Friday, December 11, 2015

If Roger Zelazny were alive today, and I tend to think he is, at least in the spiritual sense, for he never doubted that himself. He believed that books were more than books. And that humans were beings of light. I was thinking about Roger last night when I heard that Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated for an award for his performance in a film based on a novel called The Revenant.

How does Roger fit into all of that? Well, in 1992 he and I wrote the novel Wilderness, which was the first historical fiction about two forgotten historical figures from the 1800s. Hugh Glass was one of these and John Colter was the other. Colter, pursued by members of the Blackfeet tribe, was chased 150 miles. He was barely clothed (some historians say he was only wearing a breech cloth). Hugh Glass was left for dead, some say buried, after a bear attack.

Colter ran, Glass crawled.

Colter ran for his life. Glass crawled for revenge.

So goes the ancient tale. Nobody knows for sure how much of it is true and how much is fabulous fact rendered into imaginative fiction. In any case, Roger and I collaborated on the novel about these two adventurous souls who left their imprint on American history.

Now it is a very visceral, imaginative movie which, in a very real sense, puts you there. Rivets or nails you there.

Our novel, I am grateful to say, has run (and crawled over the years, but it has never gone away. Perhaps it is just as N. Scott Momaday said of it: "A valuable and stirring evocation of the American West and of certain original souls who inform its history." Rocky Mountain News called it "A dazzlingly poetic book, a rare reading experience -- reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy's prose."

Beyond the reviews the novel received, my favorite praise quote came from an actual descendant of John Colter who said to Roger and me at a book signing in Albuquerque: "You told it straight, got everything right except for one thing: the ears!" Roger and I laughed. "The ears?" The lady went on to explain that Colter's ears were large, just like hers, and she took off her cowboy hat and showed us.

Over the years Wilderness has survived, just like the mountain men who left their mark. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Froggies in a Mailbox

I go to our mailbox and open it up.

This is a rural mailbox and as I walk to it an eagle flies overhead talking about something. I wonder what I'll find in the mailbox -- somebody talking about something? A check? An order for some books? A long overdue bill?

I open the box and look within and ...

What do I see
two little froggies blinking at me

I pick up a long flat sealed envelope

One of the froggies is stuck to it

jumps on my forearm
sticks like glue

Lorry asks, "What is that stuck to you?"

Never a dull day
no bill, no check, no order

A gold-eyed frog
the size of a quarter

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Still Night in L.A.


Aram Saroyan's new book, Still Night in L.A., will be out in a couple of days and it reminds me that you really can judge a book by its cover. This one has a moody image of descending evening below which we see a flaming sky in a rear view mirror.

The key words here are descending and flaming and Saroyan's prose weaves a tale between the two words, the two metaphorical worlds of fire and ice. Another way of saying it would be darkness and light, day and night, coming and going. This is a complex novel about dark actions between a small number of complex people, all of whom are in, one way or another, some deep trouble they've created for themselves.

Saroyan is classically deft at describing less rather than more. Still Night is an edgy and urgent mystery in which the more that is left out, the more we are caught up in wonder. Therein lies the tension of the novel. The need to know and the author's smart dodge, leaking only what he wants known, one page at a time. Not surprisingly this is what all great detective novels do.

First lines prove the novel, I think.

She was tall and striking with a face that betrayed her youth more than she probably realized.

That sets the tone because every character is less, and then again, more, than what is exposed to the eye. Each character cracks in a certain way. The novelist does this lightly, and intuitively.

Deeper into the novel you may find yourself laughing. The humor is dry, very dry. But it's always there.

One last note ... there are some classy, and once again, moody, photographs introducing each chapter. I haven't seen this done in recent years and the reason may be there are few enough photographer/mystery writers with an eye as sharp as Saroyan's. In this case the photographs are like the story itself. So well-crafted you may go back and look again. And again.


Friday, September 11, 2015

pocket parrots, a pocketful of miracles

mural art by mariah fox

In a parrot tree there is a family of pocket parrots. We watch them with the many students of our summer camp in Port Maria, Jamaica. I ask the students to write poems about the tiny, green-leaved, emerald-winged birds, and they do. They write beautiful poems.

And this is the one I wrote with them on that day in August when the pretty pocket full of miracle pocket parrots flew from their nest for the first time. The next day they were gone.


The pocket parrots come to the edge of their hollow almond tree,
a nestling, nook nest, and I can hear their twitters and squeaks
and sharp notes of joy -- "Come, brothers and sisters
there is so much to say, to see!"

When they leave their nest for the first time this August
after Independence Day in Jamaica, I realize
we too will soon be going back to New Mexico.
"Look," I say to Lorry, there is so much
to see, to say!"

