Piano On Fire

Piano on fire
in the courtyard of this old mill
where the train used to roll right inside.

How the piano got here we don’t know
but now it’s on fire. Seems right.
The finish bubbling, the big strings snapping.

This calls for a chaos pianist.
The bench is over there,
not blazing;

a brave musician could do something 
with all this: play, perhaps,
a train song on fire.

Pull the bench up,
not too close, hit those
scalding keys,

the piano detuning the whole time.
Whoever knows 
how to orchestrate melody

from such destruction
is going to do fine here.
We don’t know how the piano got here

but until it’s consumed
we know exactly 
how to make it sing,

how to bring the ghost train
back to life, smoke-strung,
resurrected long enough

to fly off the rails
and tear them up as it goes;
how to call that an anthem

and build a nation around it
as we warm our hands 
on the last of the piano’s embers.


Worthy Of Suspicion

Longtown Larry
and his big-headed friend
with the unknown name
(though they’re always together)
sit talking in the town beach parking lot at sunset
in Larry’s blue Dodge Ram truck
parked at an angle to the lines
far away from the remaining few cars 
again

They’re talking about 
White supremacy or maybe sandwiches
hunting dogs or muzzle velocity
or how to dismantle the colonial state

Either that or they’re in love
and this is all they ever do about it
in this beach town where everyone
knows Longtown Larry
and his truck and the friend
with the big head and no name
who isn’t from here

It’s worthy of suspicion
on so many fronts


Starting To Break

Impudently reaching
for justice, the people
dared to approach those
unused to such encroachments
upon their high places;

people who spoke
imperfectly, did not spell
as prescribed, who now and then
set things on fire below the pedestals
where the powers

were beginning to tremble
as the people surged up.

Insisting upon justice,
people moved forward:

then, the sound of stone cracking. Not 
deeply, not all the way through,

but certainly
something was starting to break,
something was starting to fall.


The Holy Land

One of my gods lives
off Pound Hill Road
near the overgrown source
of a spring. I could drive you there
in forty-five minutes.
We can get there by sunrise
if we leave now, 
and we should leave now.

Another god stays
out behind my shed
where they sit centered
in a ring
of mushrooms. 
(You call it a “fairy ring?”
I don’t.  No fairies here —
they didn’t come over with you,
no matter how you hope for that.
I have another name
for what does live here, and
I’m not telling.) 

I only go there 
when passing
from this side of the yard
to the woodpile where
there may in fact be
another god who’s squatting there
until I burn it all up. 

Neither god
seems concerned at all with me.
That suits me just fine.
I give them the space
they deserve and need;
they stay happy.

None of these gods,
in fact, care much about
what I do. They are
non-interventionist.
I pay attention to them
because the landscape 
demands I know them
and that ought to be enough.

I know your God — a singular
God, a capitalized God —
lives elsewhere. You get around that
by saying God is everywhere at once.

I’ve asked mine about that.
They say they’ve never seen your God
around here and having known them
for years, I think I’ll trust them on this.

The car is warmed up.
Are you coming with me?
Maybe you’ll see something
worth seeing, maybe not;

maybe you’ll deny everything
from your God to my gods
to the sacred nature of red ripe
tomatoes. Maybe you’ll be right.
Suit yourself. I’m leaving now.


No Fun

I don’t want fun. Fun’s 
for the done, the no more
joy in the work
so let’s cut and run bunch.

I do want joy. Joy’s different —
a place at once inside
and outside self. A light over all,
warming from within, a change

to air itself. Fun blows though
like a boat cutting calm apart.
Joy is the lake itself
before, during, and after;

even when disrupted, even
under attack, joy holds up. I could
sink into that.  I could drown 
in joy for real. Death in joy? Perfect,

normal, natural. There are those
who would disagree, would say pain
negates joy, death its ultimate enemy —
no. If I fall before the bullets

I won’t be having fun, but closing my eyes
on the site of struggle, shutting down
at the end of a battle knowing others
will fight on? What joy in that!


Waking From Arithmetic Sleep

Four months now
of arithmetic sleep
instead of rest. Doing

the math of rent and
utilities, his own food
versus the cat budget,
chewing on his 
inadequacies by the numbers,
his heartbreaks by the score,
until just now. 

