Carl Reiner, The 2,000 Year Old Man Mel Brooks’ best buddy for over 50 years, and one of the true grandfathers of American comedy, passed away on June 29, 2020. From Your Show of Shows in the 1950s–an influential early sketch comedy show which featured as writers future legends like Brooks, Reiner, Neil Simon and Woody Allen– through The Dick Van Dyke Show, many of Steve Martin’s best early films, and even into the recent Ocean’s Eleven films, plus live action tv and animation voice-over appearances in the past five years, Reiner has kept us laughing and thinking for generations.

Thanks for the best and longest run ever, Carl. (Except perhaps for Mel’s, who we’ll continue to treasure while he’s still with us, …It’s good to be the king…) 

Hey Carl, if God whispered the perfect punchline to this existence, on your deathbed, would you mind haunting me and letting me in on the joke?

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | May 15, 2020

Sliver of Heaven -orig. poem by Mark Nielsen


I saw a sliver of heaven today,

as if looking through a doorway

at an extreme angle–

say, 19 degrees.

It was enough to remind me that

heaven is real,

not just a vague, empty promise,

not a child’s fairy tale,

to comfort us in the dark.

I saw a kaleidoscopic,

mirror-image sliver of heaven

as I watched people–

my people:

a multicolored people of quiet joy.

Heaven has already started here. 

My people, your people,

were gathered around a buffet table

at one of those classic potlucks.

They told jokes and slapped backs,

hugged, questioned,

even cried when it was called for,

tasting and seeing

–through their own eyes, or in the eyes

of a fellow, failing-forward friend–

that the Lord is good.



        I paint with light, and dirt, and tears. The salt of these tears preserves the microbes in the dirt, and over eons, things will grow directly out of what I have painted. 

      The Dead Sea is said to be the densest, saltiest body of water in the world. It is called dead because fish cannot live there. But it is not entirely dead. My microbes live there. And with them, hundreds of thousands of human memories–births, first kisses, marriages, mules abused, crops lost, wars lost, husbands lost–all these live there under the surface of the Dead Sea. “They number as the stars,” as David says. 


(Inspired by the #HitRecord collaboration app, co-created by actor/artist #JosephGordon, which is where the painting/writing prompt below was first encountered.)

Screams of Tiny Hearts, by LizBrushes


Hamida wept as she remembered how that strange man Madju had pulled her from the flames of the hotel lobby after the bomb strike. He had singlehandedly rescued nine people that morning, many of them children who had called him Al’abalah–the Idiot–in the days before. She didn’t know what had happened to him after.

Submitted as a “tiny story” to accompany the painting/prompt below at JGL’s HitRecord collaborative project.

There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole.
There is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.

Sometimes I feel discouraged,
and think my work's in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit
revives my soul again.


Don't ever feel discouraged,
for Jesus is your friend,
who, if you ask for knowledge,
will never fail to lend.


If you cannot preach like Peter,
if you cannot pray like Paul,
you can tell the love of Jesus,
who died to save us all.

Tableau 2, Composition 7, by Piet Mondrian, 1913

I sometimes like to call myself a “lay minister”, or a “novice shaman”. It makes me feel like I haven’t wasted my breath for 20+ years, trying to teach or comfort the handful of people I come into contact with.

But who are we kidding? Nobody gives a crap what I have to say, nor how well or how poorly I say it. Thus I can analyze the crap out of any personal or social dilemma–be it here, or on social media, or in my private creative projects (seen and celebrated by literally dozens… whoopee!!!)–all to my heart’s discontent. And I might even be right more often than I am wrong. Hopefully. But I’m not dumb enough to believe I have much of an impact.

For one thing, I don’t have an official, well-recognized platform or field to speak from. I’ve been a teacher. An artist. A film industry professional. A church youth leader. A stay-at-home parent. A small business manager. A freelance writer. But I don’t do any of that now.

Nobody’s waiting with bated breath on what my next brilliant pronouncement or diagnosis will be. Thus, ultimately, I put my words, pictures, music, poetry, questions and theories out into the world for nobody but myself— to maintain my balance, my mental health, and to get this stuff off my chest. And I know that’s not nothing. It’s helpful. Once in a blue moon, it helps a few others, too. But it still fills like swimming upstream.

