Her unexpectedly broad shoulders emerge from behind the bush
Where she’s weeding. She’s flipped up her tee shirt into
A tank top because she’s worried about her tan lines showing
When she goes to the wedding she has no date for.

She bought a dress a size too small, hoping she’ll fit into it by then.
I can’t see why she’d bother. “They invited you, didn’t they?”
“If people weren’t such assholes,” she replies,
“You wouldn’t have to work so hard trying to figure out how to talk to them.”

She jogs two-and-a-half miles after doing hard gardening for me all day.
She wants to have muscle definition. “But you’re a woman,” I say,
“You can’t have muscle definition unless you—”
“It’s no good arguing with me,” she says.

“Thanks for the heads up,” I reply, and shut the hell up.
I used to have a problem when she bent over in my direction
Showing the cutest little big round half-moons. After a while,
She stopped wearing low-cut tee shirts. Out of mercy, I think.

“What was your favorite age?” she asks me.
“In the womb,” I say. She laughs like a truck driver.
“All that gurgling. What, you don’t remember?”
She rolls her eyes, says, “I can’t remember yesterday.”

She’s 26. I’m 54. She has deep brown eyes but
She’s not behind them all the time. If I got too close to the
Emptiness she carries around inside her
Promise, cuddle would be the same as collide.

She heads for the trolley, dirty as an urchin, with weeds,
Stalks, and strangely seeded treasures in her arms.
She forgets me like yesterday.
I remember her like Wife.

Published by Studio One Literary Magazine 2005 issue.


My coffee is cold; my novel, boring. Squeak, slam! goes the screen door.
I look up. An angel is standing in the bright sunshine
flooding through the doorway. In a voice as smooth as glass he says,
“Are you willing to give up your sanity in order to become fully human?”

I was so surprised I floated above my head while I contemplated
The question. Being stuck in a body was like having a
Hangnail: an irritation to the spirit. Being fully human meant thinking
My body was me. To choose that, I’d have to be crazy already.

This was my last life. With no karma to haul me back,
When I dropped the flesh this time, I’d be out of jail for good
Unless I said yes. Then I would be so fully human I might even lose
Memory of sitting in this coffee shop and deciding to be.

I listened to the susurrus of cars smashing the autumn leaves
Into dust. People went in and out the screen door
Like reincarnations. Squeak, slam! Squeak, slam! Right now,
Right here was the last time I would be asked this question.

“Yes,” I said, for no good
Reason. I looked up. Clouds
Grayed out the sun. The
Angel vanished.

A few months later a manic episode arrived like the answer. Soon
I needed medication—depakote, lithium, risperdol—to get me through
the day, and even then, the nights could be bad without a shot of whisky first.
Ten years later, a psychiatrist removed my diagnosis, told me to throw out

all the pills. Now I’m only crazy about babies, graffiti,
the New York Times, death, the concept of strangers, arthritis,
oranges, falling leaves, old age, and everything else about being human.
It’s a good thing I love it here, because I’m going to be coming back forever.

To be published by Pig Iron Press, Youngstown, Ohio, in issue # 25,


wearing black turbans and certainty
they sat here in this hotel
where now I sit with Néscafe
and watch an American Army major
speak slowly to a Mr. Wang of the new border outpost
the people of China will build for the people of Afghanistan

the major’s aide gently holds
a large black handgun
on his lap. The sign
in the lobby says

two years ago they hung men
upside down by their ankles
from those lampposts
heads purple like grapes
because their beards were too short

sometimes they would break the backs of the cleanshaven
then toss bread far away and laugh to see
if they would crawl or starve

an Afghan refugee arriving
in Moncton, New Brunswick
asked the first people she saw
the only important question: “Is it peaceful here?”

those Canadians

they didn’t even know
what she meant

Published by the Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas, in Descant 2007.




When she got irritated because I was helping her carry her stuff
but in the wrong way she sounded so much like my first wife
who was just like my mother
I nearly dropped her TV
on the way up to her new third floor flat.

“This house reminds me of the one I grew up in,” I said,
same age, same floors.” And the same danger, I thought,
looking at her turn my mother’s broad back to me to ask,
in a sweet voice while looking away from me,
“Can you do me one more favor? Will you drive me and my TV

back to the old place? I want one more night curled up
with a video just the way it used to be.
Alone,” she added,
in case I had gotten the wrong impression.
Which I had.

I said okay, walked downstairs, sat in my truck, and listened to the news
about the war in Iraq, which reminded me of my divorce.
It took her fifteen minutes
to realize I wasn’t coming back up her stairs
to carry her TV back down.

She stumbled out the door with the huge thing in her
arms, hoisted it into my truck bed. I drove her back to her old place,
let her heft the damn thing out by herself. I accepted
her reluctant thanks like a husband,
driving off.

