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For Susan, as is everything.


The I

and the you

The he

and the she

Are all exactly who

we want them to be



Copyright © 2003, by the Holy Grail Press, Springfield, Missouri. 

Copyright © 2023, by the Holy Grail Press, Portland, Oregon.

The Car of My Father


I was raised to believe in Fords.

It was the car of my father,

and his father before him.


He taught me to change the oil

every three thousand miles,

letting every drop of the old

fall from the pan like dirty blood,

before he replaced it

with the thick honey that oozed smoothly

from the hole where he punctured the can,

a small hole above and a larger one below.


He taught me to shine the finish,

turning the chamois again and again,

keeping the old from the new

until the chrome reflected the sun,

like the day my father was handed the keys,

driving home for the first time

with the back seat full of kids.


But one by one we strayed,

my brothers before me,

and then I, too.

Believing in Chevys and Chryslers and Gremlins,

whatever we could afford coming before

all we were taught to believe.


And now I find

that I have become an Automotive Atheist,

teaching my children to believe

in absolutely nothing at all,

except the reliability of a strong battery,

a heater,

and a car that never leaks.

01 Car of my Father



She offered to share her chocolates with me,

as we sat in the frayed webbing of her rusted lawn chairs

on one of the last warm evenings

of what had been an unseasonably cool summer.

I didn’t know which piece to take

because I was afraid of getting one I wouldn’t like,

but having to eat it anyway,

just to be nice.

Not that it mattered,

because all the good pieces were already gone.

She had broken them open

and left the nasty ones

with their gooey pink insides

lying scattered about the box.

So I politely declined.

Cross Country


You really have to have ridden a bus cross country

to understand

that even though the bus is going

from San Diego to Kansas City,

and there really is no reason

to go through Cheyenne, Wyoming,

it does anyway.


And you lose track

of all the towns you go through.

Big towns, little towns.

Some places that aren’t even towns,

just stops on a lonely stretch of darkened highway

where potholes filled with black water

reflect the nothingness of night.


And people come and go.

You lose track of them, too.

Some happy, some sad.

Some trying to wear the opiate mask of disinterest.

All fall into the rhythm

of the concrete seams

that mark off the miles with such blatant disinterest.


Kansas City will come.

And you will give up that window seat

that you weren’t able to grab

until you were well into Utah.


Another bus will be through tomorrow,

and the next day

and every day.

And when they all get to New York,

they turn around and go back again.

03 Cross Country

Trading Places


It happened this morning.

I was caught by a train,

a slow train, a long train.


And as I sat back in traffic

I watched the businessmen

leave their Lexuses and Mercedes behind.


With their ties flying and their coats flapping

they all made a mad dash

to catch the sides of the boxcars.


And as they scrambled and struggled on,

the hobos who had been riding there

one by one jumped off.


With their bindles over their shoulders,

they all leisurely made their way

to those fine cars that had been left behind.


Much, I suppose, like Satan,

who after such a long fall

claimed his seat in Hell.

Windshield Blades


The windshield blades slowly disintegrate,

each useless swipe flapping pieces of rubber

like a bird struggling in vain to be free of the net

that it’s flown into in the darkness and the rain.


Soon there will be no blade at all,

at least on the passenger side,

and then the arm will start the slow etching of the glass,

digging a groove into the windshield as a testimonial

of where the wiper had once been.


From her seat she complains,

about the darkness and the rain,

and the fact that she can’t see

the nothingness that lies just out of reach

of the soggy flow of the dirty lights.

Dead People


All the people I’ve ever known

who have died

keep calling me on the telephone

and then hanging up.


I know it’s they

who are leaving all the messages on the answering machine,

the quiet click of the receiver

falling back into its cradle

after they’ve said nothing at all.


Sometimes they try to disguise their voices as telemarketers,

trying to sell time shares down in Florida,

but they’re not fooling me.

“Uncle Arnie, I know that’s you!”

I scream into the mouthpiece.

They usually hang up.


Sometimes they’ll page me at bars

and then speak so softly

that I can’t understand a word that they say.

But I know what they want.


They want me to follow the light,

to go down that tunnel,

to leave the shell of my body behind,

to come join them in an eternal game of cards

where nobody keeps score.


