Monthly Archives: September 2016

Before Ownership

in shops after closing
goods speak of their origins
in sweatshops
fine workspaces
or deep mazes
of monstrous factories

to speak of
where they might go from here 
is taboo

as this is one moment
they have to be themselves
before they are pawed
and examined
then purchased
then owned

and then
changed by ownership

into something else 

whether they become
and neglected
eventually broken and 
discarded or

precious holders
of promise
and memory

ownership changes them

charges them with others’ energy
that is not what they entered with

and that will take away
more or less
their own 

so while they can
they speak to one another
in dark shops
about where they came from
and what they are 

taking their moment
we change them

into ours

How This Poetry Thing Works

“Splashy examinations.”

First words encountered upon waking. 

Splashy examinations?

Maybe a misheard radio announcer? Maybe
a band name? Maybe it was something
entirely different
and the daffiness of those words
is in fact indicative
of some lost acuity
between the ears?

Sit with those words a bit. 

The work clearly ahead
is to take those two words 
for a ride.  Get on them and decide
on a direction they might be going
and go there.

Maybe there won’t be a path.
Maybe such passage as they demand
will require fire and sword. Maybe 
it will be all about going back to school, 
or about plunging into despair. Perhaps

that plunge into despair will make
a splash

and the subsequent need to 
describe the height of the water
rising as it is displaced by the plunge
will lead to a meditation in which 
the weight of the aforementioned despair
is examined

and that
will explain everything — 
that would be a splashy examination,

Maybe it will work, maybe
it won’t.  Maybe it will be 

perfect and save a life or
the world, maybe it will be 
forgotten. Maybe it’s already

being forgotten, sinking 
noiselessly into a deep lake.

Maybe it required more
than the poet could give
and the poet sat with it for so long
that it became a source of despair:

those baffling words, the anxiety 
of missing the God therein,
the near-certainty
that something had escaped —

sitting with all that
heavy within
like a damned, dry stone.

Me For President

Originally posted 3/14/2011.

I would make a good President
because I would have to be dragged
kicking and screaming to the job

because I am relatively free of the mental defect
that would make me want the job
and that makes me more qualified
than those who usually try and do it

I would make a good President
of these Disunited States
because of all the hot bones in my closet
I’ve been everything at one point or another
and everyone could find in me something to hate
or declare me unfit for the office

I would make a good President
My father’s right off the rez
My mother’s an immigrant
(don’t worry, she got here legally —
not so sure about my dad)
I’ve got the American Dream covered — 
was here
came here
am colonized and

I’d make a good President
because I have inhaled
snorted popped booted swallowed
all the good national drugs —
casual cruelty to my fellow Americans
I’m on the wagon now but
I still know my way around
a finger flipped in traffic
whether domestic or foreign
(I know my enemies can change
on a dime into allies and back again
from years of merging onto freeways)

I’d make a great President
because I’ve got the allegedly necessary genitalia
for the job
and I don’t look biracial
so I can be slotted without too much fuss
I know how to wink and nudge
and slap a back when a back
needs slapping

I’m not running
If nominated will not run
If elected will not serve
(but boy howdy I’d be good at it)

Oh man you’ll be kicking yourself
next time the vote comes around
that I wasn’t in the race

In fact
I’m thinking of changing my name
to None Of The Above

just to test the waters


They are sitting on a bench
at one end of a long room.

They are staring at a far-end door
and speculating on where it may lead.

They offer thoughts: it may lead
outdoors, to another room, to a hallway.

They are only sure of one thing:
wherever it leads is clearly elsewhere. 

They cannot tell if it is locked or even,
possibly, ajar; this lighting is so terrible, who could say.

It seems so easy: walk over and see,
possibly leave this long dark room,

but someone has written
names of all their ex-lovers in Vaseline

on this polished stone floor and thus covered
the distance between here and there in hazard.

They are terrified to slip and fall
on such a surface. They aren’t getting any younger

and in this light they might
hit their head upon stone and bleed out unnoticed.

So they remain on the bench.
The room keeps getting darker. 

Somehow it seems
that the room is getting longer as well.

