Monthly Archives: June 2010

The Palmist And The Pessimist

You have a long life line,
said the palmist.  I know,
I replied.  I’m already old. 

You have a symbol of great power
there too, she said. I know that
too, I said.  Tell me something
I don’t know.

Your hands
are empty, she said.  They were full
and now they are open
and waiting for the next gift
to fall into them.

That was news to me
who had never felt anything,
ever, of any weight or substance
in there.

Did you not feel my hands in yours,
warm, soft, and ready, she asked?
And I had not.

Ach, she said,
What is one
to do with someone like you
who asks for his fortune
to be revealed
when he cannot feel the one
that is already there?

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Social Networking

An ancient gentleman
in a cap
sat outside the cafe
and said to me, out of the blue,
in what I suspect
was an Albanian accent:

“Best friend. Fifty years,”

and held up a burning handrolled cigarette.

“I no speak English much.
I no speak without at all,
best friend, tobacco,
fifty years…”

And he laughed through brown peg teeth.

I could see what he meant.
Hell, we were talking, weren’t we?
And we hadn’t been.  Not till then,
and here he was being perfectly clear —
two friends laughing, perfectly clear, two of us
smoking together, holding our cigarettes
like talking sticks, taking turns
agreeing on friendship and sociability,
bridging gaps and silence
within a cloud of friendly, acrid smoke.

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My Town In Moonlight

I delight
in the way my town shines
in moonlight.

It seems
that the buildings and yards
are freely enjoying themselves,

which is why all my money
has crawled under a rock
and my gasoline has disappeared

back into the soil
to cry as it longs for cars
and travel

and a return to the days
when I only got by
by thinking about leaving and not coming back.

I delight now
in the moon shining
on the empty road outside,

on my closed garage
and depleted wallet, useless anyway
now that all the stores are closed.

For once, I don’t want for anything
and it’s enough to pretend
that this feeling will last.

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Fast

Fast
as a car on a banked oval
going over and over the same ground;

fast as the slide
at the amusement park
that drops you into water
so quickly you at once want
to do it again;

fast as the fatal words
falling from your stunned lips
into the face of your traitor boss;

that is how fast it will happen
when you reach the point
of breaking again
in the same place you broke last time
this happened.

Slowly,
in the afterglow of the failure,
you come to see how awe-inspiring it is
to fail so well.  You are an expert, after all,
at the craft.  An inspiration
to future failures
who will look to you
and say

that’s how it is done.

And that makes you a success at something,
you fast speaker, fast in the grip
of blurt and impulse.
Did you know there are people
who would kill to be like that?
They imagine, of course,
that it will work out well for them —

which it might.
And you ponder that for a long time,
racing through the possibilities.

It is possible
that you are no failure,
but a genius of the moment.

It is possible that speed
is your violin
and you are Paganinni,
it is your guitar and you are
the Vai of the retort and the Hendrix
of the sudden move.

It is possible
that every move you’ve made
that dumped you, every spin
on the track after a hard charge,
every splashdown into bitter chlorine
was a masterpiece of the art
of playing a bad hand.

That it hasn’t always worked out
may be as much an illusion
as what would come from reasoned thought
and measured speech,
but that is something
you’d like to know for sure,
as fast as you can.

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Odin

Odin
sits on a stone
with one eye on the Tree
and the other rolling on the ocean’s floor.
The meanest of the gods
is half blind but
nothing escapes him.
Warrior days are coming.
The same old Trickster
is still pulling the strings;
he can tell by the ache
in his half empty face.

He adjusts his robe
and pokes at the empty socket,
inside which he swears he can feel
the messages sent here by the roots
piercing the sea bed
and plunging all the way
to the core of the earth
without burning.

What they carry to the limbs of Yggdrasil
is the taste of the smoke of the axis
as it grinds down.
He can do nothing about that —

if the Tree is poisoned,
if Asgard falls,
he’ll sit here
and think about war
and pestilence
as any old man would,
as they all do
in the twilight of their years.

There’s a reason he holds
his robe so close
against the eventual cold
that will follow the Burning
that will surely come.

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Poem for Slumberfest

I wrote this poem for a good friend of mine, Mike McGee, to read at Summer Slumberfest, a 25 hour open mike he runs annually in San Jose, CA.  It just finished a little while ago; glad to have it there.  Just a bit of fun.

Stay up all night tonight
with a poem
for a pillow,
but don’t sleep on it
because a good poem is a dream
that doesn’t ask you to close your eyes
although you certainly can
if you choose.  But don’t sleep on it —

for a good poem is wary,
sneaky as a politician on the DL
doing stuff in the shadows —
and you’ll want to catch it
and shout about it
and point at it when you do.

Did I mention don’t sleep on it?
You can’t sleep on a good poem.

