Monthly Archives: August 2016

Nature Lover

You claim to want
and love nature
Your fantasy of it
seems to be
a longing

to walk in the forest
untroubled by rain
or beasts or bugs
or the inconvenient
mess of wet leaves underfoot

to stroll along the beach
unaffected by the smell
of kelp tossed up earlier
to bake in the sun

to walk a mountain walk
with no stumbling upon loose rock
no thinner air
no need for careful steps or
taking thought for safety

You seem to suppose
the avoidance of
the truth found in nature
is possible and that
as such it’s
less dangerous than
facing it

but the truth
serenely oblivious
to your delusion
as always

will deliver
what it sees fit
to deliver
in its own time
on its own terms


Splintering

Splintery enough 
for ya? Tension —
can’t live with it, can’t
drink enough to kill it.
It’s like walking through
blood soup lately. I’ve got
wet legs and famished
eyes. Did you hear the 
forecast? They say it’s 
all over the whole damn
country and getting worse,
every city’s a flood plain,
every town a fire zone,
every road a rain of bullets,
every kid’s a potential orphan
and every parent’s got a wound 
open for grieving. There’s bound
to come a moment soon
where we stop calling it
bad weather and call it climate change,
stop calling it protesting and call it
uprising, stop calling it a great country
and just call it a country bearing up
against splintering, stop pretending
it wasn’t built on cracks to begin with,
stop pretending it’s not inevitable.


Revisionist History

Originally posted 3/20/2012.

In the full history of governments
it has never mattered how they start
as they’ve always ended the same way.

The venal game their way to power
and stay there regardless
of the label they chose to wear.

In the full history of nations 
it has never mattered how you love them;
they’ve only loved you back a little, and only at certain times.

In the full history of history
what happens has never mattered;
all that ever matters is what is said

about what happened
or did not happen, or is said
to have not happened.  

I tell you these things
not to make you despair
or get you angry.  

I tell you this not to make you
shrug 
away the urge to justice
or fall into dumb acceptance;

nor do I do it 
to allow myself delight
at your earnest helplessness.

I tell you this just to say
that battles are never won; instead
they become games to be replayed.

You will lose some, and win some;
some will die playing,
killed by others who are also playing.

There are no nations but two: the strugglers
and the lords. 
Both are everywhere 
and speak all languages.

In the history of humans
there’s dancing and loving
and making of art and music,

good sweat,
grand tears,
and a lot of laughter.

Don’t confuse those 
with history and nation
and government.

If you want to pursue happiness,
by all means chase it — but always recall
that history and nation and government

pursue happiness too — 
and they do it, always,
by hunting you.


Tribe

Your eyes are drawn
across the dance floor.
A couple is shimmering there, 
fluidly rolling in and out of the crowd, 
spinning, disjointing,
reconnecting in mid-spin. 

You’re not mesmerized alone.
Everyone pulls back
to make room,
the crowd transformed
into a ring,
the darkness around a fire:

they are a fire now.
They are the fire now.
Flushed, whirling, aware of all
but unconcerned.
They know they’re the ones
giving warmth and light, the ones

glowing like
the entire history
of the tribe.


The One About Us Dancing

the locked box in your head
is colorless or rather
has no specific color

could be brown right now
might be red right now
is not white right now
is not blue or violet right now
but it might be
next time you look at it

you are fairly certain
you keep the key to the lock
for the box in a pocket
in your other coat or
pants

it is always in
your other coat or pants

you know you must have it 
though you don’t recall 
ever holding it or even
seeing it

you have not
seen the contents in years
decades even 
but you know deep down
what is in there 

you can hear it
knocking at night
sometimes
all night

sometimes all day too

as much as you would like that
to stop you know you would need
the key to open it so you could silence
the knocking and that is not possible
right now

so you shrug and turn away
and cope by tuning your life to the chaos
in the rhythm of the knocking
coming from inside 
the colorless
locked box

in your head

noticing as you do
how every one else around you
seems to be dancing as well
to something they are hearing 
that only they are hearing


