The Mistake

Here is an overgrown boy
who cannot hold
his sick father’s hand.

Mistake, he whispers
in the car.
I was his greatest mistake.
I cannot take
more comfort from the man,
and how could I offer him comfort
when my existence was
his greatest mistake?

Here is that careless boy
all the way home listening

to his car rattling like bones
dug from lost graves,
telling a horrid story
of imminent failure.

Mistake, he says.
This car was a mistake.
The breakdowns, the rattles,
the whistling in the trim at 
highway speeds. I am never
comfortable, never feel safe
on the road.

Here is a fretful boy — 
at once too old and too young for this — 
trying to think of his father’s hand
and how it would feel to be 
touched, to have his hair
stroked while someone
spoke to him of mistakes
and forgiveness, of 
how to forgive
and how some mistakes
have a way
of failing upward
in spite of themselves.


One Thousand Cuts

if we find
after the last act
that in the end
all it would have taken
was one thousand people
with tiny scalpels
crowding in and each
slightly nicking that Demon
till it finally
fell weakly down
we will die wondering
why we did not 
issue a blade
to anyone who
could get close enough

if we soon enough realize
before the last stroke
of the closing bell
that one full shout
from a million throats
could have blown the prison doors off
and rendered the cells
obsolete
we will wail in the afterdust 
wondering why did we not
encourage folks
to gather and scream
bloody triumph
into the faces of our jailers

if as we die we recognize
that all it would have taken
to win
was to fight as dirty as they did

if we become extinct
because we were not willing
to pay it forward with small crimes
against the flesh of the big criminals

we will perish
having deserved

what we are getting
right now


This Body In Which I Dwell

This body in which I dwell,
this animal in which I ride,
is not your animal to decorate, 
load with your baggage, 
steal, or kill. 

You ask me why
there’s no talk of beads
or buckskin in my words?

This animal in which I ride
is not yours to decorate.

You ask me why 
I never speak of drums
or sweat or feathers?

This body in which I dwell
is not yours to steer.

You ask me why
I do not look upon myself
as you do, translating blood-drops
into culture without a care?

This animal in which I ride
is not yours to load with your weight.

This body where I have made my home
is not yours to open and occupy,
this animal in which I ride
is neither your prayer nor your prey.

How you see what I show you
is not my concern
and if this journey takes me
into the harmful path of your illusions,
if my ride fails and this animal
falls as a result, know

that I will free myself
from that flesh and rise and find 
new passage, and
it still will not be one
for you to understand, much less one
to make your own.


Possible Songs

Shouted angers,
sobs, hates.

Lovers’ soft oaths,
the barking of 
distant dogs, unknown
stirrings in night kitchens.

The whizzing-by of fate’s 
unstopped bullets. Hiss
of last breaths.

All to be found
on a road
to a country named Music
through which
all sound passes 
at some point
to wait until chosen
for its place in song.


Boudin Noir, Boudin Blanc

It’s not enough
to just say sausage
in a world with
boudin, andouille,

sujuk, saveloy,
bratwurst, kielbasa, 
chorizo, linguica, 
mortadella, and more;

or to speak of booze
in the presence of

arak, poitin, tiswin,
pulque, Calvados,

lager, pilsner,
Henny, MD-2020, aquavit,
absinthe, corn liquor,
and whiskies galore;

this world is built
on specifics, motes 
of savor and flavor
and all manner of tastes

pulled from local waters
and land and legend.
To condense them
only leaves you wanting;

to turn away from soft words 
toward ones with gristle
is to humble yourself
until you can sit

at rough tables
with tough people,
listen to them
speak of joy and pain,

sucking the burn
of andouille, or
debate, laughing, between
boudin noir or boudin blanc;

wash a thick meal down
with strong bock followed
by shots of schnapps or korn;
perhaps hear someone tell

of how they came from some place
where the old folks made one thing
that put all else to shame, and
hear in that a cry for a lost home;

a home where the right words
open the right doors
into where and how the world 
is made right.


How To Pronounce The Name

In the mornings, disciples argue
about the right way to pronounce the One Name.
Some stand strong upon there being no Name

for what doesn’t exist, so why discuss it 
at all? They bicker and now and then
come to blows and bitter silence.

These many descriptions of God,
even the ones that deny a God at all,
all feel like wounds left untreated.

The flies buzz around the possible names.
Sometimes they sound like threats.
Sometimes they sound like laughter

and the scent floating in the air above them
is like flowers stacked on a grave
not entirely filled with earth.

A strong breeze brings healing
blowing in from all directions at once.
When the air clears behind it

there’s nothing to hear, nothing
to sense at all. The disciples begin to dance
to what they think is the drumbeat

of the True Name being spoken at last
but it’s only the wind stretching the grass,
bending the trees, shifting the ocean onto shore.


Leaf

I pick a leaf off my windshield
in a parking lot far from home.
It does not look like a tree there
I can recall, nor any I can see now;
it must have fallen to the glass
somewhere along my way here
and now it is far from home, 
as am I. I toss it to the ground
where it will soon rot and join
the soil, its foreign voice adding
to the patter of this place and 
who knows what will happen 
as a result; I will have played
in that a small part, a carrier’s part,
my own role near-unconscious,
soon forgotten by me in spite of
this poem and unknown to all others
in spite of this poem that itself
might soon fall and rot and disappear
into the earth, there to make
something happen none of us 
can currently foresee. Without much hope,
I daydream 
the potential here
in this parking lot 
too far from home.


