The HyperTexts

Reta Lorraine Bowen Taylor

Reta Lorraine Bowen Taylor is an American poet, storyteller, painter and artist.

Go Visit the Tree… I Tell Myself

Up all night,
yet again—
for some unknown reason that refuses to make itself known to me

I find myself typing to my publisher, himself a poet
and he too, awake at ungodly hours typing back to me

Go figure

I plug into some good old fashioned Bukowski
(“Buk” as he is known to those of us who loved him for no reason)
as he reads just the simple observations of his scattered awful life
he managed to slip between pages now and then—
amassing great volumes of paper saturated with the world “as Buk saw it”

Open any book of his, randomly turn to a page
read ten of them—
before you chuck the whole damn thing into the wastebasket
turn one more page
I guarantee you
a gem of magnificent proportions will be waiting there for you

My publisher turns me on to some of his own poetry
not in the pages of some yellowing book
but stuffed amongst the endless YouTube videos
He’s got things there; words slowly fading in,
too slow for my impatient grey matter
dancing, bouncing, crawling, pausing words
seep through my screen in the form of
this marriage of also overly grey still pictures of gawd-knows-who’s

I write back again
tell him I don’t “get it”
I consider myself a “purist”
and promptly find Sylvia Plath there once more
and listen to a few of her grey pieces of life
without the slowness
without the bastard pictures, no random people
flitting past while Sylvia’s disemboweled voice
comes back from the grave once more

I have been perusing these concoctions for some time now
my sleeping hours presently shot
I put some friggin clothes on, something loose
big enough to hid in
while the wild naked woman beneath (that I truly am)
leaves the sleeping dog under the blankets
and takes the now stale beer—
still chilled by the 16 stainless steel “ice cubes”
of liquid-filled whatever’s
back to the kitchen

us two poets
back and forth
discussing the best way to record our poetry
but of course
there is no “best way”
and I think Buk knew these kinds of things
and typed them slowly into history
without even ever realizing it
on that old beat up, non-electric
non-anything manual typewriter of his
that seemed to be his most attentive wife
for the majority of his booze-altered, apathetic years

So I sit before my beading work now
face catching the mirror image of myself
in the window backed by the blackness of night
and spot the almost imperceptible flittering
of some of the now dying Maple leafs of this brand new fall season
committing suicide outside my window
and I can even hear my old friend and wooden companion
out there
in the night
(waving to me through the window in spite of the lamp’s glare)
while dropping its own poetry
to the cement, grass, and growing pile of dead leaves below it

My shoes by the front door
dog still sleeping soundly in my bed in the other room
I leave Charles, (Buk) Bukowski now too
and Michael, my publisher-poet friend; poor fellow
(stuck as he is in the nether regions of YouTube)
and I’ll make my way outside
in the dark
when all around me are asleep
and Buk is dead and long long gone
(while being here all along)
his skeleton propped over in the corner, a poem in one hand,
stale beer in the other
his poor pock-marked face
glowing in the dark even yet
and I wave toward him
“I’ll be back in a few minutes…”
as my dry feet wriggle into the worn leathers by the front door
and he seems to wave back at me—
I know he doesn’t care
he’s been sitting there so long his bones have
turned crimson to camouflage themselves against my shiny red bookcases

“Go visit the tree…” I tell myself
I’ll catch a falling leaf and put it in my pocket,
when I come inside
I’ll try to slip it surreptitiously into his boney hand
it can die silently there in his palm
its once glorious wavings to me
now still and crumbling
turning from bright green— to brown— to grey—
to nothing—
as Buk and I (and Michael)
will always refuse
to do.

For Liz-re-Joan

“For Joan”
Jumped out of my tablet just now
and smacked me upside the head
oh, not so hard as to be painful—
more of a silky fingertip
dragged slowly across my clean forehead—
tapping me with the tip for emphasis
at the last second before pulling away
while the fingerprint
remained there slowly dissipating,
pleading for the magic dust which would
make it come back to life.

It’s dangerous, you see letting someone with “words”
into my brain very late at night—
too early in the AM;
thinking I’m winding down, finding a soft place to settle in—
stop thinking about the day
or the morrow
just stop thinking,
but it’s not to be had because
your words tapped me on the forehead —announced
“Hey, remember me? Remember Joan?”
And I do, I really do—
your full-sized horses, (with that perfume that I crave)
—her little half pints, and that tiny carriage for the Rose Parade!

Besides poetry
We three
had the craving of that horse sweat in our DNA—

After I read your poem, I said to myself
“You should read something of Liz’s every night before bed…”
I grew excited at the idea
tried to think of what I would sample tomorrow night
then, I realized THAT could be dangerous!

You see,
What would happen, is what’s happening now
—after you’ve really touched me
springs loose in my gears
something maybe previously rusty— suddenly
is shining with fresh oil and it wants to make a mess—
swim about a bit, smear itself over every surface…

Oh, you’re a dangerous female, my Elizabeth from long ago
and this time you brought our Joan along with you for the ride
I’m glad you did, I’ve missed her too—
her, and that funny little “man hat” that made her look so perfect
her lips flat with nary a rosebud purse upon them
and those eyes…
always correct
as they put you in your place,
the voice as smoky as the years spent making it that way,
the lady fairly ate ground glass for a snack
and then smacked her thin lips
wiping the corners of her mouth with quick magical dabs
her chin tilted down
eyes lifted at that red circle on your forehead
(the spot the arrow would call home).

