Time to Write
Wherever I turn, everything looks unworldly
--Charles Wright

Another birthday’s come along. August 20th. If you’re not careful, the days that felt like gardens in your youth turn to parchment and crack. They burn. You have to stay wet. You have to drop seeds and feel the dew. Or your hair gets brittle as weed stalks in Tucson summer, and you break.

Getting old—was that an AARP card Cinderella hid from me? Still…consider the alternative. Another year on this side of the dirt sounds good. So many years as a caterpillar, eating tasty plants. What’s going to happen when the wings sprout?

There’s a blue eggshell between me and the other side, where the shadows live. It grows thinner. But I have my feet in the black loam, still. I’m looking around. I’m walking.

Tonight, they are predicting another gulley-washer: four or five inches of rain and high wind and thunder. On TV, though the day is steaming and bright, the crawls warn of Illinois floods. I am listening to Clutch, the gods of freak rock revelation. I’m listening to Steve Vai, to Killing Joke, to Gogol Bordello, to The White Stripes, to The Horrors, to Blodwyn Pig. As Clutch says, I’m “tipping cows in fields Elysian.” I am waiting for rain. I am hoping for a rainstorm of ink. I’m killing time. Killing the time to write.

Writing is waiting to wish me a happy birthday.


I am sitting here at my desk, thinking of the writings we have shared on this blog by David Grayson, about his own desk. David Grayson! It must be writing time again. So many travels, so much upheaval. We took our trip to the Virgin Islands after the deep scare over grandma and her ruptured heart, and Cinderella’s sister’s stroke—bad fear and sorrow all at once. And then we went on our UK journey and our QMII crossing of the unquiet Atlantic. Then another sister of Cinderella’s came for a week, and we had cousins stampeding happily through the house. I didn’t write much. I wrote the UK Wastelanders, which are good stuff. They make me happy like David Grayson’s days made him happy. Then our main computer threw a horseshoe, and we’re still in the cyber stone age here. Then Eric, to his mother’s sorrow, went away to college. And here came “Uncle David” for our mutual birthdays. (Like idiots, we drove the 7 hours to Cleveland to look at amps and shoes and guitars at the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. Quicksilver Messenger Service freaks, be advised: John Cippolina’s bizarre amp set-up with massive brass horns jutting from the top of it is sitting there, waiting for you to go look.)
And here it is, school time for the girls. Ah yes, and The Perpetual Book Tour is about to groan to life again….

I’m signing a big fat contract today for mucho dinero and new books. Did I tell you? A three book contract. And the Hummingbird sent real royalties—like ten times the amount I ever got before for all my books combined. But now I have to get to work.

Clutch says: “Bang, bang, bang, bang! Vamonos! Vamonos!”


Our dear friend from Kankakee, Illinois, Mary-Jo Johnston, has fallen away from us, struck down by a stroke in her beloved library. And now she’s gone. She told a co-worker she could die happy when they put a plaque on the library with her name on it. And I believe she did.

Things will never cease, of course. The tornadoes are coming, always coming, you can see them down the country road, throwing trees in the air, ripping the roofs off our lives. We don’t know what will hit us tonight, after midnight. But it’s time to write.

Writing reseeds death, brings of it a fresh harvest.


David Grayson wrote a little piece in one of his books called “I Am Impatient These Days.” It says:

“I am impatient these days: there is not time enough in this life. I need more lives. I have made plans already for three or four. I could easily expand to ten or twenty, all full-flavored, ardent, interesting. Full of curiosity! Looking into the sciences one after another, traveling to unexplored places, not only geographical, but psychological, social, economic; reading all the good books I do not yet know, and in all the languages; meeting every interesting human being then alive and with leisure—with leisure!—to know, to talk, to love. And to write! Time to write, and having written, to rewrite. I have enjoyed this earth; the only flaw is that my time here is too short.”

Amen, brother. Why do we have to leave?


We once took “Paw-Paw” Bill, my step-kids’ grandpa, to the Grand Canyon. We knew, and he knew, that it was his last trip. The cancer was a constant scream of pain inside him. It was heroic, every day he walked around the rim, but it was his farewell to this holy earth and to his beloved grandchildren. I was happy to provide it, though it made me cry every night. I’ve never seen so open a response to the world. There was no one there so young as our old man. His eyes were etched with pain, yet luminous and delighted. We sat on a stone wall so he could catch his breath, and huge ravens came to branches in front of us and squawked at us. Condors circled above. Bill laughed and coughed and sighed. He did not buy the whole God concept. He just couldn’t believe there was anything beyond the rock and color of the canyon. All the more lonesome, those final hours.

But we agreed that, if there was an afterlife—I was not going to dishonor him by preaching at him—then this would be the place to spend eternity. Paw-Paw didn’t want any heaven. He just wanted to be allowed to spend all time in the Grand Canyon, painting it in every light.

I have his paintings here in the house. His walking stick sits beside my bed. We keep his Grand Canyon hat on the dashboard of The World’s Largest Van, so he’s always on our journeys. His last words to me, as he lay dying in bed, came over a crackling long-distance cell phone, as I tried to speed the family through Monument Valley to get to him in Tucson before the end. He said, “Am I coming to your house?”

I hope God was listening. I hope Paw-Paw came into my house. I hope the color of the land opened like a door and he entered. I hope he’s sitting on a monument deep in the Canyon, adding purple and burnt orange to his canvas. Why not?


Like David Grayson, I have a desk, and here I make up these words I send to the world. I put my messages in bottles here, and I throw them out, hoping you will find them.

