Ode to Dusty Springfield

                    What makes
                     a voice
                     What special
                     makes it
                     Yours is plaintive,
                     as any singer
                     of torch songs
                     must be,
                     yet endowed
                     with confidence,
                     and fully
                     in command.
                     Deep and
                     a bit husky
                     if you like.
                     A voice that rises—
                     or skyrockets,
                     a wellspring
                     of pure emotion.
                     in “I Only
                     Want to Be
                     with You.”
                     Desperate to
                     keep your
                     lover from
                     leaving in
                     “Stay Awhile.”
                     in “I Just
                     Don’t Know
                     What to Do
                     with Myself”
                     and “You Don’t
                     Have to Say
                     You Love Me.”
                     All cried out
                     in “All Cried
                     Out.”  But then
                     on the rebound
                     in “Brand New Me.”

                     I hear your
                     voice, Dusty,
                     and I am
                     back in time,
                     not quite
                     a teenager
                     all over
                     full of longing
                     and confusion,
                     to your
                     latest hit
                     on my
                     red plastic
                     radio on
                     a mid-sixties
                     Los Angeles

                     Twice in
                     my life, I
                     found myself
                     in the same
                     room as you.
                     Can one fathom
                     anything more
                     The first
                     time was
                     in 1983, late
                     in the basement
                     of a church
                     in Los Feliz,
                     around the
                     corner from
                     where I lived.
                     Sober only
                     a few weeks,
                     I watched
                     you approach
                     the podium,
                     but didn’t
                     realize who
                     you were
                     until you
                     yourself as
                     “Dusty S.”
                     For the next
                     twenty minutes,
                     you told us
                     the story
                     of your
                     How early in
                     your career,
                     before a
                     one of the 
                     Four Tops
                     handed you
                     your first
                     drink, vodka.
                     How smoothly
                     it went down
                     and loosened
                     you up,
                     lit you from
                     gave you
                     to go out on
                     stage, into that
                     blinding spot,
                     and sing like
                     no one else.
                     The alcohol
                     stopped working—
                     it always does,
                     that brand
                     of magic
                     is transient—
                     and here you
                     were, two
                     later, sober
                     and clean
                     and still singing,
                     so to speak,
                     before a live
                     In my youth,
                     your words
                     had come over
                     the radio
                     and stirred
                     of heartbreak
                     and infatuation.
                     Now they
                     inspired me
                     to keep
                     coming back.

                     The second
                     time, 1987,
                     four years
                     sober, at a more
                     upscale meeting
                     at Cedars-Sinai
                     in West Hollywood,
                     I sat directly
                     behind you.
                     It was hard
                     to breathe
                     being in such
                     close proximity.
                     I didn’t hear
                     a word the
                     speaker said.
                     During his
                     I slowly,
                     moved the
                     toe of my
                     white high-top
                     until it touched
                     the back of
                     your folding chair.
                     Then said a
                     little prayer.
                     I hoped
                     (should I be
                     admitting this?)
                     that some
                     of your
                     might travel
                     down the
                     metal leg
                     of your chair,
                     like a lightning
                     rod, and be
                     passed on
                     to me.

                     It’s after
                     again, Dusty,
                     half a century
                     since, on
                     a suburban
                     lawn or alone
                     in my room,
                     I suffered
                     through hits
                     by Paul Revere
                     & the Raiders
                     and Herman’s
                     just to
                     two or
                     three minutes
                     of your
                     sultry voice.
                     I’m on
                     again, watching
                     the black-and-white
                     video of you
                     singing “I
                     Only Want
                     to Be
                     with You.”
                     Your 1964
                     on some teen
                     variety show.
                     I’ve viewed
                     it innumerable
                     times, but
                     it’s always
                     exciting to see
                     you dance
                     out of the
                     darkness into
                     the round
                     as the song’s
                     intro, arms
                     in a chiffon
                     dress and
                     high heels,
                     your platinum
                     hair, sprayed
                     in place,
                     as bright
                     and shiny
                     as the moon.
                     through the
                     turn and
                     sashay around
                     the edge of
                     the spotlight,
                     the ruffled
                     hem of your
                     chiffon dress
                     twisting with
                     your hips
                     and intricate
                     Circle circling
                     circle: your
                     full backlit
                     hair orbiting
                     the pool of
                     white light
                     in the center
                     of the stage.
                     I watch this
                     again and again,
                     like Bashō’s moon
                     walking around
                     the pond
                     all night long.