Suicide Prevention

He was bawling
as he crossed the line
to make it out
of October alive

as humble as a clock
with two broken hands
for whom time had stopped
beyond a dim recognition of its passage
a small whirring at his center

and nothing more

He had not planned to see November
but a single puff of wind
caught a maple tree perfectly
and moved it in a way he’d not considered
when thinking of reasons to stay 

When it swayed
a handful of red leaves
clinging to one branch end
lifted into a sunbeam
almost as a hand
might rise to bless one
in dire need of 
attention to their wounds

and while he never in general
was much given to seeing
such obvious and mundane moments
as signs
and indeed understood that nature
isn’t here for humanity in any sense
at all

he still found that rise
in the small spray of red
to be reminiscent enough
of a past dim moment of comfort
that for one moment he felt
more than the small whirring of time
in his broken movement

and thus moved
he broke down and cried
and chose
to make it through October
and at least see November arrive

to see what it might bring

Lincoln Drive (Teddy)

Teddy Pendergrass tonight — 
man oh man, Teddy on the radio, singing
“The Love I Lost.” Singing
“Wake Up Everybody.” Years ago

I used to drive right by
the spot where he crashed on
Lincoln Drive.  Liked to take that
deadly road through the park

on my fastest and most
reckless wheels.  It was
that kind of road I used to love
best — the kind that could

kill you with
joyous curves and narrowing
surprise lanes, assassin 
trees, radio roaring over

the hurricane of blacktop noise
and the occasional tire squeal
when you cut it too close
and had to back down from the rush.

I could use some more Teddy tonight,
but only in a fast car.  I’m awake and
longing and hearing it in the quiet house,
lying here so still listening, isn’t

cutting it quite the way I’d like;
not wanting to suffer what he suffered,
though, I’ll just dream of the road
as you might expect.  If you don’t 

know me by now, I should tell you
that I’m just the right age to talk big about
former ecstasy and do nothing 
to reclaim it — nothing, that is,

except listen to Teddy.


My Face Is Historical Fiction

Post pictures of three fictional characters to describe yourself.
— Facebook meme

If I were to post 
three pictures to describe me,
pictures lifted from fiction,

I’d have to reckon with
the fact that my face
already is itself historical fiction,

average white
superimposed upon
brown churning within — 

by which I mean that I already
look like Mom at first glance
with traces of Dad underlying that,

together creating this face
that I get to call My Own,
this more-or-less real face,

one mild pile of melting pot,
assimilated mask. This face
was already made from scratch

a long time ago, and now
I am being asked to find
three more fictions to name this — 

this half-and-half
all-American mistake of history.
So many to choose from —  

Lone Ranger, Tonto; Don Corleone,
Apache Chief; Mario from Donkey Kong,
Tom Sawyer’s Injun Joe — 

but what of that third picture?
That’s the choice that keeps me up 
at night, that keeps me sickly awake really late.

Calm down, you say.  It’s just for fun.
It doesn’t mean anything. It’s 
just a little something to pass the time —

but when your face
is historical fiction

and it feels like

there are only
twenty pages left,
you’ll try anything. 

It’s only natural.
I’m dying
to see how it ends.

Cut Bone

This artifact
dates to 1493,
seems to be

a response to some
or something.

A message
cut into
a bone

by steel, a sword
or pike

It almost 
took the bone
apart but

it’s held up
a long time.

We assume
this was
a killing blow

by lack of new bone
on the edges, and

the angle of the cut
there was likely
a flood of blood.

the bone remains
in conversation

with discovery
and subsequent

Does it
speak as Taino,
Arawak, Carib? 

In life, did it perhaps
speak Yoruban, Spanish,
Portuguese for a time?

It doesn’t matter
that much now. 
All you need to translate

is that huge remnant
of that unkind cut
and the sheer stubbornness

of the bone 
for not having dissolved
or crumbled. 

The Work

The best sound you can find
while playing your guitar:

your slide finally
after brief teasing
landing in the sweet spot,
coaxing forth the note
you want. That resolution

puts a small damper upon
anxiety you sometimes feel
when playing, even when
playing by yourself in 
a lonely house: the fear

not so much of being wrong,
but of not doing justice
to the Work.

The best sound you can find
when playing your guitar:

that one note
that tells the entire story
of the Work, includes
every Worker to that point,
assurance that this is
the Work they did too —

and then, the sound disappearing
back into the Work itself,
its last message

catch me if you can,

so you begin again.


Pistachios? Those
I once ate in great
amounts but only ever the
type with shells, and never
the ones with red paint all over.
I’d look at a bag of them and say,
there’s work to be done.  I’d fill a bowl
and have at it, dumping the shells
right back into the same bowl
so toward the end it became a chore
to find the last one left unopened.
There may have been
some masochism involved.
There may have been
some ersatz hunter-gatherer
behavior there — a rationalization
that the work excused the gluttony.
I haven’t had one in a while now;
I don’t know if I could go back to that.
Not that they were bad for me or anything
beyond the modicum of salt and the quantity
and the time I’d put into it
when I should have been — oh, it’s not like
I had anywhere to be or anything to do
back then.  I just sat on the couch
cracking open those shells.  Breaking
my nails on the edges that wouldn’t give
so easily.  Telling myself there was virtue
all around me in that sad dirty living room.
That one day, I would write about this
from a better living room and it would all be
worth it. Boy, was I wrong.

