Time to pony up

When I was a kid, I thought that was an actual, literal thing. Kept expecting a pony under the Christmas tree.

But no. Pay the piper. Pony up. Put your money where your mouth is.

There is no try. Not for me, or Baby Yoda, or anyone else.

I’ll tell you what I’m getting at after I wash the taste of these cliches out of my mouth.


I found it hidden in the rose bushes, behind the tin bread box where I keep my smaller trowels and snippers. First I just saw the metal edge sticking up. I dug it up, and happy! Cleaned, polished. Ready to play! Pressed lips against the mouthpiece. Blow. There’s a dent on the rim. My lips cannot control the sound. My lungs, the air. My hands still love the instrument. I remember now. It was a burial. Planting roses on top of my sound.

If you dig it

(death of a hipster, for Scott)

If you dig, it might be a grave, a ditch, a row for planting, an intractable problem.

If you dig, you might really like it and snap your fingers or light a match, and the faces brought into the match light might have hollow eyes and young lips and an indifferent approval.

If you dig it, you might dig deeper than you meant to, and the digging might
grab you by the ankles and your skinny black pants and drag you into that cool
cat tomb, your plain white face drawn away too soon to have a single line.

And they will snap their fingers and light their matches and drop their single roses each one of them onto your grave or into the ditch where the water is running high and full of seeds, and who knows what might grow from that planting, who knows. A plain pale face, some sugar snap peas, a rose bush, a morning glory, rising from the dirt, the water, the dirty fingernails, the faces growing lines in your absence.


When the Caissons went rolling along it was hi hi hee and the field artillery and
the grit and blood and cheery whistles of pink cheeked soldier boys even with death one skin away. Made the greatest generation, that’s what I heard. Saw it in black n white on our 12 inch TV, grainy, mythic, thin and distant.

Do you remember the posters, propaganda films, war bonds, bandages? Me neither.

But I remember live footage, young American soldiers and little Vietnamese children, skin peeling off, eyes like raw eggs, and the shaky boy soldiers when they came home, pumped full of heroin and fear, nodding off then exploding like death blasts in rice fields because something went boom. The tail pipe, the radiator, the plane flying high over head, breaking the sound barrier. Boom. And the sweating young man, the panting child, running, striking, do we think really of the glory of war, do we really?

So they sang. Young men with burnt skin and hubris crushed out like cigarette butts. Young women with dead lovers, Asian children with missing limbs, not the pretty ones adopted in the later round of after effects.

So they sang. Songs of protest and resistance, not loss and longing. Forget love. Send me back my legs, my skin, my heart broken by violence.


There’s a hole in the roof

and the stars are shining through.

There’s a hole in my shoe,

sand rubbing on my right foot.

There’s a hole in the bucket

dear Liza dear Liza

and a place to empty,

a place to fill.


Sometimes emptiness

is a place, a presence that calls

for attention, calls as clear as a bell,

a baby crying, the ping of a text

from your one true love.


Sometimes emptiness

is a silence, an absence of

call. No ping, no singing

bell, no cry.


Take the sound and no sound,

the presence and absence,

put them together and there

is the whole, the whole thing,

the stars shining through,

the grit on the foot,

the feeling that everything

will pour out of the bucket

and it does.


It makes you want to cling

to that imperfect bucket,

just to feel the constancy,

the breathing motion

of empty and full.


Babe Danube loved water. Not because of his name, not really. He was from Midland, Texas, where water was something you use to water the golf course. There was a man-made lake stocked with trout on the outskirts of town, but it was not much to write home about.
He was born Ted Wilson, but his mom changed her and his name when she got divorced. The lawyer told her go ahead, pick any name you want, you don’t have to go back to your maiden name if you don’t want to. So he became Barnaby Danube, and then Babe Danube, and that one stuck.
He grew up thinking about water, about the absence of water, about the flat brown landscape and the relentless distance. He moved to Seattle eventually, where he got a job doing telephone surveys. He swam whenever he could, and went crabbing in the northerly regions of Puget Sound. Eventually, he settled in a small community near the Maury Island Nature Preserve, and he worked from his little mildewed cabin, making phone calls and sending in data for collection. In that small town, he learned about fish, and environmental preservation, and sea lions. He learned to talk by script on the phone, and he learned to watch as the fishing boats came in and went out again.
Babe was a small man, shorter than most in Washington State, and his hair grew in a perpetual cowlick. The locals at Maury Island thought he must be a bit off, but really, he was just short, with a Texas accent. This was enough, at that time, to make him different.
One day, as he was swimming not too far off shore, he came alongside a kayak, and inside the kayak was a woman who was crying. “Why you crying?” he asked her, floating alongside her in the water.
“No reason, just go away,” she said. She blew her nose.
“No, really,” he said, paddling alongside of her, wishing he was taller, or maybe had more hair.
“Where on earth are you from?” she said, and she did not seem pleased.
“Midland, Texas,” he said, and he looked ashamed. Hard not to, to tell the truth.
“Well, Midland,” she said, “That’s an interesting accent, but go away.” He blushed and felt mad and sad, and he swam away.
From that day on, he worked on accents at his job as a telephone surveyor. Southern (easy), east coast, Bombay, Beijing, Barcelona. He got a bit alphabetical in his approach, but after just a few months he could switch to most major world accents (in English), and that made him feel taller, with more hair.
Every day, he went to the shore and he swam. He watched the population of Maury Island swell, and he switched accents and he watched. “Who loves what?” he asked himself, and he picked a handful of accents that made people friendly, or hostile, desirous or confiding.
It was true that he was looking for love, he was looking for voice, he was looking for someone to see and hear him as something other than Babe Danube from Midland, Texas. This did eventually pay off.
He was swimming one day in the Sound when he met a young lady who was bobbing along in an inflatable dragon floatie. “Nice floatie,” he said in his best Canadian accent.
“Thanks,’ she said. “I like it too. I got another one, out there on the beach, it you want to borrow.”
He did want to borrow. He floated with Jolene, from Fine Pick, Wisconsin, and they talked really a lot. About fish, and lakes, and the Gates compound back there in Seattle, and they spoke in accents. She could do Minnesota (easy), Scotland, the Phillipines, and she was just practicing L.A.-speak the day they met. It was awesome. On their first official date, she ordered an iced coffee, and he ordered an iced tea. “No,” she said. “Maybe chai.” But she smiled.
They may have had a happily ever after with each other, or maybe with someone else. Babe couldn’t say for sure, what with all those accents. They talked so much, and there was so much water all around them.