Hard to say why;
maybe a nightbird’s call
heard during
his meager sleep
pierced his dreams
and changed them;
maybe yesterday’s storm
purged his atmosphere;
no telling. Not our place
to know for certain,
as he did not. 

All that can be said
is that he woke up
without a spreadsheet
in his head for the first time
in four months and 
while he knew it was 
just tucked away
for a moment and not gone,

he felt light enough without it 
to step out on the
soggy ground before coffee
and look at the washed streets
and the fearless sparrows
on the feeders. 


Forensic Love Song

Originally posted, 2008. Revised.

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

“the answer is always in the body”
— heard in passing; a line from a TV crime show

1.
licked and prodded,
it still refuses to express
a secret

2.
in the dark, lit blue,
misted with laden rain,
our signatures revealed:
clouds on our still skin

3.
the mottled shapes
of shared blood can be read
as a novel: here the plot
is thick, here thicker;

here is a second theme;
here, the pooling, the co-mingling,
so confusing to the outsider

though we understand
what has happened here

4.
cooling happens
at a predictable rate
once all factors are accounted for

something unknown to science
must be holding all this heat

5.
the answers
are always in the body

the body is always
asking


Four Freedoms

1.
When they got off their boats
in those first years, they had with them
worship, fear, and want. Used guns
and disease to spread what they’d brought
and cleared the land so their speech, theirs alone,
could ring out. You use what you have when you need
to run a genocide just to get by. 

2.
They endlessly retell all their lovely myths
about how plantations ran, but in truth
fear and want and worship were made anew there
and no amount of speech can bind the wounds
from whip or rape.

3.
Freedom of speech, freedom of worship,
freedom from want, freedom from fear.

They’ve declared themselves the default
so all those terms are theirs to define.

Which of their four freedoms
do you think they love the most? 

Which of their four freedoms
is most easily weaponized?

4.
It’s not like they’ve ever stopped trying.
A prison here, a reservation there;
a blood quantum chant, a hypocrite anthem;
a redline, a voting line, a pipeline, a rope;
smug worship, suffocating want, cold-back fear;
speaking up is a gas worthy, gun worthy game to them. 

It’s not like they’ve ever stopped trying.
Mask-off sneering at the safety of others;
insistent demands for managers and cops;
churches set on fire, an ape with a Bible
offering fear to the terrified and want to the starving;
a border wall stabbed through the bones of silent ancestors.

5.
Speak of new freedoms now:

freedom from their way of worship — 
how tiring it becomes to hear them speak of God
and show us nothing but the demonic;

freedom from their notion of speech
that makes heroes of their mythic killers
and tell us we never died at their hands;

freedom to want more than what they offer,
to want the return of things that they’ve stolen
and drained of meaning, turning them into mere style;

and as for freedom to fear? We see them holding that now;
gingerly, at last seeing how it feels (a little) not to be
in full hard control of their own story.

 


Shamed

I’m supposed to be
punching a Nazi right now
but I can’t open the door
to go out and find one.

I’m supposed to be tearing down
a statue right now

but I can’t keep my grip on anything —
rope, stone, life.

I’m ashamed of the illnesses
that keep me from standing

and walking and breathing
with the armies of the righteous.

I’m tired of starting every sentence
with “I.” I am trying

to decide how to matter
without myself mattering the most.

To slip into the river
of the moment and vanish
may be all I can muster.
To disappear. To not leave

a damned thing behind
except anything someone better
could use. I would like to be
of some use, even if it

requires my absence.
Let there be an axis without me
upon which new things may turn.
Let the turning

pass me, let the passage
be swift enough that
I vanish quickly from view,
slow enough

that by the time you come back
to where I was,
there’s nothing of note —
not a statue,

not a bloody eye,
not a handprint on a rope.
Take what you need from me
and let me go, let me go.


I Will Be Broken

I will be broken
by the demise of
this country, 
of course. How could
I not be — it made me.
I can only modify what I am
just so far — cannot 

transform entirely. Not now,
not this late. 

You tell me,

of course you can change.
Of course 
you can shift yourself 
aside of the tumbling 
stones and statues, the smoking
crash of the ruins — you can
survive and even thrive.
You can be something else.

No. I know better, and I know
even more than better —
I know a limited amount of best.

