Monthly Archives: February 2010

Breath Mints

Everywhere I go
I carry two tinfoil wrappers
twisted shut,

each one the size of
a pack of gum,
each one holding part of

a collection
rendered in miniature,
a collection of all my friends.

The dead ones
in the right hand pocket,
the live ones in my left.  The dead ones

on my favored side,
the live ones carried offhand
as a backup.

When I need
to say something deep
I take a packet out

and open it, pop one,
freshen my speech
with another voice.

When I’m done,
I carefully pull that friend
from my tongue

and rewrap
for future use.  None of them
have ever complained

so I have to believe
it’s ok with them
that I use them this way.

The dead ones
have more time free of the pocket.
I think it’s good for them

to get out and be heard
even if their flavor
often darkens my words.

They at least
make me feel good.  The live ones
don’t come out as often

as they are frequently
unruly and crack my voice
a bit.  We can speak for ourselves

and be known that way,
they grumble. Therefore
I sometimes

take them all out at once,
put them all in my mouth
and shut up while they

talk to me from within.  I’m
kept informed that way, and so
think to honor them

by giving my full, sour attention
to their tastes.  I still prefer to
let the dead ones work for me while running

my tongue over my teeth
and recalling
what the live ones have taught me,

what they continue to teach me.
But I will not shift them
to the right hand pocket —

too risky.
The dead ones arm me better
with their settled opinions

that are sharper for having had
greater use.  It’s been suggested that
I mix the two, but I don’t know what

my reliably dead friends
who adore me would say
if they were to hear from those who know me now.

I don’t even know you, they might say.
I’m not sure I ever did.  And I’d hate that.
So I keep them tightly wrapped

and close at hand, the known quantity
always in easy,
subconscious reach.

Dead friends in the right hand pocket —
quick to come to my rescue
and make my words clean and fresh

with their voices frozen and cool
as breath mints.
Live ones in my left —

astringents, bitter favors
to be taken sparingly
for fear I might have to speak the truth.

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High Noon

he’s gunning
for anything that reminds him
of where he came from. 
let one word escape your lips
that feels familiar and he’ll
begin. the first stone is his altar
and the sound
of your own windows breaking
is his favorite hymn. 
your angry response
will be his excuse to feel
superior as he shows off something
he picked up along his way here,
twirling it in his hand.  he’s
threatening you, then himself,
depending on which way the barrel’s
facing at any given moment.  who will fall
when the trigger’s pulled is anyone’s guess,
but assume the worst happens —

who do you see on the ground?

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The New Cabaret

The laughter
of those who enter
a new cabaret
begins to change it.
Something in the air shivers,
like thin metal being shaken.
The space contracts
and expands. Soon, one voice rises
above the others, singing its way
into the woodwork, pushing the ceiling
up another story.  Applause,
and the heart of the room reaches out
for an embrace.
Everyone goes home
and the room is left
to slowly fall back into itself.

In the meantime, it swells and
shrinks with memory.  Perhaps
someone in attendance
brushed a corner molding
and left fabric behind,
or perhaps someone
moved by a word or a note
bit their lip and bled a small drop
into the floor. 

The room is not
the space it was. The people
who were there are not the people
they were. Only the actual moment of song
holds the distinction of remaining
static, by virtue of having passed
into history, no trace of it
in the framing and walls and paint.
Perfect, permanently free
of the burden of needing to be
refreshed when the club closes,
six months later,
for renovation
into another kind of space —
a boutique, a dry cleaner, a bistro.

This is the nature of such things:
they come and go, rooms hold
a little trace of their passing,
the rooms pass and change,
the people pass and change,
and only the music remains
in a place no one can move,
remodel, or demolish. 

