I Remember My Gramma’s–a poem

As I was wading through a box of really old writing to find something for a project I’m working on, I found this poem. It’s from 1997 or 1998, at the height of my Kerouac/Beat Generation poetry period when all I did was read the Beats, drink coffee, and write poetry (can’t say my life has changed much: now, instead of re-reading Kerouac’s “Maggie Cassidy” I re-read the Brontes and out-of-print Fantasy, drink coffee, and write fiction). I cannot image writing  a poem like this again– I moved into a phase where I went from the Beats to the Romantics, and that’s where I’ve stuck for the past fifteen years.

This poem is about my Grandma Bieker, made of vignettes of my memories interwoven with my childhood inner life . . . It’s clunky and ungainly, reaching for but never quite grasping a lyric Whitmanesque quality. But. .  . But I found parts of it amusing enough to want to share.



I remember my Gramma’s–

tiny apartment for a tiny woman.

The smell of perfume lingering from

room to room–a pink mist

clinging to her bombshell helmet

angelic hair–twirled into curls,

and I’d kneel and watch, playing with curlers,

casings and bobbypins–making soldiers, aliens,

Cowboys and Indians–

And the Indian in

the upstairs apartment

who’d scalp noisy young boys

all but sending me into a faint

when he knocked at the door

only to ask for a little sugar–

The old Scottish woman two buildings over

no more than a slip

stretched thin on time

waiting for the wind  to blow her away (Soon

she was gone–

To Death or Mist and Fog or Angelic Wings)



Bricks of Government cheese

too hard to use for a house’s foundation–

Kettles of John Setti

Pots of Chicken and dumplings

seasoned with salt and a dash

of spit strung out from lips to spoon

to splash in the broth–

The cars that passed in twilight

counted and strung like pearls

across college-ruled paper

(the most counted 71 in a day)–


Curled up teddy-bear soft

on the belly of the tattered fold-out

orange tweed couch–

periwinkle sheets smelling

of the basement laundry room–

the cuckoo’s soft lullaby

the tick-tock of the clock

easing the release of dreams

Across the street the

junkyard dog howled warnings

wandering between rust-chewed relics

of old jalopys– scaring off spectral

burglars who threatened to hot-wire

these apparitional autos.


The apricot tree out front its stones

gathered greedily by me and my cousin–

bloodthirsty pirates stashing our stolen

pit doubloons–

buried and mapped on earmarked

bloodscrawled business stationary–

Never to be seen again–

Secrets drowned by Davey Jones’s locker. . . .



Melanie’s Felonies–a poem

I have a terrible problem with constantly tinkering with my writing. Like Whitman, I continually revise and rewrite them. Some enjoy the moment of creation, whereas I enjoy revision. This poem is one that I’ve revised a number of times now. I wrote it over twelve years ago,and have rewritten it as many times. It’s been published twice, each time with substantial changes, and as I was washing dishes this evening, something in the damp grass and budding lilacs brought it to mind, so I pulled up and and began tinkering with it again. It was part of an abandoned series of poems I was writing about childhood along the lines of “Spoon River Anthology,”with an elementary school rather than a graveyard tying the poems together.

I can’t say that I’m completely satisfied with this rewrite, but it was quick and fun–and a nice distraction from my novel in progress. I will get back to it.


Melanie’s Felonies


That fateful first day of 5th grade

with her red hair in braids

and freckles speckling her cheeks

like cinnamon sprinkled on pancakes

Melanie sauntered into the classroom

carving her name on the heart

of each boy in our class.


I spied her from the swingsets at recess—

A boy at the playground waterfountain

received a kick in the shins

and his friend standing beside him

a punch in the stomach

for whistling at Melanie

as she flitted across the blacktop.


Her eleventh birthday she celebrated

at The Lucky Dragon.

She laughed at the boys who

prodded ginger chicken

and catapulted rice onto the table

with proudly fumbling fingers and chopsticks.

By her side, unnoticed, I

shadowed her – spreading the cloth napkin

across my lap and cradling my fork as she did.



