Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tuesday Tidbits 10 DEC 13

This post contains the haiku/senryu I've written so far this month.

Geese overhead
She misses
the traffic arrow

Fresh blueberries
falling into
Chucky 's laughter

The slow curve
Of her lips

Manager's Office
The telephone cord

Low winter sun
A slice of banana
In Raisin Bran

Starless night
The vast emptiness
of my wallet

Below the ice-
The wide eyes
of the fish

The perfume of a
Passing woman

voices inside the voices
inside my head

Screams from the other
side of the wall

Bowl of granola-
The morning crunch of
the Mailman's boots

Flowering rhododendron-
Only a seven syllable poem

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Friday, December 06, 2013

Tuesday Tidbits 22 NOV 13

Lighthouse beacon
The Crimson blaze of her lips
through the fog

City siren 
Flashing past 
Too cherry lips 

Full Moon 
One hand on her belly
She rises

his name in black granite
Sliver of moon 

The Bread aisle's
shiny white shelves 
Spring morning 
Dust rises with the rhythm
of the broom

Summer sunset 
A voice falling 
into a cellphone 
Up and down the Boardwalk
Runny noses
Still Life 
with Arizona Iced Tea 
and Skittles 
Plunging deeper 
into her neckline 
November moon
And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday Follies 18 OCT 13

Sliver of moon-
The last bit of shine
on her lips

Quarter moon-
The last swallow of beer
in the bottle

Half moon-
Her new hairstyle
Almost an Afro

Full moon-
A simple bowl
Of oatmeal

A sax riff ripples
Autumn Leaves

Fall Equinox
My glass half full
of grey geese

Columbus Day
Leaves of the native trees
a deepening red

Friday, September 06, 2013

Friday Follies

Relentless rain

my country
drops bombs

Full Moon-
A Nickle only
in my pocket

Half moon-
The last piece
of sugar cookie

Meteor shower-
I sleep still smiling
in the wet spot

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Reading at Dante Hall

Tomorrow at 7 PM Jeff McDaniel and I will be the featured readers at the World Above Poetry Series at Dante Hall here in AC. You don't want to miss this reading, you really don't. It will be pure ungranulated awesomeness liquified in the form of words. Don't believe me? Check out this poem of Jeff's Keeper of the Light. Best of all, the reading is FREE!! The best possible price. There will be love and laughter and no small amount of looniness. But most of all there will be peripatetic poems (not that I know what peripatetic means). There might even be mini powdered donuts.
 And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tuesday Tidbits 20 Aug 13

Her lipstick suddenly
more orange

Piercing the dark room
Her trembling Oh

shimmering beneath
the boat

This past Thursday the Revel Casino closed their poker room. This made me sad, as I had played almost one thousand hours there since they opened. I really dug the casino even though I ran terrible there and lost over 10k while I played there. One of the things I loved was the food, they had a great poker room menu that was very cheaply priced but served Room Service food. And the Revel has awesome room service food. The Reuben sandwich was ridiculous!! I also loved a couple of the restaurants there, Amada was very good, but the Taco Truck and Luke's Marketplace were my favorites. I went to the Taco truck so often that I didn't have to order, they'd see me and just start ringing up my order. Luke's Marketplace was my absolute favorite though. I once ate there everyday for three weeks straight. The waffles are the best I've ever had, bar none. Pizza, sandwiches, salads it didnt matter. I was such a good customer they let me order off menu, in fact, I ordered a waffle with a scoop of Pistachio Gelato so often that they actually added it to the menu. It was expensive, but I didn't care because I was using Comps. Now, with no way to generate Comps I'll be a lot less likely to eat there. Gonna miss that place. Especially the Mexican Cokes. Check out a haiku I got published over at 

Below is a new version of an older poem I've been revising. I happened to bump into the woman I wrote it for, she was a poker dealer at Revel for a while. 


I've always loved to say 
A wizened woman 
Once said 
some words are swords, 
and Almighty in the mouth. 
Can be held on the tongue 
like a nib of licorice, 
or chewed like roots 
for medicinal value. 
Some taint the tongue, 
blade the blood pressure 
or unharry the hard muscles 
of the heart. 
Like 'acetaminophen,' 
some swords cause bleeding. 
Your name is a sword 
in a language I yearn to speak. 
Yearning is a kind of hope. 
Hope is habit forming 
and stains lips. 
A rare sweet root, 
The chemist says 
boiled into an extract, 
it alleviates even 
the barking cough of bitterness. 
Your name rhymes 
with acetaminophen,
cloaks the tongue 
in a crimson robe. 
Tonight, the moon is a monk, 
kneeling in the dark cave 
of the heart, 
chanting a numinous name 
until the sky bleeds light.

