Saturday, April 19, 2014


Before I sat down to write this poem
I put on my cowgirl boots
and a straw hat
and a pink tutu bought at the vintage store
that was my favorite till it was closed down
to make room for more condos.
Some asshole built a castle on South Congress
overnight, it seems
which has nothing to do
with what I'm wearing and everything
to do with Austin's death by progress:

Farewell music town full of grit and legend
Hello Disneyland.

Before I sat down to write this poem
I sipped a bit of Tito's vodka graced with lime
and put on the album of an artist
nobody outside of here would recognize
in other words just like most of the other talent in this town
brilliant, unfettered, unknown.

There are still moments. Afloat today
on water so smooth and clear I could see the bottom
30 feet down, turtles rising for air then skittering away:
slow torpedoes aiming for sunken logs
their mossy shells belying any urgency.

Love still lives here like it always has
bubbling up from the limestone
tattooed on the walls and bridges that make this place home:
"I love you so much."
"Will you marry me?"
"Please don't drink and drive."
Love still tumbles in the too-crowded streets
from the doorways and open windows of rundown bars--
love of music, love of dance, love of love. 
You can screw up the two-step here and no one will judge
most likely someone will save you from yourself
take you in his arms and let you lean into him
for three or five minutes, the slow to medium tempo of eternity.

The hills around here are high on wine and Thoroughbreds
rich with the ghosts of cowboys and Indians
hunting each other down the cliffs and canyons.
One can almost forget what we're killing here
sucking up resources like we're god's only children
replacing them with junk and promises
but ancient footprints left in river-bottoms
and fossils in the stones write that we are not the first
to have faced extinction in this place.

We are just the first to have faced it in this way:
by our own hands
on the wheels of our own fortune
selling ourselves piece by piece: the land, the music, the love
trading grit and legend for fake castles and pre-fab housing
water and trees for high-rises and trendy clubs.

Someday someone will write a song about us
and I hope for all our sakes it is a woeful bluesy song
a palindrome, where the end becomes the beginning, and
I hope the song is wildly and perfectly off-key
belted by a songstress with a whiskey-and-cigarettes voice 
who is just getting her start
in the last rundown bar in old Austin.

KB © 4/19/14

Sent from my iPad

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lullaby for a Tiger

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp? 

William Blake (from Tyger! Tyger!)

I would like to have myself back
That jagged, obstinate inner self whose teeth
were something to be feared.

I would like to have myself back
and not this sense of sleepy disconnect
This brain smothered in plastic wrap that dulls
perception, that thwarts the electric haywire
of my thoughts, fills the deep troughs of melancholy
and shaves the tops off my highest mountains.

The drugs are a sludge that soften my sharp edges
and those were the edges that made me feel alive:
cut and bruised but alive. I could fly
from those edges to a vantage point never imagined
without the aid of insanity; could fall off them
into depths that darkened and drowned me.

But the sludge blurs, blends, turns down the noise.
Putting the drugs in my brain
is like putting pajamas on a tiger
tearing out its teeth and claws and swaddling the beast
in layers of pink fleece. Its heavy paws and howling mouth
stilled and silenced--a drowsy kitten, chirring for milk.

I would like to have myself back
That huge, roaring, hysterically laughing
unpredictably weeping self whose radar picked up
every nuance, every scrap of art and poetry from the world at large
and built a private universe from the remains.

I would like to have myself back
scars and stripes and broken bones and all
but I am choosing life, choosing a self
that will not self-destruct.
Putting the tiger to bed
until such time when tigers are needed
if that moment ever comes.

Sleep tight, beast.

KB © 4/14/2014

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Bull and China

I am full of sharp corners
and hidden stairways.
The place that houses me
is a maze of neurons
and synapses in perpetual misfire.
I have bumbled and raged
down every blind alley
a Minotaur misunderstood
bawling destruction and mayhem
one moment, and the next
singing the stars down from the night
sky, a mess of shining and strangeness.

Moody Minotaur, so stoked for battle;
the sword has not been made
that cleaves my heart.
Only isolation can do that.
A friendless night stuns me,
drives me back to the maze
and banishes the beast.
Sloping off into solitude
balling myself up under the stairs
or tiptoeing, cloven-hoofed
across the beams of the attic (creak/screak)
while in the dining room below
a family pauses at dinner to look up
and listen, their forks frozen halfway
to their mouths, their eyes
wide with wonder
while I breathe so softly--and wait
to hear the clatter of silverware
on china.

