Monthly Archives: November 2016

Watching The River Flow

Patriotism,
that great river fed
by whatever can be dammed
and made to flow its way,
is a drowning flood.
No one can count
all the bodies it holds
in its depths, how many dead
it grinds along its bed
with its implacable current.
Choosing to be oblivious to that
you dip yourself into it, then

climb out and dry yourself 
with an ever-convenient flag,
end up sitting on the bank
reveling in its apparent beauty,
choosing to forget
how it has been fed,
how it was turned to
its current course, 
how many less fortunate than you
could not climb out
once it had taken them. 
Instead, you hum
a Bob Dylan song
about sitting on a bank of sand
with people disagreeing all around.
It’s pleasant to remember 
old songs,
sentimental favorites,
at such moments 
as the bank of sand
begins, unnoticed,
to crumble out from
under you.


Pushcart nominations…

Every year, journals in the US nominate work they’ve published for potential inclusion in annual collections of the best of the small press called the Pushcart Prize anthologies.  

I’ve been nominated twice this year: for “2001 CR-V,”  published in Drunk In A Midnight Choir; AND for “Song Fragments From The Brokenhearted Chorus,” a composite poem to which I was thrilled to contribute, published in Radius. (Go there to look at the impressive list of names who were involved in that stunning poem.)  

These mark my fifth and sixth nominations, although I’ve never won.  Fingers crossed for this year…

Thanks to the editorial staff of those fine journals.


What You Are Asking

You are asking me
not to wince when I am cut.
You are asking me 
not to curse in blinding pain.
You demand of me
the bow and scrape of etiquette
as I am blasted.
You suggest that this genocide
should be politely borne — no.

No, because

sometimes hope
is a broken storefront,
a glass storm, a fire
in a public street. 

No, because

sometimes survival
is strongest
when it is taken,
not requested.

No, because

asking me to fold my hands
and wait to die,

shunting me
to one side
instead of facing me directly
as I have always faced your knives,

patting my head
and sweetly speaking
that poison suggestion
that I compromise
in the face of an apocalypse 
that has been tailored for me alone,

are not things to be borne politely.

No, because
you cannot make me die
unnoticed.  No, because
if you kill me off,
at the very least
my loud extinction
will echo in your ears forever
and you will never

know peace 
again.


A Diamond Till The End

If this brain softens
any more than it already has
I might have to open my head,
pull it out and lay it out
to dry and re-harden in full sun.

But how to put it back in after
once it’s cooked right?
That’s the kicker.
It would surely take

a shotgun or a hard fall
to get this big bean open
and putting it all back together
and locking it back up after
looks like it would be 
its own special hell.

So maybe
as my brain softens
and it becomes 
harder for me
to concentrate and recall
and speak, I should just accept

this process as inevitable? I don’t
want to. I’m not ready yet.
Some remaining bit of firmware
locked up in the mush is protesting
on my behalf even as I begin
to sink into that plush forgetting.

Mostly, I don’t want to lose
how I feel when I see 
your face.  

Please — let that
be the last thing to go.  

Let that
remain a diamond till the end.


One More Day

I came to a decision
in my teen years

that I would change my name
to Red Resolve Revolver. I told no one
but called myself that
in my private moments.
“Red Resolve Revolver,” I’d say
as I left the bathroom, “hell of a shower
you took there. You took the hell 
out of that shower. Nice job on 
the scalp massage, too.”
I dried myself like a gunslinger
and the buttoning of the shirt
was done with all the swagger
befitting one with the name of
Red Resolve Revolver.

After a while, I changed my name
to Wing Face Magoo. In the car
I’d whisper encouragement: “Hey,
Wing Face; hey, Magoo.
You weren’t meant to sit in traffic,
bud.  You were meant to set your smile
flying out over the stopped cars
and transcend. Put your blinders on
and soar!” And I’d crank up
the radio, later the CD player,
even later the iPod, and pretend
my bird visage was somewhere else
as I rocked out with my headspace band,
Wing Face Magoo and The Real.

Over time, I nearly stopped talking 
to myself. If I had a name,
I didn’t use it.  Now and then,
I’d remember Red or Wing
and play those old memories
like a 45, a cassette — mostly
like an eight track with its big-ass CHUNK
in the middle of a long song
the perfect fanfare for a breakdown.

Today I do well to sit up, have
coffee, think about breakfast.
I do what little work I can do
with the points of my fingers
sticking hard upon the letters
on the keyboard. I pull a small living
from the air.  I sold off the swagger
and the soaring for rent money
long ago. Now, with the last
of my red resolve
glimmering faintly under my skin
and the wind of imminently beating wings
on my crepe paper face,
all I can say to myself is
“c’mon, Old Man. One more
day. Just one.”


This Year

How are your doors holding up?
Has anything blown them off yet?

Some folks saw theirs take flight
a long time ago — centuries ago, in fact,

which doesn’t change
how much of a typhoon this is:

in a high wind such as this,
doors and roofs fly so easily.

So many of us are now exposed and afraid
that the structures won’t hold.

So many of us long exposed are excited
that walls are beginning to buckle. 

Of course, you could just decide
to go out and live in it. You could accept

that your hair will be messy
and your eyes will sting

for as long as you live. You could…
or you could shelter in place

and plan to rebuild. How 
are your doors, your roofs, your walls?

Do you have the tools you need,
do you have the patience to stand in this wind?

There’s some joy in having
such choices to make. It’s not like

they aren’t the same choices
that have always been laid before us,

but some of us have had stronger walls
than others. Some of us have never had to think

about our doors at all.  Some of us
never even knew they were there

until the wind picked up and we saw them
unhinge and begin to rise.


All We Have

There’s no hope,
you know,

except for the hope we make 
in spite of hopelessness.

It’s an action verb no matter
what grammar claims for it. So:

as much of a cliche
as it is — there’s no depth

to the observation
as it is, we can only

add depth through
pure and bright work —

we are responsible 
for our hope as much as

for breathing clean air
and drinking clean water

and protecting them both
as we can.  The idea of hope

unpolluted by despair
is all we have as we are all we have.

We hope. We must, we have,
we will, we will have hoped

regardless of outcome. And if
and when hope requires us

to act, we will act, we act, we will
be able to say we acted. We hope

to have acted. We hope
it will work. 


If We Cannot Dance

because there is no time
for frivolous things 
in this killing moment
we must dance

for who will dance
if we do not

because there is no time
for our leisure
when all around us is industry
and labor
we must sit our asses down
and refuse to work

for who will recall the joy of rest
if we do not

because there is no time
for art and creation
as repulsion and nausea
dominate our senses
we must take up pen and brush
and fight 

for what will the future think of us
if we let those fall
from our hands

if we let
this grinding moment of horror
take from us
what is most holy and human
if we cannot dance
if we cannot create 
if we cannot rest
satisfied that we have done
the necessary work of our souls

what will be left
for the future
to fight for


Thanksgiving Eve Poem

Brain!
Hard to believe
you really want
this poem from me 

on Thanksgiving eve,
right when I’m cooking
many small things
and worrying about 
many large things, as if

there was time for this
now. This may be
the last one for who knows
how long — who knows
what there will be
to be thankful for 
this time next year.

I suppose having leisure to
sit back and do this
while many small things
cook is a good thing.  
I suppose having food
is a good thing.

I suppose this word
“Thanksgiving”  
with all its baggage
is a good thing.  
I suppose family and survival,
things taken too often
for granted,
are good things.  

I suppose
there should be gratitude
for being pulled to do
and being allowed to do
what I was built to do

in spite of everything
that needs to be done — and

everything
needs to be done —

even, I suppose, 
this —

so Brain, 
though I can scarcely believe it,
there is time, and food,
and this small moment of time
in which to breathe freely —

let us bend to it,
giving thanks as we do.


Story Of You

— for the protectors at Standing Rock

This is a story of you

as mad as spirit locked away
in a stale church for centuries,
itching and swelling to break down
your sanctuary prison,

with beautiful open hands
and gray stone in your eyes, 
standing up to smoke and wind
and flame not far behind,

dancing among threshers
mowing down fields of grain,
daring scythes to take you,
mocking approaching reapers.

This is a story of you

responding: turning poison flood
into wine, turning heads
away from murder toward
birth and bloom. 

This is a story of you

removing: shifting brick
from wall to path and then
following that path to a place
without walls.

This is a story of you

and your beautiful open hands
and stone eyes, your dance
against death, your laughter,
your breakout, your miracle —

you.


Targets

Originally posted 7/16/2016.

1.

At 5:45 AM
I took out the trash
and did not startle
when a neighbor spoke to me
while my back was turned
because I am not a target.

I watered the container garden
when we were done speaking
and then sat right down
on my own front wall
in the high humidity
and, in the name of
going back to bed
and getting more sleep,
took a few hits off half a joint
and wasn’t too worried
though it was full daylight
because I am not a target.

I could have been a target.
I could have been but almost
in spite of all my handsome
paternal ancestors,
I pass for White and always have
and thus regardless
of my own thoughts
and obsessions and internal
maladjustments to the way
my frame doesn’t fit my picture,
I am not a target.

I can love and rage
and live out loud
because I am not a target.
I can walk a street
with my eyes set straight upon
the eyes of others
because I am not a target.  

I can watch every video of targets,
and target practice, 
sit there staring,
crying out and raging up and falling out,
then turn them off or turn away
because I am not a target.

2.

No one and everyone
knows what’s coming.

No one and everyone
understands what will not stand;

no one knows how it will
fall. None but the targets understand

how that’s going to feel.
Everyone’s going to learn something —

at the very least, how
not to turn away;

at the very most, how little it will be,
has ever been, about them.

3.

I went back inside
and was ready to sleep
until one of my handsome
paternal ancestors

rose into view,
right through the floor;
she hovered there,
her regalia soaked in blood;

she shook her head,
she would not look me in the eye;
as hard as I wanted to be before her,
I could not be hard. I instead fell

to the same floor she transcended
so easily, and saw then
how difficult it was going to be
if I wanted to claim anything

of what I thought myself
to be; and when I looked up
she was gone, and the blazing eye
of a bull bison hung in her place

for a second only
before leaving me alone 
to choose.


Under Fire

At the exact moment
you realize that you
have no choice or chance
unless you shoot back,

you will look sideways up from the floor
where you’ve flattened yourself
in order to save your own life
and see through a broken window

a single leaf on a branch.
It will be surely already dead
but have some color left in it,
red spots in dry brown perhaps

or some slight green remaining
overall, and you will surge within
and let go of your own stubborn grip
upon a semblance of being truly alive

and look around
for something, anything,
with which to fill your
suddenly freed hand.


Someday

There is a car in my driveway
that will not run. My neighbor
got it for free and plans to make it work
someday. Someday. Right now 
it’s a small white wreck with four flats
and a college parking sticker 
from five years ago in the front window,
but it looks like a promise to my neighbor
that someday it will be the best deal
he ever made.  

There is a thin coat of white
on all the cars in the driveway.
One red (that’s mine), one black (that one is
my lover’s car), and my neighbor’s white wreck
which looks cleaner now that it’s coated in snow.
Someday there will be a full storm — or so
we’re told. No telling when, of course. The weather
has been a lie for years now; we have turned it
into one big lie. Someday all three cars
will be mounds of pure white
to be dug free, but right now 
that’s just a threat and instead we’ve got two
that are ready to roll and one that isn’t,
two that run and one that doesn’t.
Mine is one of the ones that runs 
right now, and while I know someday
it will stop, that day, I hope,
is still far off.

There’s a fear in the air right now,
but someday it won’t be there. Someday
all these broken cars will run like tops
and all these promises will spring into life.
My neighbor will get that scrap heap to run
and off he’ll go, a smile on his face. My car will hold
until I can get another one just as good or better,
and my lover’s car will do the same.
The snow will come and settle and melt
on schedule as expected.  Right now
no one’s got a clue about what’s to come,
about when someday might at last slip into place
and bring a dose of hope at last.
Until then we’ll keep these wrecks running
and dig out when we have to

until someday, when we’ll sit down
and sigh 
and cry and laugh
about how we got through
right now. Not today, no — 
but someday.  


Confession Of A Crocodile

When I was a bomb,
I destroyed though
I longed to build; instead
I gutted and burned and 
swept away.

When I was a bayonet,
I couldn’t imagine how
I had happened — how
I’d found myself
at barrel’s end, how
I stuck, how I was freed
with a blast right after.

When I was poison
I slept uneasily, like an empty coffin;
when I was a guillotine,
I felt a breeze sift that hair
as it tumbled down.

I used to pretend to be
oblivious to myself as damage
but truth be told: it has always been 
my entire being and life to be
utterer of death
in order to preserve myself…

so I weep and gnash my teeth
and wash my hands of
generations of stains, 

all while
never moving from

my throne.


Irish Music On Sundays

Sunday morning Irish music
on the radio. Been this way
for many eons. I don’t do church anymore
but ritual matters to me — for instance, 
a soothing 
shower and then a bowl
of thick white bean 
soup
during a snowstorm after shoveling.

So it is with De Dannan, Teada, Altan,
and so on. Something foreign enough
to feel strange, homey enough to feel
safe. I grew up with this around me. 
I took it in with air and water.

This is Sunday for me. Once upon a time
I went to church on Sundays. I used to hate that.
I was forced into that ritual. I don’t hate this one
because I’m free to change the station,
though I don’t. I never do. It’s Irish music
every Sunday morning. It’s a bittersweet
religion as foreign to me as it is homey,
which is, I think, what religion ought to be:
a deep familiarity, a sacred oddity
embedded
within you of your own free will.