Wisteria

Originally posted, 2010; revised, 2014; revised again 2019.

i called her wisteria.
wisteria,
in its short bloom.

thought of her as warm days
and cold nights 
in mud season
when grass blades 

start their rise from the soil.

she was remarkable.

she left me, i was lost,
though it was a night

and a day and a night again
before i could cry

for her, a long numb sweep
of hours in succession.

i wept in the privacy of the bedroom
that was newly empty.

i emptied myself.

i cried more as the walls inside me melted
and i sweated them out.
i was paper thin afterward.

light passed through me
and from within i was lit.

this is grief, i said, and it is a cold wind. 
this is unseasonable weather.  
the flowers on the early vines shriveling.  
this is her doing, i told myself.  

i said, i have been illuminated by her.
because of her, i shine.  

she was much more than my purpose.
so much more than i had ever thought to say of her,
sun of a distant unglimpsed sky over a world i hadn’t explored.

not only wisteria, 
but forsythia; violets;
thistles, oaks, redwoods, fig vines.

she was the very bones of spring and beyond.
cut her down with my small interpretation.

she was a sun i will not see again.

here in a twilight of weeping 
i indulge the urge
to endlessly recreate the moment 
when i lost my chance
to stop and listen to her
and let her expand within me 
as i should have. 

what a fool. 

the moment of loss is deep weather, 
a season of interruption
when the simplest answers go unnoticed.  

i should have been motionless
and perhaps
i could have held her here,

or perhaps not. perhaps

it was because i thought of her as
wisteria, delicate and frail,
that when she heard me
she was gone.

i still shine with her still within me
but try as i might
i still light nothing beyond me.


Friday Night Guitar Poem

On a Friday night
I have a date with 
my guitar
a bundle of weed
and all my insecurity

because in the afternoon
I was bound by frail family
to their service
and in the morning I felt
every twinge of my chronic diseases

I need to get back to the doctor
but I can’t make myself go
because of what they might tell me
and I can’t let my family go
because of what they might call me

while we’re at it
I am only surreptitiously fighting the beasts
who are owning the world right now

I ought to buy a gun
to kill a fascist 

but I know
my hands make me a terrible shot
unless the gun is pressed 
against my head

I do the research 
compile names
addresses and hatreds
but who is going to care
among my gentle friends 
who are sure that love will conquer all
once they are bulldozed 
into the poisoned earth
I need to seize the guitar
the way I used to hold my pen
before I stopped writing poems
in favor of playing guitars
with these broken hands
full of dead nerves that hate me
as I have grown to hate so much

all I want is one good touch
all I want to love is one good person

but instead I fear the voice inside saying
fuck black brown white
center left and right
America
and the rest of the world
(the dolphins too)
and all the love the great unknown holds tight
instead of letting it flow

I want to hold my guitar
and play it loud
drown out the butchers
claiming my dying ears
for their own

singing me hemorrhage songs
drawing me into their arms

I’m tired of you if you think this is
remotely a good poem
remotely a prayer
can’t see this is a wound opening with a hiss
once cherished blood
(yours and mine) flowing out
on a Friday night

you ought to
thank God for this guitar
in my hands
which is not at all a gun


Assuming Forever

By assuming “forever”
is our future,
we lose our past
in its mist.

We step into 
fog and forget
what clarity
we had,

what we stepped 
away from to find
this. We assume
forever,

then are swallowed
by coming dark.
All the signs
of ending might be

right behind us,
might have been
in plain sight, might even
have been discussed

incessantly 
and we’d still
never see their like
in forever’s fog,

the haze that covers
our imminent end.
Whenever we claim
forever for a future

we assure that there will be
no such thing. It’s
too good a myth
for us to deny.


That Scent

Scent: 
grand trigger,
concealed weapon, 
unexpected clue.

Standing on
a corner, watching
pale people 
walk by:
some solo and
others in pairs
crushing tight
under umbrellas
in light rain.

I smell them
going by. I
smell their fear,

can almost understand
if not sympathize — 

yet thereafter
step out

unprotected:
less than concerned
with my own imminent
drenching

as I’m too familiar
with that
to fear it;
no concern for 
whatever future bullet
that smell might foretell;

those pale folks
don’t have a clue
what a deluge
feels like, 

while I’ve lived under one
my whole life.


