Suppose

Suppose we allow
for the likelihood
of a single God. 
Suppose we say
to deny the possibility
is to be arrogant
on behalf of
our own total agency.

Suppose we say
one and only one
can be real. Suppose
we ask ourselves to 
choose among the 
many faces we’ve assigned
the One. Suppose
we cannot decide. 
Suppose we revisit 
the initial thrust of
the argument and say,
maybe more, maybe none,
but something. Suppose
we agree it matters
not — one, many, none —
until something confirms
one, none, many
to such a degree that
all of us agree to hold 
no grudge against it
if there are many, none,
one. Suppose we leave
the density of the arguments
behind that day. Suppose 
we find other reasons 
to be as we have always been.
Suppose it matters not at all
if there is none or one
and the only thing that ends up
being of importance is
what we are: many or one,
or soon enough none:

what then?


Epitaphs

1.
It’s not like 
I made a good mark,
but more of a scuff — a sign
of clumsiness, accidental
reminder of my passage,
just squeaking through.

2.
Here lies (blank)…
if you are reading this,
clearly I am not
for if I could 
I’d be editing frantically
to keep you from seeing
such a paltry representation
of who I am.

3.
This plot holds
a parcel no longer full of lies,
a bone-box stripped
of spirit. It’s not worth
your time.  Nothing to see,
nothing to hear.

If you do see 
or hear anything, rest assured
it’s nothing. 

4.
If I had become wind
and you were still you,

I’d choose to be here.

If I’d become sun
and you were still you. 
I’d choose to be here.

I’ve become dead. I am here, 
but not by choice —

unlike you. I thank you for it.


How To Throw A Brick

First of all of course
you must choose the brick.
It can be any shape or size:

being yourself 
in an unexpected place,
one where you’ve been
forbidden, is often brick enough
to break some wall or window;

it may require
a bit more — the purchase
of a wedding cake,
a clothing choice no one foresaw,
stubborn insistence on a name or pronoun —
to crack a thicker wall or head
grown old and bitter
from long authority.

Next, the throw.
It should be overhand —
let it take flight, let it soar
over the ruins between you
and the target. Those
who fell before this time
will look up in the dark
and see a brighter sky and think
of a bird that can fly and land
wherever it wants;
they will rest easier.

You will not be alone in the fight.
Bricks that arc together land harder;
there are so many walls and windows to smash 
before they fully open the gates.

As for yourself in the aftermath?

You may retreat to save yourself
from what they do in response
but the ground where you stood remains yours;
though some may see it as a paradox,
you are also the brick you tossed,
a piece of something new yet to be built.


The Semi-Conscious

To be left uneaten
by the cannibals:
that is the fondest wish
of the semi-conscious.

To see the feeding
and the preceding slaughter
and merely cower:
that is the privilege accorded to them.

To crawl away and hide
and be able to stand up
and pick their way
through the bone-field,

then go safely home
after the feast is done,
to be left untouched and whole,
is their purest joy.

Their dreams mostly
untroubled by the sound
of chewing. Their lives
lived as fatly or thinly

as they choose. Their children
guaranteed to thrive
unbitten or even to grow into
the next class of flesh-eaters:

what else could they desire?
It’s not their fault others 
were designated as fast food.
That so many were roasted

and consumed by the cannibals.
All those people had to do was lay low
and blend in. It would have been
easy to survive, 

camouflaged, half-awake,
just aware enough to know
what it took to survive.
They must have
deserved to be prey.

As for the current sound of cannibals 
gnashing their teeth and thrashing the bush f
or the next meal? 
That sound is meant, they trust,
for someone else to fear.

 


Black Snake

To wake up
is to unwind the black snake
from my chest.

To stand up 
is to set the black snake aside
and see it race away.

To walk to the living room
from the bedroom
is to step past the black snake.

To leave the living room
for the world
is to sing the black snake to sleep.

To return to the house
when the world has pressed upon me
is to lift the black snake to my chest.

To sleep in the house
with the black snake upon me
is to become the black snake.

To dream of the black snake
is to dream of myself pressing upon my heart
until it enters utter stillness. Suddenly

I am
the black snake,

racing away.


Three Rituals

Two older poems, one (Washing Dishes) new. I saw a series and pulled it together.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Washing Dishes

It doesn’t matter if there are
few or many: I do the dishes
in the morning, every morning.

My hands stinging from the hot water,
I sigh inside when there are many,
rejoicing impatiently even if there’s one

and only one because I’ve set myself
a parameter that no coffee can be poured
until the sink is clear. The drainer

can be full, the silverware basket
overfull, but until the last item’s
clean and set aside to dry 

I am unable to move on. The first thing
I do, every morning, is cleanse
from the day before.

