The Mask


A cellphone lay on a large wooden table surrounded by chairs. There were stapled 8.5” x 11” compiled documents with: a person’s name, date, class, and assignment in the upper left-hand corner, each on its own line, the title of the work centered on the page, two spaces below the double-spaced lines above, two spaces below and then the indented paragraphs that covered the rest of the page. There were several examples of academic papers strewn on the table in the center of the room and on the chair to the right. An open laptop sat on the table. The screen was lit. There were glasses, brown-rimmed, probably plastic. Next to those was a light-green dinosaur on a small stack of books and magazines next to the glasses. Black and orange floral bag, and a stainless steel tall, narrow covered mug, and a wind-breaker. Also on the table was a black leather purse with gold rhinestones running from the top to the bottom at a diagonal, and then around the bottom and up on the front and back of the purse. There were ball-shaped attachments, diamond-shaped round holes, smaller appliqués, a black strap and tan interior. The purse leaned. The bag was new, open, unblemished. Inside the purse was a strand of aluminum, blue on one side and bright silver on the other. It hit the light just so. There were more strands, then a white rubber mask that was covered in black shadows, near the mouth. Along the hair line of the mask were red beads with strands of white hair moving out through the beads. These beads and hair were all over the head. The eye holes were just big enough so that someone’s eyes could see out. The mask was crumpled into itself and there were crimson splatters.

Black and White

The truth is a thousand voices
On the stairs fronting St. Paul’s
In London,
Except it is early morning
And I woke in the youth hostel
Because of the traffic and because
I stop breathing 14 times an hour.
I remember having to force myself to get up.
I had promised myself that I would read poetry
In public.
As I sat there in shorts and T-shirt
And some guy was throwing shopping carts
At a metal garbage can,
I read my poems to an occasional car,
A passerby, here and there,
But never at a volume any of them could hear.
I fulfill my promises in private
I sleep alone
I stay up until early morning
And I live my life
In black and white.

The Slow Sauce of Wood

If the tree could only hear itself
The heart racing through the years
Each line as four complete seasons
As snow fell and rain danced
As creatures passed and the wind blew
How water moved through its veins
And the light at morning and
Night fall caused
A squeeze of fibers

Every circle tells a story
Like awkward rock
Erosion and fluctuations in time
Speak of what confrontations it greeted
How the slow sauce of wood grew year after year.


Son of a Hoarder


On Lewers Street in Waikiki, there was a hotel half-way down the street, between Kalia Street and Kalakaua Blvd. He lived there with his mother. The mouth of the road that fed the Sheraton Waikiki on the Makaha (North) side came out and in front of the hotel, simply called 260 Annex. It housed mostly residents. In one of the units down the hall from them, was a woman dying of leukemia. On the ground floor was a Chinese restaurant called House of Hong. Tourists would enter the Chinese style red-painted wood entrance to the restaurant. As a local, he would marvel at the implied wealth of men and women in business attire and laughter. In the cinderblock walled hallways was a plain blue carpet. He looked down at it and imagined how thick the padding must have been. The humidity and the temperature were the same as it was outside. The owners never air-conditioned the hallways, which led to stairwells on either end of the building. The cement stairwells were enclosed with glass windows, always open. You could see between the hotels and down into the narrow driveways. As he looked from the 8th floor, it made him queasy. Cars would either go up one floor from the ground level or down into the basement. He looked at how dirty the walls were; there were black lines and gashes he knew were caused by cars unable to negotiate the narrow lane.

Sometimes it rained, but usually only once a day. It would rain as close as across the street, get things a little wet, and then dry out almost as quickly. He either walked into the rain or waited until it cleared in the hallway fronting the street. It depended on what side of the street you were on and if you wanted to get wet. He would look into the knick knack store in the hallway to his right as he looked out into the street. The walls were a medium gloss white, glass, or in the case of the area near House of Hong, it was ornate. He would look into the restaurant at the bar, but in all the years he had lived in Hawaii, he never once ate there. In the last apartment on the top floor facing the beach, there was a three-balcony apartment. This was his mother’s place. The carpet was plain and blue too. He looked down thinking that it had probably never been cleaned.The walls were white and they felt thick, unshakable, and were made of solid cement. He never feared that they would fall. He hit them with his hand and it hurt. He stood inside of the threshold and shut the door. He felt embarrassed. On the inside wall, and to the left, was a black and white picture of him in a gray suit. He thought about his recent divorce. His pants were down in the image and he held a framed photograph of his ex-wife’s portrait, which he had taken. He liked plays within plays. His ex-wife wore a hat with a strap of fabric at the bottom of the crown. He looked at her and thought how much he loved her. She was a pretty Asian woman from Nicaragua. He knew those eyes. She was smiling. The picture was taken in almost the same place as it was hung. It was framed in a red frame with a turquoise matte with a black inner core. He had told his friend Jeff Fleischmann, a framer, what colors and types of materials he wanted. He turned to his right, passing the bathroom door. He thought how as soon as he took a shower, he was sweating again, and his clothes seemed wet too because of the heat and humidity. Everything inside was white or glass. The components of the bathroom were as old as the day they were installed. He continued turning toward his bedroom, the only one in the small suite. He realized that his mother had made a sacrifice for him to be in the room, but she needed him too, but he didn’t realize how much she needed him. The thought of this would haunt him for the rest of his life. His uncle and aunt had lived in the suite long before his mother. He could sense that she was acting weird with all the trash and things that were accumulating. He shared it with her since his divorce. She wouldn’t let him throw anything away and he pleaded with her. Just after the divorce, he moved into various shared situations, but in every case, his roommates made it nearly impossible. He remembered the bassist for the Honolulu Symphony, who was bipolar. The negative energy from this man affected him with oppressive rants. The energy was communicable. He couldn’t take it.

