Monthly Archives: May 2010

Memorial Day

It’s Memorial Day
and I’m going
to burn meat and eat it.

I know it’s a day
for the war dead.
That’s all I know about it.

I don’t know why
some of them had to die.
Neither did they, not all of them.

There are old men somewhere
who have all the clues.
Some signed the orders

that killed some of the dead.
Some had good reasons, some did not.
Some of the old ones (and some young ones too)

watched their friends die
and I’m sure they understand this
better than I:

sometimes people
have to die.  Sometimes
there’s a compelling reason.

Sometimes people fight over
compelling reasons.  The ones
who sign the orders get to decide.

I don’t know why
it’s come to be a custom
that we burn meat on this day to recall

all those who’ve died.  Don’t know
the compelling reasons for that,
but mine not to question why.

All those dead are dead —
no matter why. The smoke
that lifts from backyards everywhere

might be the right thing to see today
along with fireworks, parades,
uniforms and beer.  Maybe it makes sense

to burn meat on such a day.
Maybe it’s fitting.  I don’t know,
but at least I’m thinking about it.

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Monkeys

People
who want to change the world
but can’t change
a diaper
a flat tire
or their underwear

have my grudging respect

for being unskilled
but still willing to dream

The daily
isn’t going to go away
because we ignore it

but it takes a special sort of monkey
to believe
that enough of them gathered together
will make a masterpiece

After all
it has happened a few times before

and there are always people to pick up
what they’ve let fall

right?

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Tiro De Cuerda

Tiro de cuerda

Spanish for the perfect tension
of a guitar string,
the strain that lets it
cry.

Over time, tuning and
retuning to that pitch
will weaken the string.

I have more than once
sat in an audience
and seen a player, rock god
or flamenco acolyte, snap one
and keep playing, finding
a new course among those
remaining;
but have never heard
a recording that included
that sound —

why?  Are we not most thrilled
when we can hear
death cheated
in any language,

even one we cannot pronounce?

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A Master Of All You Desire

I made beautiful things
and they fell apart
like so much overcooked food,
crumbling into fibers and mush
as I set them before you;

so I made harder, uglier things
and they curdled into leather
and hard wood, making them
impossible to chew,
and you turned away.

Then I made an effort to balance
the beauty and the ugly
and couldn’t get it right.
You looked at me perplexed
and said, “It’s…interesting…”

Now I simply order out
and provide the plates.
You seem happy.  You seem
to like this better.  It strikes me
that I’m unnecessary now

and that nourishment for you
is impersonal, unrelated
to me and my attempts
to be a master of all you desire.
I am trying to consider this a blessing.

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Fear Of A Brown Planet

Noah invited no insect pests onto the ark, but they came anyway;
flies and roaches, gnats and ants, covering every square cubit
in a seething, confident carpet of stubborn, resilient brown.

The buffalo, once endangered, now have grown so numerous in spots
that they are leaving Yosemite to roam their old prairies, leading to calls
to thin them out by gunning down some of that mass of stubborn, resilient brown.

In the Gulf of Mexico, frightened men drop chemicals and lower booms
against the torrent pouring from the depths, a torrent they once sought to own.
Everything is futile.  They stare in despair at the mass of stubborn, resilient brown.

In Phoenix, water pours from sprinklers into the dry soil
and now the desert is held at bay by lawns of green and golf courses;
but let the effort lapse just a bit and soon will come the stubborn, resilient brown.

South of the city, along a border that men have made, soldiers stand
in camouflage and stare south into that shimmering oven, guarding against
the surging numbers moving north — the always present, stubborn, resilient brown.

People here sit and wait in houses of white and gray for their dread to subside.
They do not dare to say what seems obvious — that what they are most afraid of
is that their pastel world is changing back to a stubborn, resilient brown.

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Bellwether

I have the same weak fascination
with the popularity
of movies about vampires,
zombies, superheroes,
aliens, and werewolves
that I do with the sound
of the bell around
a lead sheep’s neck:

it allows me to keep my distance
and still be aware
of the flock’s path;

it is founded in a desire to keep abreast
of where they’re all going
and how they feed;

it is an obsession
to understand why
the rest of the herd follows that bell
without question;

and sadly enough
it is barely interesting enough
to make me stir
unless nothing else is happening
nearby.