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The Breakdown

when the hose fails
and leaking antifreeze
pours greasy green
onto the snowy roadside

when the cold crunches
inside your nose
as you wait for the tow
that is forty -five minutes off

when you try to calculate
how much damage this will do
to your rent still in arrears
but your fingers are too numb to count

when you’d cry if you could
but you’re cried out
when you’re alone and cold
and there’s no art in your thoughts

except for the simple art
of fixing a hose in the dark with no tape
or replacement coolant
the art you’d wished you had learned

and prepared for in advance
but it’s too late and you’re stuck
awaiting the mercy of a better artist
when he comes and shows you mastery

this is no time for you to slink
into a blank book and create a world
where things like this don’t happen
to anyone particularly like you

but there are people out here
who will lay down money to bet
that this is exactly what you will do
that you will make something precious of it

if you ever get out of here
without frostbite or breakdown
and return to your insulated life
full of what ifs and should haves

and that it will happen again
and more than once
because you only ever learn enough
to arm your self against aftermath

never enough to prevent the disaster
never enough to stop the leaks
from occurring
never enough to be anything but useless

for any practical life

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No Drumbeat, No Jesus; Know Drumbeat, Know Jesus

My still-shrinking remnant
of leftover Christian influence is
an irritant
I’d like to banish.

It beats on me
like the memory
of a tiny, annoying drum
lingering from childhood:

no rhythm,
no insistence to it,
it’s not catchy or appealing,
but there anyway,

like a car alarm
in the distance
that signals
nothing at all.

I’m neither formal Pagan
nor informal Buddhist, no armchair Taoist,
not even a smug atheist
reveling in his intelligent

and narrow solitude;
I’m certain of something greater than I
and honor its presence,
even as it serenely disdains

to identify itself with my
desires and needs — perhaps
that is the point; its ignorance
of my fate and existence

keeps me humble but sure
of some order I stumble through
daily, and it needs no ritual attendance
of mine to hold it safe; I am

assuredly unimportant, and it
comforts me as I fear my own
decisions and missteps, marvel
at its certainty, its perfection forged

from the sum of all flaws and fanfares.
But to imagine it as personal, as concerned
with me as it is with the spin of galaxies,
cheapens it.  I am no special angel,

no spectral devil, no potential
prophet or seer — no.  I live and sweat
as all do, and my sins or triumphs
amount to nothing in the dark matter

between suns.  Like a drum, the Christ
seems to me to keep a human beat, not a divine one,
and lovely though it is at times, it’s still
bounded and tied to human song

of want and fear and love and joy
as defined by humans for humans.  It’s
a powerful tattoo that plays on my ego’s craving
for surcease and assurance that yes, it is

immortal and salvageable.
But what is there
to salvage here
that is not endlessly replaceable,

totally unoriginal, totally
interchangeable with the all the rest
of the works and days of those who
have ever lived or breathed?  I’m

a mote, a happy one, but still a mote,
and relieved to be one.  I need no Savior
to save this.  There’s nothing unique
in this small annoyed atom.

So I strive to cancel, little by little,
the insistent relic message that I matter enough
or that this spacious world cares
to save me for something greater.  I am greater

without the limits of myself,
someday to be part of the giant Whole
of Everything That Is.
That’s plenty grand enough

for me, and it’s mine without the need
to cling onto someone’s robe
and bow to someone’s specific crown.
I’m learning to let go, dance, be free, and stop being Me.

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Scraps Of Marley

of Marley in my ears,
not enough to change me
or the way I play, but present

I don’t want ganja
right now, or even justice
for the oppressed;
right now, it would be enough
to fall into the easy rhythm
of this, something my fingers
are resisting.

If even my nailbeds
can’t understand this,
what chance is there for this Western heart
to feel good with it — to move
beyond the bounce of it, the jaunty
erotic pulse of it?  I struggle
with the punching bag
beat; keep wanting to syncopate
and make it more complex
than it already is.

Bob smiles from the CD cover.
He’s not even looking at me —
past me perhaps, into homes
I don’t know and never will
where the rocksteady works wonders
to keep the people sane, hopeful
in the middle of the grind.  I’m
a tourist here, the guitar
no better than a simple camera
looking for snapshots on vacation.