He installed lemon yellow carpet and painted the walls turquoise. He had always wanted to paint his walls another color than white. He put semi-transparent corrugated light green roof panels vertically to give him privacy from the hotel across the street, not actually knowing if, when the room was lit at night that the tourists across the way could see him. He worried about being seen naked.

He seldom went onto his balcony, in effect, closing himself off. He wasn’t happy about it but he wanted the look of the material. He suffered the scent of fiberglass and the stagnancy of the air due to the blocked windows. In the balcony next to his, also facing Lewers Street, his mother stored a number of decrepit corrugated boxes that contained baskets she had made, plastic-covered natural fiber supported by stiff wood. He remembered her making them when he was a kid. The baskets had fabric interiors and lights on the outside that were connected to a flashlight inside that provided electricity. He would switch the lights on and off. The last time he checked the boxes they housed various generations of pigeons and cockroaches, from translucent or opaque eggs to death. He remembered his step father loading a truck with his mother’s belongings. His mother married, moved twice to the continental US for no longer than a year, and then moved back because her marriages or relationships would end. This was because of extra-relational affairs on the part of her boyfriends or husbands or because of alcohol and/or abuse. He had trimmed all the plants in the planters near the front door to reflect a Japanese garden, which pissed off his step-father, for example. His step-father fought against the Japanese in WWII.

Inside his room was a red plywood desk that he had cut in an organic shape and nailed into a tree stump that looked like a woman’s torso turned upside-down. He liked how closely it resembled female anatomy. Affixed to the other end of the table was a long glass stalactite that reached the floor. It was supposed to represent sperm. This was from his one-man photography show at the University of Hawaii at Manoa that incorporated the desk as well as a chair made of a black-painted metal rod in the shape of a Bienal Emmanuelle Chair, like a giant fan. It wasn’t comfortable to sit on although he cut out a piece of wood that served as a seat. On the desk, was the same manual typewriter that he had in the show and on the turquoise walls was a black and white picture of a man in drag. He framed the image he got from a colleague, who would later print images in Manhattan for such greats as Andres Serrano, who did ‘Piss Christ.’ There were foam-core, life-size cut outs of people in various poses (no detail) with out-stretched arms and arched backs. He leaned them against the walls. 

He stood for a moment before going into his room. It was hot in the room and the colors vibrated with tension. He looked at the wooden lattice that blocked his gaze into his mother’s area, the ‘living room’ of the small suite. The lattice was covered with fabric so he couldn’t see in, but he knew what was on the other side. A white Vienna style vinyl sofa with paneled arms that she had re-upholstered. Previously, it was covered in a soft, satiny, wool, paisley-patterned, white-on-white fabric. There was a white, early American table with inlaid, mother-of pearl top. He would hit his shins against it when it was in an open room. He knew too of white vinyl chairs somewhere hidden in the mess. His mother’s bed was just inside to the right in front of the closet that was filled with her clothes. There were many visitor magazine sheets in the room with sharpie and ball-point pen jottings. This habit would follow her for the rest of her life as she kept notes on advertisements and other printed matter. There were two small jagged trails through the morass to each of the balconies, both of which were piled high with cardboard boxes. He imagined what people thought of them as they could see them from balconies in hotel rooms in front and to the right. These were filled with belongings and covered with various blankets. With a breeze, the blankets would shift and expose the newspapers and various household things. He thought how her life seemed to be put on hold. 

She would smoke on the balcony in a corner covered with rope and faux ivy, plastic flowers, a fake parrot, a large ashtray, and a rod-iron ice cream chair painted white. Those chairs he remembered were always in the family and had been painted any number of colors: white, yellow, black, pink… She smoked her cigarettes and looked toward the ocean, which you could make out through a break between the Cinerama Reef and Halikulani Hotel. It wasn’t far, about half a block, and he would take his surfboard and paddle out to Three’s or Popular’s mostly.