The Old Man Speaks Of War

I’ve seen a war approach before
and know how it made me feel;
I crackled with murky energy,
learned how to burn
and how to dodge burning.

I have gone to war before
and adored how it made me move;
I ran forward, stopped short,
cleaned and leaned upon my weapon, 
swallowed my fear,
freed the Evil in my hands.

I’ve come home from war before
and sat for hours staring into clouds,
drinks, eyes, mirrors, carved stones
and Tarot cards. It never felt like home
again, no matter what fortune told.

And now, here comes a war again;
I have no body to offer it; my hands can’t hold,
my feet won’t charge; 
my heart’s all for it
but my skin holds me back; 
if I had a child,

I’d offer it up to war:
I’d weep and wail but also,
I’d see that kid as my arm, my hand
stretched out to touch the old energy: 
cross my heart and hope to never die.


As Happy As A Dead Person

As happy as
a dead person

(specifically, that one
emerging from

the pile of leaves
in the corner lot).

That one whose face
has just been exposed

by this teensy tiny wind
that popped up just after dawn. 

The neighbors on either side
must either have known it was there

or have been improbably oblivious,
as that huge smile

took a while
to come to the surface

from the look of
the rest of the face,

all white and naked
bone. Setting speculation

on why it’s here
and how it went unseen

this long aside, 
can’t help thinking that

as happy
as it looks now to me

as it smiles and peers
black-holed out

of the oak and maple
clutter in the lot (which is

now I see also full
of trash bags and other

hopefully neutral humps
in the underbrush),

as happy as it appears
to me taking 

my plodding wobble 
of a morning walk

past here as I do
every morning,

that’s a level of happy
I could aspire to,

and after all these months
of unsteady and hurt,

I finally don’t care how
I might get there.


Those Proud Boys

As terrified of glitter
as if it were poison,
those boys dance around
with sticks in their fists,

claiming they are impervious
to fear. Claiming birthrights
and heritages they’ve made up,
devoid of sweetness and flash,

these boys prepare a sham parade
for their false history of a future country
whose only social rituals
will be shouting matches and funerals.

Terrified of glitter and resentful
of rainbows, this clump of boys — 
this clot of twisted ball sweat, this lump
of damage and lost anger — 

steps up smartly to their idiot march.
If there’s a God, God will surely toss
a handful of shine behind them to clean up
the stink they leave behind.


Tiny Spiders Of Cultural Appropriation

You know the old saying
about never being more
than a few feet away

from a spider,
no matter where 
you are — 

sources say
it’s not true, bit
of an urban legend,

but people love it
and repeat it
to illustrate some deep fear

of how close danger
or simple unpleasantness always may be,
of how close nature is,

how we’re not-as-dominant 
as we’d like to presume we are
even in the splendor

of our well-built homes
and the perfect turf
of their invasive lawns

and planned non-native gardens,
our imported birds,
our disruptive states of easy being;

strange how no one speaks this way
of the demonstrable swarm
of tiny spiders known as cultural appropriation,

the savage venom brewed
of captured spirit
and web-caught dreams;

how we are never more
than three feet away
from something stolen

that is often underfoot, that other times
is floating by in music and air;
we don’t shudder thinking about what’s inside us,

what has made a home within;
most only dimly aware
of how the tiny spiders hold sway,

crawling upon us daily, 
minutely, second to second;
why we don’t run screaming into deep water

to cleanse ourselves
of all this is a mystery;
it is as if a screen has fallen

before our eyes, websilk
woven thick and strong 
that shields us

from seeing the tiny spiders
of cultural theft we are never more 
than skin-thick away from,

tiny spiders like ghosts
of a past we took, visions
of futures that never will be.


This Mood Of Mine

This mood of mine, 
serotonin desert,
endorphin drought — oh,
science be damned:
to put it plain, I’m killing me
and I don’t know why.

It’s been so long
since a manic storm
took its toll upon me
that I almost miss it.
Almost. Folks assume
those highs are a pleasure;

let me tell you: no,
no and no again. The crest
of that wave rises too high
and the adrenaline lift
only makes you too loose
to handle the damage

when you plunge
to the trough 
that waits below.
Right now, though, 
I’d welcome the ride
as a change of pace,

for mood of mine, bipolar’s
trench, shallow grave
that deepens
as I lie in it,
I swear I will fight you
as long as I can.

