Thursday, July 25, 2019

Welcome to j. lewis!

This afternoon, while I was walking home, I was missing spring.  Even though today was a lovely late-summer day (not too hot or muggy), it's a good evening to post j. lewis' "waiting for spring"!

waiting for spring

the weather station keeps count
of snow days and records broken
but i don't, not any more

from the kitchen window
everything is white
yard, picnic table, mounded caps 
on fence posts

icicles drip all day
refreeze at night
their own circle of life 
turning with no break in sight

i half-hear the television
news hour winding down
into another repetitive
report and prediction
cold air and moisture
moisture and cold air

we're buried under 
another fifteen inches of snow 
just from today
and still it falls

gazed fixed on the garden side
of the blanketed yard,
i realize that i am starving
for color, for spring,
for flowers

i never cared for cats

or their ability to ignore me
until they wanted something
and then it was either
the plaintive mew, mew, mew
like sandpaper on my eardrums
or the claws-out climb
up my pant legs
so they could stare me
right in the face
with a self-centered
"well? where's dinner?"

they never learned either
from the sudden drop
back to the floor
that they had picked
the wrong post to scratch,
that the one they really wanted
was already in the kitchen
humming softly as she
made dinner for us all

but now the cat-bowl's empty
the kitchen's gone quiet
and the house is so large 
that i'm thinking of something
i swore i'd never do
i'm seriously considering
getting myself a dog

when the last one leaves

eighty nine and pushing ninety
her friend and husband of fifty two years
recently gone, but she had family
lots of family who stayed to help

but life doesn't stop for the living
and when the helpful, lingering son 
boarded his early morning flight
well, that was it

she says she has another son
"the hippie-druggie who thinks
that he's the president"
who will come next week
he didn't make the funeral
because no one knew his number

he called the morning of
when it was too late
forever too late
her voice cracks with sad resolve
"i had to let go of trying to fix him"
though she hasn't ever let go of him
not in her heart, not in her mind

she wonders how it will be
him coming home for a short stay
to clean the garage one last time
not fearful, but wary of what he is
recounting that when ed was alive
it was never an issue at all
"because nobody messed with ed"

her head nods as she counts off
all the family who have gone before
a few older, but mostly younger ones
she laughs and says "oh, please
don't let me live to be a hundred"

i think she just doesn't want to be
around when the last child leaves her

Image by Sabine van Erp from Pixabay 

Falling Star

I left the meeting early when I saw the sky. 
Too cloudy for the Perseids. A shame, really.
Stars falling, like love fell into my heart,
A flash of brightness, a streak of light.
The magic of the universe burned 
In my secret, hopeful hiding place.
But nothing to see tonight.

I took the freeway home. Traffic crawled.
The cloud cover broke briefly. 
I stopped along a freeway off-ramp. 
Stared at the unsettled sky. 
A single bright line traced its path to the ocean.
The clouds closed ranks. Rain came.
I try, but I can't explain 
How like that meteor you are.

j. lewis is an internationally published poet, musician, and nurse practitioner. His poems have appeared online and in print in numerous journals from California to Nigeria to the UK. His first collection of poetry and photography was published in June 2016, and is available on Amazon ( A chapbook "every evening is december" was published by Praxis Magazine ( in February 2018. A second book of poetry is forthcoming from Kelsay Books.

I have to play Blossom Dearie's "They Say It's Spring": 

Here she is singing "It Might As Well Be Spring" in French:

I'm going to switch to the Bill Evans Trio's version of this song:


Sunday, July 21, 2019

Welcome to Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal!

Photograph by Gardner Soule (Public Domain)

Tonight Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal has poems for all seasons.  Given the sweltering weather, I'll start with his winter poem.   It will cheer up those of you who miss the cold.  For everyone else, it will remind you that summer weather is not the only bad weather we face.

In the Snow

In the snow
and blowing wind
you became intoxicated
by inhaling the snow and wind.

Your footsteps 
were easy to trace
in the white snow, abominable 
snowman, I knew those giant feet
from my years of following you.

