Monthly Archives: January 2015

No Farther Tonight

New Poem.

As there are so many stories
in which nothing happens
either good or bad to anyone —

once upon a time,
etc., etc., 
everyone went to bed
and got up the next day
and they all lived
repetitively ever after — 

I will stop here and read no farther
tonight,
hoping the next page I turn

will offer the grand head of a lion
roaring in the middle of Main Street
while stars come down
from the day-bright sky
and dim themselves
to glow feebly around the lion
in honor of that sound.

I want to be in that story
evermore —
embedded in the midst of 

the roaring of a lion
surrounded by
a miracle of
humility before
the extraordinary.


An Egg, A Mystery, A Blessing

New Poem.  

The usual questions echoing
in the empty night, but tonight
something’s answering

in the shape of a 
fat chord and an imagined
horn chart, answering

with the compassion of 
a tender mandolin strummed
as lullaby

on a sultry Southern porch
over the ghost
of the failed child 

you cannot forget, answering
blue, answering street joy
Saturday night, answering

in your own amazed voice,
the music you just made
beginning to fade

but not without
leaving the knowledge
that if it can be done once

it can be done again
nestled inside you
like an egg, a mystery, a blessing.


Wildcats

New Poem.

When making any art
you walk a fine line
between personal chaos

and chaos another
might find worthy
of time and attention.

Two wildcats
sit on either side 
of that line,

one inside chaos 
and one just outside
but within reach. 

Either can kill you. 

If the one inside 
slashes out at you,
you know before it connects

that you’re dead.
If you are killed instead
by the one sitting outside

reaching in to you,
you may never
know,

and that is called
the moment
of the masterpiece.


Wisdom Paths

Originally posted 11/3/2012.  

When wisdom arrives, it is moving slowly.
It was not sent. It followed
its own path to us.

It says, when asked, “I am here
because this path
brought me here.”

We know what happens next
because our path brought us here
and we understood what would meet us 

at the end. Mountains
at the edge of the scene nod, and 
the long hair of the meadows waves its assent.

As wisdom serenely kills us, 
we accept it with the understanding

that this catastrophe has come to instruct us

because we seem
forever incapable
of learning without it.


Estrangement

Originally posted 3/5/2011.

What do you say to your long-lost arm
when it comes crawling back?

You’d better start thinking of how
you will answer; look behind you — 

here it comes,
one finger length at a time.

Do you demand to know where it went,
why it took so long 
to return? Or should you

ignore it, brazen it out,
turn and walk away,

its vacancy hanging
like a banner on your shoulder?

No, you owe it more than to break it like that,
seeing how it’s come so far 
seeking its former home.  

You should use finesse to bluff the past
whenever it comes back demanding its place.

You at least should know better than to say, 
“I’ve gotten used to living without you.  

I have a better hold on things without you,”
even though it’s true.

Don’t be that cruel. Show it a little love.
At the least, lay a light kiss upon its open hand.

You have nothing to lose now
from offering it that moment of care, nothing

you could not easily surrender,
regain, and retain. That is, after all,

why you are now whole
in spite of having lost it in the first place.


A Cure For Insomnia

New Poem.

You find unexpected wakefulness
before dawn. You say to yourself

there must be some reason
to be awake, some insomniacs-only lesson

to be learned. You are correct.
Here it is:

there’s no point to being this awake.
No prophecy to be delivered. No importance

to be found in soured stomach
and aching neck. To assume so much value

for your problem, to assume you were meant
to go through this because it was necessary

to activate some gift or hidden power,
does not make you anything more

than typical. Everyone’s sure
they are paying dues on some 

postponed glory with every tribulation they face.
Truth be told,

when we are awake without reason this early
it’s probably safe to assume

that we are struggling with lying in the dark
strictly because we are lying

about there being a purpose 
to such struggles. We’re just not

that important. We aren’t 
the go-to people for revelations;

never were, never will be. Maybe
realizing that should keep us awake

but if we are to be honest with ourselves,
we hide from admitting it, which is why 

we so often find ourselves
here.


All-American Hindsight

New Poem.

On paper the words
were stunning 
and simple and 
well-turned,

the guarantees
seemed
sincere and 
all-encompassing; but 

now, after all the charm
of feeling welcomed
and declared to be
part of the family 
has passed,

now that loopholes and
conditions and 
unfortunate realities
have been explained
and explained again,

I recall that
behind every entrance to 
what has been called
“polite society”

stands a minion
with an agreeably polished
and impeccably detailed
gun.