But I’m not going to do it.

Not yet.

Maybe not ever.


I know it’s just a matter of time

before they start knocking on my door,

trying to peak around the curtains,

trying to catch me hiding behind the sofa

pretending not to be home

with the TV still blaring.


Maybe I’ll send my wife

to tell them I’ve gone out for the evening.

Or maybe even better,

they won’t know the difference

and take my wife instead.

8:00 A.M.


Imperceptible the change,

like the slow deterioration

of my father.

When did he move from middle age

and become a frail, old man?


And there you are,

only in the second grade

with both arms through the backpack straps,

still wanting to give me a hug

before getting out of the van,

still waving from the sidewalk

with that little kid wave,

side to side,

before disappearing

into the gaping mouth of the school,

to wind your way deep into the bowels,

where the slow process of digestion

has already begun.

Coffee Break


I long to get another cup of coffee

just out of habit

To cradle the warm ceramic

between the mottled skin of my hands

To blow on the querulous steam

Just to have something to do

Just to have a reason

for owning a cup

07 8_00 AM



Susan refuses to play Monopoly

simply because I know

without ever having to count

that a 12 from Marvin Gardens

will land you on Mediterranean,

and that Mediterranean’s rent is $2,

unless, of course, it’s mortgaged

for the mere pittance of the $30 that it will bring.

Then you don’t have to pay anything.


But it’s not like throwing a 12 from Marvin Gardens,

or for that matter anywhere,
is a statistical probability that’s worth worrying about.,

Hell, hitting Marvin Gardens in the first place

isn’t a statistical probability.


I can’t help it if I know these things.

Memory can be a curse.

Like knowing there are no advance cards

in Community Chest –

well, to properties that is.

Remembering that statistically

the Reds are better than the Yellows,

but that the Oranges are better than them all.

And knowing that the Dog is always luckier than the Car.

Independence, MO


I feel the necessity to point out the things that have changed:

the grocery store to carpet barn transmogrifications;

the McDonald’s to Texas Tom’s metamorphosis;

the mystical apartment complex that took root in the open field;

and the Wild Woody’s Discount Barn that simply ceased to be.


It’s a compulsion.

I can’t help saying, “Look, kids, that was once my grade school,

but they changed the name and they put up the fence to keep us off the playground.”

I know my kids have heard it before,

but just the same I say it again.


Independence has always looked the same to them.

There never was a drive-in at the corner of 40 Highway and Noland Road

where my folks would take us on a Friday nights to watch John Wayne always win,

and, of course, Elvis.

But then again, to them, Elvis has always been dead.



Larry was a sick fuck.

He filled his birdbath full of vodka

just so he could watch all the birds get drunk.

Figured they’d stumble around,

maybe forget how to fly,

or fly into the side of the house.

Barf up all the worms they had for lunch.

Maybe even die.


But the birds were smarter than Larry.

They knew better than to drink poison,

so all that generic vodka just sat there,

slowly evaporating.

Until one night

when Larry was out of everything else,

he thought, “Ahh, what the hell?”

And he went out and scooped up what vodka he could

back out of the birdbath,

careful not to get any of that scummy stuff

that was all over the bottom of the bath.

And he drank it.


No orange juice or tomato juice or whatever.


The doctors said it must’ve been some sort of chemical reaction

with all that nasty stuff on the bottom of the birdbath,

but it damn-near killed Larry.

He was in the hospital for months,

and when they finally brought him home,

he’d forgotten how to walk,

and when he tried to speak,

all he could do was spit.


So his mother sat him in a chair

right by the window,

so he could see the birds.

But there weren’t any birds to see,

because word had gotten out,

and they wanted nothing to do with that birdbath,

even after it had been scrubbed clean.

So all Larry could do

was sit there and spit on the window,

which his mother thought meant

that either Larry needed to go to the bathroom,

or that maybe he was ready to eat.

11 Birdbath

Seeing the Dead


The dead are easy to see

once you get the hang of it.

At first you can just barely see them

out of the corner of your eye.

Remember when you thought you saw something

that wasn’t there?

Yep, that was a dead guy.

With practice you can get good at it.

The secret’s in not trying at all.