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon). 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Aug. 28th Reading in Atlantic City (Dante Hall)

On Wednesday August 28th at 7PM I'll be one of the featured poets, along with Jeffrey McDaniel. This is going to be the hottest reading of the year. Hands Down. Jeff is an amazing poet and a very entertaining reader. If you've never been to a poetry reading in your life, then make this your first. I guarantee you'll have a great time and be amazed at what can be done with words. Some of you may be familiar with this article that Jeff wrote about me for the Poetry Foundation. I first met Jeff twenty years ago in the Fall of 1993 at a bar in DC called "Fifteen Minutes". It was DC's first poetry slam venue and I had heard that one could win $50 for reading a poem. I didn't know quite what a "poetry slam" was, but I was pretty sure I could win it. As the previous week's winner, Jeff was the judge that night. At 15 Minutes they had the crowd cheer for each poet and the judge decided which poet they cheered loudest for. There were 8 of us competing and I rapidly advanced to the Final Round. My opponent was a tall leggy blonde whose day job involved dancing with less and less clothes on. The bar was packed that night and 85% of the patrons were white guys in their 20s and 30s. She went first, as soon as she said the word "suck" in her poem, I knew I wasn't going to win. Her poem wasn't bad, but mine didn't matter. I hit the mic and rolled out the big baritone, I might as well had been reciting in Cantonese. At the end it was closer than I thought, but she won. Jeff pulled me aside and immediately began apologizing, he told me he thought my poem and performance was much better, but the crowd was louder for her. I agreed and told him it was cool, but he kept insisting it wasn't right. To make things right, he invited me to come out to George Mason University, where he was a grad student and editor of the literary journal Phoebe, to do a reading. I told him he didn't have to do that, but he was adamant. I accepted and thus began an amazing twenty year journey of art and friendship. Jeff had a well earned reputation for being wild and crazy and talented. I came back to 15 Minutes and won a subsequent Slam, which allowed me to compete for a spot on the second ever DC Poetry Slam team that was going to compete at the National Slam in Asheville NC that year. Silvana Straw was the reigning DC poetry Slam Champion, with Jeff a close second. Another amazing poet I met there, Jane Alberdeston, was also a shoo-in for the team. That meant the rest of us were basically fighting for one spot. That spot was mine, nobody was going to keep me from it and on the night of the team competition I was neck and neck with Jeff for the second spot. Jeff wound up just edging me out for second place. Jane inexplicably decided to read a new piece for her final poem and ended up not making the team with Andy Fenwick grabbing the final spot. That summer we went to nationals and although we didn't win, we made the Finals and put DC on the national poetry slam radar. In one of our performances Jeff debuted his legendary poem "The Jerk" and ripped off his shirt mid-performance, given that he had the physique of a middle-aged man, it made quite the stir. There are a millions stories I could tell about traveling and reading with Jeff all over the country, but you'll have to come out to Dante Hall on the 28th of August at 7PM to hear them. Be there, trust me, whatever else you want to do, you don't want to miss this reading. Who knows, maybe Jeff will disrobe one time for old times sake . . . Here is Jeff reciting a love poem for the woman who is now his wife. And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Friday, July 26, 2013

Pencil Shavings

Setting sun
Organic cherry
between her lips

In the gap
between her teeth-
What's unsaid 

Sunday morning
dressed to kill-
A mockingbird. 

wine and candles"-
Super moon 

All eyes
on a single headband-
Rings of Saturn

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon).

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Split This Rock Lineup


Split This Rock Announces Poets for 2014 Split This Rock Poetry Festival
Diverse line-up of prominent citizen-poets to take to DC stages March 27-30, 2014

Split This Rock is pleased to announce the 16 poets who will feature at the fourth national biennial Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness in Washington, DC, March 27-30, 2014. Among the most significant and artistically vibrant writing and performing today, they also exhibit exemplary public citizenship as activists, teachers, and supporters of marginalized voices.

The poets to be featured are Sheila Black, Franny Choi, Eduardo C. Corral, Gayle Danley, Natalie Diaz, Joy Harjo, Maria Melendez Kelson, Yusef Komunyakaa, Dunya Mikhail, Shailja Patel, Wang Ping, Claudia Rankine, Tim Seibles, Myra Sklarew, Danez Smith, and Anne Waldman. They represent the great diversity of poets writing and performing in the United States today: poets writing in all poetic styles, men and women of many races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages, and social classes.

“We are thrilled to bring these exemplary poets from all over the country to DC’s stages,” says Executive Director Sarah Browning. “Poetry can tell hard truths, can challenge and succor us. These poets are visionaries, helping imagine a future based on principles of justice, one that honors the transformative power of the imagination.”

