Monthly Archives: August 2015

Broken Windows

They say a lot of things…

they say a rising tide lifts all boats.
They say policing quality of life issues 
(broken windows, sad panhandlers) 
will raise all boats.  
They say the eyes
are the windows of the soul;
if the soul has broken windows 
that’s the fault of the face they’re in
and we should police them
right into the big clean up… 

they say a lot of things…a lot of things…

They say the path to a man’s heart
runs through his stomach.  

They say center mass 
is the best way to aim.  

They say the surest path to the heart
is to aim for it directly
and if the heart shot misses 
then a gut shot kills too,

slowly but certainly,
especially if you can wait hours for it 
to kill…

they say a lot of things, along with so many things
they don’t say…

they say race is a social construct.  
They don’t say they built it to bind and blind and kill.

They say all lives matter.
They don’t say how they define “all.”

They say it’s best to be polite if you have to scream.
They don’t say much, politely or otherwise, when someone does…

they say so many things,
they never shut up,
they don’t say enough
when they’re talking,
they say what we should do,
they don’t say what they will do,
they don’t say they’ll stop
wringing their hands
or sitting on them
and put them to use,
they don’t say they say so much by saying so much,
by saying so little…behind it all 
a white sheet,
brown shirt, gun hand 

they hear it…no, they don’t hear it…
they hear it…no, they don’t…

then they tell us
to forget it 
and get over it
and stop
and nonsense,
it’s all in our heads, in our
bitter cores…they

hear what they want,
drown the rest 
by talking,

all that clatter
like a storm of broken windows, 
every last word
a window shard seeking
its coat of blood.

What It’s Like

Like coming home each day
to a house with no floor, 
just a drop when I
walk through the door;
like endlessly wondering

how far I’ll fall as it differs
from day to day.  Some days,
there’s barely an inch of air
between me and solid ground;
other days, I don’t think
I’ll ever land.  Either way
I fall through fog and can’t see
the bottom before I strike it
and I’m jelly when I strike it.
It’s like that, this life of mine,

and I dread it unless
you’re there to seize my hand,
unless I see you, bright spot
in the fog; then the fall’s
more like floating,
and the landing is still hard
but it’s not as hard as landing

A Conversation May Have Never Happened

It may have been
a conversation 
held entirely in my head
as it was dark
wherever we were,
there was light
around our faces,

I don’t know
who you were then
and am still unsure
who you are at all

but I address you now 
as if I do know, much as
we addressed each other
in that conversation, as if
we were intimates enmeshed 
in deep caring for each other, and
who we were in fact
was less important
than how we did not stop
to consider it at all

as we told each other
things that mattered 
without caring what would happen 
to the information later
except that we were saving each other,
perhaps, from ourselves —
and if in fact this entire conversation
did not happen except
within me, if all I was saving
was myself,
I’m at peace with that,
I do not need
to know who I spoke to
in my head 
except to say

stay as long as you like, 
forever if need be.

Late August Waking

Summer’s work is
almost over; it prepares
to retire as

Fall comes in fresh 
to the game, crisp
as any rookie.

The two meet 
before dawn, nod 
and shake hands.

I pull the blanket
a little higher and think about
turning off the window fan.


Raised in a fist
misnamed “family.”

Open wound holidays.
Silent scar dinners.

At first sign of having grown up 
enough, was thrown
like a party into 
full war footing.  

Precision became
a refuge — exact words,

sure placement of blows
and slashes.  

Raised a torch seeking
honesty, dropped a hint,
found haunts and safer
dangers to call home.

When asked about all this
there was never much said,

just a star-cut side-eye, a shrug
like a blue vein twitching.

If you kept asking questions
you got hurricanes and spider
invasions and hands, dirty hands,
raised in familiar fists,

heavy with ghosts
fighting to escape.

The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra

Originally posted on 7/21/2010.

A klezmer band purchases a sheepdog
to act as band mascot.  

They change the name of the band to
The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra.

In their hometown south of Detroit,
The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra
plays weddings so often
that the sound of a clarinet in the street
prompts proposals, engagements, elopements…

The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra
begins to travel widely
and soon achieves a degree of acclaim. 
Everywhere they go, they bring the sheepdog 
(known to the audiences only as The Sheepdog) with them. 

