Smiling Thoughts

Smiling thoughts – a rope
that helps me fight off sadness
I climb to the sun


Momma Lockhart and Me


Momma Lockhart

Momma Lockhart. That’s what I called her. She found me one day in 1963, by the rail yards in Sioux City, Iowa.

It was good that Momma Lockhart and her husband, Ray-Gene, found me when they did. I was four years of age, but already a heroin addict, made so by a couple of Chinese communists who had abducted me a few months before from a carnival in Georgia. I’m sure I wouldn’t have lasted long with the Wongs, my kidnappers. They only gave me Rice Krispies to eat, and of course, regular — and increasingly large — doses of heroin.

Perhaps they would have eventually smuggled me back to China, and who knows how I would have turned out. Maybe I would have wound up living in Beijing and working in a fireworks factory, or maybe I would have gotten a job somewhere else, for example, cleaning toilets in the central Shanghai Train Station.

Momma Lockhart was a real sweet lady. She and Ray-Gene named me Butane. Ray-Gene liked that name because he worked in a lighter fluid factory around the corner from the house. He collected old Butane cans in his basement, and he did real interesting things with those cans. He even made Momma Lockhart a lamp from a bunch of those cans.

Momma Lockhart brought me up like one of her own, and she used to watch out for me real close-like. Lots of times, when her natural-born children, Smoky, Nick and Ash, would beat me up, she would pull those critters off me and say, “Now play fair ya’ll! Butane don’t play rough. He’s refined-like.”

Momma Lockhart was a swell cook. She could make a mean plate of frankfurter and beans. We ate frankfurters a lot. Sometimes Momma cooked special meals, like ground squirrel meat and olive pie. For treats, we shared big jars of maraschino cherries.

We had home-made molasses from Granny Lockhart’s farm outside of town. We each used to get our own special bowl, and we’d dip our frankfurter rolls in there. And, on Christmas, we had Momma Lockhart’s world famous Crisco pie, a tasty mix of lard, oats and sugar.

When I was 17, I left Momma and Ray-Gene’s house to find my natural parents in Georgia. Momma Lockhart was real sad on the day I left; she cried a lot and kept locking the front door to keep me home. When I finally managed to slip away, she came running after me. I was touched but kind of embarrassed, too, because she ran down the road in her house coat and pink, fuzzy high-heel slippers.

It was a shock because I’d only ever seen her wearing them inside the house — on mornings after she and Ray-Gene had been to a moving picture. It was part of her routine to try and make herself look like the star she’d seen the night before – like Miss Marilyn Monroe or Mamie Van Doren or someone special like that. I sure liked having Momma Lockhart serve me my morning oatmeal looking like that. It gave me funny feelings in my tummy … and even further below.

Anyway, there she was, running down Industrial Boulevard wearing those high-heeled slippers with the little bits of pink bunny fur on the toe part. And wouldn’t you know it, when she caught up to me, she slipped on a sewer grate and fell. She broke one of her shoes, too. It quickly became obvious that she’d under-dressed because she didn’t have on any underwear, and her birthing slit was plain out there for all of Sioux City to see.

Yep, sprawled on the corner of Industrial and Main – that was the scene.  Her hair curlers were littered about her head. It seemed she was down there for an eternity, and neighbor women started to draw near. I tried for a while to convince her to get up and go home and make some franks and beans or eat some molasses.

Finally, it was a promise of a few swigs of Wild Turkey from my hip flask that got her up. As she limped around, blood ran from her knee. I dabbed at it with my hanky, and then I lit a Lucky Strike and put it in her mouth. Off she went, sobbing, mascara running down her face.

In my mind, I can still see Momma Lockhart hobbling down Industrial Blvd, handicapped by a broken slipper heel, shoulders heaving with grief. She turned to wave a few times with her lace hanky. And when I turned the corner, she was gone from my sight, but not my memory.


Moon River


Moon River …

you once held my Huckleberry friend,

the two of us … after the same rainbow’s end

in your timeless rhythm

as I pushed him in his swing,



white and

chipped on the edges,

showing rusty metal underneath

because we were so poor.

My heart was filled with joy

even as he cried from the pain of

being in the cold world. So new.