Split This Rock Poetry Festival is DC’s premiere poetry event and the only festival of its kind the country, highlighting poets working at the intersection of the imagination and social change. The festival features readings, workshops, panel discussions, youth programming, activism—opportunities to speak out for justice, build connection and community, and celebrate the many ways poetry can act as an agent for social change. Registration will open in the fall of 2013.

Split This Rock 2014 Featured Poets
Full biographies and photographs can be found at www.SplitThisRock.org

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Tuesday Tidbits 18 June 2013

(I posted this particular version of the song because this performance is so badass. I've performed on live national TV several times and it's not easy. Live TV is so tough for performers, because time is always tight and things are so fluid, and there's no chances for do-overs. Celine comes out and her mic doesn't work, then they bring her a new mic and her in ear monitors don't work. They tell her to double check that it's turned on, she does, but no sound. No she has to sing a song, live, in front of a worldwide TV audience with no monitors. Singing on stage without monitors is really tough, it's even tougher in a huge hall like the one they're in. No problem, she takes one out and hits the song, perfect pitch. Partway through, she takes out the other obviously non-functioning monitor and never misses a beat. Did I mention that she crushes the song? Absolutely nails it, despite everything that went wrong. The song itself is very emotional for her and yet she never shows any sign of being flustered or distressed. Badass.)

His ashes spread 
where the Allegheny ends- 
Father's Day

Fathers Day 
the only text that matters 
the distant sun

Our only sun 
glowing on the horizon 
Father's Day

New Moon-
Learning to twist
her dreadlocks
Harvest Moon
rising in the backyard
scent of wild figs

Late night news
tangled in her dreadlocks 
common scents

the weight of everything
that separates us

Son puts my O
in his MOUTH

How cooly
he swishes the net-
August breeze

Rustling around
Medgar's rosebushes-
Deadly thorn

Italian Ice man

twiddles his thumbs-
No Shave day

Obscure Landmark-

The pianist modulates

to a higher key

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)


Monday, June 10, 2013

Tuesday Tidbits 11 Jun 13

Faint glow
on the horizon-
Smell of coffee

Off the leash 
gnawing on the unknown- 
Cave Canem

Sickle moon-
They call it a wake
although she won't

scanning the radio
for Miles

"You Are My Starship"-
The shape of William's

On the jetty
casting much longer 

broken down in the road
A goose

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Friday, June 07, 2013

Doves and Fiddles

Today is the birthday of two of my favorite artists; Prince and Gwendolyn Brooks. Below find my Top Ten favorite Prince songs and favorite three poems by Ms. Brooks.

Ten Favorite Prince Songs

10. Little Red Corvette-This is the first song that made me really pay attention to Prince's lyrics. "She had horses in her pockets, Trojans and some of them used". Made me stop, think, and imagine. And that's what a good lyric should do. 

9. When You Were Mine-"Even when he was sleeping between the two of us" *drops mic* What? This is actually Prince's most covered song. Unrequited desire all day and night long. 

8. Starfish and Coffee-Another stellar lyric. A song that no one else could have written. Quirky, playful, clever. Traits that I love in music and women. But especially love in song lyrics. 

7. The Cross-DJ Kool hipped me to this song by playing it late one night at The Room Nightclub in DC. It was a huge risk, but Kool had the balls to try it and pull it off. That made me go home and listen to it. It's basically a gospel ballad. 

6. Another Lonely Christmas- One of his best B-Sides. I love Christmas music. I might be the only fan this song has, it rarely gets mentioned. But it's a X-mas song and its Prince and that's enough for me. 

5. The Beautiful Ones-Prince does unrequited desire pretty well and this is one of his best. The anguish at the end is absolutely exquisite. This song has been covered, but nobody is probably ever going to duplicate the screaming (in key) at the end. 

4. How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore-Another ballad about unrequited desire, as plaintive a plea as one is likely to ever hear. His piano playing on this cut is underrated. 

3. When Doves Cry-Maybe his best lyric from a poetry point of view. I've taught this song in poetry classes, his use of images to show and not tell is masterful here. "Dream if you will a courtyard, oceans of violets in bloom, animals strike curious poses, they feel the heat, the heat between me and you."

2. Adore-Old School balladry at its finest. I also love the playfulness and humor in this tune. "Well, maybe not the ride."

1. No One Compares 2 U (Sinead O'Conner version)-Lyrics, music, it all comes together here. Her tendering of this song is just so dead on, emotionally it's pitch perfect. 