And then —the three of us would roll ourselves up
and enter the night once more
the warm nights in Ojai
the nights which called to me each Tuesday
when I found myself driving up that winding thin road
hungering for a slap on the forehead from Joan
and a soft gentle kiss of encouragement
from Elizabeth; “the gentle one”
the bookends of you two… a set of some kind
that kept pulling me back up there—
even all the way from England
that time…

You two published me then, in 1988
(stamps bringing me all the way from England on that A4 paper)
as I watched you from centuries away
from the ruins of StoneHenge
and the tiny town where Charlotte Brontë
—Emily, and Anne
circled their mahogany table telling their stories
out loud, while their failing artist brother
stared drunkenly at them from outside the windows—

Those three women, those sisters
they began something back then
the sharing of words which bared their souls nakedly
in the safety of each other’s arms
and all the way from 1847
they came
and showed the way.

And we three
Elizabeth, Joan, and Reta
we followed, we learned, we taught, we felt

They touched us
and we touched each other
hoping for all the world
to touch the world
as those three sisters touched it
and will always touch it
we crave that thing
you and I —the only two left now
Joan riding her small buggy somewhere in the sky
that funny man-hat
perched on her great brain-carton, as always.

And you, Liz
don’t you go away
ever go away—
you must promise me that
and I will always feel you next to me
when the horses come around
when I can smell the satisfying smell of horses
carrying me through the fields
you beside me —reciting something wonderful
and warm
and mysterious
maybe like your Anasazi
in that first poem of yours I could never forget
I’ll go pull you and Joan down from that special shelf
open you up, and greet you once again
lying there in those pages
me, next to you two so unique women
my writer-sisters
our cravings and our joys so intertwined
in our words.

For my friend
Elizabeth Cain, Author

Watermelon Guts

She arrived in the last days of summer
belly swollen,
proud to have made it here from such a long journey,
her striped skin pretending to be the American flag
but no, this was way after the Fourth of July
and she had missed her day of glory by a mere three months.
I greeted her, welcomed her into my home without fanfare
and hoping I could successfully contain my watermelon lust,
I laid her on my counter firmly patting her protruding belly,
which answered my knock with a hollow echo.

I eagerly grabbed my largest butcher knife
and as she squirmed, attempting to roll away from my clutches,
her sweet blood began pooling beneath her on the counter
when my knife severed her rotund abdomen in a precise incision—
her now two halves made a last attempt to escape their fate
both sections rocking open and up to face me
exposing her gruesome guts
pockmarked randomly by small white seeds
seemingly begging for freedom
from what was left of their mother.

After slicing her several times
I was sure she could not now escape me—
I began to scoop away her innards purposefully;
they let out a small crunching moist mew
as (like a surgeon)
I removed her plentiful guts
which glistened moistly
as I worked,
transferring them into my largest container,
still gripping her premature seeds.

Her watermelon guts were sweet,
and they went down easily,
still clinging to their only hope for survival
(the small white pre-seed seeds)
which found themselves falling rapidly
down my dark warm moist tunnel
(free of soil)
where they landed upon each other in a sad heap
(hoping some of them would make it out alive),
the ones on the bottom
turning unrecognizable in the soup of their mother’s flesh
as they all roiled downward,
churning in the dark red liquid,
bouncing off their brothers and sisters,
all of them fighting to survive,
to find the light at the end of the tunnel
where they could clearly hear the “Legend of the Soil”
calling them to be patient.
“Just wait your turn…” he whispered
from inside the burning river beneath them
as it first devoured what was left of their mother,
“I have hungered so long to meeeeeet you…”
he shouted up to them from below,
tapping a long sharp red nail against his dripping filthy chin.
Then, as his eyes narrowed to near invisibility in the darkness below,
he urged the stragglers to dive headlong into the muck
by calling up to them—

“Mother is waiting for you…
come along…….join her, won’t you?
Don’t straggle, there is a place for all
in the ‘soil’ below.
And I will plant you in your mother’s guts
where she will feed you
and you will blossom.
Your bellies soon will swell
like your mother’s own juicy redness
and you will experience life— I promise at its moistly sweetest.”

My Memory Foam Has Dementia

I attempt to sleep
It’s not to be had
With bended knee
This thing is bad

Flat and impotent
Can’t do as it’s told
Won’t retain its shape
Its defiance is bold

I place it thus
Between my knees
Not much of a plus
It flattens with ease

I think I’ve been told
A huge corporate lie
As what I was sold
Flattens under my thigh

I’m hell bent to bless it
With a lovely new home:
A dumpster of garbage
For this “memory” foam

I am my own daughter

Reading words
writing words
hearing words
while hands wearing long fingers
clutch at their invisibility in the oxygen around me.

The headache comes on “from scratch”
and even with my dog staring me down at my side,
I cannot budge.
My legs use the excuse of an arthritic knee
to refuse to rise from this site
to let my neurons float to the page
to lie there and sob wistfully
praying to be heard.

People I know—people I love
take turns rowing past as I wave from the shore
knowing they will not return,
but float past my myopic eyes in reruns.
And I lie here
my eyes searching the distance without success,
the closeness of this shore
laps at my ankles
my knees
my hips
my waist
while my chest continues to rise defiantly
where I hold the starving pen high,
my right arm aching at each joint
shoulder now too—screaming out in pain
knowing that it too, will shed blood before night falls.

Sons have moved on
waved to me from the ridge as they crest
tossing back a last crooked half smile (so familiar)
before disappearing down the other side,
and nothing is left here today
nothing to be found of headaches and rotten joints,
of thinning old lady hair (my crowning “glory?”)
which lies about suicidally in my porcelain sink,
and this evening
I find
I will become my own daughter
as what’s left of my femininity struggles to give birth to her
before the light breaks
over that ridge.