The night I stayed at Melanie’s house

we pirouetted and sashayed

in front of her bedroom window

staticy nightgowns

clung to our bodies like saran-wrap.

With our eyes screwed tight and our heads tilted back

we spun around and around

and she made a wish.

When we opened our eyes

she told me to see

dangling from the elm tree—

all of the boys from our class,

an audience of monkeys swinging from monkey-bar branches

ogling us with desire.


Illuminated by her nightlight

Snug on her bedroom floor

in Strawberry Shortcake sleeping bags—

two pink inchworms we huddled


mint chocolate chip ice cream

still on her breath

tingled my cheeks

as we

shared secrets



alone in her bedroom at night

Melanie covers herself in a sheet


pretends to be a ghost.


Last fall going door-to-door selling

Girl Scout cookies

she kept all of the money she made

and in the front seat

of a broken-down VW van

in best friend’s backyard

she stole a kiss

from an unsuspecting boy.


On snowy December evenings

Melanie sneaks out of her bedroom

and strolls through the park.

She populates the stretches of solitude

with snowangels

and spells out the names of the boys

she secretly loves

with a stick.

Lying in the snow

she crafts constellations of their faces

in the stars.


Before we went to sleep

Melanie shed her sleeping bag

knelt down at the foot of her bed

and prayed.


The moonlight and starlight

and maybe even the nightlight

gilded her—

she reminded me

(forgive this blasphemy)

of the Virgin Mary.



The 4th of July


caught up in the excitement

of cannon blasts and explosions

pointed her forefinger and cocked her thumb

aiming directly between the eyes

of the man-in-the-moon,

fired! She turned to me,

leveled her weapon and

cried triumphantly

“Boom!” with a blast

that blew up my heart.


At the end of the summer

Melanie moved.

Without a “good-bye”

she disappeared—

like the sere leaves of the lilac trees

outside my bedroom window

shorn from the branches by a breeze—

blown to another corner of the earth.



Now at night

before I sleep

I imagine Melanie kneeling

at the foot of my bed.

Bathed in the moon’s halo

Her breath warms my toes

peeking from my sheets

as she prays for me.

In the Midnight Hour–a Greebles Excerpt

It’s been a few months since I last posted anything. First, the holidays got in the way, and then my family and I have been sick, and now I’m doggedly spending as much time as I can finishing up the rough draft for one novel and revising another.  To make up for this inattention, I thought I’d share something from the rough draft I’m finishing up, “The Greebles.” It’s best described as weird fiction in the vein of Ray Bradbury. I should have the rough draft done in a couple of weeks, and then I can devote myself wholeheartedly to revising the other novel.


Rusty lay on his bed, flipping through a stack of his comic books when he heard it—something wet slap against his window. It sounded like a washrag or those rubbery sticky wall walking octopuses that come in gumball machines and as prizes in breakfast cereals.

It was one of those nights where thoughts careered around his mind like thousands of Tasmanian Devils or a hive of angry hornets, tornadoing riotously around and around until his head spun as fast as they did, and he flipped and flopped until his body ached from the exercise. The past few days still pestered him—staying the night at Katie’s and these feelings that he seemed to feel for her that made no sense, and then Mr. Orrion’s “disappearance,” for he still wasn’t sure if he believed that Mr. Orrion was really gone, but The Joop’s theory—curse that boy, he swore every time he popped up in his thoughts—had wormed its way into Rusty’s thinking so he believe that something dreadful had to have happened, and then the whole act

of sneaking into Mr. Orrion’s house without his permission. It all grew into a Godzilla-sized monster that smashed through and devastated his peace-of-mind. Finally, he gave up, dug out a stack of old Uncanny X-Men comics, and laid on his bed, reading and drinking chocolate milk.