Before I give my Top Three, check out the amazing lovliness that she made with these words.
when you have forgotten Sunday: love story

—And when you have forgotten the bright bedclothes on a Wednesday and a Saturday,
And most especially when you have forgotten Sunday—
When you have forgotten Sunday halves in bed,
Or me sitting on the front-room radiator in the limping afternoon
Looking off down the long street
To nowhere,
Hugged by my plain old wrapper of no-expectation
And nothing-I-have-to-do and I’m-happy-why?
And if-Monday-never-had-to-come—
When you have forgotten that, I say,
And how you swore, if somebody beeped the bell,
And how my heart played hopscotch if the telephone rang;
And how we finally went in to Sunday dinner,
That is to say, went across the front room floor to the ink-spotted table in the southwest corner
To Sunday dinner, which was always chicken and noodles
Or chicken and rice
And salad and rye bread and tea
And chocolate chip cookies—
I say, when you have forgotten that,
When you have forgotten my little presentiment
That the war would be over before they got to you;
And how we finally undressed and whipped out the light and flowed into bed,
And lay loose-limbed for a moment in the week-end
Bright bedclothes,
Then gently folded into each other—
When you have, I say, forgotten all that,
Then you may tell,
Then I may believe
You have forgotten me well.

My Top Three Gwendolyn Brooks Poems

3. The Blackstone Rangers-I grew up with cats like these. She deals with them in a way that is evenly measured, something that this particular topic wasn't going to be getting too much of in the literature of the day. 

2. First Fiddle Then Fight-A masterful play on the Sonnet and sage advice for anytime or place, but especially for the late 60s

1. We Real Cool-Was there any doubt? Her most famous poem, for good reason. All of her quirky music, incisive wit, perceptive observations are here. I first encountered it while riding the 51G Mt. Oliver bus in Pittsburgh as a kid. It was part of the original Poetry in Motion program. I was ten. I read it over and over, outside of Dr. Seuss it was one if the few times that a poem just mesmerized me.

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon).

Monday, June 03, 2013

Tuesday Tidbits 4 Jun 13

So I decided to make a small change to the format of the blog, rather than do one post for all the haiku/senryu I write in a month. I'll just post them every Tuesday. Last month was the most productive month I ever had haiku wise with almost 70 new ku written. I'll do more of the prose stuff on Fridays and will post longer poems whenever I write them. Enjoy. 

For sale-
Beauty Rest
never used

After the blade
came out of the forearm-
The other white meat

ripe on the vine-

Footprints fading
in the sand between us-
Ebb Tide

as wide as her smile-
New hoop earrings

Scratching with both hands-
DJ Poison Ivy

Atop the pole
fluttering furiously-
knowing  not knowing

Out of the pen
chasing Schrodinger's black cat-
Sub-Atomic Dog

Ablaze with
the rays of every sun-
Forty candles

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Friday, May 31, 2013

Shiki, Shiki, Shiki Can't You See?

"Sometimes your words just hypnotize me . . ."
Can any poet ask for higher praise?
This is a series of Haiku/Senryu that riffs off of lines from famous hip-hop songs. It might be the most fun I've had writing in a long time. As I come up with more I'll be adding them, so check back. Judging from the reaction on my Facebook page "Don't call it a comeback" is one of the best haiku I've ever written. Special shout out to Coyote, @Coyotesings on Twitter whose brilliant haiku;

hands in the air • like they just don't care.. • delphiniums

was the inspiration for my series. Since this is the internet there are links to the original songs for those of you who might not recognize the lines. Shiki of course is the great haiku master who modernized and elevated haiku to a literary art form and gave it the recognition it deserved.

How low can you go-
Evening thunder 

Don't push me
cuz I'm close to the edge-
Silent lightning

we're making that green-
Lawn sprinkler whirls

we like to party-
Squirrels zigzag

To reintroduce myself-
The Summer breeze

F*ck tha Police
coming straight from the underground-
Tulips with attitude

We been here for years-
Hum of cicadas

Set it off
on the right Y'all -
Snowplows at dawn

a hip to the hippety-
Bullfrogs break at dawn

the roof is on fire- 
Summer sunset

on Say What popcorn-
Fresh lip gloss

Set it off
set set set set it off-
Autumn leaves ablaze

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Happy Birthday

May Nineteenth-
The wind bends two sunflowers
into an X

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon).