A good poem’s got spikes
and a lot of tickle to it.
A good poem’s got a lot of myth
and it’s hard to fall asleep
with a chimera in your ear.
A good poem’s got a lion
and a motorcycle in it
and if that sounds like a circus
so be it, and who sleeps on a circus?

So stick this under your head
and if you start to fall asleep,
pull it right the fuck out
and stick another one under there!
One man’s poem is another geek’s poison,
one woman’s poem is another dog’s bone
and that ought to make sense to someone,

so don’t sleep on a good poem,
don’t sleep on it,

not that you’ll be able to,
not tonight
when there will be a sneaky loud circus all night long
and clowns and dogs and clogs
and bad facts and serious silly heartbreaths
and the words no one ever had the courage to invent
to explain the ones that no one has the courage to deny
and the pillows themselves will become poems
and you won’t be able to sleep at all
because you’ll be picking up your head off the floor
from here straight on
to the fire and storm of morning…
shit,
why do I even bother saying
don’t fall asleep?

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Slammer

Give me three minutes.

I’ll reach inside,
seize a block of ice,
chop off a piece,
fling it at you,
set you on fire,
then dip a spoon
in the water
and put you out.
And all in three minutes —
pop song time;
for how many generations now
has that been enough
to get the job done?

Astonishment
and heat, my stock in trade;
speed and gesture, tools
in my pocket; caution
a chock kicked out from under the wheels…

give me three minutes
and I’ll give you the cold news
you seek.

Give me three minutes,
five paddles, your screams,
your shouted unison lines,
your prayers and curses
when the scores fall
for and against me,
and I think we’ll have a show —

yeah, we’ve got a show.

And afterwards,

all the other words
I didn’t use
can bubble from me
in hotel rooms or
on street corners,
can surf whispers into
a momentary lover’s ear,
can be spilled in corners
for you if you stop for a moment;

give me three more minutes
and I’ll do what I do
when family is around:

what I do
when family is around
is melt all the way down.

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Reform Legislation

In the corner of the weedy lot,
one brick and a restless crowd.
Something needs to happen.
A wall needs to be built
for a new house or a fortress.
If this brick were a harmonica
perhaps a song could be written.
But it has no holes or reeds.
No music in this brick
without a hollow log to bang it on.
No mortar or even mud here
to bind it to another brick
which is also not present.

A few members of the crowd note
that one could sit for hours making lists
of things needed for something to happen
if one only had pencil and paper
to record them on. 

While this is happening,
windows in towers on all sides of the lot
fill with onlookers wondering
when someone in the crowd
will realize the brick
can be used a missile.

Should we do something,
they murmur among themselves? 

We should.  We should hide
the sand and mortar and the wood
one could use for making doors
or battering rams for knocking down
existing doors.   Someone down there
is going to figure it out soon enough
if we don’t take action. 

Let us do that, then.
We can talk about how to hide it all
before we begin.  There are differences of opinion
but we all know what must be done,
so let’s agree on this:
that no matter how we disagree,
we can’t let anyone
in the mob outside hear.

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Weep, Mary

no more water
the fire next time

in the wake of every flame
every raid
every war
there is water

the reason for weeping
is that it recalls how evil
was once cleansed
from our world

so Mary
weep

as you lie burned
in the dust behind
the latest army to pass

thinking of the blackened children you’ve lost
whose bodies lie smoking in the wake of the machine
the Kings have driven for thousands of years

hear us, Mary
we are your tears

we will bring back the Flood
to soothe you
abrade your slipping skin
cool your blistered arms and reddened legs
wash your face free of the smoky taste of grief

you will rise
upon the face of the waters
a token of hope
that someday
the world won’t need to burn

so Mary
weep

bring us forth

we will remind God
of His broken promise

that the children
in whose laughter you hear a covenant
and in whose faces you see redemption
would not again become
ashes in your mouth

let us fall from you
strike these scorched stones
to open the springs
in a song of rushing water
and set a rainbow in its mist

no more fire
the water next time
Pharaoh’s gonna get drownded
and no more Marys gonna weep

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Business Travel

Off to visit you, Florida,
Sunshine State:
you’ve always been dark to me.
I see outlaws
in your smile, every time
I land there.

Then onto Georgia.
For me you’re just Atlanta
caught behind an endless ring of highway.
I know there’s more to discover
but those concrete barriers
always feel like barbed wire.

I’ve been again and again to places
that I do not really know,
spent time in enclaves
that looked like other enclaves
and ate food that only differed
in a trace of spice or a clever name.

A lot of suburbs and made-up places
built fresh upon what used to be
prairie or desert, swamp or forest,
full of boxes and chain amenities.
A lot of conference rooms
that looked out over other conference rooms.