I recognized 
your footsteps and
I had a feeling that you
were close by, you fell and
crawled with gentleness, I could
trace your every move in the snow.
I knew you meant no harm to me
or to the life of anybody else.

You hid yourself 
in the ice somewhere.
The snow sheltered you.
I grew wistful, pensive, and
filled with a peculiar happiness.

I watched your
footsteps, I could trace
your movements in the snow.

Photograph by Matthew Paul Argall

Harsh World: The Branch

I am the one you should
I am like the insignificant 
I am like a small branch
fallen from
the body of a tree.
This harsh world
is making a mess
of my body.
It finds its way inside.
It feels so cold
at times and
it finds another body
inside my body. It’s love 
I have isolated in there.
I feel less than whole
at times. The sun
draws near
and it does not
make a difference.
I reached my limit of
warmth. I feel a cold
in my body
that cannot make it
through this harsh world.
It is so cold.
My heart complains
as it sleeps and dreams
of a different world.
I could go there,
shed my skin,
flex my muscles.
It is just a dream
of a desperate soul.
Like the body of a tree
and the fallen branch,
I am the branch.
For a moment
I am its essence,
compost in the yellow fields.

Photograph by Mehrab Pourfaraj

Summer, 1989

When I was brought down to earth 
summer was nearly gone,
autumn scratched at the surface,
and I had planted my heart
deep in soil that would not let love grow.

When we parted the sky was gray
and the leaves began to change colors.
Each day I slept late because she was
gone with the wind. It was not until 

when I found my raw materials.
It so happens that the soil softened,

the heart hardened, and I found love
in the bird’s songs, the yellow leaves,
and the scattered clouds about to burst.

I stopped searching for reasons 
things did not work out just like I wanted.
That is just how things happen sometimes.

Always Dream

Open your eyes and dream.
It could be day, or it could be night.
To paraphrase what Jose Marti said, “always dream.”
Dream on my friends.
Dream far and wide.
Let the dreams roll like the waves at sea.
Dream past the dunes in the desert sand.
Joyously dream away.
A humble dream is all you need.
Swing for the fences with a mighty dream.
Dream with a kind heart.
Dream like the child you once were.
The dream is calling for you.

If I Was Not a Man

If I was not a man,
I might want to be a bird.
I would have a small head
and a beak instead of a nose.

I would fly and sing.
I would eat smaller portions.
I would sleep in a nest.
I would enjoy the scenery.

I would have no hands.
I think I like wings better.
I would be flying for miles 
all day and all of the night.

I would not read books.
I would read the leaves and trees.
I would pay no taxes.
I would not owe any bills.

I wouldn’t have to drive.
That would be all right with me.
I would fly transcontinental.
I would go without paying a dime.


Born in Mexico, Luis lives in California and works in the mental health field in Los Angeles. His poetry books and chapbooks have been published by Alternating Current Press, Deadbeat Press, Kendra Steiner Editions, New Polish Beat, Poets Democracy, Pygmy Forest Press, and Ten Pages Press (e-book). His recent poems have appeared in Blue Collar Review, Misfit Magazine, and ZYX.

Let's start with the Funklovers' "Cloud of Memories":

From here I'll move on to Roy Hargrove's "I Thought about You":

Surprisingly, I haven't posted anything by Nicholas Payton (that I recall), but here is his version of "Round Midnight":

My husband has been playing a lot of Etienne Charles lately, so I'll finish with his version of Bob Marley's "Turn Your Lights Down Low":


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Review of Bill Cushing's A Former Life

Congratulations to Bill Cushing on the publication of his new book!!

Cushing, Bill.  A Former Life: An Overview of Two Centuries 60 Years in the Making.  Finishing Line Press, 2019.  ISBN: 978-1-63534-938-2.  $19.99.