Thursday, May 02, 2013

2013 May Haiku/Senryu

Chess tournament-
my son moves
from my shadow

Morning fog-
The furious roar 
of the ocean

Memorial Day-
She googles a knot
for her hanging chair

Following the path
I stumble on a Ku

Obscure Landmark-
Jazz pianist modulates
to a higher key

Divine Comedy-
Dante walks a mile
for a camel

Two bathers
on the beach puffing-
Cumulus clouds

No toilet paper-
Behind the wrong eye
an itch

Caught between
the couch and the wall-
Her laughter

Back porch
just after the last puff-
First cicada

Taking a cue
from the mottled ball-
His bald spot

Cherry blossoms
glistening with dew-
Her new lipstick

February dawn-
Shoveling a path to
the grill

Asleep in the car-
a seagull on the hood
cocks his head

Atop a pole
hot wiring the cable box-
A squirrel blinks

My father
dominates the room
from his urn

Memorial Day-
A neighbor salutes
with tongs

Above the grill
so many crows on the line
counting briquettes 

Back turned
bowed head searching-
Miles smiles

This dealer's mustache • caterpillar on a branch

in a long line for work-
Black ants

Soaring over
the beach volleyball net-

Summer sunset-
The shadows of her dreadlocks
grow longer

Summer glare-
The sarcasm
in her tone

On the river-
A boat sunk by
Quad Kings

First and U Streets-
Between these fat raindrops

After our fight-
Finding the peanut butter
in the fridge again

Camp bonfire-
The fluttering wings
of a giant moth

August heat-
My son brushes the bare
bottom of the grill

August heat-
The drunk drinks
an empty bottle

Labor Day-
Sweat beads the neck
Daddy's beer

Slapping her
bare bottom-
Old pond

Bright welts racing
down the back of my legs-
Hot Wheel tracks

Purring in the bed-
A cat that is not
my cat

His words 
wrapped around six croakers-
Muhammad Speaks

After church
on the old tube radio-
Immaculate Reception

Red eyes-
Clemente's plane

New Year's Day-
Right Field in Three Rivers

Empty Boardwalk-
The silent journey 
towards yourself

Evening thunder-
Daddy's drunken voice through
the bedroom door

Speeding cars-
The stillness of a tern
in the road




Four AM-
Even the crack zombies

Crack of dawn-
Thin woman scours the spaces
in the sidewalk

Her new tattoos-
Arched eyebrows


Afternoon sun
shiny and unblinking
Nephew's glass eye

Pointing towards 
the abandoned house- 
Used needles

on a junkies' forearm- 
New neighborhood maps

Soggy Marine 
holds umbrella over Prez- 
Afternoon shower

Old Kentucky Home-
Even the Marriage Records
are segregated

August heat-
The kink in the rope 
between her teeth

Summer heat-
A parted head under
a hot comb's glow

Saturday sunlight-
Orange flames devour 
mother's hair

Wisp of smoke- 
Newports and hot combs glow 
between teeth

Crescent moon-
Midnight light treat
Orange slices

Afternoon sun-
Daddy's smile through double

"You Are My Starship"-
The shape of William's

These metal bars-
The creases in Daddy's 
orange jumpsuit

Her fingertips
on the back of my neck-
What lies unsaid

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Enter the Dragon

"If you lose it, then that's it. You're done?"
 Her eyes locked in like lasers on my face, awaiting my response.
"That's it. I'm done." I said.
And just like that, a deal was struck. I figured it was a win/win situation for me, but you know how life is. It would turn out to be a lose/lose situation. The situation itself was simple, when we got together one of the first questions she had asked me was if I gambled. She made it clear that for her, gambling was a deal breaker. I didn't, so it wasn't. Now, after almost two years of us being together, here I was telling her that I was going to give playing poker a try and even more outrageously, I was arguing that poker "wasn't really" gambling. It was a bit much. She was a tenured Law Professor, certainly no stranger to a debate. But I had plenty of ammunition. Ever since my conversation with Nate, I had been spending a few hours a day in the Border's bookstore downtown reading 'The Theory of Poker' by David Sklansky. All the way through. Twice. Then I read another book by Andy North. And a third. In part because I liked to read, but also because this idea of poker as a beatable game, unlike say, Craps or Roulette, was intriguing. My boy NJ was really good at games and math, and if he thought the idea was sound, then it almost certainly was. But my girlfriend didn't really give a rat's ass about NJ's opinion, or David Sklansky's for that matter. I wasn't going to win any arguments with a mere theory, so we struck a simple deal, I was going to take $100 I had gotten paid for a poetry reading and use it to play poker. And if I lost it, then that was it, no more poker. Forever. I figured it was a good deal, if the theory was correct, then I was going to make some money, and if it wasn't, I'd learn a valuable lesson. We agreed that I'd keep my 'poker money' in a wicker basket on the nightstand next to the bed where she put her jewelry every night and once the money was gone, that was it for poker.

I strolled into the park that day brimming with excitement. And trepidation. The books said that if I employed a very conservative strategy with my beginning cards that I could be a winner in Seven Card Stud. I aimed to find out. The game itself was unusual, all the players were chess players, very strong chess players, in fact I was probably the weakest chess player of the entire group. And we played on a chess table. Since we were outdoors in a Federal Park where gambling was prohibited, we couldn't put any money on the table. So they had devised an ingenious solution, we used a chess piece, a pawn usually, to mark the amount of the bet. Each box along one edge of the chess board embedded in the concrete table counted for a certain dollar amount. If the pawn was moved two square,s then one owed $2 and we squared each other up at the end of the hand. Each player stated  which amount they owed as they folded and we all policed each other. It was an Honor System, but it worked because we were all friends and all paid attention. Because of my memory, my well known hyper attention to detail, and my reputation for honesty, I quickly became the arbiter of disputes about when someone had folded.

