Studio of Edwin & Marcia Ward

Sunday, November 19, 2017


Cover Art - Alfred Dietrick Kleyhauer III
Photo - What Nots Live - Marcia Ward


As always for Marcia

            In Alfred Dietrick Kleyhauer III’s first book, BLACK – a collection of poems and ink drawings he created as teenager and published by Alan Swallow of Swallow Press who also published the likes of Henry Miller and Anais Nin, Alfred says of himself: “i was born on a little green hill 1 mile up in the sky. i didn’t talk until I was 3. i said: ‘there’s a damned fly in my window.’ My father has always thought me a bit mad; my mother has always thought me a bit queer. Amazing how revealing genealogy is.” Alfred was, in fact, outrageously queer as well as immeasurably brilliant as the scales used to measure IQ tend towards inaccuracy when approaching the 200 mark.
Alfred spent most of his adult life living in downtown Denver above his father’s optometry shop on Tremont just north of 14th. The last time I looked, the unoccupied building still sports the name Kleyhauer across the door, and it remains one of the few two story buildings in downtown Denver. In keeping with the title of his first book, Alfred painted the walls, floor and ceiling of his apartment black where he eventually spent much of his final years in mourning as his companion, Michael Trego, had died of AIDS. Ironically, a decade before his death, Alfred and Michael had created poster size comic book-like collaged drawings that tell the tale of Trumble and Ding, alter egos of Alfred and Michael. My favorite of the group has a prophetic, Tiresias-esque feel: Trumble and Ding are conventioneers riding a trolley towards a convention center that radiates welcoming and wonderful times. Trumble and Ding are blissful with anticipation. Across the destination light box of the trolley, one word: ETERNITY. Sadly, Alfred died in 1994 while crossing California at 15th, a block from Denver’s, at the time, new Convention Center, the first accident fatality of Denver’s recently launched electric trolley, Light Rail. The Denver papers noted in their stories of the tragedy that Alfred was drunk at the time; well, Alfred was drunk for forty years – Everclear, 200 proof, was his preferred wake-up call. I believe what happened is that he simply was impatient to cross California Street as he lived nearby on Glenarm. He’d crossed that street a thousand times and most likely didn’t take into account presence of the new high-speed line. I gather from certain witness accounts that he simply wiggled through the crowd that was waiting for the train and sadly stepped in front of it. Had the Light Rail trains been equipped with cowcatchers he most likely would have been scooted sideways instead of under the train. Poetically, perhaps fittingly, on the west side of the street from where Alfred died, there is a Colorado Historical Plaque inscribed with words from Jack Kerouac’s 1955 classic On The Road: “I walked around the sad honkytonks of Curtis Street: young kids in jeans and red shirts; peanut shells, movie marquees, shooting parlors. Beyond the glittering was darkness, and beyond the darkness was the West. I had to go.” Alfred was, to my way of thinking, Denver’s glittering darkness.
During his life Alfred embarked on many artistic adventures. He held Sunday potluck art salons. An early evening there was theater in progress. One of Alfred’s assets was his ability to have an answer for any query. Alfred possessed a certain wisdom capable of grasping the simultaneity of time, that is, the timelessness that it generally takes mathematical physics to describe as well as having an alchemist’s passion that absorbed the truth of everyone he knew. Whenever I was burdened by an unsolvable problem it was Alfred who I turned to. Here’s an example of what I mean.
I served as the editor of the Denver literary art magazine POINT in the early 90s. Five or six of used to sit around the offices of the Alternative Arts Alliance drinking beer and figuring out the magazine’s content. One time it was suggested that we publish on the inside cover a drawing by a local artist that I simply found unsavory, to say the least. It depicted an airbrushed image of a mustachioed visage that looked a lot like Adolph Hitler floating above an airbrushed piece of meat, a New York steak. I nixed the piece for use because I was not about to include any reference to Hitler. The other magazine makers called me a censor. I maintained that I was an editor not a censor. We were at an impasse so I called that artist and asked for an explanation of his submission. He told me it was a private joke between him and his girlfriend: “I call her a piece of meat and she calls me Adolph Hitler,” which I interrupted as proof that not only was the piece not funny it reeked of misogamy and ill humor. I was so upset at being labeled a censor by my peers that I called Alfred for advice and solace. His humorous and compassionate “Hell, Ed, it’s nonsense no matter how you look at that artwork because Hitler was a vegetarian” gave me perspective, and I stuck to my guns pointing to the utter inanity of the artwork and used a beautiful photograph of Marcia’s instead for what turned out to be the final issue of POINT magazine, the final issue because I resigned and no one was willing or capable of doing what I had done to make POINT real.
The day I met Alfred, he was playing piano in a small alley-side gallery
just west of Washington Street on First Avenue. The actor and director Richard Collier, who had founded The Trident Theater on South Gaylord Street, Denver’s first avant-garde playhouse, was pushing his artistic envelope and exhibiting paintings. Alfred’s compositions and playing seemed that day to channel, all at the same time, Beethoven, Coltrane and Dylan (to whom Alfred had dedicated BLACK). A quick aside concerning Dylan and Alfred: Early in his career Dylan had a scheduled lay over at Stapleton Airport. Hoping to make good use of his airport downtime, he asked his Denver connection, Harry Tuft, to arrange for Dylan to meet Denver’s hippest character. Alfred was asked to go meet Dylan and he told me that when they met, both he and Bob removed their sunglasses as a way of introduction and connection and Alfred claimed all four eyes revealed were as spaced out/drugged out as any on the planet, and they both laughed. Eventually Alfred wrote hundreds and recorded dozens of pop and not so pop tunes that he and guitarist Bob Peek brought to sundry Denver stages via their band The What Nots. I once used in the basement of the house on Pennsylvania where my second son, Zenith Star, was born an old Tandberg reel-to-reel recorder to record Bob and Alfred singing nine of my favorite pop tunes of the twentieth Century. I especially liked “Brenda are you ready, Brenda let’s go steady” as my first girlfriend was a Brenda. His song, “Dancing on the Grave of War” - whose melody ADK composed on a miniature electric piano that he bought at Woolworth’s for twenty-nine dollars - is a haunting masterpiece of nuance and timelessness: “Ships follow trade winds, when there’s no war.”

