Sunday, February 28, 2010


The clerk in the New Age bookstore would tell customers about his politics, although the owner didn’t like it. He’d say he was a Libertarian; you know, they believe people should all have the freedom to do their own thing. He looked the part – he somehow managed to have both a buzz cut and a long ponytail, which must have taken some doing. Anyhow, he started off mellow about the politics thing, but got more agitated toward election time.

He tried to pressure customers to vote for his third party candidate. It was when Bill Clinton was running for re-election. People wanted to keep Bob Dole out – not ANOTHER old fart in the White House! – and said they didn’t want to waste their vote on someone with no chance of winning.

That didn’t cut it with this clerk. If everybody thought that way, he said, the world would never change. He didn’t get that change was exactly the goal of most of his customer’s prayers.

You see, our Libertarian had done some time for drug possession. And Clinton was too anti-drug for him. I don’t know if Clinton would have passed muster with him if only he’d inhaled, but this guy would tell people that if they didn’t vote for his “cool” candidate, then they might as well have locked his cell door themselves. He’d say these laws that we’d all broken had to change. Now he was laying down the law himself.

He’d rant at people while he rang up books directing them to find their own true path. He’d tell them that they’d lose his good will if they didn’t vote as he insisted. If they voted for Clinton, everything wrong with the world would be their fault, even retroactively. “I’ll still be nice to you,” he snapped at one, “but I’m nice to Fundamentalists, too.” He even called this customer at home just to continue his harangue.

Mr. Freedom To Do Your Own Thing didn’t see the irony.

People began to complain, but he didn’t get fired. His boss did tell him, “I’ll be voting Republican, just because of you.”

Business started to fall off. One complainer, who kept coming in, always got the fuming silent treatment now.

He told one gay customer that he was in favor of discrimination against any group of people. “You can’t use force to make people behave like you want them to,” he hissed, and then went back to ranting for his candidate. His commandment seemed to be, “Thou shalt do thy own thing…provided it’s the same as mine.”

The store is closed now. Some of us stopped going there long before it did. It’s too bad. It was an excellent store, except for one thing.

And Clinton, as we all know, won by a landslide.

(c)2010 by Jack Veasey

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Saturday, February 27, 2010


(photo by Zoni 4316)

My mother doesn’t recognize Joan’s face, but is drawn by its light.

She asks if Joan has seen the Baby’s First Banks, made of glass – her word for “ceramic.” Joan hasn’t noticed them.

Joan is distracted. My mother doesn’t notice. Mom tells her, “You look real pretty, Hon. You remind me of the Blessed Mother.” Joan laughs. It’s been a long time since she was accused of being virginal, much less holy.

Dylan comes on the radio station playing at the cashier’s counter. Joan winces. The song is “A Simple Twist Of Fate.” Joan selects a big sharp knife.

Mom, walking down the aisle away from Joan, laughs at Dylan’s nasality. She knows neither the voice, nor the song.

Nobody in the store knows who Joan is, so no one worries she might chain herself to something to protest sweat shops in China, where nearly all the merchandise was made.

Some of the customers know my mother, though. They get a chuckle out of her behavior.

The employees, while ignoring Joan, all keep a wary eye on Mom.

-- © 2010 by Jack Veasey

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This prose poem doesn't tell a factual story, though I think it's pretty plausible. The events described did all happen to my mother one time when I took her to the dollar store, a favorite place, during her struggle with Alzheimer's -- but Joan Baez, of course, wasn't there. I did meet Joan once at a post-concert press conference in the early 70s, but that's another story.

This was inspired by an exercise my friend, the great poet Edward Field, has given to students on occasion. The concept is that you write a poem telling a story of how a relative of yours met a famous person -- including the setting where they met. The story is supposed to be imaginary (although occasionally it has evoked true stories). My friend Denise Duhamel has also written a poem from this exercise. I'd convinced myself that the exercise was also the subject of a chapter in one of my favorite poetry writing books, The Practice of Poetry by Behn & Twitchell, but I just went through the whole book and couldn't find it in there. The book is very helpful, and you might want to check it out anyway.