Engrossed in the X-Men otherworldly adventures on the planet of the Brood, Rusty followed Wolverine through an alien jungle, “C’mon, Wolverine,” Rusty muttered, “This ain’t as bad as when you fought Proteus.” Though he had read these comics many times over and knew exactly how the story unfolded, they still captivated him and he found himself enjoying them as if for the first time. He sipped his chocolate milk and studied the illustrations, marveling at the alien landscape and the expression of agony and frustration on Wolverine’s face.

He turned the page, anxious to see if Wolverine would find his teammates and survive the perils of the jungle when he heard the sound. A splat. A wet and rubbery slap that made him jump, tossing his comic off the bed and knocking over his chocolate milk so that it spilled over his bedsheets.

“What the heck is goin’ on,” he grumbled, running his hand over the brown puddle soaking into his sheets. Fuming, he leapt from his bed to go see what was at his window. Not only did he spill his chocolate milk—akin to ambrosia in his house, because his mom only bought a quart of it once per week, and he doled it out like it was rarest commodity—he would have to change his sheets now, a near Herculean undertaking.

He stomped across the room. “Better be a good reason for this. . . Makin’ me spill my chocolate milk. . . If’n it’s some fool prank. . .” He grabbed his curtains, threw them open, and screamed. There, on the other side of the glass he saw, twice the size of his hand, a palpitating tangle of tentacles and fangs sucking at the glass. Petrified, he stood there still clutching the curtains, the fabric balled up in his hands.

The thing on the other side of the glass continued to suck and lick the glass, its tiny fangs rapping the glass and making a sound like fingernails. He let of the curtains and back a few feet away. The tips of the tentacles probed the slick surface of the glass—lookin’ for a way in, I bet.

Rusty had never seen anything like this, had never imagined or dreamt anything like this. His mind raced. I could call mom, he thought. But damn if I want her to get hurt. She’s been through enough in her life, don’t need her goin’ through more. I gotta get that thing outta here—get it before it gets me. He scanned his room for something—anything—to help. Books and comics, his Star Wars toy collection. He noticed the hockey stick passed down to him from his uncle leaning against the wall. It sat there gathering dust, once having been used for countless hours over the summer not as a hockey stick but as his lightsaber.

“That’s perfect.” Without another thought, he lunged for the hockey stick, afraid that the creature might at any moment figure out a way into his room. He sprang back to his original position facing the window. The creature hadn’t moved, still clinging to the glass. He decided to tap the glass, to scare the creature so that it released the window and slid off. He raised the hockey stick, leveling the blade with the creature’s mouth.

Just a soft little tap. . . . He edged the hockey stick closer and closer to the window, waiting to see if the creature moved. It didn’t seem to notice him at all. “Almost there,” he whispered. “Almost there. . . .”

He touched the glass with the tip of the hockey stick’s blade. It rattled against the windowpane, and extension of Rusty’s shaking hands. The creature didn’t stir. Damnit, does the thing even have eyes?

“C’mon now,” he said, politely tapping the glass. “You need to get goin’. Go creep out somebody else—Garrity’s up the hill a bit, and he deserves a good creepin’.”


He rapped the glass harder this time, his fear morphing into anger. “C’mon, get goin’. I need to get some sleep.” It seemed to notice the rapping this time, and withdrew its mouth into a thin-lipped muzzle, wrapping a few of its thinner tentacles around the extended muzzle. Rusty smiled. “I see I gotcha to understand finally. This ain’t no perch for the weird and nasty, it’s my window, and I want you to go.” He rapped harder and harder as he saw more and more of the tentacles withdraw and entwine themselves about the muzzle, until he rapped to hard.

The window shattered, but few shards fell to the ground. Most of them remained stuck to—or now in—the tentacled creature. Rusty shrieked as he watched the glass crack and then splinter, cracking apart like the crust of a pie poked too hard with a dull knife. Instead of apples or blueberries bubbling out of the crack, he had an undulating mass of mottled flesh. It writhed and burbled wet squawks. Worst of all, it had wrapped its tentacles around the blade of the hockey stick, and clung to it, twitching and oozing a bilious yellow substance. Rusty could see the whole thing now, and recoiled in disgust and horror—it did have eyes, too many, and wings. Wings that spread above it like his Gramma’s arthritic fingers—gnarled and bent and knobby that beat the air.