Bill Cushing’s new book, A Former Life: An Overview of Two Centuries 60 Years in the Making, could almost be titled Former Livesas its poems reveal a rich variety of encounters and experiences over sixty-plus years, almost too much for one lifetime.   Rather than following the strict timeline of the poet’s life, the book is divided into three sections: “Persons,” “Places,” and “Things.”  This division allows Cushing to juxtapose fragments of experience and keep the reader from thinking of the poet’s life as a simple arc leading from twentieth-century New York City to twenty-first century Southern California, even with a few detours along the way.  Instead, his life is an album, not quite an old-school concept album whose cuts fit together smoothly but a collection of songs whose themes and variations make the pieces distinct yet surprisingly unified.

The “Persons” section allows Cushing to depict individuals he has known or observed over the course of his life.  His father, a man larger than life, appears first as a presence (and absence) in “Planking the Tango” and later as an elderly man who was able to “give [his wife]/ the gift of dying” in “Father’s Day: June 20, 2004” and who will always loom large in his son’s mind.  (The father will return as a younger man in the next section’s “Drydocks and Parades.”) Cushing’s son also emerges in the heartbreaking “Gabriel’s Coming” and the sonnet “What Love Is” as “a boy who…created a family” with the poet and his second wife, whom we see in “Morning,” the sensual poem that concludes this third of the book.  These poems, which focus on other people, are quite personal and vulnerable.  Indeed, the proximity of “Recalling Their Smiles,” a four-part meditation on friends and family lost to cancer, and “Father’s Day” reveals that the poet is writing not just as a son witnessing the death of his mother but also as a husband who has experienced the death of his first wife from cancer “as she [like her mother-in-law] became less and less/ the person she was.” He therefore deeply understands his father’s situation.  Similarly, the contrast of “Recalling Their Smiles” and “Gabriel’s Coming” underscores both the loss the poet and his wife felt at their son’s severe injury and their love for him.  

“Persons” is more than a contemplation of family tragedies.  Other poems in this section bring to light his talent for observation and sensory detail even when writing about people he has simply glanced at. “The Ancient Flocks of Wilson Street” and “Girl in Green” come to mind here.  I especially like the first poem’s opening, “They flock/to the park/cloaked in black,” with its tight lines and crisp consonants that evoke the elderly Armenians who have taken over a park in California.  In “Girl in Green,” the poet depicts a sexy woman through not only her hair and face but also “her green sleeve [that] bends/ from the stiff leaves/ of a potted plant.”  This theatrical gesture makes her more individualized and therefore more compelling.

 “Places” juxtaposes Cushing’s very fine poems set in Central and South America with startling pieces set closer to home.  “At a Mountain Waterfall” continues to amaze upon rereading. “Easter Island in Koreatown” and “Cusquenos” fit together especially well in their blend of the exotic and the everyday.  The figures at the heart of each poem share a certain kinship.  “Easter Island in Koreatown” depicts a Los Angeles street musician “delivering/ a weird brand/ of royalty to the curb/ of Vermont Avenue” as a “touchdown” Buddha passes by on the back of a truck and a local bar advertises one of Anheuser-Busch’s brands of beer.  With his “square face, brown:/ a cross/ between some ancient/ pharaoh/ and a gargoyle,” this musician could fit in with the indigenous inhabitants of Cusco, Peru who “make their shuffling way/ up these narrow and steep/  streets” while tourists from the U.S. brew coca tea to survive the city’s high altitude and thin air.  The theme of tourism, an outsider’s attempt to sum up a richly complex world in just a few lines,  continues in poems set in the U.S., such as “After El Nino: February 24, 1998,” written for a guest whose trip to California was spoiled by rain and cold, and “From California to Chicago,” set at O’Hare Airport where Cushing and his wife land.  