And my treacherous bowels roil and bubble
trying to form a human being out of nothing
as what’s left of me nonchalantly scrapes together—
a quivering jealous mass whose already-formed long fingers
click their pointy nails on that shallow porcelain
playing “piano” as she creeps higher
heading too —for that crest
searching casually for what’s left of me there
swallowing whole the atoms, the DNA, the sweat, the breath, the blood,
until all my leavings are found and she materializes, she is born—
And I—?

I am my own daughter.

Dad’s Overalls

My father’s been gone now 51 years
and my brain still refuses to believe it

I remember being 7 years old
watching him hang wallpaper in our rented kitchen
wearing his once-white heavy canvas overalls
the strips of paper pre-measured and laid face down across
a large plywood sheet the size of a dining table
two wooden sawhorses (which I’m sure he made)
beneath the plywood sheet
like table legs.

And why
I’ve always wondered
do they call them
I should have asked him then
but I was too mesmerized
watching him coat the backs of the paper strips
with his big fat paintbrush dripping with some concoction he made
to glue the paper onto the rented kitchen walls.

I watched the whole job
sucking down my dad’s magical ways
his ability to do anything
and having the tools to do it with
or making them
if necessary.

He would talk to me the whole time
not even realizing
I was spellbound in another world
soaking up whatever it was he was doing
the whole time
and staring at his phenomenal overalls
with their differently sized and colored
splotches of paint which
nearly obliterated the once-white canvas
turning my dad into a living
Jackson Pollock painting.

I don my own
Jackson Pollock-Casey Bowen overalls
twinning my father
the wizard from my youth
long after he is gone
as I paint red Glitterific
all over a large glass apple-shaped pitcher
which gleams and sparkles
attempting to become a masterpiece
I know completely it is
The Overalls
with brush-wiped red Glitterific leavings
which join previous deposits
of random color that
like my dad’s well-worn overalls
become magical someday too—
(if I live long enough).

Maybe my brand new granddaughter
will sit someday
her own little face
by Grandma’s glittering and splotched
Jackson Pollock-Casey Bowen-Reta Bowen Taylor
and I will tell her stories
(as her great grandfather once told me)
and as I work
her great grandfather will come to life
his baritone voice springing off my brush
bouncing around the room
swiping over the fresh paint on my overalls
and grazing my cheek tenderly
then off—
to ruffle her pretty soft little girl’s hair
and I will be watching dad
as always
soaking up the magic
your father’s fingers have left behind
in me.

Remembering 1988 and the Den of the Brontës

I remember now
towing my young husband by the hand
through your steep cobbled streets
where we stood staring at the pub where
your only brother (the painter)
polluted his artistic mind
before pouring into the wet streets
along with his fellow wasted companions—
the knot of drunkards staggering towards the parsonage
where you three girls
were innocently writing your future famous books
unaware of looming voyeurs—
the friends and brother (seemingly hell bent
on killing the creativity in his own mind)
he arrives home only to peer inside the dining room window
at you three writing sisters
before coming inside to stand jealously in the doorway
in your presence
You, who insisted on soaking your own talents
endlessly into parchment—
quill pens dipped in inkwell until none is left to spill like blood
upon your father’s mahogany table in that chilly room
where his paranoia of fires allows no curtains
for talent to be coy behind—
your creativity only on display for drunkards
as three young heads bend above the parchments
leaking the imaginary worlds you wish to inhabit
into them for all posterity to devour.

And I tour your rooms
seeing your writing desk, and glasses—
the velveteen couch where Emily would cease to dream
and I pull my husband along
(by that manly hand that I love so—hearing his voice in my mind:
“I hate poetry” he routinely tells me, killing my soul)
and surely, this man, this modern princely creature
that I adore so
can surely not see me today
as your peers
and suitors
would clearly not see you
behind your granite curtainless tomb
only surviving on ink and parchment
as I
live on keystrokes into glass and metal—
but feeling your essence still clinging to this world
as I will continue to do
without my once promising Prince
my poetry hater
who never saw me
through my own prison windows
waiting to be heard through
ears that refuse to hear
and lips
that tell me so.

Dale Makes A Point

that thing that purported to be my brother
had a thing for making a point
(of course, not in a brotherly type of way)
it would come to be known as a Dale type of way—

Like when he sat in the rafters of our old garage
his 15 year old butt
plopped unceremoniously on the thick plywood beneath him
—you see, he had discovered model airplanes
and spent a great deal of his paper route money on them
careful to keep all the plastic bits in the original box
(and only use the glue)
which smelled horrible and worked just fine on permanently
fixing his white athletic socks into stiffened balls
(along with whatever brain cells he hadn’t planned on using)
as he cast aside in the dark of the rafters
dead socks and dead sections of his unneeded mind
secreted successfully away
from our father’s prying eyes.

Dale, that (then) brother also made a point of strangely
fluttering his hand in front of my face
so swiftly and so near
that the wind of its movement
would make my peach-fuzz’d cheeks recoil
but mostly I would just smack his hand away in frustration
which he then retaliated against by hitting me
Da—ad…’ I’d wail, ‘Dale’s hitting me again…!!”

Nonconformists, that’s what we both were
in our own separate ways.

Dale (and Richard Glidewell) in eighth grade
decided to really go all out
and showed up to school one morning
With spiky Mohawks down the center of their newly shaved heads
and of course, the school (this was back in 1966 mind you!)
promptly gave them both the boot—
but this was not until the Star Free Press was called
and both troublemaking teens’ pictures
had been taken
which made for a rather strange Front Page the next morning.

