OF A 37 CENT JAMES BALDWIN STAMP    for Raymond Paul Adams




Little Jimmy,

the boy preacher,

eyes bugging out

(at the meanness of the world?),

preaching his song

at the top of

his high voice

while walking the streets

of Harlem.


He watched the boys

watching the girls

while hugging his pain

like a mother clutching

a scuffed child scooped-up

from the blacktop.


His voice was a pearl

stuck in his throat.




August 6, 2004-May 29, 2016


Proust, in his cork-lined bedroom, in bed, covered to the chin in white linen
sheets, remembered. Biting into a cookie, his life paraded before his eyes.
Thoughtful people remember. It is part of our capacity in being human.
I was nine years old the Memorial Day
I accompanied my mother to the V.A. Hospital
on the Leestown Pike in Lexington, KY
to visit her uncle, my great-uncle, Jeptha Clay Downing.
He was a veteran of World War I.
He was twenty-three when he fought
in the Second Battle of Verdun.
In the parlance of the day “he was shell-shocked.”
When mother introduced us,
in her formal way,
he produced a sweet smile
and shook my hand.
I remember how soft his hand was,
as if he had never done a day’s work.
He would live the rest of his life
at that hospital.
From the time he left the trench
till the day he died forty-two years later
he never spoke a word to anyone.
May 26, 2014
Lexington, KY


“We who were living are now dying
With a little patience.”—T. S. Eliot from The Wasteland
Catching my reflection
in the mirror on the landing,
a balancing act of cane and banister
as I navigate the stairs nude,
I whisper that can’t be me.
It is as if my body, wasting,
has been carved on,
little by little
by some hand I can’t see.
The measure of decline
calculated slowly, discernibly,
made official every
three months at the ALS Clinic.


I did not think it so important
that you yelled “Faggot!”
in your hick voice.
After all I did not even know you.
Looking around the hall
I saw it was empty.
No one heard—we were the only witnesses—
I suppressed a smile,
said nothing,
walked quickly
to biology class,
four decades later
the only witness is my fading,
once sharp memory—
still not knowing who you were, or are—
but remembering it was the first time
I had heard the word.


The sun is breaking through the fog.
It is a beautiful day with a chill
hovering in the damp air.
A crowd assembles.
Their laughter rises
as they form a circle
around an old man
kneeling on the stone walk.
The blank look on the man’s face
does not betray his fear.
His only reaction is a slight trembling
of his crossed hands.
A photographer pushes through the crowd
to record the event.
A soldier is cutting off the old man’s
beard with his bayonet.
The young soldier waves the gray bundle
above the crowd before he drops it
to the ground.
February 26, 2009
Oświęcim, Poland


The residual effects of war
are made clear
with the counting of the dead.
The force of its power
sprayed a scent on us, a stench
that won’t be washed away for generations.
What it accomplished for us
as a people, a civilization,
was that it depleted the population of our young.
Crowned in the thorns of National Injustice—
the poor, the Black died in greater numbers,
they, being cheap cannon fodder
that would not be conspicuously
or appreciatively missed—we threw scores away.
Others returned not whole.
Parts of them were either literally
or figuratively missing.
Others simply disappeared
fueling our grief and confusion
solidifying our mistrust, harvesting our emotions
like clear cutting a whole forest of trees.
At home, the FBI conducted
10,000 surreptitious black bag jobs
in the middle of the night
pumping a part of us dry of freedom
in the name of National Security.


