Monthly Archives: March 2010


head, floating

a little this way,
a little that;

one current lifts,
another drives down;

no matter how I prop it up
with breath it will drop

at some point to the floor
where it will stir a little

now and then
but mostly will lie still

having found its lowest level.
at last, I don’t care.

the drift was movement
and what I needed to do.

that feather, my head
on the floor full of dust,

that’s my truth and my real face.
hollow, almost weightless,

a discard.  you can’t look at it
and tell where it’s been.  you know

it was made for flight and it’s not
flying now.  that’s all you and I know.

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Say Instead

don’t say
you cannot believe
you’re in love again.

say instead you are pleased
that the cup on the shelf
is battered metal
but still holds water,
or wine, or paper clips,
that it remains fillable.

don’t say you’re afraid,

say instead that the cat
is unaccustomed to sleeping
on the back of the couch
and is striving to seem at ease
but looks like he knows he may fall.

don’t say
you are sure of failure.

say instead that when the nut falls
from its branch,
two scars always remain: one on the tree,
one on the nut.  say instead
that breakage precedes growth.

the world offers you
agreement upon agreement.
take what help is offered,
no matter whence it comes.

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Weeks before Palm Sunday
I thought of the ride into Jerusalem

and the donkey who carried Jesus
on the road, how he stepped stolidly

into history, probably died a few years later
without knowing a thing

about momentous journeys
or the bearing of divine weight.

Now it’s Holy Week. Now begins
the rush of replication of past events

pushed from fact to memory
to ritual observance.  And this year,

I’m the burden on the donkey, or so it feels from here:
that sense of calm and celebration

is already turning to remembered dread
of pain and time in the dark to think

of all the sins I carry — except for three things:
these sins are my own, I can’t even save myself,

and resurrection’s
no certainty for me. So unlike that first donkey,

whose thoughts are unrecorded,
you get this braying, this hoarse and boring

(to everyone, I imagine) declaration
of fear and recognition that I’ve always been

the beast who bears hope for others without knowing it;
not salvation itself, nothing divine at all;

just another ass on the road with people cheering
because the story has a good ending for everyone

except the incidental being
that in every story dies unremarked

at some unimportant moment
outside the scope of the fable.

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Two O’Clock

Two O’Clock,
we called him.

He walked to the corner
across from the bodega
and stood motionless
every day at that time
for exactly
seventeen minutes,
then walked away.

It’s a good thing we had a clock,
one with a second hand.
we’d never have known his name.

Three years I worked there,
in that stupid optical shop,
unpacked lenses
and packaged frames
for delivery all over
the damn state,
and Two O’Clock
was out there every day,
rain or shine,
waiting for something.

A place to go
is a good thing.
I used to get paid for going to mine.
I don’t know what he got out of his
because I never saw him meet anyone
or get on a bus to go somewhere else.

Two o’clock rolls around these days
and I sit here.  I don’t do anything
at all.  Haven’t for a while,
and the money’s running out.
I might go down to the corner
one of these days,
see if Two O’Clock’s still doing his thing.
Maybe he’s been waiting for me.
He must know something
about killing time I might learn.

And he wore glasses.
I remember that.  Old ones,
with big plastic frames.
Maybe I could adjust them for him.
I used to do that too. 

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What I Do Not Care About

While daydreaming
another installment
in the series
titled, “What I Do Not Care About,”
I went completely blank.

I woke myself up
and left the house
to sit in soft mud
among early leaves.
My ass got filthy

and I shivered a lot
for the fifteen minutes
I could stand it.  Then
I stood up and realized
the kids across the street

were laughing at me.
I waved back, went inside,
showered, made coffee,
toast, sat down to resume
the daydream with no shortage

of material to work with.

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Questions For The Wee Hours

Ah, Americans,
my little ones,
the television
too often spits
the shrapnel
of distant bombings
at our spirit.
We’ve grown
to expect this
and it leads to questions:

if you hear your neighbor
in the street at three AM,
do you reach for your gun?

Are there moments
when you just roll over,
go back to sleep, figure
it’ll be worth asking about
over the side fence
in the morning? 

Or perhaps
you’ll say nothing at all
because you don’t know
his name, because no news
is good news?

What exactly
are you spending
on defense these days?

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A Remark You Made

that someone
had indeed been listening to me,
at least once
by chance more than anything;

lovely, indeed,
to imagine that for a moment,

to think of the earth
outside the front door
cradling a seed
I dropped without thinking
on my hurried way
to another place
where no one would listen
for more than a moment.

Yes, I’m grateful to you and
yes, I’m glad it is spring
at last, and that there may be
a chance, a small chance,
of seeing green soon.