But take my word for it,

it’s not really worth the effort.

Once you do it,

it sort of becomes an obsession.

You start looking for them everywhere.


For the most part,

they’re exactly where you’d expect them to be:

In the graveyard just sitting on their tombstones,

smoking cigarettes and staring at their watches.

All of them with nothing to say.

It’s like some demented remake of Our Town

that has no point.


But then you start to see them in other places, too,

like walking around in the mall

or waiting for a show at the theatre.


Just this morning

I saw a dead man standing on the side of the road,

smoking a cigarette with his coat across his arm.

He was like one of those hitchhikers

who doesn’t even bother to put his thumb in the air,

because he knows eventually somebody’s going to stop,

and even then he’s not in any hurry.


And that dead guy,

he gave me the look.

That, “Yeah, you,” look.

But there’s no way I’m going to stop.

I won’t even stop for a live guy.

What makes him think I’d stop for him?

Besides, I’m not going that far.

12 Seeing the Dead

Cruise Control


My cruise control took over this morning.

It’s not that I was going particularly fast.

I wasn’t.

It’s just that I was going,

and there was nothing I could do about it.


I considered taking a Hollywood tumble into the medium,

but my car was one step ahead of me – power locks.


After the panic,

after I realized I wasn’t going to die,

at least not immediately,

I started to notice the other drivers.

They were casually reading their papers,

enjoying their third cup of coffee,

catching a quick nap.

Things I’d never noticed before.


And then I became curious.

Just where was it

that my car intended to go

completely independent of me?


Until it became obvious

that it was taking the exact same roads,

making the exact same turns,

and was going to end up exactly where it was

that I would’ve ended up

all on my own. 

Dream Catcher


What kind of dreams could you catch

with a miniature dream catcher

looped over the rearview mirror of an ’84 Mustang?

They couldn’t be very big.

I’m certain the dream of the open road would not fit,

at least not a very big road,

or very open.

The really good dreams would pass right on by,

like when there were no roads at all,

when mustangs weren’t made from plastic and steal.

Or even better,

where there were no mustangs at all,

and the white men who brought them

were still groveling in ignorance and sickness and filth,

waiting for the enlightenment to come.

Roadside People


All these people were lining the side of the road this morning.


At first there were just a few,

but before long they were standing shoulder to shoulder.

Just standing there

staring at me as I whizzed by in my nice, big car

doing 80 down the Interstate.


I tried to pretend that they weren’t there,

but my visor wouldn’t go down far enough.


I could still see their eyes staring out from underneath

their broken-billed baseball caps,

their rice hats,

and their turbans,

and those with no hats at all,

just pieces of cardboard to keep the rain away.


They lined the road all the way to work,

and then they stood outside my window,

just staring at me while I pretended not to notice

from behind the glare of my computer screen.


So I pulled down the shades.


But I know they’re still there,

and they’ll still be there when I leave this evening.


I’ve already decided to go home the back way,

just in case.

And if that doesn’t work,

I think I’ll get some of that tinted stuff you can put on your windows.


I know it won’t make them go away,

but at least they’ll be easier to ignore.

15 Roadside People

The Travelers


Not yet abandoned,

we left in the car

only those things we’d never miss:

a broken radio

and a glove box forced shut

on miss-folded roadmaps

to places neither of us would ever return.


Down a tree-crowded road

we came upon a place

where the creek had moved on its own accord,

and a mailbox now stood

in the middle of the stream.


I couldn’t help but wonder

how they would get their mail,

and laughed at the image

of the postman puttering along in his boat.


And, of course,

you reminded me not to be stupid.

It was plain to see that no had lived there

in quite a while.


And, after all, we had to keep moving on,

because there was somewhere else we were sure to be

before dark.

things go away


car keys are misplaced


and then the car is sold

and all but forgotten


the shape of the dash

the feel of the gear shift in your hand

the smell of the heater

on that first cold day of the fall


and how she pushed the buttons on the radio

changing the station

every time a song came on

that she didn’t know

or didn’t like

or didn’t remember


that I remember


but not the way she wore her hair

or the texture of her clothes

or the last time she kissed me goodbye



There is an insignificant stone marker

just up from where my brother lives

in east Independence

that marks were the Santa Fe Trail began,

or at least ran through –

the marker doesn’t say which.