It connects me, however tenuously,
with a stream of people
I barely understand
at all.

There’s nothing more unsettling
than the feeling
of disconnection, not even
the potential that all that meat on the hoof
is fodder for some creature
yet unknown to any science I believe in,

something undead or transformed
or extraterrestrial, something
that is a more appropriate
agent of destiny

than the probable lonely doom
I face myself as a scoffer at fads
who yet maintains an atavistic need
to believe as the sheep do
that the path leads somewhere
and that myth
is critical to the journey
no matter how glossy or obvious
it appears.

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Bite That Ghost

Bite that ghost.

She’s cold.
Potato Salad Cold.
Popsicle Cold, at least as far
as headache induction goes…

It’s a lie that if you walk toward one
you will just pass through.
A little will cling to your face,
get in your teeth,

it’ll hurt.  So you might as well
approach with gusto
and an open mouth —

you can laugh or scream
so long as your choppers
gape wide. 

Get the rags on your gums.
Get the threads down in there
tight as floss.  She’s cold
and you’re going to regret it
and love it —

memories, flavor,
you can’t stop shivering,
chattering, clutching your chest,
seize your head and call out

what might be her name.

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Mean Freedom (third draft)

Third draft.  Changes made after reading this at a reading last night.  Comments still welcome.

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

A white-soled black sneaker,
a Chuck Taylor knockoff,
on sale for 75 dollars
in a store window.

Along the border
of the sole, white thread
on black, the following words:

PUNK ROCK MEANS FREEDOM

I have a violent urge
to stretch out a finger
and blot out
that “S”
so I will be able to breathe again.

In front of me a blond girl, professionally slim,
decked in designer-wrecked rags,
excitedly tells her similar friends
that she wants to get crunk tonight,

while a Ferrari
as black as a hole
bangs out white streams of bass
for the length
of its slow audacious cruise
down Thayer Street.

HIP HOP MEANS FREEDOM —

and again I subtract the “S”
to get at some truth I can stand,

and the more these metaphors are strained,
the more they seem the same.

~~~~

It was 1975

when in two apartments,
one in Queens,
one in the Bronx,

two boys thinking the same thing
stretched out their fingers
and touched grimy windows,

each one writing those same bleeding words
in the gray condensation
on the pane:

Mean Freedom.

The city was falling apart around them both,

and each had a soundtrack
behind him,

and the boys who wrote those words
did not know each other
but for each their soundtrack
was freedom
and for each the soundtrack
was as mean as it was free.

There was a reason for the rhyme
and a reason for the sharp scratch

of guitar and turntable.
You had to be there, but
soon there was everywhere

and that was that.  A snarl
and a linking of arms. A beat
and a charming discord.

A free hand against the slapdown.

~~~~~

Let us proclaim
the mysteries of faith:

To deface a culture
is to create a culture.

Distortion
of a signal
begins with a tight embrace
of its source.

Degradation
of a signal
is a function of distance
from source.

A clean channel
doesn’t exist.

Genre is expectation.

Expectation can be packaged
for indefinite shelf life.

There is a shelf in the store for every expectation.

~~~~~~~

If you are hip hop,
if you are punk rock,
you understand that theft
is your birthright
and whenever you steal from a thief
you are washed free of stain.

A tag is reclamation.
A sample is recommendation.
A headspin is a compass in a maze.
A microphone is always aimed at Jericho.

A crunched chord is a fingerprint.
A sneer is an oath sworn in a kangaroo court.
A downbeat is a sustained objection.
A mohawk is a crown of broken handcuffs

and a microphone is always aimed at Jericho.

Whatever it is
is always defined by volume.

It does not matter
that the sound
will be heard by different people
in different worlds.

It matters
that those worlds shake the same way,
and that someone always complains.

It matters
that it is not heard as music
by musicians.

It matters
that the instruments are dismissed,
the clothing is spat on,
that the culture of the cultured becomes afraid,

that spatter and cut and mix and shred
are chained to the juggernaut
and drag the weight of freedom behind them,
mean freedom inflicting itself with a roar and rumble
of jubilation
at the sound of breaking glass,

and then,
always,
someone buys the shards
and the sound,
sells them at a profit,

and we have to begin again.

