Monthly Archives: March 2017

The Power Of Imagination

My goodness
is real, he tells
himself. Is pure

snow, cloud,
hay beard.
My intentions

are pale,
calm, bowl of
Cream of Wheat. 

If it’s not
white, it’s
imaginary,

he tells himself.
There are
other shades

of world, but
they are his
to define. His

imagination
is all. My intentions
are my best

self, he says.
My goodness
is perfect, light

of a perfect
universe, gift
of a blinding 

faith. White
as milk,
white as

the light
of some
cloudy dawns.

Of course
I’m clean,
he insists.

Of course,
I am without stain —
you are thinking

of my unbleached
ancestors, but know that
I did not inherit

a thing from them —
in fact, let me
put this to rest:

they are
imaginary so
my imagination,

my rules. They were
devoid of color too. This is
how I keep it real,

he says,
eyes closed so tight that
all turns white in there.


American Exceptionalism

This dissection of the body politic.

This level of disease being revealed.

This opening along natural seams.

This observation of
burst vessels
open sores
mottled skin 
jaundice
desiccated gums
and lesions.

All routine. All
as expected.

What surprises us, then:

not so much what we find,
but that we find it

here

when we’ve been told that
inside

we are made of, not organs
and blood,
but
sweet light.


The Family Reunion You Did Not Want

If you find yourself
on workday mornings
staring into a mirror
and wondering about 
how a certain line
above your brows got there
after all the years it spent
on your mother’s face,

or about how the upward twist 
of your wry mouth’s left corner
migrated there from 
your dad’s Army photo,

or in general worrying
about this new slight slope
in your jowls,
so reminiscent now
of Uncle John, or how
the light you once saw
in your skin is now 
nowhere to be found,
dimming the essential
“you-ness” you have always known

into a simple, generic mask
of a darkening, dimming old man
getting older and dimmer 
in exactly the same way 
all the old ones in your family
darkened and dimmed,
take heart in knowing

that no matter how unfamiliar
you may seem to yourself,
how much you stray from
what you once thought
you immutably were, to those
on this side of the mirror
you will remain the same
mess we have always known
and loved and laughed at
since the first time
you stared in rapture
at your own face, not knowing
that we were in here all along,
staring back,

waiting for you to notice.


Day Pass

Some days
get a pass from having
to fit on the spectrum
of “good day or bad day.”

They just sit there
on the calendar
waiting to be remembered,
and never are. 

A week later,
as you toss the page
with the date into the trash,
you pause and ask yourself,

“What happened that day?
Did it even happen? Was it
the day that…no, that was
the next day…or maybe it was

the day that…no, no…” 
You crumple the paper
in a low panic at having
no memory of such a recent

blank. You can’t call it good,
can’t call it bad, can’t recall it at all.
It’s a tear in your fabric. A moment
you’re not even certain happened

although being here today
indicates you were present then.
Today is shaping up to be 
a bad day, what with this awareness

of how unaware you’ve become
now seeping into everything.
You stand there over the trash
wondering what else you’ve forgotten,

how far into oblivion you’ve gone
without noticing, how many holes
you don’t even know are there
are waiting to swallow you if you fall.


In A Cave

In a cave.

Remnants
of other visits
by other beings.

Stink of guano. 
Beetles skittering.

Shining in the floor
where one beam
strikes, a small broken
white bone.

Pull it from dirt,
take it out into sunlight…
are those cut marks?
tooth scrapes? runes?
One end sharp as
suspicion. Smooth
as if sanded overall,
except for those gouges,
and bleach-pale.

Stink of guano,
beetles skittering.

Was it weapon, leftover
from a meal, souvenir of
an enemy, nothing even
related to human
being?

It is sharp. It is
bleach-pale. It is
telling that 

first thought is
a human 
act created it:
a violent act;
a taboo act
with some hidden meaning;

a common, easily
repeated act

conceived
ages ago
amid stink of guano
in which beetles thrived,
first dreamed up

in a cave.


What Comes Has A Voice

With everything turned off in the house
the only sounds are the knocking of the furnace
now and then, occasional scrabbling in the walls from
invader mice, the cat snoring
if I try really hard to hear.

It doesn’t sound like the apocalypse
unless you count the furnace sounds
as the voice of depletion, the mice as inheritors
of our ramshackle ruins, the snoring cat as
the voice of inattention to threats.

That is a choice one can make, I guess,
a choice to let things be what they are and 
not give them meaning. I have tried that
and been found wanting. I have been found longing
to let go, but then the cat stretches and snorts,

something moves in the walls, something
heats up under my feet, and is that the refrigerator
or the rumbling tide of history? 
Perhaps it is not, or it is, or perhaps what is daily
is also 
what is deadly, and the end is in fact near.


He Reserves The Right To Refuse Service

Step away from the table.
Back away slowly from the Tarot spread.

I’m done offering my take upon
the way the Hanged Man keeps coming up for you.

I can’t help it if you identify with him
and see my unwillingness to explain 

as proof of your martyrdom. 
I can’t help it if you see this as 

some grand conspiracy to make you
suffer.  The way it really works is,

you take what you get. This 
is a wildly impersonal world. I know

you want more assurance that it
vibrates on your behalf, but I can’t 

do that. Truth is,
the corner on that card

is bent and I think somehow
you cut to it every time.

I can’t help it that you continually
choose to remain suspended.

