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Canvas

June 24, 2020

I stretch myself over the frame pulled taut
Skin’s creases smoothed so you can paint me
You lay out the brushes with care
Bristles clean and dry
The first brush its head cut sharp to detail the subtle wrinkles around my eyes
The second wide to fill my laughing smile
The third rough to capture a storm swelling behind me over the sea
And one more a piercing point to drop a tear that belies my melancholy

You step back scanning me before preparing your pallet
What shade of Caucasian to choose for my sun aged skin?
How much grey will you need to sneak silver threads into my thick brown hair?
How should you dress me what textures will you drape?
Am I alone on a trail or seething in a concert crowd?
How will you capture the chaotic cacophony swirling in my mind with only strokes of oil?
And how can you reflect everything I’ve seen into the detail of my eyes and are they wide open alert unable to find sleep or quivering and fighting exhaustion or are they shut tight and twitching in rem-triggered dreams or are they still serene like death?

I think you should start with my memories
So many to choose from you can’t possibly paint them all
Lest the layers grow so deep that the paint slides from me dripping forgotten onto the floor
Perhaps start with my memories of running through a New England park pulling a kite its fluttering tail flying up into the crisp fall breeze the kritch kritch sound of leaves beneath my feet
Perhaps start with melancholy the bullies fear that started in 6th grade and lingered relentless until my scrawny frame sprouted 6 feet tall in high school
Perhaps start with sound the music from my parents’ practicing while I lie beneath the Steinway floating on waves of notes as father’s fingers race the keys while mother’s oboe pierces the chords
Or perhaps you start with near silence when I escape the frenetic digital pulse and head onto a trail stepping in rhythm until hours later I lie back eyes closed to let my ears explore the forest depths

And when you are done and the paint is drying its pungent odor slowly fading and imperceptible until the last molecule of scent escapes
And when you walk away your brushes cleaned and neatly packed your tubes of paint capped and stored
Will you remember me? Will you remember each brush stroke and shade of oil?
I hope you choose to paint me with my eyes wide open so I can see your expression when you apply the final stroke
Will you be relieved to finish me to escape this dreary task or will you wish to paint until the pallet runs dry so we can share this moment a little longer?

routine

September 5, 2020

alarm sounding shuffling of sheets dragging them discarded barefoot to the bathroom sink flossing brushing then with the same spoon rinsed and overnight dried in a yellowed dish tray scoop up cheerios in clumps milk drops dripping one by one until a single o remains bobbing aimlessly

the drive to work by rote over tire streaked freeway overpasses and traffic lanes for carpools and timing the exit lane merge and racing a yellow light until tucking into the same parking lot cubby as yesterday the day before and before

car door clicks trunk swooshes open backpack fetched and footsteps tracing a well worn shortcut across the campus lawn avoiding a cyclist’s spinning and for a moment you look up because you always do this time of year when california sunshine burns through windswept fog

your desk untouched overnight the coffee mug and hydrating flask and computer power cord dangling and books you may someday read and family photos framed rest quietly staring back at you day after day until you box them up for another office and cubicle or left behind forgotten

good morning you say good morning they say day after day with smiles sometimes genuine sometimes forced sometimes masking unbearable sadness resentment boredom or intrigue until formalities finished you disappear into earbuds and shuffled playlists or silent pretend listening to discourage chatty cubemates

there’s a risk at lunch that you walk down the same aisle and select the same plate and linger but settle for the same entrée selection as yesterday and before and before sitting silent in your favorite corner nook peering out across the bay through window washer streaked panes

and leaving work you retrace each off-ramp lane change shortcut and eventually close your eyes and dreamlike in a podcast-fueled autopilot turn into your cul-de-sac garage door squeaking sliver of light peeking and a smile in the doorway welcoming you home

north south east west

August 29, 2020

from the north
a pungent scent of vineyard fields
cabernet blended with cherry plum currant
and wisps from an unkempt campfire ember or power line arc or echoed boom of dry lightning

from the south
tendrils of brown reach into california’s blue sky
mixing with grey soot swallowing the sun
from a forest ablaze flames racing through well worn trails chasing cougars into farmers fields and sending suburbanites scurrying for filtered air

from the east
north and south now swirling into one
blazing vineyard fields and engulfed redwoods
while cal fire airtankers soar into the torrent above a caravan of stubby red trucks their smoke hardened occupants chasing the flames

from the west
brisk pacific breeze nudges smoke into valleys
leaving a clear cool salt scented wake
and whispers from a barefooted beachgoer feet sinking in tide moistened sand and for a moment forgetting

and then it was still
winds settle north south east west
moon’s rays refracted through cirrus clouds or smoke?
while distant fires still raging regroup awaiting tomorrow’s current to creep back over rooftops and sneak through a window left absently ajar

