Monthly Archives: December 2016

How To Be Done With It

Shout “good riddance”
when lightbulbs burn out,
when discarding
envelopes that won’t adhere,
when contemplating
the bitter end of the bank account.

When the television
goes off for non-payment,
when the phone 
goes off for non-payment,
when the heat and the lights
go off for non-payment
and the landlord has ominously
mentioned
“proceedings,” 
sit there with either a sneer
or a triumphant,
head-lowered demeanor. 

Don’t kill anyone
too much, except in your mind (admit
at least that you feel up for it though
before you shake that thought
out of your hands
and back into the steel trap you keep inside
to hold such wickedness).

Tell them
to bring it on,
whatever it is.
It’s time for it,
whatever it is.

It’s not like it’s been
sustainable for a while now.

It’s not like it’s been
a society for a while —
more of a cautionary tale
or a bucket list
getting checked off
more and more 
aggressively, 

so tell them
you’ve got plenty of pens
and all the time in the remaining
world.


How Are You Doing?

How are you doing
with today’s harsh light?

Is there an obvious point
to be made of it, or is this day

like all others recently: 
a mystery drag that becomes a shrug

as we shake our heads and say,
“Well, what did you expect?”

Not that every day or even every
moment of every day must have a point,

of course; mostly we’re clueless
and happy enough just getting by.

Now and then, though, the light
picks up an epiphany, a shadow

glooms a space, a breeze configures
a curtain’s shape against a piece of furniture,

and this day to which we’d been oblivious 
blooms with meaning and purpose

and we agree that of all we expected of the day,
this was the least probable outcome.

Any day could hold such moments,
so again, I say, with the hard light around us

illuminating all in a stabbing flash,
how are you doing?

What has become clear
since yesterday, since ten minutes gone by,

since the day
you were born?


That Bo Diddley Beat

Oh, that Bo Diddley beat.
When describing it
people say, always, “shave and a haircut,
two bits” as if people still knew
“two bits” used to mean a quarter,

as if you could still get a shave
and a haircut for a quarter; I am
showing my age knowing that,
showing my age even writing about
Bo Diddley, or Buddy Holly, or

Johnny Otis, who chose to claim early on
that he was Black though he was not
and stuck with it back when that was
at least a little bit of dangerous thing to do — 
though enough did it because it seemed to offer

a door to the same Promised Land
Chuck Berry had talked about — “shave and a haircut,
two bits,” and they would be in, except 
they could get out again if necessary
and take that crazy hand jive with them on the way out.

It falls into place under my hands 
easily enough after 57 years
of hearing it — my mother must have heard it
at least a few times
while I was in her womb.

It takes a bit of coordination 
to get it just right —
it’s not just a matter
of how I strum, but of how I
hammer on the chord

in conjunction with the strum. You don’t need
to understand it to get it close to right — the animal muscle
of repetition can get you there, and then it’s just a matter
of letting it carry you, the way it carries anyone
who lets it fall into place under their hands

and understands that it isn’t really theirs.
That it wasn’t Johnny Otis’s beat.  Not Buddy Holly’s
beat. That Bo got it from John Lee, John Lee
got it from his stepdad William, and who knows
where he got it?  Some diddley bow player,

some hambone man, some juba dancer
somewhere in Mississippi, in Shreveport —
somewhere I never have been and can’t go
and won’t claim to go. I did not build that house
by the roadside. It doesn’t matter how many miles

of barbed wire I walk. It doesn’t matter
who I love. I pay a lot more than two bits
for my haircuts and shaves. I have never
paid enough for how that beat falls
just right under my hands.


Ready

That creaking
is coming from
your childhood, 
a tomb long
left open far behind you
that is now slowly closing
with all your beloved spirits
caught inside. 
From now on 
you are going to have to
move forward
with silence
at your back and
noise ahead
waiting for you
to arrive and make
sense of it without
their voices
to assist you. 
It is as if
they expected you
to have learned
something from all
that whispering,
as if they knew
all along
that childhood
is a tomb and that
its door would close
on them someday,
startling you,
leaving you grieving 
and dimmed
but ready.


Hungry For Light

Hunched before my keyboard, trying.