A Corner Lot

A corner lot. An empty
television shell.  
A soaked mattress
that moves around the property
getting darker, more filthy,
yet stubbornly holding itself
intact. Bottles and cans,
trash bags like good intentions
left behind half filled, fast
food wrappers;

birds nonetheless,
leaves nonetheless, flowers 
nonetheless, the dark green shade
in the center nonetheless 
inviting anyone to walk in and stand
under the stressed trees,
a seldom accepted invitation
that nonetheless
makes a difference
to this city by being 
extended in spite of 
so much insult.


A Limb In The Street

A limb on the guardrail.
Appears to be a leg. We can’t
quite grasp what we see
and drive on wondering

until the evening paper
tells the tale of the man
whose homemade bomb went off
as he was lifting it from his trunk

to plant it next to the strip joint
where he’d been burned in a 
shady deal, maybe drug related,
I don’t recall, so long ago now;

that past has slipped all the way
into this present, as it always does.
Now all I have of that is that
I saw it, and others saw it;

the bumper resting upon the median strip,
smell of burning flesh seeping into
the car — now I understand how
I recognized that smell in New York

the minute it hit me, the roast sweetness
mingled with sickness, and so the past again
comes back to present itself like a limb
in the street, something I’m not sure

I’m better for knowing, not all wisdom’s
good wisdom, some of it never goes
back into the past. Who exactly
is better for having seen

a limb, a burned limb, in their street?


Dammit

There’s a clock in my stomach
that demands I find happiness,

a ticking within
that is counting me down.

I try not to get less serious 
than the situation demands

but it seems that the situation demands
less than I’ve so far given.

If I were a lion, I could sleep 
until I figured it out,

then go hunting with my pride
and sing myself back to sleep after.

Happiness over there, and I’m 
staring at it from here. What’s wrong 

with all these pictures
that don’t have me in them?

If you’re with me on this, no matter
where else you are, go back to sleep.

We’ll meet in the dream space,
stalk the goal of our stars.

Happiness is the balance
of waking and dreaming.

Whose fault is it 
that I am suddenly smiling? 

I’m not looking
to blame anyone

when it’s there in front of me
in spite of all my work 
to forestall it, dammit. 


I Am Their Son

I come from a long line 
of people: some
undoubtedly saintly,
some no doubt abundantly evil;
others certainly
ordinary, full up with faults
and virtues and inconsistency.
I am their son. I carry all within.

I live half
shadowed; in the dark of me 
I lament the lack of light;
I turn to the bright side 
only to flee toward shade;

I am their son.

I have sipped true love
and tenderness
from a skull goblet,
crushed that cup
with a single simpering kiss

and scattered the shards
across seared fields; I come from
a warrior line, a massacre line;

I am their son.

Been drunk with joy while standing
outside in between lightning, hair stiff
on every square of my skin as I looked up
into the light and demanded it take me;
just one of a long suicidal line;

I am their son.

I come from a long line of people:
none have been openly magical,
none have floated away to heaven
from the dirt we are born on. None
sought manna, preferring to dig
drought gardens wherever they were
and scrape together a life.  I come from
a long line of plain and hard;
I see them whenever the mirror
decides to surprise me
with a real moment of reflection;  
see them all behind my drooping eyes
and roughed up skin, my crooked teeth,
my spark, my ash, my loss;
this trophy face is all them.

I am their son.


How To Spell American

Spell it with two guns
and a coat of whitewash.

Spell it with three picket fences
and a wolverine trapped
under a left thumbnail.
Spell it with seven dirty words
and rigor mortis laid thick
between bricks.

Spell it with fifty-seven apologies
flavored with forgetting,
sixty-three apologies
blind to remorse,
one hundred and eleven apologies
offered on a dagger’s tip.  