Friday, February 26, 2010


The old lady
Who works at the deli
Has a giant bruise
That covers her whole face.

She mentions it first,
While meeting my
Now widened eyes:
“Does my face scare you?”

“Did somebody hit you?”
I blurt out, and wish
That I hadn’t.

“No,” she says.
“I caught my sneaker
on the curb
and fell,”
and I’m so relieved
to believe her.

“Somebody said
I should sue,”
She adds, smiling,
“But then they would just
raise my taxes.”

I’ve forgotten
What I’d meant to order,
And the line behind me

-- © 2009 by Jack Veasey

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010



She sits like moonlight on the lotus leaves
As they float on the pond. She has no weight –
How heavy can a vision be? Her fate
Was not determined when the king sent thieves

To cut her down. Her spirit, some believe,
Stayed here, caught by the cries of throngs whose great
Grief her care now relieves. She brings a state
Of grace, they say; delusions can’t deceive

Her devotees. Her robe is white. Her mind
Is clear, so she has clarity to spare.
Awake to her, and she can guide you where

No hurt is left, and everyone is kind.
Take this last pain – tattoo her image there.
Commit to an eternal love affair.

--© 2009 by Jack Veasey

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This sonnet was inspired when I saw a roughly 7½-minute clip from the TV show “Miami Ink,” depicting a young man of Indonesian descent receiving an elaborate and beautiful tattoo of Kuan Yin on his back. Kuan Yin, for those who don’t know, is the Chinese Buddhist goddess of mercy. Legendary for her apparitions and known for healing and protective miracles, she is to the Chinese what the Virgin Mary is to Catholics. Her name is also spelled Kwan Yin and Quanyin.

The young man got the tattoo in honor of important women in his life, including his mother, who he says “gave up my soul to Kuan Yin” when he was born. Interestingly, the well-known tattoo artist seems to know a good bit about Kuan Yin. Perhaps not surprising, because Kuan Yin is the second most frequently depicted figure in Asian art, after the Buddha.

From the poster of the video, who calls himself jjll2006 on Youtube:
"This is a clip from the episode ‘Nobody likes a quitter’. I was lucky enough to have none other than Chris Garver tattoo a Kwan Yin on my back. This is my episode and story.”

I wanted to post the video itself here, but the user has removed it from Youtube and all other places where it was posted on the internet.

For more information on Kuan Yin, see my lecture/blog about her, posted on Eons two years ago:

I manage an internet group for Kuan Yin devotees at

Monday, February 22, 2010


Mr. Martin was my high school typing teacher
At an all-boy Catholic school.
He was also the first man I ever loved.

Right after last period,
I’d stop by to see him before I left school.
It never occurred to me
That anybody else
Might think this strange.
I’d babble about nothing
While he wiped the writing
Off the chalk board, banged erasers,
Put the plastic cover
Over each machine.

I never wondered
What he thought of
My devotion. Everyone I knew,
My family included,
Treated me as if
The notion that I might have any feelings
Were unthinkable. I just expected him
To do the same. I never imagined
The pangs I felt
Showed in my eyes.

He wasn’t a big man.
His cheeks turned bluish
In the afternoon
From stubble whose replenishment
Impressed me. He wore his short black hair
Slicked down, smelled like
A cigarette, rolled back
His white shirt sleeves.
He’d often stand
And watch his students pound away
With forearms crossed
Over his chest. I never thought
He saw me watching him.
When he’d bark
Instructions at us,
It would always strike me
That he sounded like
A gangster on TV.

Of course, the other kids in class
Raised the first questions
In the cruelest way they could.
One asked him to say
That he would see me later
In the locker room,
And, thick head that he was,
He did, in front of all of them.
I felt as though
He’d slapped me. He could tell
Something was wrong,
But it took him awhile
To figure out exactly what.

