A Morning’s Work


At dawn, fog sleeping in the trees
holds captive dimming street lights,
fireflies caught in its ethereal web.
Gaping new moon yawns her stars to bed
beneath the creeping blanket of day.

Commuters still haven’t grumbled
from their beds, but we began our job
an hour ago. The river never sleeps,
not even under winter’s ice, so we dutifully set
our paper sails upon its whispering rills.

We know breezy shadows will deliver
bright thoughts of day, of love, of life,
upon our harboring doorstep.
This is our time, my mind’s pen and I,
and our workday is almost over.

A Night in El Dorado


Inside the hull of what was a year before the good ship Arkansas, before it ran aground on that rocky island the locals called La Isla des los Alcatraces out in the middle of Yerba Buena Cove, the pipe and cigar smoke was as thick as the evening fog that had rolled in over the past couple of hours.

The fact that a derelict ship had been turned into a saloon for sailors and gold seekers wasn’t too surprising to Elihu Barton, who had scouted this madhouse in Alta California for the past four months. He also scouted out his next mark.

Across from Barton sat a squat man named Emilio D’Antoni, who held a glass of wine in his rugged hands. He also held Barton’s attention with a direct but rheumy gaze beneath his snowy brows.

“I tell you, D’Antoni, with your backing and my not insignificant gift for the give and take, we can make thousands off these trusting souls,” Barton said over his third glass of purported Kentucky whisky.

“Si, Signore Barton. I think you too smart for even me, and I make a few dollari on the docks of your Boston, yes?” D’Antoni replied.

Barton and D’Antoni had come to California as so many had in 1851, to make their fortunes. But, unlike most of the other Americanos, they planned to make it by outfitting what had become known as Forty-niners.

“Oh, my friend, I know I could never get over on so wise a man on the shipping trade. With our combined resources, whatever fortune I acquired in outfitting the emigrants in Missouri will pale in comparison,” Barton said.

Barton smiled his practiced smile, exposing where two of his top teeth once rested, where an old trapper had removed those pieces of Barton’s charm one night in a St. Joe saloon. When he left Missouri, Barton left behind those teeth, replaced by a pair of gold ones now, as well as a reputation for selling shoddy to trusting Christians, including Mormons, who sought the Promised Land in Oregon.

With a flourish, Barton pulled a piece of paper from his now worn beaver top hat and laid it upon the rough table in front of D’Antoni.

“As you see, my friend, the party of the first part, yours truly, promises to pay the chief investor, the party of the second part, that’s you, sixty percentum of the profit, etcetera etcetera, we can pull from the feverish, greedy farmers hoping to pull gold from from the earth in the Sierra Nevada rather than the wheat or coal they pulled back in Virginia or Pennsylvania,” Barton said.

“You just sign here, mi amigo, and the true fortune of this grand El Dorado will be yours, not the Fool’s Gold these shit-kickers will find.” The lamplight glinted off Barton’s golden grin.

“Senorita, una pluma y tinta para mi amigo, por favor,” Barton said to the young barmaid wearing a black lace veil attached to a Chinese enamel comb.

“Kiss my Irish ass, mate, poor fa-voor,” she said, and gathered glasses from the nearby table.

“Hah hah. Bella signorina, another drink for my friend, if you please,” D’Antoni said. “Signore Barton, my hand to yours and yours to mine is all I need for this societa, eh, this partnership to be, as you would say, con-soo-mated.”

With that, D’Antoni reached across the table and took Barton’s hand in a grip that would make a longshoreman wince…and had.

“Now, my friend, beyond your ‘not insignificant gifts,’ what else do you bring to la cosa nostra especial? Ou special thing,” D’Antoni said, still crushing Barton’s hand.

“Ah, yes, of course, our cooperative investment for the common good of each our houses,” Barton said, shaking his hand and drawing a leather bag full of gold nuggets he had already scammed from miners half out of his coat’s inner pocket.

“You see, my friend, we are well-armed to begin this crusade for the riches of this Unholy Land,”he said.

“Si, my friend,” D’Antoni said. “Bere, bere, drink drink. To our great crusade,“ D’Antoni said and raised his glass to his new partner.

Barton touched his new glass of whisky to D’Antoni’s and said, “To a brighter tomorrow. Now, if you would be so kind as to give me your part of our investment, I shall buy up all the necessaries I can and be off to mine our riches. My confederates and I shall set up stores in the gold fields by next week. You just keep the market tight on your end.”

“Si, si. I have my portion under guard out in my carriage. If you would be so kind as to help me up and to it?” D’Antoni said.

