My poor mad friend
once wild hippie San Francisco
child of Haight Ashbury lofts
with blond girlfriend Jenny
and big dog Waldo
walking like a small glorious
happy to be alive family
with his time in the navy
rolling away behind him now
free for all the world
to raise his fist at the demonstration
to say no to blood wars
and to roam the roads and seas
for at heart he is a sailor
going off to Oman and the gulf
to set up big rigs
spinning like clockwork on the shore
and then on through the Red Sea
and down the coast of Africa
to a meeting with malaria
at the wedding of the town prince
he the only white man standing there
in photographs with sunken face
like Marlow or Kurtz
eyes far away
and then back slowly through a dream
along the railway of the blue
sea sweating to the sun
and the black snake of the coast
the fade in and fade out
haunt of fever chills
and blackouts in public rooms
to Paris to meet a friend
who of course immediately saw
how sick he was
and took him straight to the hospital
to get a shot and recover
and wait three years to clear
recurrence always at his back
like voices in a half-dream
outside the window
on sweltering summer nights
then back to California
blaze and golden swale
and the sea at his feet
a great glittering blue
mind of the world
always touching
riding her waves
and now he’s selling motorcycles
and making the circuit
of biker bars in Ocean Beach
and El Cajon in the hot
neon palm dream lights
flying the freeways
to see his brother in a band
at the Spirit Club
friends at the Low Tide
going faster and faster
on his Yamaha 550
the nights reeling through
the ceiling fan spinning
in his basement apartment
tracer sunlight blurring overhead
Cowles Mountain burning
fire spiraling like a second hand
and then an even better job
more money
selling big parts
ball bearings for cranes
transmissions for tractors
and new synthetic drugs
for a wound-tight mind
I’ll grow my hair forever
he says
new car and computer
I’m a 21st century man
refitted maxed-out
connected to chatlines
and riding high
with a new girlfriend Betty
buying crystal for all his friends
the ocean at his back
the railway through the front yard
crying every three hours
and he’s blazing
he’s flying faster than sound
dancing all night in a blur
and a haze
a never-ending party gone
way outa bounds until
ugh ugh the bleak morning
the unbearable monochromatic
blue of sky
Where’d the fun go?
friends moving north
brother marrying and moving north
oh man gotta go to work
everybody wants a piece of me
owner at one corner
salesman at the other
the semi-reliable left hand man
Cliff the parts manager
incapable most of the time
losing orders
that’s it!
I’m gone!
North on the road
north he’s going
with his cat in the back
scratching out its fur
road unreeling in a blur
little towns full of hicks
and bigots with their gaze saying
don’t let the sun set on yer back, here, boy
and it lights his mind
with the black night
road ticking white pulse and dash
all the way up the coast
ocean gleaming moonlight
streaming on the beach
at Cape Blanco at last
where he rides the shore
in the silver glow
and receives moonlight vision
and sacred wisdom
It comes like enlightenment
like a Blake backyard radiant
vision of pure godchild angels
come down to whisper in his brain:
Eurantia the new land
Eurantia the place of God’s children
come outa the maze of Industrial America’s
Darwinian nightmare ooze
and Christian work ethic madness
with clean souls
and forbidden knowledge
to live and give
and love what you can
to do what you can
like, say, fix the old lady’s refrigerator
paint some guy’s mobile home
ask no price
take only what they can give
even if it’s nothing at all
dream it into reality
since reality is only this
make believe dreamland
projection of the mind
it all comes back
from the head of a pin
the voices of the masters
Zenpo speaking from heavenworld
texts of the beautiful all
to our free minds
that wander in and out of bodies
as we choose
or linger on the darklight
hub of whirling fate
waiting to leap in
looking for perfect love partners
entangled there below
hear their cries and go!
And he’ll get a boat
and live on it
no tax
no encumbrance of land
no phone or address but the sea
and he tosses the credit cards
tosses bills
leaves no forwarding address
free free
then temporarily living
out of the back of his truck
in a bayside park
plans bust booming
so that he can’t sleep
has a drink       no more speed
pure adrenaline now
and the bay shrouded over
the dreamer on the bodiless rock
and he’ll gather others like himself
work on boats
stay far from the Uncle Sam claws
pay no attention to his laws
only the pure godword
spoken directly to the brain
the child knows before his ABC’s
and he paces
the park lights humming
something unraveling
shadows full of hunger
and skittering insect forms
and oh no!
the vision is dissolving
dammit            it just won’t hold
and now he sees
cockroaches in the stones
his whole sad life
made up of these episodes
fits and starts
and incomplete decisions
he can’t decide at all
where to go what to do
but takes his gun
he’s got that too
and goes down to the shore
to stand beside
his vast dreamsea
oh sad, sad miserable me
a little flea
dreaming he’s a saint
or messiah
when all he is
is a mad insect
clawing at the stars
behind which find only decaying
feeding on the wheel
trapped in the bargain
mindwhirl of illusions
roads and rooms and ruin
so he fires a shot
out in the dark
there’s a star for you
there’s a shooting star
you lovers and sad sailors
rolling on decks and unreal seas
all around
that’s my fiery blaze
flashing out up there
make a wish!
Douglas Cole has published four collections of poetry: Interstate (Night Ballet Press,) Western Dream (Finishing Line Press,) The Dice Throwers (Liquid Light Press,) Bali Poems (Wordtech Press,) as well as a novella, Ghost (Blue Cubicle Press). His work is in anthologies such as Best New Writing (Hopewell Publications,) Bully Anthology (Kentucky Stories Press,) and Coming Off The Line (Mainstreet Rag Publishing). His work also appears or is forthcoming in journals such as The Chicago Quarterly Review, Owen Wister Review, Iconoclast, Slipstream, Red Rock Review, Wisconsin Review, Two Thirds North, San Pedro River Review, Badlands, Common Ground Review, The Ocean State Review, and Midwest Quarterly. He received the Leslie Hunt Memorial Prize in Poetry; the Best of Poetry Award from Clapboard House; and First Prize in the “Picture Worth 500 Words” from Tattoo Highway. His website is
Photography by Julie van der Wekken.