolution and Cheez-its!
Dogman:Fortune, speak plainly now. I beseech you!
(Thunder rolls in the distance)
Dogman:Lo! I have had a vision! I abandon this hotdog to the gulls. I craven crave crave but a Mermaid taco! This shall fulfill me at last. To feast on a Chimera!
Seagulls: (unison)Skree! Skree!
Act 1, Scene 2A simple cottage near the shore.
A mermaid hangs wash on the line
She, struggles to remain upright…
*"O Fortune,
like the moon
you are changeable,
ever waxing
ever waning"

-- Carmina Burana 

The Sunday Muse

In Memoriam(ish)

Death says to me: soon enough, he will call collect.
(Only pay phones in hell.) (No burners?)
But the phone companies killed all that years ago –
"Operator? Operator?" A bot buzzes in the receiver
like a dying fly.

My cell phone screen is cracked with jokes
and I don't recognize this grim reaper's smile
staring back at me from the lock widget –
gives new meaning 
to saving face. 

Saved by the bell, or ringtone. Sitting out on the deck –
listening to woodpeckers' hard words with bark beetles.
"I hear you knocking, but you can't come in."
I skipped Morse code in Boy Scouts
along with Lifesaving and Bugling

Which means I can't play taps for you, my friend –
only these fingerprints
on Gorilla glass, tracks in the sand
draining down the silicon hourglass.
If survival is eulogy enough, we are still here.

*”Death Calling Collect” – Don Tracy, 1976 (among other versions/sources)

The Sunday Muse


Now we’re inside the hat trickWhat? You say I’m stuck up a magician’s sweaty sleeve, packed with flowers, a bunny, and silk?
I thought a hat trick was in sports.Performing the nifty magic of being a man — are those roses or a crown of thorns? A fancy red hanky or was I coughing up blood? Is that my lucky rabbit’s foot or road-kill?
Three wickets, three goals, three strikes.Maybe I’m a fire-eater, but you wanted a mind-reader.
What on earth is a wicket?If I hold out a rope to the audience, slit its bight, do I slip the noose?
And why are they sticky?Ouch, I cut to the high card, it’s a suicide king.
This is mixing metaphors.Magician’s rent their doves. I thought you needed to know that.
I am confused.Yes, that is the trick.
What is the narrative?Let’s do the escape thing at the bottom of a tank of water. Or Everclear.
How does this tell us about men?Dressed in my best flak jacket tuxedo. Either I undo the shackles or drown.

The Sunday Muse

Flower of Power

Your head is a flower!Yes, I am the beautiful “Metamorphosis.” Kafka’s vision abducted at birth, found alive in a crack of pavement outside Prague. Passionate. Unbowed.
“After a night of uneasy sleep, dreams pressing roots deeper into the soil, fingers aching like thorns, Gregor Samsa awoke to find he was transformed into a wild rose.”
But sadly.Yes, sadly past peak. Drooping and wilted. What can one do?
How do you see without eyes?You mean how do I smell when it is I, rose, the center of the world?
It is for you to pluck and die with not knowing, to find your way to me by scent alone.
You have become one, not many.
You have sacrificed your humanity.Liar!!! The world pulls through my veins into the very color of my petals.
What sustains us, the garden of origin and eternity. Let there be light – flowers were first to turn towards god.
If only you too welcomed bees onto your face, felt their tongues.
As well the wasps with murder in their eyes and bellies. They, too, dab for nectar.
What? What would I know?
You are just a begonia, high on plant food.
It is really irritating.My thoughts are a choke of pollen, wind sweeping across the pavement. Wipers pushing to and fro on the windshield of your car.
Please be practical.My wife no longer needs a vase. She can clear out the cupboard over the stove.
And you?

The Sunday Muse

Going, Going, Gone Fishing

Let’s use poems like can openers!I’m lost in the isles of ACME, nobody knows where the can of worms might be.
Reader? Can you take a quick whack at it for me on Google or Amazon?
Sixteen bucks??!?!
I couldn’t wait, just did it myself. Reader – good help is hard to find. Can you please, please step it up?
Open the SpaghettiOs of personal history.When worms arrive dead.
Reader, I agree this is not your fault.
And I accept your reticence in the matter of the SpaghettiOs.
What other fun can we have with blades and gears?Oh, yes, beware Tin Man!
Or Aluminum Man, or whatever.
Cell phone ringing…It’s you, Reader! What? Yes, I have violated the fourth wall, opened the tiffin of poems, the Tupperware of nightcrawlers.
A wriggling, moveable feast.
You prefer SpaghettiOs. Fine.
The container arrived, says “minced bloodworms.”Blood and dirt a muddy soup.
Pour, heat, and serve.