Nevertheless, here goes almost nothing… again. I’m just working some stuff out, dumping my brain’s puzzle pieces out on a digital table, trying to make coherent sense of it all.

The Backstory:

There’s something about the present COVID-19 crisis that calls to mind several worldwide historical developments in the early 1900s. First, there are the medical similarities to the Spanish Flu, which killed millions worldwide circa 1918, According to the CDC’s educational materials:

Although there is not universal consensus regarding where the H1N1 virus [with avian genetic markers] originated, it spread worldwide during 1918-1919.  In the United States, it was first identified in military personnel in spring 1918. It is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States.

So, let’s just say we’ve been here before (my grandparents were pre-teens in 1918), and even in much worse shape. But we are out of practice. We have been similarly out of practice with the disillusionment and grief that occurred worldwide in the wake of World War I. Yes, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam were rough. But you never forget your first idiotic and mostly unnecessary war. Philosophically, and psychologically, there was a loss of innocence and a growth of existential alienation worldwide, due to the devastation and poor resolution of the political and military conflicts behind WWI. Science “democracy” (or socialism, for that matter), our armies and our leadership had all let us down. It took until the 1950s to fully recover, in many ways.

In other ways, we never recovered. We just built ourselves castles of denial, creature comforts and consumerism to hide inside, and to sweep our fears and responsibilities under the rug awhile longer. This widespread feast of denial is the main theme that underlies such recent hit tv series as “Mad Men” and “Westworld.” Modern First-Worlders–especially Americans–are very good at what media critic and philosopher Neil Postman once called “amusing ourselves to death”.

In the United States, many historians have argued that the so-called Roaring Twenties were a direct (and exceedingly drunken and predictable) mass-psychological “acting out” event. The result of our social inability to reconcile WWI’s very muddy conclusion.

Can’t figure out what went wrong? Still wondering why we even went to war in the first place? What your son died for? Who cares! Let’s party! Leave the Big Questions to the politicians and experts. They have your best interests in mind, don’t they?

It took the 1929 New York stock market crash, over ten years later, to wake America from the fever dream of both the Spanish Flu and the various let-downs of the previous quarter-century. Industrialization had reached its limits. Poverty persisted. Crime increased. Medicine and science were proceeding too slowly to yield any huge and obvious victories.

For example, polio, scarlet fever, tuberculosis and other communicable diseases still persisted for decades. My uncle in fact died as an infant of scarlet fever, in the late ’40s. Meanwhile, basic and useful technologies like the expansion of electric current, telephones, radio, television, and automobiles was proceeding well, and connecting us in various ways.

Yet still… nothing yet had saved us from our sense of dis-ease, of anxiety, of dissatisfaction, of wanting more. That existential or spiritual dread left us more vulnerable than ever to the ol’ bait-and-switch. And people with genuine power and serious cash knew this better than anyone. There were cracks in the social foundation, but they sold us Jif peanut butter, muscle cars, better washing machines and Crest toothpaste to fill those cracks, and they hoped we wouldn’t notice that these shiny, mass-produced products still couldn’t possibly “satisfy” or solve the deeper problems.

The Sixties hit especially hard. Kennedy was shot, post-colonial power shifts in the Southern Hemisphere led to still more unrest and/or dictatorships (in Africa, South America, Vietnam and Cambodia, the Philippines, etc.) Puppet regimes of either Russia or the U.S.A. in most cases made war on their own people, occasionally involving us Big Brothers.

Then as the U.S. and France got even deeper into our most useless wars ever–this time in Vietnam (speaking of “I can’t get no-oh… Satisfaction…”), and Algeria — our social anxiety in the West only increased. Gradually China, Japan, South Korea, Germany and certain parts of the Middle East each reaped some economic or practical benefits from the economic and political instability and infighting in North America and Europe.