Blue Harbour, 1987

Thursday, June 4, 2015


Hi Gerry and Lorry.
I just finished reading Island Dreams, all in one sitting. If I were a poet like you, I could say all I want to say about the book in ten words. Being more limited, it would take me 100 times that. It is a book of love on many levels. Bob and Susan did a wonderful job in editing it and designing it. I like the page-size and square format because there is a lot of white space for the poems to breathe. The lack of illustrations in the main part of the book contributes to that open space also. It says, these poems can sit by themselves, they need no other support, and that space invites the reader to sit with each individual poem as long as she wants, not rushing, crowding. Reading the poems was, as I expected, a chance to visit some old friends and times, but meet a lot of new ones also.  There is a smoothness to the way Bob chose to group them. And the poems themselves, the work, are just lovely. It is like you have a vision into a crack in the world and you show us what you see, you give us light and wisdom and touch our hearts, all with so few words. What a journey. I was happy to see that you and Lorry ended up back at the reunion, slightly greyer in the hair, but no less loving or loved. Congratulations. I hope you are as proud of the book as we are of you.

Much love,


Alice Winston Carney, author of A Cowgirl in Search of a Horse: A Memoir

 It's such a great pleasure to wait and to have a book in mind that waits with you. In this case many years went into Island Dreams, actually about 50. That seems astounding to me, but yet this is my 70th year on earth.  Our friend Alice W. Carney, a really fine writer in her own right (write), has said as much as I could say about this book of ours. One of the poems in the book dates back to 1963 and describes a hitchhiking trip from Great Barrington, Massachusetts to Quebec City where we -- two friends and myself -- sang for our supper and rode a few hundred feet on a freight train and spent a night in a Montreal jail for vagrancy.
The poem "Quebec City" won a poetry prize and earned me (at age 19) a payment of $50.00 thus proving that a poet could make his way in the world, with his thumb out and his wallet handy. I was to learn as I went on down the road and Island Dreams tells the tale of living on island after island until the islands weren't islands any more -- they were just isolated pieces of earth, or sand, where we pitched our tent of love and went on from there. When I say "our" I am speaking of Lorry and Gerry, and later on, Mariah and Hannah, our daughters.
Jack Kerouac called his days with thumb out, "A billowy trip in the world." I have always thought that's what it is to be alive ... to breathe deeply and look out of unjaded eyes at all that is around you. And that's what poetry is, a little eye-prayer to all the things a baby sees. My deepest thanks go to Bob and Susan Arnold, editors and designers at Longhouse Publishers and Booksellers. It was Bob's idea to have me reach back all the way to the beginning, thumb out, and expectant that a ride would come. And it's been quite a ride.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Famous Last Words Of People Close To Me

My aunt Glad in her 84th year looked at me from her rocking chair and said, "Can't be anything too serious ... I sleep too good nights." That night she died. A day doesn't go by that I don't think how much I loved her. She was honest and kind every day of her life and I hope some of that rubbed off, a little of it anyway, on me. I miss Glad.

I remember the day our housesitter passed. Among her last words: "Tell the Hausmans I'm sorry I didn't get over to take care of their dogs." Bless, Kathy for that, and for all the years she did take care of the dogs. You don't miss your water until your well dries up and Kathy was a good deep well. I miss Kathy.

I remember, too, my friend Phil, the painter, the jokester who, in middle age, finally found his true love. It was love at first sight, first kiss, first everything. He painted better, too. And his paintings started selling. Love is the foundation of all things but we got to see just how strong a foundation it was with these two. But one day after they were married, the two love birds were having a cocktail together and Phil got a strange look in his eyes. He died right there, drink in hand, smile on lip. "What'd you put in my drink?" he asked. And died. I was watching Madmen the other night and a painting on Don Draper's wall looked like one of Phil's. He was the kindest, funniest, madman I ever knew. I miss Phil.

A friend of mine named Mike was in the hospital a few years ago and I had driven him there at 3 AM.
We were in the ER and the doctors and nurses kept up a blue stream of visitations: "I am from Respiratory."
"I am from from Surgery ... I am from" etc. Finally a nurse stepped in and said, "I am from Breathing" and Mike's eyes opened and he said, "I am from dying." The only other words he spoke to me, later on, were: "Did you meet Natasha?" I asked who that was and he replied, "Someone from high school, long, long ago."
"Where is Natasha now?" Mike replied, "I don't know but she's sitting right next to you." There was no one there that could be there. I nodded. "Nice to meet you Natasha." Then Mike said, "You can't see her, can you?" I miss Mike.

When my dad was on his deathbed in the hospital, he asked me if I thought the nurse was cute. I said she was, and he asked me to give her a pinch -- from him. "I'm too weak," he said, "or I'd do it myself."
I pinched her and she was about to retaliate when I said, "That was from my dad, he said he was too weak to do it himself." She shook her head, "The dear," she said. I miss my dad.

