Monday, September 28, 2009

The Time Has Come To Make All The Machines Fly

Vic Shingles’ Ghastly Puppets
The Compassion I Used To Have Is Gone Now
The Broken Hearted Vampire
OK, I’ll Never See You Again
America Is Mars
When A Friend Falls Asleep Forever
Written And Left On My Apartment Wall In N.Y
The Time Has Come To Make All The Machines Fly
Vic Shingles’ Ghastly Puppets Encore

Vic Shingles’ Ghastly Puppets

He pulled the curtain aside and the crowd
screamed in horror. All the terror that could be
expressed by human beings at seeing their
worst fears. Then he closed the curtain.
They had paid their dollars and there
were more waiting in lines outside.
They left shaking and holding
each other for support.

9/1/90 7:30 PM

The Compassion I Used To Have Is Gone Now

I had to laugh at 2:23 AM
when I heard the phone ringing upstairs
and someone crashing in the dark
across their apartment room
like Bela Lugosi flagging a taxi.

The Broken Hearted Vampire

John Dracula was born in a small town
outside of Akron, Wyoming and 50 years later
he was still living there. His house had been
falling apart since it was built. In the ceiling
there was a hole he could see the stars through
and for the last two weeks the cold winter wind
rattled the tar paper he had nailed over the hole.
Every morning around 3:30, he woke up freezing
with visions of Transylvania: black mountains,
a raven, a steep silver road that went to a castle.
Through a sharp gate and cobwebs, down
mossy stone, dripping water and torches
casting long shadows, to a circle of candles.

OK, I’ll Never See You Again

I went into a smoke-shop to get change for the bus.
A voice behind bullet-proof glass asked me, “Yes…
Can I help you?” I turned and there she was,
an old woman, with a tube running around her head
and into her nose, like someone from the Amazon
adapting to medical technology.
“Can I get change for a dollar?” I asked.
“Only if you never ask me again.” Her words
had an eerie and dangerous tone.
But I stared into her science fiction face
and I passed her the counterfeit dollar.
After she gave me four coins, I said,
“OK, I’ll never see you again.”

America Is Mars

It was the science fiction of the late 20th century
that allowed him to cook food with microwave
radiation and watch color television at the same time.
Something was on TV he’d never seen before,
it was the strangest show he had ever watched.
An albino instructor with blue teeth was talking
to a group seated around her, some sort of lessons
on human behavior. While he listened, he read
the directions for his microwave dinner.
1. Pierce pouch 2-3 times with a fork to vent.
“There are certain steps to take to convincingly
infiltrate human society, specifically American
2. Place pouch on a microwave safe dish;
cook on 50% power 5 ½ minutes. Carefully
shake pouch; continue cooking on 50% power
3-3 ½ minutes. Do not overcook.
The white dish spun inside the oven.
“Do not attempt to stray outside the guidelines
established in Articles 1-10 of The Conquest of
He stared in disbelief at the flashing colors
on the television screen. Somehow he tuned into
Martian TV. The oven pinged and he jumped.
The dish stopped spinning and it was steaming.


the headless horror mutant
from space’s long distances:
he foretells the future
in the palm of
his werewolf daughter.

When A Friend Falls Asleep Forever

He found out he could get money
from the government by pretending
to be insane. So he told the doctor,
“Shhh, the trees are speaking to me,”
and he opened windows in his mind.
“The world speaks to those who listen.”
Then he got checks through the mail
because they proved he was crazy.
But I wish I told him not to play
their game that way. It poisoned him
like riverwater and it was riverwater
he fell into and drowned with
the saddest fate of 70 sleeping pills
to weigh him down.

Written And Left On My Wall In N.Y

The Chinese crane is
a chicken for communism.

The Time Has Come
To Make All The Machines Fly

He lives on the street
and carves small
flying machines
that send out sparks
and whirr with smoke
and blue lightning
and drop back
to ground.

He’s the one
who can find footprints
through the cement
where long ago explorers
walked for the first time.
Sometimes he puts
his ear against the street
and hears horses instead
looking like he’s asleep.

When the universe is only
as small as a place to sleep
out of the rain and cold,
like satellites exploring
a blanket and cardboard,
newspapers and glass
pushed in a corner.

They make it
so hard
people pay
for water
for warmth
for a place to rest.
He can ask
for only so much
with nothing
in return.

