Author Archives: J.M. Littenberg

On the Utility of Hate

Published / by J.M. Littenberg / Leave a Comment

The vase that holds my hate is overflowing
dribbling bile onto an off-white table cloth.
Hatred for a world that all too often denies my deepest identity
my truest truth
despite all I’ve done
all I do.

These scars
these veins run deep
dampening the clay
weakening the foundation
cracking the surface.
.                   .                   .                   .                   .                   .                   .                   .

Hate is a long kitchen knife tearing through flesh like meat
ze makes no distinction.
But it’s not hate that gets them all
my friends
not most of them.

Hate is not, in and of itself, the enemy.
Hate is the last refuge of the despised
a cold harbor
numbing the throbbing unbearability
closing off the pours
staunching the flow
so that tomorrow morning we can go to work and smile at you while we pour your coffee.

Nor is it fear
fear is not, in and of itself, the enemy
fear is the preservation instinct that carries us through
allows us to navigate in enemy territory.

It’s your comfort that inures you to the pain of other, less fortunate monsters.
It is your certainty, gorged on spoon fed fois gras that overrides our anemic subjectivity
loose fitting humanity
creatures stitched together with primitive skin
inferior thread leaving scars.
Even the best work money can buy will never be enough for you
smiling erasure
while we lie
dribbling tears and snot and bile
onto an off white blanket of last week’s city snow.

My Cause Is Just

Published / by J.M. Littenberg / Leave a Comment

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Jenn took me to go see “Wicked.” I loved it, but I thought that the second act was a little short and a little weak. I don’t know if you’ve seen it or read the book. But one of the most interesting aspects of both is the creeping fascism in Oz and the increasing restrictions and marginalization of the talking animals. There is a song about it. But nothing about Elphaba’s (the Wicked Witch) role opposing the Wizard and specifically her involvement with the Animal rebellion or underground or whatever it is. So I wrote a song about it.

I don’t know how to write songs, much less write for theater, so came up with my own system for discussing lighting, stage direction, arm movements and my own symbols for pitch, emphasis and phrasing. I think the symbols are pretty intuitive, underline = emphasis, the higher or lower word is on line = pitch, up arrow at end of word (or syllable) = uptick, right arrow… = word stretched out, bold, capitol V = downtick. I was only able to figure out how to show 1 degree of pitch change up or down, so at a couple points in the song it says [UP] before a word, that word is sung at an even higher pitch than the word before it. I tried to keep the stage direction to a minimum, same with pitch and inflection and stuff like that. What else? The song is sung by Elphaba and a 5 member chorus of talking animals (Animals) #1-5.  If I was to seriously try to make this into a song I would have to have someone help me write the music. Anyway, be kind, it’s my first attempt. I had a lot of fun.


[Starts directly at end of “Everywhere The Wicked” (no curtain break) Elphaba runs on stage with broom, to center stage, spotlight follows. While Elphaba speaks & sings, human chorus leaves, talking animal chorus arrives]

Elphaba: [SPOKEN]   Wait!

Elphaba: [SPOKEN]   You…you’ve got me all wrong

Elphaba: [SPOKEN]     I’m not wick ­ ­ed

Elphaba: [SPOKEN]     maybe a little headstrong.

Elphaba: [SPOKEN]     Although my skin may be green                        [R ARM OUT FINGER UP]

Elphaba: [SPOKEN]     there’s not a bone in my body that’s…unkind.                 [ARM DOWN]

[Music starts]

Elphaba:                        There’s a burning in my chest.

Elphaba:                        There’s a fire in my mind.

Elphaba:                        In this I trust                                               [R ARM OUTSTRETCHED]

Elphaba:                        my cause is just

[Lights go on chorus, stage right]

All (chorus & Elph.):  the future’s where you’ll find us>           [R ARMS OUTSTRETCHED]

All:                                 standing free>

All:                                 we shall be>

All: [QUICKLY]            victorious!                                             [R ARMS PULL DOWN & IN]


(Lights on chorus only)

Chorus:                         We should have heard  it  soon^erV

Chorus:                         the susurrus  of  ru^morV

Chorus:                         cold stares getting  cool^erV

Chorus:                         skewed barbs getting  cruel^erV


#1:                                  And when they came at first we hardly noticed

#2-5:       [QUICKLY] if we tried!