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Old Poem, reposted by request…

NOTE:  This is a very old piece that’s been published in at least a couple of anthologies over the years.  I’m reposting it by request of Mike McGee, who has linked to it on his blog here:

Thanks to Mike for his kind words there, his friendship, and his always thoughtful blog.



a print of “Guernica” hangs on the foyer wall
above the drink table
here are the famous horse and the upraised human face
they’re screaming as the hors d’oeuvres are passed

and on the facing wall
behind the buffet
hang two photographs
carefully chosen for tonight

in this one is a girl we have seen before
running and burning on a road in Vietnam years and years ago
back then she was trying to fly to safety
on the innocent strength rising along her fiery arms

in this one is a man we’ve also seen before
and despite his death in 1890 he also keeps trying
but he’s frozen awkward and insolent in his attempt
to rise from the snow at Wounded Knee

we are making small talk tonight
clicking our tongues at all these pictures
making crestfallen small talk
because we know we should

handing over money
to save Afghani statues from the guns of rapists
handing over fistfuls of green guilt
for the anesthetic of aesthetics

buying permission to posture unflinching
before those who have fallen
permission to shelter in these picturesque memorials
in the hope of receiving from them some kind of prophylactic grace

as we stare at the burning girl
as we sadly regret Wounded Knee and genocide
as we admire the abstraction of that burning Spanish town
we will click our tongues

while marking the skill of the artist at having those faces
seem so stark in their angled black and white
seem so shot through and through
with an undertone of subconscious red

it’s from this we’ve learned how to watch the news
the news that gives us each day our daily dread
a new crop of victims to be cropped and photoshopped
and we know just what to do when we see the faces

we observe
we regret
we remark
we move on

tonight there’s a gallery fundraiser
tomorrow there will be another
we’ll see the burning girl and the rising corpse again
and we’ll make another print of “Guernica”

do we need
all these prints
of “Guernica”?

someday we’ll see
that if we had been changed by all this art
at the first hint of genocide we would smash our cameras
hang our paintbrushes back on the wall

stick our checkbooks back in our pockets
lift the paintings from their frames
and carry them through the streets
to the places of power calling why


if the people inside our work could speak
they would tell us that if witness alone could change the world
the world would be changed by now
and we would have no need to learn

that this picture
of that girl
is not

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Big Ol’ Naked Poem

Screw what the idiots tell you.
Naked looks great
on anyone
at any age.
Don’t be afraid of it.
It’s like smiling
when you’re not from
a country with fine dental care.
You’re admittedly a little crooked
and might even be falling apart,
some things aren’t where they are
supposed to be anymore,
but damn,
it feels good
and it’s necessary
from time to time,
even if the only reason for it
is that you’re in the middle
of a change in your
outwardly somber nature.  You’ll
thank me, eventually,
for having suggested this.
It works.  Shed the stuff
that hides you and light up
a big ol’ naked view of yourself
glowing in your twilight.  Someone
will be glad you did, even if
it’s only the two of us.

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Not My Moment

I got nothing today —

just the cackle of a neighbor
and the steady breathing of the cat
while the heat kicks on and off.

The world goes on outside…
I take it in.
I spit it out for others to use
as they see fit,

but it’s got nothing for me.

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Animal Time

After working time
comes supper time
and after that comes
chocolate time
and after that
comes sleepy time

and after that,
animal time, when
you are asleep
and not dreaming.
You’re an animal then,
in animal time,
the only time you’re not
slaving, eating, or caught up
in human re-visioning.

You don’t know this
when it’s happening,
but don’t worry
about it — you’re human,
and your ignorance of it
is to be expected.
You forget the animal in you
in order to free the human,
but the animal
does not die
and it comes out
when you have left
working and supper and chocolate
and time itself
aside.   You’re mammal then,
warm blooded and
present only for yourself then,
living without obligation.

