Studio of Edwin & Marcia Ward

Friday, October 19, 2012



as always
for Marcia

            In my dream of helping to create the album cover photograph for the bassist Rich Sallee’s record, there is this tall guy. A snap of my fingers does not help to reveal his identity, nor does a quick scan of my memory banks. Despite a wordless, familiar camaraderie between us, I simply cannot place him or put a name to his face, although instinct says I know I know him, that we’ve met. He catches my attention twice in this first dream.

            In the corridor of my and Marcia’s studio, a gaggle of extras crowds round us at the beginning of the photo session, and the tallest of the bunch from the back of the crowd rising on tip-y toes gets my attention and silently mouths what I lip-read as “Remember me,” a request that doubles my anxiety, for I already know I cannot place who he is, even as his facial expression conveys an extreme concern that I do. A little later in the same dream he sits exhausted amongst the cast at session’s end, amongst all who are happy to have been part of the shoot: the actors, musicians, models and hanger-ons who are chattering and glad-handing each other, while he, Mr I Cannot Remember Who You Are, sits on the concrete floor of the workroom, his legs splayed as if useless, maybe intoxicated or paralyzed, his upright back against an exposed wood frame stud, his face intent, his eyes as focused as a cat’s, telepath-ing me that I must remember him. I must.

            But I can’t. Not even after the next dream wherein he is sitting in the front passenger seat of a car across from my ten year old son Zenith. Mr I Cannot Remember Who You Are is wearing a Jeff cap. It’s another very anxious dream because the car is quite strange and my ten year old is driving. I am in the seatbelt-less backseat and my mystery man is in the front, and we are about to enter a busy two-way, four lane, industrial and warehouse area highway that is as dreary with midnight street lamp light as it is wet with rain, not to mention dangerous with speeding busses, semis and cars. I think of hydroplaning bus rides in Dylan’s drizzling Renaldo and Clara. Not only is the available light haloed and diffused, but Zenith’s only read on the approaching traffic that he hopes to merge with is via a relic of a side-view mirror, awash in rainwater, on the other side of the rivulet-streaked drivers side window through which he peers. This large sedan, I come to realize, is a taxi, sort of, a strange taxi, from a different time and place. In the back seat, where one might expect to find a side dome light on the frame between front and back doors, there is affixed a Day of The Dead display paying tribute to Mary, the “mother of God,” complete with snake beneath her feet. The alabaster Mary is attended by miniature festive skeletons, some of which are wearing straw sombreros and holding fat guitars, skinny drums and accordions. There is a tasseled sunshade of strung rosary-like beads hung across the back window. The upholstered back seat I sit on is made of pleated vinyl, mirror-like with a glossy finish, as in the interior of a West-side tricked-out low rider automobile cruising 15th Street on a Saturday Denver summer night, while in the front seat, an illuminated running time and money meter, the hanging clipboard clasping ride sheets, the Colorado PUC license inlaid in the visor, the corded handset phone, and oversized rearview mirror affirm this short is at least half-taxi. Oddly askew and of no help to Zenith, I see in the large interior rearview mirror there is but one image: the face of I Cannot Remember Who You Are. He has my eyes pinned as my take on the mirror fills first with his desperate and imploring eyes and then his full visage, his face a-fright with desperation as his head lurches forward and back in reaction to Zenith’s hesitant, un-practiced and incompetent use of the gas and brakes. His neck like his legs in the earlier dream seems useless, of no help in controlling his head.  I am frightened for my life. Something dreadful is going down. Zenith can’t possibly drive this car, on that highway, under these conditions. I am aware that I am dreaming as I wonder: Why is this cab driver in the passenger seat and not driving? Panic and dread is what the method actor in me remembers of this second dream. The first dream had given me a taste of the nepenthe of what it is like to be unable to remember.

            A week or so after these dreams of Mr I Can Not Remember Who You Are, I am on a hospital  elevator. A man enters and throws me a rather ambiguous smile, as if he’s glad to see me and sorry as well, before extending his hand to shake.

            “Ed, how are you? Remember me, I’m Michael Klahr’s friend, Ronnie? We met at one of Michael’s literary soirees. You read with Brad at the Kerouac tribute.” His half glad, half sorry expression fades to complete sadness as he asserts, “You know about Brad, yes.”

            In a flash I remember who exactly Mr I Cannot Remember Who You Are is: Brad, the poet and cab driver with whom I have crossed paths on four or five occasions over the course of the last few years: at Michael Klahr’s twice (Michael had middle-man-ed getting me my gig as host at Café Nepenthes) and a few times at The Mercury Café where I host the Friday Night Poetry readings. Late night Brad would, if a fare took him near The Merc, pop into The Jungle Room for a poet or two to break up the tedium of ferrying Friday night drunks around town, and once, leaving a hotel wedding that I had conducted and Marcia had photographed, Brad was curbside waiting on a fare and had helped us load Marcia’s equipment into our van. Our conversation on the times we met after our initial acquaintance always began with Brad saying, “Ed Ward, Denver’s Dean of Poetry, I know you don’t remember me but I am Michael’s friend Brad. We met at the Kerouac party.”

            Now I’m not sure why, but I do have poor facial recognition skills. Maybe its my vanity that dissuades me from wearing my glasses, maybe the visual memory area of my brain was affected by the encephalitis that didn’t do me in at fourteen, or perhaps decades of hosting literary events has filled the available RAM of my frontal lobe with more than enough poet faces. I mean you’d think I would remember the tall dark and handsome Brad and that I would remember his poetry, but as in the dreams, I could not place him, not until he spoke, because, you see, my auditory recognition skills are as acute as my visual recognition skills are lame. In a loud and boisterous night club I will recognize above the din a voice on the other side of the room of someone absent a decade in my life. I would remember and recognize Brad as soon as he spoke, not because of his reference to Michael Klahr, but because of his voice and its fingerprint uniqueness. In my dreams he never spoke aloud and, hence, my failure to remember who he was.

            Ronnie reads my perplexed expression to his assertion that I had heard about Brad to mean I knew nothing, and so he haltingly tells me of the tragic death of Brad some weeks ago, the same weeks during which I had been so involved with a life and death crisis here in the hospital that I had paid the rest of the world no-never-mind.

            Brad had been murdered by a fourteen year old kid from Aurora over a ten-dollar taxi fare. The would-be gang-banger was in the company of two suburban teeny-boppers and he wanted to impress the girls with his bad ass-ness. As Brad turned to receive payment for the taxi ride, the kid, having no money and not wanting the girls to know, shot Brad in the head, point blank, instead.

            The elevator reaches the lobby. Ronnie and I step out. I am shocked and aggrieved and confounded by this unimaginable and horrific news. Brad was such a nice guy, an artist, so friendly, caring and hip. His murder proves the falsity of karma as an operating principle. No one deserves such a fate. Certainly not Brad.

            That Brad had been murdered around the time of my dreams, dreams he more or less starred in, dreams wherein he implored me to “Remember him,” this strange knowledge, I keep to myself as Ronnie offers to comfort me with a hug. He tells me the funeral has already taken place, within a few days of Brad’s murder, and that many of Brad’s friends have not heard of his death. The funeral had been sparsely attended as the newspaper report concerning the murder had used Brad’s full given name of which “Brad” was but a diminutive, and only the cab license photo of Brad (not exactly a revealing portrait) accompanied the printed story. Had I read the story – which I had not – I most likely would not have realized the victim was my acquaintance and my good friend Michael’s best friend Brad. So, Ronnie informs me, “Michael is planning a memorial sometime later in the year. He wants time to contact all of Brad’s friends. I’m sure Michael will let you know.”

            So, some six months after Brad is buried, Michael hosts a memorial for him in his home. There are cabbies and poets, oil field workers and professors, waiters and waitresses, people from the diverse eras of Brad’s life. Everyone tells a little Brad story or recites a poem they have written for the occasion. Women speak of their fondness for Brad’s kindness, and oil field workers from Brad’s days in Wyoming spin yarns of hard work and hard drinking. The poets and poetesses celebrate Brad’s craft. When it comes my time to speak, everyone is expecting a classic eulogy from, as Brad would say, “The Dean of Denver Poetry,” but, instead, I tell of the three times that Brad starred in my dreaming around the time of his death, including a description of the car with the Day of the Dead statuary, the dream machine that was half cab and half tricked out low-rider cruiser.