When he got married,
I went through several reactions,
And they puzzled even me.
I could discuss them
With no one.
I felt like I was losing
My connection with him,
Though I’d still see him
Each day. I was hurt
He didn’t ask me to the wedding.
I wished I could show him
I was happy for him, though
That wasn’t quite the truth.
I felt like I should give him a present,
Though, thank God, I didn’t.

I had a girlfriend, too,
Though mine was a “beard,” as they say,
That I was using
To delude myself.
When she (wisely) broke it off with me,
I panicked. I even swore out loud
In front of Mr. Martin.
He objected to
My language – he’d already
Started distancing himself –
And told me not
To come to see him anymore.

I stayed home from school
The next day, claiming
That I was sick.
I was amazed
When the phone rang,
And it was him.

He asked why I wasn’t in school.
I repeated my lie.
He said, with anger,
“What about tomorrow,
And the next day,
And the next?”
I heard myself blurt out,
“I didn’t think you’d care”
And then he answered,
“Well, I do.”

I went back to school
The next day – though, from then on,
I’d only visit him
On rare occasions.
When our eyes met,
It was awkward.

I began to live my life
Outside of school – outside
Even my dreams.
I began to do things
I’d denied I even
Thought about.
I learned that love can hurt you
Even worse
When it’s expressed, even
Returned. Eventually, I left
High school
And home.

As for Mr. Martin,
I have no idea
If he’s still alive,
Although he gave me
My first evidence
That I was.

-- © 2010 by Jack Veasey

All rights reserved. This work may not be reproduced or duplicated without the author's written permission.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


How many times
Have you tried to share
Something you loved
With a friend –
Something that moved you,
That made you see your life more clearly –
Some work of art, a song perhaps.

They would encourage you to share,
But then dismiss it
without listening,
Would ridicule it even
As it played for the first time, not
For a moment consider
That it might have merit
If it had meaning for you.

For them, it was just an opportunity
To prove that they had better taste
Than you; that you, in fact,
Were stupid in comparison to them.
This was a triumph, another occasion to sneer,

Though they would still call you a friend,
Though they’d deny
that hurting you was their intention, claim
You’d asked for their opinion, after all.
They’d say they only gave you honesty,
Though all you got from them was their hostility.
Does rudeness ever demonstrate good taste?
And is it ever really honest? If this
Were really simply an opinion, what were they
So angry about? You didn’t invite
that abuse,

and yet you’d cling to it
for years, no matter how much
you’d want to forget it.
What you thought was a moment
In a grown-up friendship
Was high school all over again – worse,
The playground from childhood. And you
Saw it for exactly what it was.

Later, they’d pretend
They didn’t understand
Why things were no longer the same, as if
They didn’t see their little victory –
They’d proved to you
Your taste was bad, all right –
Your taste in friends, that is.

You’d fix that, but
You’d never tell them why.
In fact, you’d never again
Tell them

Why give even a grinning enemy
Another round of ammunition?

-- © 2010 by Jack Veasey

All rights reserved. This work may not be duplicated or reproduced in any way without the author's written permission.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


(Medusa by Caravaggio, photo from Wikipedia)

Long after the hissing
Had driven me mad,
Long after the venoms
Had twisted their roots
In my brain,
He finally came:

Except for his shield, bearing
A sword – symbol
Of liberation in religions
I would never live to see.

He would not
Look at me, but
At my image
Mirrored in his shield,
The shield
He didn’t bring
To hide behind;
He had nothing to hide.
His nakedness
Was beautiful. His sword
Would liberate me

From my body
And its thousand passions
I could never quench.
I felt them rage
For the last time
As I looked at him,
With grave fascination.

Even if he could come close,
The lightnings in my hair
Would strike him down.
I lived beyond touch,
By the price
Of my own
Bitter nature.

So I looked at him,
And drank him in,
And let him stalk me,
Longing for the slice
To cut me loose
From my awareness,
From my restless
I met his eyes
In that mirror,
And gave my consent,
Burnt out from centuries
Of living in my head.

