Monthly Archives: January 2010

Dimes And Pennies In Paper Rolls

Dime by dime
and penny by penny
you fill the paper rolls for the rent
and dream of folding money
in piles and drifts you’ll need to wade
to get to the door between you
and real life
while the rattle of old windows
mocks you scolding that
you’re not going far
with cold feet and thin socks
and cheap shoes and worn coats

Here’s news for you
this is the real life
vibrating with potential
and success defined in making do
and getting by with lovemaking
at odd hours and rough moments
when there’s nothing to do
and the cable’s unpaid
and the phone’s shut off
and the gas might go any minute
so you draw together and laugh
at the way your breath comes faster
as you kiss against the broken bed
and the gritty walls of bargain paint

So faster and harder than poverty can smash your mouths
you smash your mouths in love and hard wanting
and softer than the cold wind can slip under the door
you slip into the good sleep of afterwards

Those who dare to make things work
make them work rich or poor
and satisfaction comes to the wealthy
at least as much through sex
as it does through anything else

So don’t lie alone until the day you’ll be rich
as it may not come

Bring yourself to joy
with pennies and dimes in paper rolls
and find the embraces
in the always generous night

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Loving The Killers

There are men
I admire, men
I’d never want to be,
who live only in movies.

They swing hard and
shoot straight,
breathe easily
afterward.

I know
there’s nothing real
about such ruthless
competence

at movement
and violent
problem solving.
This is why I can stare

and gasp
at the reddening ease
of their lives,
their stone confident faces

and their swift clean up,
the knives stroked against
their thighs before they are folded
and put away for next time.

I am in thrall to this myth
of success at all costs
that leaves no trace upon
the successful.  The heroes

enter my life for a time
and leave me gasping
at such a possibility, even as I struggle
to get myself off the couch

and do something, anything
that might come to fruition
in a small way in my small life.
Give me one moment from your disdain

to love these killers,
to love the efficiency
of their elimination of obstacles
as I cannot seem to do it for myself.

It’s the only satisfaction I can find
in the steady drip of a faded life.
It’s a beauty, a terrible attractiveness
I abhor, but I cannot look away.

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In The Light Of The Day After

Reading the online news of my world, I see
that Victor writes of this morning’s light
that it is “bright but harsh.”
I agree, and go back to bed
until the afternoon
has softened into overcast.  Ah, that’s better.

My mood, now?  The heartbeat’s
back to normal, I can look at the paper,
only begin to weep when I hear
the recording of her voice exhorting us all
to live.  I hear my own voice at the end
offering love, uttering the catchphrase

we’ve all learned to use over these last weeks
to exhort her to do the same.  Last night,
under the bright but harsh wolf moon,
she went on her way and now we’ve got a decision to make
about exactly what we’re supposed to do
with that inconvenient command,

“live.”  If the morning after is so harsh
that we crawl back to bed to avoid it,
should we dare to claim to have heard anything she said?
I know it’s only been a few hours
and we easily have an excuse — but would she
have done so?  I don’t know; she loved the night so much

that maybe waiting
for it to start before we start makes sense.
But maybe we’re supposed to take action
under whatever light the world throws at us.
Maybe having the right light before we begin
isn’t the point.

The clouds have moved in this afternoon,
so that wolf moon won’t be in the sky tonight,
at least not so we can see.  I’m going out
no matter what.  I’ll rely on the light of what I can’t see:
the moon, the light reflecting off the teeth of legendary wolves,
the red hair of a novice angel,

the glow in the center of the word,
“live.”

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What Is Poetry?

I first wrote this poem in 2008 for a sick friend, the extraordinary poet Brenda Moossy, who eventually passed from cancer.  Tonight, almost a year to the day from Brenda’s transition, the slam community is mourning the passing and celebrating the life of Gabrielle Bouliane, who left us tonight after a brief struggle with cancer.  In her last days, G was surrounded with the light and love of the whole extended slam poetry community.  I offer this again, amended now with her in mind.

All of the events recounted in the poem are things that I’ve witnessed in my many years in the Slam Family.  Those of us who’ve been around for a while may recall these incidents; others in the family may have heard of some of them; still others may not know of them at all.  I hope that even those of you who know or care nothing for slam as a form of poetry will still get a sense of how we are with each other, and why we are so close, even when we disagree.