KB© 2/20/2014

Friday, February 7, 2014


February. This is the witching hour, the midwinter night, the edge of the road where the shoulder is soft and yielding and there is no guardrail. There is no pill I can take that will make February feel tame. No song that will sing it to sleep at night.

February is a mouthful of awkward.

The dog waits up with me while my mind paces. I can feel the mute kindness of his gaze, pulling at me; he wants attention, love, a chewy, to hear my voice, anything. But I am lost in the spin of my brain which makes no sound in the room but rises to a siren pitch in my ears. February. I can't say it out loud; the word twists from my lips, a fish flung aimless and flopping to the carpet, out of air. Out of time.

Strange; after all it is only that the planet has orbited the sun once more and has now kept my continent in shadow for a certain period of time. This is how things work. There is a solar system that connects to a galaxy that connects to a larger universe that doesn't give a fuck what happens to my brain in February. This is how things work. And this is also how they don't work, how chemistry begins to fail, and neurons and synapses cease to have the conversations they so vitally need to have.

February. There is no guardrail and the turns are uncertain and you must keep struggling to stay on the road. You must do all the right things. Sleep, eat, exercise, have friends. That is important--have friends. People who know.

But does anyone know about February?

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Devil You Know

I wonder if anyone would like to rent my life for a few months while I disappear. They could have it and all its amenities. They could borrow my heart and its failures and weaknesses. They could take a slow roll off the couch with my lover, feel that weak heart crumble. They could sit here under my cottonwood tree, sip tepid beer and pretend they were me. It would really be the same thing. A shell of me, with a pale heart beating beneath. Meanwhile the real me, the shadow me, would be off in Australia or Madagascar with no weighty heart to trouble me, living light, breathing all that free air rushing between my skeletal ribs, doing god knows what. Not worrying though. Never crying. I wouldn't be loving or lying or sad about anything. Just existing. Just being. And collecting rent from that sad sack who agreed to the deal.

I wrote the sad, defeated-sounding words above many months ago, during a winter that stretched out long and troublesome and cave-dark, when I dreamed endlessly of getting free. I did get free a few times but always returned to the deep freeze that is Alaska--seven months of numbing cold--and the entanglements of a love I couldn't let go of, no matter how many markers pointed to its circular tread in the wrong direction. I couldn't get it to come right, and I couldn't raise my thoughts above the darkness and cold. It was like drowning in sight of shore: there was help in sight, but I didn't know how to reach it. The numbness made me crazy, eventually; or was it genetics? Or the darkness? Or a deadly combination of all three? Psychiatry in all its wisdom believes I was crazy all along, but I have learned that doctors' opinions differ as widely as the doctors do.

Whatever the reason and whatever the wisdom or insanity behind it, I have decided to disappear before the dark hits again. I am even now engineering the disappearing act. With boxes and packing tape and Sharpies as my magician's tools, and sweeping the dust from corners that haven't seen daylight for over two years, I am growing smaller and smaller. My home is to become someone else's for the time being. My possessions are going to others because I no longer need them: I am discovering once again how little one needs when one becomes, essentially, a citizen of the world. Someone else will, indeed, sit under my cottonwood tree and sip whatever they desire; someone else will hold their lover on what will soon be their couch, their bed, in what used to be my room.

But they will not be me. No, I will be taking myself, and my faulty yet sturdy flesh-and-blood heart (not, after all, a pale shadow) along on the journey. We will not be going to Australia or Madagascar, not this time, but to Austin. We will ground ourselves there, find a home in the sun, a place to live and work while winter hurls itself at the North without us. I wonder secretly at times if I am getting too old for these magic tricks, but really, what are the options? Stay here and face certain insanity (or at least constant cold fingers and toes) on my own, or step out into the world again and face whatever waits for me in the sun. There will be others out there who, like me, want to be on the move. Certainly there will be a four-legged friend going along for the ride, and the two of us always manage to draw company (though he does most of the work).

I am afraid to go, that is true; but I'm more afraid to stay. Unlike the old English idiom, I don't believe in sticking with the devil I know. That devil has a poor sense of humor and a penchant for subzero temperatures, and I'm bored with fighting him. Bring on the strange devil, the new devil, the one who'll teach me the two-step and moan me the blues--and I will sing down his house. Or in the words of Ben Harper:

if you're gonna step
step on in
if you're gonna finish
you got to begin
don't you fear
what you don't know
just let that be 
your room to grow.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Physics tells us that the universe
is exploding.
All of its bodies grow inexorably
farther and farther from one another
at an increasing rate of speed.
Dark energy
hurls them apart.