It’s a small maple desk on the second floor of our house. I’m in a kind of loft, between our “master suite” and the rooms of the kids. The stairway down is behind my back. My desk is placed before a window that looks into the center of a vast and very old red oak in front. It towers over our house—I’m at squirrel- and bird-nest level, and I can spy on them from here. Our neighbor from across the street threatens to come out in her black bikini to distract me, but she hasn’t done it yet. Maybe she has, and I’m more focused on the keyboard and the notebooks than I thought!

The writing space is a kind of square U, painted white. To my left, beside our bedroom door, hangs a Plains Indian prayer wheel. Beside the desk, on the port side, are my poetry bookshelves. I have a few hundred poetry books here. The secret boiler-room. (A quick and random scan, skipping titles: Yosano Akiko, Sherman Alexie, Yehuda Amichai, AR Ammons, Basho, Wendell Berry, William Blake, Darrell Bourque, Charles Bukowski, Buson, Jim Carroll, Raymond Carver, Lisa Chavez, Leonard Cohen, Emily Dickinson, Rita Dove, Bob Dylan, TS Eliot, BH Fairchild, Ferlinghetti, Tess Gallagher, Ginsberg, Louise Gluck, Jay Griswold, Han-shan, Donald Hall, Jim Harrison, Robert Hass, Ikkyu, Issa, Jane Kenyon, Kerouac, Etheridge Knight, Komunyakaa, etc.) [In the middle: Ted Kooser and William Matthews to Pablo Neruda and Mary Oliver!] (On the other end: Shiki, Gary Snyder, Gary Soto, Kim Stafford, William Stafford, Dylan Thomas, Mona Van Duyn, Verlaine, Diane Wakoski, Frank X Walker, Walt Whitman, CK Williams, William Carlos Williams, Charles Wright, Franz Wright, James Wright, Robert Wrigley, Wordsworth, Yevtushenko….) (Have you read Richard Wright’s haikus?) (If you’re like me, just the list of names sets off poems and small bombs in your mind.)

Atop these shelves, there is a very old wooden cross from El Paso, a Route 66 road sign, framed aspen leaves, and models of Steve McQueen’s BULLITT Mustang and the bad-ass ’71 Dodge Challenger Kowalski drove in VANISHING POINT. Also the Texaco home lubricant can that plays a small role in my novel, IN SEARCH OF SNOW. Sticking out of it are two huge feathers: wild turkey and horned owl. Finally, there is the iPod dock that is blasting away as I write. (James Brown, “Make it Funky.”)

On the desk is this writing and electric pinball machine—Toshiba Satellite laptop. On the shelf behind the computer are succulents, cacti and ivy. To the left of the big screen (because I am blind as a mole and need a big screen), there is a framed picture of Basho walking in the snow. To the right, a framed picture of Pablo Neruda’s desk. Between these two poles, I write.

Also, a hand grenade, fat rock crystals—a green one and a clear one, statues of turtles, a coyote skull, and a figurine of Chac Mool, the ancient Mexican messenger to the gods.

On the main desk, a Harvard cup and a Route 66 cup jammed with pens. Got to have pens, man. A Swiss army knife. Work stuff like tape, and soul stuff like incense. Notebooks, David Grayson, scissors, crap. Oh! Chayo and I often put up my set of plastic 1950’s screaming monster movie victims, as if they’re running away from, and shooting at, my computer. That’s when you really know Dad’s writing! It gets scary in here!

I urge you to buy these from Archie McPhee ASAP. You can’t over-estimate the value of terrified victims when you write. (While you’re at it, get the Avenging Narwhal who angrily skewers cuter animals with his horn.)

To the right of the desk, a bookshelf of research materials and my own published books. That shelf is getting heavy with all these foreign editions. But mostly, dictionaries and thesauri. (Did you like that?) Mexican history, indigenous history, world history, and immigration texts. Herbal and healing books. On the wall beside the shelf, there is a framed tarantula that’s about as big as a plate. Those of you who knew me back in the early ‘80’s will recall the tarantula known as Lassie that lived in my bedroom. She sat upon a model of an ancient Ford truck, thus making my own private monster movie. (See screaming victims, above.) I also kept my pocket money in there, figuring, who would reach in the cage? Along with this meditative tarantula, there is a long frame with mounted dragonflies. Five of them. Very mystical, these little companions.

Finally, the starboard wall, behind which the gorgeous Megan resides, is a built-in book shelf also jammed with texts. There, you’ll find my haiku collection—both poems and commentary. And poetry and writing-craft anthologies. And religious/ theological/philosophical, even occult, books. Buechner, CS Lewis. Books on angels and demons. Books on the Tao and Zen. The Bible. The Watcher Angels and the Nephilim. The Book of Job. Up on top, also a hold-over from my boyhood bedroom, is my giant stuffed armadillo a savage cousin brought me when I was ten or eleven. He presided over many romances in that mysterious ol’ room of mine, as some of you might recall.

Underneath, in the closed cabinets, the atomic stuff: my notebooks, journals, diaries, blurts, confessions. Good God—you’re in there! I’m so sorry! What if someone reads them and finds out! Burn ‘em, I say! Too many exposed nerve endings down in there.

Finally, way over there, beside the shelves, is a ceremonial elk skull from South Dakota, with feathers tied on it with rawhide thongs. Beneath him, an iron lizard—a tiny sculpture on the wall.

Barring too many details, that is my desk. I wish I could send this note to David Grayson. Or to Paw-Paw. Or to Mary-Jo Johnson. Maybe I just did.

I’m listening to The James Gang, to Symphony X, to Devotchka, to Department of Crooks, to the Nortec Collective, to the underground music box set Cinderella got me for my birthday.

Ah, the Beatles on the iPod. Nobody here likes the Beatles but me. The old fart in the tower. But it’s my tower.

Everyone smiles as you drift by the flowers that grow so incredibly high…
Lucy in the Sky

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