on the fourth of july

you must tell me sweet lies

like you put up the stars just for me.

on the third or the sixth

you can just take the fifth

on the fourteenth you can take the bastille.

if the glare of the rockets

burns my eyes from their sockets,

the dawn’s early light will reveal me.

then point me due north

cause tonight we’ll go forth

and run ’til we’re gallantly streaming.

oh say what you please

only stay next to me

e pluribus unum


we’ll put out all fires

but the ones in our hearts

(where old glories are spun into stories)

as o’er the ramparts

swing low, sweet chariots —

the brave are here to take us home.

and it pays to remember

the present will pass

like embers to ash,

but the future is always free.

MCO 2021

As I listen to the North Carolina D.A. describe Andrew Brown Jr. as a dangerous target to be apprehended at all costs, I hear the same language used against so many suspects caught in the machinery of criminal justice. It starts with two words, “drug dealer.” After this label is applied, the human being in question is othered, made less than, stripped of any individuality. As the relatively rare former drug dealer who is also an educated writer, I must push back..

Twice in my life, in separate decades, I lived off the proceeds of dispensing the elements of temporary…

For any voter fraud to work, there has to be a tortured supposition that tens of thousands of people would have the same thought:

“I’m going to register to vote in three or four different precincts, plus request an absentee ballot for myself and a dead relative, then on Election Day go to vote in all three of four precincts, to which I’ll present my real ID each time.”

( Unless, of course, he/she went through the arduous process of getting several fake IDs from the DMV, which means obtaining multiple fraudulent birth certificates. Good luck with that.) And for…

Like any thinking person, I find the concept of a monarchy at best silly, at worst fascistic. But as that same thinking person, I also have long concluded that human beings are evolutionarily wired to crave hierarchy.

It’s no accident that our closest genetic relatives, (in fact almost all mammals) have a structure in which power descends from either an alpha female or male. In the case of chimpanzees, and many other primates, the pecking orders can be as strict as anything one might see in an English public school in the 19th century. Bonobos offer some hope that primates…

photo: Michael Van Essen

The Germans

must have a word for it.

The sensation of missing someone

whom you are with,

anticipating the longing

you will soon feel

when they depart.

“I miss you already,” we say,

as if this makes any sense.

We regularly steal from the future

to feed our present tense,

our secret addiction to the holograph

of someone

over his flesh and bone.

The man next to us in bed

is never as perfect

as the one in our head.

No wonder great loves

of the past

made their nest

from letters.

Ink as the quantum reality

of absence and…

The New World

It is said

that the native peoples

of what was to become Virginia

could not see for many days

the anchored ships

when they first appeared off shore,

until their brains learned

how to perceive

what they had never before conceived.

We, on the other hand,

did imagine this plague,

made movies predicting it,

and yet the notion

of a half-a-million dead, and counting,

was and is even now

as ungraspable

as the those off-shore mirages were

to the Algonquins in 1607.

My people have been here before, though.

In Manhattan, in 1982,

I went to the…


Created by author


We have run out

of adjectives.

Deplorable, horrible,

incoherent, incompetent,

moronic, idiotic

narcissistic, apocalyptic.

We are always, now,

“shocked but not surprised.”

We debunk, refute,

fight conspiracy with fact,

watch the snake heads grow back,

no matter how many times

we slice them off.

We label his perversions


as if we can refuse them,

shovel his shit

back from whence it came

without getting covered in it.

We have run out of nouns.

Traitor, hater,

cheetoh, cheater,

and on, and on, and on.

And then there are

the sycophantic


of his Reign of Error enablers.

What do…

Caravaggio meets Tissot

Thrifty Words 100 Theme Challenge #1: 100 Words…

Yes, and No

By the author

While the label of “terrorist” certainly applies to the Nashville bomber, it is also not enough. Terrorism as it has long been defined seeks to advance a cause — even one that we may find evil or fanatical. I think that what we witnessed in Nashville is similar to what we saw from the Las Vegas mass shooter. An act of violence with no purpose but to express an inchoate but overwhelming rage. 99% of the time, this involves intentional killing — Nashville is a rare case in which an attempt was made to avoid casualties. Why the idea of…

Mark Olmsted

Author, "Ink from the Pen," about my 9 months using creativity as the ultimate survival tool behind bars.

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