Magellan Song

Originally posted here on 2/12/2009, but dates to late 1994 or so.

when I speak to you
of the way it is 

your eyes widen in surprise 

(or is that astonishment – the right word
makes so much difference
when one tries to describe the way it is)

it seems sometimes
that no right words exist 

to carry my complete meaning

do you think 
I would speak to you
of hearts or forever

use any tired words remotely resembling
those dry and familiar forms

if I had language that could make how I feel clearer

all I have for you is known and common
a few small words
I may have offered too often 

but I promise you that if I had been alive
in mythic times

I would have invented a language 

that would have
the syllables
I need

every word would have been a nail 
in the ark that saved
all the couples of the world

the covenant bow that was revealed 
after the rain had dried 
would have colors only you would be able to see 

I would have been clear enough
to have torn Babel down
all on my own 

if I had the right tongue 
I could reform history 
with improbable, impossible words — 

if I had the tongue I need to speak my mind today
I swear I could remake the world 
in the corners of my mouth

and offer its fresh contours to you
in a song of Magellan – the circumnavigator
now just barely remembered

but once his name was the leading edge of a legend
an arc of hope
from known to unknown

if I could speak the words I need
I would conjure him

I would spell him into life this morning 

as we sink our toes into this cold Atlantic sand — 
look at all that horizon out there – 
its dark line the promise of unseen shores –

to reach it we will need a new vocabulary 
but for now this is all
I can bring myself to say: 

come closer
stay close
sunrise can’t be too far away


Want to hear a poem or two?

Indiefeed, the premier site for podcasts of live poetry of ALL sorts, has long been a supporter of the poetry and music ensemble I perform and record with, The Duende Project.  Here’s a podcast with commentary on a cut from our last album, “Basement Takes.”  Hope you enjoy it.

On Nantucket

If you do like what you hear, ALL of our albums are available for purchase as digital downloads in any format you choose here:

Bandcamp for The Duende Project

And we occasionally post demos of prospective recordings for future albums here for your listening and occasional FREE downloading pleasure here:

Soundcloud for The Duende Project

Give any or all a listen!

Thanks,
Tony


Holy Thursday

Originally posted 3/21/2008; original title, “Thursday.”

you long ago said
“what if.”

now, you say
“I will.”

this is no longer
the argument
ahead of the contract;
this is the contract:

last words;
finger flung high;
grand illusion shrinking
as you speak.

you have opened the black door
to the black room.
you do not turn back.

wiping blood and grit from under your nails,
you ask yourself

if your words really 
put this sand in your gears.
what if it was there waiting all along?
what if the will you agreed to follow 
wasn’t yours? who set these things to work? 
who made this struggle? 

was it truly your words
that made this happen, or was it all ready to go
and simply waiting for you to begin?
wasn’t there someone before you who said
the word would be made flesh?

you find yourself outside yourself,
staring steadily at your flesh
taking those words to heart.

the contract has been sealed.
even if you could take the words back
you’d still be bound by them.

they were never yours to do with
as you wanted

but wanting
has nothing
to do with this.


NSA, CIA, FBI, Etc.

Originally posted 7/28/2013.

Let’s get over the fear
of who might be listening and remember
we were born to free speech.

Let’s talk louder.
Let’s not relent at all and talk about everything
at once.  Let’s mention our

bowel movements
in the same breath
as our passionate defense

of the right to violate a law
in pursuit of justice beyond it.
Give our breakfast cereals credit

for insider trading.  Describe our cars
as perfect examples of style so wild
they terrorize the road under them.

Don’t capitulate: overwhelm.
They won’t know what to do
with a firehose narrative.  If by chance

they come for us, let’s laugh at them.
Let’s laugh at them, all of us.  Laughter
is the war they’ll never win.


Attending To Mundane Things

Originally posted 4/27/2009.

Crystal skulls and pyramids,
sweat lodges and vision quests,
Tarot cards and Zodiac — good night to you,
you’ve served 
your purpose.

Your creators are long dead.
They’d laugh at us if they were not.
They’d marvel at those who don’t know how
to find prophecy in the mundane, 

in the random jumble of socks in a drawer
or the shadows of skyscrapers 
knifing across downtown streets 
if they tried.  They’d say, every jammed closet

is a cathedral if you know 
how to pray in it and each time clock
offers a mantra in its solid thunk upon
a dreary card.

The Great Intelligence of the Universe
was not absent when those things were created. 
The web of prophecy is splendid

precisely because it snares

the profane and the sacred together,
sees that they are indistinguishable.
When the ancients are incessantly called upon
to tell us where we’re heading, they must ask themselves:

who are these frightened people who do not understand
how to make do with what’s right under their noses,
cobbling a peephole into time
from whatever is close at hand? When we were alive,

we lifted crystals from the dirty ground
whenever we found them.  We took a deck of cards
we’d used for gambling and sorted them to see 
if how they fell could tell us how we might fall.