~~~~~~~

Mean freedom
understands that freedom will hurt.
That there will be blood flecked skin
when the hand travels through glass
to snatch back what was taken.

Mean freedom doesn’t wait for Independence Day.
Mean freedom lights its fuses any time a match is available.

Mean freedom haunts.  It spooks
convention.  It curses and spits
because it knows it will be imprisoned again
at some point.

Mean freedom
makes us grit in the cogs, the static
in the signal.

~~~~~~~~~~

The signal
degrades, fades,
a channel
falls like a rusted bridge,
a supercar goes boom,
a college girl gets crunk  —

and an old punk
steeped in nostalgia
reimagines a slogan.

An embrace tightens and distorts
both holder and what is held.
Long ago I fell into arms
that bent me tight.
I burned holes in my jeans at 18.
I burned my hand with a cigarette at 23
then quit smoking for 25 years
only to begin again
on the street tonight,
standing by the store window,
bathed in the sounds of war,

because I am reminded that every riot
starts with the sound of breaking glass
and ends in fire.

I smash the window,
toss the sneaker at the Ferrari,
run like hell itself is after me.

God, how I have missed this.

~~~~~~

Somewhere back in 1975,

those boys
gathered the fingers they had just used
to write on those dirty windows
back into their fists.

They punched out the glass
and in the trickling blood they felt
at last
the cool sting of the real.

Freedom
rocked from side to side,
shouting as it
prepared a counterpunch:

That’s a good start,
but if you come through that window after me,
I will not let you pass any more walls
without a war.

Bring it on,
responded the bleeding boys,

when we scream for freedom,
we mean freedom.
Is that really your name?
Is this really your song?

And now, thirty five years later,
one more question:

How much is this gonna cost?

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The Holy Grail

The best thing about a hot day in spring
is driving at night with the window down
and feeling cold.  Humid air rushing over
a bare arm hanging over the outside
of the door.  Taking the long way home
to keep it going.  Hoping the house
will have cooled by the time you get there.

The best thing about not owning a gun
is thinking about owning one.  Thinking
about understanding the nature of safety
and risk without having to practice
their balance.  Fantasy of capture
and defense and an easy Wild West answer
to the dread of getting out of the car
and walking to your door unbothered
by shadows waiting to do you harm.

The best thing about a key is how it promises
that you will be able to get in and out
with little trouble.  The plain and singular
permission that is granted to you and only you
to come and go as needed or desired, to occupy
and refashion your own space as your castle
or womb or tomb, and only you will live there
and allow entrance or egress at your whim.

The best thing about the Holy Grail
is the Knights Templar.  The legend of
protectorate and secrecy, possible heresy
in the face of a disaster lurking outside
their castles and strongholds.  The romance
of a single artifact that holds salvation,
a climate that holds true to a promise
of eventual peace.  The need for war
in service to that.  The myth of something
precious that solves the world.

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Poem For Zardasht Osman

Giving up the integrity of your body
because you would not give up the integrity
of your poem,

trader,

seems fair to me
who has not been offered that barter,
ever.  I do not know
if I would have felt the same

had I been in your shoes —

but then,
I am not sure there was ever an offer
at all.  Perhaps it was simply
an equation:  a poem
equalled death.  No chance
at bargaining.  No variable
rate of exchange…

I will try and spend my poems
as if I would have
done the same.

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

Link:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-lundberg/writer-killed-over-a-poem_b_576817.html

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How I Like My Poems

From a prompt by Laura Yes Yes…

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

i like my poems
like i like
my people:

twisty.

ready to back water
when necessary if the stream’s
strong and running
in circles. 

contrary
as a summer storm
in the hours after the heat’s
gone down, way down.

with perfect eyes.

with stented hearts
nonetheless faithfully
pounding their red burden
of oxygen and waste
around and around.

i like my poems like i like
my men, my women,
my children, my badger gods
burrowing flat and angry,
my beggars and socialites
sticking out in the city’s gray,
my farmer beloved of his crops,
my low tide waiting to rise:

slotted to go one way,
going another, snarling
or tranquil in turns,
staring into the dark
of crematory urns
and blowing the ashes into motion
as each word works past their lips
and stirs the past into the future.

i like my poems, your poems,
any poems by anyone,

to be the sex they choose to be,
to gender at will and to change their minds
without betraying their nature,
in fact to change their minds is to obey their nature
and if i falter before them,
if i am startled at how they turn,

i like them all the more.