As for Russia, they have always been a wild card, even before Trump. Their post-Stalin, permanently-criminalized government is primarily built upon mild chaos, fear, mistrust and corruption. So-called “business interests” there collude and kill and spy and bribe and otherwise act more like gangsters than anyone can possibly have imagined. Politicians, under these conditions, make and change the rules as they see fit… since they lack even the most basic “checks and balances” that actual democracies have tried to maintain. CEOs (especially in the nationalized oil/energy sector), heads of state, and heads of cartels, all haphazardly making and breaking alliances. They fight dirty, but covertly, and they play entire nation-states against each other, not for fun, but for profit. Thus they benefit more from destabilization and militarization than from unity and negotiation. Through their puppet nations, they make problems like refugees and degradation of the planet increase exponentially every year. By now, Russian oligarchs and military dictator thugs like Assad in Syria barely care if the rest of the world even notices. They are beyond accountability, so why should they care?

As of today, in fact, there is evidence that we in the U.S. had better START caring about Syria again, real quick. Because our so-called ally, another thuggish dictator in Turkey (President Erdogan), has entered into an agreement with President Putin of Russia and President Rouhani of Iran to go about removing Assad. When those three get together, and the U.S. and Britain and France (the former big players in the region) are NOT invited, we’d better get ready to call the cops… ’cause :there will be blood”, as they say.

The leaders of Turkey, Iran and Russia say it’s about freedom and fairness for the Syrian people… but if you don’t realize that it’s actually about OIL more than anything else, then you’re burying your head in the sand. Meanwhile, COVID-19 presently keeps the rest of the actual civilized world kind of distracted, and these cretins can proceed with business as usual in their trio of dictatorships.

Is any of this sounding familiar, America?

Has life improved for the average Iraqi or Afghan citizen in the past 20 years–despite our best attempts and expenditures, and loss of life for thousands of duped American military? The main beneficiaries in the “war on terror” have been those for whom war is their business. If you won’t take my word for it–or if you can’t be bothered with reading nonfiction journalism or watching a decent documentary on the subject–then watch Brad Pitt’s brilliant but barely-seen movie “War Machine”, about the mishandling of the Afghan conflict and the legislators and businessmen who were feeling just fine about it.

I’ll add that Obama comes off looking pretty bad in “War Machine”, too. In my informed-amateur opinion, his foreign policy left much to be desired, though it was not as blatantly ignorant or self-aggrandizing– and crony-enriching!– as George W. Bush’s policies and actions (or inactions). George Sr. and Jr. were always good friends to the Saudis, for example… who are the arch enemies of Iran. In case you missed it, a Saudi royal put out a hit on a British journalist (a brown one) in the past few years, and got away with it completely scot-free. Billionaires in Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the other quiet power-brokers in American and British politics for going on fifty years now. But nobody in the West dares go too far in condemning Saudi Arabia or Israel. Those are the “third rail” nations of international politics. Plus they enrich all the “right” people in the West, because they’re smart in advancing their generally evil but obscured intentions. And often, their “enemies” are even more evil, but they’re usually poor… which conveniently makes it easy to get away with blatant murder, racism, sexism, elitism and general injustice.

As a bonus, Pitt’s movie–which he produced and put plenty of his OWN money into–is even a comedy. It is an intentionally cartoon-ish and biting satire, in the heroic tradition of Dr. Strangelove. Because people of genuine courage (like Stanley Kubrick as well, the late director of Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut) understand that if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. They also help us remember that evil men with genuine POWER wear a mask and a smile, more often than a scowl and an unconcealed weapon. And as Pitt once again demonstrated last week– by playing Dr. Anthony Fauci on Saturday Night Live— when we’re picking teams for the revolution, I want to be on Brad’s team. I’d even elect him president, but he’s definitely too smart to even want that ridiculous job.

But international politics is not my forte, and I’m probably in over my head already. History is written by the winners, and I’m a proven loser in this dumb game, at least professionally and economically, as I mentioned up top.

Plus they might be listening in on us… and even if they’re not, then maybe China is.