The kitchen in the suite was about seven feet in and three feet wide in the walkway.  It was small and dirty. There were cabinets above and below counter tops that housed a small stove and oven. There were four stove elements. The kitchen felt cramped. To the left was a small sink. There were tens of cockroaches either walking around the floors and counters or they were hidden. At night when he turned on the light, they would scurry. At times, they even entered the refrigerator and walked around because it was never cold enough to deter them and the seams were old and uneven. This sickened him and would be one of the reasons he left Hawaii. His mother kept hamburger meat that she ate raw and simply put in the refrigerator exposed, she couldn’t afford plastic wrap. He never liked this. There were always open containers containing previous meals covered in pamphlets or card stock papers she would collect from the visitor shelves in the various hotel lobbies. He remembered them as brochures about tourist destinations or tours. She used them as stationary.

Blacks Enslaved When Star-Spangled Banner Was Written


“According to the historian Robin Blackburn, the words ‘the hireling and slave’ allude to the fact that the British attackers had many ex-slaves in their ranks, who had been promised liberty and demanded to be placed in the battle…’where they might expect to meet their former masters.'”

I extracted this from an explanation of the Star-Spangled Banner on Wikipedia. Apparently, while Francis Scott Key and John Stuart Skinner were being held captive on HMS Tonnant until after the inspiring battle at Fort McHenry. What this means is that a battle against the no-doubt opportunistic English for having freed slaves, celebrates a freedom for White Americans.

It was not until January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865, that the 13th amendment abolished slavery in the United States. 53 years later was slavery abolished; but of course it lingers.

The point I am trying to make is that having a White man tell a Black man why he should or should not stand for the National Anthem, adopted as the national anthem of the United States of America on March 4, 1931, another 66 years later, forgets that the national anthem at the time of its inspiration represented an army that had not denounced slavery.

We have institutionalized racism. I know it because I am a racist at heart. I have to fight it everyday. Some Black people, in my eyes, are not like me, commit faux paus that I would never commit, which of course is to view a Black person through my eyes and to project my impressions upon he/she, which is wrong, especially where I have no business, in the context of the Declaration of Independence, which states that all men are created equal, even though I have heard allusions to “Only rich White men could vote, and they agreed that when the census takers were counting the population of each state, a Black man would count as only three-fifths as much as a White man.”

So, if we are talking about The Star-Spangled Banner as demanding that a Black man stand up and honor it, this is a bit of a laughing stock. And if you are saying that in doing so, we honor our previous and present soldiers, who defend our country, I might remind that the contributions slaves made to our country is a bit like the sacrifices members of the military have made for the security and safety of our country, but many soldiers did so by choice.

Blacks are at war with our perceptions of them as different. We apply our point of view. And I speak for myself. Until I no longer house any sense of superiority, I remain outside of that futuristic concept of all men being equal. I have the audacity to think that I am better than a Black person, whom for centuries of control, have been contorted by the very thoughts that I house, and because I and people like me may represent a majority, where the majority rules, and where the Black person has clearly felt and been affected by that control. This is why a White man telling a Black man that he must stand and put his right hand over his heart and his left hand behind his back (and not move and not look down) is offensive to me. 

Unrequited Love


When my love feels you,

It bashfully recedes

Into the awareness of


It stomps around alone

In a closed-curtain room.

The air is hot

The certainty of failure

Is everywhere

Like an unmade bed

And a room strewn

With clothes

None of which are yours.

The room doesn’t smell of you.

It is cluttered with false hope:

Empty open water bottles,

Portfolios, papers, books,

A tissue box on a wooden floor.

How to find your soulmate.

Finding your Soulmate image copy copy

An idea came to me after that the best way to meet someone is to do so either while doing what you love or describing that and watching for a response.

Imagine for a moment that you are sitting in a cafe and you’ve managed to get directly in front of someone you want to meet and you don’t know what to say. I would simply talk about something that was important to me and see if they could relate or knew about what I was talking and were excited about it too.

So, a long time ago, nearly 1986, I watched an episode of Miami Vice, a cop show and in the show there was a poet, who was fleeing his country and seeking asylum in the United States and he wheeled himself on stage, where a lot of people were in the audience and he read a poem that was simple, but it really touched me. I love how the Latin American writers talk about war and injustice because corruption is rampant and they don’t seem to enjoy the same freedoms that we do. They are always the victims of dictatorships.

Anyway, when he began reading, I was immediately drawn:

In the place where I came from the jungles were a jade wall
And the plains rolled like the sea
The mountains carried the wind on their shoulders…”

The poem goes on and the images are so graphic that I could see and feel them. The words were so simple, but they immediately brought me into myself and I could feel the injustice.