When it comes right down to it, we’re a family.  And this is for my family, above all.

Bunny up, Gabrielle, and all of us.  Love to all, tonight and always…

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

WHAT IS POETRY?

1.
a hat in the middle of a quickly cleared dance floor
in a connecticut italian club

regie announces
“brenda’s purse got stolen
along with all the cash she needed to get home to arkansas
you know what to do”

and that hat is filled in five minutes
with more cash than brenda started with

2.
i don’t even remember your names
but there we were
in a dogs only downpour
strolling uncovered toward
an impromptu reading in the massachusetts woods
and not caring about the cold and wet
because everyone was together

3.
pat’s blurred vision
sucking down all the faces
for the last time
in a nyc high style lounge
because someone went and found him
in tompkins square park
huddled under newspapers
and said
“we’re all there
you need to be there”
and they got him past the bouncers
got him in for the last time

4.
ken talking incessantly
about sleater kinney and the wars against us all
for hours and hours on a bus
breaking the flow only when we sang
“uncle fucker” to reverend bill as loud as we could
over a cell phone
and none of us on that bus being embarrassed
to dance right down the steps
and into a baltimore club
to james brown
because we were going into share
words with friends

5.
high desert outside albuquerque
four of us fruitlessly watching
a clouded sky
for the perseid shower
and not feeling the need
to say a thing

6.
angela in a cheer costume
shaking pompoms and wheezing
“gimme a p-o-e-t-r-y”
at a crowd of people who never thought
of cheering for such a thing

7.
scowling at
“these kids these days”
with another guy named bill
in a seattle diner
while two crustpunks
drop poems of the road
on a microphone that hasn’t been silent
for a week
but both of us keeping our ears cocked
and noting every word
saying at the end
“that wasn’t bad”

8.
listening to you running lines
in an empty theater before a bout
putting an arm around you when you broke down
afraid that people had forgotten you were also a poet
assuring you that no one
had ever doubted that for a second

(gabrielle, when you first saw this poem
you loved it
and now, you are in it
what can I say except
we’re poets
and this is what poets do for each other)

9.
shadowing
the modern stars of all this twaddle
and all of us knowing there’s someone we don’t know
watching
out there
hearing this and saying
“i could do that better
if i ever get the nerve
if i ever get the chance”
and each of us praying that they do
and each of us looking for our role
in making it happen

10.
the mystery
of a blank screen
an open notebook
and wondering how it is
that all things are there before us
but we’re not capable
of bringing them forth
when we can see them right there
before us
plain as paradise

and trying anyway

11.
knowing i would never have known you
without this
and being more than grateful
that I have learned who I am
because of you

12.
holding your dear
shaking hands
unmercifully but with all the simple courage
i can give you
I say
you
you are this
you are one
alone
but not alone

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Want

Want, want.

It’s repeated in every country
in full throat or just
buzzed through a close mouth.

Want, want — explosive
as a virgin who’s letting go,
a snake on a burning tree,
a trapped bird in the terminal, a badger
before the dogs and guns, want, want;
man living in the ruins for days
under slab and dirt and stench,
want, want; baby in a pool
sinking and closing down, want,
want. 

Giving up not in the cards
for anyone, none of us
immediately heeding a call to surrender
to the denial of want, want;
wanting is the principal thing,
longing for the ongoing
recreation of first burst
of air into waiting lungs
upon emergence into light and air;
the idea of need
only present in the awareness
of a future where it’s obvious
that want will not be satisfied
again. 

Want, want;
demand it and if it does not happen,
it is not for lack of desire
for we are always wanting
to be,
to breathe, to love
and live, yearning
as if life
were measurable,
tangible,
something we could hold
close
forever.

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Fifty Ahead

Which means
separating want
from need.  Defining
each, knowing
how to crawl into
the skin of desire
and burst free, how to
swallow need and make it
naturally yours and not
a duty to be resented.

It means
not spending
your limited allotment of grief
on foreseeable losses,
saving it for those that take you
unsuspecting,
allowing it the time it needs,
not wallowing because
you’ve felt it often enough now
to know its strength,
and it can only hold you
if you submit.

