Broken Hearts

self portait


When the past refuses to stay in the past, it usually heads straight for thepresent. There, it’s easy to spot, because it’s usually causing a racket of some kind. If you order it back, this type of past will appear to comply, but it never departs in good faith. As soon as you’re sure it has finally obeyed, it will show up somewhere else, claiming to be the present.

Maybe it is throwing rocks at a tank in Palestine. Maybe it is an old Jewish man, lighting a candle in Warsaw. Maybe it is a pirate in the Sudan. Maybe it is sneaking across the Mexican border. Maybe it is a 16-year-old gang member aiming a gun at a 15-year-old drug dealer in southwest Chicago.

Or maybe it is a broken heart in Indonesia.


Art and text by Claire O’Brien / 2015

Come Back to Me, Orlando




The summer had inhaled and held its breath too long.
The winter looked the same, as if it never had gone.
And through an open window where no curtain hung
I saw you, I saw you
Coming  back to me


You came to stay and live your way

But you were scattered like leaves in the wind.
You always say “They can’t make us go away”
But I know what it always has been.

It always has been a transparent dream
Beneath an occasional sigh
Most of the time, I just let it go by
Now I wish it hadn’t begun
And yet, I saw you! Yes, I saw you
Coming back to me.


Caleb McGrew, right, wipes tears as he stands with his partner Yosniel Delgado Giniebra, center, during a vigil in memory of the victims of the Orlando mass shooting, Sunday, June 12, 2016, in Miami Beach, Fla. A gunman opened fire inside a crowded gay nightclub early Sunday, before dying in a gunfight with SWAT officers, police said. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)


Jermaine Towns, left, and Brandon Shuford wait down the street from a multiple shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. Towns said his brother was in the club at the time. A gunman opened fire at a nightclub in central Florida, and multiple people have been wounded, police said Sunday. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

I realize I’ve been here before
On San Francisco cliffs overlooking the shore
So many ghosts in that mist could have been anyone –
But I saw you. It was you
Coming back to me.




What happens to promises made on a star?

We made you a promise before you were born.
Was our promise just something we made up for fun?
I swear. we thought all the killing was done.

And I saw you,  yes I saw you
Coming back to me







“There’s no tragedy. I wish the government would round them all up, put them up against a wall, put a firing squad in front of them and blow their brains out. The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die,”

 Pastor Roger Jimenez, Sacramento, California. Recent quote.

 ” I am not a scared, punk-ass little faggot. I am definetly not a pacifist. And I will beat the living shit out of your bigoted ass if you don’t get the fuck out of my way right now.”

Akamu Pali, my dear witty, brave and handsome friend, who died of AIDS in San Francisco in 1992. He was impossibly young.






STONEWALL – “We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control… Hey! Leave those kids alone!”  The people who first physically fought the NYPD were these homeless GBLTQ kids who slept in a small park near the nightclub. Quote is taken from, of course, Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

Coming Back to Me  was written by Marty Balin of The Jefferson Airplane in 1967 and released on the band’s second album, Surrealistic Pillow (1967). I changed the lyrics significantly in order to tell this story.




Havana Times Photo Contest

Eduardo Javier Garcia

Leonardo Oña

Carolyn Looby

 Mariska Verbeij.

                                      Bill Klipp



Is this art? Or is it a drawer?
That bumpy yellow wall – what for?
I guess I was expecting more…
Look! The gum I lost awaits, resplendent:
Now that is what I call transcendent!







As Robert and Linda head west,  toward pancakes and anarchism,*  our story takes us a couple of states east,  toward supervision and beef.They don’t fool around on the high plains of Kansas, so look sharp, stay with the herd, and don’t miss the train when we get out of Dodge.

* not anarchy

"We've got an eye on you. Yes - you." Supervising the herds in Kansas.

Confused about literature,  we have identified as our hero an extremely old tractor in  disgraceful disrepair, last seen chained to a trailer in a gas station parking lot in southern New Mexico.  On its way to a salvage yard in Las Cruces , its straits could hardly have been more dire, nor its awareness of them more dim. Happily for all,  our tractor received what appears to be an 11th hout reprieve when the Junk Guys discovered  that it would be much better for business to avoid the salvage yard.

Hopefully, this saga will end with an exclusive report from Dona Ana County’s  Farm and Ranch Museum, fully  illustrated with photos of  our  hero pretending that its restoration had neither occured nor been neccescary.  Tractors never speak of such matters. They see themselves as gleaming and well-oiled, even if they’re covered in rust and haven’t been running since 1962.

I  look forward to writing that report, but I’m not quite counting on it.

There is that about tractors that resists the reasonable urge to conclude even a simple story.  Even when it’s clearly over,  you usually don’t get to write “The End”.

With tractors, it’s never really the end.

For now though, we may leave our hero awaiting  its  future admirers,  and turn our attention  to the high plains of western Kansas, where one of its numerous relatives  happens to be thinking about a favorite cousin in Sierra County, New Mexico.