To be honest, I had never thought that I'd be any good at poker. I have always had a very expressive face. Whatever crosses my mind usually crosses my face too. This is a great attribute when one is on a stage reciting a poem, but a real problem when trying to conceal emotions in a poker game. Poker is a game of incomplete information, one can't be handing that info out for free. And so I thought that my lack of a 'poker face' would be a big detriment. As it often was in conversations with (mostly women) who fill in conversational gaps with facial expressions. The problem is that my face reflects what I'm thinking, but since my brain works so fast, what I'm thinking is often ahead of or tangential to what is being said. Which can lead to a great deal of conversational skew, sometimes with hilarious results. But as it turns out, my ability to laser focus and to hone in on and recall minute details was way more of an advantage than any expressive face could ever be. As a result, even following a simple and very conservative strategy, I quickly became a winner in the poker game. And as I accumulated more and more information about my opponents, I had little trouble discerning what cards they held. After that first day, I spent less and less time playing chess and devoted almost all my free time in the park to the poker game. The game was full of characters. Most of the guys had very good jobs that paid well, some over 100k a year and two were even millionaires. Several of the player were engaged in nefarious activities, one of the them was a drug dealer, another was a pimp. Across the chess table, no one cared what one did for a living and it was the same in the poker game. The money we were playing for was inconsequential to them, and so they gambled it up with no regard for odds or proper poker strategy. Needless to say, by the end of the week the bills in the basket had bloomed to $300 and in a month's time, topped $1000. For years I had spent countless hours in the park pushing pawns across concrete tables, losing $20 or $30 a week. Now I was hanging out with my boys clearing $500 a week. Both sides of the street seemed sunny and I couldn't have been happier. Her jaw however, was clenched tighter than a pit bull's teeth on a chew toy. But, a deal was a deal, right? The bills filled the basket with trepidation.

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

X Marks the Spot

I'm standing in line to cash out my chips in the Borgata Poker Room, facing a seemingly unending line of guys (mostly) waiting to sign up for the day's tournament, when I spot a familiar beat up Boston Red Sox cap. And I know this cap because it belongs to Joe F. a cat I haven't seen in a very long time, mostly because he was barred from the Borgata for Comp Fraud. Joe F. is infamous among AC grinders because while we all are whores for casino bonuses and promotions, he took it to an entirely different level. For every hour a poker player plays, the casino compensates him (hence "Comps"), how much depends on the size of the game, but 1 point per hour is common in AC for 1/2 No Limit. A point is basically worth a dollar and can be used to buy food or rooms or items in the gift shop. Back before he got barred, the system at most casinos required players to clock in and out at the Sign Up desk at the beginning and end of each session. Some guys would sometimes finish playing, but not clock out right away to earn more points. In the bigger rooms, like the Borgata and Taj, there was no real way for the casinos to tell. Some guys would clock in at one casino and then go play at another and earn points at both (or even three casinos) at the same time. In the bigger games, a player could earn as much as four points an hour, which meant that an eight hour session would accrue 32 points, which was basically $32 to be spent in the casino. Joe F. was barred for (allegedly) going to the casino computer and creating a very high limit game that he would then clock himself and several family members into, thus earning comps on multiple cards. You don't have to be a math whiz to figure out that an eight hour session times five or six players is $160 0r $192 in comps. Each day. Which could be used to eat in gourmet restaurants or to pay for rooms that could be stayed in or sold. A saturday night room could easily be sold for $250 since the Borgata often charged up $400 a night for premium weekend dates. Joe F. had it pretty good for a few months, but eventually they caught up to him. Because he actually played in high limit games, getting barred from the Borgata was pretty bad for him, given that most of the AC high limit action was there.

I nod and say "Long time no see."
To which he replies "Yeah, six years"
"Six years?!?" I say, "Has it really been that long?"
He nods, "Six years to this very day."

And I trust his count, because well, he'd know. Joe F. is one of the few guys left from when the room was downstairs and that was seven years ago that it was moved. And then it hits me that the Borgata has been open for ten years now. Ten years. Wow. Seems like only yesterday The Borgata was the shiny new kid on the block, a position occupied now by the Revel. But more importantly, if the Borgata has been open ten years, that means that this year marks my tenth year here as a poker grinder, because in January of 2003 I started playing in AC for five days a week, going back to DC on the weekends to spend time with my son. And that summer the Borgata first opened its doors. It's been one hell of a ten years and in my next ten blog posts I'll look back at some of the more memorable things that I've witnessed along the way, as well as chronicling my personal journey. Which, as far as poker is concerned, began in the middle of Dupont Circle in Northwest Washington DC, on a chess table no less.