            And from the other side of the room, a friend of Brad’s from the Seventies who had worked with Brad in the oil fields outside Rock Springs exclaims, “La Bomba, Ed, you are talking about La Bamba,” before explaining further.

            A year into his Wyoming Days, Brad and four other oil field workers had gone in on the purchase of a party car for rides into town and elsewhere on the weekends. Living in company housing gets old, as do drinking and gambling as pastimes, and they wanted to spend weekends adventuring. They had purchased the former low rider pimp mobile from a rigger from Mischoaca who was cashing in his savings and returning to Mexico a rich man, relatively speaking. Brad and his buddies had driven La Bomba as they called the car all over Wyoming in the mid 70s, to Laramie, Rock Springs, Wheatland, Hawk Springs, Guernsey, Jackson Hole, Casper, Cheyenne, Cody, Buffalo, Yellowstone, Fort Laramie, you name it. Bumper stickers to all their destinations covered the trunk. The Dia de los Muertos assemblage and pleated vinyl upholstery and beaded curtain that I described had been part and parcel of the La Bomba package. Brad had loved the car as he did his days in Wyoming and had, according to the pipe fitter, even written some poems about it.

            So, you can make of it what you will, my dreams of Brad and my knowledge of the trappings of the vehicle he was ferried to the other side across the River Styx in, the implication being that sometimes the dying get a last request fulfilled via an open dream window between the worlds of here and gone, for, indeed, I remember Brad. Always.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Beavers, Dragons, and Draft Cards

as always for Marcia

            Tacony, Mayfair, and Holmesburg are three centuries old neighborhoods (formerly villages) near or along the Delaware River in Northeast Philadelphia. The original King’s Highway with its triple arched span over Pennypack Creek on Frankford Avenue, Highway US 1, dates to 1697 and is the oldest bridge of its kind in the Americas. As a kid I hung out in Tacony Park, went to the Mayfair Movies, and played football with the Holmesburg Boys Club. According to The City of Philadelphia Map I technically lived in Holmesburg; still, I always thought, would say, should someone inquire of my origins, that I was from Tacony as Tacony Park was, as the crow flies, but a Connie Mack homerun’s distance from my row home on Vista Street. All this is to say, that the phrase I will later use, “Tacony coming out” is code for the appearance in the flesh of the spirit of my true unfiltered self: the bottom-line, the essence, if you will, of Eddie, the who I am and what I am, the being shaped by the Tacony environs of my youth, tempered, I suppose, by both the Irish DNA I carry and the Jesuit high school education I received.

            I am a freshman in college the first time I experience Tacony coming out.

            I am eighteen, in Nineteen Sixty-six, in the Grand Hall of the Dragons, where a lunch hour throng of students seeking higher education in the science, business, and womanly-arts world are hanging out and co-mingling, sadly, within the boundaries of class-consciousness. The Grand Hall at noon can be the to-see and to-be-seen scene for anyone. Fraternities and sororities lay claim to the prominent areas of the Grand Hall with Sigma Zuma Rooma occupying the right-side upper tier of the marble Grand Stairs ascending to the second floor, below and about which the lesser male Greeks assemble. Who stands where is steeped in tradition; privilege grandfathered in. The ground-level marble tile floor or the third floor balcony above the second floor landing is where the majority of students hang, primarily those, who, like myself, commute and live at home.

            Now, Drexel is an Institute of Technology; nonetheless, there still are a fair number of women students on and about this urban campus as higher degrees in Home Economics are offered. There’s rumor of a dozen or so girls in the science departments, two of whom are in the physics program with me, both of whom already wear diamonds on their left hands. Consequently, on occasion, I do loco-mote my outsider solo Steppenwolf ass outside the envelope of keeping to myself, out of the Activities Center, across Chestnut Street, to the Grand Dragon Hall, in search of the body language invite of a woman, the second glance, a finger curling hair aside an ear revealed, a woman who might notice me.

            Entering the building I am reminded that my love quest began with the first kiss of Post Office - ah, Nancy Nevin was her name and she was as passionate as she was tall - and colors this very moment as I voyeuristically weave my way among these future business administrators, engineers, chemists, physicists, home economists, and professors, looking for a face, the figure, a lingo that attracts me even though I am involved already, going steady, that is, (- that first step towards engagement in the 60s very Catholic Tacony culture that has shaped me -) with Anne, a first year girl at Beaver College with whom I hooked up at a intercollegiate mixer. The posters for the event featured Lady Beavers and Male Dragons, with imaginary offspring resembling characters popular in media culture as mythological and surreal fantasy currently shapes the American  post-beat art world. Lothar and the Hand People almost psychedelized the old school Bristol Stomp right out of my Tacony dance repertoire the night I met Anne as I Hippie-free-styled to the electric rock and roll. Forget forevermore, I think, the “Oldies but Goodies” and give me rocking electric guitar from now on. Anne danced with a passionate come-on in her eyes, and I came-on so to speak. Sadly, after a year, I am no longer over-the-top infatuated with my girlfriend. Something - a nag about the angularity of her visage, the petite-ness of her breasts - these oh-so-petty-assessments distract me from the ardor I have for her in every other way. A silly and undeserved vanity prevents me from falling perfectly and deeply in love with Anne. I feel cowardly in my appraisal of her. Unkind. I mean Ms Bunny, my pet name for Anne, Ms Bunny got more balls than me when it comes to our lives entwined. She’s bigger than life heroic. Hell, she frequently climbs out the 1 AM bedroom window of her parents’ house to sneak a rendezvous with me and enlists the lies and conspiratorial deceit of friends to hide her whereabouts from her strict and doting parents when she and I spend a weekend in New York or at the Jersey shore. She gifts me with cartons of Kools she risks her livelihood to lift at her work shift’s close. There is telepathy between us when we look into each other’s eyes. We can almost come thinking about each other, melting with each other’s touch. My first real muse, Anne has inspired me to write my first real poetry. All should be wonderful with us, but subliminal clues inform me: Anne is not my one and only. I wonder: are our pheromones out of sync? Is the algebra of the distance between our irises incompatible? I partially hope the equation of me and Anne will work out (there are many pluses), but know already it will end with the head turning of another woman, the real reason I am in the Grand Hall of the Dragons on a hunt for my mate.

            Did I mention that everywhere in America, in collegiate hangouts, in family dining rooms, in bivouac tents, in dorms, in television broadcast booths, on subways and buses, in taxis, on trains, coming and going, whether sitting or standing, there is this elephant in the room of every American sentient being’s thinking, and its name is Viet Nam. The war over there infects daily life over here. Personally, like every other guy in the Grand Hall, I carry my connection to the war, a draft card, in my wallet. Right now, right here, among the ogling and flirting, the testosterone and estrogen, the fraternal and neighborhood camaraderies, the angst of war is present. What is invisible (the elephant in the room) will, nonetheless, cast its shadow today across the Grand Hall floor as a student group from the University of Pennsylvania intends to address the Drexel student body about some protest doings at The University of Pennsylvania, a student sit-in that had made the televised nightly news the day before. With benefit of permit and permission from the Drexel Student Council, a PA, a podium, loud-speakers and microphone-stand occupy the second floor landing, where as rumor and mimeographed bulletins have it, a small group of pacifists and anti-establishment protestors will be explaining why the Ivy Leaguers are holding a sit-in at the University City Science Center some six blocks west of Drexel. Institutes of Technology and Ivy League Universities, their students, generally speaking, have little to do with each other, and that students from the University of Pennsylvania are addressing Drexel students is odd, a first time. The perception over pinochle and coffee at the Activities Center where I spend slack time between physics classes, atomic and otherwise, is that the U of P-ers will be talking down to us from their ivy towers. According to the notices I’d seen posted on student bulletin boards, one of the scheduled topics will be the use of napalm and Agent Orange defoliants, recent gifts to the military from the world of DOW and university science, something chemistry majors might find engaging.  Also on the agenda: citizen plans to discourage city planners who hope to raze yet another impoverished neighborhood nearby– one deemed blighted  (blighted, that’s bullshit for black) – for the sake of increasing the availability of real estate to feed the expansion dreams of city planners, school administrators and federal industry insiders, looking for more room to incubate ideas concerning visionary weapons of war.