Barton stumbled a bit as he rose, feeling that horrible rotgut a little too much, he thought. He took D’Antoni’s arm and led him out the door that had been cut into the side of the Arkansas, tripping as he went down the ramp to the street.

Outside, the yellow glow of the lamppost almost seemed to be moving in the fog, even though the breeze from offshore had died down. And then, just as Barton and D’Antoni reached the carriage, the glow turned into a bright white light, when the butt of a Colt’s Dragoon smashed into the back of Barton’s head. Then all was blackness.

The whore in the saloon found Barton’s dented top hat in the street around dawn and she festooned it with her black veil and ribbons later that afternoon. She thought it would make her look right smart and would be good for business.

The ribbons she bought with the four bits D’Antoni and his men usually paid her for dropping her opium elixir into the drinks of unsuspecting Anglos who woke up later in the holds of his ships that worked the China trade. For Barton and his ill-gotten fortune, D’Antoni gave her four Double Eagles.

A free written story from a rainy afternoon, based on Kellie Elmore’s prompt to use the following words in a piece of writing: fog – lamp post – veil – top hat – carriage. Yeah, this story turned into a runaway carriage. But free write first drafts like this one tend to do that when I get the bit in my teeth.

Twilight Will Be Enough

So many live our lives
groping from one darkness
to the next, praying
for the spark of hope
to light our way,
for we are certain
we’ll never see dawn,
never feel even sunset.

Others live in the sun-bright
moment of now.
They follow illumination
from within to find their way
through the dark times
until the Great Light
they enter.

And there are those of us,
like me, who’ve been through
the dark, the light,
and back again. For me,
the twilight will be enough,
as long as I feel the blind warmth
of your hand guiding me.
A super-quick 100-word draft, written in a parking lot this morning, shared with my friend Anthony Desmond, for the latest Poetics prompt at dVerse Poets Pub.

Natt og Dag (Night and Day)


For sixty round trips of the hour hand of his grandmother’s wooden clock, which he broke some indeterminable time ago, Pål Rønning, had not seen the sun rise above the eastern horizon, which his grandfather told him was out beyond those scrubby trees.

Compasses grew confused about direction this close to the top of the world, just as Pål got confused when he moved to this desolate spot when his parents died in an Oslo car crash, how he got confused even more by the however-many days, or whatever one called them, he had been alone during this horror called Polar Night.

As he lay there by the fire, staring at the images of his grandparents sleeping at the table, staring at the ceiling, he didn’t think anything around him was real anymore, even the winds that knocked at the door he no longer answered.

“I am alone here and will never see anyone again, or maybe all around me is just a dream and I and the darkness are all that is real,” Pål wrote on a page of an undated journal the hunting party out of Longyearbyen found, along with Björn and Maria Rønning, frozen in blood there at the table of their cabin.

What they didn’t find was young Pål Rônning, who had decided to take a midday stroll one night under the Aurora Borealis, so sure that it was noon in Oslo and not something imaginary again like people, April and that great ball in the sky that once was the Sun.

A quick Five Sentence Fiction based on Lillie McGerrins prompt DARKNESS.

A Question of Keys


Does it exist, the place
they say you go when you go?
Or is it another con to keep
the masses in line, because
the laws of Man aren’t enough
to keep the dirty, hungry, needy
you and I from becoming
just another mammal,
feeding our children the milk
that likely is the only kindness
they’re likely to feel
from other humans unless
they believe fabulous
(if not fabled) prizes,
await for doing the right thing?

Is it that important that
we need some Over-Us Being
and a minion of winged, haloed,
glowing, enrobed, stern, gentle,
even immaculately impregnated,
come-from-above with the
Keys to the Kingdom
of a happily forever-after life?
We hold the real key from
the time we are born,
kept within that other
readily accepted fable,
the loving heart — the soul.

It is simple and sanguine,
not ornate and gold.
It is a Rule Golden that makes
desert, forest, jungle, prairie,
all Heaven on Earth.
Do for me as you would
do for yourself…
if you loved yourself.
Someone else does,I hear.

An eyes-half-open sprint of a free write for my friend Kellie Elmore, based on that photo up there. I’m trying to make a comeback from the dark place I’ve been. It’s a struggle, but I see that golden light ahead. Bear with me until then, Okay?

Confession Is Good for the Soul

“Church, Taos Pueblo National Historic Landmark, New Mexico, 1942″ by Ansel Adams, via Wikipedia

As the last train for two weeks clanked and smoked into the white distance, Dutch Snyder murmured, “Maybe he ain’t showin’,” and squirted a brown stream of tobacco juice from the shade of the depot onto the rails, where it sizzled in the late-day Arizona sun.