He would come to me and I would sing:

“Wider than a mile … I’m crossing you in style someday.”

And then when he left, his eyes would search the blurry, dark images

for me … just me.

A miracle.

Sometimes when he came back, he would be smiling, blindly searching.

“Two drifters off to see the world…there’s such a lot of world

to see.”

And when I told him he was my Huckleberry friend and I looked

into the pool of emptiness … his brown eyes,

I could swear he knew me, all of me,

right from the very beginning.

All I Ever Want


I have this image
of Him and me
in a pasture.

It is bordered on one side by a wall of stones,
dug up from the soil by generations of worriers
before me.

Behind us is a narrow dirt road,
protected by Sugar Maples flaming
in their orange clothes.

Some birches are standing close by.
They say things I do not understand
but find pleasant.
And so when they do speak,
I take notice, as if I did know.

The sun reaches inside
me and heals every rawness, all pain.

We sit there,
He and I.
Our arms are about each others shoulders
like two boys
who’ve not yet let the world
fill them with shame.

We gaze across fields
destined to die.
But, for now, they smell
sweet from dewy hay that has been cut and rolled,
waiting for the barn.

Silence is our dialogue.
No thinking,
just being.

Some hawks in the sky seem drunk
from the bounty of this last warm day.
They take daredevil plunges toward earth
and shriek
as they play.

Ghosts who scare themselves once told me
that this love is won only
from suffering
and charity,

But this is a myth;
it is not His way.
All I need to do
is rest
in Him
and He
in me.

This is simply enough
for Him,

and all I ever want.

Before The Light


There are too many times when my eyes open and it’s still dark.

It’s useless to think that I’ll go back to sleep, and it’s no good at all to lay in bed and watch the passing parade of worries that comes marching down the Main Street of my mind. When I do that, the entertainment seems to take on its own life. The parade grows longer, more spectacular, with the noise of marching bands, my thoughts, growing louder. Clowns scurry ahead of the band leader, throwing red balls in the air. There are too many balls to count.

No. The best thing I can do for myself is to get out of bed and take care of my mind and body. I can end the cold of the night with a hot shower, dress and then switch on my laptop. It’s my electronic vault, where I can deposit my thoughts, the stories of who I am and the world around me.

But there are days when it seems too much to bear being home before the rest of the world rises. There’s just too much emptiness in my small house. I leave, escaping to double Ds, where I sit and sip my coffee over a newspaper. Sometimes there are others sitting waiting for the light to come, too–like the woman who gives an animated “Hello” to everyone she meets, staring too long into our eyes. She takes out her cell phone to call a friend about the rashes on her legs. Something is biting her during the night. Raj and the other double D workers snicker, and I am drawn to–but at the same time repelled by–her morbid troubles.

Sometimes, in the winter, it seems as if the time I spend in the dark before the light comes is endless. I don’t think it’s normal for darkness to last so long; it’s probably one of the punishments for eating the apple in Eden.

I much prefer the early light of June, when the morning allows the gentle unfolding of life around me. Somehow, when the sun has chased the night away at 6:30 a.m., a passing gasoline truck rattling my windows does not sound so lonely. Nor do I mind the sun revealing the stains from rain on my windows … or the birds loudly announcing their presence in the trees. Their manic chirping awakens schoolchildren eagerly counting down the days til summer.

When the darkness is especially long, and I have already sought out the comfort of others who cannot sleep, I will sometimes return home and do what I am so reluctant to do — sit still. I take up my position in a special chair near a window that looks out onto the street. I close my eyes and listen to the heated rhythms that only my body can make. My breath … my ins and outs.

But I wonder; why is it so hard to be still? Especially in the dark before the light.

Wet Paper


Wet paper


layered, piece by piece

over a hollow form

and caressed with white paste.

There is new life here.

Soaked strips of The New York Times

give it its identity–“Teenager Kills Bronx Woman”

“Neediest Cases Fund Reaches $1.5 Million.” A

modern Frankenstein emerges … society’s creation.

I look at what is made and smile because I can see myself.

Or my limited understanding of who I am.

There is no fixed self. But I see

what I think is