            “Get a haircut” is the first disruptive taunt leveled at the first speaker, a Student for a Democratic Society, to stand at the microphone. The SDS-er’s speech about the reasons for the sit-in over at 3711 Market are graphic: the burning flesh of pajama clad women and children in remote jungle villages, of pristine delta patties and farmland destroyed for generations to come by DDT and Agent Orange, of dead and wounded eighteen year old American soldiers, most of whom were compulsorily enrolled, i.e., drafted. His passionate argument is met by the disapproving rumblings of the Frat boys, the Zigma Zuma Roomas, who occupy the stairs closest to the podium. “Let us see your draft card, Commie” and “America, Love it or leave it” and “Kill the Gooks” follow, with the last turning into a chant fortissimo with a pep rally beat, louder than the amplified voice of the speaker, who ends his acoustically drowned out presentation with arms and hands extended, a two fingered peace sign on both extremities, a gesture met with a hundred frat boy middle fingers.

            The U of P student activist then turns over the microphone to an older gray-haired man wearing a clerical collar atop black clergy shirt, pants and shoes, a Protestant minister, I presume. He stands silent at the microphone, composing himself, taking in this elevated high noon scene, of hundreds of students on the stairs and floor below, most of whom are generally ignorant of the world outside themselves and who will be hostile to his position on the sit-in at The University City Science Center. Most would argue that scientists need science centers near science schools. Poor people should be glad to move from their poor neighborhood. Case closed.

            Now in my heart of hearts, as a future military officer in training, a member of ROTC, Reserve Officer Training Core, I’m not sure what I think. About the sit-in. About the war. About the razing of a neighborhood. About me with a draft deferment given all my friends from Tacony who have been drafted or volunteered to serve. About communism, democracy, socialism, activism. About what this preacher is going to say.

            Fortunately for my soul and me, a defining moment in my life now occurs as the man in black prepares to address the assembled. As it turns out, he, the eldest male in the hall, does not get to be heard, because as the reverend ritualistically brings his open hands together, palm to palm, for a moment of invoking the presence of his take on god, a waterfall of water, poured from buckets in the hands of Sigma Zuma Roomas leaning over the third floor balcony, rains down upon him. A wrath of water, you might say, and what water misses him explodes forcefully off the marble landing, engulfing the electrical extension cords about his feet that supply the PA with power and soaking the PA enough to short the system out. Catcalls, jeers, applause, and cries of feigned horror fill the Grand Hall. Sparks fly out of the PA and a sizzling sound accompanies the smell of shorted capacitors and overheated rubber.

            A wet priest and a silenced microphone is all it takes for Tacony to come out for the first time, as sound and time and tempo change and righteous anger dwarfs all fear or sense of impropriety. I rush up the stairs, barging past and through and somewhat into the jeering Zigma Zuma Roomas between the minister and me, to reach the top of the stairs. I must be thinking without words (if that is possible), because I have no clear understanding of where I’m going with the words erupting from my mouth. I bellow like Edwin Forrest’s mad King Lear an insanity of insults at the laughing students leaning over the balcony above. I roar words like pussy and punk and dipshit, insults directed at every male above and those right in front of me on the steps. I’m so infused with a furious intolerance for those who would so disrespect an elder, no matter his opinion, that I understand the meaning of the word jihad. I think, worst-case scenario, the priest, he could have been electrocuted. I shout out: “Anyone here who thinks this man was treated right, please come to the top of the steps so I can kick your ass from here to the banks of the Schuylkill River. Come on, you are all so fucking brave, you Zigma Zooma Roomas, plotting your disrespect. These men got more balls than anyone here. Be brave now. Really. Come to the top of the stairs and see if you can water me without reprisal.  I’ll fucking drown your ass in the sewage of your mind. Really. Dig this you wimpy mother-fuckers, anyone who tries to shut this man down again will have to deal with me.”

            (As if I am now in charge) I issue a command in the direction of those assembled behind the podium: “Fix the fucking PA. I want to hear what this man got to say.”

            Agonizingly uncomfortable moments of silence follow as the innards of the PA are examined and repaired by the Drexel student technician in charge of the sound, some two minutes or so, during which time not a man in the room takes me up on my offer to fuck with the preacher in my presence, given the enigma that I am, my face to the world: the violent pacifist, the warrior who is anti-war, the one so unlike the present many, so politically incorrect, someone willing to fight for peace, as oxymoronic as that be, as oxymoronic as holy war and eminent domain.

            And, . . . the preacher does get to have his say as I stand at the top of the stairs, an Edwin Forrest air of noble Metamora about me, not hearing a word the cleric says, because I am up river in Tacony where I learned early on what I carry to this day: to silence the weak it takes but bluster and a threat (no matter how empty, how un-back-up-able).

Friday, June 15, 2012



Reverend Edwin Forrest Ward
Weddings, Wedding Venuesthe Image Maker, Best Wedding Officiants in Denver - 2013 Bride's Choice Award Winner
(with 30 years experience creating and conducting wedding ceremonies)

At a gala wedding I attended at one of America’s National Monuments, The Ben Franklin Institute in Philadelphia – where no expense was spared (the groom’s father was as generous as he was successful), friends of the couple offered to help with a few aspects of the wedding ceremony and wound-up officiating, photographing and DJ-ing the wedding.  On a scale of one to ten, the catered food and drinks, the décor, the cake, the flowers, the world-renowned Planetarium and the Grand Hall, the amenities, the dresses and tuxedos, the atmosphere of love of family and friends, the rings, the parents, the guests, all were elevens. Over the top, world class! A Ben Franklin impersonator even gossiped and smoozed through out the night with most of the three hundred attendees. There were dozens of staff serving and coordinating everything beautifully, from decorating, to welcoming, to seating, to serving drinks, appetizers and dinner, to coat checking, to valet parking cars. The best that money can buy, you might say.

As to the friends of the bride and groom who worked the wedding, well, they were in way over their inexperienced heads. For starters the DJ-friend provided the officiant-friend with a microphone, black iron mic-stand, and hundred-foot cord. The black rig was center stage amidst the white-lit white stage adorned with hundreds of white roses. The black cord snakes its way across the stage in every photo taken of the ceremony. The two inexperienced friends with cameras never thought to mention the distraction of the cord (if they even noticed). When the ceremony started the officiant-friend never did ask the guests to stand for the bride as she came down the aisle. Seated towards the back, I stood for the bride and only then did the three hundred guests stand to welcome the bride and her escort. Unfortunately, the newly ordained minister friend conducting the ceremony also was not aware that she should tell the guests when to sit, and so everyone stood for the entire forty minute ceremony, even the elderly aunts and uncles (some in their nineties) and the mothers with babes in their arms. The officiant-friend was competent enough in reading the ceremony she and the couple had written, but as to the dynamics of a wedding ceremony, she (and the couple) were clueless. Neither the minister’s voice nor the staging were engaging or inspirational. Blocking was non-existant. The bride and groom stood in the same spot for the entire ceremony, their backs to the guests, divided by the black line of the microphone stand that bisected the minister. During the ceremony guests never glimpsed the blissful faces of the bride and groom, except for a moment in profile when they kissed. And the kiss was in the middle of the ceremony, bereft of any dramatic build up to it. The touching love letters that the bride and groom wrote for each other were read to each other after the kiss without the benefit of the microphone that their celebrant now cradled in her arms. Spread out on the stage the bridesmaids and groomsmen faced the audience and seemed more like backups in a chorus line than attendants. Aside from the procession and recession and standing, they had no part in the marriage ritual.

And as for the DJ friend with the amateur equipment, well, at the reception it seemed he was MC-ing a professional sporting event. With every introduction he roared, yelled and exaggerated his enunciations so much I was not sure if I was at a stock car race, a wrestling match or a wedding. “And now let me introduce our bbbbbbrrrrriiiiidddddeeeee and gggggrrrroooommmmm. . . .”

