the window is shut

the window is shut
on me living like Dick Proenneke
though only a little older
than he at his beginning
I am too old for that now
I do not have
his skill for building
or his taste for labor
but I admire his gift for solitude
the purity of his days
imagine a life where no one
ever doubted you—
Proenneke proved that a man
could leave the modern world
and build a life to break a poet’s heart
to enter the wilderness with one whole tool
and the heads of half a dozen others
but even he must have doubted
why bring the camera?
why record it at all?
who are you trying to impress?
are you doing this for yourself or not?
toward the end of his days
he was like Saint Francis
with wild birds that swept from the trees and the sky
to play in his fingers
to sit on his shoulders and
to scratch and clean his scalp with their beaks
he understood these birds
each with its singular mating call
he, too, had a call
the thick shunk-shunk of a double bladed axe
the thud of his hammer
the chink of his chisel
the rasp of his hungry saw
I think that if she’d come to him
if she’d stood there in the moonlight
by the pure water
he’d have had her in

—Don Whittington

Dick Proenekke feeding a red squirrel


the rarest thing that happens as you age

the rarest thing that happens as you age
is finding that something you admired when young
is every bit as cool, if not cooler, than you thought
i get distracted looking backward
because i judge myself too harshly
the act of reminiscing
ruins all my memories
i come to my past with bad color commentary
the man said
it is like a finger pointing to the moon
and he was right
look at the moon, not at the finger
remember the sensory
reject the mental as best you can
remember how it feels
to watch a man
and want more than anything
to be like him

the second rarest thing that happens as you age
is when you take advantage of the fact
that you are grown

—Don Whittington

papa was a tough guy

Hemingway with son, 1941. Photo from the incredible website found here  A truly amazing collection

death, i call you, baby
come to me in gloves
grim lover, thin as grass
your breath as green
as absinthe glass
and alpine clover
i bend and kiss you on your nape, we
dance this one and only time
i leave the boy with you while i’m
away away away somewhere away
you think the wrong thing about me as i go
but once the shot is fired, you will know

—Don Whittington

at the 812 on Cannery Row

at the 812 on Cannery Row
the pillows are so large and warm
it’s like sitting on bears to watch a movie
Midnight Cowboy
The French Connection
Fritz the Cat
Play Misty for Me
(shot right around the corner
and filled with people we actually know)
I’m so far, far away from Mississippi and Louisiana
sprawled in this jewel-box theater
dense with hippie camaraderie
and a great gray herd of cannabis bison
nosing through the crowd
blowing gentle smoke
up everybody’s ass
our shirts have beading and embroidery
put there by people working with their hands
no machines, no cad, no cam
no hurry
our style is precise and self-conscious
but practical for people who have little
money left for anything after dope
see how easy it is to drop our gentle duds
like practiced strippers, free
dancing naked in the street
between Odyssey Records
and Lee Chong’s store
shouting and exuberant
sad and weeping
mourning the loss of a pair of slippers
a silk kimono
a quarter pint of whiskey
and a cigar
this is our dance in honor of all that was
and all we are now
but not a dance in honor of the future, no
for the future
we’d best put our pants back on
we walk together up toward the Presidio
beyond the shadow of the cannery
until we feel the morning sun
we turn to see the Row
but it is gone

Don Whittington

Cannery Row, 1970s era

Cannery Row now


I would like to open a theater
in Hattiesburg, Mississippi called
the Satanic Communist Child Molesters’ 
Democratic Dramatic Workshop and Repertory Theater,
the SCCMDDWRT (pronounced “suck-em-diddy-wart”)
which features only classical plays and modern
masterpieces except for every now and then
when a three act piece called Guys Farting in Wet Mud
by Tony Kushner will run for five weeks or so.
This is something I have strived to achieve since I was a toddler
but our close-minded, puritanical society has blocked me
every step of the way ever since my first three million
dollar genius grant. Yet, I will prevail.
The state of Misissippi and the city of Hattiesburg
cannot stop me. Sooner or later my next round of funding
will come through. In the meantime I will sit here in the
mud behind my palatial home practicing my *bloort* calls.
—Don Whittington