SCU Lightning Complex fires

Silence too

July 21, 2020

You ask me for silence

So I tug on your earbuds and hide them away
Music fades but in its place the city rumbles
A cacophony of impatient honks and speeding sirens and rubber squealing across asphalt

I need more you say!
So I pause the traffic but in its place the sidewalk hums
A click clack click of hurried heels and pair of yapping poodles and neighbors voices rising

More more more you say!
So I send them on their way but in their place tilt up to the sky
A distant roar of jet contrails and pulsing flutter a circling copter and rustle of a squirrel’s leaping between hickory-oak branches

I still need more you plead
So I clear the skies and shoo the squirrel but in its place the ocean awakes
Clambering seagulls on trade wind swells and surf crashing and the delicate crickle of a fire pit carved in sand

More you plead just a little more!
So I nudge the surf into the ocean depths but in its place your house begins to speak
Creaks from aging floorboards and tickling mice behind your walls and the plip plop of your daughter’s feet

Is there still more you whisper?
So I send your daughter to bed and brush your eyelids still but in their place new sounds emerge
Tingling tinnitus that never fades and rustling fingers between the sheets and the poom poom in your chest

Breathe I whisper back so softly you can barely hear me

Just breathe until in sleep your questions cease

Mixed tape

July 19, 2020

It’s late after midnight flipping through vinyl: punk – new wave – ska – industrial – goth
Tilting albums on edge like bookmarks in the stacks my jet black hair a teased homage to robert smith

What songs will make you smile? moisten your eyes? spark a memory? move you to dance? calm your racing mind until you drift into sleep?

Sliding each album from its sleeve, balanced on edge, feeling for the spindle, I drop the needle while cuing the tape

Side one: songs for dance

Depeche mode master and servant the cure love cats new order blue monday
Each song chosen to tingle your nerves until they overload
Will you be mouthing the words headphones in place while twirling on your kitchen dance club floor?

Side two: Songs for escape

Cocteau twins oomingmak bjork isobel eurythmics this city never sleeps
Each song chosen to float in on waves of bliss a soothing melancholy tide
And instead of dancing will you lie back close your eyes and disappear into the steady pulsing bass?

I imagine you holding the tape in your slender fingers reading my liner notes on the cardboard sleeve slipped inside
I imagine you smiling and thinking of me as you slide the tape into your walkman and press play

Or, perhaps, you will tuck the tape away in a drawer or leave it on the floor of your civic forgotten until found years later by a passenger’s rummaging long after I’ve gone and feeling the beat of the first song you’ll discretely wipe a tear

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now

May 16, 2020

i remember vacation planning
the sound of clicking in search of a deal
dk travel guides bookmarked with post-it’s
and a countdown pinned to my wall

i remember ticketmaster scrambles at 10am
refreshing the page to secure a coveted row
blocking my calendar and counting the days
until lights out: the band takes the stage

i remember couples scheduling weddings
baseball fans stubhub’ing tickets
i remember graduates groomed for commencement
and parents strategizing for good seats

but life has become now and not when
planning suspended our futures opaque
days looped together in time escher folds
forced to live in the moment whatever it holds

stages

May 3, 2020

1

a snap brings darkness and the crowd comes to life
packed tight in waves that rush towards the stage
while flashlight beams guide the band mates through space
over cables taped snug past speakers humming bright

each stage a glowing wall of sound
synthetic smoke pouring down into the pit
and floating up to refract laser trails
while vari-lites dance to a pulsing beat

on stage robert smith teased into a moody mop
trent reznor rage causing keyboard keys to scatter
siouxie’s banshees revealed through layered curtains
prince preening purple and cabaret voltaire in abstract green

at the fillmore escape the stage head upstairs
past walls papered with psychedelic posters swirling colors
dylan grateful stones hendrix each sold out show preserved
the balcony walls glowing from chandeliers’ crystals

2

down by market, marquees shine bright
nestled between elegant italian and bustling thai
buzz and anticipation flows past the will call line
finding aisle row seat until the theatre lights dim

this audience is silent ears perked and waiting
from stage left a figure appears from the shadow
“now is the winter of our discontent” he bellows
glorious in the tracking spot of light

