Bushwacking in Cleland Park

Cleland Park has been a haunt of the town’s latchkey children since the sugar boom of 1920s when one Dr. Cleland, whose disdain of canals is well documented, and one Clarence Riley, well versed in the invasive propagation of canals on account of his southward penetration from Illinois, were hired by the town to drain its namesake swamps. 

Hyped up on caramel apple suckers bought with hard saved reading bucks doled out by Mrs. Roberts at 3rd grade school year end and the diphthong catch phrases of the late Mr. Irwin collected over many a Corcodile Hunter sleep over, a ring of dimples were beating around the park bush for snakes. Or rather, the snake. 

The dimples first learned of the snake from the locksmith’s grandfather who swore on his fathers pickaxe that the Clealand Park Riley Zoo, the capstone of a tamed Western river delta, was once home to Harry Houdini’s albino king cobra.¹ Once being the operative word as the snake, according to the locksmith’s grandfather, was an escapologist in its own right performing its final trick, much to the dismay of the philanthropic Women’s Club, on the same day Dr. Cleland announced the opening of the park pool with a jubilant directive to “Jump in!” 

The locksmith, who admired his stepfather with the same zealous fever he admired the late Mr. Irwin, was certain of the snake’s existence and, because neither his grandfather nor Mr. Irwin would die for a few more years, its immortality. 

Thus the dimples were dragged along, pockets full of snake skin, through oak and cotton, and over a canal that would have Dr. Cleland rolling in his grave, until they stumbled upon evidence of an altogether different kind of vanishing act. 

As if the philanthropists of the Women’s Club had once shed themselves for a moonlit tryst in the park pool, the dimples stepped into a pixie ring of perfectly white women’s unmentionables (garments none of them had previously been intimately familiar with outside of shameful discoveries in family linen baskets while playing hide-and-seek). 

The dimples were immediately divided in diphthongs and ideas about the nature of their temporal trespass. One called for an immediate retreat, already dreading Sunday confessionals. One offered a commanding second boasting that his father, the local detective, was the only man equipped for this kind of work. Another, whose 3rd grade science project on the faking of the moon landing which received a “bullshit” C grade from Mrs. Roberts, was certain this was altogether extraterrestrial. Another still was short on diphthongs and observations, distracted by the caramel that had sealed his molars together like the industrial strength concrete of a bygone era.

But the locksmith, determined to make his great-grandfather’s pickaxe proud, proclaimed they had found the den of Harry Houdini’s long escaped albino king cobra. “The snake is here.” Crikey, he was sure of it. 

¹ Despite Stu Carlson’s impressive historical account The Cleland Park Pool and Zoo - Splash From the Past in the High Country Shopper (2021), this author can find no evidence of an albino king cobra residing in the Riley Zoo at any time. Or a perfectly normal king cobra for that matter. Indeed this author is skeptical that Harry Houdini owned a snake and is left to believe that the locksmith’s grandfather was full of shit. 

The Haunted House on Willow Wood Lane

there is a band of boyhood 
infamous provincial marauders
all bike spokes and radio static
all pockets full of snake skin
all street lit scraped knees pedaling past curfew

there is a bolt-hole
cul-de-sac burrowed in cypress
all wasp nests and stolen valor
all PlayBoy pornographic awakening
all rough-and-tumble sleeping bag slumbers  

there is a haunted house
devourer of tender trepidations
all hell hounds and will-o-wisps
all hook-handed murderer
all peephole prepubescent bravado 

there is a veil of summer stained bower
crumbling probity protector
all red planet ritual and penetration
all flag stolen conquest monument
all dilapidated fencing buttressing tomorrows


The Dance Floor

Watch the accompanying video here. 


if I die on the dance floor tonight
know that I did not go willingly

that tomorrow I had dreams
of morning breath kisses
from a boy I pray is left behind

if I die on the dance floor tonight
console yourself that it is how we wish

for I died doing what I loved
surrounded by friends and family
peacefully in muted gunfire

if I die on the dance floor tonight
please don’t stop the music

I cannot bare to hear the silence anymore


Gay Standard Time

the gays make plans for brunch
and when the heteros are upsettero because said gays are late
the gays explain that they meant 11 AM G.S.T.

G.S.T. is a queer unit of time
which means Gay Standard Time
or whenever is convenient for my gay ass 

G.S.T. continues to perplex horologists 
(horologists are time scientists
but also gays that fuck for science) 
because the only consistent thing about G.S.T.
is it’s inconsistency

the queens are always late
the dykes an hour early
the bisexuals seem divided
and the queers intentionally input it wrong in their calendar 
to avoid having to give you a straight reason for not wanting to attend

clinical psychology and C.S. Lewis tell us
that closets are temporal paradoxes
both realm of fantasy 
and wormholes of trauma
nailed together with Christian theology 
and the fetishizing of innocence - 
same thing, really 

he was only five when they began 
to groom him as a lady killer
began to dress her modestly
for family gatherings with sticky fingered uncles

they tell us we can find absolution
in repressing the cardinal sin of desire
so we come to believe forgiveness 
will move the hearts of our abusers
who guide us in building pyres out of fags
so they can substitue their violence for our sacrifice

the Isaacs among us that survive 
cursed descendants of the desert  
they who will laugh as wild things
wretched heathens and attention seeking horologists
are only children 

robbed of a past
drowning in the future 
and arriving whenever is convenient for them 

P.J. Vernon’s “Bath Haus: A Thriller”

P.J. Vernon’s second novel is a subversive gut punch to the psychological thriller genre. To say Bath Haus is a disaster the reader can’t take their eyes off of is a sugar coating of the calculated and sinister systematic creation of real world cultural traumas Vernon documents under the veil of fiction for palatability.