When the king died, we cut and piled rocks
until they lined up with stars and sighted along them
so we could see where he was headed.  And in the dark
low dome of a hut covered in skins,

we poured cold water over scalding stones,
drew in the steam, blew it out again
to mingle the Inner with the Outer.
It was something we did every day, anyway,

every time we cooked or bathed.  All we did
to meet God was add a little attention
to the mundane.  Shape a little something
just a little bit more carefully than normal.

All we ever did to meet God
was look for God and trust that
we wouldn’t have to look far.
Neither will you. Surrender

your grip on how we tried to get by
and find your own.  Let us go.
What you find may not be God at all
but at least it will be yours.


Unspeakable War

New poem. 

Here, today, on this wide plain, war.
A spilling. A multitude
burning. Skins

being shed. Conflict and denial
blooming like nightshade; pale, pale
roses laid upon fresh-turned earth;

I call this out, flooding the hot, darkened air
with my ocean voice, standing still
and claiming this will hold the field for peace;

but the fire sweeps forward, apparently proof
against all I can do as my sword hand
reprimands my tongue, saying:

you have abdicated your place, it’s my turn.
My sword reprimands my pen,
saying: no to your arrogance, your assurance

that your way is mightier; I am ready
for what comes next 
as you are not.

Shamed and unable, 
I am surrounded with burning,
confused, terrified; which weapon

should we choose — should we fold back
into our words or fall silent, save our breath, 
and fight? All I can think of are

my sharpened senses,
the stench, and the flame. There’s
no right, no wrong, no words,

and no sword; only this unspeakable war, 
fought from moment to moment
with anything at hand, never to end.


If Not Now, When?

Originally posted 4/12/2010.

When we have crossed the last line
When we have left unhappy and can see happy
When our teeth stop traveling in search of substance

When we demand and no longer beg
When we are seen fully by another
When the sense of otherness is tamed

When learning is the equivalent of living
When it stops being a big deal
When work is jazz and not techno

When the lovers blow hot always hot
When the cool is demonstrated by a hand in a fire unburned
When warm clothes make the war go away

When street is asphalt and not adjective
When prairie takes precedence
When river is clean fuel

When ocean slips pregnancy to us through our eyes
When bird and snake combine to make historical marker
When tumbledown prisons become flower mounds

When the last butchers fall meatless into our arms
When mean mumbling is sampled and made to rock
When beauty is defined as “every face we see”

When this is all quaint
When no one needs to learn this at any emotional level
When this is so clear it is invisible

Then


Ghost

Originally posted 3/17/2005.

Ghost, you call me. 
Not The Ghost, 
but Ghost, 

making that my proper name, 
not (of course) my Christian name, 
but the older kind:
the one that means something 

and tells something about you 
that remains true.

There’s nothing new 
about me
being Ghost
except that now that I’m dead,

they call me that directly.

Back when I was just a guy,
long before I leaped off that bridge,
I used to daydream about flying
and walking through walls.
I wished for the power 
of invisibility, to blow unseen
so coldly and suddenly
into a space
that everyone in that room
would turn and look for me
and shudder when I wasn’t there.
I never had impact,
I didn’t want risk, 
so my fantasy became impact

without risk: that would be the life,
I thought. There’s a good joke:
I have the life I wanted
now that I don’t have a life.

I used to cringe
when they told scary stories at camp.
Later I laughed at horror films,
pretending bravery.
Once you’re here, you find
it’s nothing like those things.

It’s all so – routine.
You show up at regular times,
whistle a little in a dark hallway,
provide a moment of clarity to someone
who’s used to being safe and warm.
You become a lesson
no one believes they need

until it’s learned.

There are small joys here.
This is a beautiful world,
once you can no longer feel it.
It takes your breath away
to see the way it moves.
I spend years just standing
in front of the strangest things:
not sunsets or rainbows
but garbage trucks and fires
and drive-by victims.
Disposal has become
an art form to me

now that I’ve been disposed of.

I am Ghost, have always been Ghost,
and Ghost is what you call me now.
I’ll take it
the way I have always taken it:

with a bowed head.
Before, I would come when called
because I had no place to be
other than the place I was called to.
Nothing’s really changed:
I blow through, am unseen,
maybe I’ll be remembered
in your children’s dreams.
Maybe we’ll see each other
one night
on the landing, where
you might call me Ghost,

or you might call me imaginary.

Either will do. 
I answer to both.