To dig back into the history, though… a “people’s history” of a type championed by luminaries like the late Howard Zinn: this loss of idealism, and a corresponding sense of spiritual or emotional yearning in the U.S., was by the early 1960s even co-opted and repackaged for our addictive American tendencies. The same political and corporate marketing minds who made the original empty promises in the first place–from slave-owner Tom Jefferson’s “all men are created equal” bullshit, right down the line–found more sophisticated delivery systems to disguise their toxic, viral ideas in the Sixties.

Coke went with The Real Thing in the Seventies (is it any more real now than it was then?). New kid on the block Wendy’s won big in the Eighties with “Where’s the beef?” By now, there are hundreds of other subtler examples –especially in the tech realm of IBM, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon and Google, where empty promises are the very ground we walk upon, and quite shakily, I might add. Our spiritual discomfort has been used to make us consumption junkies.

The grocery store chain I work security at lately, for example, is making a killing nationwide with all the panic–buying, and the closure or limits of restaurants’ activities. Add in record-low gasoline prices, and opportunities to shed staff (and hire cheaper temps instead), and the quarantine period has actually been a boon to the top 10% of American businesses. Never has it been easier to foist the work of three people onto the shoulders of one very stretched wage-earner in the service sector. The parent corporations can also most likely circumvent a few inconvenient costs and policies, under fully government-approved “crisis” conditions.

Again, we’ve seen this before: banks, big investors and real estate developers came out of the 2008-2010 economic crises looking just fine, if not stronger than before. Nobody went to jail. Buyers bought low, later they probably sold high, and all was right in the capitalist world for about a decade (and let’s not forget that Obama’s domestic and economic policies, while less than perfect, at least dug us out responsibly).

As always: follow the money to solve the crime, even if the crime is ethical but not quite illegal. When things get tough, the rich get richer, the white get whiter, and the poor (be they old, brown, sick, incarcerated or foreign) either get poorer or just flat-out die in higher numbers.

There are a few obvious examples: the higher incidence of illness and death from COVID-19 for black and brown essential workers, food delivery people, bus drivers, etc —who don’t have the option of telecommuting— is yet another current example.

But back to our history lesson, for more previous examples:

In pro sports, MLB and the NFL both had medical, cheating and/or gambling-related controversies (steroids, CTE, collusion & fraud among MLB team owners to control salaries). But if it bleeds, it still leads, and both of those major pro sports leagues saw record growth all during the period of these controversies (though MLB is back on hard times by now). The net result was more profit for just a handful of people. Stars and scandals generated more eyes on tv, and more ears in emerging talk radio and internet markets. And gambling, including fantasy sports, kept the winners winning and the losers broke, yet again.

Let’s not forget ABC, Disney, ESPN, Marvel, Star Wars, various cable tv, internet, radio, and even billboard advertising conglomerates are all part of the same single company now. They happily go on licensing their angelic and demonic characters to every toy company and junk-food seller that we still somehow trust, despite the evidence they’re out to fatten and slaughter us, to occupy and distract our minds, from about age two onward. No wonder Disney World is the Happiest Place on Earth. No wonder Trump wants to re-open the economy as soon as possible, public safety be damned.

On other fronts, MouseCo’s competitors and co-beneficiaries are other multi-armed conglomerates like NBC/Universal/Viacom/Comcast. Conglomerates control the playing field in the realm of gaining and steering our attention in every field of “influence”, lest we stop and figure out that very little of what they’ve been selling us is actually necessary, or even healthy. Meanwhile, the plastic they’re packaging it all in continues to choke out the planet, and within a generation they’ll find a way to let robots do even those low-wage-earners’ jobs.

Are you awake yet?

The klepto-class of millionaires have no shame. The wide-ranging discussion above is only meant to present examples, or symptoms. The actual disease is wider and deeper and more insidious than any virus.

The point is, there is no money to made in finding and implementing solutions, only in continuing and amplifying the shrill and pointless arguments. This is true in sports, entertainment, religion and especially politics. In America, politics practically became the new sports arena, probably from the Nixon era onward, but definitely from Reagan onward. Nor am I even remotely the first person to write this.