The time has come
to make all the machines
fly and take him away.
He winds up small motors
tied to his body
and whirls into the sky
like a mechanical rainbow.

Vic Shingles’ Ghastly Puppets Encore

For an encore,
he whirled the planet
in the palm of his hand.

He left it spinning recklessly
on the beak of a crow
and went out with a showgirl
on each arm.

9/1/90 7:35 PM

cover illustration: aaron gunderson
writing: allen frost in 1990

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Charts Of The Sea

The Charts Of The Sea

Robert Gordon’s House
Caged Magpies
Back To Memory
The Ravel
Rolling Apples
The Wallendas
Blackmailed By A Ghost
A Man Seen Melting
The Miniature Cow
Airport Music
The Moonlite Drive-In

The Charts Of The Sea

The charts of the sea
show much closer now
no Murmansk, no Arctic
no Gulf of Aden here

The waters marked blue
in their various depths
the shoals and passages
the way you roam
mark the safe way
from there to home

Robert Gordon’s House

In the basement
at Robert Gordon’s house
looking for a pen
so I can write this down

A stage, a drum set
a wedding dress
plastic plants in disarray
I must have conjured one
above the electric piano
on the tool bench

The story goes
he grew up here
lived with his mother
after voyages floating
above the Earth
another man
in outer space

From this basement
he took to rockets
hard to believe

With lace curtains
windows and rain
Seattle outside
near the reservoir
on Thanksgiving Day

Caged Magpies

Eyes for shiny things
out of reach
their flight stops
the mesh holds
the coppery sun
beyond catching
Back To Memory

That takes me
back to memory
night flowers and birds
nesting in the eaves
rain and blankets
when the city
was our dream

The Ravel

Now I see the ravel
why the weather
took me this way

Travel through branches
held low with snow
making tunnels to go under
the trees transformed
by the white of it

I finally realize
why I missed the bus
had to walk to work

The reason is woven
up in the sky
the sound comes in
old fashioned horns
a v of birds
the pattern
sewn by swans
necks like arms
their elbowed flight
carries me with them
on migration
Rolling Apples

Rolling apples
down the hill
watching each

The Wallendas

The Wallendas
fell from wires
getting smaller
in our eyes

Tripped up
on television
coming down

I couldn’t look
and still I can’t
I’d rather see
the way out

No Chicago Tower
no Golden Gate
no chance of dropping
ten hundred feet

The family
balancing act
works without
a net

Blackmailed By A Ghost

“I saw what you did and
I can’t keep it under the lid
I’ll tell the newspaper and
the whole town will be talking.
A body made a splash last night.
The East River takes a bride.
If you want what happened
to stay quiet, well you better
listen to me, get it right.
Get a briefcase filled with
50 Gs and put it between
the painting and the wall
in the fifth floor office
at City Hall.
Midnight’s the best time
and nobody will ever
hear of your crime.”

A Man Seen Melting

The story of a man
seen melting in the snow.
We already know
what will happen.
It’s like a fairy tale
waiting for the end.
The gradual slow motion
way he goes with the sun.

The Miniature Cow

He will be three in 8 days and what he really wants is
a cow. A cow his size. I’m not sure how that will happen.
I’ve been watching for one. Finding one isn’t easy,
but I have an idea. On Guide Meridian, alongside
the road before the parking lot starts, there’s cattails
and blackberry and on the corner an old fencepost
from the days when this was farmland. That’s where
I expect to find a miniature cow. Anyone watching
from passing traffic would think it was only a dog
looking out.

Airport Music

At the end of summer we were in Maine and
I found a brick on the beach. I took it back
to the house and wrapped it in shirts to return
on the plane to our garden in Washington.
I guess I should have known there would be
a problem. Suddenly it was a scene
from a 1950s espionage movie.
The brick was run through the x-ray,
frozen and reexamined, somewhere
bells went off and airport security took
the suitcase apart. All that for a brick.
It’s hard to imagine that seven years ago
in Ohio I brought a victrola to the airport.
The guards didn’t even know what it was,
it was a portable one with a detachable
silver handle that could be cranked and it was.
As soon as we had passed through those gates
we found a spot near the windows where we sat
down. I found the record my grandparents
danced to on their honeymoon in Cuba.
I opened the lid, put the needle on and
the scratchiest sound began. I could have
got that sound from the brick, but the music
that began afterwards has not been heard
in airports for years.