Seeing the creature on the end of the hockey stick gazing blankly at him and beating the air with its wings, he let go of the hockey stick and stumbled back. The creature flapped in the air, and then flew out the broken window carrying the hockey stick, its trophy.

He watched it rise into the night sky, a pale pink balloon against the stars. He took a deep breath, and then slumped to the floor. Terrified, relieved, shivering from fright and the cool breeze blowing in through the broken window, he tried but couldn’t pry his eyes from the broken shards of glass framing crisp night sky. What the hell was that? I’ve never read about or seen anything like that at the zoo. Some kind of mutant or alien? Sure weren’t no bad dream—no nightmares wish they could be that scary. God. What am I gonna tell my mom about the broken window, she sure ain’t gonna believe some octobat weasel creature broke it.

It struck him, during the whole battle, with the window breaking and his war cries his mom never came in to check on him. Mom. What if something happened to her? What if that weren’t the only one? He bolted from his room to check on her.

Their house was a single-floor, two-bedroom bungalow with a short hallway linking Rusty’s room and the bathroom with the living room and his mom’s bedroom. As soon as he came out into the hallway, he could hear the television—muffled voices over which played a laugh track. He flew the length of the hallway and into the living room. There, he saw a wine glass half-filled with red wine, and a bottle beside it. Beside it he saw an empty bowl glazed by the melted dregs of chocolate ice cream and on the floor a bowl of popcorn kernels. Over the arm of the couch, atop a corduroy throw pillow he saw the crown of her head and her hair spilling over the pillow and down the arm of the couch.

Why, she’s been loungin’ her like the Queen of Sheba this whole time while my life’s been in danger. If she’d been asleep this whole time in bed, I could excuse her, but spongin’ up booze and ice cream and tv, that’s inexcusable. A volcanic fury burst from him and he stomped across the room.

“Damn woman, I was done near killed in there and—”he barked, and then stopped. She didn’t flinch.

He drew closer. “Mom?”

Not a sound, not a flicker of life. The laugh track on the television cackled.

He edged around the coffee table to get a better look at her, afraid of what he might find—afraid that her face might be eaten off, or her chest burst open, or puncture wounds in her neck and a pale pallor—but with a need to know.

She lay there, still. Her face fine, her neck untarnished, only a few traces of chocolate ice cream spotting the corner of her mouth and chin.

“Mom?” He whispered. Still afraid that she died some other way, he gingerly reached out and prodded her shoulder.

She snorted with life. Rusty, jolted by the electricity of her life, jerked back. “Did you get the paint?” she asked. Her eyes closed, her lips barely moving, the words sluggish and dreamy.

“Paint? What are you talkin’ about?”

“To paint the house,” she sighed. He realized now that she was dreaming. She did this from time to time—she often fell asleep on the couch after dinner, and he walking past to get something from the kitchen or retrieving a book or toy he left in the living room would suddenly be accosted by her dream-life.

He sighed like a leaky balloon. She ain’t dead, she’s just dead drunk. “Paint? Why, I ain’t gonna paint the house now. It’s the dead of night.”

“Oh,” she said. With that, she was back to sleep. Rusty decided to join her. He yanked the afghan off the back of the couch, draped half of it over his mom, and then with the other half curled up on the other end of the couch. He covered his head with pillows—just in case—and fell asleep nestled into his makeshift nest, the laugh track from the television the last thing he heard.

Snippet from my latest project.

Here’s a snippet from the project that I’ve been working on for the past nine months. It was supposed to be a short piece I thought I’d knock out in a few months–a respite from the rough draft I’d just finished while I took a break before rewrites–but it’s ballooned and I probably will have the rewrites on my novel finished before this “short project.” This scene is simple–two twelve-year olds talking as they plan a horror movie they want to film.