The Centaur

The centaur,
fully aware of his 
fictional status, 
did not hesitate to enter
the food court at
the mall to stand before
the rotating trays of
desiccated cheese slices
and turn singing to the crowd
with arms upraised
while clopping a martial rhythm;

said crowd whispering
their delight (mixed with 
a little fear of this thing
which they’d only heard of
in story prior to this moment)

turned then to each other
and saying, he fills a hole
we hate among us, he tells us
the hole can only be filled
by him and so we should
ignore the steam rising 
from the piles all around him
and elect him, acclaim him,
by God let’s bring him to life.


Hearing that another Black boy’s
been killed by police fire — 

seeing pictures of police taken from a distance,
body cameras having failed to fire

in this never ending death season where crowds of people stare flames
into a kneeling quarterback who somehow is not yet on fire

despite the wash of kerosene poured upon him
for daring to suggest that police need not always fire,

while elsewhere dogs on the Great Plains
lunge from brutal hands, their kill-trained eyes on fire

for the ancient taste of Native flesh again — ooh, 
it’s been too long — someone give the Guard the order to fire

and bleach the earth free of this human tide
hugging the millions of acres yet to set on fire — 

and if you think this one is not the same as the others
look at the match that starts the fire,

see who holds the unburnt end
after the passing of the fire,

check your hands
to see if they stink of fire.


A clerk at a butcher shop stands five feet ten inches tall and wears size 13 sneakers.
What does he weigh?

The riddle says

He weighs meat  

Ha ha
good one

we’re supposed to say and
it’s true as far as it goes but

it doesn’t take into account 
the possibility
that the butcher might also sell
various deli items and the clerk
might weigh out piles of slices
of provolone into
white waxed paper
sealed with brown tape labels
with name and price handwritten
in black grease pencil

or that the clerk might also weigh
heaps of
potato salad
into plastic tubs
from a white enamel case
with huge sliding doors

(the way Michael Morelli did
when I was a kid
on my family’s Saturday morning trips
to his dad’s market in Milford

handing me slices of cheese
over the counter
with a wink
when my mom
and his dad weren’t looking)

It doesn’t take into account
that the same clerk might also
at some point
have to weigh
the decision set before him
about whether to maintain
this family business
or go on and do other things
and sell the building to a barber
upon his father’s death

It skips entirely
the possibility
that the clerk might also
continue to weigh
the consequences of that decision
every time he passes
the now empty and decrepit
storefront that long ago
went from being
a butcher shop
to a barber shop
to an antique shop
to a computer repair shop
to an empty shop
to a broken hole
on a broken block
in a broken downtown

The clerk goes home
Weighs himself and sighs
Stares into his bathroom mirror
Goes and sits in the dark
in his clean modern kitchen
at the butcher block island

Ha ha
Good one
he says

the riddle is endlessly retold
for new audiences
more and more of whom
have never seen
a butcher shop
white paper
brown tape
grease pencil
have never smelled
the mingling of sawdust and blood
or felt the cold blast of air
from the walk-in
with the full quarters of beef
hanging behind glass
behind the counter

A writer on a couch with a laptop
stands five foot eight (when he’s standing)
and wears a size ten shoe
At 56 he is shocked to realize
he can still remember
the name of the butcher’s assistant
from a market
that’s been gone
for most of his lifetime

Is shocked to realize
how much that still weighs


I hear people call themselves
Read a story about
Someone said
we need a world with more

I don’t understand that word
at all

I don’t much care for
too many people
I mean
I like people well enough
but they are largely
a mystery to me
because I no longer feel much
beyond myself

I don’t know how
or when exactly
that happened
I seem to recall 
a time before 
it happened
I seem to recall
such feelings

I don’t know much 
about how I got here
or what I am now
I am broken
How broken
I am

but I am not sad or scared

for when I look at myself
it is like looking at
a carburetor
a nearly obsolete device
that no longer works
and I have forgotten
how to set it right

I try to do right by others
because of this
I try to do right by others
because I do not
trust myself
to understand how they
might feel
if I have done them

Tell me
how I’m doing
Explain to me
what I’m doing
right and
It’s a long way
from you to me
You might have to shout
to reach me
I will be straining to hear you
I will not likely do it well right away
from my broken stand
I will try as I am
always trying

to reach you
I promise
I swear
I vow
I am trying to reach 
to reach 
get the mix right
run right

Copper Mouthed Morning

staring up from bed with
no desire to rise

a copper mouth morning

feeling no joy
at that taste 

remembering instead
ancient flavors of mint
of good tea

old memories 

it has been 
industrial within
for so long
can’t recall
such shades of green

when this
copper mouthed morning
has its own hue

color of statuary
of gutters and lurid puddles
under bad pipes

lying here
in ruins
with no longing to rise
into that kind of green

trying to recall
green tea