Dutch had been sweating away the past two years in this burro fart of a whistlestop just knowing his old partner, Cade Roberts would come looking for him after his release from Yuma prison, where he was to serve a hard five for a robbery the old Dutch committed before he found Marisol and Jesus.

“Hmmph, maybe he died in there and I got nothin’ nothin’ to explain to him anymore; or maybe he got religion and was saved like me and come to forgive them’s what trespassed against him,” Dutch said to no one but himself and God, as he entered the old mission church and pushed aside the curtain to Padre Dominico’s confessional.

As he had every Saturday night for two years, Dutch knelt before the woven screen, crossed himself there in the soothing but not-quite anonymous darkness, sighed in faith and recited, “Bendíceme padre, porque he pecado … que ha sido una semana desde mi última confesión.”

When he heard the click of the hammer and a voice from the other side of the screen say, “Go ahead, I’ve been waiting five years to hear this confession, mi hijo,” Dutch fired absolution from the Colt he always pulled in the dark and his guilty waiting was over.

A five-sentence Western based on Lillie McFerrin’s prompt word: WAITING.



As the man in the midnight blue silk suit nibbled his date’s neck again, instead of the now-cold Chateaubriand for Two on the plates sitting before them, Eddie Pietro pulled at his collar and twisted his narrow black tie once more.

“Jesus F’ing Christ, why don’t these two just climb on the table and get it over with? At least someone would be done with their business before midnight,” Eddie said in the kitchen doorway to the busboy, Martin Leo.

“Chill, man, not like you got no woman waiting for you out there tonight,” Martin said to the back Eddie’s sweat-stained white shirt as the waiter steamed to the men’s room again.

Eddie parked himself on the toilet, locked the stall door and shook out the barest remains in the cocaine vial onto the back of his hand while, at a club across town, Loosh glared at his knock-off Piaget, decided he couldn’t wait any longer and whispered into the ear of the college boy on his lap, “Hey, Cariño, would you like a bump?”

Based on the Five Sentence Fiction prompt WAITING.

Still Standing, Old Man

You balance here like a tree
with only a pair of roots,
one with its tip dipped
into the ground
to see how cold it will be.
The fickle winds toss
what’s left of your hair
like willow leaves in November.
But still standing, old man.
You finally have time to
enjoy sunshine again,
but what’s left is twilight,
the sinking face of day,
that crinkles eyes carved
by all the dark yesterdays
you’ve already stared down.
But it’s not sundown yet,
you still have some leaves and
your roots won’t give up
any ground today.
Still standing, old man.

A Walking Shadow


Photographer: Zaire Kacz
Model: Morgan Daye Payne

The raven wore her clouds of white
like a daisy wears an Alpine meadow,
a scorpion wears the Kalahari,
and you once wore me.

We are the settings upon which
your you-ness gleams,
the sundae upon which
floats your cherry.

We stand as the scenery
upon which you players
strut and fret your hour
upon the stage.

I see your glare and stare,
your pretty face and petty pace.
You hear not the sound and fury
in this idiot who tells your tale.

Without me you’re naught
but a drawing, two dimensions,
with no one to notice you
but yourself.

Somehow, the photo above, posted by my friend Kellie Elmore, coaxed this 100-word drabble out of me. The upside? It helped me “brush up” my Shakespeare.

The Sons of Shem


The Arapaho boys came across the dead body of the Rev. Linus Quimby wrapped in a wool blanket at the bottom of a buffalo wallow, a thick book clutched in his frozen hands and an expression of joy upon his face.

“It is already the Moon When the Buffalo Calves’ Noses Turn Brown and the first snow came last night, so to find a man, even a foolish white man, traveling without a horse or even a dog to carry his provisions shows he was as crazy as he looks,” said the younger boy, taking the blanket from the would-be missionary.

“Look at the useless fire he made of these white skins with markings, not the leavings of the buffalo or even a stick from the trees on the banks of the Niinéniiniicíihéhe’, only two days ride from here,” said the older boy, as he relieved his brother of the blanket and Rev. Quimby of a knife and a piece of flint.

After riding east until the sun had almost reached its highest point, the boys found the remains of Rev. Quimby’s horse being picked clean by coyotes and birds, stripped of its saddle by a roaming band of Cheyenne hunters and with more of those marked skins scattered on the yellow grass in the melting snow.

If the boys could read, they might notice one that was dated two days before, November 20, 1830, and it said: Last night I burned all my maps, Psalm 23 and First Thessalonians from my Bible, my Lord God, because where I am going in Your name, I have faith You shall guide me, help me lead the sons of Shem back to you, and we shall never be lost again.

A story of unrelenting faith, based on Lillie McFerrin’s prompt word, Maps


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