#1:                                  The banns felt like mere bother

#2-5:       [QUICKLY] This too shall pass!

#1:                                  But it got hard  to  swall^owV

#1:                                  as more restrictions  foll^owedV

#2-5:       [QUICKLY] And so we organized!

#1:                                  Political persuasion  was a phase we engaged  in.

#2:                                                                     See we tried it their way    [ARM OUTSTRTCHD FINGER POINTD]

#2:                                    but their way got us nowhere

#2                                    nowhere  but here                                          [POINTING TO GROUND]

Chorus:                          Shipped back to the farm in a cattle^  carV                  [R ARMS OUT]

Chorus:                         Stripped down to our pelts in their abat^-toireV


(Lights on chorus and Elphaba)

All:                                And now the times^ de^[UP]mand^

All:                                we execute batétle^  [UP]plans^

All:                                to get them to un^der^[UP]stand^

All:                                that we should walk hoof^  in^  [UP]hand^

All:                                together>^  forever>^


Elphaba:                      There’s a burning in my chest.

Elphaba:                      There’s a fire in my mind.

Elphaba:                      In this I trust                                                                                                        [R ARM OUTSTRETCHED]

Elphaba:                      my cause is just

All:                                the future’s where you’ll find us>                   [R ARMS OUTSTRETCHED]

All:                                standing free>

All:                                we shall be>

All:          [QUICKLY] victorious!                                                                                                          [R ARMS PULL DOWN & IN]

(Elphaba rises through air with broom, slowly increase green hue on light)


#1:                                 There she is! (light #1 & 2)

#2:                                Where?

#1:                                 Over there

#1:                                 That black silhouette

#1,3,4&5:                     Reeking havoc on the enemies>^  ofè>^[UP]Animals>^ [R ARM OUTSTRETCHED]

#1,3,4&5:                      The forces of the “great”>^  and “wonderful”>^  [UP]wizard>^


#2:            [SPOKEN] Oh, her


#3:                                 It’s a mitzvah!

#4:                                 She’s our savior!

#5:                                 She’s a gift from the sky!

Chorus:                          Flying>^  by>^

Elphaba:                        Maybe it’s fate>

Elphaba:                        Maybe it’s meant to be

Elphaba:                        Everywhere  I  can  see  The  difference>

Elphaba:                       Animals break^ing^  [UP]out^

Elphaba:                        Not  afraid^  to^  [UP]speak^

Elphaba                        Not  afraid^  to^  [UP]shout^

Chrorus:                      Resistance>^

Elphaba:                      My   furry

#1:                                  feathery

#2:                                 scaly

#3:                                hairy

#4:    [LOW PITCH]  smooth skinned

#5:   [HIGH PITCH]  leathery

Elphaba:                      brothers>  and sisters>

All:                                together>  forever>


Elphaba:                      There’s a  burning  in my  chest.

Elphaba:                      There’s a  fire  in my  mind.

Elphaba:                      In  this  I  trust                                                                                                          [R ARM OUTSTRETCHED]

Elphaba:                      my  cause  is  just

All:                                the  future’s  where  you’ll  find  us>                   [R ARMS OUTSTRETCHED]

All:                                standing  free>

All:                                we shall  be>

All:          [QUICKLY]  victorious!                                                                                                          [R ARMS PULL DOWN & IN]

(Chorus freezes with right arms up — power fist, with Elphaba above like Mao picture.)

(Last musical phrase = 1st musical phrase of “The Internationale”)

Mao pic:


That Way

Published / by J.M. Littenberg / Leave a Comment

Houses down the line
files in and out of time.
The smell of salt and coconut
standing by the beach
faces half remembered
don’t leave that way
like this will be the day
thinking back, how we departed
yeah, this will be the day.

Tomorrow when the sun first rises
I’ll walk down to the water
tomorrow when my eyes first open
I’ll stare at the wall.
tonight I think I’ll take that codeine bottle
take it
take it all the way home
digging down to build a hole in the sand
somewhere cold and dry to rest my weary bones.

The moon shines down like snow
quickly melting off the hood of your car
emergency break pulled up to a gravel skid
slam the door and light a cigarette
something to fill the empty space
between what you deserve and what you get.

When this blows over
when the ship blows out to sea
will I look back on those months with fondness
or sadness over what will never be.