it would serve
the would-be puppeteers
to remember me
how I walked through the London fog
my provocative shadow
swallowed, eaten by the mists
leaving only my iron, the bare blade of me
in plain view
and only then if you stood just so—
it was amusing then and is amusing now
to dress as the fop for my long and solitary walks
I love the way the scarified children
stand crowing
buttressed by admiring gangs
how they back away to let me pass
once they’ve given it a little thought—
our sad protectors, the elite, will say
so much of what I do does not need doing
while too much of what needs doing isn’t getting done
I say, are you not in charge?
if my cab carries me to the wrong address
I whip my driver, not his horse
I whip him until the blood leaks from his eyes
I do not wait for consensus
I provide my own redress
you manipulators conceal your motives
try to hide behind your obfuscation and your codes
I do not need them
I am Adam in this world; I am the namer of things
when I dig a hole I do not call it a grave
until I put a body in it
I told them way back then
as I tell you now, it would
be wise
to leave me to my little adventures
as I leave you to yours
fog is my companion
ghostly, grey, and grim
grim for a vapour  that will kill you if you breathe it
that will kill you if you find me in it waiting for you
I am of the fog, I am with the fog
I am the very grimmest of the brume
I am springheeled death in a leather apron—
once, the English vanquished me
and stripped me of the mist that gave me power
with an act of enormous will
they pushed back their own stench
and brought their people air
I had to hand it to them—that is a feat worthy of a leader
to bring your people breath
so I drew back from the daylight
from the blue sky and the
seemingly undistorted visibilty
I was content to wait, knowing
the fog would come again and now it has
what irony that the English
are among the leaders in spewing this modern cloud—
the molecules of life are rounded up
by every agency on earth,
every speck of dust will have its nature known
every door that opens, every case that shuts
every flush, every kiss, caress, and tear
can be called by number and it will come
a database to begrime the mind of God himself
all to make you safer
oh, my precious, bound one
so you can sleep while they watch you—
but like a giant, grown beyond his body’s design,
the sheer gravity of its mass
will, in the end, defeat its purpose
once you have everything, how can you find anything?
the engine will stutter as the system struggles
to live with all that it has learned
until it fuddles itself beyond all efficiency
until there is no vision, no clear image anywhere
only a vast blurring—
the ones who are responsible for us
our stuffing-headed leaders, will be as larks
blinded by minutia instead of hot needles
for they are undone by their ambition
they will never see into the heart of a human, any human
people are more, so much more than can be inferred
from a compendium of their trivia—
this is how the fog returned
this is how I am made whole again, I am
this fog made flesh, spry, and more than ready
to stalk behind its scrim
to fold my menace in its curtain like a secret rose
to strike again and again at will
you should value me for that, for at least
I do it out of love
but if by happenstance and luck
you catch your old pal Jack and take his knife
do not be surprised to see me
laughing at your bold hypocrisy
for isn’t that you, oh noble leaders
who crouch in blood-soaked aprons
with the keen dark blade of Pyrrhus
held against the throat of the whole damned world?

—Don Whittington

Christmas List

A working phaser
A working time machine
Ann Margaret, circa Cincinnatti Kid
Barbara Eden, circa I Dream of Jeannie
Elizabeth Montgomery, circa Bewitched
Mary Tyler Moore, circa the Dick Van Dyke Show
Donna Douglas, circa the Beverly Hillbillies
Veronica Lake, circa Sullivan’s Travels
Catherine Deneuve, whenever, wherever
Johnny Depp, circa Gilbert Grape (don’t judge me)
Trigger (don’t judge me)
Tuesday Weld, circa Dobie Gillis

Actually, if you can at least give me the first two,
I will handle the rest.

