a poem for a new year

a watered-down version of reality

why does it matter that my head remains cluttered by the past’s furniture,
broken-legged end tables and age-stained clothes that no longer fit?

most nights i take the dog out to piss and shit the street before crawling into bed beside my love’s warm bones.

a black aikido jumped out from the shadows last night and startled both dog and man.

“fucking hell,” i swore.
“are you a limey?” the man asked.

the jazz pianist’s front room was bright-lit and the steinway shone like polished coal.
new orleans at night is a random encounter with the voodoo priest of montreaux and his petit chien who reminds him of a dead wife.

“have a drink for fuck’s sake,” he said, pouring whiskey the color of skunk’s eyes into a tumbler and leaning over his railing.

“sláinte,” i said.

“and a happy fucking new year.”

simple things…

awake again, the rain falling in drip by drip pattern on the trees outside. storm warning said we’d have torrential rain and heavy winds. well, the rain came first, then later this afternoon, the wind. eucalyptus trees on our friends’ property are losing limbs. in australia they call them widow makers because you can be hiking out at night and the eucalyptus in an effort to conserve moisture will let limbs break off. here in a wet california it’s more a function of high winds and brittle limbs causing the trees to shed very powerful and heavy limbs.

simon attacks the outdoors with abandon, seeking lizards, sticks, treasure, whatever a four and a half year-old finds joy in at any given time. delight can be as simple as a long stick to swipe at the ground with, or as elementary as playing with a pair of magnetic bookmarks on the bed. funny how his mannerisms and facial tics are things people comment on and say, “he’s like your clone.” weird, how alike we are, the same ears, the same predilection for dramatic commentary.

in six months this area will once again be home for us. the small green house on the ranch will take us in and we shall forge life anew there, with all the accoutrements and stories of our time in the south. i plan on filling the house with the smell of gumbo, dark and smoky, at all times. no more communist pasta nights, soon to be replaced with communist gumbo nights. maybe jambalaya too. or there’s that wacky recipe for armadillo…

work and work and work remains the issue. what with california’s impacted economy, the budgetary restraints doled out to education, the lines of unemployed, who knows what i’ll end up doing. whatever happens i feel somehow the universe will provide, in the way it has my whole life. maybe i won’t end up in the dream job at the precise moment of asking, but there’ll be an answer to the request from some quarter…

dystopian thoughts on an otherwise beautiful day…

endings. we crave them in their myraid forms: happy, sad, confusing, weird, bewildering, or whatever other color or shade you prefer. as an advisor told me recently about my own book ending, “you didn’t stick the landing.” not what i wanted to hear after all the work i’ve put into the project, but in truth, i knew. yes, i knew i’d chickened out on the ending, fearful of writing something approaching a truth, petrified of forcing myself to face the demons, rather than run away from them, as is my pattern.

so, back to the draft i went, armed with the knowledge i stumbled first time around. those damn perpendicular bars, man. i tell you… making bad situations worse might be the answer for me. that’s where i’ve directed my compass, down that unlikely quadrant where expectations are not met, divisions are not repaired, facts are not faced, and the truth is not something that my character wants to hear. that’ll teach him, i say. instead of allowing him the easy way out, the open stable door, i’ve blocked his path, waved my arms in the way, and forced him to turn around and stare down the barrel of the gun he fears most. i have no idea if this is working or not. does it matter?

i talked to mo about it today, my book. surprisingly, i was able to tell her what it was about. funny that what i once thought it was about back in the beginning, is now nothing at all like what it’s actually about today. should i be surprised? supposedly not. my relief is that my book is about something at all. when the dog stirs at the foot of the bed at three in the morning and i groggily open one eye i can see the fear hovering over my prone body. at least it’s about something. great expectations, indeed.

somehow the question of setting a high bar came up in conversation and i know the bar i set for myself is high, too high for my meager talents, yet i strive to touch that far-off bar with my fingertips. if i can write one sentence, just one, that reaches that bar, then i have made some progress, achieved some success. worst case scenario? the book will tell a story that someone will read and have a response to, one way or the other. love it, hate it, agree or disagree with it, i don’t care too much. but as long as there’s a response to it… bar reached.

some things i remember about christmas…

preparing the turkey in the kitchen of coulson avenue, the way its neck flopped about, the eyes dulled, gelatinous, teasing little boys who wanted so badly to poke in the beady orbs. the red wattle and sticky skin, mum with the big knife ready to cut the head off and begin the process of dressing the bird for christmas dinner.