Substance user Oliver Park has found an idyllic path to sobriety among the high society of Washington D.C. in an intergenerational relationship with his old-money, trauma surgeon partner, Dr. Nathan Klein. When the good doctor goes out of town for a medical conference, Oliver goes searching for a fix in a bath house, a reckless escapade he narrowly escapes with his life – the bruising of his transgression wrapped violently around his neck. 

Covering up the details of his assault, Oliver spirals into a rabbit hole of white lies and duplicity, slowly discovering the sanctuary he’s desperately trying to preserve is a perilous house of cards. When a past he thought was long buried slinks into town, Oliver realizes the predator from the bath house isn’t the only wolf trying to blow it all down. 

Vernon deserves praise for delivering an unapologetically queer story in a genre dominated by heteronormative arcs. More impressively, he uses the page as a magnifying glass to lay bare the violence perpetuated against, and by, queer men fighting to survive in a community chained to the abuses of cis-hetero patriarchy. Here is an engineered train wreck, operating and colliding precisely as the dominant culture intends.  

An asphyxiating read without a safe word, Bath Haus forces readers to face a question unsettlingly at odds with the modern gay rights movement. Is addiction to domestic comforts really liberation? 

Monday Night Dive Bar

entourage of one
he sings a karaoke Hallelujah 

a Monday night mass
a church under new denomination 

faith gave me up
over a decade ago

but the rituals beg
to be remembered 

the body of Christ 
as overpriced Pringles 

grape juice blood
as pickle-pear shots 

this fraternity of broken 
singing to fill the neon lit vault

another COVID death pings 
ain't it shocking what love can do

we swallow this virtue of suffering 
wrap up against the sobering cold 

stumble back up the one-way 
repeating a Gospel no one believes 

promise: (v) to let go

(a pleasure activism exercise)

I'm at a Marriott in Pueblo
putting lotion on my nipples 
before bed 
when it hits

and I've learned 
I've got to write it down 
when it hits
I've lost too many poems to 
I'll remember it in the morning

and, like, I don't know if you know this
but it's damn hard to write 
with lotion slick hands

and like, I don't know if you know this
but announcing that lotion 
has cured your writer's block 
on social media leaves 
way too much to the imagination

but damn if writing this thing 
with lotion slick hands 
doesn't feel like an orgasm
like the one I found tucked between two stanzas 
in a poem a friend mailed to me last summer

I don't know if you know this 
but turns out lesbians 
can give their gay friends orgasms
let me explain
about the lotion
ill leave the orgasm to your imagination

the Greeks came to lotion by way of Athena
Athens chose that owled eyed butch 
over that totalitarian typhoon Poseidon 
and in gratitude cerebral Athena planted her spear 
and from it sprung olive oil 

like Athena I spend a lot of time up here
at a young age the power of a man's hands 
split me from my body
like Hephaestus split Athena from the crown of Zues 

and when my father disappeared 
like a poem I swear I'd remember in the morning 
I still found myself getting lost up here 
like a sailor at sea 
without the violence of Poseidon 
propelling him 
so I've learned that when it hits 
I've got to write it down 

and I don't know if you know this 
but trauma is a sensory hydra 
multiplying heads every time 
someone touches my body 
every time something feels like an orgasm 

but I figure if a lesbian can give me an orgasm
without even touching my body 
maybe I can make Athena it's patron 
like she is up here 
so I made a promise to myself 

and I don't know if you know this 
but we get promise by way of Latin: to let go 
a promise to put lotion on this polis
in front of my mirror every night 

and I don't know if you know this 
but a lot can get lost in the translation of a promise 
let me explain, I feel a solidarity 
with Medusa looking at herself in Perseus’ shield 

but I refuse to let this body be stone tonight 
so I lather promises all over this [body]

on these shoulders I promise 
to shrug off the weight of an Acropolis 
that belongs to the past

to allow myself to wrap these arms 
around shipwrecks in Poseidon's patriarchal seas 

to use these hands to help 
rebuild everything he's washed over 

to let these legs stop running from 
and redirect them towards 
a metamorphosis of my own making 

to explore this living, breathing, 
city-state of Pallas Athena 
all it’s shame ridden nooks and crannies 

and I don't know if you know this 
but nipples are so distracting 
like, so, so, SO distracting 

so at a Marriott in Pueblo where I'm feeling,
like really feeling, these nips
with lotion slick hands 
I make a different promise
to these turquoise tips
the Latin kind 
a synonym for pleasure, baby 

to let go 
and realize when it hits again 
I don't have to write it down 

Heirloom Tomatoes

I’ve been spending a lot of time 
with the word unravel

I like the way my tongue 
tosses the syllables 

holds the spool tight 
on the roof of my mouth

flicks it into the universe 
off my bottom lip

my great-grandfather, Gilpin Red
was Colorado’s middleweight champion 

made a name for himself 
giving blokes a mean bottom lip

carried the shotgun suicide 
of his father in his fists

I think I carry it too
at least when opening a can of tomatoes
big hands run in the family 
red stained family heirlooms 

I reckon that was Grandpa's secret to peaches 
and my father’s excuse for his hands on me

a great-granduncle that killed women
a granduncle that killed childhood

abuse is just entropy 
in perpetual motion 

too many stars collapsing
under the weight of their own gravity 

the remnants of a big bang
like the one in Canyon City Cemetery 

in one hundred billion years from now
every one of them will blink out

in my lifetime it is predicted
heirloom tomatoes will go extinct 

Gilpin Red's gloves are still on display
fraying and begging to unravel 

I'm still learning who I am
still making amends with time 

still learning how to love these hands 
knowing they will end with me