If MAGA showed us anything, it is that our longing for the supposedly simpler “good old days”, or being on the winning team at all costs, can easily be used against us. Dis-informed poor rural and middle class suburban whites–including a few whom I still call friends because we share a religious tradition somewhat in common, or are blood relatives– voted for the very Senator, Rep or governor who eventually ends up being the reason they lose their jobs. The Klepto Class favor their wealthy cronies looking to trim the fat or send more manufacturing into developing nations, where non-unionized workers with no protections are happy to work for peanuts, rather than literally starve.

But at least these voters get to keep their rifles, which no Dem was looking to take away in the first place. Good luck, private militias, trying to protect your other rights thirty years from now, from the people who own tanks, million-dollar helicopters, drones and smartbombs. I’ll be over here in your grocery store, loser that I am, still making sure you can buy hopefully untainted food, while your penny-pinching government dissembles the FDA, so your tax dollars can be used to build better tanks than last year.

Truth in the 21st century is now usually Inconvenient. Not just about the dying planet, but about almost everything. Maybe this has always been the case. If we look to monks, mystics and yogis from the past 3000 years or so, who measure these things by an entirely different standard, we have to admit it is probably accurate: the honest truth about ourselves is painfully tough to accept. Our limitedness. Our mortality. Very inconvenient. But accepting it is a pain worth consenting to, because the inner peace on the far side of it can be gained by no other method than surrendering to it.

But surrender does not feel like a reasonable option for modern individuals. Again, we are out of practice. Other than people in the addiction and recovery movement, or a certain kind of religious type within various traditions, the rest of us stopped talking about surrender hundreds of years ago. We fear what is on the other side of surrender too much.

Our upbringing (especially in the wealthy or middle-class West) has caused us to grasp at the trappings of freedom, and the spoils of war, too tightly. We may have won the Cold War temporarily. We may even be winning the war on drugs, the war on terror, the war on poverty, at least in certain more visible pockets of the earth. But in our prisons, in our refugee camps, in rural and drug-addicted deep Appalachia, in cartel-terrorized Mexico and Colombia, they know the truth.

These are all just big, obvious skirmishes in a larger war for our souls. It’s a war being fought every day just under the surface of your skin, and of mine. It won’t be won or lost with a vaccine, or a gun, or with the result of an already botched election of a president. All those things aren’t going to go away, and each is important to try doing properly.

But don’t be fooled. You can’t win ’em all, as they say. Better start learning that losing well, even surrendering (to science, to suffering, to forgiveness, to spiritual truth), isn’t nearly as horrible as dying with most of that crap still unresolved.

It is possible–even likely–that we will win this medical battle, and plenty of political battles during your lifetime–and still lose the “inner war” that we are each called to. What will you do then?

Inconvenient Truth #2, again compliments of The Rolling Stones:

You Can’t Always Get What You Want
(but you can get what you need)

I’m not about to suggest I know for sure what anyone else needs. But I’ll keep asking the hard questions. It’s both my democratic privilege, and my religious duty. The lies are piling up. Nevertheless, even as ugly as it all looks, I will not look away, no matter what shiny bauble they wave in my direction to distract me.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 23, 2020

John Prine – Tribute Pt. 1

Writing since he was 13, practicing the Elvis lip curl.

The Fifth Peg club stories…

Meeting Steve Goodman at the Earl of Old Town folk club (which I went to once, circa ’87). Nearby was Belushi working at Second City. Brando (played by John) sings Prine, like Angel from Montgomery.

Peo ple who need people.

John Prine (and after him, Ramblin Jack Elliott) talking to Bobby Bare on a Nashville Network tv show circa-1985:

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 12, 2020

Our Sickness, Borne

Isaiah 53:1-4, one of the main Hebrew scriptures that is claimed to reference Y’shua of Nazareth and his crucifixion

This passage has been on my mind all month, thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. The translation is taken from a specific Hebrew source (see 2nd photo) waiting on the “to be reshelved” rack in the main library at Illinois State University.

These administrative shelves are near the campus security office I go into and out of several times a week for work. At other points, I’ve grabbed a book of poetry by Robert Lowell, or glanced at a children’s picture book (lots of future teachers come here to get certified), or read the dustjacket of a nonfiction book about the Underground Railroad, The Green Book, and historical African American travel patterns.

