Sleeping Giant

“I’m quite tired of beating myself up to write. I think I’ll start letting the words slip out like a tired child. ‘Can I have a piece of pie’ he asks, and then he’s asleep back on the cusp of the moon.”
– Jim Harrison


Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god of primordial creation, swaggered drunk through the door at 6AM this morning as I was getting ready for work.

He does this every time he comes to visit – drinks pulque all night with his cousins in Queens, then comes to sleep it off on my couch.

When he wakes up he will eat an entire box of Pop-Tarts and drink all the orange juice. He’s just like that. Fun god to know, but lousy houseguest.

With all those snakes and war hammers and other cool god gear I can’t really say no, although my wife thinks I could just not answer the door and let him sleep in the subway.

I’m sure other people have Greek goddesses for a muse, or a river spirit, or a cat. But he and I have been friends since college – ran around late at night ranting Blake at passersby and not getting anywhere with girls, even English majors. We were for sure over the top, but those rumors of live sacrifice were completely untrue.

I remember the day I met him, we were both sitting at a bus stop. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lonelier looking kid. He looked small and lost, shrunk inside his headdress. Sure, he’d eventually grow into his godhood, but that day he was just another teenager away from home for the first time, trying to figure it all out.

I’ve never been sure who needed whom more that day, him or me.

Watching him sleep, not sure what’s still true now.



Day 19, 28 Days of Unreason

Haibun – M__

“We’ll know as children again all that we are destined to know, that the water is cold and deep, and the sun penetrates only so far.”
– Jim Harrison


I came near to drowning when I was nine or ten years old, with my neighbor M__’s arms around my neck. The water swirling downward in the pool of his life was as dark and cold as anyone would ever need for that.

One morning he decided we should play a new game that I had to keep a secret. Made me swear. But not the usual we’ve now come to expect.  He had to repeat the name of it a couple of times because it wasn’t easy to pronounce at first. But finally he was ready to explain the rules of Ku Klux Klan.

He wanted us to wrap ourselves in sheets and go from room to room having secret meetings with pretend walkie-talkies. He muttered a lot of stuff behind his hand I won’t repeat, but I didn’t understand it at the time either. It was a dumb game and after a little while I didn’t want to do it anymore. It was boring watching him try to tie a noose. I wanted to go outside and play army like usual. I lived in the never ending black-and-white WWII movie on TV, and preferred it that way.

One day when we were out ranging, we ended up in a field of tall, dry grass. M__ pulled out a box of matches and began lighting them and throwing them in the hay-like stalks. At first I tried to stop him but then turned to stamp out the flames. He kept too far ahead of me, lighting more. Pretty soon there was a real brush fire going, with dark smoke billowing up and sirens going off. The field was next to a Jewish Synagogue, and the fire was moving towards it.

For the next few days every time I heard a siren in the distance I was sure it was the police coming for me. Finally, in a scared-kid version of  Crime and Punishment, I cracked and blurted it all out to my mother and father. Luckily the fire fighters had made it to the synagogue in time so there wasn’t any damage, but that was it for M__. I never saw him again after that, and his family moved shortly thereafter.

At home, my parents changed the channel from WWII to Civil Rights and then Vietnam.


Innocence be damned
Childhood eyes a lynching –
Drowned in sheets of fire



Day 18, 28 Days of Unreason


“You can’t write the clear biography
of the aches and pains inside your skull.”
– Jim Harrison


Tattoos are skin deep –
I want to scrimshaw love poems
onto your bones
and mine

Scratch the itch of Rumi
in endless spiral scrawl,
Persian, Arabic and Greek
knotting our ribs

The whale tooth you left in me
from when we made love –
you are fair game
in my hunt for ivory

Celtic curses for knuckles,
Beowulf’s sweord and scylda at hand,
and all of Macbeth
twitching in my thumbs

Spending years, decades,
a lifetime
illuminating manuscripts,
endless scores of this song

There is just one more thing
I wanted to tell you –
will you know it
by heart?


Day 16, 28 Days of Unreason

Broken Chinese

“I’ve spent a lifetime
trying to learn the language of the dead.”
– Jim Harrison


The daily astonishments still
of monkeys in the trees
and traffic that doesn’t move for hours
and the sky all wrong
and how I’m finally able to read some writing in the wild
most crucially “toilet”
or that actual, physical survival
can be reduced to knowing how to say
“double shot of whisky” and “Kung Pao Chicken”
because you can live on only that if you have to
and if the chicken is red and undercooked again
just skip it, and you pray the slugs of whisky
will sterilize the rest.

I always bring my parents with me
as I move through my days in China
laughing with them at the absurdity
of my big American frame pouring sweat on a hearted run
past the toy soldiers of the Red Guard and I’m pretty sure
they are all so skinny I could break them in two with my bare hands
someone please feed them
or at least make them do push-ups
or imagining that I’m fitting right in, yessir,
putting my bike into the river of thousands of riders
like launching a skiff and pushing off
then pulled along in the currents of bikes and cars and people
that course from one side of the city to the other.

And how over the phone I can’t tell my wife who is so far away
that I’m slowly going blind
and I’m sorry for her that she will have to get that news
reading it here
but back to my parents
how we’re just amazed together
every day about it all
as we look up at the sky-scratchers
and it is “Damn! Get a load of that will ya?”
because we’re still from the ranch in Colorado
we don’t know how to be from anywhere else
and it’s still their Great Depression somehow
and it’s still the Dust Bowl with the sky darkening
and my mother saying about the terror of it
thought it was the Apocalypse and brought her to Jesus
and the sky here so full of grit and smoke
the far end of the block
is not visible for a week the air tastes like jet fuel
it is the Apocalypse sure as shooting
and how the hell did we get




Day 15, 28 Days of Unreason


The hardest part is when the river
is too swift and goes underground for days
– Jim Harrison


Love me like a J-boat
all rubbery and tubular
whanging through the roil
and the walls and skys of water,
you are my Colorado rapids
running whitewater canyons

It’s been Class V crazy
but I love the thrill,
thrown overboard for you our
velocity pulls us under
and since
rescue is impossible

Will you marry me?



Day 14, 28 Days of Unreason

Flow Walls

“I took a nap and wept for no reason.”
– Jim Harrison


It was more like seeping than weeping,
water beaded on the walls of our dreams

Did we know the quiet of snow’s malice,
Spring’s melt too slow, too sure for imagination?

How it would rise like sleep,
darkness spread in lazy pools across the floor

A cellar that welcomed nightmare
from between the cold stones of its walls

What mother language of night did you know
to wake with a start and tell me “it’s time”

And I again to descend,
in the wake of the flood.


Day 13, 28 Days of Unreason