Why not do the dishes
before bed? Start the day
with nothing waiting?

That would seem dishonest to me,
to be fair. It seems a lie
to pretend upon waking that

the day before never happened
and that all I’ve got before me
is new and untouched.

To wash the previous day’s dishes
firs thing in the morning, though?
An acknowledgement of past

before the future begins. A statement
that in the present, the past and future
demand attention too. 

The Straight Razor

This deep into my life
I have begun shaving with

a straight razor,

not so much for
the trendiness of the act among
certain smug sectors of the hip population,

but from a lust for sustainability
born from a desire to stop 

disposing of so much good steel.

Also (in the spirit of this
historical moment)

I need solid proof

that with care
I can enter danger daily

and come out clean;

as I do not believe
danger will play fair

in the streets

it is good to know
I can take it on my chosen turf

in at least one small way.

I wet my face and lather up,
set the edge against my skin,

draw it at the proper angle

through the white mask I’ve donned;
think of my grandfathers

as I take care upon the jawline and chin.

If I nick myself I do not stop.
If I see red I do not flinch

but finish and administer stinging care

until I see the face I want before me.
Then comes maintenance of tools.

Cleansing of sink and mirror.

It is a ritual and as such
things must be done well

and precisely from start to finish.

One more thing:
a straight razor

fits well in a boot if need be,

and once you know
what you are doing with one?
That is a fine place to keep it.

Tomatoes

I come home
thinking of fall and 
craving tomatoes.

I go to my backyard beds
and pick whatever’s ripe
for my favorite summer meal:
thick-sliced plum tomatoes,
Gorgonzola cheese,
a few shreds of basil, 
balsamic vinegar,
light on the olive oil.

You once questioned me:
why not traditional Mozzarella?
I said it’s because I feel that 
strong blues make flavors pop
and without strong flavors,
what’s the point?  

You tasted it,
agreed, told me later
you could no longer imagine 
not using a strong blue cheese
in a tomato salad, and I was 
as well pleased as I could be
that we’d fallen once again into 
the same place on something — 

I remember this as I stare into
strong blues and bright reds
in this bowl, stare into oil bubbles, 
a brown slick of vinegar, remember
you weren’t here to help me
plant this year, to plant the beds
scant weeks after your passing;
you weren’t here to help me weed
and toss and water and feed;

realize again, as if for the first time,

that you aren’t here to help me savor
the likely last summer salad of the year,
picked ahead 
of the inevitable 
killing frost.


A Bowl Of Bruised Fruit

You have a bowl 
of bruised fruit.
A cloud of tiny flies.
A smell.

Some of it looks
salvageable. Some of it
is clearly spoiled. How much
of the rest is imminently beyond help

is yet unknown and the thought
of sorting it, taking each piece
and finding it soft
and rotten, finding its stain

upon your high and mighty hand?
You aren’t ready. You step away,
the brandied rot of the bowl
hanging in your nostrils.

It’s going to get worse
before it gets better, you know,
but if you ignore it
maybe someone else

will do the necessary dirty work
that lies ahead and you can pretend,
at least to yourself,
that you never knew. 


Three Chords And

Massively revised from 2008, 2015.  Original title, “It’s The ‘Spangled’ That We Love About That Song.”

once you were a chucked salt berry
a fogerty full of sloppy chords
a skip to my lou reed

then you got all slippery
with your own clean sauce

tossed out your faded paper bag

of dark wanderings
bought your commercial anthem
from the fluorescent aisle

come back to your game desire
come slaphappy sharp
to the war against plastic

you used to have
a mouth full of splinters

honored dingbat and idiot

and all those
who broke the social charm
with a fart

you were gas monster
huffer of free roaches
smoker of the right goddamn herbs

who feared not death
when it came through charred fences
borne on tornado cellar blown open

you were the scent
of acorn porridge

delta mysterious

that devil in the crossroads
still valued
your willing ass

you used to not be such a freak for safety
you used to not be
such a doom escape

children
hate you more
now that you’re safer

not a scrap
of care left
for your tradition

we love some of you still
even with your
crystal fraud hippie faking

and your
wall street loving
gutterpunk

bite me
or better yet 
infect yourself

be the sick fuck we loved to love
no matter how bad
you made us feel


Looking At My Cereal Bowl, I See Only That (I Swear)

That hairline crack in my favorite bowl
is going to split open one day, either from
an accidental contact in the sink
or the excitation of the microwave.

This is all I am thinking about
right now: a mess yet to come;
the shards in the soapy water
or the oatmeal splattered on the steel walls.

This is all I am thinking about 
right now: dread for the clean up;
the blood in the water when I seize
an edge or a point without seeing it.

This is the only thing I am thinking about:
how much I’ll miss that bowl even though its end
is obviously near; how much nourishment
it has held for me; how short is its remaining time.