But for Easter, and hopefully for obvious reasons, I was drawn to the passage in Isaiah.

All of this is to suggest that according to ancient Jewish theology, as I understand it, we were and are all “sick”, both before and after we get exposed to this (or any) virus. A famous old Christian hymn –the title of which presently is hiding from my tired old brain– features the line “to heal our sin-sick souls”.

Many modern and post-modern people put “sin” and “sins” in the same category, but that’s an over-simplification, and a grave mistake (pardon the pun, but I’m stealing it from Shakespeare’s amazing Mercutio, who dies in Act I of Romeo & Juliet [“…look for me tomirrow, and you will find me a grave man”). Talking about sins this way is unfortunately used to make judgments against peoplec–as if he or she is a “sinner”, but I am not.

However, I ain’t such a blind fool as to let my fragile, self-justifying ego dismiss my own broken, needy state, where I’m fighting off the same infection as “him” or “her” (hopefully with G-d’s help). This “othering” is not the way of Isaiah, nor of Jesus.

We are all fellow citizens of Romeo’s Verona–oops, I mean Corona– though Verona in northern Italy is under siege as we speak . We are all in this together. Also, I don’t mean to diminish the virus, or the real losses and deaths worldwide, by making wisecracks or practicing bad amateur armchair theology. It’s just my way of coping. Today, it’s just my personal DIY church service, my strange meditation for the purpose of vaccination. Confession and repententance. Table for one, with a side of spaghetti.

Pull up a chair and pray with me. He is “familiar with disease”. And he is listening.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | March 21, 2020

If You Can’t Eat You Got To

Seen on the campus of Illinois State University, March 20, 2020


If you can’t eat you got to 


smoke and we ain’t got

nothing to smoke:come on kid 


let’s go to sleep 

if you can’t smoke you got to 


Sing and we ain’t got 


nothing to sing; come on kid 

let’s go to sleep 


if you can’t sing you got to 

die and we ain’t got 


Nothing to die;come on kid 


let’s go to sleep 

if you can’t die you got to 


dream and we ain’t got 

nothing to dream(come on kid 


Let’s go to sleep)

*** *** ***

— E.E. Cummings (1894-1962)

=== === ===

A #COVID19 related offering of literary and spiritual encouragement.


Put down the donut. Step away from the donut, keep your hands where I can seee them, and no one gets hurt………

…I want the donut.


Posted by: Mark Nielsen | March 14, 2020

Bob Fosse in Birdland: A Grand Entrance

Bob Fosse & Gwen Verdon dancing in “Damn Yankees” (1958).

Today is Bob Fosse Day for my “Murder in Birdland” research. Can you say “Fun!” #bobfosse #gwenverdon #DamnYankees #1958

(above, a nice piece on Why Fosse’s legacy matters, on Broadway, in film and more broadly in music and dance…)

I just finished “Bob Fosse: It’s Showtime!”, a British dance-oriented documentary on Prime. About to start FX’s Emmy-nominated 10-part “Fosse/Verdon”, featuring recent Oscar-winner Sam Rockwell as Bob, now on Hulu.

Lastly, I’ve just discovered a good source for info or collaboration right close to home: The Chicago Dance History Project.

Hot damn! Make me wanna dance!

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | March 9, 2020

To the Second JFK Shooter

In May 1975, legendary Beat poet Allen Ginsberg wrote the poem “Hadda Be Playing on the Jukebox”, a creative and controversial conjecture about who killed John F. Kennedy, and why.

Here’s an excerpt of Ginsberg’s poem:

Hadda be announced over Loud Speakers
CIA & Mafia are in Cahoots

Hadda be said in old ladies’ language
Hadda be said in American Headlines
Kennedy stretched & smiled & got double-crossed by low life goons & Agents
Rich bankers with Criminal Connections
Dope pushers in CIA working with dope pushers from Cuba

working with Big Time syndicate Tampa Florida

! ! ! ! !