The Moonlite Drive-In

Everytime you passed it at night, there was a second’s
moonglow of the big movie going on, then it was gone
and you were left wondering what you saw. As America
grew over dreams, the mall took The Moonlite Drive-In
but that used to be the place to go. Across the road was
the strawberry farm. It was the thing to do on Friday nights,
when the summer monster appeared on the screen.
They were all packed into a blue car watching the terror
up there, the door opening and a head falling down stairs,
one step at a time, to plop in for a close-up when a dog
outside their window hit the side of their car barking.
In a split second the shout for the film had turned
into a louder scream at reality.

illustrations: rustle frost
writing: allen frost
written: november 22—december 2, 2006

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Clinton Street To Galveston

Clinton Street

½ & ½
Fiddle & Burn
Do You?
Twice Lee Van Cleef
Green Lake
Clean Shoes
Try The Middle

Clinton Street

Run away to there
go on a bicycle
every Sunday
a ritual

Talk with a cup
coffee and music
played on vinyl

Take a break
sit outside in the rain
on a black metal chair

Watch the traffic
slow for the sign

If a friend shows up
go follow the day

½ & ½

Look for the missing
picture on a carton
recall a memory
picture me on paper
everytime you pour

To be missed
for a moment
then thrown away

Fiddle & Burn

Fiddle and burn
drive the empire down
on the radio last night
I listened to Frank Sinatra
1957 in Seattle with big band
I thought about that time
I was feeling there
then the news came on
another 57 soldiers died
this month in Babylon
and what is it for?

Do You?

This is the night
look at those lights

Electricity goes
watch it show

We’re all alive
outshine the stars

Cars drive on lines
call them roads
if you want to

Cover the miles
who cares
what happens

I don’t know
where we’re going

Do you?

Twice Lee Van Cleef

The first time around
he appeared as my boss
on a high school job
I went to his house
to do landscaping
I guess I must have known
his face from that movie

So I became Clint Eastwood
shoveling beauty bark
all around rhododendrons
I got tense and ready
everytime he reappeared
to check on my work

The second time
it was in Reno Town
on a dead end street dawn

Even though the sun was up
noone else was around
I walked like a zombie
drawn along like someone
looking for something
when a voice called
from a broken doorway

If I would just stay
right there he’d be back
he had the design
for a machine that could
turn water into gasoline

I could have it, just wait
it was all legitimate
and he mumbled that
it wasn’t so long ago
when he sold acid
to that actor
Lee Van Cleef

Green Lake

You’re there for
what I remember
growing up
plenty of that
and a long time
away from you
to think about you
as if I might forget

Greenlake is
where I was
history is how
time goes and
what you know
is little more
than memory
a heartbreak or
another poem
I don’t know
how to begin

Once upon the water
across the lake
floated paper
with candles
inside August
brought there
to think about
the war on Japan

So be quiet then
and walk to cars
when we’re done

Is it just me
what I’ve seen
and will see
stays captured
in reflection

The last time
I was there
with my daughter
only three
no history
she went across
the wading pool

Clean Shoes

Not even the course
of a simple creek
like the Connelly
can be counted on

A week of rain again
and I have to wade
through dark water

Take a deep breath
on the bus, sit calm
beneath the ceiling
leaking on me
I count my blessings
at least my shoes are clean

Try The Middle

To a friend
looking for home
beneath the moon

made dark
only looking
he’s not lost

Thinking about
how can you get
from here to there
and where does
what you know
meet what isn’t known?

No path to walk on
try the middle of the road


We have a driveway
we share with the neighbor

Last Thursday remember
a band from Galveston
played in their garage

People went up and down
the driveway all night and
left Budweiser in the can

Today is Sunday
a good day
to sit beside the window
and listen to music
on the radio
and there they go

Wearing cowboy hats and
carrying amps and guitars

cover map: rustle frost
illustrations: rosa frost & rustle frost
writing: allen frost from december 10, 2006—january 7, 2007