Of all men, he alone
Would glimpse my face
And live,
And notice
It was radiant with anguish,
And be haunted
By regret.

Better to be
Turned to stone,
Believe me.

© 2007 by Jack Veasey

All rights reserved. This work is not to be reproduced or duplicated in any way without the author's written permission.

This poem appeared in Issue 9 of Fledgling Rag. Thanks to Editor/Publisher Le Hinton.

Friday, February 12, 2010


The Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors had a small, dingy office up two or three flights of stairs. There were posters and fliers tacked up on the bulletin board. The man I had come to see – I long ago forgot his name – shook hands with me across a desk strewn with papers. He was the only person there, and he looked harried and distracted, but he was friendly.

It was 1972. I remember the weather was cold. His office was cold, too. I kept trying to pull my denim jacket tighter around me.

I told him I was gay. He said, “That’s cool. But don’t tell them that if you don’t have to.” He asked me a bunch of questions and checked my answers off on a form. He quickly figured out that I was the only male with my family name who could still have children. This apparently qualified me as a Sole Surviving Son – my loophole out of the draft. I was so relieved that I wanted to grab him and hug him, but since I’d just told him I was gay, I didn’t. Even in that joyous moment I noticed the big irony that I’d been freed up to do something I had no intention of doing – namely, to have children.

I wouldn’t turn 18 for a year, but I’d had a big scare put into me about Viet Nam. A guy who lived down the street from me, who people called Butchie, had come back full of gruesome stories about things he’d seen and done in the war. Most of the kids were awed, but I was very disturbed by his stories. I didn’t EVER want to do or even see things like that. I already wished I didn’t remember some of the abuse I’d suffered at home.

As it turned out, the draft would end at the beginning of my 18th year. But I didn’t know that then. I was deliriously happy that I wouldn’t have to go, that I’d be spared from having more horrors in my head. I had a fake ID that got me into bars, easily obtained in the ‘70s, and I used it that night to go out drinking. It seemed the best way to celebrate. Drinking ran in my family.

Later that night I staggered happily down the stairs to the subway stop near City Hall. I smiled at the giant clothespin sculpture that I usually considered an eyesore; I liked to tell people that, because of its proximity to City Hall, it should be clipped to a giant nose.

I paid the cashier, passed through the turnstile, and turned to go down the final flight of stairs to the train platform. At the foot of the stairs, a boy who looked to be my age was backing up against a wall. He looked disoriented and agitated. He was grunting and wheezing, waving his hands in the air. It seemed like he was trying to talk, but couldn’t. I could see three shadows on the floor advancing toward him. He was looking at whoever was casting them. He reached into his jacket pocket.

I heard a very loud bang that just about made me jump out of my skin. The kid fell on his back, head toward the foot of the stairs. I found myself standing over him. He was convulsing. I couldn’t see his face for all the blood. He’d been pulling a prescription bottle out of his pocket, and the pills it had held were scattered throughout the sticky red pool spreading all around him. I knew this had all happened very fast, but it seemed like things were unfolding in slow motion until the cop grabbed me and slammed my back against the metal banister.

He grabbed me by what would have been my lapels if denim jackets had any. He actually lifted me off of my feet and jammed his face so close to my mine that I can’t remember his features at all – just the impression that his face was made of granite. I never did see the faces of the other two cops.

His hot breath went right up my nose, and his voice was a husky combination of a whisper and a bellow. GET LOST, PUNK. YOU NEVER SAW THIS. GOT ME?

I was scared out of my mind. I did what I was told without thought. I left the station and walked for an hour all the way home, gasping for breath, eyes blurred by tears.

I soon learned from a newspaper report that the dead boy was an epileptic who had been having a seizure. They were approaching him, demanding an explanation for his “suspicious behavior,” when he reached into his pocket. He couldn’t talk at the moment; he was trying to explain by showing them his medicine. They thought he was pulling a gun. The story said there were no witnesses.