Dad wasn’t laughing.

Dale’s early points didn’t amount to much—
years would go by
and he’d up the ante
switching out airplane glue for some harder stuff
(and ever-increasing sins of the flesh and spirit)
leaving behind
a dim shell that resembled him
(except for the dead-shark-thousand-mile-stare.)

He was becoming a clone of himself
and no one told this newer version how to be human
even how to pretend to be
and so he continued to slip a little further into the bog
as the years rolled by
and we went our separate ways…
lil’ sis raising sons
and him raising hell.

we don’t speak or visit or write—
we have written
but for me it was only to write him off
I cannot find the time or inclination to fit one ounce
of his persuasion into my life, or time, or head
I have shut the factory of my heart down for good
when it comes to Dale.

I have gone on alone without him
and am suddenly quite fine not seeing those shark eyes
piercing my heart with their cold stare
(and don’t miss his twisted smirk either for some odd reason)
and I will get to the point myself sometime
as I ponder the what-could-have-been of us
letting the brother that might once have been mine
finish turning to dust
to be scattered in the wind where he has been relegated to
and this time…
this time around the wind from his fluttering hands
will remain unfelt, and scatter into the ether
making a point.

Waiting for Dr. Kumar

A boy of six—
(Evian bottle upside-down, standing on its cap
on the wood arm of the very used chair
in the small examining room
as his two brothers crawl on the linoleum
beneath his chair)
—their unattractive, scrawny, brittle-seeming yellow-haired
crack-whore-looking mother
fidgets with her pack of cigarettes longingly
while threatening the boys in turn—
the littlest one, beneath the chair, with his face planted
against the dirty linoleum, squirms like a sinewy snake in boredom
as she threatens through her gritted cigarette-yellowed teeth
“I’m a-gonna throw away your bike when we get home
if you don’ get up off that floor NOW!”

Her foot bobs up & down nervously
as she watches the boy continue to squirm
ignoring her—
(tuning her out to save his sanity)
while the oldest, largest boy, who now stands nearby
faces out from the doorway into the hall
(and stares at me as I wait)
he fidgets now
with his momma’s pack of cigarettes
as tho they already fit perfectly in his small sweaty palms.
—He is doomed.

I am sitting in a chair in the back hall
I am waiting for a room—
unable to tolerate the tight congestion 5 rows deep of hot bodies
and odors of breath, armpit, old spice, and spit-up
in the front waiting room;
in my recently ill and still fragile condition,
my nose remains too sharply honed to odors,
so that even the most negligible change in the air chemistry
surrounding me seems as tho it would be fatal—
as the babies cough and gurgle up orange & yellow
fluids, spewing like mini-Old Faithfuls
and the sweaty fat mommas talk too loud
all their private “bi’ness” into cell phones— while
everybody trapped nearby wishes they were all
blessedly deaf.

So, I avoid all this, —go sit in the long back of the hall instead.
I am privy to all the comings and goings
and wait, uncomfortably, next to the weight scales
just left there of the break room
(where the odors of microwaved teriyaki something-or-others
are trying now to kill me too… nearly as bad as armpit, diapers & cologne).

At the farthest end of the hall, just to my right
(where I rock back-and-forth from hip to hip
searching for that ever-elusive one-square-inch of comfortable flesh
to sit upon… that always manages to elude me, just)
is the “lab” (-ish) room, where I can clearly see
an old, withered, bent, and very pale black man.
His head drops forward as tho the bones in his neck are long gone
his old mouth gapes open, pasty and dry—
his eyes stare down into his rumpled lap unfocused,
his extremely short hair (what’s left of it)
is whiter than any colorless thing I have ever seen
and he crumples in his wheelchair
as tho he isn’t there—
as he waits for someone to come and take his blood.
He doesn’t look as tho there’s any left to take.

A hyper lady lingers by the bathroom door nearby—
she rattles a yellow plastic shopping bag
as she leans against the wall,
unsuccessfully stifling tears behind her eyeglasses…
I lean toward her and ask:
“Are you OK?”
Noooo-oooooooo” she snivels,
wiping up beneath her glasses without removing them,
and neither of us can think of where to go from there
and so we don’t,
but she seems as tho she is holding up the entire wall
as she leans there, rattling that yellow plastic bag rhythmically
like she’s performing in a band.

Doors slam periodically up & down the hall.
The examining rooms are so narrow
they remind me of the tiny barn stalls
my dad kept the goats in while he milked them,
(back in Compton when I was a little girl).
Folks come and go, pop curious faces out into the hall
to glance at me sitting here (in wonder)
as I squirm uncomfortably in the too-small chair,
waiting for my own turn to be called into the next vacant cubicle.

And now it is my turn, and my thick manila file
is dropped into the plastic holder on the outer wall, just like all the others.
I am no more, no less, than squirming boys;
crack-whore mothers;
no-bone-necked old men who have turned see-thru with age.

My ailments are no more special than the lady who wails
shaking her yellow plastic bag for rhythm;
than the snot-nosed infants who drip in their mothers laps.
I am no louder than a cell phone in my wants;
no more important than a teriyaki lunch
spinning on a glass plate waiting for the timer to “ding.”

I am just part of this show, here today—
fallen into line, my place held by paper, shuffled,
stapled, paper-clipped, and corrected with Scotch Tape & Liquid Paper.
I too, will have my boo-boos whited-out—
just like that old man,
so crumpled there
nearly invisible
curled into a human ribbon
on wheels
going nowhere
in front of everybody—
but unseen by all.