The poem goes on to say that what those in charge did not create they could still kill. They rolled out their armor and it rained. The horses sank in the mud and could not possess what they did not create. And so the poem was a metaphor for the spirit of the people, which no army could truly kill, because so long as the people lived, even in the hearts and minds of the dictators, human beings possess this spirit of truth and justice and that spirit mocks those who would be so presumptuous to think that they could kill even themselves, because they knew in their hearts of this truth and this justice. Say, for example, you kill me, the memory of this decision remains inside of you. The truth keeps coming back and it haunts the untrue. Reality for those who have lied to themselves is an uncomfortable place filled with the potholes of nervous ticks and bumps against it. And what is the worst for people who deny reality is that they are eventually taken out in a way that is horrific.

So, as I am reading this to the woman in front of me and she is thinking, being inside of herself, she becomes excited and wants to hear more.

“Well,” I say, “it was a show with two police officers, who fight crime in Miami and during that time a type of law called RICO – The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly referred to as the RICO Act or simply RICO, is a United States federal law that provides for extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization.” What the word “rico” means in Spanish is rich, an interesting and likely manufactured coincidence. The law made the police rich because they could confiscate the property of those who were found guilty and that property, fancy cars, money, houses, etc. were used by the police to appear like they were successful criminals to then arrest other criminals.

The effect was that these particular officers end up driving fancy cars and living in expensive houses, dressed well, and so the show was rather flamboyant and elitist.

In the one segment, Season 2, Episode 20, called both “Free Verse” and “Zero Solution,” there was this visiting professor (poet) from a South American country with a corrupt government and where all the people suffered and he was doing a poetry reading in an auditorium at a school.

It is 2016, 30 years later, and I have since written poems like his. I have been permanently influenced by art and literature. I was wondering if I could read you a poem like his and if you can tell me if you might be similarly influenced, affected to the deepest parts of your soul when I read it?

What does she say?

If she had said, “No,” I would have stopped and gone back to reading my magazine and waited for those within ear shot, perhaps a beautiful woman was there, who I also wanted to meet. Perhaps, I was simply talking to someone who was next to the woman I had wanted to meet to see if she listened silently or who left the room because she was bored. And maybe all this was lost because I was thinking there was some correlation of my need for beauty and that external beauty meant internal beauty and that what I was a really after? Just a one-night stand?

She said yes. The room became silent within ear shot. I read the poem and I watched my audience out of the corner of my eye. Some were uncomfortable, like I was bothering them, and some were listening intently. As soon as I stopped, I waited. It was silent. And then she started talking to me. She was enthused. We talked on and on and that was the beginning of our friendship and love for the beauty in the world and that we were capable of creating.

When You Break Up

when you break up graphic to use


“I forgot our anniversary,” the man said to his visibly angered wife, “because I am a busy man” and he left the dinner table at the restaurant and walked off. They had been bickering and he simply got up to leave and said goodbye after paying the check and dropping his napkin. She was on the phone for a while to someone else. She eventually left. The whole room could tell they were fighting.

Just yesterday, he wrote back to a woman who he had quickly made love. First date, she said to him: “Do you want to make love now or later?”

He said to her wanting to be perceived as a gentleman: “Next time,” and they waited a few days.

The point he was making is that by the third date, which was two nights at her house, her being exhausted from travel, the day before she went to see her step-sister, whom she seldom saw and her father, who was in recovery from cancer, she had an emotional breakdown in a Left Bank restaurant. Tears came down her face. She had driven to Santa Cruz to Marin and back to Menlo Park. She was hungry. She had just massaged an old man, who fell asleep in her arms, but who mostly just wanted to sing.

Her meltdown, the irrational behavior that came before it, and his inability to relate since he had not gone through those feelings with her, left him empty. He was unfeeling and at a point he told her about another occurrence that he simply could not relate to of his friend’s mother’s death because he had lost his father when he was ten.

“Good for the bastard,” he said, “maybe it would treat him to be less of a bully.”

But, of course, that was the worst thing he could have said. He even asked and got to see her mother.

In the meantime, and almost the point of this, he thought, was that she sang and played the guitar for him and used his poems/words from his books to write songs, leading him to draft a collaborative contract if she wanted to do an album.

That is the point, he said. Even though she told him he was amazing, she probably couldn’t trust him, nor did she feel like it was worth it. All she wanted was to keep her distance. He demonstrated a lack of empathy. The point, he thought was how and why you don’t sleep with the people you work with because things get complicated. A line crossed and everything seemed to say “No. I would rather not.” Things come out of nowhere and all you want to do is stay away.

That’s what happens when you break up. You say to yourself, “It is just not worth it.”