Mid-life, Alfred started a typing service for term papers as he could type a hundred words a minute without error, both blindfolded and intoxicated. When students - freshmen and doctorate candidates alike - brought him papers to type he would tell them, “I hope you don’t mind, but it would be easier and quicker for me to just rewrite your paper from scratch than deal with the thematic and grammatical errors contained therein. And, of course, I guarantee an A.” One of the youngest Denverites ever to be admitted to MENSA, Alfred earned a dozen PhD’s anonymously via his underground “typing.” He told me that he once got seven “A’s” all in the same graduate class, ghost writing for seven of the eight students enrolled. He had to have a different writer’s voice for each all while writing about the same theme. He also wrote out a check to me for one million dollars because he simply loved my family; even more precious, he gave me a first take Walt Disney drawing of Goofy, that one of Alfred’s wealthy lovers had given him.

In a review of Black for the Colorado Historical Society, I wrote:

BLACK is the quintessential Alfred, possessing as only an eager and tireless speed-reader can, the librarian mind of a ancient lizard whose jewel eyes have knowledge of centuries, civilizations, and art movements unfolding.  He writes the dialogue of warriors and composers and sheathes the sword of love. Maybe one day, the Bonnie Bray Library will change its name or name a nook to include a reference to Alfred, as no one used the books in that branch library as did Alfred.


Cover photo : Marcia Ward

Spider Man

as always for Marcia

(much of this material was gleaned from a story told by my father-in-law, Russell Zimmer, and from Francis Melrose’s account in the ROCKY MOUNTAIN MEMORIES column of the Denver Rocky Mountain News of September 12, 1999)

There are particular places on earth that seem to be magnets for tragedy or repositories of bad luck and/or evil or wellsprings of great fortune. Think the Bermuda Triangle, think Calvary, think Sand Creek; thinking on the bright side, think The Mercury Café. This story is about a somewhat malevolent location in Denver.

On January 24, 2003, a Cessna 172 Skylark on its way to Cheyenne Wyoming from Centennial Airport collided with a twin-engine Piper Cheyenne that was en route to Centennial Airport from Jefferson County Airport. The Cessna wound up landing almost eerily intact, albeit with two dead onboard, in a back yard a few blocks south of where on Moncrieff Place a block east of Lowell in Northwest Denver the larger Piper Cheyenne crashed into a home that burst into flames killing all three young men on board, one of whom had survived the Columbine massacre five years earlier. A tragic event, for sure.

Strangely, on the lot just west of the Piper Cheyenne crash site, sits another house that was home to an even more bizarre tragedy that took place in 1941, coincidentally, a sad story that has dovetailed into my wife Marcia’s family lore.

In 1891 a young accountant, Philip Peters, and his wife Helen moved into a modest brick bungalow at 3351 West Moncrieff Place in Denver Colorado. The outgoing, generous and entertaining couple lived there for the next fifty years, during which time they offered their hospitality to family and friends and, even, strangers. They were music lovers and founded the West Denver Mandolin Society, as mandolins were all the rage at the Turn of the Century. Helen and Philip kindly offered their home for Society meetings and practice sessions. They were especially benevolent to one Theodore Coneys, a musician whom, a decade earlier, they had hosted as a teenager when Theodore was traveling from Indiana to California for a music competition. Coneys was then a debonair albeit impoverished mandolin instructor who conducted classes in the Peters’ living room during his time as a member of the Mandolin Society. Out of the goodness of their hearts Helen and Philip fed the undernourished Coneys dinner off and on during their tenure with the Mandolin Society, but Coneys drifted away from Denver in 1912.

Fast-forward almost thirty years. In the autumn of 1941, Helen was hospitalized with a broken hip. Her hospital stay was lengthy. Because the elderly Mr. Peters was alone, neighbors on Moncrieff Place invited the 73-year-old Philip to take supper with them during Helen’s hospital stay as cooking for himself was not Philip’s forte. When Mr. Peters failed to show one night for dinner and then failed to answer their knock at his front door, the neighbors, concerned that Mr. Peters might have had a stroke, had their youngest daughter crawl into the house through an unlocked kitchen window where she was terrorized to discover the body of Philip Peters. He had been bludgeoned dozens of time with a cast iron stove shaker. Arriving police, after their search, were exceedingly puzzled, as they found neither the killer nor any clues to the murderer’s identity. Robbery was ruled out. Especially odd it was that all the outer bungalow doors were locked.

Over the course of the next few months, the murder case remained unsolved. During that time, housekeepers whom Helen hired quit one after the other referencing a ghostly presence and weird noises. Helen alerted the police again and again to the strange things a foot in her home, and they conducted additional fruitless searches. Helen, at wit’s end and unsure of what to do, approached my wife’s great aunt Mary, her good friend, across the street for help. Visiting Mary at the time from Wyoming were Mary’s brother Frank and his teenage son Russell, my wife’s grandfather and father. Over a lunch of cherry kuchen (her nephew’s favorite) and chicken soup, Helen spoke of her suspicions, mentioning her housekeeper’s sightings. She went on to claim that on more than one occasion she’d found the refrigerator door ajar. A half-quart of milk would turn into a half cup of milk. She had a litany of minor food disappearances. She remarked that there were strange smells as well. And sometimes, she’d arrive home from shopping and find the rocking chair a-rocking. The ever practical and skeptical Frank rolled his eyes and winked at his son, an indication that he thought her husband’s tragic death had warped Helen’s logical thinking.  Finally she asked Frank and Russell if they’d take a serious look around her house. And they did search every room including the cellar. The father and son conducted what they felt was a thorough search of the house, as had the police more than once, and like the police, Frank and Russell came up with nothing. Helen was so bewildered by the fruitless investigation of her husband’s murder and her intuition that something was a miss at 3351 Moncrieff Place that she moved to Grand Junction to live with her son. The house remained unoccupied. Or was it?