Morning—Torrance, California, 1958

I’m in the Foster Front Yard
my baggy cotton sunsuit tied in bows at my small shoulders
attempts to hold me up in spite of
Mothers who might kill
Fathers who drink their lives away from children
(as tho just another passtime)

I have hair cut short (without even asking)
and somewhere nearby
my already evil brother is tormenting a puppy
while my already jealous sister spies on me
(as tho she will steal my breath if I move)

My small white-pink feet are splayed in the
morning damp grass
attempting to hold onto this unfamiliar patch of green
this borrowed home——
where this father and this mother
who work and cook and wash our clothes
and would have us permanently
(if only father would sign us away, go, and forget)
but today
I am suddenly six years old
and the wrinkled grandma comes to hand me
birthday-carded wishes scratched into blue paper
and the brother and the sister too
manage to squeeze into the shot
as the funny box-shaped camera clicks its
grey colored pictures
capturing for all time
my innocence still

But I mourn for my hair—
the long flowing locks (that never were)
I am shorn, as always, to my ears
unable to flap little girl braids wildly
like helicopter blades
spinning me round and round
until dizzy with drunken glee

And I have stolen this mother’s bobby pins
tucking them into my cotton front
where they jingle-jangle as I attempt to walk unnoticed—
undiscovered in my theft,
I drag the long cotton jump rope behind me
like a water hose
its red plastic handles that allow it to turn
without tangling at my sides
flinch over the uneven ground as I go—
the “Birthday Girl”
here, today, attempting to be just another little girl
in smocked cotton sunsuit pretending to be normal

Before anyone spies me
the stolen bobby pins
materialize from my flat cotton top
and appear exposed in my small upturned palm
as I lay that rope across the top of my butchered hairdo
like a Hollywood pro fussing over Marilyn Monroe
and the rope dangles down my sides
toward the ground
its red plastic handles nearly graze the moist blades of grass
as I fasten the wavy bobby pins
sharply into my birthday head
against my too-short strawberry blonde hair
and I use up the whole handful of them at odd angles—
their sharp ends scraping my scalp
creating a hidden runway beneath my short ‘do
for today, you see
is my birthday
and if only for today
I choose my own image
and she has long beautiful braids that twirl around her
as she moves
and the red plastic handles
add joyous exclamation points to her suddenly fancy ‘do
as she runs and flaps the rope against her slim white frame
slapping the rope along her thighs
as tho she were suddenly a pony
set free
kicking at the air
in the borrowed birthday yard.

Writer Guy Next Door...

walks like there are small hinges in his knees
that need oil
his heels hit the hot pavement
like they should have cleats to make them stick
but he bounces on
unfettered by cricking knees
or coordinated heels
he opens his mouth to speak
although he has nothing to say
but begins in spite of that with a torrent of garbled words
croaked from his withered throat in a dry raspy knot
as his larynx hitches up
trying to stop the avalanche of words
from bursting forth into nothingness—
he knows all there is to know already
and will tell you so
in case you haven’t figured it out yourself—
he can’t type a consonant or vowel
but will pour over endless yellow pages
full of scratchy blue handwriting
and vomit them at you without taking pause or breath
or looking up for a reaction
or to see if you’ve fallen asleep
he only stops long enough to draw another
loooong drag off his umpteenth cigarette
as he tries everything he can
to obliterate what is left of his vocal chords
once and for all—
and since it wasn’t cancer trying to take him out
(at least it didn’t get him yet—
the little lumps in his doctor’s glass sample jar
have already been all but forgotten)
he keeps drying out his throat in
the breeze of constant repetition as he flails
in his own saliva
never pausing to bob to the surface
and dog paddle or float on his back
looking up to the quiet clouds
listening to the water rushing into his ears
as he goes down
for the last time.

Brucie Meade

The boy next door hung over the fence by his armpits
wood splinters gouging tiny holes where future hairs may grow
grinning as he silently, jealousy watched my brother and I
swim circles round the doughboy pool,
its bluegreen sidewalls passing my cheeks under the water
as I held my breath trying not to die

But I was impatient to grow up
so ate up every opportunity to proceed forward never looking back
to find those left in the dust of my footprints

That now nameless boy escaped my dusty footprints
to some destination never discovered by me
while I was busy going forward from another section of wooden fence
the furthermost section of what may have been a northeast corner
or possibly a southwest corner
(seven year olds are not too inclined to know the difference)
The boy behind that wooden corner climbed as easily as I did
to peer kitty-cornered into the dirt back of our property—
all knees and elbows, toothy grins, cow-licked “do,” curiosity
and young boy enthusiasm nearly knocking the eyebrows off his face
as he searched my yard for my freckled pale skin
my bouncing “Shirley Temple’d” ringlets
(a bit less springy by then with school let out)
my horse neighing somewhere nearby as the boy clung to the corner
hoping to spot me soon as his grasp lessened on the ancient wood

This same boy, my age, Brucie Meade (or was it Mead?)
was every bit the young gentleman
each morning walking all the way around the block
(or did he hop that corner of the fence and take the “shortcut?”)
finding himself upon our large square red-painted cement porch
knocking once more on the front door, smiling pleasantly, always

My father answering, playing along, knowing full well
the routine never altered—
“Mr. Bowen, may I walk Reta Bowen to school?”
And of course, I would be standing nearby
ready for my entrance upon the red painted cement porch
and our little play

My father would see us off to school
possibly glad to know I wouldn’t walk alone the half block to
Frances Willard Grade School in Compton California—
standing on the porch or watching from the front door
as the small twosome of Brucie Meade and I walked hand in hand—
me remembering my father was watching, so I’d bounce my ringlets
and my flouncy dress and pinafore (in the time before girls in pants)
for his enjoyment
as he watched us walk the sidewalk-less path to school
I could always feel my father’s pride from his gaze
patting me on the back as we went

Brucie Meade had another familiar refrain once we got to school
and were set free for recess:
chasing me around the play yard, in and out of the merry-go-round,
on and off the swings, and the jungle gym—
then behind the buildings in his first grade enthusiasm
always with the same refrain “Reta Bowen, wanna kiss?!”