No one knows
if the mammal dreams
in some way, its internal life
undetected by us, in those moments
when we are being human.
You can search for it if you wish,
but you’ll likely be disappointed.
Some things you aren’t likely
meant to know
though it doesn’t mean
you shouldn’t try.

Perhaps some day
you’ll take a mouthful of chocolate
and the beast will flash
into view,
animated by pleasure.
I wish you luck.
If you discover
its hiding place,
tell everyone.
We are dying to know.

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Beside The Well

The girl
poured slowly out onto the pool deck
from her room, turning to slide
the door shut behind her.
I can’t take look away.

At this point in the poem
my Audience takes me to task
for calling her a girl.  “That’s a woman
you are talking about, not a girl.”

The Audience is correct, of course.  “But calling her
a woman,” I protest, somewhat sheepishly,
“feels like a lie from the height of the tall pile
of fifty years I’ve got under me.  Every one that age

still appears a child to me, no matter
who or what they are, how they look; I can’t call
a girl a woman in the voice I’ve got to work with
at this point in my life.”

“Then you need to change your perspective,”
replies my Unforgettable Audience.  “Don’t call a woman
a girl if she’s a woman, asshole.  It cheapens her.  How old
was this ‘girl’ — eighteen, nineteen?”  Plenty old enough
for you to notice her as a woman, right?”  And the Audience

has me dead to rights. She was beautiful; tan skin, dark hair,
shy blue eyes, slightly chunky with a white bikini
that didn’t quite fit according to the rules and customs
that we’re supposed to believe…” “

snaps the Unrelenting Audience. “Just for one minute
can you stick to the point? We’re dealing with real life here,
with objectification.  You can’t even see her because
you’re obsessed with that body, and calling her a girl

helps to reduce her worth as a human, while your self serving
commentary about ‘society’s rules’ is a cover to make us think
you’re being deep when all you want is to get your rocks off
with some thinly disguised eroticization of the moment.”

“Well,” I offer, “she was the one wearing the bikini…”
“There you go again,” the Audience scolds, “blaming her
for your clumsiness.  I don’t know what to do with you.  You seem
so intelligent, so smart about so many things, and yet
you can’t stop for a moment to call this woman a woman,

to address all the possibilities she holds…”
And the Audience throws up its hands
and turns away.  I can’t say I disagree.
I’d walk away from me too, if I could.

Everything that was said was correct. I couldn’t help
seeing that woman as a girl.  It’s no excuse, but It happens
with girls and boys of a certain age.  Each
looks like a child, or close to a child, and I know

they aren’t, but the clock inside me is spinning so fast
that I find myself behind the times too often,
and it leads to my saying something that I regret
not thinking through.  Somewhere inside me is a well of poems

I dare not write because I know the All-Knowing Audience
will see through me.  That if I do not take enough care,
something will slip through obscuring the moment
I’m trying to capture, and all I am — all insecurities,

half-baked prejudices, remnants of a past life
I’ve tried to escape and make over, over and over —
will be revealed.  I am not that poet, that person.
I hold myself and my problems close.

The poem I am trying to write is better
than the one I can write.  I can say,
She poured out of the room onto the pool deck
and leave the qualifier aside. I can rexamine the way I see her,

refashion the word girl, talk of how she transfixes me with her shy style;
offer more detail, make her real instead of abstract,
make her uniquely herself, not a rendition of my image
of her self.  One word changed, an entire world transformed.

I sit by the well inside me and stare at her,
afloat on a poem.  On the other side of that well
is the Audience, watching for what I do, hoping
I do it as carefully as I can.

I look over now
into the face that haunts me, always
demanding my best.  I recognize that face:
a man I’d like to know.

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Early evening, late in February,
I see a tiger in the shadows by the fence.

There are believed to be no tigers in Worcester
at the moment.  Our lone animal park
holds cougars and polar bears.  If anyone here
owns a surreptitious tiger, they’ve been keeping it

I watch the shadow tiger move past the cars
into the scrubby, snow-stained backyard. 
Perhaps it is a Siberian tiger.

