Rising at 5 A.M. writing samples

Rising at 5am front cover


Back from Canada

Sharp, smoky, drawling, raspy, clipped voices
melt in a stew:
I’m home.
Liberal news anchors, fine manners,
and immaculate gutters
are behind me.
I’m back with that shaved-headed man on his Harley
gunning down Piedmont Avenue,
kid who casually drops an empty Coke can on the sidewalk,
woman in the tea bar whose cell phone and laptop
click and clatter.

But when I mix in the supermarket line
with a Chinese man buying tofu and bok choy
and a guy from the Dominican
with whom I discuss Miggie Tejada,
a rich, dark music surges up.
Ours is a Picasso of jagged corners,
mismatched colors, and contorted postures.
We’re thrown together in a salad
coated with vinegar, oil and pepper.
As I walk home, a man in his twenties
with soiled Princeton sweatshirt and tired eyes
asks for a dollar.
I give it to him, shake his hand,
go cook my meat and potatoes.


Paris, 1966

I feel a pang recalling the lemon tea
that washed down a croissant in the café
across from the Luxembourg Gardens
when I was too young to have a sense
of tragedy. Everything bored its way
deep into memory: crones in black
collecting sous from the sitters in the Gardens,
visions of Rimbaud making the sky
tremble above those iron chairs,
exhaustion that plagued me after
every day of sightseeing.
No HIV had happened yet,
no breakdowns, no divorce,
but each sweet thing was tinged
with sadness, as though the world
was gently preparing me
for what would follow, like apricots
in brandy on a charcuterie shelf,
expanding, darkening, sweetening.


Piedmont Avenue, Oakland Sonata

Drumbeat of rain leaves ebony roofs shining.
On the phone you’re sad. What can I do
to infect you with my mood?
A sycamore’s mottled limbs drip.
Cars and trucks continue their procession
down the Avenue,
unstopped by night or war,
each backfire, screech, horn a variation in a sonata
penned by the mysterious Piedmont Avenue Composer.
Until we meet in Berkeley for dinner
I’ll sip Harmutty Assam and gaze.
The sun’s bright enough to blind,
but in my tea, dances amber and citron.
Skittering sparrows skim the sidewalk,
kids laugh on their skateboards,
SUVs tumble down the street like harlequins.
See you at six.



One grad school day in Santa Cruz
Paul taught me
how to shoot hoops, defend.
About to quit,
we were challenged to a game
by two hairy, robust guys.
We were men,
what could we say?
We dribbled, ran, shot,
sweated, grunted,
guffawed, pushed off,
our perspiration mingled,
our breaths went in
and out each other,
eyes met,
arms grazed,
hands slapped,
thighs pumped,
until finally we were exhausted
and hugged, one by one,
dripping, burning,
ripping ourselves away
from the body of the game,
the single self we had become.


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