3

three thousand miles east broadway stages are set and dressed
a couple steps onto the curb and through lyceum’s doors
settling into jacket draped seats hands fiddling playbill pages
until the curtain reveals colorful performers in choreographed song

4

in a northern canadian cathedral a simpler stage is set
beneath a vaulted steeple and its rich acoustic echo
a man caresses a piano a woman teases an oboe
their audience nestled pew row on row in silent solitude

5

but now the stages are empty and dark
their performers all sheltered in place
uncertain when the spotlights return
their soliloquy songs suspended in space

Fillmore San Francisco

by the ocean

April 20, 2020

awoken again reaching out in darkness

heart racing from stress dreams: fleeing or falling or any of the frenetic scenes that purge my mind of pandemic news only to be refilled again day after day after quarantine day

fingers fumbling to find the hour knowing it will be the still time when you can stretch your ears for miles only to find more silence and the occasional whistle of wind

staring into the black i imagine unsuccessfully the sleepy things of counting sheep or rhythmic breathing until i think of you, standing by the ocean, buffeted by a stiff eastward salt-scented breeze kerchief sheltered from the crispness

“sometimes you have to just turn off the news” you say “and listen to nothing” (the distinct voice of rippling waves whispering behind you)

i let loose of the swirling thoughts that race my heart and exhaust my mind
and imagine your voice and the crashing waves and stepping out under a new moon onto sand slipping off my shoes and socks to feel my way across the beach

i let the darkness wrap around me between the moonless sky and blue black water holding me tight and soaking up the still swirling thoughts
until sky sea and stillness take me away

the stress dreams are silenced for now sleep taking hold and insomniac rustling subsided slipping back into darkness until their inevitable return

falling

January 31, 2020

with a damp chill and shortening days
i drive past dorset through autumn’s peak
high above white clouds stroll puffed in promenade
held delicate together by slender contrails
and morning sun softly warms a crisp early breeze
sending lake shimmered ripples a cumulus mirror

i step into a forest roots firm canadian shield
feet meandering in search of a tickling leaf crunch
all the while drinking air soaked yellow orange red and brown
as in time the breeze grows unsettled around
a bluster that rips determined leaves from their perches
scattering like startled butterflies a colourful stochastic flutter

i walk alone thankful threatening nimbus halts its advance
and slip through the leaves past seasons years decades
transported from canada to new england’s roads
passing through time and space into a 70s country wagon
where the roads ever curving slides me across the trunk floor
as we slip on to gravel in search of a pumpkin pure

touching the pumpkin’s husk hurls me again into space
to boston’s freedom trail searching for faneuil’s fall festival
with autumn colors draping the worn graves of patriots
and the tickling crunch unchanged despite decades passing
through boston common king’s chapel down ever twisting walkways
while artists balance canvases and sketch with fingerlet gloves 

in a moment falling again through the city to rural vermont
winding through postcard towns and white painted gazebos
nestled still in rust textured appalachians
i step into waterbury hugged warm in a pea coat
strolling down uneven sidewalks past sleeping storefronts
to stir and crunch leaves from their wind structured stacks

finally falling surrounded the sweet scent of decay
burrowing deep into earth past shadow seeking light
until mildew and grey gives way newton’s morning
sunshine bright sparkling through orange-tinged edges
leaping out of the pile a burst of maple and elm
distant memories of youth when time had no meaning 

and now each fall passing and cycle of leaves
autumns behind me stacked higher than waiting ahead
i cling to each breath of crisp scented breeze
and try not to blink looking out over the trees
and listen to each crunch as i step through the leaves
until i catch a fell maple to welcome me home

fall colors photo copyright james morehead

in the overnight

December 2, 2019

in the overnight i resist the ripples of sleep
staring down the palette of twinkling lights below
towering cities tucked away villages clusters of homes
smudged translucent by strokes of frozen vapor

the wing tip winks through the window
with a steady metallic heartbeat tap
that reaches outstretched into thin air
gliding graceful lifting through the sky

perhaps below sleepless and staring up
our winking wing tip taps through clouds distorted
becoming a wispy aura painted across the heavens
the engines roar swallowed by the infinite above

and soon the lights give way to a lifeless grey
a blackout veil separating land from air
our trajectory removed no beginning no end
up down forward back rolled into one

darkness dreaming of morning’s peek to steal this silence
wishing to roll up the pitch and fill the void
with a hint then glow then flood of dawn
each point of light waiting to wake into dreams or sorrow

but for now in the overnight you are alone
soaring silent above the promise of tomorrow