Joe lived in a cabin

outside of Mount Vernon, Washington,

a place his uncle built for hunting.

I visited him there once or twice,

on my way somewhere else.

There was no water, no electricity,

just a woodstove and black windows,

and his things: a suit of armor

into which  he had pounded hundreds of nails,

a jar with a cat skull and cat bones

that he had labeled with a strip of tape

like the old-world naturalists—


He had a few books on chemistry,

medieval history, alchemy,

a biography of Alistair Crowley.

And he had a little wooden statue

of the weeping Buddha.


It was such a forlorn place to live,

dark, in the woods, off the road on a dirt drive—

he said, “I don’t fit with people.”

And it’s true, he never did.

Even as a kid he was wild,

eyes on fire with something—

up in his attic room one time,

he and his brother, Jerry, and I

were hanging out doing nothing

on a rainy Sunday, parents away

downstairs somewhere, and Joe ran out

and came back with his father’s shotgun,

loaded, and pointed it at Jerry’s head,

pulled back the hammer—

Jerry just sat there, smiling, a kid

maybe four years old, unknowing,

and then Joe pulled the trigger—

click, and nothing happened.

It was a miracle, really.

We were in slow motion, then,

blue gun barrel, warped windows,

then came back up to speed—

Jerry was crying, and the parents appeared,

my mother grabbed me by the arm

and swept me away.


I ran into Joe years later.

He’d just gotten out of the Navy.

He’d had a good run, he said:

a small ship, hosting dignitaries, parties,

and all the drugs he took, he said,

should have killed him, he should be dead.

But the angels came down and said,

enough…you’ve done enough,

and we can’t protect you from here—

“The rest,” he said, “I can’t tell you.

I don’t want to scare you.”

He drifted back to the northwest,

took some classes at the college,

and began living alone in his cabin there

under the big trees

with his armor and his cat and his Buddha.


The last time I saw him, he said,

“Hey, man, can you help me?

I sort of banged up my truck.

It’s just down the road, there

could you could give me a lift

so I can get my tool box

and tie a rope around it

so kids won’t mess around with it?”

I drove him down the road,

and we came to his truck at a curve,

and what I saw—

the front end was smashed in,

the steering wheel was punched back

through the driver’s seat,

the battery in the passenger seat,

broken glass, buckled doors—

I looked at him and said,

“How did you survive this?”

There wasn’t a scratch on him.

“I don’t know,” he said.  “Just lucky, I guess.”

We got his tool box,

tied a rope around the truck,

and I took him back to his cabin,

dropped him off, and drove away.

I avoided him after that

because I could see he was lucky, sure,

but guys with luck like that come out clean,

and leave wreckage as they go,

and it’s not their fault,

they’re just always in the eye of a storm,

so you have to beware—the force of nature.



The Hearers

they hear it constantly

a low rumbling

like a truck going by

and it drives them mad

no answer to what it is

industry     electromagnetic pulse

plates of the earth grinding away

and she hears it too

I hear it

can’t you hear it?

it won’t stop

it’s like a nightmare

and we can’t wake up

she says it’s making her crazy

can’t wake up

can’t wake up

I say

look at your hands



Thoughts of a Hanged Man


I’ll never be cold again

I’ll never feel hate again

I’ll never be hungry again

I’ll never feel fear again

I’ll never know pain again

I’ll never have nightmares again

I’ll never experience shame again

I’ll never regret again

I’ll never choose badly again

I’ll never wait in line again

I’ll never



The Grave


Raymond Carver has a beautiful grave

with a big granite stone with his words on it.

That’s pretty solid, man—

your words etched in stone.

And he’s got a granite bench you can sit on

and look at his grave and his words

or out over the graveyard at the sea.

Actually it’s the Straight of Juan de Fuca,

which I think of as his

because he wrote about it in his poetry.

I picked out where I’d like to be buried—

Lake View Cemetary

between Denise Levertov and Bruce Lee.

That’s how you’d find me—

someone would say, yeah, he’s right over there

between the poet and the philosopher.

And someone might ask, so what was he?

There probably won’t be a bench.

You’ll just have to stand there

or sit on the ground.  Come on, get real close.

Maybe there will be words on the stone.

I don’t know, and maybe when you look up

you’ll see something you’d say is mine

because I wrote about it and claimed it with words.

Maybe not.  It’s not really up to me to decide.


by Douglas Cole


Douglas Cole has had work in The Chicago Quarterly Review, Red Rock Review, and Midwest Quarterly. More work is available online in The Adirondack Review, Salt River Review, and Avatar Review, as well as recorded stories in Bound Off and The Baltimore Review. He has published two collections of poetry, “Western Dream,” through Finishing Line Press, “Interstate,” through Night Ballet Press, as well as a novella, “Ghost,” through Blue Cubicle Press. He received the Leslie Hunt Memorial Prize in Poetry; the Best of Poetry Award from Clapboard House; and First Prize in the “Picture Worth 500 Words” from Tattoo Highway. He was recently the featured poet in Poetry Quarterly. He is currently faculty at Seattle Central College.


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