Late Night Phone Call

I make a late night call
to one of the last self-confessed
Americans and ask them
if we can talk about
what that identity means when
we are being asphyxiated
with increasingly little regard
for what anyone thinks about it.

“Who is this?” they ask me.
I cannot speak.
They wait for a beat, maybe two,

before hanging up.
I sit there for a long time

unable to answer, quaking
in the chair until I drift into horror sleep,
waking up hours after that
to the phone. It’s them.

What do I say to them? After
they are done speaking,
do I dare ask, as they did, 
“Who is this?”

What do I do if they also
cannot answer?


Televised Hearings

Simple stoneware cup.
Forty-five degree angle shadow.
Cats dreaming of the outdoors.

In a city south of here
they are telling tales of betrayal
and treason. Criminal stories

broadcast to the world.
Less than half
the listening world

believes the thieves
are thieves and nothing
in the story convinces them

so they will continue 
to burn the world into
white ash and bone.

In this house, cats still
fantasizing escape. The empty cup
casts a longer shadow; reminder

that whatever is out there, 
my loved ones, is still just
as unsafe 
as what’s in here.


Shadow As Ink

When using my shadow
as ink, my most difficult task
is choosing the paper.

I have pulped and bleached
so much of myself
that I am blessed or cursed

with an abundance of surface
to write upon, remembering always
that to write upon it is as likely to be

disfigurement as it is decoration. 
I must take such care to choose
what is written, how it is written.

Readers who come to it when I am done
will have to decide
if this is fact or myth, and

must say if it is good and worthy
regardless, and whether the myth
(if it be myth) reflects truth or if the truth 

(if it be true) rises to myth. Even then,
after it is done, my head will be bruised
from the effort to make my own sense if it, 

to understand for myself
whether I’ve committed ruin
or glory in this work, this time —

and then, while staring down at my 
shadow-drenched hands, at all 
I’ve not yet sullied with that dark stain,

I will lean my head over the desk
one more time. Terrified, ecstatic, 
one hand moving, one holding the page

steady for the uncertain result
of the unsure labor of showing who I am
to the yet-unknown next reader.


Prayer For The Early Riser

Allow me the moment
before I open the blinds
for the impatient cats
who are waiting to see
the insistent birds rocking
suet cages back and forth
on their hangers as they work
for their meals.

Allow me the moment 
before the coffee maker kicks on
with bitter waft of flavor
and accompanying gurgle
to tell me that it’s time
and there’s work to be done
that will never be done
but that doesn’t excuse me
from settling in to do what I can.

Allow me the moment
before I realize I needed
more sleep than I got
but I need to stay up
and face the exploding world
with all the words and work
I possess, with every last tool
in my hands, to shore up
whatever might endure the fire
and flood that’s looming.

Allow me this moment
before the next one,
allow me my delusion 
that if I’m lucky or smart or good
on this morning in this life
rushing to conclusion

that what I do next
once I start this day might last beyond
the night that will certainly follow.
It’s what I have, all I have in fact;

Light Outside, allow me this.
Night Ahead, allow me this.
Whatever Offers Such Things, I ask:
allow me just this.


Kilgore

Frank sat in the back of the room
talking to someone named Kilgore.

Kilgore, he said,
you don’t say much.

Come sit and I’ll buy you one,
whatever you want. 

Kilgore, he said, how come
you don’t talk anymore?

There was a time
you couldn’t shut up.

There was a time
we would talk for hours

and who talked more
than you did back then?

Gift, we called it,
gift of gab

and drink would unwrap
the gift even more. 

Kilgore, Frank said,
what happened to us?

I can’t even see you
and no one can hear you.

You must have an opinion,
a piece of advice.

You must know something
you’re not telling me.

It’s Goddamned cold here,
and I can’t face it. Talk to me, Kilgore.

Call me up sometime and tell me
what you used to tell me, soft and low,

all the good things. Or shout it out
the way you used to, the way 

you used to bellow. Kilgore,
talk to me, man. Talk to me.

Frank sat alone
in the back of the room,

at a table by himself
in the stacks. All around him,

books and books
full of unheard words,

and Kilgore nowhere
to be seen.


Meta-Argument

The argument was
about a stone.

Was it a gravestone,
headstone, or tombstone?

It became an argument
about arguing.

An argument about arguing.
How best to proceed?

Continue to 
argue about the arguing,

or get back to the stone
of the moment?

In the interest of wearing
the ground around the burial

to a full circle
of bare packed earth,

we argued about
that — an argument about

arguing about arguing,
and so we roared on,

circling the headstone or
or gravestone

or tombstone or stele.
A marker that showed the world

where something had ended.
Where living had come to an end.