Spell it original thirteen,
broken five hundred.  Spell it
three-fifths, spell it six-nineteen.  
Spell it nine-eleven; spell it with
a cloud over it, a strained 
flag, a lowered boom.

Spell it with two more guns
and a Nagasaki blister.  Spell it
with moon rocks and cratered
cities, dead kids, dead eyes
dotted with good flowers. 

Spell it with a burr. Spell it
with flanks quivering.  Spell it 
with pink dawn over gray streets
and a boat swift-rocking 
down a snow fed river. 

How to spell American:

with a cauldron. A melting pot
if you prefer. A bullet mold,
a fireproof suffrage, a vote
for steam over simmer, 
a last summer of drowsing bees.

Spell it,
respell it,
spell it,
respell it;

it’s not like anyone knows
the correct way to pronounce it.


Young Slang

Neither do I young slang,
nor do I game. Not because
I am too old; I just know
and stick to my lane.

It is a path I own.
I will neither rise nor sink
beyond it. In there I still find
all the risk I ever did; more so,

now that I am farther along
than I ever believed I could go.
As though as it becomes
more rugged, more cliff-bound,

more broken, it becomes
more tailored to driving
my current steps and what
I need my stride to be.

As though my scant triumphs,
if you can call fighting
and scrambling for foothold
a series of triumphs,

have more and more to do
with what words I choose to
define, describe, honor 
my progress,

and I have too little time left
to reach back toward youth
and rob their tongues
to pad my own. 

I know my lane. I own 
my road. I do not need
young slang.  I do not 
game. I war. I climb. I am.


To Sit And Let Be

When my vision shakes
I can sit with it
until it settles. 

When my blood muddies
to sludge, I can sit with it
until it runs clear. But

when my mind crawls
under a dark stone, it drags me
toward suffocation.

I need to save myself
from my mind.  I need to 
find a place to sit without it,

let it go into whatever place
it needs to go, and watch it
sink or rise as it thinks best.

As for the heart, or what we call
by the name of heart, or soul —
I don’t know what that is, if I am

best called by that name,
or if it’s just another part of me
I need to sit with and let be.  


Meaning (Fragment)

An obvious answer
to the question of 
what it’s all about

is that there is no
meaning
except whatever
you give it

If you give it God
you get God
If you give it something
not-God then
you get not-God
You get what you put in

which is also 
a meaning
although the universe
is not here
simply to teach you

which is also
a meaning


Monday

Clear away
what has faded
from importance.

Unpack 
a borrowed comb, 
test it against your thin head.

Replace all
that is known of you
with a bomb.

Do you still matter?
Welcome to a world
of doubt.

Pretend
this makes sense. Try to
drum up support for it,

phone your last friends,
mourn the busy signals
though they taste like

release. Is that rain?
Trot outside and sip.
It’s bitter.  What did you

expect? A promise,
on the record, of 
the stamp of approval?

Look at the wall outside,
sparkling wet. A fresco
of a World War II destroyer.

Painted rudely over
a corner of it, the name
“Susan.”  Do you know

a “Susan?”  You used to.
It’s not a sign, you decide,
but you smile.


Inside Voice

I’m here now.

You may not know me
or have ever noticed me
at all, as all I have is
my inside voice
to raise against
this world’s din, 

but I am here and 
this is now. I am saying
what’s true, even if
I am quiet in how
I bring it forward.  

When young, I was
made quiet. My tongue
was bound early
and well by
your custom and
your force:

use your inside voice,
your inside voice, your
inside voice

and later
I found myself
outside with
no voice for outside
as if it had been planned
that way. (It had been planned 
that way.) Those 
outside
are supposed to be quiet,
supposed to keep silent…

But listen, listen:
I’m here
now.

I’m here now with 
a voice inside doubling
my inside voice, swelling it
toward crescendo
though it’s still
recognizably mine
and I’m telling you:

I’m here now, 
no longer waiting
or holding back;
here now, outside
and speaking loud enough;
here now, hear now,
hear me now — because
I’m not going to 
shout.