It means
less time ahead
than behind, agreeing
to that equation because
there is no other answer, and
not searching for a new math;
there’s no call anymore for hexadecimal spells
or binary hokum to convince yourself otherwise.

It means
another’s love is no gift
to be expected
on a given occasion,
but a perpetual astonishment,
a welcome proof of chaos theory.

Fifty ahead,
like a six-point buck
in a two-lane mountain road:

not at all unusual,
potentially deadly,
formidable from any angle.
A blessing to see if you can swerve,
and if he does not immediately
vanish into the dark wood.

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One Does Not Fall Apart, One Simply Falls

There’s a point
in the progress of crisis
where one becomes water
and falls out of one’s accustomed vessel
onto the floor.  One loses one’s shape
and spreads thin, covers
everything.  Soaking through
and darkening the fabric, one
becomes transformative — recreating
the surface appearance.  One will eventually
evaporate, of course: the cursed truth
of this process.  But, there’s a sliver lining
to the cloud one will rise and form
at that point: one will fall again
as water, fill the vessel and return to
original state.  One is never at a loss
for identity.  One changes
but is unchanged, emotionally
things may seem different but one
is still the same essence.  One should take care
to be comfortable with such changes, understanding
that stability is constant, no matter the form
one takes.

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Money

I want a child,
a child I never had,
and I want to name it
Money.

I’ll lay Money
in a bed, snugged in warm
in cotton fleece, tease its eyes open
as soon as is safe
and know me as Father,

but I don’t want Money
to feel obligated to care for me
when I am helpless and old,
when I am laid in my own sick bed
and waiting to go.

I want a child and I will name it Money
and see it through its youth
and let it go, I am willing to let it be
a lesser part of my life
once it’s ready to go out
into the world.

I just want to know
I can care for it, enough
to take my joy in its presence
without dependence upon it.

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Go Hard

The injunction
is simple:
go hard, or don’t go.

The last thing you want
is to be known for
a soft first step
on the diamond
road. 

Your horse
is diamond, your saddle
is diamond, your spurs
diamond novas digging
into the diamond hide
of your ride.

Strike a hard spark
and set a fire when you ride out.
Go hard, or don’t go —

it doesn’t matter to those waiting
at the end of the road,
someone will come.  Someone always
comes.  If it’s not you,

who will care?  No one but you
cares who brings the fire.

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The Last Of The Empire

Seeming
to stop short
of burning through,

just a little less
than engulfed,
the palace

is not falling into
a heap of embers,
rather is charred

and fragile, but remains
upright for now,
the shape of authority

preserved even as
the greasy smoke
from the masters’ pyre

covers our countryside
and poisons us, our families,
our livestock chokes

on it, but their house
stands there, shadow
of its frame long over

the land, and no one
will knock it down
no matter how rickety

it becomes, we’ll wait
for it to fall as its absence
frightens us, when it goes

on its own we’ll deal then,
but no one wants
to have the cause of that emptiness

on their shoulders alone:
let it fall, leave the bones in the ashes
where they burned themselves,

we will die of their poison
before we ever let it be known
that we will not miss their tyranny.

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Average

I wasn’t born
jaded
and never got there later,
either.

Like my job (more or less),  a beer
and a dumb movie on Friday,
NASCAR on a Sunday,
sex anytime.

Will argue politics
but just for fun,
believing in my heart
in live and let live
as long as I get to
do the same, figure it’s all
screwed for most of us in
the long run and all you can do
is stay under the radar
and pay the bills
as long as you can. 
I know some can’t,
been there more than once myself,
probably will again,
but I always
come up for air.

Imagine:
all of this can be done and said
unironically.  If you can’t
see that, if that’s your nightmare,
if you forget that there
are more people like me
than not in this country,
you will not change this world
in my lifetime.  Some of the big dreams
are meant to stay dreams,
I believe that.  I’m glad you think
otherwise and I’ll help
when I can, but right now

my son’s crying,
and I’ve got to go.

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Dollar Bill, Dollar Bill

Surrendered
to the ashtray,
the bottle,
the writing desk,
and fell down.

Dollar bill,
dollar bill,
claiming me
off the floor,
picked me up.