9773 Comanche Ave.

In color photographs, my childhood house looks
fresh as an uncut sheet cake—
pale yellow buttercream, ribbons of white trim

squeezed from the grooved tip of a pastry tube.
Whose dream was this confection?
This suburb of identical, pillow-mint homes?

The sky, too, is pastel. Children roller skate
down the new sidewalk. Fathers stake young trees.
Mothers plan baby showers and Tupperware parties.
The Avon Lady treks door to door.

Six or seven years old, I stand on the front porch,
hand on the decorative cast-iron trellis that frames it,
squinting in California sunlight,
striped short-sleeved shirt buttoned at the neck.

I sit in the backyard (this picture's black-and-white),
my Flintstones playset spread out on the grass.
I arrange each plastic character, each dinosaur,
each palm tree and round "granite" house.

Half a century later, I barely recognize it 
when I search the address on Google Maps 
and, via "Street view," find myself face to face—

foliage overgrown, facade remodeled and painted 
a drab brown. I click to zoom: light hits
one of the windows. I can almost see what's inside.

Peyton Place: A Haiku Soap Opera [excerpt]


Just when you think you
can trust someone, they turn out
to be the Bad Seed.


I do not know which
to prefer: Shakespeare quote or
pillow fight after.


Stuffed bird and weirdo
behind desk—is Jack checking
into Bates Motel?


Rachel kidnaps the
baby, yes, but in preview
Betty and Rod kiss.


Something I learned long
ago, Connie: never turn
down a sedative.


Two policemen shoot
at and chase Chandler. All three
of them run like girls.


Leigh will one day win
Emmy, but not for losing
her mind on this show.


Here's Gena Rowlands,
Mrs. John Cassavetes,
much-needed fresh blood.


Relax, Rita won't
croak. Her weak heart will tick till
this soap gets canceled.


Jack escapes from jail
and takes off to do guest spots
on TV Westerns.


Whack! Nothing ends an
episode better than a
good slap in the face.


And nothing starts an
episode better than a
repeat of that slap.


"Again" (Fox standard)
is always playing at the
Colonial Inn.


Step right up, folks, and
witness Rod's imitation
of a barking seal.


This is just to say
Elliot ate an apple—
Golden Delicious.

My Yoko Ono Moment

for Nick Twemlow

It’s annoying
how much
junk mail
comes through
the slot
& accumulates
at the foot
of the stairs

mostly menus
from restaurants
in the neighborhood

coming through
the slot

despite the sign
we put on the door:
No Advertisements
No Solicitors

One night
I scoop up the whole pile
on my way out
(as I do periodically)
& dump it
in the trash can
on the corner
of West Broadway & Spring

just as Yoko Ono
happens to be strolling
through SoHo
with a male companion

She watches me
toss the menus

then turns to her friend
& says, “I guess
no one reads those.”

Related Poems

For No Good Reason

As if you needed one,
as if you could help it,
for no good reason
a tune out of nowhere
pops into your head
when you least expect,
riffs effortlessly in the
folds of your cerebrum—

your own private jukebox,
your personal music device
on random minus the earbuds—
drumming itself up to keep
you company: here, a little
Janis Joplin while you vacuum
cat hair; there, a John Denver line
as you peel potatoes at the sink.

How can others not hear it,
this frequent odd gift?
Sometimes you forget
and blurt the words to the chorus,
which, after all, is all you can remember,
those take me home, country roads,
that feelin’ good was good enough
for me
, even conjuring

the gas station in Colorado
back where you, wearing
those bell bottoms and that
paisley, were about to fill a tank
of freedom into the blue VW Bug
when Carole King belted out
and it's too late baby, now it's too late
though we really did try to make it

and you couldn’t move, couldn’t
quit sobbing to the steering wheel
that would not console those blues
or say what you had left to lose,
wouldn’t question why in hell
you were going down that road
where for no good reason
you seemed to be heading.