Monthly Archives: April 2016

The Fitzpatrick Scale

Reached into a paper bag full of concepts.

Pulled out a handful of calories,
a small clump of degrees Celsius,
one or two 
ohms, a sole ampere; was

disappointed that I had not come up
with the light-year 
I had imagined
might be lurking somewhere within;

was glad I hadn’t
freezer-burned my palm upon 
a Kelvin
or seared it with roentgens. 

Nonsense, you say. That makes no sense.
Those things do not exist

without application to existence — 

we simply measure
what is real with them; 
we measure what is real
with what is unreal.

For instance, depending on the circumstances
there are several measures one can use
for the differences
between colors, to distinguish between
one shade and another
of what we are viewing.

Those differences are defined numerically
after viewing selected images or samples
with sophisticated instruments;
for easier visualization
the results are plotted
onto one of a number of different charts
called “color spaces.”

There are different color spaces
for different applications — scientific
or graphic design — no one standard
works in all cases —

we measure what is real with
the unit we create for our purposes;
we measure what is real
with what is unreal.

The Fitzpatrick Scale
is a color space
for human skin tones,
developed to help understand
concepts related to the rate
of absorption of ultraviolet light
by various shades
of human skin.

The Unicode Standard,
a computer industry agreement 
defining how characters
should be represented
in computer text across languages, 

uses the Fitzpatrick Scale
to ensure uniform representation
of various human skin tones
when creating the symbols
known as “emojis.”

Sixty-four Unicode Standard emojis use
the Fitzpatrick Scale
to represent men,
boys, women,
girls, fists, thumbs
up and down…

We use an unreal
to measure a real,
then use it to create
an unreal used to represent
another unreal;

Unicode Standard says, hey,
we’re just trying to keep it real.

It is currently
both real and unreal that

some carry a Fitzpatrick Scale
in hand or head 
to measure the darkness of heart
of any given individual;
evil rises, it seems to them,
by the same increase in degree 
of ultraviolet absorption
their skin can tolerate — if 
the skin matches this sample,
they seem to say, 
when ready.

The Hatcher Factor is
an old and contested formula
for determining the stopping power
of a bullet of specific caliber.

Most experts agree that it is based
on outdated information,

but all also agree
that any bullet well placed
will break any skin
regardless of its place
on the Fitzpatrick Scale.

Reach into the paper bag of concepts again;
come up empty handed.
In spite of all our work
to measure what is real

we apparently have no way
to calibrate fear and mockery,
the banality of reduction, 
the weight of dispassionate killing:

there’s apparently
no color space large enough
for all the shades of tears.



In this sullen practice
of mine is the root of

If you must ask
why it is therefore called
a sullen art,
understand that I practice it
knowing that any happiness
that may grow from it 
will only rarely
be my own

yet I sit myself down
and work at it daily,
pounding on dark metals
to make brightwork
from them
that others will look at
and rejoice in
after I’m gone.

No, there’s no why beyond
how much it needs doing; no,
there’s no explaining how it chooses
its apprentices; no, there’s not much 
to recommend it as a lifestyle
beyond that potential for 
making joy for others and 
slight immortality.  No,

there’s no reason to become 
a brightworker in words,

other than the impossibility
of becoming anything else.

Getting On My Nerves

Longing this morning 
to trade back my boots
for the soft-sole shoes
I surrendered to get them.
I can’t feel the ground
when I walk in these. 
Doctors try to tell me it’s
neuropathy from my diabetes.
They’re half right, I suspect;
certainly some shiny whiteness
is to blame and whether it’s sugar
or culture it’s killing me dead
from the feeling parts up
to the thinking parts. If I still had
ancestors to ask about it
I would but they’re gone and
never knew me anyway. Maybe
it’s for the best that I’m numb
and becoming more numb the older I get;
I still want to trade these hard boots
for the moccasins I had as a kid, 
the moccasins everyone said
I should trade for the boots I wear now — 
good boots made to hold you
separate from and untouched by the earth,
the way it is these days;
even when you are put into that earth
they put you in a box
and that box goes into another box.
How is it right that even when I’m dead
I’ll have to lie forever in that tiny space?
Colonized in death as in life,
forbidden the right to return
to our own soil. It’s why I long to trade my boots
for moccasins and walk away
to find my own resting place somewhere;
if my feet burn the whole way there, at least
the pain will be of my choosing.