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…yeah, I don’t know…

this isn’t working for me anymore…

the breathing, it ain’t
what it used to be; the eyes
dry out, except on the frequent occasions
when they leak,
and they do leak often…

often enough that I call myself
“sentimental” now, a word
I never considered before…

and the knees buckling, the wrists aching,
the ears full of inconvenient
electricity crackling over
the background of each conversation…

I can’t remember the last time
any particular event happened
although the first time
it happened is crystal clear
and I talk about it
all the time…

I expect this will be the way
it will be, though I live for it all being
temporary…I don’t know…

already a ghost…everything is best described
with an ellipsis, because nothing
stays solid…

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What We Take

We take our coffee without cream.

We take our meals when the whistle lets us,
one half hour at a time.
Ham on rye’s as fancy as we get,
some yellow mustard on the bread,
maybe cheese, maybe lettuce if we’ve got time,
chips and pickle on the side.

We take it on faith
that we might lose these jobs.
So we take our money home
and keep it close enough to hear it squeak.

We take our clothing simple and plain
and cheap as we can find. Once in a while
we’ll take on something
with a touch more style
as long as it toes a certain line.

We take our evenings as they come.
We take our friends as warty and hard
as we are.   We talk the way we learned to talk
at the knees of those like us,
and if we do change the conversation
it’s only a little at a time
unless we’re shoved along a path
we didn’t plan to take,
and then we do what we can
to hold on to what we used to say,
adding new words only where they fit.

We take the evening news with a heap of salt.
Even when it makes some kind of sense
we don’t pay much attention
unless we recognize a name or a face.
We work too hard to care too much
which suits are running the game
we know we’re going to lose.

We take our champions as they are
and our warriors as we find them.
We take them to heart if they sound like us
because that’s how we know they’re real.
We take on the battles they want to fight
because that’s how we learn to hope.

We take out the garbage first thing in the morning
to keep it safe from the raccoons and skunks
and the neighbor’s dog that rips the bags for snacks.
We swear we’ll mess that dog up one of these days
for messing us up and making it hard
to keep order on the streets where we live. 
We take a moment to look one way,
then the other, before crossing the street
and climbing into our cars
in our same old solid clothes,
clutching steaming travel cups
and the brown bags
that hold the same kind of sandwiches
they held yesterday
and the day before.

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By Computer

No shirt, no shoes,
a little chilled in my own living room.

I could get up and put on a shirt
but then I’d have to move.

Could make coffee —
see above.

Paying bills by computer,
sending invoices by computer,

making poems by computer,
communicating with you all by computer.

None of this
seems lazy to me.

It’s the way the morning goes
most days.  Eventually, I’ll move

and re-enter physical space —
a lie, I’m there now, of course,

sensing my empty stomach,
scratching the occasional itch.

How perfect are the ways of the brain
and mind that it requires so little sweat

to leap mountains and deserts
in order to survive, and that all it takes

is to move a few fingers at a time
for my friends to know I exist,

what I’m thinking, how Godlike
I am though I am fat and dirty

and hungry this morning,
and a little cold, as well.

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I’ve got no pressing reason
to open my head,

so there’s no reason for you
to stand there staring at my hair,

wondering when I’ll pick it up
and let you see

the swirl of waste oil
on the surface of the pool within,

let you peer at the discarded items
visible on the bottom,

let you think about the sudden stink
in the air. 

Truth is,
I’ve done enough of that

for a while.  It hurts
like a mother, and I suspect

that what seems necessary to me
might only be entertainment to you.

I think next I’ll lift a few foreign scalps

and see what’s in there — so don’t stand
too close.  No telling what I might do

with such tempting locks before me
waiting to be examined.  I don’t know

what trash I might find beneath them, and while
I’m disgusted with the possibility,

I know I will learn something
that might be useful, might learn why you stare at me

so deeply, so coldly.  I may learn
how to be wary of you at last.

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Cutting The Grub

said the grub,
“is always deserved
because it is the only thing
other than birth
that each living thing
is always owed
strictly by virtue
of having been born –”

but because I did not speak grub
in those days,
I took far too much satisfaction
from cutting the thing in half
with a trowel as I dug
the new bed
for the flowering onions. 

Had I known
of The Serene Acceptance,
I would have refrained from the act,
for it would not have been fun
if I had known there no resistance

How do I know this, you ask?

Because it is a good day to die,
I think, this understanding
came to me unbidden,
if you can believe that,
or even hear it.

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Music Education

When I want to remember,
I listen to rock and roll.

When I want to learn,
I listen to hip-hop.

When I want to be exploded,
I listen to jazz.

It does not matter what I listen to
when I want to party.

When I want to be heard,
I play a guitar or a poem.

When I want to be,
when I want to just sit on the point of me,

there is only the red cedar flute
my father gave me, tied with leather, oiled and dark.

I am imperfect as player
but whole when I play it, and alone, always alone.

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The Muck

Remember the first time
we were together?  I talked
a lot, an hour straight at least,
not to hear myself talk,
but because I hadn’t had
an audience like you in years
who seemed to want to listen.