ITALY for Gregory Michael Stewart
The marble gleam of San Marco
was clearly visible and loomed
through the mist of early morning.
I leaned over the front rail of the ferry
to see the ice architecture sliding down
in the washed-out gray sky
of the developing summer day.
As the approach grew closer
architectural details on the lagoon emerged.
Mirror images of baroque structures on the water
cavorted like a wind-up toy performing
diminutive pelvic gyrations.
The shapes of the domes came in and out of focus
rising from the slowing diminishing fog.
I could now see San Marco
grow ahead of us in the distance.
He wiped his steel wool chest
with the same rag with which
he cleaned and shined his gondola,
stopping to occasionally barter
the price of the ride
with potential customers,
Germans and Japanese on holiday.
The whole of the first day in Rome
was spent at the Vatican.
On the second day of the visit
time compelled us to choose
between art galleries and antique shops
or a walking tour of the Palatine Hills.
We chose the Palatine Hills.
The guided tour started at The Forum,
proceeded up a steep hill to the top
where the heat of August gave us a bath.
The layers of civilization unfolded
like peeling a banana.
Rolls of columns, tiled floors,
and architectural remnants and fragments
gave suggestion of former inhabitants.
The heat became intense by noon.
There was no breeze.
We seemed to struggle for air.
The tour and climb became a labor
exasperated by the dust on our clothes
and the sweat soaking our backs.
The whole site looked like a cultural graveyard
that tested both our physical and emotional capacities
to cope with the acerbic quality of the elements.
We continued in spite of the heat.
The beautiful afternoon walk to the Colosseum
was easier than the morning tour of the hills.
Large and cold beyond comprehension,
permeated by the stench of cat urine,
coolness from stone and spaces in shadow,
dirty as if it had never been rained on before.
The small café, seating perhaps fifty,
overlooked the Piazza Navona.
Beer and pizza was consumed
as if it was the last meal of the trip.
An old man with a guitar
strolled the room playing
The waiter ran him off
with a wave of his hand
like shooing off an underfoot cat.
Sitting on the edge of
The Fountain Of The Four Rivers
I ran my fingers through the cold water.
I asked a lady pushing a baby
in a wicker buggy
to take our picture.
You fed the pigeons nuts
and then chased them away,
running after them like a child at play.
The church was as quiet as a funeral home
without the prospects of a service.
Other than the caretaker, sixty-five or so,
flashing a big yellow tooth smile,
proffering a girlish wave, the church was empty.
There was an unexpected light in the church.
No reflections from the stained glass windows.
Just a natural light that was an amber glow
the color of syrup, dark and calm.
From this light I viewed
the story of Adam and Eve
in Majolica tiles—the reason the tourists come.
The center of the church was roped off.
A system of wooden walkways,
slightly elevated off the tiles
like flat garden bridges
followed the course of the walls
allowing the floor to be viewed
without actually walking on it.
The church, modest by European standards,
possessed an allure for me
lacking in other more grandiose structures.
The old caretaker once more
smiled and waved as I left.
I hurried back to the Hotel San Michele
where you would be sunning by the pool,
drifting in and out of sleep,
tended to by the English pool boy.



As Wal-Mart shoppers
hurried by out of the cold
she lifted the screaming toddler
off the mechanical pony
and slapped her hard across the face
with the back of her hand.
Jerking her by the arm
she drug the resisting child
a foot or two before she stopped.
With her eyes transforming
to a murderous stare she yelled
“What is wrong with you?
Shut up or Santa Claus
won’t let your Daddy
out of jail by Christmas!”


“…the affair of death”—Samuel Beckett
The rain continues
and begins to turn to snow.
The room grows darker.
Your muscular body
slices through the late winter cold
as you move with economy
about the room.
I know that I am stabbed.
I feel the knife go into my side.
It is sharp and hot.
The blade is shiny and smooth.
The thrust is quick.
There is no resistance
from bone, muscle, or cartilage
to impede your strong thrust.
The blood forms a quick fountain
that paints the walls.
There is no pain as one would think.
It is completely unreal.
You suddenly, without a backward glance,
calmly, walk away.


(No one remembers my name)
Dear Anderson:
I walked around this sunny fall afternoon
bundled in my brother’s jeans
and my Grandfather’s hunting jacket.
I came home and sorted through
pages of letters and notes.
There is so much to say.
Listening to Harvest Moon,
feeling like I’m in the wrong place,
I’m wondering how you are.

There is a little money
for school, travel,
but in the end I know that’s no escape.
Gregory told me
that no one remembers my name.
That everyone refers to me as
the quiet one.
It has a tinge of sadness.
It is also the name of a John Wayne movie.
I wait for your letters.
Last Saturday morning
I sat outside by the doorway of the L Café.
While drinking my coffee
I read Richard Ford’s A Piece of My Heart.
The wind was sharp.
I could hear Dreaming Man
from inside the café.
It seemed very beautiful to me.
I thought of the sky blue pickup truck
and you and me laughing under the stars.
I said goodbye to Jesse
before she left for Santa Fe
and she asked
“what’s going on with Anderson?”
I told her I’m in love and I’m alone.
Alone and trying to find my way.
I’m afraid I’m no good to the people I know
because I’m so sad.
I’ve never stopped believing in you.
I think of you all the time.
At night I turn and twist in the bed.
I can’t sleep.
I can still feel your smooth,
hairless, muscular body pressing against mine.
The taste of your skin is a part of my memory.
The smell of your semen is still on my chest.
You have said and written things
that led me to believe that I mean something
to you and that somewhere deep inside you
there is a hope that you share with me.
It’s so confusing and painful now
that you act as if you want me to just disappear.


“…love sets us free, time kills us”—Adam Zagajewski
Seldom thought of before
stored like postcards and letters saved
in the attic hidden beneath a web of dust,
these thoughts of you resurrect now
like Lazarus from the grave,
these memories and dreams,
these thoughts of love:
The first view of Paris as the wind caught me
between shoulder blade and spine.
The smell of your cooking filling the house.
The smell of your window boxes in summer.
The smell of your dogs running in from the rain.
The vaporetto ride through the mist of the Grand Canal.
You, getting drunk on local wine.
You, like a child, chasing the pigeons in Piazza Navona.
You, dreaming of other places.
The look on your face as your Grandmother died.
The sound of your breathing while you are in bed.
The sound and melody of your voice when you are not here.

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