Root Story

Garrett Yampa Cody was born in a root cellar in Golden, Colorado, and died in an underground bunker in Deming, New Mexico. There were rumors that grew up around him, but what was clear was that his blue eyes were more Cody than Ute, and that he had a taste for gold, being underground, and fire.

Tuberculosis killed more people than silver bullets did in that old west, no matter what you might hear. The trains carried men, women and children, weak and sick, to sanitoriums in the dry desert, down near the Mexican border. That was usually men, women and children with some money or property, but one year, in the town of Golden, a dozen poor locals boarded the train headed south to Deming, where the Army Air Force Base had been recently converted from military quarters to a Catholic sanitorium. Garrett Cody was on that train, 14 years old. He carried a small bag of Indian Head ten dollar gold coins in a leather pouch strapped inside his waistband.

“I can unlock any door, anywhere” he told one person. “I have a bag of gold from my father,” he told another. “My father is Buffalo Bill Cody,” to a third. He swaggered and swayed, coughing and arrogant, through the chuffing train, until his fellow passengers had each heard some version of his history, his adventures, and he’d been established as a liar and a braggart.

“Burnt down the post office in Golden when I was 12,” he said to Ben Fine, who sat next to him on the train. Ben turned away, looking at a newspaper that was no more than a month old. He tried again. “Got the gold from my father. I’m going to stay in the bunkers, he told me.” Ben stood up and walked to the other end of the car.

Down around Farmington, Garrett disappeared, and the train continued south without him. A series of small brush fires and minor catastrophes followed him from town to town. He stopped at every military base from Farmington to Las Cruces, locating and unlocking a cool underground bunker on the perimeter of each base. He slept well in the deep protected darkness.

News travels slow on the Camino Real, even now with the telephone wires and radios and paved roads spreading in all directions. Back then, word still traveled mostly by horseback and stage, and he’d started a dozen or more fires by the time his reputation for lying was replaced by his reputation as an arsonist and a thief. It was Ben Fine who put those pieces together.

New Mexican statehood was still fairly new, the Mexican Revolution was raging, and boundaries were unstable. The people of that time and place were rough and unaware of much outside of their own dry, brittle landscape. Ben was a journalist from Akron, Ohio, unfit for service in the war overseas, assigned to cover news of changes throughout the region. Ben assumed that he would die on assignment, in an iron lung perhaps, or a long row of hospital beds, or by scorpion, snake or lightning. He did not expect to be waylaid by the tiny bastard son of Buffalo Bill Cody.

They met in a trading post in Socorro, NM. By then, Garrett’s reputation for fire was well known, and Ben had been sending stories by wire to the Akron Gazette, and selling fictionalized serial versions of Garrett’s crimes to a small publishing house in Dallas. The trading post in Socorro had the El Paso Times, and in the back of the store, a recent copy of the Wild West Weekly. This was in the hands of Garrett Cody, who was holding a pickle in one hand and the Weekly in the other.

“Good afternoon, Garrett,” Ben said, hands in his pockets. “How’s your father been?”

“Hey, Ben,” said the boy. “You tell me, you got all the stories right here, what I can tell.” He waved the weekly at Ben. He coughed, and coughed again. Ben looked at him, saw that he was sicker now than he’d been a few months back, and he made a decision.

“Come on down to Deming with me, then, we’ll spend some time together, you tell me stories, I’ll write them down.” He nodded at Garrett, paid for the El Paso Times and the pickle. They set out together the next morning.