Made a pact
with the dollar bill —
let me go and I’ll
let you in a bit.
Give you a little finger,

don’t need that to write,
smoke, drink. 
But it’s a hungry
slip of paper.
It’s a damn hyena.

It’s laughing
all night now,
sticks in my dream head.
I see it wanting me,
I want it to eat more:

take me, dollar bill.
Let’s get stuffed — me
in your craw, you full of me.
I’m open to being consumed.
I’m a meal ready to eat.

At least I’ll have had
the time before.  Had my moment.
Had lean times, they weren’t much
good to me.  Was rich in art once.
That’s fine. You can have me now.

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Weekend’s Here

You and your
big fat pretty face
go to the rink
to look for Ronnie
because he likes to go to the hockey game
and stand around drinking beers
and looking buff.  But he’s not there,
so you steal a stick from the bench
and break out the windows
on Ronnie’s girlfriend’s car
before leaving.  At the Four Seasons Club
you run into your brother
who’s holding Madagascar Haze
at fifteen a gram, you buy some
to take home with you
when you’re done with the White Russian
and your flirtation with the gap-toothed plumber
Ronnie used to room with before
he met that skank.  The DJ’s blasting
“Funkytown” and you yell, “I remember this”
at the top of your lungs in the plumber’s ear
while he palpates your ass and pulls you in
close, too close, he’s got wood, oh my God,
WOOD,
and you’re outta there,
it’s Friday night and it’s all right for something
but not that, and then Ronnie drives by
and you want to get in the car and chase him
but you dropped your keys somewhere
and you’re sitting in the parking lot now
crying and Plumber comes out to try
and help but you scratch his face
and your brother hits him and everyone’s
laughing and screaming, this is the way it always is,
you’ll go home alone and smoke yourself up
and pass out, this is
another night you’ll never tell your kids about
even when they’re old enough
to have nights like this, you hope they never
have nights like this but they will,
it’s the town that does it,
the nights always fall apart like this,
stuff gets broken all the time
but it always gets put back together
like it’s never been broken at all.

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I Loved Him Like A Mirror

This is how I learned it

On the one hand, you’ve got Big Shiny Jesus
all sweetness
and little-children-come-unto-me cuddly

and then you’ve got Scary Bloody Jesus
with the big wounds
and the just-got-in-from-Hell-and-
boy-are-my-arms-tired
three day thousand yard stare

On my own I figured out
that on the third hand
is the Jesus who built his own crucifix
and nailed himself there with a rueful smile

Whatever I wanted most was Jesus
so I sang it out

Lay me like a babe
in the arms of Mother Jesus
so he can toss me backwards over his thorny head
in a salty ritual against the enticements of Satan
Let me grab hold of the ammo belt
of Soldier Jesus and bring him
into my trench before he’s cut down

I loved him like a mirror

Then Dr. Jesus of the plastic surgery
refused to take a rosy scalpel to my fat thighs
I demanded of him
Why don’t you ante up, bub
Why don’t you make me over

and Jesus of the dreadlocks
in the blue grime rags of the alley
wouldn’t take my pity dollars
unless I danced for him

and my Righteous Jesus went through a phase
where he’d only listen to Rise Against
and bemoan my bad taste

I started to hate him for that

Later the Dice Thrower Jesus
laughed at Einstein whenever I chewed my nails
over bills and lack of work
Never pushed a buck my way
Your roll, buddy, he’d say
Your roll

So I stole his robe one day when he was in the shower
Went through his papers and passed his information
to the local authorities
This guy bears watching, I told them
Must be some kind of witch
but you connect the dots
Not my area of expertise

Chameleon Son of a Bitch
I will not imagine a color for him now
I have been there and it’s pointless
The book isn’t clear on anything except
the carpentry
the puzzles
and the Godawful way he died and came back
to haunt us

I’m not a fan anymore
though I keep looking over my shoulder
for whatever Jesus it is I’m afraid I overlooked

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Found Poem: Fortune Cookies

it is important to you
that money
not be important to you.

learn chinese!
“peach”
“duck”

there is good fortune
coming for the fortunate.

you will find what you seek
when you are looking for it.

learn chinese!
“five”
“shoe”

don’t stop now!

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