This is how I live: waking up
hungry for light after swimming
all night through healing dark,
then trying to explain to you 
how that hunger keeps me alive.

When I say “trying to explain
to you…” I am not speaking to “you”
of course, but to a “you” beyond
any of us. You are welcome
to the conversation, but it is not
meant for you specifically…so…

unless I have erred, and you were
there in the dark stream of my night
without my knowing? If it is you
the work is meant for, speak up:
I will raise my eyes from this work
and look to you directly as you
know my core and the words
will likely just obscure it. 

We who wake up hungry for light
understand this: that the words,
the long strings of words we troll out
from our lonely rooms, are just
invitations to a table
that is set for a feast.


The Story Of A Painting

Once upon a time

a painter stole a canvas
from some people he met
and painted over their work
in flat white. 

Forced some other people
to help paint over it,
painted some parts 
himself…and here it is.

It’s not all terrible. Some parts
are sublime in fact. But a lot of it is dreck and
some parts are just OK. How you feel about it
depends on how far back you stand.

Inadvertently, it’s high concept
and interesting. Execution is 
imperfect and inconsistent. It’s
insistent and overdrawn and

it’s all compounded by having 
a terrible frame. Currently it hangs
on a wall that’s on fire. Flames loud 
as a band — some say it sounds like

NWA, some say it sounds like 
Lee Greenwood. It just sounds like 
fire to most who see it, though some
just like closing their ears 

and warming their hands before it
while staring at their favorite parts —
this perfect flower, that lovely flag —
while thinking about 

happily ever after.


An Explanation

Whiny
you say
They’re whiny
Sore losers
They should stop whining 
They lost

You are mistaken
No one’s whining

You don’t understand the difference
because 
your own voice
is all you are used to hearing
and you do
a butt-load of whining
about how precious you are
and about being told you 
no longer should be
so precious considering
your pedestal
rests unsteadily on 
bones

What you are hearing
is not whining

Is keening for
what has died and
for what may yet die

followed by
a war cry


The Blessing, The Way

Pain and Despair
stand face to face
cradling you
between them

until you slip 
from their arms
to the earth 
at their feet
and shed their 
embrace.

This is a blessing:
letting go and falling
into the Way, removing
oneself from them,
even as they try 
to hold you harder.

The Way is to 
drop away from
their hard faces.
Never let them
hold you in their gaze.
Never let them
stare you down. 
Instead, close your eyes —

land soft, feel 
the beating heart
of your Mother.


Stop Talking

We kept saying, “Speak 
truth to power,” 
and eventually they said, 
“Truth doesn’t matter.”

We kept saying, “Money
can’t buy happiness,” 
and eventually they said,
“You’re right,” and simply took ours.

We kept saying, “Not 
special rights, but equal rights,”
and eventually they laughed 
all rights into a bucket and kicked it.

When will we see
all the problems that come
from talking to them 
in the first place?

 
 
 

Slowly Lying Down

Slowly 
lying down as if there were
long unconscious hours ahead and
not such short time
before necessary waking.

Head
upon pillow as if nothing
has changed at all and 
daybreak will bring just another
round of work and play.

Heavy 
eyelids closing as if there were
no fires burning and no one
screaming for rescue as their roof
tumbles in upon them.

You don’t recognize
this slothful self.
You don’t recognize
this frightened, frozen
self who hears and sees
all this yet decides
to crawl into bed
and fall into such 
an evil sleep

that when you wake
you aren’t even sure
that you should
be allowed to continue
to use your own name
in polite company, you’ve
stained it so.


Frogs (Sprung)

When I was a boy I walked often
to a pond near my house that was full with debris
and car parts and dark water and duck weed
and frogs who made a deep “sprung” noise
at intervals.

Later on I built a shelter not far from there
with a small fire-pit and I’d sneak away at night
to drink or smoke by myself when I hated people
and I’d listen to the “sprung” noises of the bullfrogs
going on all night.

I am often afraid as an adult to open my eyes
right before dawn or at any time really 
because I spend so much time listening to those frogs
going “sprung-sprung-sprung” in my head
wherever I am.