Brucie Meade, did indeed, get his kiss, too many times to count
of course, always a quick peck on lips or cheek
then off to flee and pursue once more,
the two of us never seeming to tire of the chase

Apparently my Brucie Meade was quite the ladies man
as I was in his kitty-cornered back yard once
“playing house” with him being the daddy, and I being the mommy
and his baby sister as our little girl
we played in the home-made wooden playhouse
careful not to get caught kissing
by watching out the small windows for his mother
who never showed
but apparently the neighbor little girl was watching
as one day, quite unexpectedly
an empty glass peanut butter jar managed to pole vault
right over the fence from next door
miraculously finding my forehead hairline with a loud kabong of some sort
(sound effect and blood seemingly arriving at the same time)

Brucie Meade rushed me inside to his mother, who patched me up as best she could
and sent me along home for inspection which never came

The thing should have gotten stitches, but it was not to be
so, today, as I look into the mirror at my beginning to grey
“old lady” hairdo, I spy the smile-shaped white skin in the thinning hair
the glass peanut butter jar edge-shaped slice still
showing where the wound had hung open
hungering for stitches that would never arrive—
and I think of Brucie Meade
having spent years wondering whatever became of him
always envisioning him, somehow, an accountant
or banker —something precise and correct
where he could use his expert skills of politeness
I smile at the smile-shaped scar nestled
in the thinning hair reflected before me
then head into the kitchen to savor
a lovely peanut butter sandwich
and remember the taste of my first kiss
from the ever-gentlemanly 7 year old
future accountant or banker
Brucie Meade.


I wish they'd quit showing that clip of Marilyn
in that skin tight, near nude, sequined dress
Happy Birthday Mister President
thru her breath—
it's becoming see-thru
it seems,
and Marilyn
could use a rest.
I just wish she'd be thirty-six again,
white skinned
dreamy eyed,
get the roles from Meryl and Cher—
Show 'em.

steal her image up on my shelf.
I pore over them
to touch her.
She shimmers there—
cotton candy hair.
Her skin is warm, — melty.
Really, what it is is this:
we taste her
that's all.
The woman had a certain flavor,
something rare—
like a white chocolate liqueur truffle,
creamy    moist     sweet    intoxicating.
We ate her up
til she stopped breathing
and then
we put her in books.

A Kiss on the Hand May Be Quite Continental
But Cold Sheets Were A Girl's Best Friend

Now, you know, full lips are in vogue.
Collagen pouty, hellzapoppin gaudy,
eat-you-alive lips!
(Marilyn would pull hers back
in a purr of a laugh
if she knew).

I fantasize the fresh feeling of a dress
rippling against white thighs;
teasing and kissing flesh which can never
fully pretend the glory that was hers.
I know a man that for a while
claimed to own The Dress.
that one!
I wanted to ask for a private screening
of said garment, but dared not,
for fear it somehow wouldn't be
quite so splendid with the white
of her white removed,
hollow cups, and once living pleats
shaped now into only cloth.
She made those threads breathe with joy
against that flesh,
made us gasp for air
at the parting of those lips,
sent slivers of her soul into celluloid
with those simmering lids,
and there we have her still—-
against her wishes.

And she left us there
in our knowing, in our wanting,
and gave us then her departure.
Hand on phone, memory to beauty,
we sucked her down into satin sheets,
till only the fiber of her being
remained tucked between
the tight white threads
of the satin sheets
of the billowing pleats
of the stop-action stills
that breathe.

The Impermanency of Skin

His name was Jonny Kennedy,
a "boy" of thirty-six when he died—
still swathed head to toe
in the bandages which covered his massive sores,
and kept what remained of his real skin, unbroken.
His mother and brother laid him out
in a small pine box he'd picked himself
and had had decorated with a picture of a tiger
and baked beans, just to give a chuckle
to those who would come to see him off.
He'd gone flying just before he died,
and bandaged head to toe,
this was no easy thing,
but, they'd strapped him in nonetheless
and done rolls in the clouds with him,
his eyes peeking out brightly
under the brim of the cap he always wore
to conceal and protect
what little bit of skin passed for a scalp
upon his small head.
Jonny's birth defect left out the
crucial ingredient in his recipe
that would connect his skin to his body,
so that in the course of his lifetime,
his was a battle to keep and contain
that which we all assume to be ours effortlessly—
our "seal," our cover, our fabric,
which so many would deface
purposefully with inks and cuts
and spikes and burns.
His hands were welded at the bones
by thirty-six years of scarring,
but he'd laughed in his wheelchair as he'd
whispered into the camera which was documenting his end.
It was a gleeful, naughty, thirty-six year old's
inner lust just bubbling to the surface
as he'd looked down the blouse of the young actress
who'd bent down to kiss the top of his cap at his fundraiser.
And they all turned out for him, to send him off,
finally to fly free of bandages and pain,
they smiled and laughed in his memory—
the mother, the brother, the town, the world
that he had touched and honored
with his indomitable spirit.
So briefly and painfully among us—
the impermanency of skin which doomed him,
now releases him free into the clouds,
to soar there, rolling with laughter, a gleeful naughty
sprite tucked into the firmament of our skies,
free now of bandages and pain,
but not of love.