The trail began in 1821,

as duly recorded in stone,

and ended in 1872.


On the same spot,

not more than 20 feet away,

is a marker announcing Tour Stop C.


It’s a spot of many markers.


Tour Stop C is a cast iron plaque

telling how Moonlight’s Union Calvary Brigade

formed a line right on that spot,

or rather, a line that went right on through that spot,

and met the Confederate soldiers on

            11 AM October 21, 1864,

until they were driven back to Independence.


I must confess:

I have no idea who Moonlight was.

But I like the name.


Ironically, both markers are on a dead-end road,

cut short in life by the four lane divided highway

that US 24 has now become,

at least as it passes through here.


It’s still a nice spot

to eat a donut

and drink some coffee,

to waste time

until heading to my aunt’s house,

and then on to Buckner,

where after the rosary and the prayers

and the appropriate accolades,

my uncle’s ashes will be brought back to the house

that he never got to live in

and spread beneath the tree

where he never saw the shade.

18 Markers

Dashboard Dog


My dashboard dog

shakes his head disapprovingly,

as I dodge in and out and in-between

in my impatience to be at work.


He has other opinions, too.

Opinions about my choice in ties.

My choice in breakfast pastries and latte.

About the three CDs I invariably listen to,

regardless of how many others I have stashed

throughout the cab.


And about the cars that glide by my windows

in the sun’s barely there light

and the places they may be going.

It is becoming increasingly apparent

that that opinionated dog

believes any of those places

to be better than where we’re heading.

But so far he’s kept that opinion

to himself.



They were an old man’s wire frame glasses,

but she wore them just the same.

She had paid entirely too much money for them

from a trendy little shoppe

in the now fashionable part of town.

She said they made the world just a little bit blurred,

but that was OK.

Because when you really got down to it,

what was focused?

She got off on these existentialist tangents all the time,

usually after we had sex.

Her wearing nothing but those stupid looking wired rimmed glasses,

staring at whatever there might be beyond the ceiling,

and me suddenly feeling self-conscious,

even with the sheets to cover my shame.



Every couch I had ever owned

was stuffed into my basement,

from the first spring-shot loveseat

that my wife and I bought before we were ever married,

to that sleeper monstrosity

that would pop open in the middle of the Van Damme movies

as if it were trying to fight back.

My basement had begun to look like

Honest Dave’s Discount Furniture Showroom,

but just like Honest Dave,

my wife finally declared that everything must go.

So one by one I loaded them up in my pickup,

and like so many unwanted puppies,

I left them abandoned on the side of the road.


But I could only drop off one couch at a time,

and on that first morning after that first night,

as I drove by on my way to work where I had left that sofa,

there was a car that had stopped

and everybody had gotten out – an entire family,

and they were sitting there on my couch,

just watching the traffic stream by.

And they were still sitting there that night

when I dropped off another sofa.

They didn’t seem to mind.

The next morning there was another car pulled off on the shoulder,

and a couple was snuggled up on the love seat.

They didn’t seem to mind the springs.
I think they were newly weds

because she was still wearing her veil.


And that’s how it went.

Every night I’d drop off another sofa,

and every morning there’d be another car parked on the roadside.

And all the people who used to be sitting in their cars

were now sitting on a couch

watching fewer and fewer cars go by.

Nobody ever left.


And that went on until there was nobody driving down the road at all,

except for me – dropping off my last sofa,

an old flowery thing that the cat had scratched to shreds.

The next day, instead of whistling by on my way to work,

having to fight no traffic whatsoever,

I pulled over to the side of the road, too.

And I sat myself down amongst those slashed begonias,

all by myself.

But no sooner had I made myself comfortable,

than one by one the other people started to get up,

stretch, and check their watches.

And they all slowly made their way back to their cars

and drove away.

All of them.

Until I was the only one left sitting there.

So I, too, got up and left,

but not before loading that big, flowery sofa

back into my truck.

Uncle Al


The ghost

of my dead Uncle Albert

has decided to haunt my car.

I don’t see him,

but I know he’s there.