—Don Whittington

Meditation on Thanksgiving Presented in Three Parts

Part one:
My Fish Build a Tabernacle

Archbishop Plecostomus decreed
In the days of the third charcoal filter
That a tabernacle be constructed
In the corner of the aquarium, near the window;
That it be made of gravel; that it be mortared
With the excretions and secretions of the tank people;
That it rise halfway up the tank wall;
And that it have a smooth roof
Suitable for the Archbishop to suck algae from.
Surely, said the Archbishop, once we have
Built this glorious structure
God will bless us.
So the tank people built their tabernacle,
And the Archbishop sucked on the roof.
Every day they waited for God
But the only one who ever came
Was the creep who brought the Tetra-Min.

Part two:
My Cat Stages a Passion Play

My cat sat on his cross washing his face.
What’s all this, I asked, and he explained
That he was Christ in a passion play,
But the cross was too big for a cat to carry
So could I tote it for him?
Sure, I said, (I love my cat.)
Just remember that you owe me one.
I dragged my cat’s cross through three malls;
I carried it across the freeway, beyond the meadow,
To the mountain.
Wow, this is agony, I cried.
You do agony very well, said my cat,
But I’m the star, not you
So try to tone it down a bit.
Chastened, I let him nail me to the cross
Because, as he explained, his little paws
Would never stretch.
I cried out in pain as I hung in the hot sun,
But his eyes were far away.
You owe me a big one, I said, sobbing,
But he did not hear me.
At last the sun began to set,
And all the people watching
(Did I say there was a crowd?)
Clapped and cheered admiring my amazing cat
Who bowed as kings do, just the slightest hunch of the shoulders
As if to pounce.
Then he stretched as high against the cross
As he could as if to help me down;
But all he did was sharpen his claws on the wooden cross,
And lick my soles with his scratchy tongue.

Part three:
My Dog Enjoys the Eucharist

I leaned against the communion rail,
My head bowed in prayer before the mystery,
Hands cupped to receive my king,
When I heard happy barking next to me.
Looking up, I saw my golden retriever
Wagging her tail, her front paws on the rail.
Woof! Woof!
Here girl! Here girl! said the priest.
And he gave her a wafer which she chomped down greedily.
S’more? Want some more? he asked her.
Woof! Woof! she barked, and wagged gaily.
Look at that, I said to the man on my other side.
She gets two. I never got two.
The difference between dogs and humans, said the man,
Is that dogs feel no sense of obligation.
They are not grateful to receive a treat, only glad.
Their only interest is in more.
That’s the difference between dogs and people.
Dogs do not give thanks; they have no sense of joy.
They know only happy or sad, on or off.
That’s the difference between dogs and men.
The priest gave her more than a dozen wafers.
He gave her a big ceramic bowl filled with wine.
He blessed her and scratched her ears and felt her nose.
When he was done at last, he came to me.
I bowed my head and cupped my hands.
He held the wafer high.
Here boy!

Don Whittington

In the national forest

In the national forest in Colorado
the deadwood lies so thick on the ground
that people can barely hike through the timber.
Being on the mountain is like riding in a 1960s
northern California hippie bus:
every which way you look you see nothing
but mountain majesty and junk on the floor.
We could always clean this up, of course,
but no time to think about that now;
we have bigger problems what with all
these people out of work.
Whatever will we do?

If only there were a way to tie
the unemployment problem
to somehow creating projects for the public good…
Damn. I just don’t have a single idea.
I’ve thunk and thunk and thunk, but
I just can’t see how to fix these puny quality of life
problems in a way that helps the banks and bombs.
Apparently it makes more sense
to spend the public’s money in a way that
fails to serve recipient and benefactor equally.
I wish I was smart enough to understand it all.
Never mind. Cooler and wiser heads will prevail.
Meanwhile, I’ll just wait for the private sector
to tell me where they want me.

—Don Whittington