The Return of Harlin Coke

Maybe it’s corny, but I’ll tell you why we went down to California.  To be free.

There was a writer who said that anything in the continental U.S. not nailed in place slides down into L.A….like the stuff sliding into the corner of your junk drawer when you take it out.  Something like that.  Anyway, our case was no different, Sailor’s and mine.  We slid down into L.A. like a pair of old, dirty pennies.

After Sailor met Harlin in a smoky basement bar called Grog on the Lower East Side, he’d taken her to suck him off in the Chelsea Hotel.  After he’d paid, on the way out the door, he’d dropped a card.  Harlin Coke, filmmaker.  And a number.  Sailor told me that he’d mumbled something on his way out the door, lighting up a cigarette, talking low through the smoke.  “Could use a good indie chick like you.”

When she’d come home from all that, she’d flicked the card down on the kitchen table in front of me, right by my coffee cup.

It’d been right after my breakdown, and I couldn’t sleep.  I’d come out to the kitchen and made a pot of coffee and was just reading and drinking coffee and chainsmoking out there.  As I sat, the first light came through the blinds and fell in pale bars across the kitchen table.

“What do you think about that?”  She’d asked.  “Met him down at Grog.  One john that turned out to be a decent fornicator.  And he dropped his card.”

I didn’t say anything.  Just some asshole who wanted to shoot another cheap home porn with a New York hooker.

“Why do we need some shitty excuse to go down to L.A.?” I asked, “We can just go.”

“Upi owes this guy a favor.”

“I don’t understand.”

“If I just duck out he’ll track me down.  He’ll try to hurt me.”

I waited.

“Upi, I mean.  But if we have a reason to leave, and he knows the guy, owes him…well, maybe it will be different.”

I was still processing.  “…across the whole goddamn country?

“He’s crazy.”  She turned away from me.  She was going through a corner cupboard I’d never seen her use before.

“And you think this other guy isn’t.   Harlin Coke?  What kind of name is that?”

CLACK.  Sailor placed an old VHS cassette down on the kitchen table.  “One of his.”

I looked at it for a minute.  “You wanna watch it now…or…you wanna get some sleep?”

“Gimme five minutes.  I’m going to slip into some pee-jays.”  She pursed her lips a little and blinked slowly.  “Keep that coffee on for me?”

I pulled on my cigarette and looked at the VHS cassette.  Someone had taken a BIC and scrawled on a post-it note scotch-taped to the plastic.

The Priest    Harlin Coke, dir.



What good to wait

When we both know

You’re going to die?



You render thousands

Of secret mercies,

Kisses on two soft

Lids.  Dark centers

That lie beneath

Trace their spirals

On your lips’

Soft surface.



Pricked with stars,

Our bodies fly upward

Into the fathomless dome.



We stayed so long our bedroom in the cabin took on the the mellow odor of skin-and-sweat-soaked sheets, which in turn mixed with the smell of our books, the favorites we’d loaded onto one of the broad window ledges beneath the view of a thicket of skinny pines.

In the mornings Sailor would come in with two mugs of coffee and set them on the lacquered stump of an old tree that was our nightstand.  And we would sit on the sheets, naked, and drink our coffee.

One morning we stared openly, simply, at each other’s genitals, and smiled softly, both of us…until I giggled.  Then Sailor tackled me backwards onto the mattress and we had a tussle.

Another morning while I read to Sailor she stared out the window toward the steep hill going up beyond the cluster of pines.  A little winding trail led away from the back deck, up into the big trees, the higher reaches of the mountain.

That same morning, as we sat out back, smoking, and looking up into the woods, Sailor told me that she had longed to take a walk up the trail.

Ordinarily we’d walked down toward the village, where several trail heads met in a small meadow.  But the narrow, difficult trail, beset with heavy, spiraling roots, that wound steeply upward from the back of the cabin…it was  a thing whose distances we’d preferred to imagine.  Until Sailor said something.

“The experience of that trail; it can’t possibly do for my senses what imagining it does for my soul.  I know I’m going to be disappointed.  I just want to get it overwith.  Fuck it, N.  Let’s just do it.  Let’s go right now.  Let’s not even put out our cigarettes.”




Verses, 11.1 – 11.51, Revolver


Why do I crawl

in reverse,

rewinding back, back

through the eye

of a needle, back

through a stageset



Am I inspired by acquaintances

who play so tight and close

their intimate whispers,

pregnant with trauma,

give way to a fetish:

a knowledge

of sutures,

de facto,

aid in a minor form?


The first ones

so lovingly forgive;

close those caverns

in the flesh.

Now chambers echo

where spinae yanked

tight as guidewires.

He who said so

set-to with

thickset hands,

unbuilding things

inside me.


In this way

my ambitious spell

was set in motion.

I gunned it, high-speed

down the highway

‘long uncharted deserts…

the lone oasis long departed.

I ran those re-treads thin, left

that smoking hulk aside,

tumbled out on a sandy

shoulder to save

my skin, birth

a little shiva.


Call it what you like,

but I know my own

private fear of death.

It was laughter over radio which

bubbled up from wreckage wires

and echoed in that dented hull.


You know I did not get

away unharmed…

could not make my break intact.

Now my undelivered

foot must sweep the dust

as Lefty, clopping clods apart

and falling, just as

poems fall, suggests…


(I later note

a fear of death

to be the flare

laid out

on asphalt,

which gets us gawking left,

such stupid geese,

while right

a parked car smolders,

its shadows on the grit.)



the mechanic, slave

to other accidents,

sweats and bends,

his dream catcher

hooked to the roll-tor.