This too shall pass, some say.
This too shall fade away
and I will remain, 
but none who speak of this can say 
what will be left:
a man alive or a mummy,

a nest of bones weathered
to leather scraps and white junk
or a croaking mess begging
for anything wet at all
to drown in. To put it plain
I am
 killing me

and although
it might save me
to do so,
to trickle forth a little pain
for public view,
I can’t even cry.


They Think Themselves Divine

applauding themselves,
pretending that sound 
is the call of the hands of God,

pretending so hard and so well
they begin to think
themselves divine,

forgetting they are as human
as the executed and imprisoned
whose pain they claim to sanctify,

turning down the sound
of their own frightened breathing
and covering their eyes as Death begins

taking all those they’ve demonized, as Fear
begins dragging all those they’ve targeted
and stigmatized into the Dark,

not recognizing that Darkness 
is their own long shadow,
not seeing how it hangs behind them,

following them with every step,
swallowing all their perceived divinity whole
before choking on it and spitting it out.


Requirements

Revised.  Originally posted March, 2018.

Start picturing
a starving eagle in tears,
exhausted to the point that
it cannot feed
after all those years
of having to hang there:

wings up,
talons full.

Start wondering
what’s under 
your Uncle Sam’s 
hat and 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 thinking about dollar bills
in your pocket, your hand,
against your bare skin.
Imagine who paid for what
with them before they came to you.

Start seeing 
that flag
as a door
anytime you see it,

a locked door
with a code
to enter. 

Start imagining how hard 
you will have to kick to take down that door.

Think about what might be on
the other side.

Keep at it until your foot spites your fear
and twitches without you willing it.


Wrong Answers Only

Here is a mirror
I look at daily.
First thing in the morning,
last thing at night;

I asked it all 
my easy questions
long ago,
when I did not mind
the truth;

now, though,
I whisper my worst questions
first thing in the morning
and last thing at night,
exhorting it to offer

“wrong answers only”

before turning my back on it,
as I know it cannot lie.


An Estimate

This is
an estimate
of size:

to say
as large as or 
as wide as

then to
bring in
a vast noun

such as
sun or ocean or
human love

and say this
is as large as
that

This is 
an estimate
of intensity:

to say 
razor or
hammer or vise

then to
speak of
a body part

and offer
a contradiction
such as

a chest squeezed
softly until agony
became a bed

This is how
to speak
of pain:

to say one feels
as would
a red giant star

warming slowly
to full scorch
just as one might describe

how it feels when
a vise is tightened
quarter turn at

a time until
jaws meet
through pinched skin

as thick
screams
ensue

to offer comparisons
until one’s head 
cannot hold them

this is how
to write about
a sickness

that will never
let go
until one reaches

a place
beyond

comparisons:

an estimate of After


Edge Of The Bed

My body is trying
to kick me out.

Each morning
I must sit for a moment
on the edge of the bed
and take inventory
of what hurts and how

in case the body has found
new vulnerability, or pushed
a known one to the verge 
of breaking.

My body is trying
to put me out.

I check to see
where the locks are strongest,
where they are most tested.

My body is trying
to throw me out.

Which door is weakest
and what is it exactly
that is trying so hard

to push me through it
into whatever

is out there to take me
after the body is done
holding me?

From here
on the edge of the bed in the dark
before full light
I can feel 
my body winning,

pain growing and spreading
wherever it seizes me

to pull me closer
to ejection.

Then what?
More to the point:

once evicted from the body,
will I be me
without that home?

Will the pain stop?


Ruled By The Dead

Repetition of 
“not my fault”

produces no magic,
no spelled-out protection

from consequences.
A chant of “what’s past

is past” builds
no walls, forges no shields

for this past-molded
present moment.

“No one alive today…”
means nothing at all 

when all we do
depends on a country

founded by the dead
and still ruled by

what they wanted to hold
in their once-hot little hands.

They did make us what we are
but we only have to live that way

until we decide to wake up
and live as those truly living should:

in this moment,
this time, facing this day

as it is, knowing
what has passed without 

bowing and scraping 
before it as if it owned

all we are
and could ever be.