A certain level of fatigue
has become required
for credibility.

Express your freshness
and willingness to get going on something
and you will be made to feel small.

There will be disbelief
followed by knowing chuckles
and head nods, murmurs of

“newbie, naive, that’ll change,” perhaps
a grudging offer from someone
to take you under their cynical wing.

Don’t do it.  Don’t fall in.
Run screaming from them and don’t lose
a minute of sleep over it.

You’re wide awake and you still believe
in daylight and morning.  Hold on to that.
As far as can be told, there are no plans

for that to ever end while we’re alive.
You’re awake. Stay awake. You’re refreshed.
Stay refreshed. Dark things are afoot, it’s true,

but you shine, and you reflect so much else that shines
that there’s a chance, a real chance, 
that some part of what we need dwells with you.

The Day I Opened My Mouth

Emptied by the force
of breaking a bad habit,
I’ve crumpled a bit — a slight 
deformation only,
a temporary folding
of internal time and space
by the suddenness
of the vacuum.

I can never return to
my first shape,
never again
be smooth and shiny
and ready to hold
whatever is offered
or poured into me,

but I will expand.
I will return to my 
full capacity, or at least
I will expand enough
to contain my expected
multitudes; at least, that
is my intent. If somehow

it is never met, if somehow
I remain this crushed — 
or worse, if I break open along
a seam or sharp fold and must then
be tossed aside, it will be

intent that carries me
to an end I am meant for 
if my purpose and impact

I will not pretend on that day
not to be 
but I will never say

I did not know it was coming,
and I will not regret the day
I opened my mouth
to pour out for good
what I’d borne for too long.

Looking Back

I’ve walked through 
many open doors
in my time; 
some I opened myself,
more were opened
for me by others;
a critical few
blown open by 
the vagaries of Fate;

my weakness has always been
my inability to close them behind me,
my unchecked urge to spend my energy
forever turning around to see through
that long tunnel of entrances become exits.

I’d love for one day
to have people say of me,

“He knew when to close
a door behind him — when to 
simply shut it firmly, when to 
lock it and choose well
whether to pocket
or toss the key; when
to nail it shut and brick it up —

and most of all,
he knew enough
how to look behind him without
stumbling as he moved forward.”

The World At War

How many must still enjoy
World War II
that it rolls endlessly on
basic cable channels
newsreel upon newsreel
propaganda piled on

getting what must be
satisfactory ratings

There’s never been a time
in my entirely postwar life
when I could not find a program
somewhere on the schedule
that once again
laid it all out
from Poland to Nagasaki

I think it must be
the machinery
the tanks and planes and ships of course
but more 
the effortless conversion
of men into cogs

and the smoke
and the sorrow of the enemy
and the burning of the bodies
and the smiles upon victory

a barely concealed
glee and fascination

with all the permissions 
that were granted
for horrible actions

and at last the resolution
that has allowed for
a lifetime of sequels


Originally posted 4/27/2014.

God says 
in order to find peace 

link arms with it
ride it beyond death

we must seek one pebble 
in one gravel bed 

find one rootlet on one tree 
in one forest 

then cleave to them 
and forsake all others

We take that as true 
but we misunderstand it

Holy is not held
in the stone 
or the root

Holy instead 
is held in the search

Holy the touch of each stone
we turn over

Holy each time we plunge our hands
into the soil 
while seeking the Root

Holy even the choice to say
there is no need to search

Holy even to pick up a random stone 
skip it over a pond

point after it and know
that path is as good as any

This Is The Place

this is the place

where I could run into the street directly from stage
screaming “can I get 
some DMT here and then
I need to borrow a nail gun
just for an hour I promise”
and no one will blink

they’ll call it creative
they’ll call it a performance piece
they’ll call me eccentric

this is the place

where while on acid in college
I could holler
“you fucking pigs”
at cops while sitting 
cleaning my nails with a knife
in shorts while sitting in a snowbank
and never see the inside of a cell

they called me troubled
they called me lost
they called it an isolated incident

this is the place

where yesterday I yelled my way out of
a truly undeserved ticket
by simply telling the cop
they were full of shit
and no way I did that
and did I look like the kind of person
who’d do that 

they decided I didn’t
they let me go
they let me drive away still fuming and punching the wheel

this is the place

where I get away with all that
where I live to tell the tale
where no one has ever tried to choke or shoot me 
for being an asshole
for being an idiot
for being a kid

they find another way
they have an alternative solution
they have darker fish to fry

dear me mr brown part 2

brown — oh

shut up
shut up
shut up
shut up. you are

so full of noise.
of course we are
coming back
around to you as subject.