At the Holy Cross sanitorium, the quiet sister nurse gave them leave to stay in AAFB Bunker #1E. By day, they soaked in the hot springs, rested and smoked, told stories, wrote some down. They watched the young ladies and matrons sicken and die, they read the news of Pancho Villa and the Battle of Columbus. They coughed and bought horses. They rode the horses south, away from the sanitorium and toward Columbus. They stopped for the night, made a fire, smoked a little more, and just as they were falling asleep in the jittering brilliant starlight, the remainders of the Battle of Columbus caught up with them. Ben was killed, and the horses were taken. Garrett, small, quick and savvy, slipped away.

He turned back, toward the Holy Cross, not sure now what else to do. He walked near the road, not on it. He came to a windmill, passed a watering trough. He coughed, and he staggered. He cried for the first time. He came to a house, with a barn and a corral. He set the house on fire. He came to the outskirts of the sanitorium. He found what he wanted, a heavy metal door, planted face-up in the ground, the metal plate labeled “AAFB – Bunker #12S”. He unlocked the door, and went inside. He lit a match. The underground bunker was filled with canned goods, some bibles, water, and fuel. He lit a lamp. He lit the bibles. He bolted the door from the inside.


The mildest rosy moon has set,
No wolf, no war, no tidal wave
In silence sing both deep and wet,
Ringing shake the empty cave.

No wolf, no war, no tidal wave,
Sunrise wake bruised yellow air,
Ringing shake the empty cave,
Rain catch bell and bowl with care.

Sunrise wake bruised yellow air,
Silence, broken, dip and swell.
Rain catch bell and bowl with care,
Wash this bird or man or hell.

Silence, broken, dip and swell,
Break and mangle living bone.
Wash this bird or man or hell,
Broken damn or magi stone.

No wolf, no war, no tidal wave,
Breathe fine mist, green leaf, dark earth.
Ringing shake the empty cave,
Moonrise sing wise bright rebirth.


Water sound water

Standing in the shower and the pipes are clanking and singing. I think there is a plumber in my garage, banging his wrench against the hot water heater. I think there is a criminal hiding in the crawl space, tapping at the brass piping with his keys, trying to frighten me out.
Standing in the shower I can’t stand all these stranger noises. Children crying, cats coughing, the shimmering sound of lizards running through dry grass.
I can’t stand these stranger noises in my home’s old plumbing. I get out of the shower, dress and go to Walgreens, where I buy a waterproof hanging shower audio system with mp3 capability and I hang it on the soap rack and crank it up.
The throat singers shuffling on the mp3 are deep as a broken water main. The clicking African women are knocking on my door. The rhythmic thrust of Spanish dance spills hot water from an overflowing bucket.
I am wishing for deafness, I think I am wishing for deafness. Deafness or just simple silence. Maybe there is silence somewhere in the world still, just like there may be a place without light in this world still. There is mua, absence of light and sound, somewhere, maybe in the dark of the ocean, where the far off drum of plumbing and the streaming red tail lights are out of range. Only the distance vibration, the hum of earth itself.
Standing in the shower, time to sing the morning shower song. Deciding to decode the sounds. Drip drip drip, rain and the end of drought. Swish swish swish, the tail of a brown trout in a clear green stream. Rushsssh, the falling of water over some high cliff into the white foam.
After I won the lottery, I had the best time ever. I had all the dry erase boards and dry erase markers I could ever want. I had a house on the beach. I had a piano. I’m still having the best time ever, except for this thing with the plumbing and the sounds, the lights, the jumping of grasshoppers, the pop of frogs.
I won the lottery and then all things were possible, all possible things were possible, and then everything got so big, so bright. White boards, running water, running cars, runways and airports and I went traveling. In Barcelona, I decide that water is okay, water is good. There is no criminal intent in water, no malice. I have an affair with a Spaniard whose name I can’t pronounce, so I only call him God oh God. It’s a good affair, and the water is okay now, the sounds are okay and the waves even, the waves at the ocean are inviting, cool blue white Mediterranean sighs.
It’s hard to have things, to have things, and hard not to have things, not to have things. I go back then, to my house with its old plumbing, its sinister flow, and I paint it, every room, the colors of water. The oily iridescence of gulf coast water, the angry blue of deep sea, the muddy green of old shallow rivers, the bright peaceful blue of a lake in British Columbia. Once it is painted, I leave again, to Peru, where I feel light headed and the pyramids are so big, so big, and I take a room on the second floor at the back of a bar where the open sign flashes on and off on and off all day and the flashing light covers the sound of beach, of wind, of toilets and sinks. I stay there for three weeks, watching the open sign blink its indifference at me, and when I go back home again, my water colored house is perfect, blue green white shiny perfect.


Overarching clouds on red bluff; a bridge is made. I am here with answers, answer man says, shakes his head. We have no questions today, only red wind, blue song.

Bridge overarching high clouds pulls parallel chords, voice and structure, webbing falls

across red bluff. The answer man says, I am here, here. Quavering in high wind, wind keening and rocking this bridge we stand, open mouths, open throats. This singing is carried

away, answer man says. His voice is thin as spider’s silk, thin as air on high chord, where bridge meets bluff

red clay meets cloud, red sun falls blue heavy bluff, dust to dust to dust.

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August 2022