I’m Not Quite

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I’m old
I don’t really go in for that kind of fun anymore
The appeal of decadence and the call of glorious self-destruction have ebbed over the years
Too many life lessons, too many “there but by the grace of god”
To turn down that wreck littered alley
Now my only addictions are strictly functional
Lesser little evils
Tiny bells

Sometimes I think if I could change this one last thing about my life then I could break out of this trap
This role I never intended to play
As a drain on society
Everyone’s favorite inspiration
Famous for trying
Known for not giving up

I’m not quite ready to quit
I’m not quite ready
I’m not…quite
I’m not
I’m hanging on by a thread
Some days just a little bit
But everyday
My body mutinies
It rises from the deep
Behind my eyes
Up my nose
Dripping down my throat
My gut
Infects the brain
Where the synapses don’t fire right
My head gets all dark and occluded
I can’t think in a straight line
I can’t hold all the little pieces together
I can’t

It is this intolerability that consumes me
When I hold out until I decide
Under duress
That I can hold out no longer
And hate myself for that decision
If I were a better poet
You will not understand

A red button
A modicum of control
An escape hatch

I take a puff or two
Or four
Better something than nothing
Better slowly than not at all
Better to forget then praying for death
Today will be a compromise

I’m more or less good to go for an hour or so
Then it’s a slow decline
The sound of tiny bells
Getting louder

* * * * * *

Some days I wake up feeling the way I used to
Thinking clearly
This is the way it’s supposed to be
Sitting at my desk
Catching up again
On my well days
My sober days
My normal human being days
The tiny bells subside
It’s possible to shut them out
With the psalm, “I’m getting better and better, amen”
Step by laborious step
Maybe we can start again
Maybe we can build…
I’m sitting across from a friend with nothing to say
Empty space for a mouth
Without inspiration
Without the gift of conversation
And no amount of water, juice or iced cold iced tea is going to fill that up

Just be, Pema says, “just be”
But the seconds stack up to form insurmountable hours
Waiting for it like holding my breath

Passed along I hold you in my hand
And when I pass you back then I am becoming whole again

* * * * * *

Is it a cop-out to say I’m damaged beyond repair?
That without you, my love, there’s no one here
So many years
We met when I was only fourteen
Half formed
Already betrayed by endogenous chemicals
The tyranny of the possible
Mouth held in check by fear too long
Learned hard that lesson
Wondered in mourning through nothing
Until the fog parted
To reveal a grassy field
At the center of which stood a door

There were many years where I kept it together
Went to the finest school
Held many jobs
I even had a lover
For many years

There were many years where I sailed onward
Against hardships
Past rarely charted waters
Over the edge of the world
To become

* * * * * *

I’ve been told by my psychiatrist that full-time paid employment is not a realistic goal for everyone
(For me
For him it’s an identity)
A friend, and a therapist, have politely suggested that I may be codependent
–I don’t know what I would do without ‘em ;D–
So I try not to form too close a bond
They’re all special
But no one’s essential
It hurts less that way,
True love is not a realistic goal for everyone

I want to go back
Recapture that lost child of possibilities
That primordial wilderness
Hold you in my heart
But I could not hold you tight enough to become you
There’s no going back
This body is middle aged and tired
Neural paths deeply laid
Pipelines of pleasure and pain
I watch the wrinkles radiate out from my eyes like cracks in the salt flats

I need to stop using so much marijuana
I need to stop using so much
I need to stop using
I need to stop
I need…
Someone to call my own
Someone who wants to be with me more than anyone else in the whole world
Something to make me whole
A career that is recognized
–I mean paid–
Something to make me valuable
Because I feel worthless
Useless down to my bones
I keep limping in circles
Opening the same door
Trying to find my way home

There and Back from Halfway Flats

Published / by J.M. Littenberg / Leave a Comment

Driving out of the city
beyond the sprawl
to small towns
past isolated cabins in the woods
onward and upward to the pass.
The heart races as we dangerously lean back for groupies
on a stone ledge
on the side of the road
over a cold-water ravine a long, long way down.
Angry truckers honk their horns at strange looking city-folk
walking, single file along a narrow shoulder
“don’t they know
these roads
are for serious business.”
Up and over then partway down
the forests have a more ordered feel
ponderosa pines, bitterbrush and red dirt replace fir trees, ferns and moss
the air smells less like water, decay and new life
and more like a dusty ranch road in late July
the buzzing of horseflies
hours ‘til dusk.