Spurred on by the neighbors’ stories of footprints in the snow heading towards the kitchen window and reports of occasional noise and faint late night light emanating from the house, the police reluctantly, yet dutifully, set up surveillance in Marcia’s great Aunt Mary’s shrubbery. And soon their persistence was rewarded when they glimpsed a face in the window as a curtain was briefly pulled back. The police raced into the house and saw a door swinging shut across from the top landing. And inside a closet they found a narrow opening through which one Theodore Coneys was attempting to ascend. The police grabbed two feet that were attached to   the disheveled, emaciated, and exceedingly stinky seventy-five pound man who came to be known as Spider Man, a moniker having to do with the cobweb infested mini attic where Coneys had apparently lived. To quote an investigating detective, “A man would have to be a spider to stand it long up there.” The stench in Coneys makeshift abode was so putrid and foul that one of the detectives actually fainted. No surprise it was that Theodore Coneys immediately became the prime suspect in Philip Peters murder, a crime that he admitted the very night of his capture although he claimed self-defense, as in “It was him or me,” as Peters was carrying a blackthorn cane he used.

At his trial that ended in his conviction, Coneys spun a tale of poverty and homelessness that led him back to Denver in 1941 after his departure from Denver in 1912. The Great War years and The Great Depression had not been kind. He spent years hobo-ing and working as an itinerant laborer. Back in the city where he’s known better times, Coneys had hoped his old benefactors from his mandolin days would give him a loan; thus he went to visit Philip and Helen, but finding no one home and the front door unlocked he went in to steal some food. Knowing of the mini attic space from his stay on Moncrieff Place years before, Coneys secretly lodged himself there. He pilfered food at night while Helen and Philip slept. Sadly, Mr. Peters, alone with Helen in the hospital, had come across him one night at the refrigerator and Coneys killed him. With nowhere to go, Coneys stayed after murdering Mr. Peters even as the police searched the house the night of the murder and subsequently. He was there when Russell and Frank searched as well. Until July of 1942 he remained during the time that Helen lived there alone and after she departed for Grand Junction. He drank water from radiators and the hot-water heater and ate jarred jam he found in the cellar.  He had even jerry rigged the wiring and electrified a radio and some lights; hence, the occasional lights and noises emanating from what the neighbor kids had come to call “the Haunted House.”

Coneys was sentenced to life in prison in the Colorado State Penitentiary where he died in 1966, about the time my wife took up roller skating on the sidewalk in front of Spider Man’s abode while visiting her Great Aunt Mary. Fortunately Marcia so loved her visits with Mary that she vowed to herself that she’d leave small town Torrington Wyoming one day and make big city Denver her home. Lucky me she made good on her promise.



Free Donuts

as always for Marcia

            Sixty years ago, my favorite thing about mornings as an elementary school student was plotting my departure time to coincide with Bobby Leonard and his mother Amy leaving their house. Because they lived across the street, from behind the glass of my front door, I could see their front door open. And then, as if by sure chance, I would catch up with them as they reached the sidewalk.
            Bobby was an only child and thus somewhat spoiled. Amy and her husband had divorced – a circumstance quite unusual in our Irish Catholic neighborhood – and, consequently, both she and her ex over indulged Bobby. Because Bobby liked trains, his father, Chick, had built in the row home basement a model miniature train platform as sophisticated as any found in train museums, complete with scale size houses lit from within, people, switching stations, flora, trestles, fauna, trains, tunnels and mountains. Chick, who visited once or twice a week, had also taught his son, me and Bobby Ethridge how to swim one summer; on the car ride to Spring Lake in Jersey, he taught us the words to the first bawdy ditty of pre-adolescence: “I love you . . . without no pants.” In hindsight, understanding the divorce of the wild and crazy Chick and the extremely devout Catholic Amy is a no-brainer. For her part, Amy always pampered Bobby with things outside the reach of the poverty that most of the neighborhood was mired in. For instance, every morning Amy and Bobby would stop at the corner market and purchase a glazed donut for him, which at the time cost a nickel, an amount beyond my three cents a day allowance that my mother gave me for the purchase of three penny soft pretzels to be eaten at ten AM recess.
            Well, I had learned almost a year ago by chance, that if I happened to be in their company, ostensibly for the purpose of walking the half mile to school with Bobby after Amy embarked on the trolley that took her in the direction of the arsenal where she worked, Amy would kindly ask, “Eddie, would you like a donut?”
            Needless to say, I always answered, as if surprised by the question, “Well, I guess so. And thank you Mrs. Leonard.” The only days this didn’t happen, where the days that the devout, yet excommunicated, Amy left early for work, intending to go to seven AM Mass before work. 