He lies on stage during their sets,
perking up for the dances then 
dropping his sad head to the floor
for vocal lamentations and slow songs,
peering out at the audience
through his fringe of fur,
looking right and left.

The Sheepdog is in private life named David.
The band keep this name to themselves,
as they keep their own names private
from the audiences they play for,
using stage names —

Aaron Out Front,
Judith Judith,

Ronaldo Star,
Jonathan Regretful,

Felix the Cat,
Sam The Fiddler.

Sam The Fiddler, in particular,
loves The Sheepdog and
is David’s closest companion in the band:
walking him during breaks;
petting him for long hours
in the privacy of hotel rooms;

brushing his thick coat
before every gig
until it is nothing but shine.

I only have ever seen them play once,
and am not a fanatic
for klezmer music in general — 

but at the wedding
of close friends from college, I saw

The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra
play for hours,
and I danced and wept
as much as the families did

for their offspring.

Tonight on the radio, in the early dark of pre-dawn,
I heard a recording of The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra
and thought of you again: I have never forgotten

how your hair fell across your face so often
that it seemed I was always brushing it back
to see your eyes;

how I danced
and wept with you
and we called both
a celebration of us;

how it seemed
that band was playing

whenever we spoke
or loved, 
and the air itself
blurred into song.

This is not to say
that remembering you
reminds me of a sheepdog,
The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra,
or of weddings or dancing

as much it is to say
that when I think of
joy and sadness mixed,

of caring that demands
the constant brushing of hair

from soft eyes, of hours of travel
and the rewards

of keeping private
what is most your own,
those moments have a soundtrack

and you sing to me on that soundtrack
like a clarinet,
like Gershwin,

like klezmorim,
like some few weddings
I have attended.

WeCanWorkItOut (AllYouNeedIsLove)

An hour from now
everything will likely be all
ironed out.

unwrinkled world to come,
we await you

and your generous spirit,
your lack of complication.
We shall sit here

and contemplate the 
impending grandeur of 
such perfection, brought about

by good intentions and
the sincere and rhythmic
wringing of hands

to songs we’ve heard
a million and one times;
what joy that it finally worked,

what joy
that our boundless optimism
has not been in vain.

An hour from now
we’ll surely be able to sing 
so sweetly, so unencumbered

by nagging doubts 
that there was something more
than love needed, something more

than goodwill needed
to end war, hate, injustice,
all the rest of those things,

we can barely stand to say
those names, doubtless 
forget about them, 

the words themselves 
an hour from now when
the Sixties 
finally kick in.

Corresponding With Herons And Sonny Rollins

Originally posted 2/23/2011.

Left the radio on
and fell asleep; 
woke before dawn
to Sonny Rollins.

So this is why
I corresponded all night
with herons!
I recall long letters
written in dark ink
on creamy paper
with quills lent to me
by green herons

and great blues.

No, that was
a dream, 
says the 

daylight — 

Sonny says,
who you gonna believe?
Sonny says

go back to sleep,
seek the herons’ counsel;
this argument will keep
as I play: first, a song to accompany
a deep wading into 
night’s marsh;

then, a song
to fly by.


Song To Sing In The Dark

When do you think the killing will stop?
By solider, by monster, by husband or cop?
The blood soaking everything, bottom to top;
When do you think the killing will stop?

When do you think they will let the poor be?
When will you and I get our chance to live free?
When will hungry folks eat and the strangled breathe free?
When do you think they will let the poor be?

When will the business of prison go broke?
When will the pipeline of slaves start to choke?
When will our sparks lead to smolder, then smoke?
When will the business of prison go broke?

When do we stand up and say it’s enough?
When will we swallow our fear and get rough?
It will never be easy, it will be always be tough —
If now’s not the moment, what will be enough?