Meanwhile my new poem below, To the Second Shooter, is a whimsical, Surrealist, conjectural response–to Allen, to so-called “fake news”, and to history–written to an unknown but strongly-suspected second JFK shooter, hired by the Mafia. He was believed to have been hiding in a sewer grate in the middle of the street when Kennedy’s motorcade was attacked in Dallas on 11-22-63. (This “sewer” M.O. for the second shooter was proposed in the memoir of former Mafia underboss Bill Bonnano, son of Joseph Bonanno, one of the heads of New York’s Five Families and a longtime associate of Joseph Kennedy, Sr.)


To the Second Shooter (by Mark Nielsen, 3-9-20)


Ginsberg resurrects Kennedy, 1975.

Well before Ollie Stone.

Nor was he alone.

I was too young to know

How these things go.


I blame Mafia, FBI, CIA, you and the Russians.

In light of day

They made him pay.

Lost face, revenue.

But was it you?


Nobody made you shoot.

You were the trigger,

‘Cause he “loved niggers”.

Even though you stole

Chicago’s polls.


Sinatra, a Guy who likes Dolls,

A go-between.

You know what I mean.

He spread mobster cash

To kick Nixon’s ass.


Cagney the gangster in White Heat.

“Top o’ the world, Ma!”

Stuck in my craw…

Nephew of Uncle Sam

But it’s a sham.


Hadda be playing on the jukebox:

Lesbo Lesley Gore,

Early “virgin/whore”.

Crying pajama party,

But more arty.


Bobby K sang “You don’t own me.”

Bosses said “Really?”

With a gaze so steely

It froze a nation


! ! ! ! !

  • For a quick look at Mafia Don “Joe Bananas” son Bill Bonanno, and his unverified JFK claims, start with a review of his 1999 memoir.
  • For a good independent blogger/conspiracy theorist’s take on the above poem’s relationships and events, see “Did the Mob Target JFK?”
  • For background on Lesley Gore, whose hit “It’s My Party (and I’ll Cry If I Want To)” came earlier in ’63, followed by “You Don’t Own Me” in early ’64, see Lesley’s bio here. (Also, no gay-bashing or slut-shaming is intended in the above poem. I’m just playfully and lazily rhyming whore and her stage name Gore…)
  • For a description of my work-in-progress novel Murder in Birdland, and its companion podcast series–on the Mafia, entertainment and political wranglings from 1959-1963 and beyond–read my two-page “elevator pitch”.
  • For a fascinating and cool musical adaptation of the Ginsberg “Hadda Be Playing…” poem, by radical protest music legends Rage against the Machine (re-united & on tour in 2020, theoretically), listen to a live recording at Youtube here.

Thanks for visiting! Come again soon.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | March 1, 2020

Stigmata Gloves (orig. poem by Mark Nielsen)

Believe it.

Stimata Gloves (by Mark Nielsen, 3/1/20)


I put on the gloves with the holes,

and pray nobody notices the blood.

I’ve been harming myself but nobody knows.


Without the gloves, I lose either way:

either they see, they know, 

and become concerned about the wrong thing.

Or they don’t notice me at all, 

(except for a polite smile, as usual)

even as I silently drip blood on the floor.

When that happens, 

I’m left feeling small,

as small and awful and unseen 

as those blood drops on the carpet.


So the gloves stay on, 

to soak up the blood

and keep a scab from forming–

so that I can obsess 

about the unseen wounds underneath,

where no hand can reach.


“Do you want to be healed,” He asks.

I don’t know, I think. 

It’s a lot of responsibilty, afterward.

But my mouth knows better and says yes.


These marks on my hands

are a poor substitute 

for my pierced and leaking heart.

I’m shaking with fear and dread,

wired, hung-over, out of sorts, 

from too much coffee & not enough sleep.

(Classic “Saturday night/Sunday morning” conditions.)


Only now I’ve been healed.

Which way is this all going to go,

now that I can use my hands again?


[Author’s biographical note: I have not been self-harming, though I do compulsively bite my nails and cuticles when anxious. The “speaker” in the poem is an imagined person, probably a young woman, possibly somebody you’ve even seen in the past few days.]

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