Edging Your Lawn

You edge your lawn
by trimming off
the parts of it
that intrude upon
the borders of
cement walks,
well mulched
beds of flowers, and
clusters of
hedges and shrubs.

You edge your lawn 
although you know
how unnecessary
your lawn is.

You know, you should turn it over
and make it into a garden.
Do it to feed yourself,
your family,
your people.

You know
what you should do
but instead, 
you edge your lawn.

You edge your lawn
with small swords. 

You edge your lawn 
to hold back a riot,
to stem chaos.

Clean lines,
segregated spaces,
perfect delineations,
evenly spaced boxes
for life.

Your lawn
pushes you
to keep it pretty,
serving that
which is useless.

You edge your lawn
in spite of 
how hungry you are.


Recognition

I don’t have it anymore.
It’s possible
I’ve never had it, 
that I fooled myself
into believing I did.

It’s possible that every word’s
always been
a smear of ash.
Poured a few tears on it,
watched it turn to ink.

Starting to think
that each minute on stage
was a mistake made in public,
a stumble turned into
interpretive dance.

I hate ash,
and I hate dance.
How did I get here?

This is not to say
I did not enjoy it at all.
It had its moment.
It petted my ego and
gave good illusion;

at this point though, any stab
at recovery seems
ridiculous, an obvious
ploy for lengthening
my minuscule, improbable fame.

I’m the downside
of Andy Warhol’s 
fatuous words. The 
last tick of fifteen 
bad, sad minutes approaches.

I hate time,
and I hate loss.
How did I get here?

I could, I suppose,
buckle down and do
the real work
I should have done
early on.

I could, I suppose,
put some blood
into the ash and change
its hue. Stop crying,
stop dancing, stand still

and let myself 
become a target
for the hard bullets 
that come with the harder work;
I could still learn a thing or two.

I hate this dumb face
and God, I hate this blank screen.
How should I proceed?


True Crime Stories

True crime stories
half the day
on half the media

unless you include
celebrity news

and then it’s all media,
all the time.

I wish instead of this 
I could go outside and 
talk to a tree but I think
it would insist on speaking
of climate change and air quality
so there’d be no relief there,

that’s a crime as well
and as true as the rest
and we know who the culprits are
and we have the evidence
of our bitter sweat
and hampered breath

to turn over to the authorities
if only we knew who they were.

So I stay inside and use
the flipping of channels as
palliative care, changing 
when the dread becomes
overwhelming.

The only comfort left to me
is the hope of updates on ancient episodes
of Cold Case Files and Unsolved Mysteries;

anything to suggest that though justice
grinds slow, it does grind fine
and finally.


Volcano

A fire from the center of the earth
breaks out now and then
to remind us of what is possible
and beyond our own capacity.

Flaming, streaming rock
turned plastic, slippery, and red
comes to the surface
through generations of old stone 
and when it catches anything
it burns everything and our weakness
is made clear.

We stare into it, 
offer it fear and faith. 
Name it for a goddess or god,
curse it as an evil, 
flee it and photograph it
and tell stories of its potency,
its devastation,
its swift re-creation
of the land it seizes
or the ocean it boils.

On the horizon,
a glow announces the coming
of the central fire. The world
made new, in ways we cannot
replicate. No wonder

we fear it.  No wonder
we gave it a god’s name,
a goddess’s name, a divinity
all its own.


Half, Confronted

1.
The bathroom mirror

where I chase my ancestors

lets me know
in no uncertain way

which ones are hidden
and which are open about themselves.

All I can see there
are the ones I am loath to see.

Random people now and then
see or say they see

the others,
the ones I long to greet.

I do not. Now and then I think
I catch something of them but quickly

convince myself
I’m wrong, then change my mind

and say to myself, at last,
but then I look again and 

change my mind again. 
It’s not unlike deciding

on the cancer danger of a birthmark
you have been fretting about

your whole life. You will never see it
as nothing you can change.

There are days when
a razor seems to be your only savior

until you think about the blood,
wonder who will have to mop it,

and crestfallen
hold back one more time.

The bathroom mirror
where I chase my ancestors,

the arena where one side
struggles to smother the other,

the pale wall impervious
to my insistence that the other

be allowed visibility to match
what I feel and know of it;

I am certain I hear laughter
every time I see my face there — 

the ancestors who killed my ancestors
snickering at my sickening.