“How can a cemetery be abandoned? Have the dead left—they’re still here, obviously. Whenever my Aunt Christi describes where our house is located, she always refers people to the abandoned graveyard on the edge of town. I always have to stifle a laugh, because I envision all of the dead leaving in mass exodus. Imagine,” Katie swept her arm across the graveyard. “All of these dead uprooting themselves—skeletons and bodies in varying states of decomposition, I bet some of them are even mummified, and shambling through the gates and down through the city to somewhere else. Some sleek, chic cemetery with laser-engraved headstones and perfectly manicured grass where people will come with fresh-cut flowers. They won’t have to worry about foxes digging their dens into their graves or trees growing out of or upending their headstones or lichen blotting out their names. Though, if I was buried here, I wouldn’t want to leave. It’s got the right feeling for a graveyard—crumbling and mysterious, a gothic aura around it. The perfect place for a movie.” She smiled, her blue eyes agleam with a curious blend of mischief and innocence—just what you’d expect from a twelve-year old trying to keep one foot on the solid banks of childhood while probing the shallows of her approaching teenage years—and the much deeper adult years, out farther, but there, waiting dark and deep like the Mariana trench—with an outstretched toe.

Rusty stared at her, eyes wide and mouth agape. It took enough for him to come to this old graveyard that everyone was sure was haunted, but now, to hear this story about the dead rising and strolling helter-skelter not just past their gravestones and tombs, but through the city—even possibly down his street and past his house—he was already afraid of the nightmares he was going to have. “Girl, what are you tryin’ to do, here? You’re gonna be givin’ my nightmares nightmares, and I don’t wanna know what they’re gonna do to me.”

He saw the graveyard through new eyes: in the late afternoon shadows spooks skulked behind lichen-covered headstones and there in that stand of scrub oak a creature of rags and bones and a whistle where its words had been. He strained his ears to hear the sounds of his mother calling him for dinner, though he knew he couldn’t hear her, and it was still at least an hour away.

He backed up towards the gap in the stone wall through which they entered the graveyard. It was closest to Katie’s house, and easier than going around to the entryway. Leaves crackled underfoot–or were they the dried-up joints of the dead bending and flexing, preparing to extricate themselves from the ground to feast on flesh? Rusty’s imagination, once lit, quickly blazed into a bonfire. “You know, Katie, this was a great idea and all, but—“

Katie laughed, and suddenly the spooks were gone and the sun shone brighter, and the smell of fresh-baked pumpkin pie wafted over from Katie’s house and freshened the smell of leaves and grave dust. “Rusty, c’mon, the dead aren’t going to hurt us. They’re dead. And besides, if we run into anything, I’ll protect you. Now, let’s get to planning this movie.” Katie hopped up onto one of the tombstones, balancing on one foot and then sprang from it to the ground and then rabbited through the gravestones.

He watched her, mesmerized by her smile, her sprightly manner, and the strands of hair that stuck out from her Chicago Cubs baseball cap, and then realized she left him standing alone in the graveyard. He raced after her, ignoring the thought that beneath him, feeling his feet pounding across the earth, were hundreds of dead bodies like desiccated earthworms or cicadas cocooned and waiting for the right time to shed their coffins and burrow up into the air.


Here’s a poem I wrote twelve or thirteen years ago. It’s not a great poem–by no means is it a great poem–but out of all the poems I’ve written, it’s one of my favorites. I’ve always been partial to its repetition and simplicity.



The Star

The crooked blue star. . .


The blue star askance on the second story window of the house beside my own

lends itself to someone’s childhood.


What boy or girl slapped that star proudly upon that window,

watching it every night as it glows with the life of the stars



Does someone remember the star?


Whose mom or dad – and not my own – would paste

a star in their child’s bedroom window?


Her father stuck the star to the window.

His mother stuck the star to the window.


He stuck the star upon the window. Careless.

She stuck the star upon the window. Carelessly.


She picked at a corner of the star, trying to peel it free,

to no avail.


He picked at the star.


She picked a star.


I picked a star.


That crooked blue star.


The star.