It is at its worst when I dwell too long in places
that remind me of the oil-shine and stink of the water
in that little pond, really no more than a drain-off
from who knows what past failed industry, thick with
the “sprung” of poisoned bullfrogs.

I expect one day a frog will leap out of there and into
my hands and take over their function and instead
of writing or kneading bread or making a guitar work
some magic they will turn reeking and oily and from them
will issue a “sprung” sound

as I shove a gun into my mouth.


Our Dragon

Originally posted as “Crisis” in 2009.  

We claimed
we didn’t know anything
about how this would be
right up to the day
the dragon we had been
feeding for ages,
whose back had been
humping up 
the earth
like a monstrous gopher
for as long as we could recall,
the one whose eyes like star sapphires
had dazzled us into long inaction;
until the day the dragon rose into
full view demanding our firstborn,
our second-born, 
demanding to be
slaked and satisfied 
with our legacies;
demanding everything and nothing explicit
because his sheer sudden command
of the common sky 
told us all
we needed to know then and evermore;
and then we ran about like cinders jerking crazily
in the general cloud of destruction, becoming
sparks that vanished even as we flew
lost in the heat of a moment
we’d known was coming for years
and yet had denied as easily as any other god
we’d ever taken on casual terms.
Of course, since we had made this one
ourselves, 
we still believed
we could remake it
right up to the second
that we fell, consumed,
back to the black ground
to enrich the soil for
whatever folly 
would follow us.


Crisis

I want most right now to stroll
within my own stopped life
and examine what’s in it.
I want my life to become
a museum of itself. Put all 
my relations and friends
in it and think about them 
as they magically stand
absolutely still and still alive.
And do not think for one second
that I consider myself exempt
from such exhibition. I want
to stare at me seated there
in my diorama on my couch
or in my bed and ask every 
grand question I can think of
until I figure me out. This is 
how a near death experience
or astral travel is sometimes
described of course. I do not
believe in astral travel and 
as for being near death that is
nothing new. I have been living
near death for a long time and
this has never happened. It has
always been a fast jumble
with no time to look at anything
very long. What I want is
suspended animation as it is
in science fiction movies where
living simply stops for a second.
Everyone stopped. Everything 
stopped but me while I decide
whether or not I am going 
to step out of frame and not
return to this exhibit and instead
slip at last past death and 
keep going to whatever kinetic
wilderness beckons beyond.


Predation

Predation is 
a lovely thing.

Efficient and
sweet on the tongue.

If a predator
becomes prey, 

no matter as the meat 
is no less sweet.

You aren’t used to it,
at all — this sense 

of being stalked.
This sense of 

teeth behind you
glistening. 

Welcome to 
how it is

for most. As it has been
for those who’ve long lived

ahead of you and
your teeth.  You never

thought of yourself
as a predator and

thinking like prey
doesn’t come any easier —

those have never been
your terms. Welcome, then,

to the new dictionary
of how you are going to have

to survive. Learn 
predator, prey, consumer,

consumption, product, 
commodity. Learn

escape, camouflage, 
resistance, flight,

fight, fight or flight.
Learn or die. Remember

that you started this
and were oblivious

to how it worked
for a long time. Try to forget

how sweet it tasted.
Try to taste, instead, the fear

in the meat you used to savor.
Taste it on your own lips.


The Sickness

How many of us — 
sick as bees,
ill defenders of our rumpled peace,
remotely disordered dancers on the edge
of our doctors’ scalpels —

how many of us there must be 
who’ve learned to take our diseases as
strictly personal, all our own doing;

how many there must be 
who cannot see how we
are obvious medals
on a bad society’s lapels.

No one wants us to know —
they tell us to hide
and drug us into exile —
they paint us into
suicide corners
and fictionalize us into
television monsters —
they keep us from each other —

because of 
what we could tell
them about themselves
and how we got here
with their help, with their
God’s help, with their
permission and
their need for us —

first as
steam valves
hissing off pressure,
then as
spillways for their junk,
finally as
scapegoats turned loose
in their parched deserts

to ramble.
Don’t we ramble, though;
don’t we wander
outside their walls.
Their walls that
hold them in so
tightly.  We might be sick

but we’re free. It counts
for something
as long as they don’t kill us
while discounting it.