I want a shotgun to answer it
most days. I want to fight it,

choke it off, send it to
shadows to hide and be shamed,

stop myself once and for all
from looking in the bathroom mirror.

It’s a lie in there. It’s a truth.
A lie hiding truth hiding lies

hiding an explanation for all the rest.
A face so white it blinds me

to my best possible face,
one I can’t see or imagine

except now and then,
and those are the times

when I most want
to pick up razor or gun

and chase them away
for my own good.

2.
This self-loathing

makes me feel like a revolutionary.

Hours upon hours
of excoriating my Italian face.

Man, I wish I was
Hollywood Native perfect. Not really —

I know better,
of course I do, I know all the lies —  

but you know,
maybe I could have

just enough of it to clarify,
astonish, make people

wary of me, as wary as I am
wary of myself.

How easily I fall into those
same mythic traps.

Be yourself, just be yourself, 
relax into it, no one

cares, really,
say all the right people.

All the close ones as well as
all the distant arbiters.

They don’t get it:
this is me being totally

myself. As if I was anything else
but this 
wannabe Other, this

simply mixed kid all grown into this
ridiculous, genocided

old mess. I’m exactly what the Architects
Of The American Dream wanted 
to happen.

My self-loathing makes me uncommonly
useful to them as I am perfect to point at

when they strongly discourage folks from making
more of me and my type.

This is what you get, they say.
Me in the mirror wondering how to be

something I’m not, 
except I am, except not really. 

Not really,
except…

No. Take off this face.
Take it away, please.

A mantra I sing
over and over to the glass.

Pleading with the mirror,
pretending 

something genuine’s in there
to listen.  As if there is

anything whole and healthy
hiding behind the sum of my parts.

My self-loathing is all that’s there. It’s my
political stance,

my stand,
my 
bonfire beacon.

It’s all I have to go by
in the dark.


Barbarians

I’m not worried about
the long run with these
barbarians. They give off
the whiff, the white heat
of desperate knowledge.
They know they’re done.

It may take twenty
or thirty years, hundreds or
thousands of dead for that
to come to completion.
It won’t be pretty,
but it is inevitable.

We know it too.
We understand their 
fear.  Which is not to say
we feel compassion for it 

or that we should; there’s been
too much of that already,
too much care for their feelings,
too much accommodation 
to their ideas as we twist ourselves
into painful shapes to prove we
are not the same as them, when truth is

we are not.  Never have been.
Any assumed parallels 
come to a vanishing point
in every single instance.

Plenty of immediate killing things
to worry about
in the air, the water, the heat
and the cold and the growing wilder winds
roaring over us all. They had their hands
in that as well, of course, and soon enough
those things will do their worst.
Who knows yet how we will survive those?

But the barbarians, the torch boys,
the crooked crossing guards, the pale
first responders to dog whistles, the wealthy
in their slit-windowed financial houses, 
the small monsters in the pointy hoods?

They will do their worst, knowing
how little time is left to do it.
Maybe decades,
maybe a century; maybe.

No thousand-year
self-satisfied reign.
No. It’s time.
They know. 

This war
is how they mourn.


Preparation

In planning for subterfuge
I strive to emulate a mad white dog
who stretches out on snow
in full daylight
and nearly disappears 
while remaining in plain sight
of those willing to look carefully
into that which by its very nature
blinds a viewer and obscures
what is being viewed.

In planning for resistance
I work hard to transform myself
into one of a host of frogs
falling from the sky
onto the porches and streets
of those who do not believe
in such things happening, those
who scoff at the possibility
of humble beings pouring down
upon them in their complacency
and ruining, possibly forever,
at least for a moment,
their paradigm. 

In readying myself
for what is coming
I stare at my reflection 
and think of replicating
the actions of virus, or 
of bacterium — unseen and
anonymous, sometimes
not doing visible damage
for appreciable time, leaving
tunnels and palaces
within the opened body of the host
in such a way
that all manner of new life
may enter and make a home.