One day someone will stand
on the surface of this planet
with her high-powered futuristic telescope
more badass than the Hubble
and look out and see no galaxies
no planets
no shooting stars.

She squints through its one infinite eye and spies
only blackness
only emptiness.
She believes she is alone.

Will that person,
that distant future astronomer,
remember an ancient time when there were nebulas?
When there were suns that warmed other worlds?
That all of it is still out there
reachable if only she knew it was there?

Or will she believe her own eyes?

KB © 8/7/2013

Friday, August 2, 2013

Among the Living

I learned the particular paranoia of the Alaskan driver when I was very young. My mother taught it to me. She told me to watch for moose while she drove--to help her scan the dark highway for their bulky, sudden, long-legged forms dashing out of the trees. You never knew when or where they would appear to kill you, and themselves: hapless kamikazes diving from the wilderness to take your life, or in some cases, turn you into a cripple or at best someone with a terrible, terrible story.

As a consequence of growing up here, drives through the pristine Alaskan wilderness have never been purely pleasant for me. I am always, somehow, expecting to die or be robbed of my legs. I have lost countless friends to the highway. I drive with my hands obediently at ten and two, my eyes too wide and jaw too tight. As a result I fatigue easily; I begin to look away from the road too often. I mess with the stereo, glance at my phone.

But I wasn't doing this tonight when I passed Hope Junction on the way to Kenai to visit my parents. My eyes were on the road. I was thinking about a disturbing dream I'd had last night, in which I was dancing with a spirit-man whose face was a handsome but gaunt death's-head. A grinning white Dracula-face, oversized for his graceful, narrow frame clothed in a silken black suit. I was drawn to this man, such a skilled dancer was he and so gentle, the way he embraced me and kept his hand at the small of my back. Soft, gauzy, parachute-like material drifted around us as we danced onstage in a dark theatre, with other actors around us. Suddenly, he tossed his parachute over my head and disappeared. I was left with the swirling fabric which bore the imprint of his face. I was a little distraught--to think that I had lost him--this mysterious man, this Death. I went looking for him. People tried to distract me, to fool me with look-alikes, but I wouldn't be fooled. I kept searching, moving through a surreal staged landscape, while furry creatures bounded around me and before me.

I never found him in the dream. But as I drove toward the Hope road tonight, I saw a single flare in the middle of the road. Taillights. A looming bulk blocking half the highway. I slowed. There were cars pulling over, stopping from both directions. Moving closer, I could see him for what he was: a giant bull, just dead (dying?--did I see his side jump? did I imagine that, in those wild moments?) Stretched out on his side in a horrible pose, he was longer than my truck. His furred, palmated antlers branched wide, his one eye that I could see was big and bright and reflected the sky; the lashes, I saw, were long and curled gently upwards, ferns around a still pool. His lips drew away from his square herbivorous teeth in agony or rictus; bright blood ran from there, onto the asphalt. No time to absorb the incongruity of that; Keep moving, my mind said--Get out of the way. I didn't stop to think that there had to be a very badly injured person nearby. I didn't stop to offer help. My mind was gone; it had disappeared into that one clear eye, into that agonized mouth, that pool of blood. I was officially useless.

I drove on for miles, after that. Ten and two, eyes wide, jaw tight. I didn't have another thought until I stopped at Summit Lake to take a photo of the sign that says "Please Drive Safely. In Memory Of ______" --the name of a dear friend who had died years ago in an accident at that spot.

Why is it that death sometimes seems like it wants to drive home a point? You are temporary, it snickers at us. Someday, you won't be driving along anymore, listening to The Shins, squinting into the sun and letting thoughts blow through your mind like summer breezes. You'll be dead as that moose. Dead dead dead. So? So what? Do with it what you will. That's the point death made to me today. Live like you are dying--whatever that means to you. Want to start working out more? Great. Want to eat more cheeseburgers? Get on it. Take your lover to Paris? Experience living in a new place, try something you've always been afraid to try? Go! Live before you're dead. An African proverb puts it like this: When death comes for you, may it find you among the living. 

KB © 8/1/2013