            So, I’ve always had a weak spot for donuts. And pastries. In my late teens whenever I had occasion to visit New York City where the drinking age was eighteen, did I, like most of my companions, head for the nearest bar? No, I headed for the nearest bakery. Hell, if I’d been swayed by all my eighteen year old friends who encouraged and cajoled me to get a tattoo as they had, I would be sporting, not a fifty year old shamrock or heart with an inscribed Mom, but rather an Italian cannoli or Greek baklava or a cherry Danish on my bicep. Such a breakfast sweet aficionado am I, back in the late 70s - believe it or not - I actually was extended cash credit at a Winchell’s, because I was a religious regular, frequenting the all night donut shop at 1301 South Broadway on the way to my South Pearl Street home in Washington Park West after late nights at the Boston Half Shell in downtown where I waited tables. I’d purchase sweets for the remaining car ride and for the morning’s breakfast. I mean the elder clerk there knew my name and would fill my order – two glazed and a cherry Danish – when he saw me pull up in my van. The first time I took Marcia to Winchell’s after she left Laramie and moved in with me was not after work, but after eating at Cagino’s, an Italian eatery in North Denver where I’d spent most of my cash on Heineken and Grand Marnier and pasta. At Winchell’s I came up short when presented with our donut dessert tab. The clerk told me, “Hey, Eddie, no problem. I know you’ll be back, and you can settle up then! In fact, let’s just call it, ‘My treat.’”

            Anyway, I did outgrow my poor choice in sweets once I had children. My teeth have always been a nightmare and not wishing the same for my kids, I rarely indulged them. Still, as with any habit, I always wondered what was new in the world of donuts every time I drove or walked by a bakery or donut shop. And then a couple of years ago, VOODOO DONUTS opened on East Colfax Avenue, and it began voodoo-ing my name, with a Cajun accent, “Eddie, Eddie, Eddie.”
            Now Marcia and I live in Mayfair east of Colorado Boulevard, and East Colfax Avenue, given its sights, characters and urban milieu sure beat 14th Avenue as a route home from The Mercury Café, one of the few places in Denver that we regularly patronize. We had a running joke every time we passed VOODOO DONUTS.
            “How ‘bout we stop for a few donuts?” I’d ask, and Marcia would answer, “Only if you promise to take me to Potage.  Hardly a quid pro quo, given that donuts for two at VOODOO come in at about ten bucks, while dinner for two at Potage tops a C-note. So I must admit that when I had the chance, I began stopping at Voodoo when I was alone in the neighborhood. I also would stop at the nearby ICE CREAM RIOT and devour a quick serving of Philly Water Ice, another indulgence not satisfied enough growing up in Philadelphia.
            Two years ago, I became friends with Bill Snyder, another Philadelphia departee. It was Bill who had hipped me to the Philly Water Ice at ICE CREAM RIOT as he lived north of there at Park Avenue and Court Place. Bill doesn’t drive and Marcia and I often chauffeured Bill & his wife Vicky to and from their apartment whenever we did things together. So one night we’re driving home after dropping off Bill and Vickie, and I announce, “If there’s a parking space in front of VOODOO, I’m gonna run in and get some donuts for the morning.” And, as I like to say, “The Muse is with us;” for indeed, right smack in front of VOODO there’s a parking space.
            Tired as she was – I mean it was approaching midnight – Marcia did not offer her usual stern resistance: “OK, but I’m staying in the car. This stretch of Colfax is a little too sketchy. But know: our next dinner date will be French!”
            I can hear the locks of my Hyundai engage once I’m on the sidewalk.

            Speaking of sidewalks, there’s a lot going on right here on this south side block of Colfax. Three young men, with pants so sagging that the red of their Cripps inspired boxers would infuriate a bull, and with unbuttoned shirts exposing their self tattooed chests, and exuding an air of “we don’t belong, we’re high, and we’re gonna raise hell” are hassling a young intoxicated wasted-eyed Goth of a kid who’s sitting on the cement, legs splayed, back against the wall, and hoping his antagonists will get bored and leave him alone. “Come on, man, buy a copy of our paper,” they’re insisting as they tease his face with some newsprint they are holding, ending with “You can simply donate if you can’t fuckin’ read!” What I guess to be a working girl leans against the car in front of mine, her stance suggesting that she’ll do what’s taboo, miming her I-wanna-party availability to a pair of young geeks across Colfax, implying with raised arms and fingers pointing in the direction of her front and back that she’ll even do two. In complete contrast, what I assume to be a Congress Park family of four – Mom, Dad, teenage girl and elementary school age boy – is entering VOODOO as I approach the door. They avert their eight eyes from the avenue’s shenanigans. I think, “Christ, what people, my self included, will put up with for a donut!”
            Inside there’s queue of some twenty people, slowly zigzagging its way forward through the maize of belted stanchions. Judging by how long it takes each customer to order, given the overload of Voodoo choices, I estimate it’ll be twenty minutes before I get back to Marcia. I’m resigned to figure that I’m going to have to include dessert as well into my next date-night budget to make up for my donut diversion.
            Fifteen minutes into my wait – I’m now behind the family who’s about to step forward and place their order – the three thugs I’d seen earlier hustling copies of Denver’s The Voice – they enter the store. “Storm the store” would be a better characterization of their entry. Puffing themselves up and shrugging their shoulders as a boxer might upon entering the ring, they by-pass those waiting their turn, duck under the queue ropes, and strut to the counter, asking the rather easily intimidated cashier, “Where’s your toilets?”
            No one in line says anything to the young men. How politically incorrect would it be for donut connoisseurs to chastise three boys-to-men about their rudeness and ill regard for everyone waiting in line? Most people in the shop, including the two cashiers and a baker refilling the display cases, avert their eyes, assuming there is no evil if you see no evil. And then, with a gloat of a smirk upon his pimply face, the apparent leader of the pack turns towards all of us waiting customers and, with feigned distraction, unzips his zipper with a mockery of good graces that suggests he’s asking, “Don’t you just wish you could have some of this?” before heading off in the direction of the restrooms. It’s so quiet now and the air in the store is so charged with unspoken annoyance you can hear the cake donuts rising in the ovens.
            One of the two cashiers taking orders is free now as the two young men pace and lurk and stare at everyone from the area of the restroom door. Before the family in front of me can leave the queue and step to their right to approach the free cashier, the leader of the gang of three exits the bathroom and blocks their path, asking the young teenage girl, with a feigned sincerity, if she’ll help them out and buy a copy of The Voice, a query she’s unsure of how to answer. “Come on, help a homeless homeboy. I’m sure you gat a dollar.”
            Apparently not sure of how to play this bullying request, the girl’s Dad reaches into his pocket. But before he can fumble his way to retrieving a dollar or his wallet, I step between the thug and the girl and remind the Dad, “You’re up. Please, go place your order,” a command of a suggestion that offers him and his family a way out the corner the bullies had painted them into.
            “Thank you,” he tells me with a gracious wink, as he ushers his wife and children away from Mr. Pushy.
            “How about you, Grandpop, you gonna buy a paper?” the man-boy then says with all the menace his eighteen year old countenance can muster.
            Time stands still and I have the sense the whole world of the donut shop is watching, awaiting my response. In reply, after alerting my entire being to the present danger and summoning every fiber of memory of my once upon a time eighteen year old gangster Philadelphia self, I step close to him, so close to him that his arms and fists are taken out of any fisticuff equation, and do my best taxi driving Robert Di Nero: “‘You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?’” following up with “Listen up kiddo, my mother taught me a long time ago, ‘Don’t talk to strangers, even if they’re offering you a donut,’” and end with the advice, “Back away from me, now, before the clerk dials 911.”
            Astounded by my humor and my sixty-nine year old moxie, the kid’s bafflement gives way to fear as groups of people in line applaud. Whereas previously, no one would look him in the eye, the entire contingent of donut seekers, mostly men, is staring him down. He and his pals do back away, assess the odds, maybe twenty-five to three, and hightail it under the ropes and out the door like the defeated rat pack they are.
            When I finally get to order my donuts, the clerk tells me “No charge. The house of Voodoo’s got you covered.”


Friday, February 17, 2017


Cover Photo Montage - Marcia Ward
Original Photos for Cover Montage
       - Joe Kinneavey & Marcia Ward
13 Sounds  Cover Art - James Ryan Morris


                        better without
                                    I thought once . . . /
                                    surrounded by assassins
                                    was the common reference.

                                           & so leaving
                        all of it behind

            I went away to here, this
                        isolation and study
            the intention
                                    but the nite falls
                                    across the empty glass
                                    & one wishes for speech

            no matter how stupid or hackneyed

            just that warmth
            which human exchange provides

                                    (from the mountains
                                    looking down,
                                    the lites prominent

            its understood why

            man built cities, came in from the cold
            settled next to another tongue


I first saw and heard the most influential man in my life, the man who wrote the poem, “People,” at Naropa University on the Pearl Street Mall in the summer of 1978. I had gone to the literary reading to hear William Burroughs, the famous beat novelist, but, as it turned out, William was indisposed; fortunately for me, another writer about whom I knew nothing and whose name I did not quite catch when introduced was asked by the host, Allen Ginsberg, to fill in. The Croupier Press had recently published the man’s book, 13 Sounds, a “greatest hits” if you will, thirteen selected poems that spanned a quarter of a century, to quote the intro: “A toast to the hipsters who remain!” Two poets, Gregory Corso and Antler, were also on the bill.

A novice poet myself I was hoping to take in this literary event to get an understanding of what “being a poet” actually meant. Besides the singer Bob Dylan, the only poet I had ever actually heard in person read poetry was John Ciardi, the poet, etymologist, translator and teacher who wrote the text about teaching poetry, How Does A Poem Mean. I was teaching high school English at the time and thought hearing Ciardi’s take on poetry might be useful. As there was a question and answer period after his reading (which I characterized as “ennui verbalized”), I asked Ciardi what he thought about Bob Dylan. His response that “Dylan is not a poet” convinced me that I need not buy his book, even though the school board would have reimbursed me.

Well, the night at Naropa the poet whose name I didn’t know was preceded first by Antler whose work was a smarmy take on Walt Whitman, a long lined hippy-esque homage to the decaying beauty of the American environment, and then by Gregory Corso who read some nonsense verse he had written while lecturing at Harvard, a mockery of classicism in the arts which I interpreted as jealousy of the intellect of Sappho and Homer. Having heard from a friend, Charlie Ross, a student at Naropa, that Corso took pride in denigrating Dylan, “Dylan’s not a poet, he’s a rhymer,” I must admit I paid the legendary Beat scant attention. And then the mystery Burroughs replacement took the stage and the patter of his vernacular take on poesy blew me away. Whereas I had found Antler utterly derivative (hence boring) and Corso a dismissive show-off (hence repugnant), this man was, for me, the real deal, a man celebrating friends and great art while giving the finger to peanut butter and jelly America. His delivery was quiet and songlike with his anger-turned-art bubbling, nay, seething, just below the surface of his vocalization. I felt like I was watching a true poet in action, hearing poetry live without musical accompaniment (as in Dylan), for the first time in my life. I was experiencing something that would color the rest of my life. I could not have imagined just how importantly this man whose name I had not bothered to take note of would figure in my life.

But, of course, after the reading I was soon back to the everyday world of waiting tables, courting my future wife, walking the dogs (a Malamute and a Labrador that an ex-girlfriend had saddled me with), and trying to figure out how poetry would ever lead to a living or lifestyle. At the time I had taken to reading poetry in public by going on stage while musicians went on break at street fairs and in nightclubs. At one street fair where I read between sets of the Robin Banks Band, Jessie Graf, a poet and member of Denver’s Society for the Advancement of Poetics, an alliance of poets that sponsored something called Denver Poets Day at Civic Center Park, approached me. He suggested I should read at the next POETS DAY, and that if I was up for it, he’d get me readings elsewhere. Naturally I was flattered and enthusiastic as I dreamed of becoming a famous poet. Denver Poets Day was a month out and I immediately began creating and memorizing and staging the poems I would recite.