Preceded by flags and trumpets,  Dedication E. Ford leads a parade down the main street of a cattle town that later played itself on TV.   Dedication, known widely as Ded  (the E. stands for Endurance)  has no idea that its  cousin  Infinity had fallen on delicate circumstances some time ago.  The possibility of the powerful Infinity rattling down Hwy. 25 behind a scrap metal truck extends well beyond  Ded’s cognitive realm.  Its own days are spent parked behind an equipment shed on a Kansas wheat farm, twelve miles from the Oklahoma panhandle.

In a moment, we shall be able to tell you what’s passing through the old tractor’s mind.

Meanwhile,  here comes  the parade.



Everybody belongs, everybody shows up, and the pancakes are not for sale.

An ancient tractor barely avoided a harrowing end yesterday, thanks to a lucky fill-up at a  gas station presiding over an on-ramp of Hwy. 25, about an hour north of Las Cruces, New Mexico. I was driving by the station, heading for that on-ramp just before evening fell,  my brain in its usual idle state.  The tractor was right out in the parking lot, chained to the Junk Guy’s trailer.  I slammed on the brakes and made a criminal u-turn.  I’ve been driving like a crook ever since my brothers gave me a police interceptor car – even if it wasn’t a Crown Vic with a spotlight, it has those weird hub caps that announce “The cops are here” to everyone over ten.

I saw a man in denim overalls sitting at a cement picnic table near the gas station’s front door. He looked like he’d plowed a few fields in his day, so I made a beeline in his direction. The light was approaching that long inconvenient stage,  there was this tractor – and now,  here was a farmer, right in the nick of time. Things were working out fine for me.

I forgot that I’d just basically pretended to be a cop, and jumped right in.”It’s probably even the late twenties, or at least the early thirties, huh?’ I remarked in a familiar manner.  I tend to assume that all the word loves a tractor, and will stop what it’s doing with a swiftness directly proportional to the tractor’s age. 

Portrait of the farmer as his tractor CLAIRE O’BRIEN 2012

Robert Fisher had had good cause to brace himself as I’d come hurtling across the parking lot.  About 20 minutes before I’d  schreeched  through my U-turn and jumped out of my Intercepter,  the county sheriff had  offered to drop Fisher and his partner, Karen Lewis, at the county line if they were still  there when he came back.

Fisher wondered what to say.  He had absolutely no idea of what I was talking about and had just walked six miles, but clearly  he was not going to get a chance to rest.    His assessment of local law enforcement took an alarming plunge as he waffled graciously for a moment.

But when he realized I thought he was a farmer, Robert Fisher had a good loud laugh.  He’s from Brooklyn, New York.

He and Lewis were people who had somewhere to get to – and it didn’t  involve any tractors,  however old.

Thousands of people know Robert as the Early Bird Cafe. He’s been making pancakes for Rainbow Gatherings for fourteen years,  and needed to get to Arizona for a regional gathering in time to get his restaurant organized.  Robert starts serving his pancakes at 4 am and feeds people until noon.  He and Lewis lost their van when they couldn’t pay towing charges. They didn’t know exactly  how there was going to be enough  flour and eggs to feed breakfast to a thousand people a day.  They just knew it was going to be done, and they’ve been right for fourteen years.

All they could do was show up – and it turns out that’s enough. If enough people show up, it doesn’t matter what some racist sheriff thinks of you, or how invisible people make you as you pass through their town.

Sky, mountain, desert. Coyotes. Far from home.

Well, Robert and Karen got a ride in a police car after all.  We zoomed through the night, alone on a country highway, maybe 30 miles to a more hospitable town where they thought some Rainbow people would be showing up. Robert recalled a town that was so enthusiatic about the first time a few thousand well-behaved people had spent a week in the state park  that “when we decided to return five years later,  they stocked the stores with stuff they’d  heard we ate,  like tofu,  dried beans, and soy milk. They strung a banner along Main Street:  ‘Welcome, Rainbow Gathering!’ They made a fortune that week. They’re probably still missing us.”

Robert laughed again. He was thinking of his drum, and of a circle of drummers surrounding a huge  bonfire,  playing into the night. He’d leave the circle earlier than most and get some good sleep.  He had a lot of pancakes to make.

When I returned to the gas station an hour or so later, the tractor was gone. The Junk Guys had hauled it  back to Las Cruces.  But the gas station had done its job.  The young woman behind the counter told me, “That tractor sat out there for a few hours, and everybody  kept stopping and gawking at it. They asked what was going to happen to it.”

So she’d called up the Junk Guys and told them there were people who would want the tractor, and would  pay them good money not to scrap it. “They said, like, oh really, that’s great, we didn’t know, ” she reported.

Then she smiled a little smile.  A gas station smile.

I drove like a good citizen that night.  Driving a cop car doesn’t make you a cop.

A cop told me that.