boiling pots of water on the stove, filled with white tupperware containers of plum pudding destined for relatives in distant towns and counties. they all relied on mum to provide them with puddings and christmas cakes for the holidays. sometimes there’d be a vintage pudding in a cupboard or press for months, even years afterwards, still edible due to the alcohol absorbed in the pudding mixture.

holly leaves on all the mirrors in the downstairs. we rarely had mistletoe. shiny, spiky green leaves, blood-colored berries, easy to prick a finger and suck the blood later. accordion paper-chains hung from the corners of the sitting room, bowing in the center to where they attached to the chandelier. these were often fixed in place by sellotape or drawing-pins, remnants of which remained year after year on the walls.

a red santa claus head that had a white nylon string hanging down with a gold-glittered pull. i think it played “jingle bells” when we pulled it down. every time, it made a ratcheting sound until it reached its limit and returned to its original place as the music played in the house.

laying in bed, my brothers in theirs, pretending to sleep. waiting for the sound of sleigh runners and reindeer hooves on the roof. days gone by, remote now in corners where dust collects around the memories. dad gone, mum living alone, brothers spread about, me isolated on another continent. peace on earth and all that…

gliding through the snow…

being a fastidious human i tend to make sure i wear some form of deodorant so as not to offend people. well, about a month and a half ago i was showering at home and realized i’d run out of my deodorant and as a stop gap i searched in the medicine cabinet to see if mo had any spare. now, i forgot she’s totally enviro-friendly and doesn’t use any of that type of product. however, i saw a stick of something and used it liberally on my hirsute pits. worked fine. so, for weeks i kept using hers and never bothered to buy a replenishment for my own brand. fast forward to a week before we drove west for the holidays.

i’m toweling off in the bathroom and mo comes in to get something and i ask her if she could pass me the deodorant from the cabinet.

what deodorant?”

“the one in there,” i said, pointing at a blue vessel.

she breaks down in laughter. “that’s not deodorant! it’s anti-chafing stuff for when i go running.”

the thing is now depleted considerably and has many of james’ hairs sticking to it. by now i’m in convulsions of laughter, understanding why the stuff that clumped under my armpits and was still stuck there when i showered the next day.


i haven’t used any deodorant in three weeks…


past is past. darkness. some stars, a stumble, skin, too hard to see. right or wrong? either way leads away from the visible path, the obvious path, the graveled road goes to the top of the property where zip zoom it could all be over in seconds. if you listen close you can hear music, strains, strained, dying in the air. one time my horoscope said wonderful things, but i failed to make the requisite connections. one time the small room adjacent to the classroom nearly burned to the ground. one time, one time, two time, three time. raised. above the surface of the water. chuck. one-two. button my shoe. speak in riddles, don’t say what needs saying.

upside down cake…

home is a complicated mess. everything is loaded, rife with conditions, uncertainty skims the surface of all conversations, the rain falls ceaselessly, and i encounter emotions uninvited and ugly. whilst away things change. favorite coffee shops cover their outlets to dissuade lingering. maybe there’ll be a sign that says, WRITERS NOT WELCOME! that’s what i like about new orleans cafés, plenty of outlets, free refills, locals welcome and treated better because of it. santa barbara has an edge i notice more and more when i return to visit. the main street, state, is a wasteland of open real estate, the borders and barnes and noble, which caused the independents to close, are in turn closing their doors. everything must go, counters, bookcases, displays, you name it. the rain falls, eight inches or so over the weekend. we would’t blink at that amount in ireland, but here it’s the news of the year! rain, rain, go away…. the dog is stir-crazy, housebound for most of the time we’ve been back here. family events to attend, people to see, or not as the case may be. frankly, i’m happier disassociated from most of the people we know here at the present moment. better off not seeing them as far as i can see. the town is a bit down-on-its-luck, doors closed and people too busy to care. never know what is round the corner though. save the world, let the hipsters crawl off into dark corners to lick wounds. the newspaper is portraying the local homeless populations, their stories, hopes, dreams. what’s the payoff for the paper? all turned a shade of sour i don’t particularly care for and have little need to think about. i’ll sing caledonia, think of better times, grin and bear it all until we leave for nola again. and somewhere in there i might just get the chance to rewrite chapters 11 and 12. they’re in dire need of revision, that’s for sure. nollaig shóna dhuibh….