The Routine

hungry at 6 AM
used to mean still drunk,
desperately seeking absorption

used to mean I’d overeaten

the day before 

now it just means
I’m on time for breakfast

now it means I’m in a 


by which I mean I do this regularly 
and take some comfort from it 

I am astonished at the peace
in my once happily chaotic self

that routine creates but

before you of long order and gentle lives
gloat entirely about my assimilation into your ranks
understand that part of the routine

involves opening a finger
drawing my blood onto a strip
and staring at the subsequent appearance of a number
which tells me if my routine is saving me

and the only reason I follow it
and take joy from it
is the hope that on any given day
the routine will have cleared
enough death from me

that I can take a moment
of glorious disorder from it

and be my old self again

The Pig Tattoo King

Originally posted 9/21/2010.

I’ve met someone who spends his weekends liberally applying bacon grease to his arms and drawing swirls in it.

Wipes them off, draws them again.

He’s a map of bacon labyrinths.  

Calls himself the Pig Tattoo King. Says these are the maps to his domain. 

He leaves stains on everything. He stinks a bit. 

I’ve also met people who swill money like chocolate, coat themselves in dirty metals pulled from the ground, smell like rare flowers crippled with salt, build small honesty into huge lies to keep people guessing and off balance.

They leave stains on everything.

I place my faith in the Pig Tattoo King.  I honor his Kingdom of Making Do.  And I prefer the perfume of that place.


The Heron, Certainly


this may be your last day alive.


that this might be so
may cause you to cry out

that you’ve been wronged.


you may feel wronged
without crying out,

thinking of how time has robbed you.


if it is your last day,

seeing this last great blue heron
(if indeed this is the last one, the final heron)
offers a chance to make up for
the other, unappreciated ones
you’ve passed.

You realize
how you’ve been prepared for this:


you must realize 

that this may be the last chance you have to be whole,
to choose to see the bird as if there have been
no others, to see the bird as if only you could name it,
as if this sight is only meant for you;
and though you know you are wrong about that,


you understand at last

that what joy there is to take from being
is yours alone to choose. The world doesn’t care
what you do. The heron doesn’t care if you pay
attention. You have never been wronged by time,
only by your rushing through it —

and certainly,

there is that heron to learn from

with its one legged stance
in a low deadfall, perhaps
aware of you but unafraid to 
stand still, eyeing the water,
striking now and then;

missing then, catching now, 
not always successful

but never, ever wronged.

Ars Poetica In Five Parts


What raises a brush to a canvas —

the hand, the heart, or the head?  Or

do you think the brush
is instead held by Another,
by God or Muse or Trauma?

See that statue of the war hero? 
Who is it for —

the single viewer wondering
at the craft that led to
the smoothness of the stone, or
the entire village where it dominates
and shades the central square?


Another poem
that is nothing but questions — 
lazy as a dog in August, lazy
as a good old dirty rug
on a shack floor.  


Who is this for?
Who am I to think
I can write it?

Is this a product
of my arm
or does my sweat
come from trembling
whenever I think 

it’s all been simply a mercy
shown by the cosmos
to a bad little man?


Another reader,
another patron,
another mouth
to feed —


and what do you do
when you know

that no matter what you do
or how you get it in front of them

your poem or sculpture or painting
is once more a failure
in some important way,

mostly because
you are?

No Wasted Motion

In observing the care he took 
when simply crossing his legs
among others on the subway

how relaxed he was as he took
no more space than needed
and then remained still and at ease
till his stop then
rose into the crowd and was at once

I was moved for 
I’d never seen 
such simplicity

No wasted motion 

How un-American it seemed

Hometown Drive

tonight’s memories:
an abandoned mansion;

broken, empty outskirts
of our fading town. 

we went there often, awash
in a storm surge of uneducated love;

so elegantly messy, so shabby 
by parental standards, lit by cheap candles

and our glow. there were shadows
we pretended were there to honor us,

returning to their former galleries and halls
to cheer us on. there were unexplained

sounds we claimed were music
from old weddings. when we loved

we rolled now and then into plaster dust
and came up laughing, pricked a bit

by larger chips and chunks, dusted naked
children, new ghosts ourselves.

it’s not there anymore. torn down 
for new homes, near-mansions,

well-lit blacktop, big driveways
for small cars.

love finds a home there for certain —
it can grow anywhere — for certain

some young scared couple’s
rolling in first love’s surf there somewhere,

maybe right where we did, but 
to try and plot it out

and see what’s been built
where we once were each other’s whole knowledge

of what love meant? no fool, here.
it wasn’t a place we were meant to live.