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Pawn Shop Sniffle Blues

1.
Sneezy!  Sniffling
and raw-throated
for a couple of days now,
it’s as tired as a song
that’s been popular for too long —
can’t figure out why
it’s hung on — but it has
and I’m stuck
with the drip drip drip
in my head.

Dammit!  Wanted
to fly, to stand up and cheer
today, but I’m beat
and sickly, not quite sick
but run down enough to feel
energy sliding south
from my chest to my feet
where it’s going to pool
and harden and hold me still.

2.
I’m too broke to buy the necessary drugs

so it’s pawn shop time
again,
with me standing here stuffed up and red-eyed.

I bet they’re thinking that I’m crying
because I’m here again with a different guitar.
But it’s just the cold.  I’m never sad
when I stand at this counter.

Pawn shops are full of hope
and optimism — how many people
take the ticket and the cash
certain they’ll be back in time
and better off and better prepared to hold on
to what they left behind?

And on the other side of the wall,
all that dashed hope recycled for others
to find…

I pawn every guitar once
just so the wood can soak all that in.

3.
So I stop and buy
Nyquil and Dayquil
and a packet of foil-clad pills.

At home I mix and match
then float away
under my balloon head,

reach for the neck of the guitar
that isn’t there. 
I wouldn’t call this happiness,

but it’s not sorrow either.
Somewhere in between,
and at least I’m not sneezing.

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A Mean Freedom (Second Draft)

Second draft.  Lots of work still left to do here.  Comments welcome.

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

A white-soled black sneaker,
a Chuck Taylor knockoff,
on sale for 75 dollars
in a store window.

Along the border
of the sole, white thread
on black, the following words:

PUNK ROCK MEANS FREEDOM

I have a violent urge
to stretch out a finger
and blot out
that “S”
so I will be able to breathe again.

In front of me a blond girl, professionally slim
and decked in designer-wrecked rags,

excitedly tells her similar friends
that she wants to get crunk tonight,

while a Ferrari
as black as a hole
bangs out white streams of bass
for the length
of its slow audacious cruise
down Thayer Street.

HIP HOP MEANS FREEDOM

and again I subtract the “S”
to get at some truth I can stand behind,

and the more these metaphors are strained,
the more they seem the same.

~~~~

It was 1975

when in two apartments,
one in Queens,
one in the Bronx,

two boys thinking the same thing
stretched out their fingers
and touched grimy windows,

each one writing those same bleeding words
in the gray condensation
on the pane:

Mean Freedom.

The city was falling apart around them both,

and each had a soundtrack
behind him,

and the boys who wrote those words
did not know each other
but for each their soundtrack
was freedom
and for each the soundtrack
was as mean as it was free.

~~~~

Let us proclaim
the mysteries of faith:

To deface a culture
is to create a culture.

Distortion
of a signal
begins with a tight embrace
of its source.

Degradation
of a signal
is a function of distance
from source.

A clean channel
doesn’t exist.

Genre is expectation.

Expectation can be packaged
for indefinite shelf life.

There is a shelf in the store for every expectation.

~~~~~~~

If you are hip hop,
if you are punk rock,
you understand that theft
is your birthright
and whenever you steal from a thief
you are washed free of stain.

A tag is reclamation.
A sample is recommendation.
A headspin is a compass in a maze.
A microphone is always aimed at Jericho.

A crunched chord is a fingerprint.
A sneer is an oath sworn in a kangaroo court.
A downbeat is a sustained objection.
A mohawk is a crown of broken handcuffs

and a microphone is always aimed at Jericho.

~~~~~~~~

It is always defined by volume.

It does not matter that the nature of the sound
will be heard by different people
in different worlds.

It matters that those worlds shake the same way,
and that someone always complains.

It matters that it is not heard as music
by musicians.

It matters that the instruments are dismissed,
the clothing is spat on,
the nature of the urge to create is beaten,

that the culture of the cultured becomes afraid.