And the friends with cameras, well, they took some three thousand photos. It takes some four hours to look at them all on the website where they were posted for viewing some three months after the wedding: unedited and unorganized. I looked for a photograph they had taken of me and my wife, but after hours of waiting for pictures to load and be displayed, I gave up wading through the mess.
My suggestion: at your wedding, have friends be guests, not workers. Inexperienced and friendly is no replacement for experienced and professional. Every bride deserves a wedding ritual, fit for a queen, not a hodgepodge of elements cobbled together by friends. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Chalice of Blue Light

A Chalice of Blue Light

as always, for Marcia

            In early July of 1974, at a campground in North Carolina, I befriend four broke women: Lucia (the Lucy of my novel Lucy & Eddie), her best friend Liz and kid sister Becky, and Becky’s classmate Caroline. They are hitchhiking back to Manhattan and need shelter from the North Carolina mosquito night. All four are more beautiful than religion. We share my camp, my tent, my pot, my spam, my apples, my beer. All four have starring roles in my imaginings. The morning of Day-Two of our time shared, we visit the historic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, where, to me,  some things are revealed.

            The ascent of the corkscrew staircase to the top of the tower augurs the high Colorado hikes of late summer. A line of tourists ten minutes ahead of us snakes its way above us, up the steep, indeed, arduously narrow, wooden stairway. The voice of their exertions floats down the stairwell to reach us at the bottom. A chestnut banister clings, as it spirals upward, a man made vine climbing to the light at the top of the wall of pre-Civil War quarried stone. Leading the way I set an easy pace, for the slope is steep and the risers high. I know I am on display from the rear, the male among four females, a lad off to ritual, perhaps in the company of a reincarnated Diana, in the role of her new beaux, along with her trinity of friends, the Fates, for all I know. Lucia is beneath the other girls in our line of ascent; still I sense her eyes upon me even when I’m out of sight, around, beyond the curve of wending stairwell. The last of the tourists who’d gone in before us during the ten o’clock hour pass us going down as we near the top, so when we reach the keeper’s watch room below the light room, we find we have it all to ourselves.

            The view from the windows of the lighthouse is awesome as the narrow width of the cape, its vulnerability to swollen sea, its fragility, is most apparent. Despite the generally placid July Atlantic that is within view, instantly I know I wouldn’t want to be here on this ribbon of land, this far out in the Atlantic, during raucous weather. But it’s incredibly summery today, as summery as the tie-dyed tee shirt the boyish Becky wears.  An airplane drifts towards us from the north, flying slowly and trailing a sign advertising some Cape Hatteras delight. On one of the walls between the windows facing east and seaward, a plaque details the names of those who have died trying to rescue others in these Hatteras waters. Liz remarks that many, most of them, in fact, have the same last name, McKrue, a family that as a ledger on a table below affirms still involves itself in the profession of rescuing shipwrecked sailors. In my mind I imagine the look of a McKrue: the smoking pipe in ocean salted, weather beaten hands, the draw of the apparatus curved like the neck of a swan, the sterling vision of those blue eyes below the widow’s peak of wavy hair, the stained tobacco teeth, an acute feel for the weather in the freckled hands that hold the match, a ponder-er, head full of star maps and charted shoals and coastal landmarks. As this and many of my further adventures lead me to believe: anywhere anyone goes, it seems there’s a family got an understanding of and a lock on the land, on the professions native to the geography of it. For good or for bad? I’m not sure, although I’d wager a McKrue will be ready to rescue shipwrecked sailors from the hazardous shoals a hundred years from now.

            A wonder occurs: what geography of employment c onnects the Mc Bards, what common denominator is there among my clan? I’m scrolling through a mental list of the occupations of sundry aunts and uncles, trying to discern a web between them as I stare out at the horizon that fills my vision from periphery to periphery. Truckers, accountants, union men, government spies, convicted felons, and I realize that they all do have something in common, as perpetuity of motion gives similarity to every ocean wave. Uncle Bob, Dad, Uncle Ray, Aunt Mary, Mother, Vincent, the other Edwin Forrest, anyone of my family whom I call to memory, each and every one, loves to gamble. Pinochle, poker, horses, the numbers, anything to beat the odds. To the Mc Bards it is all about the pleasure of taking risks and winning!, beating the odds with a roll of the dice, a gamble paying off, the ticket at the window amid the noise of the track, and understanding the odds, gauging moves to order the overt randomness of a life into a kindness, simple as that. I imagine this is why these women have accompanied me here, have led me here, to this towering view of the sea, for a circumstantial thought, a question answered, a glimpse of my true nature in the ponder of a musing. If I ever have a kid, I think, I’ll call him Risk, or Lucky. Like this view, fifty-fifty, of sea and sky, I feel I have at least even odds of making something happen with this beautiful Lucia, who now stands on the balcony outside, an image that gives flesh to inspiration and recklessness simultaneously. Encouraged by a sullen but steady breeze, the door marked Keeper Only wings shut, as Lucia must have opened it and gained access to the outside balcony through it. The same slight gust also flutters Lucia’s hair in this vision of her, looking towards Africa one moment and Sweden the next. She exalts in the bluster, in the caress of the wind. Her profile would ennoble the prowl of a ship. She turns away from the sea and looks back into the interior through the window, first at me and then to her girlfriends aside me. She cups her hands around her lips and slowly mouths the words to some prophesy that includes Ireland as well as Sweden.

            Liz joins Lucia on the small balcony, and I notice Lucia has a habit of leaning toward Liz whenever they talk, a gesture that is a function of their difference in height. They speak together conspiratorially and then they both laugh before coming back inside. Lucia is almost blushing and she averts her face from mine to read the small print of the ledger. Becky and Carolyn have a peek at the view from the balcony in their turn, and then I go out alone.

            The breeze and the warm sun are wondrous. I close my eyes against the late morning glare of light on the slate water, and then, squinting, with eyes shaded by a weave of fingers, I search the sea for sight of ships, but I see none. Just that airplane - now well past the campground with its serpent of advertisement - flies languidly towards the extremity of the cape. I wonder at the distance to it, the distance to the horizon. A few miles? Ten? A hundred?  How high the sky? has more meaning here. I have no experience nor perspective by which to judge distance here, for the water confounds me, knowing what I see on the sparkling surface, this disc, this record of shining sea, with the cape but a scratch across it, is but a superficial minor aspect of the ocean’s totality, given the volume of it, the miracle of and diverse quantity of life fulfilling it, the mystery and the hunger, the power below the water’s surface. How far down to the wreck of the Santa Regina mentioned in the log of shipwrecks? How purposeful the lives of men who tend the sea? How like Sisyphus? How heroic? How like Pyrrhus? How extreme? The first ghost riders were sailors.

            Back inside I find I’m alone; the women are gone. I hear squeals of laughter, the trill of girlish glee, and the pattern of racing feet going down the wooden stairs. Whereas it was a long haul coming up it’s a goat’s delight going down, with gravity the drive, and the snake of a hand rail allows the assuredness of arm and hand to steady the momentum downward. When I reach bottom, before going outside, I check the registry we had signed coming in. I am still curious about Carolyn’s lineage. Ever since this morning when I’d startled and woke her, she has not looked me in the eye or spoken directly to me. Above Lucia Cilento I find Carolyn Ararat written in a neat calligraphy. The signatures of Liz and Becky look surprisingly dissimilar, although both resemble Palmer method Catholic. I've signed Eddie Mc Bard, leaving out the Forrest.

            Outside the door to the lighthouse Carolyn is photographing Becky and Liz who are dancing in the sand with the surf and sky as backdrop. Lucia directs the sisters to stand facing each other, toe to toe. They are the same height although Becky at seventeen is slighter than Liz. Their profiles are strikingly similar and Lucia asks Carolyn to get a close-up of their faces, the sky between which she says, “Gives shape to a chalice of blue light.”

            I step out of the shade and the coolness of the lighthouse. A group of people are queuing up in the shade of the tower to the north, waiting to be admitted by the caretaker at eleven. I walk over to Lucia and put my arm around her waist.

            “Carolyn, would you take one of me and Lucy,” I suggest. But when Carolyn puts the camera up to her eye to focus, Lucia indicates with a push on my arm and a shove of the hips that she’d rather I wasn’t so familiar in front of the camera, in front of her friends. The mixed message of her desire to stand independent of me now after our morning together, like the mystery of the ocean’s depth and its contents, astounds me. A fool I am to think Lucia will reveal the treasure of herself as easily as she had allowed the first kiss of morning. There will be more delight than foreplay and orgasm when it comes to making love with Lucia, should she allow our flirtation to go that far. At first I attribute her seeming irritation with my forwardness to shyness in front of friends. Perhaps she is just not used to the familiarity of a man’s hand on her hip. A chant of beats, a poem, pops into my head

She could be virgin
She could be breeze
Lucia be forest
Be tree under me 

A bird’s eye vision of the world colors my thinking to this day because I climbed the Hatteras Tower.