For Jonny Kennedy, born with a rare skin disorder that caused his skin to blister and fall off, covering him with sores his whole life, until he developed skin cancer and died at the age of 36. He started a charity for the disorder called D.E.B.R.A. for the disorder called Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa. His story was told on The Learning Channel (TLC) as "The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off".


He's 90 now
and he's held more shoes in his hands than
all the movie stars combined
keep lined up in their climate controlled closets

He's permanently bent at the waist now
from the 80 years of
rubbing the black and brown polishes into the leathers
he has worked for so long in his now leathery hands
and he holds these out to the cameras
what 80 years of scrubbing away
the dirt and debris from others' feet can do

He is not bitter—
his hands are a trophy to him
glory from hard work fulfilled
never begging from others, but earning every dime

He holds his head up proudly
a bright smile of accomplishment
splits his face wide open
his eyes dancing like glitter
like those shoes from all those feet
must surely do
along the boardwalks and the glossy hardwoods
reflecting his pride up from the dance floor

He admires his work
at it glides over the sleek surfaces, gravity-less—
caught spinning from the ceiling
in the mirrored rotating ball

He slides along with the beat, there too
in the microscopic sworls he has created
he kicks his heels with them in their every step
admiring where he has been, and where he's going.

HE shines
—a shining star.


Heard the gate slam —HARD & LOUD
heard small voices —several of them
giggling —scooter sounds —wobbly wheels

Opened the door.

Saw four very little unfamiliar kids riding down the middle
of the driveway-alley —no adult in sight.

Said “you kids’ll have to leave—
you can’t come in here, go back out the gate
and go home.”

The one girl
(looked about four years old) glanced up
at me standing on my balcony
and immediately flashed an incredibly adult expression
of enraged protest across her face—
crunching her little eyebrows tightly inward
as she fairly growled back
“you only tellin’ us’ta go cause we BLACK.”

I felt slapped ... struggled for the words to correct her.

One of the little boys rode past her heading for the gate
tossing over his shoulder as he did
“C’mon, don’ say nuttin to dat white lady.”

I watched them go down the street a couple buildings away
their wobbly scooters making a collective screeching racket
that mingled with their protests.
The little boy who had spoken hollered back to me
and angrily threw his small arms up at his sides in question:

They disappeared down the street, still no adult in sight.
4 little ones that looked to be about 4 or 5 years old
with no one to watch over them —protect them
from the only one who knew where they were:
white lady
standing on her balcony
stunned silent

Saving You

I was always saving you
big brother
when we were growing in another lifetime—
I'm sure in your twisted imperious mind
you've deleted the day
you spilled your frantic spine
over the short white front fence
eyes wide in horror
into the grass
as seven or eight neighbor boys came in for the kill
your weak white gawky body
almost safe
in your own yard
clammy fear pushing you beneath
the towering brown faces
into the innocent grass—
your nerdiness
a death sentence

What did you think
when you ran away into the house
bolting the door behind you
leaving me
between their hot faces
and your spine?—
My dishwater-dripping hands
up like a force field,
holding them off—
(counting on my femaleness
to protect me)
in the time before children with guns—

Did you look through the kitchen window
as I had?
see the terror in my eyes
see them turn away
Did you thank me?
You pass me on the street now and
—a greeting without words
or feeling
I cannot save you again.

Part Two

I was ironing dad's shirts—
the basket below me held at least a dozen
waiting for starch
in spring
somewhere nearby
drunk in his boxer shorts
I didn't notice you til
you were halfway across the living room
he was upon you
lurching forward
with his baseball mitt-sized hand
above your face
preparing to strike—
backing you through the glass-paneled
bedroom door
into a corner
coming down toward you
heavy and moist
needing no reason
Did you even know
that was the day I stood up to him?
that I yanked the hot iron
from the wall so hard the
cord whipped me?
What was in your mind
crouched beneath him in the corner
when you heard me behind him
Did you see the look on his face
that I saw
when he turned to face me—
his huge white sweaty belly
hanging over his boxer shorts
his hand
coming around toward me
dropping when he saw the steam-iron   —raised
Did you glance into his eyes
as you squirmed from beneath his legs—
see the loss in his expression
as he realized
our childhoods had just ended?
And later
when we met on the pier
talked about where each of us would stay
there was no going back
did you say Thank you sister
baby sis

as the Seagulls scavenged bait from the
wood rails behind us
on a sunny spring day in California.

Part Three

You went to live on a boat that spring
with an older man
and I spent my 14th birthday
in Juvenile Hall
because I refused to go home to him

You never came to see me there
He begged me to come home
(his shirts still needed pressing, I guessed)
things would change.
And weeks later I found out
you were staying with the young family
that lived above us;
their baby boy, and puppy.
sneaking in and out
ducking past our windows to avoid dad—
fearing attack.
And I
home again
emancipated, blatantly smoking in front of him
daring him to stop me
knowing he couldn't
relishing my newfound power
while you crept about above.

His eyes had died with his power
and he sat each morning with his paper
and vodka
like a ritual
while his only son avoided him above
and his last daughter
crept out windows in the night.
And you told me     gleefully
one day on the porch
that you had taken their puppy
and hogtied it
and put it in a burlap bag
and dropped it off the pier
and watched
it struggle as it sank from sight.

You said it whined too much
I couldn't save you.