To be published by Pig Iron Press, Youngstown, Ohio, in issue # 21,
Family: the Possibility of Endearment




A Memoir by Daniel John

“No,” said the old lady, “I won’t come over for tea. I can’t walk, and you young people don’t want me around.” Her face was a car wreck of wrinkles, flesh flapped on her upper arms, and her eyes glinted with the irritation of a pharaoh. I had just moved in next door to her in Tucson, Arizona. I loved her cranky sparkle. I vaulted the chain-link fence between our houses, picked her up like a sweetheart, and carried her out her gate, down the sidewalk, up my steps, and into my house for tea. That’s how I met Helen. I was thirty-seven. She was ninety-three.

I started Orts! Theater of Dance with some friends. It worked like a car full of monkeys fighting over the steering wheel. I brought Helen to every dance concert. Soon she was my only constant, the safe yellow line down the middle of the road of my frenetic choreography.

I planted a prickly pear in the front yard to celebrate the first house I’d ever owned. “You don’t want a cactus there,” Helen said.
“Why not?”

“You should listen to me.” I didn’t. In a month it was twice as big. I loved its spiny exuberance. But in less than a year that cactus was a greedy giant looming over the yard, falling over from its own weight, rooting where it touched, stealing water from all the other plants in the garden. It took me a whole day to wrestle that beast out of the earth. It was as spiny as a porcupine, with roots as big as arms and as tough as hooves. I wore a long shirt and pants, work boots and gloves. I was lucky to survive with both eyes. The sun was setting in a pile of fire and I was dusty and cactus-bitten by the time I stacked the hacked-off pieces next to the garage. That thing had grown from a novelty in a plant pot to a monster that filled three wheelbarrows. In the metallic glare of the sun, the heap of dismembered chunks didn’t look dead, just rearranged, like danger from a different perspective. As the hell-fried days of late summer gave way to the relative cool of fall, the fleshy green pods wrinkled, turned brown, then withered to a grayish white. By Christmas the shards were bleached like the bones of a shipwreck.

A year and a half after it began, the dance company ripped itself apart in an orgy of recriminations and bile. I was so devastated I sold my little house and moved back East. Six months later, near Christmas, I flew to Tucson to visit my best friend from those days. Helen put me up in her back room. Everything in her house was older than me, even the sheets. In the middle of the night I was woken by a dream that lifted the ancient, threadbare blanket up into a little tent throbbing above my belly with every pump of my heart. My body went flat with a fear so cold there was only one sane thing to do: surrender to God. I padded naked through the soft, dry dark, terror sticking out in front of me like a flashlight. I stood next to Helen’s bed and asked, shivering wildly, “May I join you?”

“Oh . . . all right,” she said, waking up. I climbed in next to her, and easy memories of telling stories and laughing together arched back and forth between us until we lay like newlyweds under a golden tent of kindness. I fell sweetly asleep next to my dear old friend. A few minutes later I woke up, erect and in a panic. Helen’s husband had died of old age a few years before I was born. My mouth filled with fright like cotton balls—then I remembered: fear is not a stop sign; it’s a door. “Look what I have,” I said, and placed her stiff, arthritic fingers on my end and my beginning. Slow surprise spread out from her touch like light from a candle in a long-deserted room.

“Oh,” she said. “Oh,” she said again. She paused, then said, “Oh my.” Her dry, wrinkled hand was the hold of heaven on the earth . . . and it put me right back to sleep. A few minutes later she nudged me awake with her elbow.

“Do you think we can do this?” I asked. She’d broken a hip a few years back. I felt her smile in the dark. She gently tugged my head close to her face to kiss her soft, wrinkled lips. After a long, delicate time of barely moving together came the time of the cleaving of spirit to flesh. We both cried out at the same time. I was suddenly too dizzy to hold up my head. I fell onto my back, then opened my eyes and nearly screamed. The room was filled to the brim with the astonishment of angels.

I flew out to Tucson every now and then. We were secret lovers until she died, a few years before she turned one hundred. She’d made me promise not to come to the funeral. She was afraid her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would guess the truth. A few days after her body was buried, Helen came to me in a dream.

She’s in her prime, in her mid-forties, powerful and in control. She stands in front of her little house and looks piercingly at me, like a pharaoh demanding answers. I remember the promise I made soon after I met her, that I would help her “cross over” to the other world after she died. I quietly open the gate in her chain-link fence. She swiftly walks past me up her sidewalk, through her front door, and into . . . God’s house, the one Jesus talks about in the Bible when he says, “In my Father’s mansion are many rooms.”


Performed as a monologue Dec 11,12,13, 2006, by Jeff Gill at the Boston Playwrights Theatre. as part of “Family Beef: Lover’s Edition” produced by TYG Productions.