My father in law, Roy, said before he died, "Life is a dirty business and then you die." He waited to see what I would say. I replied, "There is only life." After he died, Roy came back. I woke up in the middle of the night and there he was sitting on the corner of the bed, white hair all mussed and flaring and lit up by moonlight. He looked me square in the eye and said, "You're right. There is only life." Then he smiled and vanished. I miss Roy and all of them who have gone beyond the veil, as they used to say, and I wonder if they miss me.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

155th anniversary of the Pony Express

I was in Indianapolis telling stories to 4th grade students.

They asked if I knew any historical stories, like the ones they were reading in school. I told them that my dad was born in 1900 and he actually saw Buffalo Bill a few years later at the Wild West Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

No one in the classroom knew who Buffalo Bill was, so I said: "He was a Pony Express rider."

"What's that?" a boy asked.

"The first deliverer of the U.S. Mail," I said.

"A mailman?" the same curious boy asked.

"That's right."

I explained how the Pony Express riders were kids, fifteen, sixteen years old, even younger. They had to be light on their feet and quick in the saddle and very determined to get the mail delivered, I explained.

"How far did he have to ride to deliver the mail?" (same curious kid)

"Well," I said, "He was a circuit rider. That means he had to go a certain distance, drop the mail off and then another circuit rider, a light-footed boy of the same age and height, would take off on a fresh horse and go the next distance with the mail until another rider took over and then --"

Curious said, "-- all the way to California, I know."

"Yes, that's true. The Pony Express linked up and went all across the country."

Curious made a face. "I don't really believe you," he said.

"Why not?" I asked, surprised.

He said, "Do you have any artifacts from the Pony Express?" (He actually used the word "artifacts")

"In fact, I do. Look at this book bag. My brother is a leather craftsman and he made me this replica ... this artifact,  this re-creation of a real Pony Express bag!" I was so proud of my brother and my book bag in that glorious show-and-tell moment ... plus I knew I had him.

Curious looked at the bag skeptically. "That's not REAL," he informed the class.

"No," I pointed out, "It's a replica, something designed to look like --"

"That's baloney," he said, cracking a sly smile.

"No, it's leather," I said. "Cowhide."

He stood up and faced the class like a trial lawyer. "How could such a tiny bag hold all the letters in the United States?"

I had to admit. He'd won his case. But I had one last squeak left in me. "There weren't that many people back then, and not many could write letters in the first place."

He wasn't sold on it. Neither were the others.

"Buffalo Bill was a REAL guy," I remarked.

"They'll learn about him next year," the teacher said. "Unless Core doesn't let us. They don't like things out of sequence."

I shut up then and passed the hand-tooled Pony Express bag around the room and one cute, smart girl said, "I wish I had one."

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Ross LewAllen: The Wolf and the Typewriter

This is a story of friendship. And of mutual love and reciprocity.

My friend Ross once asked me, "How do you get rid of writing doubts?"

I asked, "Where did they come from?"

He thought about that for a while and then said, "From an elementary school teacher long ago, I was told that I was no good at writing." From that point on I stuck to drawings, painting, anything but writing. But you like my poems, so maybe I can write after all."

"You could always write, Ross. But maybe you were carrying that grammar school teacher around on your shoulder."

"I think I'll carry a wolf on my shoulder from now on. Thanks, Bro."

A few days later I gave Ross the portable typewriter you see in his painting.

A few days after this, he gave me the pen you see in our photograph.

Ross is a love beyond measure, beyond friendship, beyond everything but the breath we breathe.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Flying Chair

We all have stories where something happens to us that we cannot explain. This one came out in my collection The American Storybag. Almost immediately I received some emails and other direct responses from kids who asked, "Is this story true?"I would say to them: "All stories are true. This one happened as I said it did. But, then again, I was seven and my cousin was five."

My cousin Kyle said to me, “Do you remember the little room on the third floor of Grandad’s lodge overlooking the lake?”

“I remember it--not much bigger than a closet.  There were two pieces of furniture -- a marble table and an old rotten, horsehair chair.”

Kyle said, “When we were five we’d go into that secret room when no one was looking.”

“It was at night," I said. 

"Our parents thought we were fast asleep."  Kyle laughed, a little hysterically, I thought, but, yeah, it was kind of funny the idea that we were together in the shadow room with the big gloomy chair.

“Mmm,” Kyle purred, “the big chair was our secret sharer.  Remember?”

“It's coming to me -- something weird about that," I admitted.  "Did the chair have -- powers?” 

It was coming back in more detail.  The narrow steep stairs winding up to the third floor.  The creaky door to the secret room.  The knotty-pine closeness of the walls.  The absence of breathable air.  The dust.  The secretness.  The horsehair smell.  The moon on a thousand year old, threadbare oriental carpet. 

There was the old chair, so vast and solid, a kind of personage that beckoned children to sit on it.  Yes, it had powers, all right. 