Yet I’m the one

(Waaaaa-Waaaaa cries martyr!)

who hoists that

fucking engine.


You note an emotion

makes your trapezius

knot and lift; your shoulder

the record, the softly turning vinyl

of a breakup.


A needle


its world

upon your surface.


I must turn.

I must turn and

Turn.  And turn and turn.

After all, my dear one…

There is no Witch-Doctor, no Alchemist.

Only a locator of grips, a deft

unwrapper of phantom fingers,

one who makes wake for her

who would choose superstition,

flying along the mirage of our secret

inland sea, strange wood fins

nailed to the side of her aqua car,

(a rooster tail, a big deal).

the painter’s knot left

unfurled at the dock, I

the one who cured her.


No magic here,

no paradox.

Instead, a desert lake:

a perfect fake,

now spoiled,

a silver mirror


by the speedboat

with its tall-tall yards of spray,

its superstitious show.


You and I,

ever pragmatists,

know a boat will make its

desert rescue even

across the sickening mirage,

in the middle of nowhere,

in the deafening silence,

in the absence of fanfare.


So why do you

force me on

the thing you deny,

(though you think it already):

Every means is orthodox,

when you bite down,

train the mind to skip

the trauma we both

know as cause and effect.

11.52 (Three Epilogues)


Now we dance

beside the smoking car,

its radio tinnily

doubling the bursting

ring of laughter,

its broadcast hollow;

we sing across

the sands, black asphalt

ribbon’s end no matter

now… We’ve seen its vistas,

and survived.


We dance at dusk…

in the cool blue shade

of metal husks,

‘mid radiowaves

and tiny shivas,

and in our



the eye

of Christ…


…a decoration

slid ‘long twine

hung round

my neck,

then yours,

(a fisheye, a wet

black bead, an

ornament worn

for tiny dances).


Traffic thinned in the high country.

“There’s no room for a statie to turn around out here.  You can open it up.  Once we get into those mountains, it’s deputies in SUVs…but until then, we’re solid,” Sailor said.  She stubbed out her cigarette on the ashtray, shifted her hips forward in her seat, and placed her hands behind her head.  I pushed down the gas pedal.

We kept the windows rolled down.  The cool alpine air rushed in, tousling Sailor’s hair.  Through the glare of late afternoon sunshine bouncing off the film of dust covering the windshield, I could see near-flat, open fields, mile upon mile of pale green, unharvested hay.  Scattered farm buildings broke apart the landscape, their walls worn down to the bare boards.  In the distance, towering up, making those outbuildings look like miniatures, stood the mountains.  They were stark, roughly snow-capped, purple-black.  They stood so far away, and yet were wrought in such sharp detail that they seemed unreal.

“…the fuck?” I whispered.  I took a breath.  I felt disbelief.

“I know,” Sailor said, “nobody knows they’re here.”

As our little car tore across the dusty plateau, she explained to me that there are some high mountains you cannot see, even from very close, because they are set just far enough back from the foothills that no line of sight permits a view.  But once a person climbs past the initial threshold of elevation, up onto the plateau, the mountains emerge suddenly, starkly, filling the sky.

I stared.

“We can stay up here for awhile,” Sailor said, “It’s cheap to live.  We can hide out.”

We had money we’d kept from Harlin; big paying tops that he’d never skimmed, a glovebox stuffed with a profligate’s ransom, enough hard cash to get us into a cabin near a little lake that Sailor knew about way up in the mountains.  She and her sister had vacationed there as children…until the winter her father broke both of his legs in a skiing accident.  He never spoke of it; they’d simply never returned.

With the car tucked into a trough-like driveway beside the cabin, and my heavy duffel and Sailor’s big backpack cast down on the bed, we made our way down the gravel road that wound around the lake to a little fake chalet where tourists could sit on a deck and look out across the glass-green water, into the mountains beyond.  We sat there and drank cold beer, smoked cigarettes, and stared out…as if the air could quench our bodies, as if our very skins could dissolve into the dusk.


After a moment she closed the drawer…slowly, gingerly.  She laid out her things on top of the dresser.  Then she bent forward, stretching to put on her stockings.

I closed my eyes and listened as she put on her clothes.  When I looked again she was standing in an evening gown, taller than I had ever seen her, her hair swept back.  Diamonds sparkled from her clavicles, her ears, her wrists.

She placed her phone in a pocketbook on top of the dresser. She snapped the pocketbook closed and turned around.

“Go back to sleep,” she said.

(Back Door:  Enter “Exquisite Stillness” into the search bar.)



All my life

i’ve wanted

to feel something…

be something.


Truth told

i feel strange

in my own skin,

a suit which does not seem cut for me.

i cannot get comfortable inside it.



the option

of oblivion,


i would surrender…

as if by the soft closing

of my eyes i might

erupt into a plume

of flames,

a pleasurable, exploding

flower of my own invention,

my own bright spark.


Desire, of course,

is not a path,

but a given power,

circling within us…

…an arc,

a dreamwire,

a looping



its orbital path,

scouring the night

with thickening

layers of laser lines,


cutting the

booming darkness

with their high trajectory,

carving from

fathoms of the

upward void

the lines of

a brilliant,

dizzying vault,

resounding with

the echoes

of our cries.


Who, or where, am i,

if not dwarfed, standing

at the bottom of myself?


What do i feel

but vertigo,

looking upward

into nothing?