Thursday, April 19, 2012



as always
for Marcia

(One of my all time favorite flicks is Fellini’s Casanova. Despite its surreal bent, the forces of poetry at work in the film resonate within, with Casanova, the poet, reciting his greatest love poem several times during the course of the movie. His first recitation gets him laid and safe from pursuit, the second provides him with an entire nunnery to bed, his third turn gets him knighted, while his final read elicits loathing and mockery. A poem on the lips of an old man – no matter his resume – is but a shadow of its youthful self. The world renowned poet and legendary lover, a guest at some young fool’s castle, is berated, mocked and abused by all – characters in the scene as well as moviegoers in the theater. As he descends a staircase, down from his pedestal, if you will, Casanova suffers the taunts of the punk and the drunk: “Shut up old man! Shut up and die! Cease to read. Cease to exist. Cease, cease, cease to be!” The response to Casanova’s recital is so uninformed and cruel, it gives new meaning to a pound of selfish; however, having seen Donald-Sutherland-as-Casanova’s inglorious exit from the stage, I must say, I was better prepared, able to deal with, and not really shocked by the events of Taboo. Hell, I was amused.)

Here’s evidence that April is the cruelest month.

A few years ago, when the city was flush with dinero, some civic-minded art administratrix decided to promote poetry in Denver as, besides being Shakespeare’s cruelest month, April is also National Poetry Month. At taxpayer expense the Mayor’s Commission on Art, Culture and Waste of Money, mailed out some deluxe color promotional materials attesting to the importance of poetry in our lives, complete with a list of venues and April literary events scheduled in the Denver-Metro area. The postcard caught my eye as I’ve been involved in the poetry world ever since the last wave of beat sensibility in Denver adopted me in the mid-Seventies - not to brag, but I’ve won awards, appeared (even centerfold-ed) in lit ‘zines, and hosted hundreds of readings for Denver literati these thirty-five years.

When it comes to poetry, a great influence upon me was Larry Lake, publisher of Denver’s Bowery Press. Larry published my first broadside (a poetry tradition in Bohemia for centuries) and my first book; he also instigated my ordination as a minister in The Temple of Man. Aside from matters related to love and family, these two events were pivotal in setting the course of my life’s journey. Over the years my relationship with Larry was like the weather: some days beautiful and some days stormy; after all we both sought the attention of the same muse. Towards the end of his life – Larry died young in the early Nineties – he and I were estranged for reasons of anger and art and alcohol, and, in an attempt to do right by Larry after his death, I wrote a story for the stage, Not Just Another Hose Job, a bit of creative Irish non fiction that celebrated some of Larry’s virtues, offering the short tale as an answer to the question: What’s so good about men, anyway?

Hose Job almost wrote itself in one sitting, start to finish, on my piece of shit Millennium PC one winter afternoon as my wife skied with friends at Mary Jane. I had the house to myself, a state of being (Step One) required for my writing, and hoped to write something new for an open mic night that for reasons of cabin-fever  and ennui, Marcia and I had been attending on Thursday evenings at Michaelangelo’s on Broadway. Although the evening spotlighted singers, guitar players and songwriters, my stories had been well received; consequently, I write the six and half minute narrative about Lake with the attention span of folksingers in mind: (short not long), and my tale of payback and comeuppance is so well received upon first reading that I think the folksingers might parade me down Broadway on their shoulders. Everybody loves it.

Knowing its effect on a live audience, I am looking forward to sharing it at some other venues, and that is where the city’s effort to promote poetry comes in, for on the Mayor’s postcard is mention of an open mic night at a club in North Aurora, The Kasbah, and I decide to attend this new-to-me poetry event. The verbiage of the listing reads Signup and Reading at 8.

Now Marcia and I had been attending the Michael Angelo evenings as a “date night” of sorts, but for sundry reasons she decides not to make The Kasbah reading with me, although she whole-heartedly encourages me to go. “Everyone loves your story. Go, tell it in Aurora. Have some fun without me,” are her parting words, as to a place I’ve never been, I head, on this April night.

Because I like to arrive early for events to check out the vibe, I enter the strip mall door of The Kasbah at 6th and Chambers at 7:30. The place is bigger than I would have guessed, with a dance floor and stage centrally located. I’d guess the occupancy limit would be two hundred. From north to south the club is restaurant seating, a stage and dance floor horse-shoed by cocktail table seating, a bar, more restaurant seating, and kitchen, with a DJ booth opposite the stage by the front door.

I take a stool at the bar and scan the scene. There are probably sixty people in the Kasbah, all of whom – with the exception of me, one of the bartenders, and the female half of a couple seated opposite the stage – are African American. Thirty or so adults are working out on the dance floor as a gentleman with a wireless microphone leads everyone with his voice and by example. I’m not sure if it’s a dance class or an exercise class but everyone is having fun despite the accompanying retro Seventies disco music.

Over the wishes of Donna Summer (Love to love you Baby), I order some brandy and ask the bartender about the poetry reading, wondering if, perchance, I got the night wrong. She tells me the dance class is over at eight and that’s when the poetry begins. I realize there’s much to The Kasbah and am reminded very much of The Mercury Café as both are cabarets with a dance floor, host poetry readings, offer classes, and provide a stage for locals. Its monthly calendar seems as eclectic as the Merc’s. Hell, the dance instructor, in his enthusiasm and sales pitch for continuing classes reminds me of Tiffany Wine who leads the Jitterbug and Lindy Hop classes at The Merc. I feel strangely at home. I have a second brandy and await the arrival of the poetry host, a woman I am told, who runs “The Show,” a phrase which incites a shiver of my intellect, as such words are generally not used to describe an open poetry reading.

At eight, the dance class ends and the Kasbah goes from being lively to practically empty as the dancers take their lactic acid build-up home with only a few poetry lovers newly arrived to take their place. After an hour of waiting with the host still a no show, the bartender introduces me to the club manager, a nice enough fellow, who tells me he’ll hook me up with a slot once Taboo arrives. In an aside to the barkeep, he indicates he too is irritated at the late start of things. I order a beer and intend to nurse it as I’ve now been at the bar over an hour and half for an event that was supposed to begin an hour ago. At 9:30, the DJ announces that soon things will be getting under way as Taboo is on her way. “Woo woo Taboo,” I mutter to myself, wondering at the lurking disdain in my invocation of her name.

A little before ten there is a flurry of activity in the room and the disco music ends. Soon a young woman taps me on the shoulder, and asks, “Are you the guy who wants in my show?” to which I respond, “I’m the guy who wants to sign up for the open reading that was listed in the Mayor’s guide to April poetry events.”

“What’s your name?” she asks.

I tell her, “Eddie.”

“Just Eddie?” she questions, and repeats. “Really. Just Eddie?”

Now I have a lot of names by which I am called:Ed Ward, Ed, Eddie, Edwin, Eday, Ward, Edwin Forrest, . . . but I feel no need to bring my reputation to bear on my signing up for Taboo’s open reading.

“Just Eddie” I say.

She tells me I am second on the list as she unashamedly rolls her eyes, turns away and sashays to the stage, with sashay being a euphemistic description of her locomotion. Her outfit is over the top provocative. Other descriptive adjectives come to mind, among them slutty and whoreish: turquoise cowboy boots, spidery fishnet tights, a leather skirt short enough to not cover the junction of her thighs and the lines of her booty, and a ghost of a see through blouse highlighting her cleavage. 

Taboo begins with a whine about the unfolding of the night’s event without ever mentioning that the evening is already two hours behind schedule. She apologizes for the small turnout as apparently an upcoming Slam team, Café Nuba, is hosting tryouts in downtown Denver. She offers this as an excuse for the many empty seats in The Kasbah. “Anybody who is anybody is at Café Nuba,” she adds, an ignorant dis on those who have come to listen or read.

“How will we ever fill an hour as I only have three poets on my list?” is the questions she answers herself: “Well, I guess, I’ll just have to carry the night,” before breaking into motion and poetry.

Instantly I am reminded that there is very little new under the sun. On my barstool, I squirm, for her poetry is banal, sophomoric and uninspired, mostly a hiphop indictment of the men in her life. Apparently she hates her former paramours after sex with the same fervor used to seduce them.  Blah, blah blah, men are bad, men are dogs, men are fog that blocks the light. I stop listening and settle my tab with the bartender and move away from the bar. I intend to support with my attention whoever is signed up to read before me and sit at a cocktail table near the stage. When I tune back in, Taboo is still going on about the lice in her life, the balls she would break, etcetera and I again stop listening. I’m enjoying the buzz of two brandies and a beer and I review the text of  Not Just Another Hose Job. I’m chuckling to myself at one of the more humorous moments in my story when a young man at the table next to mine interrupts my reverie.

“Hey, man, are you just gonna take it? I mean, she’s mocking the shit out of you.”

I snap my attention back to Taboo. She’s talking about the Virgin Eddie in the house, a reference, apparently, to my never having been at The Kasbah before. She’s making sure that everyone knows that she can not attest to my ability as a poet, that she is reluctant to let me on stage, but “Hell, how bad can one man be?” she asks, as she ends her “first set of my show” with her final wham-bam-hate-you-man sham of a poem.

I take the stage. The audience seems interested in me as I am a bit of exotica here in East Aurora. Hell, I’m white, I’m old, and apparently I’m interested in poetry, as is the audience. When I introduce my piece as an answer to the question: What’s so good about men anyway? I am warmly received, especially by the stage-left, front row table of listeners, a dozen or so middle aged women. They laugh and snicker as one comes out of her chair to high five and bait me: “Tell us man, what is so good about men?” All clap and woo-woo her friendly query.

I stand and deliver my well-rehearsed story as Taboo, disregarding me, works the room greeting people in the audience. About three minutes into my story, I can’t help but notice the stage lights blink on and off as the disco music blares loudly for a couple of beats and my microphone cuts out momentarily. As everyone in the room is laughing at my recount of Larry’s behavior, I can’t help but think that the light and sound blip was an accident. Past the stage lights, however, I spy Taboo exit the DJ booth and realize the glitches were at her instigation. She stands staring at the stage, her arms akimbo. Her body language implies that I am guilty of some faux pas. She points her right thumb stage left as if to say Get Off My Stage. I ignore her. I press on with my narration, as the audience, beguiled, is leaning stage-ward, wondering where my story will take them. They are engaged, amused, smiling and laughing, unaware of the exasperated Taboo in the back of the room.

Taboo renters the DJ booth and now my mic is dead. As audience members groan dismay, I continue narrating my piece as if the mic is still working although I boost my volume. Taboo and a posse of poseurs rush from the back of the room and assemble stage left.

“Give me my mic,” she demands. Again, I ignore her and step off the stage closer to the twelve top that has been applauding my tale and finish my telling with the dead mic in my hand as Taboo takes the stage with her friends, all of whom are giving me crap for not having stopped when Taboo demanded it of me. “Fuck you old man!” and “Who do you think you are, Grandpop?” and other such ageist remarks are mouthed and spoken.

As Taboo, furious and threatening, approaches me and the front edge of the stage I let the microphone slip to the club floor, playing out the cord as one would a fishing line, before dropping the cord completely. Taboo reels it in from the stage, and once she has the mic and its power is restored, she begins to abuse me.

“Twenty minutes of this old man reminiscing has slain me,” she announces, as she pretends to die and folds her body, crumpling to the stage. “How dare you go on and on for twenty minutes with your old man memories on my stage. This is my show!” she questions and exclaims while prone on the floor, as if speaking from the grave.

Now I’m tempted to retake the stage and pretend to urinate on her, thinking it might revive she who has been slain. You know, unzip my pants and wag my hands as if they were holding my penis. Maybe pull a pants pocket through the zipper and wag the cloth like a fire hose. You know, extinguish her pain at having had to endure my six minute tale; instead, I turn my back on the irate Taboo and address the audience with my indignation, starting with the twelve top: “Have I slain you?”

No one answers. In fact, all avert their eyes, unwilling to take sides or voice their feelings. A minute ago a dozen women were laughing with me and now Taboo has put them as well as everyone else in the room between a rock and a hard place. Side with me and offend Taboo (whose show it is after all) or lie to themselves and side with Taboo. After all, my six minutes of humor were hardly twenty minutes of poor performance. Hell, when in the story Larry Lake exacts his revenge, everyone listening had expressed a collective sigh of amazement and delight, for I had delivered on my promise to answer the question: What’s so good about men, anyway? I walk the room asking everyone with my eyes and the supplication of my hands and the shrug of my shoulders if Taboo’s assessment of my narration was correct. Everyone chooses silence. All eyes look away. None will affirm that I’d been treated rudely. I menace the room, puffing up with adrenaline and bluster and indignation. My one hundred and sixty pounds appears now closer to two hundred. I turn back to Taboo, proffer the peace sign, and head directly to the DJ booth to raise a passionate ruckus. I slam open the door and stare at the three men inside, one of whom is the manager I had met earlier.

“What was that all about?” I ask. “My piece was six minutes, not twenty, and your host heard not a word of it. Everyone in the room loved my story. Ask them, I dare you. In thirty years of running and reading at open mics I have never seen anyone treated so disrespectfully. Really, is this what The Kasbah is all about?’

The soundmen avert my stare and are silent. My indignation possesses the booth and the manager attempts to diffuse the situation with an arm around my shoulder and a whispered offer: “Let me buy you a drink.” He knows I’ve been rudely treated by Taboo, but he won’t apologize for her or himself. “Please, tell me, what are you drinking?”

Calling his bluff and raising the stakes, so to speak, I tell him, “A triple Grand Marnier, that’s what I drink,” knowing that’s about a thirty-dollar pour. He guides me back to the bar and tells the bartender, “Give him what he wants. On the house.” I am handed a snifter full of orange liqueur, and I tune back into the room.

Taboo is on stage rapping another diatribe about the failings of men, elaborating all the short-comings of the men she’s fucked, mocking their penis and brain sizes, belittling all her former lovers with adjectives such as effete and puny and limp.

I’m inspired to rebuke her, and with a new nickname I brand her. “Stop being a snitch, Snitch. No one wants to hear you gossiping rudely ‘bout your boy toys.” The Kasbah goes eerily silent again, a quiet broken by my replay: “Snitch, stop snitching on your boy toys. Ex lovers deserve better!”

The audience does not know whether to laugh, groan or cry. The tension in the room is palpable. How can such a heckled taunt as mine – true as it is – be dealt with? Well, rashly is the answer, and before I count five there are three rather thuggish twenty-something year old bouncers (former linemen at Aurora Central or card carrying ganstas, I can’t tell) aside me, one of whom tells me I’m going to have to leave.

“You mean, I don’t get to finish my drink?”

“That’s right, you’re out of here, Pops. It’s a wrap. Right now. Case closed. You’re out of here.”

Dramatically and slowly I raise my snifter high above my head and pour the liquid contents on the floor, intending that the splash-back finds its way onto all six Nike sneakers that surround me.

Unceremoniously I am boxed in, shepherd-ed toward and out the door, bullied towards my car, and threatened with an ass kicking if I do anything but drive away, never to return. When one of the young men guarding me looks a little too close to violence, I bluster all three: “Touch me and I own The Kasbah. You have no idea who I am. And you can tell Taboo – as the Irish say – It is death to be a poet, death to love a poet, and death to mock a poet. I pity your ignorant allegiance to that ego of excuse for poetry."

April can, indeed, be cruel, but not as cruel as the comeuppance I will exact one day upon Taboo, starting with this retelling.

Larry Lake - ink on paper - Michael Bergt

Friday, March 9, 2012


cover photo: Stickmen of Cochise County - Marcia Ward 1981

                        as always
                          for Marcia

 In the late spring of 81, after the birth of my first son, I sell my house in Denver and most of my belongings. To kick off my quest to yet again reinvent myself, on a cerulean blue sky afternoon, in my South Pearl Street backyard, - “looking,” one might say, “for magic” - I fill a fifty-five gallon drum full of the paper ephemera of my youth - yearbooks, report cards, collegiate papers, incomplete stories and unfinished poems, squirt charcoal lighter fluid upon the to-be-deleted, and torch my paper trail. Bye-bye prep school, bye-bye teaching career, bye-bye lockets of former girlfriends’ hair. Fire often has a part in ritual - I am reminded of burning poems at my wedding ceremony under the very elm that shades me now- and I am unburdened as the smoke of my youthful dreams disperses upon rising into the unseasonable Chinook that blusters above. Ah, what’s the start of a road trip without smoky endings? 