The next section, “Things,” touches on music, the dreams of a wolf, Barbie, religious iconography, and an image from coverage of September 11, 2001.  ”Things” also includes some personal poems, notably “Sailing,” a rare depiction of the poet in solitude, and “Turning Fifty,” a meditation on middle-aging with the poet contemplating his hand intently. Although these poems are very skilled and moving, the category seems a little broad.  I’m not sure how I would classify the subjects of these poems. I’m a little dismayed to see Cushing’s wonderful poems about music categorized under “Things. “ “On Modest Mussorgsky’s ‘Bydlo’” and “’Music isn’t about standing still and being safe’” evoke rural Russia and a young New Yorker’s initiation into jazz, respectively. “Listening to Bird” celebrates Charlie Parker just as “With Dad” honors the poet’s father.  Others like “Sailing,” “Ecce Homo,” or “Final Flight” may also belong in other sections or perhaps even other books.  However, “Final Flight” is a compelling ending to the entire book as September 11 is a pivotal historical event in Cushing’s lifetime so far and can be considered the true ending to the twentieth century, the setting of many but not all of the poems in this book.  After all, the subtitle is An Overview of Two Centuries.  

Earthy, exalted, at times both, Bill Cushing’s poetry is moving in both senses of the word.  I remember the first time I read “At a Mountain Waterfall.”  Its short, jagged opening lines made me feel that I, too, was “scuttling/platform/to platform/along the rocks,” not finding a foothold until later in the poem.  I also recall listening to Bill read “Gabriel’s Coming” on Dr. Michael Anthony Ingram’s radio show, Quintessential Listening.  This heartbreaking poem reveals his unconditional love for his son born “shaking and bloody/ as a wounded bird” after a prenatal stroke. His poems will always have a home at my blog-zine, The Song Is…. I hope they will always have a home with you as well.  


And now the music....

I'm going to start with Sonny Rollins' "Where or When" from his concert after 9/11:

Another song from that album is "Global Warming":

I have to include Miles Davis' "Freddie Freeloader":

To represent LA, I am including Robert Glasper's "The Worst," as performed live at Capital Studios:

Here Glasper plays with Kamasi Washington and Terrace Martin at LA's The Virgil:


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

More Poems from Alyssa Trivett

Photograph by Jean Beaufort

 Tonight I'd like to post a few more poems by Midwestern poet Alyssa Trivett.  I know that you've enjoyed the directness and simplicity of her poetry.

Snow Drift

I half-flutter like a bird 
with a broken wing,
caught in a spider web,
sinking in quicksand.
Any move or turn cauterizes the underbelly.
I swoop myself up,
and laugh victoriously,
video-game like.

Cortisone Shots in Both Wrists

My hands shocked on the 
steering wheel
like a key to an electric kite
or a roller-skate shooting firework sparks on hotter than
HE-double-hockey-sticks pavement
still waiting for the wheels 
to Flintstone fall off
and knock over some bowling pins
and not be so useless
as my hands carpal-tunnel electrocuted from recent events.


Clocks talk back 
to one another.
My writing
is a cartoon character showing up
amidst normal conversation,
only to pie-slap words
into neighborhood fences.
Trains hopscotch at
off and unwanted hours.
My carpal-tunnel arms
quake, a broken rollercoaster
before the seventy five foot
comma drop begins.
Clocks now sing.
I described it to one of my best friends as a blessing 
and a curse.


Would rather be hit 
by ceiling fan blades
by the neighborhood kids or skate on the thinnest ice
with unsharpened old kitchen knives
at the bottom of the skates
or skydive with no shoes on
or register weekly 
for health benefits
for the rest of my life
or smash my mailbox
or volunteer to paint the walls of 
my elementary school gym
by myself on a time limit 
or eat chocolate 
covered ants
for fifteen days
than to ever 
deal with that again.

Alyssa Trivett is a wandering soul from the Midwest. When not working two jobs, she chirps down coffee while scrawling lines on the back of gas station receipts. Her work has recently appeared at The Rye Whiskey Review and Beakful.

A while back, I started listening to Dr. Lonnie Smith's tribute album to Beck.  (I'd love to know how he came up with the idea.). Here is his version of "Where It's At":

I have to include "Devil's Haircut":

Dr. Lonnie has also covered Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover":

Here is an earlier song by Dr. Lonnie: