Monthly Archives: October 2016


In Europe, one hundred years ago,
good folk used to speak of
“the demi-monde” — French for

the half world. 

Class of those unafflicted
by established social codes.

The first resort of starving artists.
Last resort of misfits and such.

Shining examples of how not to be.

The half-world,
where some felt 
fully present for the first time
in their damned lives.

A woman of the demi-monde
was known as a “demimondaine” —
by which the good folk meant

even if she was not —

by which was therefore meant,
fair game.

By which was meant, 
there is some use
for that half of the world.

In Paris
the good folk once called their worst thugs

“les Apaches.”

By which they meant,
this particular part of the demi-monde
is dangerous.

The French 
pronunciation softened
the hard edge of a tribal name
stolen for a savage badge,

by which was meant
face one and you will get
the storied treatment you’d get
if you faced our awful dreams of


Two dance instructors once prowled
the bars and cafes of the demi-monde
to bring back to the good folk
a dance called 
“La Danse Apache.”

A man, a woman, 
playing at pimp and whore,
man striking her down,
woman fighting back,
a tango of sorts ending 
with the woman carried limp
from the stage.  

By which was meant,
here is how “les Apaches”

The dance became all the rage.

By which was meant,
here we honor all our dreams of savagery.

In the USA
during that same time,
professional sports teams
began to be named

Braves, Indians, Redskins.

By which was meant,
here are our mascots, 
here are our fighters,
here are our dangerous men.

They are still called that.

By which is still meant,
here is something we can use.

By which is meant,
we’ve already stolen
slaves, gold, cultures,
entire continents,
a whole half-world —

why stop there? 

There is a German word
from the world of opera
for a song lovers sing
as they die together,
tangled in passion:


By which is meant,
there is nothing now
but this final desperate

Turnabout is only fair.

Liebestod is beginning.

There is no savagery
in those syllables — 
or at least, none worse
than all that has come before —

by which is meant,

dance, Liebchen, dance.

Your Blade

I call you out for
helping to forge 

this dagger I’ve made
of myself.

I admit my own
role in the making.

I admit to upkeep
upon the edge.

I admit to putting in
long hours learning

to use it. I admit,
I confess, I fully

concur in your
description of my

willingness to
cut and carve. But

this is your time to
say as well that

all the fight in me
would have meant nothing

or indeed might never
have happened if

you hadn’t put me
through fire and beaten me,

tempered and honed
and hilted me, gave me

balance, proved me.
You weaponized me

until I reached
my full potential.

You started me
thinking to end me;  

instead I completed me
and now you stand surprised

at what I’ve become
and what I’ve done.  I am

neither proud nor ashamed
of myself. After all is said,

I am your blade.  
Your cold steel.

How you feel,
on the other hand,

something you ought 
to consider, 

is rightly no concern
of mine.

The Political Poet Explains

Sweating through my clothes
in the distant face
of no imminent danger.

At least I’m bulletproof.
I’ve covered my vital organs 
in a thick layer of poems.

At least I’m buoyant if I fall in
cold water. I’m clutching
a chapbook that turns into a life raft.

At least I’m fireproof. I’m
surrounded by an impenetrable wall
of verse.  

At least I’m well-documented.
If I die, if my heart fails me
with all this stress, you’ll know

exactly who I was. 

Always The Same

always the same

bang bang and after a rickety clack
sting box in a truck racing away
a bang again a click track truck
chock up with cops and 

always the same

long fire bang bang a short fuse as ever
a big old excuse as big and old as ever
a click track clack as rickety as ever
a bang again a body as cold as ever

always the same

blue snicker at one more snapped thread
a snap at a snicker and a fire to follow
a fire that follows the click bang bang crack
bang bang nursery rhyme for a cold kid

always the same

sneaked snaps from cell phones 
always the same cold kid always the same
roar of horror ghost rising ghosts rising
cracked cops and crushed crowns always

the same 

Give Me Back

Give me back, please. All of me.

I do not know where, exactly, to address 
this supplication.  I do not know how to petition
an entire culture for redress of grievances
which, if redressed, would make it a different culture,
which might just kill it. I have to harden,
have to look past that, have to ask knowing
it is not likely to be heard, yet knowing as well
that asking is survival
and not asking is extinction.

Give me back, please.  All of me.

Everything I cannot recall.
Every experience I never had.
All the language I never learned,
all the language I have not heard
since the last familial speakers died
and ended the need to to speak it.
Each voice I could not hear, each word
that fit into a hole I now carry
and cannot explain, each song I have translated
into howl, each prayer I have learned
from the flow
of my lonely blood.

Give me back, please.  All of me.

I do not know who is listening.  I do not know
if anyone but me is listening.  Someone
is likely to tell me to toughen up and struggle up
and give it up to swim upstream
like all the dying who seek to continue even if
they turn to rot and fodder on the way.  Those,
they will say, are your names, your destinies
to choose from.  

Give me back, no please this time;

I recall enough to know I was not made
in your image.  I recall enough to know
what I was or should have been 
is not what you would prefer me to be.
I recall enough to know
I will have to take me back from the mouths
of your traps, from the teeth of your maw,
from the edge of your bayonet, from the depths
of your hoods and jails and well-meant 
blood-percentage definitions.

Give me back
as I was meant to be
before I have to come digging through you

to find me. 

Talking God In A Dark Parked Car

Sitting in a dark parked car
talking about God. We don’t
have to agree, but we do,
somehow, considering 
how differently we came

to these conclusions.
This doesn’t mean
that we are correct in our 
assumptions; perhaps it means
we’re just equally dull at cutting
through the God-fog.  

They are talking
of the glow from God-walking.
I am talking of the shadow
tied to all our ankles. Read me
one of your God-poems, 
they ask.  I do, and they
respond in kind. We speak

in a dark parked car
of how we each use land
to find God — it’s not abstract
to seek God, there’s a place in God
and God is in places and
location is holy and physical
is sacred.  The dark parked car
is still running,

I finally turn the lights off as it runs,
as we talk of where we each are going
in the next hours — onto a plane for them,
up the street to bed for me, finding our ways
from the God here to the God there,

taking God with us from the parked dark car
to the next place, or perhaps not — perhaps
that will be a different God there, or at least
a different face of the same God.
Does it matter which is true
a dark parked car
has already been a temple in our world?

Job Description

I make a lot of money
as a dead person.

You living
jump out of your skins to pay me

when my ill wind blows
in your faces. 

You ask me where I spend it
and how I came by this job?

I answer by touching you
on the back of your neck.

Then I move one finger down 
to the base of your tailbone. Feel that?

You shiver, I get paid.
Each tremble is a buck I can trade

for coins taken from corpse eyes.
Those are useful here. I’d explain

the economy of the afterworld,
but it would take too long.

Enough to say food and shelter and insurance
aren’t necessary. More on that later — 

to answer the second question,
if you must know

I took the job in a moment of
gun-facilitated despair some years ago.

I think you call me a ghost,
but I’m not that different from you.

I walk through things you have to walk around,
that’s all. It’s not bad work.

I do get so bored with you,
but you never

get bored with me. Not too shabby,
that power to remain electrifying

to the dull living. That’s where
most of my income goes: paying for

the opportunity to remain memorable.
Not everyone gets such a chance.

It almost makes that last flash of pain
worth it. 

The Road To That Surprise

Whatever you thought was going to happen,
prepare for the difference. By which I mean,

you cannot prepare for the difference, so prepare
to be caught by surprise. This rule will hold

until you are old enough to have seen it all
and done it all.  By which I mean, it holds 

for as long as you live — by which I mean,
life tends to last as long as your sense 

of surprise at how it unfolds. By which I mean
we are not familiar with how many folds

there may be to undo, and there
has never been anyone who learned that

and came back to tell us. Whatever we think
of that, we have to live with it right up to the moment

we learn it for ourselves, by which I mean
hold me, it’s not so far off that I can be cold

to its approach, and I long for a partner
on the road to that surprise.

The Trick According To Remarkable Jones

Once upon a time at the corner
there was a man loudly explaining 
how to change your weight by changing your name.
Look at me, he says, I once weighed 438 pounds
as John Quinones, changed my name to Remarkable Jones
and became a 260 pound tiger of svelte grace. 

I changed my name at his suggestion
to Natasha LaShotgun and ballooned to 3,438 tons.
I developed a gravitational pull of my own that worked
in concert with that of the Earth and began to levitate
quite pleasantly three feet off the ground. Reverting
to my birth name gently grounded me again.  

The trick according to Remarkable Jones
was to never keep one name for too long 
once you’ve learned the process. Shift constantly
between identifiers and you’ll never get pinned down
or rise too far above where you want to be.  

So I dug the advice and dug the doing for a long time.
Gained as John Smith, reduced as Almond McGillicuddy.
Shrank as Penny, grew as Penelope, swelled to substance
as Monster Don, slipped into feigned normalcy
as Smoky Face Butts Patel, DiRienzo Delmonico.  Sometimes

I just went with titles: the lightness of being Mister,
the unbearable lightness of being Hey You. The gravity
of Your Honor, the unbearable honor of being Reverend,
Officer, Boss. Honey raised my toes ten feet off the dirt,
Asshole sunk them pointedly six feet under. If I took

a name I was given, a title, a slur? How I tossed 
and rolled and laid about based on the massive potential
of those words I did not myself own, how difficult it became
to find a name that gave me back to my self at a size
I could work with, huge or small,
offering whatever peace I most desired. It all became so much
that I ran one day, shedding names as I ran, all the way to the corner
where the man sat waiting as if he knew I was coming. 

I knew you’d come, he said. 

The truer trick according to Remarkable John Quinones Jones
was to find a name that you could completely own, 
no matter how long, no matter how many syllables
it required, no matter how hard it was for someone else
to pronounce — in fact, that might be your best tell
that you’ve found the Right Name with the Right Weight —
that no one can dismiss it by saying it wrong,
that only you can teach its correct sound.  If you find that,
you will forever outweigh whatever name they try to hang upon you
no matter how big or small you become…

oh, he was right. How right he was.
I say it out loud when I’m by myself at night,
and I fill the whole damn sky.


In the town where I grew up
I was put right away into
the smart box, the weird box,
the known quantity box.
I was not expected to be normal.

Still, like every other boy I was schooled
in basic manhood
: he who smiles best
smiles least and with a knife.
A man isn’t half a man without
a way and a need to fight; in my case

I got an extra dose of that,
made to live up to warrior codes
that expected me to fight
all the wars my forefathers ever fought,
and in the same old way. 

I learned the wrong very well.
I lived the wrong very badly. To this day
I sweat my fright at life each morning
before work. I live by half-measures
just to be safe, just to keep things safe.

Damn the town, the knife,
the history, the basic training
I was born to. I have no sons.
That’s my contribution, the least
I could do to change the world.

Slowly (fragment)

body slips aside and

this day becomes
soil, turns into

garden, changes
from struggle to

memory of

Slowly, body
fails the day,

closes till

with neither sadness
nor regret, just

a hope for 
soft open,

a wish for 

a longing 
for growth 

for days upon
days yet to come.

Brown-Eyed Handsome Man

with one Gibson one ego
and ten live genius fingers

flying across the desert
toward the next show

where he’ll be paid
in cash for a precisely timed set

with a local pickup band
who had better know every song

and there had better be
a girl backstage

fit for an icon’s status
and predilection for all

to bend before him
because this is what 

this brown-eyed handsome man
can get away with now

though he didn’t always
get away with it

but ten genius fingers
a Gibson and an ego

dropped into the right place
at the right time 

wrung a new world
out of an old one once

and once that happened
even people inclined to hate 

a brown-eyed handsome man
felt compelled to shout for him

saying go go
go be good

or bad-ass as fuck
brown eyed handsome man

on a plane
aimed at the next show

next bag of cash
next nameless band

to stare at his backside
contracted to kiss it if he asks

and who would have dreamed
that would happen 

back when he started
back when it all started

This Sequence Of Words Is Nothing

This is a sequence of words
plastered together with tears
for what is likely to happen tomorrow.

Tomorrow, one of the wrong people
is likely to triumph, and one of the right ones
is likely to suffer.  Two excuses for this

will slam into each other
and the air around them will be bruised. 
Someone will put together

a sequence of words as explanation 
and bruise the air further.  Tomorrow, 
one of the words in that sequence will be stolen

for another purpose. The thief will sharpen it
to a point, whittling away
the good intentions it bore originally. Tomorrow,

a slip of a tongue will trigger a bone saw
and dust will fill the lungs of an innocent,
choking them to death.  This is a sequence of words

hard at work doing nothing to stop that. Tomorrow
they will mean something and nothing will happen.
Someone will repeat them and nothing will happen.

This is a sequence of words about nothing happening.
This is a sequence of words about tomorrow coming
in spite of nothing happening. These words

are nothing. The bone saw and the choking
and the dust stuffed lungs
and the whittler and the bruised air? 
Those are something.

but a sequence of words
about something
is nothing at all.

Dominion Of The Dead

fuck zombies and
fuck vampires

it’s the truly dead
we should fear most

their dead hands
come up out of their graves
grab us by the ankles and
plead with us  
to keep everything the same

demand that
we keep the same laws and industries
they had when they were alive
hold the same prejudices and illusions
follow the same religions

everything’s changing
and they want us
to live stale 

fuck the fascination
with vampires
and zombies

fear instead
grandma and grandpa

and our other departed heroes
who remain dead yet
in death work so hard to smother
the dynamics of life

fear instead the tug
of our love for them
our wish to honor them
that keeps us from change

that holds us
too long in thrall

to the dominion
of our beloved dead

How To End War

You say, don’t call these unpleasant days

wars.  You say, it makes the struggles
seem so violent.  You say,
from such words come the violence.
You say, the violence is so

but what you do not say is

there is no “us” and “them”
that you will continue to accept.

You claim to see no “us”
and “them” but

when the war is on,

you sit yourself right back down in 
your own seat and call us 
“them” and talk about us as if we
made this battle. As if the way 

into your fantasy world
of no “us and them”

is for us to utterly forget
that you are as always
sitting elsewhere, far from where
we perpetually bleed;

you look violent there,
sitting in an armored section filthy
with velvet rope
that you (and only you) call

and from where we are,
from where we must war,

we see no sign
that the rope
will ever come down
without the help
of a sword.