Friday, September 11, 2009

Such & Such #1

The Ryokan Reader

I live on the water. I’ve built a sort of a raft. I cut two
barrels in half and lashed a few boards on top. Simple.
That’s what I sleep on. As a matter of fact, I woke only a
short while ago. The sun starts me early. Away, thirty feet
or so, in the thickets of cattails the blackbirds have been
alarm clocking for me. After staring up at the blue
beginning of day, I sit up, stretch and fold myself into
meditation. When I have tuned my breathing to the world,
I’m ready to begin.
There’s not much on this raft with me. The barrel hollows
hold what I need. Under a slat in one on the left is a wooden
box I keep my manuscript in. That’s The Ryokan Reader book
I hope to get published, but if it doesn’t happen, oh well,
that’s all. Did Ryokan worry about that? I don’t think so.
He just let his words rattle leaves. It’s the time we live in,
I know. In a hundred years, maybe then. Maybe not. Just
let it go. Folded up next to it is my robe. I’ll dress in that
when I’m ready for land.
I take a deep breath and fall into the lake. That moment is
a lightning flash. I let it kill me. Then I have to force myself
down and down to the bottom. For a minute, I keep my
eyes open. Once the sediment has settled, I can be a part
of the lake. There’s a smooth stone I hold on my lap to keep
me here. I don’t need to breathe. It’s not unusual to see
a fat salmon ponder close to me. Just out of reach,
rainbow trout float with their porthole eyes watching me.
What a stillness though. I can stay underwater for a while,
I have learned to control the functions of this soul’s
When I surface, the air brings me back to life in another
world. I hold onto the rough cut corner of a Rainier ale
barrel. That is my morning ritual.
Now I’m ready to go ashore. There are things I need to do.
I have to go into Seattle today. A seagull bats that way,
barely moving its pearl wings.
I have a friend named Bill Everett. He’s a policeman.
He drives along this part of the shore every morning.
If he sees me, he’ll stop. I don’t have to wait long.
The black and white cruiser pulled onto the snapping
gravel shoulder of the road and I went to the silver
metal door handle.
“Your holiness,” Bill said, gesturing a hand off the
steering wheel.
I laughed. You know there are people like him you need
in this day to day reality, they bring to life what a bee
knows going to the same flower every day.
Even the car seat remembered me as I settled in to the
springs. “How are you Bill?”
“Good. Good. Another day.” He set the car rolling.
He glanced at the flat blue. “You going to the city?”
I patted my wooden box. “For more poems.”
We got behind a pale gray sedan and followed it.
The road took the slow bending around Lake Washington.
Bill didn’t need to say much. We were just driving.
There are people like him you feel comfortable knowing
they’re in control. Think of those pictures of Franklin
Roosevelt at the post office.
I told Bill, “I’m thinking maybe I’ll see a matinee.”
“Oh yeah?”
Static crackled out the speaker. Sometimes I kidded him
about playing the radio instead. I know he liked Frank
Sinatra. I bet he sang when he was alone on the road.
“I got today’s paper for you if you want to see what’s
“Sure. Thanks.”
He passed me the Daily Times. He had it rolled at his feet.
When I unscrolled it, I couldn’t help sighing.
Hitler Asks Japan’s Aid.
I skipped over that. I don’t live for that. I wish I could
deny this war, I wish it never happened. I never would
have started it. And Japan of all places. It breaks my
Oh, Betty Grable clung on the page I turned. The opposite
of war was always there too. I couldn’t afford her movie
at the Liberty though. Here’s more sock entertainment!
Double charged with more fun…Gags…Gals and laffs
than you’ve ever seen in years!
Bob Hope ‘Caught in the Draft’ is at the Music Box.
I’m a fan of Bob Hope. I’ve seen that film before, weird,
I guess it’s back again.
At the Capitol ‘Shark Woman’ is playing. The strangest
female creature man has ever known! Deep mysteries in
an ocean full of terror! Or else the Queen Anne is playing
‘The Lady Eve.’ I could see that again too. We’re in the
age of wonders.
Club Maynard has Zandra.
‘Barnacle Bill’ at the Paramount. Or at the Neptune is
‘The Bad Man.’ I’m tempted to go there. That’s my
favorite movie theatre. I love to sit there before the film
begins when the holy stain glass lights glow. I should
go there.
Bill was obviously trying not to laugh out loud. He wasn’t
good at a poker face.
“What’s the joke?” I finally had to ask.
He kept it hid though, like keeping a dog under a carpet.
It wasn’t easy for him.
I tried to give him the paper back, but he took a hand off
the wheel. “No, you keep it. Look at it later.”
Something was up. “Thanks.” I bent that newsprint into
a square, set it on my wooden box and we kept getting
closer to Seattle. You could tell by watching the gradual
slash of trees and vines. Someday this will all be
skyscrapers, or maybe pagodas if we lose the
Bill’s radio squawked a few more times before we got
into the city. He let it talk. We went until he coasted us
to the curb on Montlake Boulevard.
“Alright,” he said.
“Thanks Bill.”
“My pleasure.”
So I got out onto the cement carrying my box and
mysteriously funny newspaper. Bill left. He waved his arm
out the window. He got lost to me in traffic, cars and a
bus and trucks.
I crossed the street. I got into the shadows of big maple
trees and moved along the lawns. The reason I’m here
on the university campus is inside the wooden box.
Professor Ume can fill it with more Ryokan that I can
take home and translate. I passed a hedge full of roses,
until the cherry trees branching out over the little
trampled path took me to Eastern Hall.
When I say Hall, you shouldn’t picture one of those
brick and ivy covered affairs. Eastern is a wooden pagoda.
Green layers of Pacific Northwest moss cloth the roofs.
It’s been on campus since Ume helped build it way
back when. The tomatoes growing up along the cedar
shakes hadn’t ripened yet, they were still emerald green.
Too bad, I could have used one of them.
I stepped over the little arched bridge, waved at the
orange koi below. If they weren’t so colorful nobody would
ever notice those phantoms in the black water.
A heavy padlock was attached to the door.
I stood there and stared at it. It didn’t turn into a bird and
fly away. I knew what had happened, I’ve heard it would
come to this. Since the war started I’ve listened to the
things people say on buses, radio, in movie lines and
markets. I heard about the relocation centers, I couldn’t
believe it, but what can I do? We’ve all been dragged
into the dark times.
I turned, hoping there would be a note in the hiding place
where he sometimes leaves poems. With Ume gone,
where will I find Ryokan? The stone Buddha in the ground
cover held an urn which could be opened. A fog colored
slip of paper was planted inside.
Friend. They take me today. No poetry for a while. –Ume
It took me twenty minutes to get to the ship canal.
I followed its pour to the shell house where the school
stores canoes. Old Duwamish was sitting on the stoop
of the canoe house, he saw me coming and waved.
He stood up. He was tall.
“You going home?” he called.
“Yes. Do you have time to take me that way?”
He pointed his lit cigarette at the canoe under the willow
tree. “Sure, come on.”
So we went slow. Even if the world right now seems like
it’s falling apart and I’m not saying it isn’t, I’ve seen the
newsreels and I have terrible dreams, but I feel like I’m
holding the calm of the world in this wooden box and
I’m not going to drop it.
Old Duwamish was here long before they cut the locks
from Lake Union and the salmon run dried out. He
doesn’t say much and I don’t blame him. Everything is
in our mind.
We get along good though.
I’ve made slow travel part of my life. Paddling into
Union Bay, digging north for Sand Point, over the south
end of the lake, I can see a flock of crows go across
Mount Rainier. I look out across the blue water, at the
green hills, the mountain rising in the distance, I know
I couldn’t be luckier to be alive now.
About twenty minutes or so something occurred to me.
I unfolded the newspaper Bill gave me.
“Hey D, what’s the day today?”
“I mean the year.”
It was probably good I was up in the bow. I didn’t have
to see his expression anchored on me.
“Oh great,” I told him.
“Time flies.”
“You want to hear a funny story?”
Duwamish started laughing already.
I turned to look at him over my shoulder. What a sight.
He’s laughing and I didn’t even start my joke. The beads
of lake water ran off the paddle.
“What?” I said.
“I was thinking of Jack Benny.”
He was still laughing. I can’t compete with that. Forget my
story. I looked back at our green water.
Only in my head I think it’s kind of odd. Bill Everett is a
joker. He gave me that newspaper exactly one year old.
He’s been holding onto that gag for a full year! What a card.
Today is July 19, 1942, not July 18, 1941. What a
“Rochester…” Duwamish said, sending us along.
I don’t wear a watch. I don’t know how long it took, but
the dot I saw worked its was into being my raft.
“Looks like you have a visitor.”

A woman with long black hair sat there. She was wearing
a blue bathing suit.
Duwamish gave a whistle as we neared.
“I wonder who she is. I don’t know her.”
Duwamish started another laugh.
“Jack Benny again?”
“Nooo…” he laughed.
I didn’t expect this. As a matter of fact, she was beautiful
to see. She leaned forward on her bare knees and raised
a hand to shade out the sun.
Behind me, three silver navy planes roared in a tight
formation towards Sand Point. I watched them too.
I was used to the loud thrum coming and going night
and day.
When I turned back to her, she was focused on me with
the thousand candle power of a lighthouse.
Duwamish was still chuckling as he took hold of my
She nodded to me. “My name is Akari. Professor Ume
sent me here.”
“He has a special assignment.” She reached over and
took a waterproof satchel from one of the barrels.
“May I show you?”
There wouldn’t be a lot of room with two people on
board but that didn’t seem so bad.
“Well, go on,” Duwamish gave me a push. “Three’s a
I clambered up there. Akari caught my arm as the raft
tipped. “Thanks.” She made me a little nervous though,
elegant as she was, there was something about her that
seemed like one of those Thrilling Amazing Monthly
cover girls. She let go of me and ran her hand to the
satchel again.
“Professor Ume needs you to translate this by tomorrow.
He believes the work you do could affect the outcome of
his sentencing.”
“What? With poetry?”
“Yes,” she said. “And he wanted you to have this too.”
I watched the pearls of her bracelet click and turn as
she reached back into that treasure bag. But what she
took out I could feel my soul crash at.
Old yellowed parchment. I knew the swirled calligraphy
on it from the years of making its meaning mine. It was
writing like the scrolling watery surface of Lake
Washington. “Ryokan…” I whispered.
“Yes.” She held the brittle wonder out to me. She put it
in my opened hands.
I closed my eyes. I would have tried to speak but at
that moment a P-38 pursuit aircraft came roaring off
Sand Point. I know birds and I know airplanes. I’ll admit
these things can disrupt meditation but when I’m
underwater or in the right state, they just don’t matter
to me.
Akari jerked her look at the sky and as she did so,
her face became steely and grim.
I don’t blame her really. They’re loud, but soon gone.
When it had blurred to nothing in the air, I dropped my
eyes to the lake. I could see the tiny point of Duwamish
going gone. I didn’t even know he had left. I didn’t get
a chance to say goodbye or thank him.
The Ryokan paper stirred on my hands. I held it like a
butterfly. “Is this for me?”
“Professor Ume says so.”
“Well, I don’t know what to say…I will do everything I
can for him.”
“You must take these to make poems tonight. Tomorrow
morning I have to carry them away.”
It would be no different than any other night on the raft,
translating by candlelight, only tonight Akari was here.
I agreed though, of course.
I wasn’t sure where to put Ryokan’s calligraphy. Of all
places most unlikely, I finally reached into the barrel
near our feet and took out a comic book. My friend
Leonard McKenzie gave it to me. He’s young, he still
reads these things. The Sub-Mariner, it’s called.
On the cover he’s lifting a submarine and swinging
a torpedo. I settled the ancient page into that newsprint,
closed the covers and replaced it where it had
Akari smiled. She had to know I didn’t have much.
What I did have was everything that mattered to
“Akari. Behind you, in that barrel is my Japanese dictionary.
I’ll get my paper and pencil and we can begin.”
We worked. That is, I did. She watched the sky, seemed
fascinated by the planes. When it was dusk, we brought
out candles and lit them around us. As the lake cooled
to blue, they gave us our light to continue. I pulled out
a blanket for her. She must have been getting cold.
The times that I did look away from the poems,
she was next to me in the egg white of candles.
“You are almost done?” she said when I broke from
the page to notice the water was black around us.
The lights of Seattle had dimmed for the war.
In case a Zero happened to stray ashore,
I guess.
“I’ll be done by dawn,” I told her. While I wrote,
I looked up now and then to keep track of a spider
making a web between the barrels.
I didn’t know she was so warm until she drifted a
hand to rest on me. I left my pencil on the word mountain
and looked at her candlelit face.
“Is it true you can hold your breath underwater like
the fish?”
“Well, I can’t live underwater, but I have trained my
breathing. It’s a monk’s practice.”
“Hmmm.” Then she reached back in her bag. “I read
this newspaper about you.” She took out the article that
had appeared in a Seattle Daily Times some lazy Sunday
some time ago. It was one of those features they like to
print on local characters. Not too flattering I didn’t think.
I came off like some holy carny. It did manage a sentence
to note I was a premier translator of the zen poet Ryokan.
That’s my life, I had told the pretty reporter, but would
that sell papers?
“It says you can hold your breath for seven minutes.”
I nodded. “Sure. It’s true. Actually, everything is connected.
If you can—”
“Tell me, I wonder…” she leaned closer, “Have you ever
been hypnotized?”
“Hypnotized? Like on the stage? Like in the movies?”
where, I thought, some poor sap was always getting
led astray so easily.
We both looked out at the darkness at the approach of
another engine. She had me jumping at airplanes now
It wasn’t an airplane this time. I recognized the running
lights of Leonard McKenzie’s Chris Craft cleaving
towards us.
“A boat!” Akari sat up surprised. “Police?” She looked
ready to dive.
“No, no. It’s my friend Leonard. He’s just a kid. He’s
probably bringing me some food. He likes to look
after me.”
Her hand came away from the edge of the raft.
I noticed a twine hanging off there leading into the
water. Odd. She must have suspended something
Leonard got here quickly. He slowed the boat in time
so he rode the wake in and I caught the sleek mahogany
bow. The polished wood reflected our candle flames.
We rode the last curl of wave. I tied his boat to
“You got company tonight?”
I put a hand on Akari’s shoulder. It had grown ice cold.
“This is Akari. This is my pal Leonard.”
It was dark but she seemed to wrap the shadows even
tighter around her. From far on my raft, she murmured
“Listen,” the boy continued, “I wanted to bring you this
supper we had tonight. And also I wanted to tell you that
I may not see you for a while.” He passed me a basket
from home, the slatted weave of it was pleasantly
“Why not?”
“I’m joining the Navy tomorrow.”
“What?” I asked, as Akari hissed back another mile
of an inch.
“Who knows,” he joked, “Maybe they’ll station me at
Sand Point.”
“Leonard…I’m surprised.”
“I just wanted you to know so you don’t go looking for me,
wondering. I—” he shot a look at Akari who I guess looked
pretty ominous after all. “I’ll leave you now.”
“You take care Leonard,” I told him, taking the ropes
off the cleats. I didn’t know what to say. “Don’t get
yourself hurt, okay?”
I couldn’t hear what he told me over the sudden roar
of his boat. When he pulled it away, we held on to the
waves, before he whirled it and growled it back across
the wide lake. I watched the white stern light twinkle
away and blink out in the distance. I remember when
he first started to see me here, he was only a kid then,
not much older now.
She moved close to me again. The thick shadows fell
off from her shoulders, she drew a bright necklace
off her breasts and held the chain up to me. “Have you
ever looked at the sun?” Made of gold, it seemed to grab
every bit of candle, moon and starlight to sparkle.
Her fingers turned it a little each way. Did I hear music
too? There is a band shell on the other shore, last week
Cornelius Barter and his big band played there.
This music though was dreamy and maybe I was
dreaming, maybe this whole thing was a dream.
Perfectly clear, I saw a box, a little bigger than mine.
It was green, it was trapped underwater. Inside of it
was something so important, I couldn’t fail. I had to
lift it, I had to swim with it, I had to bring it to her.
For the end of these dark times, the sun in my eyes
commanded me, for Ryokan.
The next thing I knew, it was dawn and she was softly
pressing me. “Wake up. Wake up.”
“It’s time,” she said.
Somehow I seemed to know just what to do. I slipped
my legs out of our blanket. Yes, I noticed the black
dragon tattoo move on her hip as she stirred the blanket
back. I’m sure these were all clues, but I’m no detective.
I don’t want to play Sam Spade. I just want to unravel
those old words of snowy mountain paths. I let myself into
the water. Treading, without a word, I took the white boat
bumper from her. She must have taken it off Leonard’s
Chris Craft when nobody was looking.
I paddled. A breeze crossed the water with me,
arching little rills of fingerprints on the lake. Did I have
to call back and ask where I was going? No, something
told me already, long ago it seemed I knew. When I
finally stopped, I held onto that bumper and waited.
My legs pumped lazily staying me.
It wasn’t a long wait either. Everything was happening
on time. What began as a bee-like drone humming
from the east became a yellow airplane, a Piper Cub,
shining in blue gray morning. I began the breathing
exercises I do before a descent.
It looked no bigger than a toy, then larger, I could see
the pilot nestled in the cabin. Its bright yellow rippled
reflection across the green smooth water, over me,
when a rifle shot ripped a clank into the side of it.
It fell like a bird off a tree. A terrible loud smash tore
into the seamless cool lake. Before it sunk, disastered
there like a photograph, I went down.
The sound underwater was of dry ice frying. I followed
that shriek. It wasn’t far. It had crumpled into the arms
of a dead apple tree. Back in 1917 when the lake level
shifted, water poured in from Lake Union, all kinds of
things were disarrayed. I’ve found old cars, orchards,
a house with a porch and now there was a yellow
airplane stuck in a tree.
I kicked and pulled myself over to the crash. It looked
like a perfect catch in a wooden glove. Bubbles rose
from the wing tips, the propeller stirred its last.
The clamshell doors had popped open, for a second
I thought the pilot might have bailed out, but no.
There he was, slumped forward in his seat. I grabbed
the cool metal frame and looked in. A bullet had
pierced the pilot’s neck, a thin stream of blood
ribboned out, up. Behind the corpse, tied with straps
onto the backseat was my green box.
I pulled it loose. The ceiling of the airplane was pooling
red. Akari urged me back. I could see her calling me,
I had to give her this box. She picked the right person
for the job alright, I live for carrying a box. Without
breathing I left the dead airplane and swam back.
When I broke the surface, I wasn’t more than two yards
from the raft.
I saw her throw herself in and felt the water churn from
her landing next to me.
“Do you have it?”
“Yes,” I gasped. It was heavier than ever now, I was glad
to let her grab it so I could claw to the raft. I was coughing,
water and air mixing in me.
But she was off. She carried the box in a splashing hurry for
I caught the raft. I could only hold on weakly. She was
kicking away, almost there. Everything would be okay.
I rested my face on the platform so I could catch my
There was a commotion in the sky, or maybe it was
the sound of those powerful navy motorboats coming
this way. I was so tired it didn’t matter much. I couldn’t
move. All I could see was the tumbled blanket and on
top of it a sniper rifle with scope, her rein of wet rope
tying it to my raft, and my wooden box, cracked open
so the poems were free to spill into the lake.