The family - Marcia, me, our infant son Passion, and our more or less bearded collie Dylan Dog (her mother was a pure bred Old English Sheepdog, her father was a rake) – we spend a year traveling and living for varying lengths of time (a week here, a month there, a season or so somewhere else) at places as diverse as a campsite tent along The Blue River in the National Forest outside Arcada in Humboldt County California and a converted “mini-loft-like” garage in Austin Texas. We operate on whim and circumstance for thirteen months as we explore the West in my Dodge Tradesman van, looking for a place superior to Denver in a hipster sort of way, a place, which, by the way, we never do find.

 For reasons coincidental and some seven years in the making, Bisbee Arizona becomes home for the fall and the start of winter. Well, to be precise, Easy Acres outside Bisbee becomes home, and the setting for this story. My term of endearment for our new home site is Easy A.

 When we arrive in Bisbee after a summer’s meander in California, we wind up – through the machinations of the poetry world – with a September/October house sitting gig in a ramshackle old wooden miner’s kit house high on the cliffs just off of Oak Street. Mornings, over coffee, we look down on the town from our front porch, and I feel lucky and privileged to have such a poetic, cliff-dweller perspective; and when sunlight explodes atop the three metal roofs of the Cooper Queen hotel, I count as blessings the multitude of coincidences that brought me here. Simply said, Bisbee charms me and Marcia, and we embrace its drop-out underground art world, with Marcia scoring at The Barefoot Gallery on Review Alley an exhibition of her silver archival fine art photographs, Artists in Portrait, and me getting to host an ongoing poetry hour for Cochise County Public Access Cable Radio. Because we hope to stay through the winter, in order to land another rent-free, house-sitting gig (as opposed to joining and living like what we call the Stick People, a rag tag assemblage of artists, families and seekers who inhabit, camp-style, the nicer of the many abandoned and one room miner’s shacks that dot the landscape outside town and that date to the Phelps-Dodge boom times), we post a note on the community bulletin board outside the co-operative grocery on Miner’s Alley and wind up with an offer right up our alternative living style alley: free rent in a fairly new two bedroom air-conditioned trailer on Easy Acres - a small enclave of houses and trailers and campers ten miles south of Bisbee - in exchange for some care-taking, as in, watching after an elderly woman, Margaret, while her husband infrequently travels Cochise County on business.

 The brainchild of John Bible, a seventy-five year old scripture quoting poet partial to doggerel, the old testament, and iambic pentameter rhyming couplets, and the handiwork of John and his three sons, Easy A is a sixty acre rectangular patch of desert a mile or so off the blacktop on the way to Agua Prieta in Mexico. This high desert development sports two large, quite lovely adobe ranch houses, scores of undeveloped home-site lots, a relatively new double-wide trailer, an early 70s Winnebago, a camper atop the rear bed of an engineless Ford pick-up, possibly the largest empty blue-plastic tarp above ground pool west of the Mississippi, and innumerable yuccas, cholla cacti, prickly pear, tumbleweed, with a stray saguaro here and there, not to mention posses of arachnids and snakes, a javelina or two, and starry night skies so luminous that even Van Gogh could not paint them justly. Mr. Bible, a trader and entrepreneur and real estate speculator for many of his seventy-five years, had envisioned something a little grander when he built the first ranch house, his home, at Easy Acres years before- say: a suburban community of twenty or more homes - but no one (outside of one son) ever invested in his dream of modern living in the high country desert outback. Mark, the oldest of three brothers, who literally built with his own sweat and tons of cement the five bedroom ranch house across the road from his Dad’s house, had, with his wife and four daughters, long since departed Arizona, reducing the reality of John’s real estate scheme to nothing more than a Bible compound. A daughter-in-law, Connie, married to son number two, Matthew, a wanderer of an interstate trucker who spends most of his time on the road, she lives in the Winnebago when not couch-surfing with friends in Douglas where she works part time as a waitress. A third son Luke had not been back to Cochise County since being drafted early on during the Viet Nam War. If truth be told, most men would have a hard time living a Bible quoting father’s desert dream, no matter the love and kinship, and that now it is mostly just John and Margaret at Easy A is understandable.

 Mr. Bible owns a candy vending machine business with product placements in Tombstone, Sierra Vista, Douglas and Bisbee, and on the occasions when he makes his rounds to collect his coins and re-stock his merchandise, Marcia and I look in on and stay with Margaret, who is dying of cancer. Margaret is cranky – who wouldn’t be – and emotionally troubled. She fixates upon her speculation that when John is tending to his vending machines he is also stepping out on her. All the Bible men, all three of her sons and her husband, she gossips, are philanderers and rakes. Why else would John bother to perfume up before heading out! She has a nose, god damn-it, even if the narcotics she ingests have her eyes closed, dreaming away her pain and remaining time here on earth. She loves all four of the Bible men, but their place in the afterlife is a source of constant worry to her, given their historical lack of commitment to monogamy. These and other concerns (Connie is pilfering her meds, the Border Patrol is shooting javelinas for sport, and that her children will not be home for Thanksgiving) she voices to us whenever she is lucid enough to realize that John is gone and Marcia and I are there. 

Mostly Marcia and I keep to ourselves when we are home at Easy Acres, as do the Bibles. The November weather is rather perfect here in the autumn high desert with tolerably warm days and cool evenings. The atmosphere is empty and bright (you can not begin to count the stars at night) unless the wind is blowing north in our direction the noxious gritty dust of the copper smelter outside Agua Prieta. On the rare occasions when Easy A is perfectly downwind, freshly washed and bleached wet cotton diapers drying on a cloths line appear to rust.

 At eight months, our son Passion, his charms, and his needs consume our attention, and the bliss of being new parents trumps most of our anxiety about our unknown future. Even though The Great American Poem is not being written and Marcia’s film goes mostly unexposed, we are very busy and exceedingly happy in our parenthood roles. A transistor am radio informs us of the news of the world as well as the opportunity to sing along with the latest Tex-Mex country tunes. Not really accustomed to rural life, more so me than Marcia, trips to town for groceries, cultural events, and human exchange happen almost daily. Our itinerary often includes a draft beer at the bar inside the Copper Queen Hotel where I talk writing with the novelist tending bar there. The back and forth of Bisbee to Easy A in the van lends itself to our son’s napping; nonetheless, the ten mile beeline from our trailer to town is not without its dangers. You can’t imagine how many times, heading north towards Bisbee, we are pulled over, the contents of our vehicle eyeballed without benefit of warrant, and questioned by the State Police or the Border Patrol, as my Dodge Tradesman - with its Colorado license plate and sporting a long-haired driver – fits with the misinformed government profile of drug mule. There is a training school for narcs, federal and state, in Bisbee, and during my time here in Cochise County I’ll cross paths with undercover goons at the strangest of places: at the Food Co-op, in art galleries, at poetry readings. The day that the notice of Marcia’s show at Barefoot Gallery is mentioned in the Bisbee monthly rag, two different narcs, sniffing around for connections, visit while we are hanging our artwork. Both are as undercover as datura amidst red roses. So, outside of the drug snoops and the occasional smelter dust, life at Easy A is, as its name suggests, easy, and familial, albeit, Sam Shepard-ie and Fellini-esque.

 Thanksgiving, as it will, arrives. It is an unseasonably warm, summer-like day, windless and still and empty, its mood: like after a wrap on a set. Margaret’s wish that her sons be home for her last holiday meal is granted, a result of Connie’s letter writing and long distance phone call lobbying. Matthew’s big semi rig, a metallic blue cab and a silver trailer scars the high desert view parked as it is at the east end of Easy A. Mark and Matthew after rendezvousing in Tucson have driven the last leg home, together in Matt’s rig. The long lost Luke has driven a rental car from LA after flying from Tiniam in the far South Pacific where he lives with his Vietnamese wife and children. Luke’s rental is parked across the road in the two-car cement driveway of his brother Mark’s locked, shuttered, and drapes-drawn home.