The story had already come out without my help. so I never came forward. I really had nothing to add, anyway. Rizzo was mayor, and under his regime you never called yourself to the attention of his brutal police force if you could avoid it.

And after all, I was one of the lucky ones. I’d never have to see the atrocities of war. I could thank God for that.

-- © 2010 by Jack Veasey

All rights reserved. This work is not to be reproduced or duplicated in any way without the author's written permission.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


(photo from MDC archives)

My job was to help her sell her books.
I sat beside her at the folding table.
I made change while she met admiring looks
And signed her name as much as she was able.

Where I sat intruded on her aura.
It wouldn’t work if I’d sat far away.
Somebody’d brought a huge bouquet of flora,
Which someone else had quickly whisked away.

No room here for anything but books. She
Signed mine, “To My Colleague” – what a thrill!
The line was long. I thought, perhaps, that we

Might chat when it was over. But until
The place was closing, she was occupied.
I’m honored she brushed by me in her stride.

-- © 2009 by Jack Veasey

All rights reserved. This work may not be reproduced or duplicated in any manner without the author's written permission.

This poem appeared in Issue 9 of Fledgling Rag. Thanks to Editor/Publisher Le Hinton.


You sit with me before my surgery
And stroke my hand, and softly lend support;
Awhile without a word, yet you report
A wealth of subtle sentiments to me.
The nurse pops in, and says that the I.V.
May pinch me; I don’t let my face contort,
Wanting to seem brave and polite. We court
The best blood pressure with infused tranquility.

It’s time to go. The doctor shakes your hand
As if we’re at a sports event. I say
“I love you,” as you do, with confidence.

They wheel me off. Though I wear no gold band,
I feel your presence near me when I fade.
I’ll wake wrapped in your silent eloquence.

(C) 2005 by Jack Veasey

This poem appeared previously in Wild Onions XIX.

All rights reserved. This work may not be reproduced or duplicated in any manner without the author's written permission.

Wild Onions, by the way, is the literary magazine of Hershey Medical Center -- where I underwent this surgery.


We rode bikes on the boardwalk, Dad and I,
On early mornings, while the crowd still slept.
We shared the time much like a secret kept –
That truce was possible. It was a guy
Thing, one might say, not mentioning that Mom
Was not in sight. Well, not in hearing was
More to the point. Gulls only broke the calm --
Gulls and the softly crashing tide, because
Mom wasn’t here, could fill our ears with round,
Warm tones. Even the wheels were mute – no card;
No squeak; just turning without sound.
To go long without talking was not hard.
There was no need for any other noise.
There could be peace out there, for just us boys.

-- © 2009 by Jack Veasey

This poem appeared in Issue 9 of Fledgling Rag. Thanks to Editor/Publisher Le Hinton.

All rights reserved. This work may not be reproduced or duplicated in any way without the author's written permission.



When you were small, I was your father’s bud;
We hung out all the time. I was around
More than your relatives. You knew the sound
Of my voice on the phone. I was not blood;

You never called me “uncle,” but I would
Bring gifts for you. Monster movies, I found,
Held you rapt all afternoon; you rewound
“the good parts” to watch them again. You could

be quite funny, sometimes. One day, watching
“Nosferatu,” you told company it
dated “from before people could speak.”

Now that you’re grown, your Dad reports the sting
He felt when you called me a “fag” at sit-
Down dinner, when my name came up – a leak

Of your new attitudes. You always knew
My story. I was never anything
But friend to you. But you’ve revised your view
Across great distance, not based on remembering.

Your family moved down South in your teens.
Your Dad and I remained in touch by phone.
Amazing how a young man’s life careens
Through changes when he separates from home.

I wonder what you’d call me to my face.
You claim to be above hate based on race.
I know that my behavior’s not to blame.
Ironic -- we still share the same first name.

-- © 2009 by Jack Veasey

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