Wednesday, October 30, 2013

That's That

He's got a key,
he’s always had one and can use it anytime he likes,
to think otherwise all that time was foolish,
so rather than be envious, 
I’ll be thankful I wasn't there when he used it 
because that would have been awkward for everyone,
to say the least...

...which means 
there is more that could be said
but won’t
I might have chosen
'that's that'
which would indicate
the final thing
to say about that
had been said
though sometimes 
people choose to say
'it goes without saying'
yet that
is usually followed by
saying precisely that
which they said
would not be said
and of course 
should not to be confused with
'it is what it is'
I think
is the new version of
'that's that’
in conclusion
I'll stick with 
'to say the least'
as a way to report the minimum
while giving the reader the heavy lifting
to figure out what I didn't say
while making my cryptic understatement
for the sake of brevity
which this poem lost all chance at 
many lines ago.

So now
it goes without saying
nothing more need be said,
so that's that
to say the least.

Ken Owen   Van Niddy Press   October 2013

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Johnny Loved Baseball

     It was wooden-clickity-clack-la-la-la music all the way up and over the mountains of Woodside and La Honda on my way to that first gig at the old store in San Gregorio. Peter couldn’t do the gig so he recommended me to the boys in the band. I played their CDs in the car on the way there. Someone told me once “You fucking drummers wouldn’t learn any song without CD players in your car!” and he was right. It was all nice little love songs with mysterious lyrics and hushed singing and I thought this will be nice and easy on a beautiful day. The music was lilting and beautiful and perfect for the drive through redwood forests and down the mountain past expansive fields full of cows and sunflowers, but it was anything but wooden-clickity-clack-la-la-la music when I got there.

     There was Johnny, dressed in black pants, black boots, a black shirt and playing a black guitar and looking imposing like the side of a great dark mountain at night where you can’t really judge how high or long but you know it’s big, real big, but his smile gave him away; it projected an honest-to-goodness ray of warm light and you knew instantly he was OK and there was nothing to worry about.

     Johnny played his guitar as hard as he could on every song, taking huge mighty swings like a guide with a machete clearing a path in a jungle. He took one solo while shouting and grunting and making noises as if his guitar couldn't say everything he needed to say and I thought, “ Who is this guy?! I’m following him!”  His solos made the sound of solid doubles off the base of the wall and produced majestic home runs that made everyone gasp and hoot, even his strikeouts you had to admire for the sheer beauty of his swinging so hard on every pitch.

Johnny loved baseball.

     So with me all jacked up following Johnny and making bashes and splashes and blams right behind his every note, we brought the wooden-clickety-clack-la-la-la music to a different place, took it on a different road entirely, and I saw David smiling with a grin of pure joy that this giant of a man had found someone to run behind him and scream in his ear that it was OK to swing away as hard as he could because I’d be right there to play catch with his notes and if we dropped the ball every once and a while, who cares?

Charlie said “There’s a lot of DNA on that guitar.” Sure enough true. 

     We all followed Johnny, looked to him to see what he would do, where we should go, but we eventually lost him on the trail. He went on ahead and we couldn't follow, and we lost our spirit for adventure when we lost our guide. We rambled around for a while, but it was never the same, the path never looked as good and clear. We’ll all meet up with him again sooner or later. I’ll bet he is still swinging away, hard as ever.

Ken Owen   Van Niddy Press   October 2013

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

On The Road

I am reading Jack Kerouac's "On The Road" for the first time.

You've been warned. I can feel the shift.

     Been working a lot in North Beach over the last year, mostly on Grant Street at The Saloon, The City's oldest bar. Story has it The City firemen saved it from the 1906 earthquake because that's where they did most of their drinking. The original Ground Zero. It has landmark status and smells like a toilet and has some of the best blues bands in The City. It has taken some getting use to working there, but I think I'm getting the hang of it. The place is full of old drunks and burn-outs and fidgety bar tenders and frightened one-beer tourists, yet I always seem to meet cool surfer tourists from Australia there who love the place and the way we Americans play the blues and rock and roll. "They'd go bonkers fer ya in Asstraawlia, Mate!"

     During a break between sets someone pointed out the original piss-trough directly at the base of the long bar. Seems when the bar was built they didn't want the male patrons to interrupt their drinking in order to make room for a few new beers. I didn't believe it at first, then the same story teller pointed out the close proximity of the sewer line cover to the front door, something you'd not see anywhere else. Of course, the piss-trough is no longer in service, but that doesn't keep the smell of The Saloon from being anything but toilet-like. The trick to playing music at The Saloon is, once you are inside to stay inside as long as possible, which seems counter-intuitive, but once you get accustomed to the smell you're fine; leaving for fresh air and coming back in becomes problematic. Someone told me there are rooms upstairs which is the cheapest rent in The City. One room big enough for a small cot. The rooms used to be part of a brothel, so no matter where your pride was dangling in relation to your pants, you had everything you needed at The Saloon.