In thinking out loud 
of these tactics, I see they may be
terrifying enough 
up front
to create in the body 
politic
an unease that will do

half my work before I make
any decision, and when I do choose
it will be a choice
made without announcement, made
for the love of the future, fully aware
of what must come before that love
can openly manifest.


No Song

Everclear in the air: “Daddy 
gave me a name,
then he 
walked away.”

I think hard enough, decide
this is my song.
I drink hard enough, then
I know it’s not.

If there’s a song for me
in the air already,
I’ve forgotten how to find it.
It’s like Everclear’s song-daddy:

left a mark and 
vanished.

My daddy didn’t drink.
Quit before I was born.
Sometimes it felt like
he should have kept at it.

Like it didn’t matter
that he wasn’t drunk.

I’m sure there’s a mom song
out there for me too.
Once again,
I can’t find it. 

Ozzy, Danzig, 
Pink Floyd, 
maybe some older bit
of nonsense.

None of this
does the trick.

I think I’ll find my songs
on a Soviet-era radio.
Something with tubes,
something drab and static-full.

There are too many songs
in the American air.
Can’t believe any of them.
Can’t buy any of them as mine.

Daddy gave me a name
then he stuck around.
Mom gave me a birth
then she stuck around.

I wore out my welcome early.
Don’t need a song to tell me that.


Stingy

Stingy Night
takes its time
with me.  

If I had paid
more tribute to it
I’d be in it now,

that’s for damn certain.
This long day 
would be over

and I’d be enveloped
in warm, blanket deep
blue and black.

But last night I stayed up
till dawn, playing at
being one of those

who do that. I’m not
one of those who do that
though I recall

trying a few times.
The price was too high
and I’ve stopped paying.

I’m a physical dead head
mess. The whole system’s
gone bankrupt

as Miser Night
holds back its gifts.
I’m not asleep

when I need to be.
You call it
insomnia, I call it

the payback.
I don’t dream
like I should, I call it

the lost wages
of not sinning enough.
And when I do doze midday,

twitching in my lazy seat,
Night counts its coins
and laughs, that clicking keeping me

from falling away
completely.  Night
breaks me, leaves me broke.


Next Steps

Revised. First published, March 2018. Original title, “Requirements.” 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Start by reimagining 
the American flag
as a door anytime 
you see it.

See it as a locked door
with a complex code
you’ll need
if you want to enter. 

Then picture an eagle in tears,
starving, exhausted; 
the eagle on the Seal,
the one that has not been able to feed

with its wings up
and its talons full
for all these years.
Start wondering

what’s under 
your Uncle Sam’s 
hat, why he
looks so pissed 

as he points at you.
You thought you were tight.
After all, you’re family, or
so you were told.

Start wondering where that dollar bill
has been, where
they’ve all been. Start
thinking about them

in your pocket, your hand,
resting across your bare skin;
who paid for what with them
before they came to you.

Start imagining how hard 
you will have to kick
to take down that door.
Think about what might be on

the other side.  Soon,
your foot will start twitching,
longing to act 
even before you start willing it.


Trivial Note

Just a trivial note to all:  I recently pointed this blog to a domain that doesn’t indicate it’s on WordPress.com. 

No reason, really; just an option that became available and I said “why not?”

It is now at “http://radioactiveart.blog” for those of you who notice such things.  I don’t think it requires you to change any bookmarks you might have as the old domain works as well.

I told you it was a trivial note.

Carry on.

T


Friend

The poems often start
with an anchor to time:

dusk, midnight,
eclipse twilight,

predawn. 

It’s never two fifteen PM,
you may note. 
Never suppertime,

never late morning
coffee break. 

Why do you suppose so many
of these poems begin

at liminal moments?

Asking for a friend.

Why do you suppose
there was never a full length manuscript
from this poet? Why do you think
they never got there? 

Asking for a friend,
a friend afraid to admit
that they want that answer.

Afraid to say that answers, 
whether given freely 
or puzzled through,

are often the graves 
of minute reasons to remain alive.
In those times when the quest
is more invigorating than the arrival,
accepting answers
feels like moving closer to death. 

Asking for
a friend, as always,
one seeking

to understand

thick, stagnant truths
like the one about how
no one wants to touch
this old body of mine,
not even me. The one
that pushes out
another question:

why is that? 

Asking for a friend, one
tired and purely
disappointed friend.