If a tiger once tastes human flesh, it is said
that it will remain a maneater forever.  This one
clearly sees me, but makes no move in my direction.
It may have eaten.  It may not know how sweet I am.

Or perhaps that’s just a legend.  Perhaps the dream tiger,
real or unreal, has tried a man and found it wanting,
is seeking goat or sheep or some game creature instead.

The tiger (and I am certain now that it is unreal
but cannot take my eyes from it) has stopped by the oak tree.
It looks up at something.  Perhaps at unfamiliar bark
and a scent it’s not had to identify before.  Perhaps
it is listening for voices it may recognize.

I call it, using a name I haven’t spoken in years.
It turns and tenses, fangs and stripes bared
but transparent. What I see through its body
seems menacing in a way it was not before
as if there was an overlay of pain before me
that I am seeing only now.

Mystery cat, tiger in the mind.
I long for you to be more real than I can conjure.
Come and tear me up, leave my true blood on the ground.
I am tired of my fear of ghosts,
wish to fight something solid,
to die for something real.

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Robin Time

The feather
on the sidewalk
could have come
from any bird.

I want it to be
from a robin.

It’s time, I think,
for spring:

they’ve been gone a long while now
(although it’s a lie
that they all fly south; I’ve seen them in packs
among the bittersweet vines
in Harwichport
in deep December),
and they rarely appear
this early in the city,

I’d like to think that
one made an exception for me
and me alone,

knowing I need the mud-time
badly right now.

I want to have my feet sink into
what was once frozen
and come out sucking and black
with heavy dirt,
because that way I could feel
like a farmer
tuned into the signs
and signals of newness,

and that bird would be telling me
things only I needed to know
as I knocked off the sludge
and smiled.

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Solo show in Worcester, MA…March 7

It has been a while since I’ve done a solo poetry feature at the Worcester Poets’ Asylum, my home poetry reading of close to twenty years now.  The last few features I’ve done there have been Duende shows.   I think the last solo set was five years ago now.

So the chance to help celebrate the Asylum’s 20th year with a straight ahead set of just words is exciting, and I’d love to see you there, even if I have never met you.

Expect mostly new work and a few oldies. Might even put a chapbook together for the night.

Again, even if you’ve never been there and you’re at all interested in my work I’d love to have you there to help me celebrate the venue, the space, and the long history we share.

Plus, it’ll be the first feature of my 50th year…so come see the old man try to shake stuff up a bit.

Sunday, March 7, 2010
6:00pm – 8:00pm
The Poets’ Asylum at Jumpin’ Juice And Java
330 Chandler Street
Worcester, MA

Of course, if you can’t make it to this one, the “Show Schedules” tab on this site will always give you the latest skinny as to where I’ll be, alone or with Faro in a Duende show…so check back frequently to see what’s what.

Thanks, everyone…


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Dr. Feelgood

Bullets, blades,
torches, and nooses:
tonight’s prescriptions from
Dr. Feelgood.

Said treatment indicated
by symptoms which include
eyes narrowing at opinions
not worthy of consideration

as they seem to have been
derived from
a past that never existed;
repeated punching of talk radio

in the car; raging at
snide bumper stickers;
on the television.

Diagnosis: reason insulted
beyond reason, patience uncoupled
from motive, fear of the future,
visions of hate and oppression

returned to former levels.
Directions: take all weapons
and wave them in the street
until response is seen.  Then,

let blood loosely, spilling
as needed.  Lift sticky feet
and march to wherever the center
of infection is located,

and repeat as needed.
Prognosis: terrible, terrible
fires and eventual cold winds
over ivory and splintered bone.

Brains and heart decayed.
Limbs splayed on the wreckage
of infrastructure.  Love of the war
and the danger, the glee of scorching

and pillage.  Eventual
shame, ending in a final solution.
Signed, Dr. Feelgood,
master of the moment, prescribing physician.

No return visit indicated.

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