Published by Passager, a literary journal, in issue # 45 Winter 2007/2008


Daniel John

In 1969 Carol’s parents refused to see me when she and I showed up in Pasadena after hitchhiking across the country together. Carol was the youngest child of a wealthy and conservative California family, and her father was sure I was a secret Negro. There was no other explanation for why his daughter had turned into a hippie and shamed the whole family. When I met him at our wedding, he eyed my curly brown white-boy afro and looked disgusted but proven right.

I felt terrifically flattered. Someone was finally taking me seriously. I was barely 21, a Canadian from the bland nothing of Winnipeg, Manitoba, who frequently got asked, “Are you a boy or a girl?” Being taken for Black was a promotion.

Carol and I had been openly living together for a year, alarming both our families. We weren’t just breaking the taboo on premarital sex, we were flaunting a dangerous permissiveness, both culturally and politically. The only one who didn’t know we were co-habiting was Carol’s father. Everybody was too scared of him to tell him.

My father, a United Church of Canada minister, officiated at our wedding. He didn’t know that Carol’s father didn’t know, so he preached on how he’d found Christian tolerance of a different lifestyle in his heart. “This union,” he said gravely, “is different than most because it was in full bloom before the wedding.”

Carol’s father started horribly weeping, with a long groan on the inhale. My father had to raise his voice to be heard over the sound of an old man’s jagged, bitter sobs. Carol’s father was over 70, and it was the first time she’d seen him cry. A funeral would have been happier; the presence of a corpse would have lightened things up considerably. Then everybody would have had something to look at while they listened to an old man’s agony as he was informed in public of the humiliation of a lifetime.

We’d only invited her family—parents, three siblings and their spouses— because we were sure they wouldn’t show up. But our invitations were riveting, with a square of Carol’s handmade batik cloth glued to the front, and inside, her exquisite calligraphy announcing, “At Leon’s Coachhouse.” That must have been California for “fancy restaurant.” They probably thought Carol had finally come to her senses and was doing her wedding the right way. The truth was we had a friend named Leon who lived in the attic above a decaying garage that had originally been a stable. All of our friends thought it was funny, to be going to a wedding in “Leon’s Coachhouse.”

Carol’s family didn’t. I watched the looks on their faces as they climbed up the rickety stairs and walked into the shabby firetrap of a loft. Our handmade decorations that glowed with love and joy when we put them up now looked like a juvenile attempt to disguise the hippie headquarters for drugs, disease, and interracial sex.

We wore our best clothing, but that meant the most riotously colorful, tie-dyed, batiked, handsewn raiment we could make. We took our vows seriously, but we’d written our own New Age ceremony based on Ecclesiates. And there weren’t enough chairs. The few we had looked like they’d been snatched from the jaws of a garbage truck. Which they had.

My parents did their Canadian best to mollify and commiserate. Thanks to them, and I think in particular to my father lending an aura of respectability with his full-dress minister’s robes, Carol’s family stayed for the whole ceremony.

Ten years later, we didn’t have much contact with them. They didn’t know how to relate to just about anything about us, from our New Age beliefs to the facts of our life, such as how we could live in Nova Scotia—so far from California and so close to the North Pole—and raise our three little mulattoes, presumably among the Eskimos.

Published by The Snake Journal, Tennessee, 2002?


Daniel John

I stepped out of the shower, dripping wet. An angel flew through the walls and stood in the doorway. He was holding up a banner labeled, “Hero.”

“No! Call me by my name or nothing!” He lowered the banner, surprised. He was so enormous he filled the doorway. His great wings extended into the hallway behind him. “I mean it. One step closer and I’ll take medication.” The banner fell away. He examined my lack of awe like a scientist. I grabbed a towel and dried off.

“Can you see me?” he asked, in a huge, soundless voice that was both caring and magnificent. His manner was cool and articulate.
“Yes, but not with my eyes. What’s your name?”

I hung up the towel and walked through him, surprising him again, and climbed into bed. He followed me to the bedroom and stood motionless in one corner. I slipped into the borderland between sleep and waking, then suddenly left my body and flew into his arms like a baby. “I love you,” I said, putting my arms around his neck and surprising both of us.

After a while I drifted back to my body, deeply happy: I was loved by an angel. I tried to sleep, but he kept looking at me with the eye of a clear blue sky that grew more and more intense until I had to sit up. When he had my full attention he opened his cloak. “This is my lore,” he said, showing me runes of stark simplicity painted on the lining. He pointed to one, a childlike drawing of a hand with the index finger extended. “Ever since we came to earth, a prophecy has guided the angels: ‘A human hand shall point the way.’ It’s your hand.”

“Which one?” I asked, holding up one hand and then the other. He smiled and pointed to my right hand. I went to sleep.

He was gone when I woke up. I googled him. Raphael is the Archangel of healing.

Published by Opium Magazine of San Francisco, Sept. 2007 at