     So one night while playing music there and failing miserable to pay attention, it came to me that I had never read "On The Road" by Jack Kerouac, and look where I was! North Beach, Home of The Beats! So during a break I went down to City Lights book store, the center of the Beat universe, and figured to easily grab a copy from a display set up right in front for tourists, but I couldn't find any poetry which I found out later was up on the third floor which I didn't know about. That's when I remembered the Beat Museum, and yes, there is such a place, two doors down from the world famous Condor strip club, home of stripper Carol Doda in the 60s and 70s. I've played music in the Condor a few times, subbed for a guy in a jazz/r&b band with a lady singer,  but I couldn't keep my focus because right above her in my line of sight was a screen showing the history of burlesque with tassels going in every direction. Good band, long night.

     So I ran into The Beat Museum and called out "I need a copy of 'On The Road'." The proprietor of the store sprang into action and quickly responded "Which version?" Yes, multiple versions lay on the display near the front door. My perplexed look gave him the right response; "If you've never read it, try this one", which was a simple paperback,  not the original more detailed 'scroll version'. I liked the idea of buying this book here, like buying a book about jazz in Congo Square in New Orleans. Perfect.

     I've read some of his poetry and spontaneous prose before and it's pretty amazing stuff; one poem will be drunken rambling bullshit, and the next will be a god damn masterpiece. There's hope for my writing yet.

     I can imagine how this book must have caused quite a stir back in the time of post-war America; stories of young people wandering coast to coast living on coffee and cigarettes and box cars and pan handling for money. That kind of life would give a guy plenty to write about. So the next time I have trouble paying attention while playing music for drunken nutballs at The Saloon, I'll remind myself that I'm in a place where Kerouac and Cassidy and all them cats probably had many a glass of beer while figuring out where to get money for their next great road trip, and for all I know, those cats would have had no problem using the piss-trough and the rooms upstairs.

Ken Owen   Van Niddy Press   October 2013

Like You Never Left

Walk right in,
take your place
like you never left
because you can
and you should.

I knew you’d be back someday,
if only for a short while
to tell us great adventures stories
of lush forests in canyons deep 
with strange creatures from distant lands...

...and just like that,
smoldering fires burn again.

we’ll give passion to the old songs
while we sing to the spirit in the window,
and the day you left 
will seem like a bad dream 
from long ago.

(Rise above it, rise above it, it’s the right thing to do.)

Welcome home
my old friend,
back to the place
where our journey began,
we’ve lived lifetimes since then.

Ken Owen   Van Niddy Press   October 2013

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Passion in Reserve

Passion in reserve
waiting patiently for love
to answer the phone.

Ken Owen   Van Niddy Press   October 2013

A Million Billions to One

Consider the odds
that you and I are here
and found each other
to share
a passing glance
a genuine smile
a seeking day
a warm meal
a slow walk
a moment in time.

Consider the things 
that make us
shape us
break us
rebuild us,
all those things worked to perfection
to put us there and then
here and now.

Consider the events
in the history of time immemorial
that had to line up just as they did
so that you and I 
could have a walk on an empty beach 
that windless day 
when the clouds hung still like paintings.

Ken Owen   Van Niddy Press   October 2013

Thursday, October 3, 2013


Dawn breaks
as the world rolls slowly over
town by town, country by country,
into a rising tide of Sunday.

The first wave 
lapping at your toes
as we lay together,
breakfast in bed
after one more kiss
one more dream,
then a peek through the curtains
at Sunday skies.

Ankle deep in Sunday,
the possibilities of the day
buzzing like summer bees
drifting on the smell of bacon and coffee.

All God's children
wading through their sins
on the penitent path
seek forgiveness 
in their own way and place,
alone or together,
because that's what they've always done
on Sunday.

A day of chores, a day of rest,
naps on couches and freshly mown grass,
games watched and played,
gardens, parks, beaches,
bike rides and trail walks
when someone looks at the sky and says
“The day is half gone already!”
and you realize
you are waist-deep in Sunday.

Sunday Dinner,
the meal for family
here and remembered
as waves of Sunday pound your chest,
a toast to love and health,
for one more Sunday.

Too tired to tread Sunday waters,
with one big breath
you slip under,
until dream tide leaves you 
to wake on gentle shores,
as the world rolls slowly over 
town by town, country by country
into a rising tide of Monday.

Ken Owen   Van Niddy Press   October 2013