I first discovered Dupont Circle in 1983. I was an Airman stationed outside the city at Andrews AFB and my mother had asked me to go to the Cape Verdean Embassy to inquire about dual citizenship. As the daughter of two Cape Verdean immigrants, my mother qualified for Cape Verdean citizenship, but she was already a US citizen and had a bunch of questions. Too many really to be asked over the phone, so I volunteered to go and ask and perhaps get the necessary documents to apply. As I had no car, I had to take the bus, a long arduous trip that required changing buses three times. The last of these changes was at Dupont Circle, a neighborhood that even then was known for its heavy concentration of LGBT folk. The inner part of the circle is a Federal Park and is crossed by two pathways that divide it into four quadrants. I had gotten off the L bus on the Southwest side of the circle and was walking towards its iconic fountain, when I noticed a series of stone tables built along the Southwest quadrant of the park. From where I was standing it looked like the men standing there along the tables were playing some kind of game. As I got closer I could see that they were playing chess. I'd been playing chess since age eight and was in the Chess Club in high school, although not good enough to make the Travel Squad of the Chess Team. I was intrigued and so I wandered over. To make a long story even longer, I never made it to the Embassy that day. I started playing and by the time I asked anyone what time it was, it was after six o'clock PM and the embassy was closed for the day. Which wasn't a problem since I was off the next day too. So, I returned the next day, making certain to visit the embassy first, before returning to the park and playing chess until the last bus back to Andrews.

After I got kicked out of the USAF for Insubordination and moved into the city, I visited the park pretty much every day that the weather allowed. The community of chess players was an eclectic group drawn together by our love of the game, but across the board nothing mattered, except one's ability to outthink the opponent. Race, class, height, weight, personal income, none of it mattered, either you could beat the person or you couldn't. Fiercely competitive, chess was the perfect game for me. Over the next fifteen years I became a fixture in the park, drawn not only by the game we all loved, but also by the intellectual company of chess players. Avid chess players tend to be pretty smart and are often well read and well educated. But in our (frequent) debates, like in our games, the only thing that mattered was if you could hold your own. Which I could. My education, though entirely informal, is pretty formidable, I've been an avid reader since I was four years old and I read pretty much any and everything. And remember no small amount of it. So I fit right in.

Fast forward fifteen years and it's 1998. I'm hanging out, waiting for a game to finish so I can play the winner, when I spot NJ, a Master level chess player from NYC who sometimes comes down to play in DC. NJ is one of the best games players I've ever met, besides being a Master at chess, he's also a Master at Bridge and good enough at Backgammon to earn a living playing it. He also was one of the members of the last Blackjack team to crush the AC casinos, before the casinos changed the rules about Mid-Shoe entries to shut the teams down. Me and NJ kick it for a few and then he eyes the last table on the end, where a group of chess players are all arranged around a table playing cards. Seven Card Stud to be exact. Many of the guys who play chess (myself included), also often wager on the games, either games you're playing in or games you're not. Since chess is entirely a game of skill, I don't consider wagering on a game I'm playing in to be in violation of my personal prohibition on gambling. Gambling in my mind, and the eyes of the law and science, is wagering on random events. Chess is anything but random. But other players have no such aversion to gambling and so sometimes craps games break out, or games of Spades or Tonk. And much smack talking and betting ensues. Occasionally someone might even bring in a Scrabble board and it too, becomes a vehicle for wagering accelerated excitement.

But right now NJ is eying the poker game and asking about the stakes. I don't really know because  I don't mess around with the game, in fact I don't even watch, even though all the guys in the game are my friends. In fact, my boy LP, one of my closest friends,actually started this game, when Governor Glendening shut down the legal poker games in the firehouses in Prince Georges County. I'm surprised because NJ doesn't wager unless he has the best of it and I didn't figure him for a poker player. I ask him about it and to my surprise he tells me that, mathematically speaking, poker isn't really gambling, not like Craps or Blackjack. Now, I respect NJ's opinion very much, in fact he's one of the few people I know who is better at math than I am, which is saying something, given that I was also on the Math team in High school and taught myself Calculus, just for the hell of it. But this sounds like some bullshit, and I tell him as much, gearing up for a debate that I surely will have the higher ground in. But NJ, just laughs and runs down how probability works in poker and how an informed player can basically choose his own odds and only play when they favor him. I still call bullshit, but I face an uphill battle now, since the key question depends on whether or not there is a significant skill element to the game. NJ says that knowing when to fold, is the the primary skill and entirely up to the player. I'm about to argue again, when he cuts me off and says "There's books about this, I'm surprised you haven't read any of them." And I haven't, it's all news to me, but he points to the bookstore across the street and says "They've got some of them in there, just go find "The Theory of Poker" by David Sklansky." I still think it's all a giant crock of bovine fecal matter, but hey, if there's a book to be read, I'm down for that. I hop the bench, dodge a few taxicabs, and enter the bookstore. The employees all know me because I'm there all the time, so they just wave as I head back to the Games Section, a place I know well because I come frequently to peruse the chess books. I locate the title NJ mentioned and find a nice chair to sit in, unaware that once I crack the cover of this particular book, my life will never again be the same.