Part Four

years later
you brag to my husband and me
about two cats
who steal into your trash at night
looking for food
—make a mess
all over your driveway
lure them with meat-scraps in a trail
into your garage
"you should have seen their eyes—
they knew what was comin!—"
Your famous smirk
shark-cold dead-ish eyes
trap me in horror
—"I closed the garage
—they knew
tried to get away—
went inside the wall—climbed
under the plasterboard from the bottom—
you could hear them wailing
in the wall…
I smoked them out from the bottom
and when they fell out—
I got them with a pellet gun…"

And your shark-dead eyes look through me
don't acknowledge your baby sister
when we pass now on the street
your smirk
permanently etched in delight
at your accomplishments
we do not speak
no one can save you.
Not even me.

No Religion

No habits or ancient books or candles
no prayers
or baptismals
get me through my day
light a candle
it is
to inhale the wax
covering over burnt burgers
and Sunday is all the same to me
as every other.

In some little ways
it makes it hard for me
when holidays come round
(especially Christmas)
and I bring my old tree out again from the garage
(déjà vu's of childhoods)
and plug it in
twinkling and blue
but I don't place gifts beneath it
or hold hands in prayer
but I do sing in the shower
pah-ruh-pa-pa-pumming to the little drummer boy
with a lump in my throat
over the sweet and tender image
he implants there in my mind
which brings to memory
I guess
the sons now grown
who no longer need a Christmas tree
or presents boxed and wrapped and tied with love
and signed “From Santa.”

no religion here
It even bothers me
each time I sneeze in public
and some total stranger “blesses” me
after I have spent my whole life trying not to be blessed
running too from my father's abandoned religion
and even after he brought me there to get dunked
in someone else's white long gown
(see-through when wet)
as I climbed out of the water
and up the short steps
and the preacher (or whatever he was)
stayed behind there
still in water to his waist
waiting for some other little girl
in a borrowed white see-through gown
to dunk
(against her will)
even after all of that
I shun religion religiously

when I lay dying (even several times)
I shrugged my shoulders
in acceptance
to my fate
without sudden sniveling
or begging to get into The Pearly Gates
I had earned my slot in Hell
and so
why fight it
no hypocrite here

my dad's buried somewhere
or not
asking for no flowers or prayers
same as me
no “blessings” please
I inherit his abandonment of religion
slam the door in its face
as bombs blow arms from children
on the other side of the world
and women are raped by whole families
seeking revenge for their impurity
all in the name of Allah

My Father's cast aside Mormonism
chased him all the way to California
from Utah
when he was 14
and tried now and again to recapture him
and claim him from the bottle
to no avail
and I?
I fling the last ashes of his religion
into the desert winds
and follow them someday too myself
leaving the fake Christmas tree to my sons
wrapped and bound in a blue plastic tarp
on its side in my garage


but for now
I fight the war alone
in the desert,
in the bathtub (belting out the drummer boy)
with my fake Christmas tree in the hot dark garage
beneath my floor
and my sons in another town
lighting candles after burnt burgers maybe too
and I burn a few of them myself
out here
sprinkling the black pepper liberally
pulling the tickle from the deepest recesses of my nose
and sneeze in peace joyously
without blessings

me and my drum.


God, she was beautiful!
A red-haired goddess, circa 1959.
Beverly, my half-sister, the perfect woman.
Long-legged and lean,
a heart-shaped cameo for a face.
(Oh, how I silently worshiped her!)
My nieces and nephew thought she was just
their mother.
Every Easter, she invited me there, enfolded me
into her nest, part of her brood.
I kept that toy bunny she left in my Easter basket
until it rotted from old age.
And Fourth of July?
Her yard magnificently perfumed by sulfered rockets,
damp night grass, watermelon, Chanel #5.
When I was seven, she carried me bleeding
to get my first stitches, and there was no pain
in her arms, I was weightless against
her mothering heart.
Her living room had a picture—typical 50s;
flamingos, balancing precariously in a pond
behind their framed mirrored shelves.
How I wanted to possess that!
(Maybe if I could've had those long-legged birds
paused for flight, she might also have been mine.)
I hear she is now being dissolved in alcohol.

You can't have fireworks in your backyard nowadays,
and Easter baskets
come wrapped in cellophane by the thousands.
Keeping flamingos is
not allowed within the city limits.

Hold Your Tongue
(song written on Burger King napkin)

Hold your tongue
and hold me
I don't need no more abuse
hold your tongue dear
hold it
just swallow that excuse
I'll have no more of sadness
and threats to cut me loose

So Hold your tongue
and hold me
and rock me 'gainst your chest
stroke my long hair gently
and don't hurt me like the rest
I won't need no more protection
with arms so strong and warm
don't need no introspection
cause you'll never do me harm

Just hold me baby
hold me
rock me 'gainst your cozy chest
tell me baby, tell me
I'm the one you love the best

Yeah, hold your tongue
and hold me
I don't need no more abuse
hold your tongue dear
hold it
just swallow that excuse
I'll have no more of sadness
and threats to cut me loose

We're in this thing together
and together holds no shame
together stops the sadness
together blocks the pain
so lean against me gently
and stroke my long red hair
cause together we can make it
together we'll get there
say you'll have no more of sadness
you don't need to walk away
we're safer here together
closer to it every day
the weeks turn into years
my love
with time this will be clear:
a love will stay in kindness
a love will shrink in fear

So hold your tongue
and hold me
I don't need no more abuse
hold your tongue dear
hold it
just swallow that excuse
I'll have no more of sadness
and threats to cut me loose

I don't need no introspection
cause you'll never do me harm
I don't need no more protection
from arms so safe and warm
so lean against me gently
and stroke my long red hair
cause together we can make it
together we'll get there
hold me baby
hold me
in love there is no shame
rock me baby
rock me
let love erase the pain.

The HyperTexts