Making Fists

If you do not see
why some of us
are making fists,

consider that 
our open hands
have been slapped away,

handcuffed,
bound to stakes for burning,
even cut off so often

that balling them
into stones that cannot be
so easily moved

seems to be
the last choice left
to us.

We reserve the right
to open them again,
buds becoming blooms,

once we can trust
that true spring
has come.


An American Prayer 2019

1.
cursed be the past in repose upon its legacy whether true or false.
cursed be the imagined landscape of plenty and peace.

cursed be the flag of mistake and protection of the one at the expense of the Other.
cursed be the song performed upon occasions of contest and symbolic war.

cursed be the paint by number picture of normal and right and ordinary.
cursed be the faces made up to seem divine and honorable.

cursed be the banners of cowardice and treason made to seem virile.
cursed be the weapons borne openly into street and school and synagogue.

2.
holy the color of truth seen in spite of prism and lens and curtain.
holy the strength restrained by robbed wallets and pockets sewn shut.

holy the fullness of the body in defiance of the shame of expectation.
holy the strength of the body when taxed with reluctance and sorrow.

holy the ground full of origin bones waiting to be dug up and displayed.
holy the diggers of bones as they lie awake in the storm of disturbed ghosts.

holy the mascots and caricatures donning their own skin again at last.
holy the snake in the deep crust writhing and preparing to break through.

3.
we lay the prayer upon the day whenever and wherever we wake.
we lay the prayer down on the table before the selective feast.

we lay the curse before the blessing as it shall be swept before it.
we lay the curse out with eyes open and skin ablaze from centuries of flame.

we can only be quenched when the fullness of the fire is revealed.
we can only be healed when the darkness in the center of the wound is illuminated.

we claim the curse as our own to bind it to our work.
we claim the blessing as our own and free it to go where it must.


Elementals

A mountain spoke.
It ground its soil to jelly.
Sent itself rolling out
over former green. 

The sea pulled back silently,
came in yelling larger than before,
slid its hand up over land
and covered all.

Air itself had a say.
It offered itself, full of spark
and drench, and when it left
it took all with it. 

Fire muttered, snapped,
snarled, roared, but not
in anger; it felt hunger,
so it flared, fed, and filled;

after each of these, nothing more
to be said until the next time.
Next time it happens it will be clear
that no one has listened.


Kiss Kiss

You claim 
you have taken the entire world
as a faithful partner,
its hand in your hand,
walking the path with you;

kiss, kiss,
swing
and a miss.

This world owes you nothing. It is
not your partner,
the equality you feel with it
now and then
is just the balm
of you being useful
and when you are not — 

you wake at night,
still with the world
but wondering 
why and for how much longer and
you sit up lonely, startling
the cats in an empty bed — even you
aren’t there, are you? Meanwhile

the world pulls its hand back,
blows a kiss, moves away;

a matter of survival.


Pyres

They tied people
I might have loved 
to stakes placed high

on piles of gasolined wood,
bound them with ropes
they bought on my credit.

They set those pyres alight
with bills I handed them 
from my wallet

and when the condemned
screamed, they turned
my music 
up loud enough

to make it seem 
that the cries of the immolated
were distant,

discordant coincidences
not in the soundtrack
from the start.

I bowed my head 
and looked at my hands;
empty, supplicant,

stinking of
accelerant, blistered

and scarred from heat.

They also held my tears
and though I wept for it all,
though my weeping

should have added
salt to my wounds,
they barely stung;

when I looked up
at the ones tending the pyres,
I saw my hands there.


Throne

It must have
felt good
to have grown up with 
a God that looks like you.

It must have made
for interesting Sundays, listening to 
words someone like you pronounced
long ago in your voice.

Must have been enough
to make your every current desire
feel like a holy command, every heavy debt
a wound waiting for redress in your deified heart.  

Now people are pushing
new pictures of God,

claiming God has a different voice,
a long-hidden Word.

It’s must be hard to imagine
that all your throne years

might be coming to an end.
What now for you? Right now,

sitting there with your fists
balled up tight, your eyes 
rolling rage, you look like someone else — 
yet somehow, still very like you.


My Books, My Guitars, My Body, My Shadow

Here are my books.
They have mattered
through most of my time;
right now, I’m not sure how
they continue to fit into me.

Here are guitars, drums,
cuatros, basses, more;
they have mattered as much
as the books, although now
they hang and sit dusty and ask
why they are still here.

The downward slide
of my aging hands and eyes
sweeps me away from
how I have self-defined.
I can’t make things work
as they always have worked.

It terrifies me daily
that I wake up
with no sense 
of what will be gone in daylight
that I could see and grip
in the dark of the night before.

Here is my body.
The shadow behind it isn’t talking right now,
but no book or song can keep it silent forever. 

This has always been true,
but at dawn each day now
I hear it clearing its throat.
I didn’t read about this in any book
and the music I swear
I can hear now and then

isn’t anything I want to learn to play.


The One In Which I Trust

There — a poet 
saying

soul, crystalline,
illusion, diaphanous,
eldritch, mystic,
heartstrings, crystalline
(again);

and another 
saying

justice, aggression,
oppression, supremacy,
revolution, war,
peace, justice
(again).

Over my shoulder 
the voice of one
saying

nuts, bolts, 
pencils, slipjoint pliers,
leaf-litter, lighters,
smocks, lighters
(again);

this is the one
I turn to hear,

the one
in which I trust.