We crept up to the chair and inched our way up onto the sprung horsehair cushion.  The chair smelled ratty and rotten.  The room so airless and close, as if whatever lived within the walls needed every bit of oxygen that was available, and none left for a couple of errant and disobedient kids. 

Suddenly it was clear to me why the chair was so special.

It transported us to places we didn’t want to go. 

Settled into its cavernous bulk, the chair somehow blasted off like a rocket, flew us out of the Lodge and skimmed us across the lake. 

Not only that, it skimmed us under the lake.  Then it soared us into the clouds, and above the clouds, took us into outer space, sent us into the Milky Way where we tailed the tails of comets. 

And then, always and forever buried in my memory, the old chair turned around and brought us home. 

We'd blink -- and there we'd be in that stuffy, small, airtight room that smelled of one hundred years of dust.

I remember that, one night, Kyle met me in the darkened hall in front of the secret room, and she whispered, “Tonight we’re going to do something different.”

“What will it be?”

“Come, I’ll show you.”  Kyle was both mysterious and mischievous and I often forgot she was my cousin, more like some magical, dreamed-up friend from a storybook.

Soon we were seated, elbow to elbow, in the chair. 

I remember how the chair was woven of twigs, millions of strands of twigs and it was, in reality, a once upon a time tree that was now a square, squat painted tree that looked like a chair and had horsehair cushions, bottom and back. 

So we sat together, Kyle and I, and the chair rocked out of the secret room and into the open night of sundry stars. 

All was well until Kyle screamed at me -- “Let go of the chair!” 

I wouldn’t -- but she did. 

And then my cousin Kyle went spiraling off into space. 

She was tumbling and rolling, while I held onto the arms of the chair until, at last, it upended me and then I was floating around  in the heavens with Kyle.  We were flying, I guess.  Not like Peter and Wendy or the Lost Boys because there was no sense of self, there was only space, emptiness, void, air, wind, volume of nothingness, white noise of moonlight, and us moving through it, invisibly and immaterially. 

We were, and we sort of weren’t. 

We were not flying so much as we were flight itself.  We were like the thought of flight.  Miraculously detached, unloosed from the world.

And always, at the end of the ride, the old trustworthy chair scooped us up and brought back to the airless attic, secret room.

“We must not tell anyone about this,” Kyle warned.  She was younger than I but so much wiser.  I wanted to tell the whole world about our discovery. But I agreed not to tell.  But – and I swear this is true – when we got out of that room,
we each forgot about the chair.  We forgot about flying.  We forgot about the thought of flight.  We even forgot about ourselves. 

Some months later, Grandad lost all of his money and the lodge was sold for petty cash.    

The old chair went with the Lodge. 

We did not think about the strangeness of this.  The place where we grew up -- gone.  Not lived in by us anymore, inhabited by someone else. 

Thus did we grow up, and forget what it meant to be transported by magic.

Sixty years passed. 

Kyle and I got older, and then, just plain old, as I'm afraid we are now.  But we still laughed a lot and from doing this, we had laugh lines and lots of wrinkles. 

Well, as it happened, one day a few months ago, we were sitting on the dock by the lake below the hilltop where the Lodge had been – it burned to the ground in the 1970s -- and a big wind came up out of nowhere. 

Kyle’s beach chair, and mine, didn’t move because we sat hard upon them, waiting for the wind to go away. 

It did, finally, but then, when we weren't expecting it, the wind returned and knocked Kyle and me into the lake.

Kyle laughed.  “Can you still hold your breath like you used to?”

“Sure," I said.

Kyle dived down.

I dived down.  The lake was as clear as the air above it. 

We swam in circles.  Lots of seaweed, beer cans, stones, bluegills, sunnies, bass, pickerel.   
"Let's find the chair!" Kyle said.

After swimming for a while, I felt chilled. “Kyle, I’m getting cold.” 

“Pssh,” she said. “Find the chair!”

I swam around some more, staring into the wondrous clarity of the lake.

Then Kyle cried out,  “There it is!”

The old horsehair chair.  Kyle and I were flying above the ancient, rotten horsehair chair. We touched the twiggy green-painted, woven arms and then the sprung matting of the cushion . . . and . . . it happened all over again. 

We were both seated upon the chair underwater.

Then we flew, raced in and out of spiral coves and caves.  The chair took us to the swamp, scattering turtles and herons, and there was that instantly familiar release that knows no bounds, that unlimited non-human form. . . flying, we flew. . . out of body, we abandoned our bones and entered that unknown, unknowable zone of pure flight, of the thought of flight, and then of nothing, nothing at all. 

When, at last, we dragged the aluminum dock chair onto the dock, I was shivering and shaking, and I started jabbering about flying but Kyle said, “Let’s not tell anyone about this.”  And I haven't -- until now.