Best for me
is to stand open handed under
the looming wall of the thing
that was built for me and those 
like me and catch the rubble
as it begins to crumble,

try to keep it from crushing
the ones without safety
or a place to hide.

It will take me eventually
but I will be damned if 
I let it take anyone I have
the ability to save.


Losing It

Losing it —
colloquialism for 
a break in your
social equilibrium

which rarely was more
than a mask on
the face of your inner
disaster zone

What you’ve lost
is the mask and 
when you examine
the world

you might be
better off as a
screaming
representation

of what
the proper
reaction to the world
should be

More should lose it
More should scream
More of us should shed
these shells

What we’ll be left with
Soft faces
Mouths open
Howling en masse

Losing it
Losing so much
we used
as armor

Fear must precede 
the new
that must replace
what we must lose


You Should Be In A Band

If you look like you should be in a band,
you should be in a band. 

You may already be in a band, or maybe
you are in camouflage, in disguise as a member

of a band. If someone asks if you’re in a band,
whether or not you are

you’d better be able to tell them
the name — 
and if they ask what you play,

you’d better say you are a vocalist —
unless you play something?

Do you play something, play well enough
to be able to comfort the eagerness of the questioner?

They’re going to ask you if there’s anything your band does
they might have heard. Shrug it off; be modest.

Be the band member you’d wished you had met at fifteen,
the one too cool to boast. Be the one who answers

all questions and maybe you give an autograph, 
a hard to read scribble on a stray napkin.  

After the encounter, get back in your car.
Write a damn song, would you? The band is depending on you.

If you aren’t in a band,
you know where to start.


Flowers Of An Unknown Species

First day of summer,
yard work, looking at
flowers of an unknown
species.  Yellow, dainty,
on long stems springing
from the abandoned bed
where we once grew
early salad — mustard
greens perhaps? I have
forgotten what was there
now; it was years ago
that we grew
more than weeds 
in those beds.
This may not
even be something
descended from what
we planted. I take one
into my mouth — bitter
as ironweed, astringent
bright on my tongue;
spit it out praying it’s just
distasteful and not
poisonous.

Back inside, out of the heat,
I turn on the television
and turn it back off again
at once. Astringent and 
dark, the visions there,
and surely poisonous
as that weed was not. 
This news growing from beds
we abandoned long ago —
was it something we planted
or an invasive species? 

A god’s voice says,
eat of this and know
the truth. I bend a knee
to the floor, hungry,
terrified, and not sure 
I’ve got the strength 
to rise. 


Belonging

The greatest longing, always,
has been to belong, to find
a place to belong, or even
to belong in whatever place
I was in.  Whatever place

I found myself in, I decided
I would belong there. I tried.
I tried to belong — not fit in —
I could always fit in — I wanted

that lived-in look, that perfect
archetype look. Sometimes I’d get
close, but then I’d wake up at dawn
or before and see the dim street
and say, this is not a place for me,

I do not belong. I’m too — elsewhere
for this. Too off-world origin story,
too mystery parentage
for this settlement. Whatever,
I’d then say, that’s all too much
romance for a potato-man like me,
and I’d move on. 

Moving on is where I belong.


3500 poems…

3819. That’s the number of days that have elapsed since January 1, 2010.

3500. That’s the number of new poems I’ve posted on this blog since then, counting today’s post. A little under a poem a day for a little under 10.5 years.

I have more than that on the blog from before that date, transferred here from LiveJournal (no idea how many — too much work to figure it out when so few had tags back then); have digital files of a couple thousand more going back to about 1996; more in notebooks and binders back to the early 70s; more lost to time and the mysteries of moving and mildew, I’m sure.

So — I don’t want to double that number for an overall total, but maybe 6000 or so total lifetime? Maybe there are only a few out of that that are worth holding onto, but I still hold on to them.

If it seems obsessive to do this, you should know that I refer to this record keeping as “the Pursuit of the Meaningless Goal.” It was something suggested to me by a therapist years ago as one way of controlling one aspect of the symptoms of bipolar disorder — I won’t say more than that.

It’s part of the continuing effort to say that the Work, the body of Work, is more important than any one poem to me.

I’m going to take a few days off, I think. I have things to do elsewhere. Just needed to note the moment.

Thanks for reading.  Plenty more to read here.