cover illustration: rustle frost
double diver drawings: aaron gunderson
plane picture & story: allen frost written in summer 2008

Hirai Baisen Soultrane

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The 500 Pound Halo

One Dog
Two Orange Chickens
A Frog
A Crabapple
The Grass That Itched The Path
The Blue Puddle Trailer
Waking Up The Owl
The Harbor Is Where The Boats Come And Go


Is it rain doves that call
from far over hills?

The nighttime is haunted
by firefly wings

Whatever it is
wherever you are
what’s hiding is
never as far
as it seems

One Dog

A mangy dog that talks
had been a prince under trees
with plenty of meadows
and roses grew at his feet

Now the only petals he sees
are the cardboard box folds
in the alley where he sleeps

What does he talk about
when he mumbles and groans
when it’s always hard to tell
if he’s talking at all

He’s a mangy dog
with a story as old
as the world
Two Orange Chickens

In the birch above the sidewalk
two orange chickens
on the white bone branch
roost with green leaves
looking more tired than me
(on my way to work)
but enough common sense
to hide above it all

A Frog

The cashier has a frog
in her throat

The day is ending
at last

The sky is empty

When she gets home
before she sleeps
she puts the green
in a china cup
beside her bed

A Crabapple

More than once upon a time
a crabapple popped off the tree
and made so much noise in the field
the foxes ran away in fear
leaving dry twigs and leaves
bare as October

Be careful
it takes a lot of patience
and a tall wooden ladder
to get a crabapple back
into the rustling breeze
where it began

The grass that itched the path

The Blue Puddle

I’ve seen you
skim the green curdle
off the frog pond
a couple times now
but I’m still
for your words
to make
the puddle blue

Waking Up The Owl

Starting night
burning newsprint
cardboard, letters
and wrapping paper
sent up a yellow
sheet of fire
and little cities
of orange lights
tumble in thick
curling smoke
waking up the owl
like a piece of moon
in the barn
taking flight

The Harbor Is Where The Boats Come And Go

The dead live in
the land of dreams
even if you follow
the signs and sails
down to there
you won’t be able
to bring them back

A record found
in a forgotten store
A page behind
the cushion of a chair
A message
on the window
in morning dew

Take a haunted train
Take your heart out
the open hood of a broken
Take a one-way road
and follow the moon

They’re kept
on laundry lines
and the quiet
goes on for miles

“Once you’re a ghost
you can’t come back”

Though he held onto her
her dress was cold
and he only woke up
to the night

A Shark-Cage Smith Adventure