Well, I show up at Denver Poets Day and I’m on fire with anticipation and pride in my new poems and my frenetic rapid cut machine gun style delivery; and, in my estimation, I do deliver. My set is well received and it takes a while for me to fall off cloud nine, but when I do come back to the here and now, my world takes a decided turn towards the very future I have lived. James Ryan Morris, the very man who had rocked my world in Boulder filing in for Burroughs, and a friend of his, Larry Lake, take the stage and, reading mano a mano, proceed to define for me the nature of friendship in the arts and poetry. Well, as it turns out I am so blown away by Morris and Lake’s reading that I become keenly aware of my amateur status as both a writer and performer. Whereas I had hoped I’d be well received, it was apparent Morris knew he would be. It was all in the precision of the writing, its intellect. Nothing was from the gut; nothing depended on the theatrics of his body, its motion, and its appearance. Simply said, all was in the words for poetry is about the poem, not the poet.

At the conclusion of Denver Poets Day, Jessie Graf lets me know that he has set up a reading for me at a Global Village, a folk music venue on Pennsylvania Street in the Wash Park hood run by the musician David Feretta.  As the hot shot new kid in town, I’m going to be appearing with no one other than the national cultural critic and the publisher of Denver’s late 60s Mile High and Underground newspaper and author of numerous books, James Ryan Morris. Thus begins my connection to this life as an artist I have lived.

First thing I did when I returned home later that day was to put everything I had ever written in the bottom of my old clothes drawer. I did not want my old work easily accessible or to have any influence upon what I might create as I intended to write in a completely different way, as Kerouac had done after reading a letter from Neal Cassady. “In the vernacular;” I told myself, “in my own voice.” Jessie Graf had also suggested that I introduce myself to Morris at some point, as Jimmy owned a bookstore, The Blacksmith, on 17th Avenue. And I did.

Our first meeting was a little strange. I was a bicycle rider in 1978 as I was always trying to keep up with the physicality of my new girlfriend Marcia, an avid bike rider, who was nine years my junior. When I arrived at Blacksmith Books, I was wearing a surgical mask as I wore one to keep the brown cloud, ubiquitous as it was in those days, out of my lungs. I was so nervous about meeting Morris that when I entered his storefront, I forgot to remove my mask as I approached the counter behind which Morris sat watching I LOVE LUCY on a small black and white TV. Averting his eyes from the TV, to see me approaching, he immediately pulled out from under the counter a handgun and pointed it at me, with a look in his incredibly blue eyes, the bluest I have ever seen, that could turn fire into ice. He said not a word; all I could hear was my own heart beating and the patter of Desi as he scolded Lucy about some silly faux pas. It was then I became aware of my own faux pas and removed my mask, apologizing: “Sorry, I wear it for riding my bike. I’m Ed Ward. We’re to read together at Global Village and I thought it best we meet.” Only when Morris saw my bike outside leaning against his storefront window, did he stow the handgun again under the counter. He then said, “You look nervous as hell. You need to calm down. Here, take one of these,” offering me an assortment of what I presumed to be downers. I recognized some little blue pills as Valium (my ex-wife, Carol, her choice of drug during our painful divorce) and took Morris up on his offer. I told myself this is one strange way to begin a friendship, as I washed down the little blue pills with a swig of his proffered Jack Daniels.

Two months later, after hanging out at the bookstore a number of times, talking poetry and art, I await our reading as only a novice about to read with a master can: in need of more Valium. But as it turns out, I never get to read with Jimmy as Morris dies two days before our reading, having overdosed on alcohol and barbiturates in his bed in his cabin in Wondervu. A week or so later I attend his funeral and burial at Dory Hill Cemetery outside Blackhawk at which old guard Denver bohemians from LA and Denver read poetry, sing songs, and play jazz; and I am introduced to them all as “the poet who was going to read with Jimmy,” a moniker that somehow gives me more street-cred that I deserve, and I become brother to a group of men and women most of whom are ten or twenty years my senior. Somehow, my immediate family that consisted of three sisters, one in Saint Louis, and two outside of Philadelphia, now consisted of dozens from Denver and Venice Beach California, a place I had never even been to.

A month later, however, I have reason to visit Venice as my ex-wife, the soon to be head of a Danish film company with headquarters in Beverly Hill that made B movies for European distribution (Frank Stallone who spent his teenage years in Tacony, where Carol and I grew up, was Carol’s “star” actor) had called to tell me that a dearly beloved dog I had raised, that she had gotten custody of, was in need of a new home as Dylan Dog snarled and growled every time her new husband, a coked up talent scout who placed guests on TV game shows, came home from work. “It’s either with you or to the shelter,” Carol had said, and Marcia and I flew to California to rescue my beloved Bearded Collie English Sheepdog mix. Prior to our departure, Diana Morris, Jimmy’s widow, had suggested that we visit an old friend of Jimmy’s from the 50s, Baza Alexander. So, as it was when I first met Jimmy Morris, it was with great anxiety that I stood outside the arched gateway of 1439 Cabrillo Avenue in Venice Beach. I wasn’t sure if my ringing the doorbell at the gate would interrupt an orgy or shooting gallery shenanigans, behaviors Morris had been into. But surprise, what I found was The Temple of Man, the most important organization to influence my take on art and life.