I told you everything
about the killings, the trees,
the good strong knife,
the blood on my sleeve,
how I’d cried nonetheless and how friends
I still won’t name helped me
get away. 

I went deeper,
talked about how
I liked it as much as I hated it,
how it somehow felt like nothing at all,
how my night vision sharpened
as the first full spurt
splashed out. 

Then I went all the way in

and said that now, years later,
I didn’t feel any great remorse
but a warm satisfaction
at having survived
and at having learned early
what small fear death held
for me.

I felt safe so I told you everything,
said to you:

I am sharing this out of love,
out of a genuine sense of love,
I’m willing to let you
into the muck where I’ve lived.

When you were very still after I had spoken,

I assumed too much
and chose to believe that you understood now
the knife I always carried, how callous and open
I seemed at certain moments, how guarded
I was at others, and that your trembling
in my presence
was a sign of your fear for me,

but then I had the crisis moment —
saw how your shaking was precipitated
only by my words and your fear of them
coming together in friction —

I grew angry and said

I shared this out of love,
out of a genuine sense of love.
I have been willing to let you
into the muck where I’ve lived,
and this is how it falls out?

Then I flipped the knife open and said

I do this out of love, out of a genuine
sense of love, not for you but for myself,
and while you are not in danger now
I certainly am dangerous,
and I live dangerously,
and if you are to understand me at all
you should see me like this
and know me for what I am —
open, but not insane,
not by half,
considering the muck where I live.

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Total Recall

Reposted from a few years ago, by request.



1. (in an office at work)

“they hate white guys like us.”

“i’m not white.”

“what do you mean?”

“my father’s Mescalero.”

“oh, that doesn’t count.”

2. (in a bar)

“you’re a conquered people
and you’re just going to have
to get used to that.”

3. (at my nonni’s house)

“your father steals from me
every time he’s in my house.”

“no, he didn’t, nonni.”

“he does. he stole a knife. he stole money.
i no understand why
your mother want to be
with those Indian peoples.
it’s good you look like her father.”

4. (my father’s way of saying how bad pain was)

“i’ve got a headache
that would kill a white man.”

5. (at school)

“your dad brought two colored kids
home for the weekend to stay over?”
“did they smell funny? do Indians
get along with them? i didn’t know that.”

6. (at the office)

“oh, i love Indians! Indians
are so beautiful — i love their feathers
and the way they dance. do you dance?
do you have feathers?”

7. (at school)

“hey brown, how come your sister
looks like a chink
and you look like a wop?”

8. (driving with my dad)

“i’m never gonna marry
a white girl.”

“son, your mother’s white.
it doesn’t matter sometimes.
marry who you love.”

9. (outside a club)

“don’t you really hate seeing these kids
running around with mohawks
when they’re not even Indian?”

10. (in a coffee shop)

“take your glasses off.
oh, yeah, i can see it now.”

11. (at work)

“now that your hair is long,
i can really see it.”

12. (too many times to choose)

“now that i know, of course,
it’s obvious.”

13. (at school)

“i’m really surprised
that you have to shave.
does your father have to shave?”

14. (during a performance review)

“aren’t you a little old
for this? i mean, aren’t you supposed
to have gotten over this, had a vision quest
or something when you were young?”

15. (too many times, too many bars)

“should you be drinking this much,
i mean, you know, fire water and all that?”

16. (at work)

“when your mother makes lasagna,
does she use buffalo in the sauce?”

17. (third week, introduction to anthropology, freshman year)

“so, you’re Italian and you’re Indian?
god, you must have a temper.”

18. (junior year, private school)

“jesus, put away the knife! what are you — crazy?
it’s just a word.  I mean, you are a half-breed,right?
that’s what you are, right?
i’m sorry, jesus, i’m sorry, i didn’t know,
how’m i supposed to know that?
you’re fucking crazy!”

19. (being interviewed for someone’s grad thesis on people who grew up in interracial households)

“so, how do you describe yourself?”

‘i don’t, i guess. not really. not anymore.
i guess ‘poet’ works as well as anything.”

“which side do you get that from?”

20. (first time in Italy)

“my mom’s family’s from around naples.”
“but this isn’t Napoli. why you come here?”
“because i’ve always wanted to see Venice.”
“you should see Napoli. you should see.”
“next time, maybe.”
“yes, next time. something there for you, maybe.
maybe home.”
“yes, maybe.”

21. ( first time on the rez)

“i’m looking for records, anything.
my father was born here, was sent to a residential school
and joined the army after,
he lost touch with every one, never came back.”

“there are no records, though. everything was lost in a fire back in ’67. i’m sorry. you’ll have to do some work to prove it, if you’re interested in being enrolled –”

“no, that’s not it. i just wanted —

“well…welcome home?”

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