It matters that the defacers of their culture
find their way to the light,
that spatter and cut and mix and shred
are chained to the juggernaut
and drag the weight of freedom behind them,

mean freedom inflicting itself with a roar and rumble
of jubilation
at the sound of breaking glass.

I burned holes in my jeans at 18.
I burned my hand with a cigarette at 23
then quit smoking for 25 years
only to begin again
on the street tonight,
standing by the store window,
bathed in the sounds of war,

because I was reminded that every riot
starts with the sound of breaking glass
and ends in fire.

~~~~~~~~

Mean freedom
understands that freedom will hurt.
That there will be blood flecked skin
when the hand travels through glass
to snatch back what was taken.

Mean freedom doesn’t wait for Independence Day.
Mean freedom lights its fuses any time a match is available.

Mean freedom haunts.  It spooks
convention.  It curses and spits
because it knows it will be imprisoned again
at some point.

Mean freedom
makes us grit in the cogs.

All of us
have missed this.

~~~~~~~~~~

A signal
degrades, fades,
a channel
falls like a rusted bridge,
a supercar goes boom,
a college girl gets crunk  —

and an old punk
steeped in nostalgia
reimagines a slogan. 

An embrace tightens and distorts
both holder and what is held.
I fall into arms
that bend me tight.

The sneaker in the window
and its price tag are as costly
as the Ferrari when it comes
to the price of traveling the distance
from the source. 

I smash the window,
toss the sneaker at the Ferrari,
run like hell is after me.

Just another day
on the street.  I have
missed this. 

Somewhere back in 1975,

those boys
pulled the fingers they had just used
to write on a dirty window
back into their fists.

They punch out the glass
and in the trickling blood they feel
at last
the cool sting of the real. 

Freedom
rocked from side to side,
shouting as it
prepared a counterpunch:

That’s a good start,
but if you come through that window after me,
I will not let you pass any more walls
without a war.

Bring it on,
responded the bleeding boys,

when we scream for freedom,
we mean freedom.
Is that really your name?
Is this really your song?

How much will it cost us to be sure?

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Dancer Fragment

The flickering silhouette of a dancer —
unfeatured, solid and flat against
the brick wall.

Long nights staring at this.

To fill a space with imagination
and make it perfect in your mind
is natural.

To know that there is something
alive and breathing
creating that blank space
that you do not care to investigate —

 a man must be doing this,
I must be a man.

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Everything I’ve Learned

That I am nothing.

That as nothing, I am exalted
to be nothing. Deliciously
inconsequential, a part of the Machine
of Stars/Necklace on
Neck of Creation.

That I
mean so little anything is free
to hold me.

That I am peer
of leopard and dysentery,
of coconut palm and stray wrapper.

That the pattern of rejection/containment
is the warp of my woof.  Woolly headed
and slubby as a pilled cardigan
on a grandfather’s back, only here
for the warmth.

That I am song
under shower breath.

That I will be
forgotten and this gladdens the non-ego
that fights my stick-wielding caveman heart.

That love and robbery holler equally
in the alley of my elbows as I grasp
the always coming always receding days
I bore through in anger and dread and joy.

That joy itself is movie written by another
but I imagine myself as grip and gaffer at once
upon its set.

That the skin I’ve stretched
and the blood I’ve pressurized
will look awful
when I go, bowels a roaring ghost
of past indiscretion, face a sagged charlie horse
in a leg of a loved one long after my burial,
putting a hitch in their walk.

That every barking tree limb in a forest
laden with ice knows its place better than I do
and I am happy to listen and learn.

That a man’s
no more human than a tin can on a heap of worms
and that the whine of a bomb is a natural song
of the city of God.

That I am happy
and nothing, all is nothing, since all is everything
and nothing at once

it must be so that nothing is important and
nothing stands out, importance itself
is the Ganges of my fierce greed
and I will burn myself to ash and crackle
in the consummation of The Wheel
as the last thing I say to another
is swallowed in the Great River
and I am lost to the sun and the voice
and the Necklace that hangs upon the neck of Creation
will be my shade against the long night
of what comes after this life,

the night of knowing how small I was
and how much I offered to Completion
by simply being what I was:
a petty, magnificent animal.

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