Those edge cities
with their landscaped camouflage,
all those bright hotels
and their regionally friendly art;
I feel sometimes that when I step
from the airport into them,

I haven’t gone anywhere at all.
The miles add up in my accounts
and tell me I can go anywhere I want
with enough advance notice.
I end up at home on every vacation,
the only place strange enough to charm me.

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Recycling

A Bible and a wallet together on the nightstand.
Glasses (repaired many times) as well.
A body unmoving on the bed beside them.

Stop thinking of this as a tragedy.

That the Book is currently not being read is a case of inconvenient timing.
That the wallet contains only three dollars is a case of simple timing.
That the glasses may still be used in their condition is good timing.

Consider the body on the bed beside them as token spent upon a future.
It originally passed into sleep with the expectation of waking.

Inside the body, spilled oil and unending war combined into a greasy swirl.
Inside the body, scent and noise and smoke will be alive and thus contradictory.
There is meaning to be drawn from them in the unstirring body.
It sleeps because it cannot be awake for that to happen.
It remains asleep because it has not found what it sought.

The body was a piece on a board to be moved.
Movement was the domain of the money, the book, and the lenses in their glued frames.
When all were combined a man existed.

Do not imagine that because the man ceased the remainder is of no value.
Each is a section of a puzzle.
Each is one clue.

Bury the body where it can sustain something as it grows.
Give away the Scripture and the glasses.
Pay the Ferryman with the money.
All will be of use in the effort to solve the world.
That this man has stopped solving means nothing to the solution.

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When We Were In The Cult

When we were in the cult
we didn’t get a lot of sleep.
But they said we didn’t need it,
so we didn’t need it.

When we were in the cult
we talked funny; words had meanings there
that seemed a little off,
but we understood each other well enough.

When we were in the cult
we slept with others in the cult
and made a lot of noise about how
everyone ought to be with us.

When we were in the cult
everything that went wrong
was caused by something we’d done.
There were no accidents or errors.

When we were in the cult
we didn’t call it cult.  We just called it
“being there.”  We slept when we could,
fucked each other now and then,

tried not to mess it up
by thinking or saying or doing
things we shouldn’t.  When we were
in the cult, it wasn’t hard

to be in the cult
as long as we didn’t think
we were in one at all.
As long as we told each other that,

it wasn’t bad at all.

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Fear Of A Stupid Death

The fear I have the most trouble shaking
is not the fear of death itself —
I have no fear of inevitable things
like rain or sun or sagging in my chair
with a clogged heart.

It’s the fear of a public and stupid death:

choking on a paintbrush
in a bizarre art accident.
My stomach lining slit
by an errant bay leaf.  Stabbed
with a compass flung
by a petulant eight year old.

I know I’ll laugh about it in the afterlife
but if it happens, if one of those incredible
but embarrassing things takes me out,
in the seconds before I succumb
I know I’ll be thinking,

Christ,
all those years of smoking
and drinking and eating
fried bologna after midnight
were a total waste.

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Butcher Boy

I slip and lose myself
in the dim light
of the tale you’re telling,
struggling under its red surface.

There’s warm blood
and cold blood.
I can tell the difference,
and this is warm
almost to boiling.
I like how it feels,
and it doesn’t matter to me
if the blood you’re crying for here
is yours or another’s,
if the story is fiction or not.

All of us have bathed
in the stuff at some point
and understand how it clings
and tastes of iron, no matter
the source.  When it’s stage blood,
it stinks of sugar and sham;
there is steel here.

My tongue sliced open,
my ears full.
I break into air as you finish,
crawling onto the shore
you’ve provided for me.

A ride worth taking,
butcher boy.  May you never
have to tell it again.

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Dance Hall Days

You dance with perfection
now and then.

She tugs you forward, flirts you onto
the floor for a twirl, licks your earlobe
and says, “come with me.”

You beg off and she winks at you,
certain you’ll be back.

She knows that you know
that the only path
to loving her
means leaving this world permanently behind.

It does thrill you when perfection says,
Simply close your eyes and melt
into my sweet arms.  She smells of gardenias
and is soft as hollyhock pollen
on a bee’s leg.

It’s no wonder
you count pills into a ring box
and tie it a noose for a bow
after a turn around the floor with her.

But then you consider the impending poppies,
the fuschia regaining strength
after you brought it in from a blistering sun,
the cardinal couple on the feeder, the joy of
the three legged dog upon your arrival.

Last night’s mad music
fades.  Perfection blows you a kiss.
She’s the everlasting love of your life,
but she steps back to her table.

She’ll be there, her kiss as reliable
as a single shot shotgun
when you’re ready.  She’s on
your dance card and she’s sure of you
even as you fall to your knees
to bathe in the wind through your window.

You both know it will bring rain
eventually, a beat as smooth
as brushes on a cymbal,
that can’t be denied forever.

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