 The Bible Thanksgiving, naturally, is a mixed bag of emotions - Margaret’s suffering diminishes any joy at long separated brothers reuniting – and the rendezvous is as sedate as John Bible’s No-alcohol-rule is strict, holding, as it does, even for holidays and family reunions although I’d wager there could be found some demon rum (most likely Mescal) if one were to snoop around Connie and Matt’s Winnebago, as I’d partied on a few occasions with Connie at the Copper Queen and had seen her swallow the worm more than once. Generally, we have little interchange with John and Margaret, unless John comes by to request a favor of us.

 This holiday morning, there is a note affixed to our front screen door inviting us for breakfast with the Bible clan. “Please, break your fast with the Bibles/ Grace at 8,” it reads.

 When we enter the Bible home, we meet Matthew, Mark and Luke for the first time. All three men are handsome and stud-ly, big like their father. Luke closely resembles his Dad in many respects. He is tall and broad and thick-haired, quarterback material, whereas Mark and Matthew are bald, stout and muscled, line-man material. When she comes in from the kitchen to greet us, Connie appears to have been crying – mascara doesn’t lie – but seems over her trouble now, as we bow our heads for John’s ritualistic saying of grace. It’s a ten minute thanks peppered with out of context Bible wisdoms and a few of John’s own, for instance: every six pack of beer purchased is a bag of cement not bought, a stern indictment in the form of an eye, a nod, to the houses Luke and Matthew have not built at Easy Acres. Because Margaret falls asleep during John’s rambling testified grace, Connie wheels her into the west bedroom. With Margaret out of sight I expect the mood to lighten slightly as I assume the brothers have a lot to tell each other about the last decade. I’m curious as hell as to the story of the shuttered mini-mansion across the road that Mark built and hope to shift the mood of things by bringing it up in conversation. Immediately, upon inquiry about the closed up ranch house, I am aware of an elephant in the room in the shape of Mark’s absent wife and children, when the senior Bible tells me, “The house is Mark’s but the contents belong to his ex-wife. And actually, Eddie, I have a favor to ask. Mark’s ex is on her way here, today, to move the furnishings from Mark’s house to her home in Las Vegas. She’s driving a U-Haul and she’s going to need help with moving her furniture and belongings. That’s where you come in. None of my sons will be lifting a finger to help that divorcee move. Not a hand or even a hello. We have shunned O’Shea for divorcing Mark. None of us will even speak to her when she arrives. I will pay you a hundred dollars to help her load the contents of the house into her truck."

 Well, I can hardly say “No” given the conditions of my rent-free arrangement with Mr. Bible. To share my good fortune and to secure an able hand to assist, I drive to the desert just north of what is affectionately referred to by locals as the Time Tunnel where I find a Stickman acquaintance by the name of Magic who agrees to help with the task for forty dollars. Magic, his wife and four year old daughter pile into my van and we drive back to await the arrival of John Bible’s former daughter-in-law on this great American holiday.

 At noon the largest U-haul that Douglas Arizona had to offer pulls up and parks in front of Mark’s house. O’Shea and all of her four daughters exit the cab and head straight for the Bible compound. Like O’Shea all four daughters are tall for their ages, self-assured, thin and blonde, five different takes on the same set of dominant genes. All have hair piled and pinned on the top of their heads and walk their western outfits like practiced runway models. A mother duck and ducklings come to mind as they cross the road. But as O’Shea gets close to the threshold of the Bible home, she is stopped short by Connie who comes out the front door to greet and deflect her. Connie leads O’Shea and her brood to the shade of the awning affixed to her Winnebago where the sisters-in-law engage in animated conversation. Connie appears sad and dramatically apologetic as she opens her hands in a gesture of I’m-sorry.-What-can-I-do? while O’Shea looks proud and unfazed by whatever it is that Connie is telling her. After their little confab has ended, Connie disappears into her trailer and O’Shea marches herself and her daughters in the direction of Magic and me. They troop and sashay past the Bible window through which can be seen all four Bible men whose prides have shunned O’Shea and her daughters. She stops, removes her oversized sunglasses, hanging them on her rhinestone necklace, plants her hands on her hips, and stares at the men - right through the men, if you will - before she and her daughters blow kisses at the Bibles.

 O’Shea introduces her self, and I note that she no longer uses Bible as her surname. “O’Shea Sullivan”, she says as she shakes my hand and flashes a Vegas showgirl smile in my direction. She has an Amazonian presence and physique. Her wow factor is off the charts. All four daughters have first and middle names as feisty and alluring as their mother’s: Cheyenne Sage, Carly Sue, Rosie Robin and Betty Anne.

 When I enter the house Mark built for the first time I am humored by the faux glitz and incongruous artworks of this high desert home. The furniture inside and the environment outside are an oxymoron. I mean, there are Remington sculpture knockoffs, Andy Wharhol lithographs, perhaps an unfinished O’Keefe and a Blumenshein Pueblo Taos oil amongst a half-dozen velvet Elis Preseleys, and dazzling chandeliers that look like they came out of a hotel, a suspicion that O’Shea confirms when she asks me to disconnect them from the ceiling and pack them. I also disconnect the fancy water fixtures (gold plated swan hot and cold faucets aside burnished copper mermaid spigots) in the kitchen and three bathrooms. There’s marble enough in the form of tables and pedestals to open a new gallery in Bisbee. There are five beds complete with canopies and netting. A total of six very large couches, a half dozen Lazyboy recliners, a slate dinning room table with enough chairs for the Last Supper, antique glass cabinets packed with Apple Blossom china, iron cooking ware, the largest refrigerator and freezer south of Tucson, and enough interior decorator accessories to fill completely the trailer of the U-Haul, a back-breaking task – no matter the ramp and hand truck – that takes Magic and I most of the afternoon. All this work we do as the Bibles go about their Thanksgiving feast pretending that O’Shea and her kids and Magic and I are not here across the road from them, working our asses off.

 When we finally empty the house of its belongings and lock the trailer door shut, I am exhausted, sore and hurting. Many of the items we moved were huge, cumbersome and heavy. When O’Shea tips both Magic and I with a hundred-dollar bill each, we are appreciative and thankful. Marcia, Magic’s wife and the kids join us and both Magic and I inhale the cold beer Marcia has brought. As we clang our empty bottles together in a belated toast to “All our hard work,” O’Shea announces that we missed something, for aside the east side of the house sits a rather un-artistic life size stone and faux stone bear and a large concrete birdbath. I cringe at the thought of trying to move this final quarter ton of marriage-gone-bust ephemera and take heart in my announcement that neither item can possibly fit in the U-haul, jammed full as it is.

 “That’s true, Eddie. But please, give me an hour and I’ll be back with the means to take them. I’ll be damned if those Bibles will take ownership of anything I bought during my marriage to that cheating son of a bitch.” And an hour later after a round trip run to Douglas, O’Shea is back and she’s towing a second small open U-haul that is attached to the rear of the main trailer. She also has a rolling dolly and two rectangular sections of ply wood which we use to move the bear and the birdbath, four feet at a time, from the yard to the road and into the second trailer. After we close the trailer gate on the bear and the birdbath, the five Sullivans parade the property in search of anything else they might have left behind. Satisfied they have it all, O’Shea removes, from under the front seat of the U-Haul, a large white dress, a wedding dress, complete with veil and train. She hangs it from the thorn of a large cactus, and in plain view of the Bible men who stand gawking from the safety of their compound, she removes a crumpled parchment – the ten year old marriage license of Mark Bible and O’Shea Sullivan. She un-crumbles and holds up the certificate before she sets fire to it with a match she lights with the strike of her thumbnail, a one handed action, more powerful than a middle finger. With the flaming parchment she sets ablaze her wedding gown. Its smoke rises languidly into the empty sky as the five look-a-like Sullivans climb into the cab of the U-haul and head northward to Las Vegas. The smiling bear looks happy as it shrinks in my vision, as if it were glad to be leaving Bible land. Unlike the Chinook buffeted smoke of the bonfire that commenced my wanderings, this white cloud hangs in view of the Bible men un-dispersed in the air for a good half hour, a smoky beginning to O’Shea’s new life.