The Sunday Muse

Word List – Ahkmatova

I am generally obsessed with Anna Ahkmatova, probably because nothing in my life has anything to do with firing squads, Gulags, or having my statue stare across the Neva river at the gates of Kresty prison in St. Petersburg. (Leningrad)

After the secret police executed her first husband, they arrested her second husband and son. She spent 17 months standing in front of the prison with other wives and mothers, waiting for word of either their execution or exile to the Gulags. What holds me there with her is when she wrote how someone in the line asked her “could one ever describe this?” and after a moment, she replied “Yes. Yes I can.” What astounding confidence, how sure her belief in her skill and her will to give voice to the unbearable. To which she wrote: “Mountains bow down before this grief…”

When I think of how necessary it is to write fearlessly, to stretch the fabric of my words until they tear, I think of Anna standing before the gates. “Yes. Yes I can.”

Here is a word list from her poem “Requiem” If anyone randomly sees this page, feel free to write something and put your link in the comments.



When Lorca held a dagger
to his poem's throat
and demanded angels
forsake their voice of haiku,
but must crow in telegrams
inscribed on carnations,

Those red roosters of heaven,
(you said only that their host was feathered –
did you not notice their craws, their combs,
Gabriel's stud-strut across the yard?)
crazed by their silencing,
voices locked forever on wax cylinders,

Like heavenly accordions
playing dust polkas,
like a cricket whose chirp
cannot be found in the wimples
of a nun, the mad search
and beating of sacred cloth with a cane –

Then oh Lorca, oh Basho,
outside, the smell of fruit trees
in Valparaiso:

The lemons, so sour –
Transubstantiation drinks
Scent of angel skin

Fussy Little Forms: “Slough”

A “Slough” is the poetic form of a muddy bog, or shedding dead skin, or stuff I say to my wife as we drive.

Small dark globose astringent fruit of the blackthorn
ZoroasterCan you say “Wickaboxet?”
Come visit the museum of spores
The tater-tot world of the arcane
Fetch the fiddle Mary!Vacant lots: vacant are our lots in lifeMadman mud man, grave digger with a trowel for your mouth
Drear, drear, the sheep do shiver in the rain
Willows weep as weep they must, their draped shrouds prepare for us the wayYarmouth
Mayfly may be the maybe-fly could would should fly, the can-fly, can’t-fly, will-fly, won’t-flyShooby-Do
For Slough Sunday

The Sunday Muse

The News

April, early morning, birds have the microphone –
the squawk box in full dither – I scan up and down 
the sundial sniffing for signal with my beak
as if some frequency of light and shadow on my face
will clear the static.

The Byrds – classic rock, no,
"First known use of 'chugalug' was in 1945" – talk radio, no,
A woodpecker's twhack knocks on my bones:
"Hey old man, I'm tawking to you!"
and each tap bends another creaking nail,

Filches in the bark of my tired muscles for grubs or honey
or whatever leaves me flightless and famished 
in my walk down this dirt road every morning,
octets of birds and peepers a Met Opera 
broadcasting Tosca on public radio,

Those strings of my father's Puccini and Verdi 
lifted from vinyl and woven into nests that spiral outward, 
my mother belting "Praise the lord, and pass the ammunition!"
waking us with her birdshot voice – 
are those notes or holes in the sky?

Sun comes on the loudspeaker, it must be recess.
I hear you say "hey" and finally I'm here, present,
your hand, feathered in mine.
A quiet settles in.
I get the news.

The Sunday Muse

Diner, June 13, 2019

The caller said your father had died.
We were sitting in a booth
at the Greek diner.

Who better than Greeks
to know Tragedy?
Our waiter is from Guatemala.

Maybe who better than 
to know tragedy.

The restaurant is empty.
Who better than empty
to know loss.

His wife will burn him.
She can send the box 
if anyone wants it.

If anyone wanted forgiveness,
I would tell you
a burnt heart 

closes like a door 
as the last customer
leaves for the night.

We pay the check 
and leave a tip
in the jar.

After we are gone
the waiter will spread our coins
like ashes.

First published Sept 2020 in the I-70 Review

The Sunday Muse