Pushing the gas down

just a little harder than I intended to go,

like he’s trying to take one more lap

in that old race car of his.

Fogging up the windows.

And singing along with the radio.

That’s the part that really weirds me out.

Not that it actually sounds like Uncle Al.

It’s more like static,

the distant call of some radio station

that is just barely there,

playing oldies that I just can’t quite comprehend,

late at night when the atmosphere and my antennae

come to a mutual understanding.

Oh, I know it’s Unlce Al all right.

He could never fool me.

But I’ve decided not to tell Aunt Poly.

Even if she were to believe me

and not take it as some cruel, demented joke,

what good would it do?

After all,

she never cared to hear him sing when he was alive.

Why would she want to start now?



I know I shouldn’t have,

but I did it anyway.

I picked up some hitchhikers.


When I asked them where they were going

they all said the same thing,

“Wherever you’re headed.”

And they weren’t kidding.

None of them has ever gotten out.


When I get ready to come home from work

or go back out in the morning,

they’re all right where I left them,

scrunched up in the backseat.


Really, they’re not too bad to have along.

They rarely complain about anything.

They don’t leave much of a mess,

aside from a few extra coffee cups on the floor.

And they give me somebody to talk to.


I’d probably be willing to pick up some more.

but there’s really no more room.


Don’t get me wrong.

I had my doubts about some of them,

like the guy in the orange jumpsuit

with County Jail printed across the front.

But he spends most of the time

looking out the rear window.


And then there’s the guy with the Bible.

I really worried about him,

but he spends most of his time

looking up obscure passages

to prove some even more obscure point,

and by the time he finally finds the passage that he wants

he’s almost always forgotten what point

he was trying to make to begin with.


Not surprisingly, I suppose,

it’s the old lady who drives me the nuttiest.

She feels compelled to refold all of my roadmaps

and then neatly place them back in the glovebox,

so for the most part

I have no clue where it is we’re going.

Although, as she’s always quick to remind me,

we always end up where we need to be.

Road-Side Crosses


You know those road-side crosses

with the faded, artificial flowers

and the limp mylar balloons

and the rain-soaked teddy bears

marking where people have died?


I steal them.


I used to be sneaky and wait until dark,

but anymore I just pull over whenever

and toss them into the back of my truck with the others.


There’s a lot back there,

what with the little picket fences

and the decoupaged plaques with the day-glow lettering.


I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with them

once my bed is full.


I could just dump them out somewhere

and start all over again.


I could try to remember where I got them

and put them all back,

as if nothing ever happened.


O I could just leave them in the truck,

stacked pell-mell as they are.

Who knows, they may come in handy some day

should I drop off behind the wheel.


Fortunately I don’t have to make a decision.

Not yet.

My bed’s not nearly half-full.

24 Roadside Crosses

Throwing Things Out the Window


Lately I’ve taken to throwing things out of my car

just to see what will happen.

Sort of a scientific study.


My necktie was fairly predictable,

but I was expecting a lot more out of my coffee cup.

And my cellphone, for the most part,

was a huge disappointment.

It just bounced once and then disappeared from view.


But my briefcase didn’t disappoint me.

So much for anti-shock locks.

Papers and pens and even the peanut butter sandwich

I had packed for my lunch,

just went everywhere.


At first I threw my CDs out one at a time.

I started with all of my oldies

that I had ordered off of late night TV,

but that grew tiresome.

So I launched them all at once.

They exploded in shards of iridescent plastic,

which was really kind of cool.


I even pitched out all of those hitchhikers

who had been hanging around for so long.

They insisted that I bring the car to a complete stop,

which I’m sure would invalidate the experiment,

and then they just stood there on the roadside

looking confused and disappointed.

I know I probably shouldn’t’ve thrown them out,

but compassion can’t come before science.


Then I started bringing things from the home:

the telephone and the TV,

old copies of Thoreau,

the coffeepot and the computer monitor.

The computer monitor was the best.

It actually kept up with me for a while,

the plastic and the glass,

the rubber and the wires.


My wife refuses to go riding with me,

and the cat won’t come out of hiding.


All told, my results are inconclusive.

However, when I finish this poem,

I’m going to throw it out the window, too,

but I really don’t expect it

to do much of anything at all.

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