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Sunday, March 31, 2013

2013 NaPoMo Haiku/Senryu (and other poems)

Well kids, it's that time of the year again wherein your intrepid hero attempts to navigate the roiling and treacherous waters of inspiration with his flimsy poetic craft. This year unlike others, we come into the month with a great deal of momentum, although sans our former muse who now merely glowers when she deigns to glance in our direction at all. But the Show must go on and write we will even if it is without the buoyant mania that once propelled our craft. We are tied to no line except that one which anchors us nightly. Our goal is the distant city of Haijin many miles downstream. How far, you ask? Who knows. The point is to get closer. We will enjoy the process of the ride rather than sweat the arrival. We must make at least thirty stops along the way, a haiku or senryu for each day, although they will likely swirl in eddies and waves as opposed to a continuous flow. By the end of the month I would also like to have written at least seven haiku in Kriolu, last month I wrote my first two, which leaves me five to go. We begin though in English;

Whitney's voice
from a passing car-
An old receipt

Fresh blueberries
falling into
Chucky's laughter

of the barren volcano-
Nunny's stare

Crushed pumice
blackens the beach
Grandfather's temper

She thanks me
for no reason-
Thawing ice

Ninety eight
reasons to come out-
Sports Illustrated

Crescent moon
peeling the yellow
midnight banana

over a comma-
Quarter Moon

April swirls
Bobbing in the white waves
a little buoy

Sound of Evening rain-
The apple trees' branches
against the window

Clouds drifting-
Just before just after
goodbye kiss

Crack of thunder-
All the neighborhood cars

This tongue
between moist lips-
Sealed envelope

A scar
below her right breast-
The Milky Way

Mountain Laurel blooms-
Flickering deep in Penn's Woods
a single candle

her tongue warms
my nipple

Low fog-
A Mourning Dove's
high coo

Above the hum
of the power line-

Vaguely threatening
The man in the red pickup
afternoon sky

Golf ball
semi-lodged in sand-
Half moon

Chilly afternoon-
I turn up the flame under
a pot of greens

Storm clouds-
Branches of this lone tree

All in-
My stack suddenly

Thanksgiving Night-
Wild Turkey in a

Fiftieth birthday-
Looking up a word
I used to know

Marsh reeds sprout
through sidewalk asphalt-
Her reluctant smile

At the corner
A boy with his pants sagging-
Half moon

Hair bun bobbing
she slowly disappears-
Setting sun

Adjusting the hat
then readjusting it-
Cool breeze

Plink plink
a shuffling of poker chips-

April first- 
The waitress' fingernails 
are ivy green

First of April-
Maybe this cute cashier 
has no boyfriend

Spring lonliness- 
The wind pushes an empty 
box of Newports

April puddles-
Even this atheist
must take a leap

Starless night-
Almost forty ounces
of emptiness

Autumn breeze-
Brushing what's left
of my hair

Early April sky-
Even a seventeen bar
Blues isn't this gray

First kiss
after making up-
Sheet lightning

Monday Morning-
Even my reality checks 
are bouncing

Apparently I
didn't catch her drift-
Leaves swirling

I find everything
except love

April Fools Day-
At least the puppy knows
he's chasing his tail

Cracked nail 
on my left big toe- 
Sliver of moon

The homeless man
staring into the window-

As part of output this month I'm going to try to get this haiku translated into French, Arabic, Spanish, and Portuguese (those being the primary languages of the West African Slave Trade);

Only sunlight
passes in both directions-
Door of No Return

Só os raios do sol
passam nas duas direcções-
Porta sem retorno

(Portuguese translation by R. Erica Doyle)

Ne passe que lumière
dans les deux sens –
Porte du voyage sans retour

(French translation by Christine Lux)

Anyone with expertise in translating to those languages or in writing haiku in those languages can feel free to comment or add input.

So far, the only regular poem I've written this month is this fun one I came up with for Jericho Brown's birthday;

I placed a candle
upon a cake from New Orleans
And Please it was, upon a plate.
It made the nervous words
Surround that cake.

The alphabet rose up to it,
And curled around, no longer ordered.
The candle was Please upon the cake
And of a shimmer in wick.

It took desire everywhere.
The cake was chocolate and Please!
It did not give of fork or knife,
Like nothing else from New Orleans.

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)