Today, almost 40 years later, Baza, who died in 1987, exerts still a strong influence upon me, an indelible mark on my soul, via my ordination into his Temple of Man whose premise that “Art is Love is God” - something the artist Wallace Berman wrote across the wall of Stuart Perkoff’s Venice West coffeehouse in 1959 - remains the guiding principle of my life. And to think, it all started with nervous Eddie asking David Smith of the Robin Banks band if he could take the stage between sets at a street fair outside the Oxford Hotel. Don’t know where I’d be today, had the singer said “No.” Chances are I wouldn’t be making money in my 60s writing and performing marriage ceremonies as a minister, hosting this event, writing stories, painting watercolors, or rehearsing my play, MY BEST SHOT, a docudrama that reenacts the scene and reading of Jimmy Morris and Larry Lake thirty nine years ago, something I’ll be staging for Denver Poets Day on August 6th this summer. Hope you can make it!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


 Cover Photo Tony & Gayle at Black Ace Books on Colfax – Marcia Ward

Scibella Surprises

The artist, poet, bookstore proprietor and publisher of BLACK ACE BOOKS, not to mention famous beatnik, Tony Scibella, came into my life in the flesh in 1979 although the shadow of his stature as a major beat artist had preceded him. In photos I had seen, Tony’s look was half beatnik, half Hell’s Angel, intimidating and bigger than life; nonetheless, the first unexpected attribute he unveiled upon meeting him was his tenderness. Years later I’d call him Pope Tony for Christ-sake. If I badmouthed someone, he’d find a way to show me that I needed to be forgiving and inclusive and loving.

Because of my interest in poetry, especially Denver poetry, I was aware that Tony had authored poems and created art for Jimmy Morris’ 1968 & ’69 The Mile High Underground here in Denver, copies of which my first publisher, Larry Lake, had shared with me. Additionally, I’d read more than once Lawrence Lipton’s 1959 The Holy Barbarians, the first novel concerning the Venice Beach beatniks that fictionalized the life of Stuart Z Perkoff and his friends, Tony being one of them, Stuart’s best. I’d also read a number of Tony’s books published in Denver: ACE IS BLACK OF COURSE, BIG TREES, and TWO HUNDRED COPIES FOR MY FRIEND STUART all three of which reminded me that I was indeed, at best, an apprentice poet. Not only was Tony’s writing funny and charming and personal and truly in the vernacular, but it also demonstrated a personal action-painting, modern-day-text style spelling; I mean why write you when u should suffice. So I was expecting greatness when I scheduled Tony who would be visiting from LA to read at POEMS LIVE, the monthly literary event that Marcia and I hosted at Café Nepenthes on Market Street.  And Tony delivered. The room was already packed with old guard bohemians when Tony walked in accompanied by a dozen friends (a surprise given that poets I knew were generally loners); among them “The Dope Queen of Beverly Hills,” Marsha Getzler, and artists Bill Dailey, Michelle and Saul White, and Gayle Davis, all of whom had road tripped with Tony from Los Angeles, and Denverites Linda and Steve Wilson, Larry Lake, Barbara Sokol, Joe Kinneavy, Lenny Chernila, Gypsy Davis  (a minor character in On The Road) and Dave Lockman. I asked Tony how long his reading would be and he answered with a crisp, no nonsense “Forty-two minutes.” I had a cassette tape recorder that I had borrowed from an old girlfriend as I anticipated that Tony’s reading would be out of the ordinary. I popped a forty-five minute tape into the machine and affixed a microphone to the house microphone and wound up capturing in its entirety the first public reading of the first part of what would become Tony’s masterpiece THE KID IN AMERICA, which, surprise surprise was, indeed, forty-two minutes in length.

Over the course of the next dozen years Tony lived sometimes in Denver and sometimes in Los Angeles and we became fast friends with me publishing some of his poems and some of Gayle Davis’ (his second wife) art in my literary magazine, PASSION PRESS. I also serialized the middle portions of THE KID IN AMERICA in the art magazine that I edited POINT. In addition, I produced a number of readings for Tony during his Denver years and was always amazed and surprised that he never once repeated himself, producing fresh work for every show. “No restin’ on yr laurels, Matie!” was something he used to crack wise. Another of my favorite Tony sayings “Don’t tell no one” attested to his belief that art was created for oneself and one’s friends, not for the world at large, something I took to heart believing like Tony that anonymity is one of the keys to remaining true to yourself and true to your muse, with whom, as Tony liked to point out, you’d sign a contract when you first called yourself a poet, a contract that Tony would add was “for life.” Whenever I visited LA while Tony lived there, we’d usually cross paths at Marsha Getzler’s Beverly Hills house, as Tony and Saul White and Bill Dailey were the artisan artists who converted what had once been an outbuilding on the estate of a Katherine Hepburn – the “cabin” was used for illicit liaisons  - in to what is currently The Temple of Man, a hillside home brimming with the written and visual art of California and Colorado greats. Tony painted the bathroom shower tile in his inimitable style; unfortunately, no one could shower in it for years because the waterproof fixative he used to set the paint never quite dried!

Whenever Tony came to Denver while living in LA, he was always full of surprises. In 1988 he came to read poetry at a Steve Wilson Exhibition Marcia and I produced at Gallery Bwanna on Blake Street. He had what appeared to be a small poem in his hand that turned into a twenty-page poem that unfolded Orihon-style, like a Chinese folding book. He had a one day art show at Jerry’s Records on East Colfax where the walls and the album covers on them were covered with white butcher block paper to which Tony pinned twenty-some artworks, all of which he gave away at the end of the day. When he officiated at the marriage of Barbara and Larry Lake, he conducted the shortest ceremony in the history of marriage, even shorter than a Las Vegas drive through ceremony: “Believing in the dance we do, done it is done, we are one.”

