the furnace that burns the day away

always running to catch up,

always running—


but it keeps bringing me back exactly here,

back to the lone source, back to the page,


back to the stunning realization that

this stage will never be enough; and yet


this frenzied circle is all i have.


i will always be reaching—

forward and backward—


trying to engulf and eclipse with

oval arms a giant shifting moon;


un able to


sit and

be still


(unless asleep:

hibernating, dream-


ing in ellipses—only to

wake: to what? to whom?)


even the lines

move in couplets:


stronger together than

on their own


(even stronger than the

stanza, while the one-line


widow puts on the bravest face).


i miss my couplet.


i miss the coming home to

something—to someone


putting dinner on, putting a

movie in, putting a mouth


on mine and moving

me into the


furnace that burns

the day away.



tj bday

the thought of you coming into this world
makes me smile. imagining the look on your
mother’s face as she gazed on you for the
first time is almost too much to take.

something amazing passed into the world that day:
it made people stop and turn and go out of their way
to hold, to touch, to be in that blanket of time
and openly yearn for a bigger blanket, more say.

all these years later, you are still making people
stop and listen and reach and want and love.
i feel honored to be a tiny part of that play; if all
the world’s a stage, you make it one hell of a show.

it’s not an easy space to fill; it’s difficult to face most days.
but you, just by being uniquely you, inspire us deep from the roots:
to show up, to fuck up, to get up, to laugh, to rock, to create,
to live, to love, to mock, to tell our story, to be real, to celebrate.

Thank you, Tommy, for being in the world.

Happy birthday with much love.

TJ pencil

Sketches of Tommy Joe Ratliff by Olivia Santiago

in the cracks between

to be both ethereal
and grounded—this

is the daily plight
and pleasure: to be

among the living, the
crawling, the feeling,

the dying—while still flying,
wings spread, head tilted

knowingly toward the un-
known. dreams are grown in the

cracks between: kicking up the dirt
of our warring-beautiful striving.


this is not how it’s done.

this is not business as usual.


retirement is an illusion;

life is this, here, now.


the pain of the present can be counted

on to be capitalized: traded and


tucked into the pockets of those living

in penthouses above, outside of, time.


we say we want our freedom,

but we can’t handle it; we give


it away again and again to

the highest bidder, and we don’t


even get to see the profit margin:

it slinks off into the night like wet ink.

remember your father (repost from last year)

you are awakened at 3 a.m.

by a thunder-storm, and a

down-pour, and a heavy

knowledge of sad-ness,

seeping down hard and

into every waiting gap.

you didn’t realize you were

waiting, wanting something

to push its way in and pull

you apart, to tear you off

your tidy little course and drown

you in the wild invisibles.

your father was dying four years

ago at this very time, under

this very rain. there is a strange

comfort in the lining of this loss,

a continuing kin-ship, a bond

that is still being tied. everything

that has ever happened, that is happening,

that is going to happen, is all here:

braided into this trinity knot

you twist between your fingers.

the knob of it reassures, takes you to

places where you have the permission

and capacity to truly see, and feel, and be.

it is no wonder you dream of flying,

carrying the treasure-package of

past/present/future clutched to your chest.

you are relieved of its weight

by just a fraction of the knowledge of

its maker. more than the knowing is

the feeling that takes over and drives

you home, every time. you let go and

let it take you; it knows the way.

you close your eyes and breathe in sleep

and remember your father.


jupiter blues

i’m taking the back roads again, caught
in the dark folds of the map; on foot,

turning down that alley i know
is bad news—walking straight in-

to the waiting chase i always
barely escape—like careful

gravity pulling me down in-
to the deepest cavities:

black eyes and hands
like a cave-cage. i break out

and run toward your voice,
the most intimate gift

you can give from way
over there. i would take

the 310 train, but i have no
idea where that is and i’m

nowhere near miami.
you used to love watching

mom get ready, dabbing things
onto her face and neck in

the oblong mirror: the dis-
tortion familiar and needed.

you died in your sleep in
the early morning rain.

at some point before-hand,
you left that voicemail:

you should see the write-
up about her;

she’s making the big
bucks now.

your belief in me
was my life blood.

it still comes through in
dreams: echo shadows of

things that once were; a temporal
cure for things i may never know.

as you were

i remember you.
i remember a
city on a hill, a
porch on the watch,

a storm born, brooding;
a catafalque of calm
before the god-breath of
wonder and wrath:

a storm-flooding.

i remember
as you were.
i remember

within the bower,
atop the tower,
the crow’s nest
power of a

rock climb. an indian
wrestling with
spirits and sounds
placed down on a

spinning record in time. i
remember the line:
i saw a tree by the
river side. i remember

you as you are.

walking ’round the
curling star-ring of fire,
wandering across night
fields between measures

of steps of twisted-beautiful
human error, humming
under the exigent
knowledge of a grand

design, an owl hoot, a
compass-in-pocket, a
grid of green destiny
set down beneath kindred

hoofs, outside silent fox
holes where we atone
for our atom door
again and again;

through which our
magnum opus
crawls, a trinket
trinity hanging by a

thread, positing,

bound to its own
grief, bathing in the
pounding out of so
many heart beats:

humanity. divinity. humility. love.

here, where the
chief pulse perseverates
across the face
of God.