How is it that one can be
so terrified of uncertainty freezing solid
one trivial answer
at a time?

Asking, you know, as always, for a friend.
Asking for one curiously ignorant friend.

Asking for a friend,
one like a shadow
who won’t step out
and be seen as solid —

say at two fifteen PM
or late morning coffee break — 

one who prefers the blur
of in between moments.

A friend who ghosts away
into the surrounding dark
once they’ve heard the answer.


Long Term Prognosis

From a study by researchers at the University of Oxford, 2014: “The average reduction in life expectancy in people with bipolar disorder is between nine and 20 years, while it is 10 to 20 years for schizophrenia, between nine and 24 years for drug and alcohol abuse, and around seven to 11 years for recurrent depression.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Wave I’ve ridden
since I was fifteen

lifts me into
a teary dream
in the dark, in bed.

Wave full of shapes,
threats, teeth;

wave that raised me.

Tears in the dark,
stifled tears increasing
the height of the wave;
within it the shapes, the teeth, 
the cold hunger 
I have pretended to love.

Hope

is just another 
shape in cold water,
something frightening
I can’t see, beyond
the trough of this wave,
coming in the next one
or the next, or never coming
at all.

Wave I’ve ridden
from teens to now.
Wave I ride is 
fifty-eight miles long
and counting. 

Doctors once said
it would fade

as I aged. Said the wave
would crest, that I’d make
landfall soon enough.

Doctors:

more shapes under 
the crest of the wave. More teeth
to cut into me.

Wave I’ve ridden since
I was young elevates me into
fearsome visibility under
a moon that will not eclipse
or take pity.

Lunatic, I call myself, lunatic
surfing horror waves
under the sobbing moon,
the laughing moon.

Waves upend me 
in the dark, in night.
Upside down,
suspended,

airless.

You’re not supposed
to be still up there
crying on the crest
of a wave,
say the better surfers.

Fifty-eight years in? I know this.

Fifty-eight years
in this surf, still can’t see
shore.

May be
time at last

to smash down,
to fall into those teeth,

to drown.


Early Retirement

Y’know,
when I had a job
I liked my job.
My HR job —

yeah, I was 
one of those.

I liked the problems,
I liked the people
at my job.

At my job
the bosses liked it when

I listened
and answered 

as they expected.

If I disagreed or took another tack
they called it “recreational arguing”
and dinged me on my review,
year after year,
for doing so.

A disrespectful thing to say —
as if I did not care, as if
this was a game to me — 

as if the day to day labor
of how to make lives better
during the third of a lifetime
people spend at work
was amusing, was not worth
consideration
from multiple angles.

They won. 
They won
a different game,
one I didn’t know
I was playing.

Years ago now,
all of that. Water 
over the top
of a failed dam.

I do not argue anymore
for game or love
or righteousness.
They taught me
how to play the real game —

the one where I sit
and wait in the dark.

I sit and think
of how to play the game.

I sit in the dark
even while 
the dark sits in me. 


Bleaching

Before we begin,
a quick explanation of the Process

might be in order since
you may be wondering what is involved.

The Process removes
not only color but fragrance as well;

strips away the stain
of your inconvenient birth;

lifts and separates you
from your base;

gives you a flag
to cover your wounds;

is an offer, an estimate,
a matching grant;

allows for some variance
as a flavor, a hint. 

Lucky you —
not everyone

is afforded access
to the Process,

but you look like
the type. You look like

someone who would
do well with it, who

would be worthy of it.
Who would support it

after you’d been through it
Who would help enforce it. 

Who would know 
how to choose the right people

to go through it
in the future.

If from this you don’t
understand completely

how it works,
that’s all to the good.

It’s not necessary to see
all the machinery behind it

as long as you are willing
to go through it. In fact

that might reduce your
willingness, seeing all

the boring milling
and smoothing involved

in the Process.  It might
put you off what we promise

is a delightful result.
What we promise you

is a lightening of
the load you carry.

What we offer is
a great hope; you know,

I’m certain, 
the kind of hope we mean.

The kind of hope carried like
an unquestioned passport

over the walls and fences
you may encounter.

The kind of hope
on which this country was founded.

The kind of hope
that can stop a bullet.