god. shut up.
it’s always about you
and your loud, 
pale reaction
is a mystery. why is it so 

a dark red action,
full of your own blood
and justified ire? why is it so 
rarely original,  

rarely worth our time,
rarely worth
anyone’s ears or
eyes — 

shut up
shut up
shut up
shut up.

dear me
mr brown — 
of your same old
same old same old empty.

shut up
shut up
shut up
shut up.

oh, sorry. not entirely empty.
inside you is a key to
a locked box and inside
that locked box

is a switch
that turns you off
(although you are
apparently more turned on by

such yapping than
by silence so all this
is likely futile) but find that
and shut up shut up shut up

shut up —
for yourself if not
for us — dear me
mr brown.  dear me

you must get so tired in there.
so tired having to speak
all the time even in your
sleep — must be — how could 

any of this
have been done
by a conscious mind?
tell that yapper within

to shut up
shut up
shut up
shut up. 

dear me mr brown —
that’s enough.
enough. trust 

that it can’t hurt and
how has
the yapping
ever helped? 

shut up.

there is a place of
silence where you
could be better served.
shhh.  enough.



Born to all 
possibility, then
and channeled toward

Delimited by
no plan, in fact — more by
a machine running over all
who are caught in its own
delimited track,

reforming all through
plain force
of weight 
and inexorable 

I push back up
towards full height on 
these smashed
legs, pushing up with
these broken arms;

I fail, I keep falling but
more and more often 
I am at least able
to land
on my back:

my eyes
wide open; my face
not crushed
into mud;
in pain but awake

and aware
of a rumbling
as that machine
turns back. I struggle
to stand again

and face it, to fall
again but this time
with full knowledge 
of what has
felled me.

It may be
to say after that
that I did not die
in my sleep, that I knew
what crushed me.

American Song

In flames,
no one notices.

So seared, so
no one sees.

Supports are
crumbling, walls
bend inward

toward eventual
collapse; all

This is how
we sing
our American song:

with eyes closed to
red glare, shouting
from atop

the lungs;
blind, in full
strained voice

as if killing heat
could be deflected
by enough noise,

as if it won’t
fall in upon itself
soon enough, as if

its caving scream
could be drowned
with a loud enough

anthem — in flames,
singing; tumbling
to a full chorus of

oh, say,
can you
see now?


On the day 
Prince and Lonnie Mack passed 
from Mali to Malibu
stared at their instruments
for hours in silence
trying to decide
between immolation
and drowning. 

On the day after
Prince and Lonnie Mack passed
in bedrooms and arenas,
singed or soaked,
slapped out the flames
or toweled off their hands
and played,
or competently
or well,

fire and flood
and around and
inside them.

For You

(for Prince Rogers Nelson, 1958-2016)

did you hear a chord upon departing
that explained all

did you in that moment make a desperate grab
for your guitar but

(that being out of reach) did you then
change your mind and ask

for a moment or two more
to savor that ringing but

(that becoming impossible)
come then to a realization

that you yourself were the chord
being played

and so on you went with it
all the way through to the fade

and then
to the fade out


To be startled awake,

to become suddenly aware of 
ancestral animals
coiled within you,
dreaming —

to forget your name,
your income and
your furniture, all your

to get up and dress and step outside

and stand
in the chill
under full moon and

let its light stir
all those inner beasts, let them
open their eyes
and see through your eyes and
feel them wondering where they are
as they turn and stretch and then
resettle into their long sleep
with reset dreams,

is to be forced to choose

you should go back
into the cluttered house
and sleep

or sit down on the sidewalk,
your back pressed
to the stone wall that frames
your tiny yard, looking up with 

yawns and whimpers vibrating
in your bones, shivering
in delight as you wait
for dawn and whatever
comes after dawn.