No bars
out of range
and onward to camp
pitching tents on flat earth dry pine needles, littered with cones
perilous logs laid across slow flowing streams
jalapeño chips
wasp attacks
but first, Whistling Jack’s whistling pay phone scam.

Hours later
with much stirred up dust
and the sound of 90s riot girl punk
arrives Dan
to much jubilation.
BBQ badassery ensues.
When parts are missing you improvise
but what with hot exploding rocks
and burgers the color of coated tongue, I don’t know gray
sometimes it’s wise to simply drive away
70 miles down a windy road
into the night
to Fred Meyer in Yakima town
in the middle of gang-season
for supplies.
Pouring into Sherri’s on filthy hobbit feet
with the salty sweet taste of fries and pies watering my mouth
no trout.
Later, the dark woods loom
watching us like saucer eyed bears
yet we persevere.
Queers in the woods.

An even rain
taps out gray percussive tent membrane
on the coldest morning
of the coldest day
of the hottest summer in history.
Waking up to the body heat of sleeping friends
cold outhouse runs
the sound of bacon and pancakes
paper plates
passing biker gangs
and slow games of rummy 500.
Time passes to the rhythm of braided hair
breakfast, lunch, dinner
party tents
presidents and assholes
and long walks down to the river.
Night comes too soon.

Awake again surrounded by sleeping friends
reading to a slowly rising sun
–three witches
childhood friends
now in their seventies
haunted by memories
of horrors best left buried
reunite one last time.
They give feast to the solstice
drinking and eating and dancing
celebrating and lamenting
what it means to be old–
I could get used to this.

Riding home
up into the storm
you can learn a lot about someone by the music that they love
looking out the window
watching the pines pass by.

The things you learn along the way:
how to pitch a tent
how to keep drinks cool without a cooler
the taste of safety
the treachery of payphones
the important, under-appreciated role of emotional support snakes
life takes place on the ground
in the space between sleeping bags.

Deer Path

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Following this half-deer-path through the undergrowth
Placing careful feet between the ferns
Completely soothed by the rhythm of right, left, back and forth
Lulled into a now without before or after
Without plans
I look up to see a clearing
Fifty yards beyond the next set of trees

Entering the circle of direct light it feels quiet
The few sounds rendered loud by comparison
The buzzing of a lone fly
The leaves disturbed by breeze
Our breath

“It feels like a church” you said
when I heard a branch crunch under foot
or paw
faint, so far away
over in the hills
to our right

You find a photo on the ground
Faded and sepia toned
It’s a picture of a clearing

In this clearing are the remnants of a few structures
Perhaps a house, garage and barn
On the other side of the photo four lines of verse are written in a neat Edwardian script:

“There is nothing here it seems
But the burnt out reverberations of failed dreams
Charred spruce green walls still half stand
Sentinels of an oft forgotten land”

I study the front of the picture again
Trying to draw some meaning from then images and words
I feel a shift somewhere inside me
A shift of some significance and yet I cannot isolate it’s origin or effect

It seems an interminable long time since either of us has spoken
I turn to you to break the silence
But nothing comes to mind
You seem to be having the same reaction
Looking at me mouth opening slightly and then closing
We both laugh in recognition

Letter to a Friend

Published / by J.M. Littenberg / Leave a Comment

I hear, see, feel your complaint
And know it’s completely legitimate.
Unwanted male attention is annoying
And can be scary
As entitlement has been known to turn violent
When thwarted.
But still I wish
A phone number was all I received
From the construction workers
Outside *my* home.

What I got was a photo glued to the front of my building
Of a man in a women’s bathing suit
Looking just like the one I’d been wearing around my apartment
Because it was so damn hot
That August.

I kept the windows shut and my shades closed in my apartment
For nine months.
And when I dared to venture out and show myself
In the light of day
Male laughter would waft over the chain-link fence like the smell of hot creosote.

It’s been almost four years now
And still
Although my headphones are on
Whenever I pass by a construction site
I feel my muscles tense
And my jaw clench
As I walk a little faster, with more purpose.
That bathing suit
Sits in a bag at the back of my closet
Crumpled in on itself