In the early nineties Tony returned again to Denver from LA, primarily to help Bill Dailey in his final months as Bill was dying from cancer. Tony moved in with Bill who lived in a mobile home situated on the Platte River in Littleton, a living situation that Tony’s first wife, Sam Scibella had arranged. After Bill died Tony stayed. At the time I was hosting the Friday night Poetry Readings at The Mercury Café and I eventually cajoled Tony into attending. He had balked at attending because they started at 10 PM, a little late for the early riser that Tony had become, but my suggestion that Tony “take a fuckin’ nap” worked. Tony so enjoyed the Friday Night readings that he eventually took over my roll as host in 2001 when I retired after ten years of weekly smoky late night adventures in the word trade.

Which leads me to two of the women in Tony’s life. Kate Makkai and Gayle Davis.

Tony met Kate at the first Friday night poetry reading at The Merc he attended. It was an open reading and when he arrived he asked if there was anyone he should be sure not to miss. Looking at my sign up sheet, I suggested that he be sure to hear Kate Makkai, as I was in the process of publishing her first book, Pink. In fact the first time I had heard Kate read I had told her, “You might not believe this, but I’m going to publish your first book” because she obviously had the gift. I remember checking Tony out as Kate read, trying to gauge his impression of the young writer who was some forty years Tony’s junior. The grin on Tony’s face assured me that I was not alone in my assessment of Kate’s talent.  The following Monday I had reason to visit Tony and I drove to Meadowwood Village in Littleton. The crowded trailer park assigned two parking spaces to each trailer and I was surprised to find both of Tony’s spaces occupied. I wondered who would be visiting Tony at 9 AM on a Monday morning. The answer was a surprise: Kate Makkai. Her first visit would eventually evolve into her moving into the trailer within a month. The pedestal Tony put Kate on was so high she could see California! For the next year or two Tony would be Kate’s “mentor” and Kate would be Tony’s muse. Tony was so bemused by Kate that he asked me that first morning in the trailer to hold up publication of Kate’s book until he finished THE KID IN AMERICA, the poem he’d been working on since 1976. I must have asked Tony a dozen times when he was going to finish THE KID and he always said, “Hey, what’s the hurry.” Now he promised to wrap it up within the week so I could publish PINK and THE KID simultaneously, a feat Tony, in fact, accomplished by writing the final part, an apology/homage to the women of the Venice Beach beat era, something that Kate’s presence in his life had prompted. And I’m sure that Tony’s presence in Kate’s life prompted her to write “Pretty,” which, today, is the most viewed poem on U TUBE, which had, the last time I looked, over three million four hundred thousand views.

Tony’s second wife, Gayle Davis, is to this day one of my favorite artists and people. Gayle was and still is many things. For starters, she was the head cheerleader at Hollywood High. Ms Davis was a talented dancer who studied in Denver with the Martha Graham dancer, Jane Tannenbaum; Gayle had also been a notoriously famous naked go-go dancer in Los Angeles in the late 60s.  She is a dance clothing designer and owns M Stevens Design in LA where she employs dozens of seamstresses and manufactures dance wear for people like Cher’s dance accompanists. A fabulous artist, I always looked forward to Gayle’s hand drawn Christmas cards. Believe it or not, she was one of the first Penthouse centerfolds; today the issue featuring Gayle is the most sought after issue. A leading lady in a number of B movies, she starred opposite among others, the great football star of the 60s, Jimmy Brown. And curiously, she was even Elvis Presley’s girlfriend, something I only found out after knowing Gayle for twenty some years, something I learned after Tony Scibella’s memorial when sitting around my motel room with Gayle and Tony’s children from his first marriage, Anna Scibella teased Gayle “Tell us about Elvis. Tell us about Elvis.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked, and Gayle told the tale of how she became Elvis’ girlfriend and arm candy for his triumphant return to Vegas. Despite her flirtatious presence and star quality, Gayle is a shy person. She generally attached herself to men (Like Tony with his leather jacket, big beard biker looks) who were more her protectors than lovers, men who had excessive machismo, men who would make the Hollywood wolves think twice about approaching her. To escape the whirlwind that was her life in those days of moviemaking and Penthouse modeling, Gayle used to ride her bike out to the Santa Monica airport where her father had a hanger for his small plane. She’d lie on the grass out of sight behind the hanger, out of sight of the world. Just watching the clouds roll by and the planes come and go granted her a respite from the world that wanted so much from her. One afternoon as she lay there, the shadow of a man changed the light of the sky. Looking up at him, she had no idea who he was, but he chatted her up politely and sweetly and endearingly. After a few minutes she became intrigued with the kindness of his demeanor, and when he finally asked her about a date, she said “Yes.” “How about coming to Tahoe with me for the weekend with some friends?” She told the stranger first she have to take her bike home and inform her parents what was up and get some clothing for the weekend. With that Elvis Presley walked Gayle Davis to Frank Sinatra’s waiting limo and they plunked her bike into the trunk, drove to her parents house, and then left for a weekend that turned into much more as Gayle was with Elvis for his entire Vegas comeback tour. Keep in mind I knew Gayle twenty-five years when I first learned about her relationship with Elvis. A surprise it was that she never thought to mention it.

So there have always been surprises when it comes to the life and friends of Tony Scibella. A year or so after Tony’s death I’m researching all things beat on the internet and I come across a Walter Cronkite interview conducted in the late fifties. Walter is interviewing Stuart Perkoff, the proprietor of Café West, ground central for hip in 1959 LA and who had recently charmed America with his appearance on Groucho Marx’s YOU BET YOUR LIFE.  The Pacific Ocean is the soundtrack for the interview and on occasion, Stuart’s unnamed friend answers a question or two. No surprise, it is the voice of Tony that is heard.

To this day, there are a dozens of young (OK, they’re now in their thirties) poets, men and women, who sport Black Ace tattoos on their forearms. I’ve encountered them in grocery stores and bars and art events. And when I ask about the tattoo, it turns out that many of them never even met Tony. Somehow the anonymity that Tony nurtured morphed, surprisingly, into an almost cult like following.