All I can do is pull the deck
from your hands and tell you:

go home and stop coming here.
You are beginning to scare me

with your need for certainty
and you desire to find it this way,

and as lucrative as your desperation is,
there are some bags of silver even I cannot take.


Burglars

My aging world view is trying to break in.
My disconnect is trying to break in.

Ember on my sternum
stinging. Hesitating before
going out or burning through
like a drill to my heart. Or maybe
like a pyre consuming all with 
a quickness.

My bank balance is trying to break in.
My bills are trying to break in.

Back of the head stiff from
vigilance. At the join between
the head and neck, pain
like a nut coming off a rusted bolt.
A screech inside me like that of
a caged raptor.

My blood sugar, trying to break in.
My blood pressure, trying to break in.

My feet? A fire that sometimes
howls and cracks, sometimes smolders;
then, there are those neuropathic moments
when a dry floor feels like it is swimming 
with dirty water and I lift them and go mad
to find them dry and feel them then reigniting.

My lonely off days, trying to break in.
My anxious on days, trying to break in.

Fuzzy on details from morning to night
like a blanket’s been thrown over me —
supposed to be for comfort, maybe, 
or like what they put on a corpse at a crime scene,
but I’m not dead yet. Or perhaps I am.
Or maybe it’s a matter of time.

My mania, trying to break in.
My depression, trying to break in.

Some will tell you that such burglars come
to steal spoons. I’ve got not one spoon left.
No,

they’re here for something else.


Sir?

It would be worth your time
to learn how to lie, 

sir. We can see
the smoke rising from

your pants, can see
your nose growing;

perhaps these are illusions
as well, tricky lighting

caused by the waving of
your flagship hair, the shadows

emptying from your mouth?
Sir, we can’t see you behind them —

unless all you are is shadow?
Sir? Are you nothing but smoke

and bad lighting, only a simulation
of human — some kind of 

puppet?  Sir, understand:
we are asking, do you bleed?

Do you weigh anything at all,
sir, or is your incorporeality

so galling to you that you feel
you must stamp this hard on the world?

It would be worth your time
to learn to be a better liar, sir.

Your smoke is showing.
There is nothing in the mirror.


Praise Song For The Rhythm Section

Praise for the Hammond,
for the towering Leslie
and how it warbles, how
it can break any jaded 
weariness, how it argues
against atheism, how it
silkens lounge air 
after midnight.

Praise for the 
hollow body of the archtop,
how it has seen better days
as its scars and scratches attest,
but still chops and pops as it 
always has, how it cuts
into thick despair, how it 
tosses back a pulse like
a whiskey cocktail.

Praise for the mysteries
of the kit, how hands and feet
are employed upon heads
and pedals, how the sticks
mediate between fresh heart and 
old smoke, how brushes
hiss like summer rain, how
immediate the church of the solo.

Praise for the dark cocoa burr
of the upright bass, how it
slips its sweet oil into and through
everything else, how it marks
time with shine and weight, how
it opens the floor below to show
how profound the depths are
below its solid footing.

As for those who stand aside now
as the rhythm section holds
what was and will
soon enough be theirs again:
as for singer, sax,
trumpet, cornet, clarinet?
Tonight is not for them.
Tonight is for this praise song

to what holds them
to the spotlight.
Tonight, instead, a praise song
of foundations,
bedrock,
a landscape from which
all else rises;
a praise song for
what sounds like
home.


A Man Like Him

A man sits back in a brown leather chair
and contemplates his own monstrosity,

allows himself
to remember

that he is sitting upon remains,
that his throne is made of death,

that it is so soft
he can’t rise from it; 

weeping for his monstrous 
comfort, he stays seated,

claiming that it’s better 
that a man like him

is the one
warming the seat

than some more monstrous bastard,
wouldn’t you agree?


That Good A Wolf

As dark a wolf
as can be held 
inside a human?
I am that wolf.

Glimpsed behind 
glassy eyes. Held
within a trembling,
strained core. Checked

by faith and pills,
yet this human
can still
be driven to 

distraction
by my howling,
may break 
another body

on its own 
without even
knowing that I
exist. I am

that good
at making my voice
sound like
a voice of reason

in the face of
what a human
thinks is a threat. 
I am that good.

I wake it before
sunrise and keep it
awake, tired in
darkness, lying

in its bed with
bad news whirling
above it like a 
playpen mobile.

I am that good
a wolf that it thinks
I am a good dog
there to make it

feel better. Make it
relax. Put it safely
to sleep and then
it thinks I keep watch.

It thinks I am
its pet. It does not 
see me as wolf,
surely not as 

Alpha. I am that
good a wolf, that dark
a presence, that loud
a call within that

this human 
does not realize
that it is my den,
not my master. 

Not even my prey,
unless need be.
It’s my home, this
human. Tight

and warm with
crazed blood, blood 
I crazed myself.
I am that good a wolf.


How I Will Become A Sun

I understand now
what has been happening to me
over these last months.

My hands and feet work
as they always have but feel
stiff and needle-filled, oddly
dry when they are wet, 
chilled and dripping
though I stand on dry carpet.
I have stopped trusting them.

Whether I encounter 
once-beloved faces in person
or in newspapers lying
in the street, they all seem
gray and obsolete and 
I have stopped trusting them.

I lie often on the couch
ranting into cups of weak coffee
as days have become weeks
have become months.

I have stopped counting down
to birthdays, holidays, and
other special occasions.
I have stopped trusting them 
for anything more than 
betrayals of my hope
and memory.

I have squeezed all this
into my core and pressed it 
hard into a ball and felt it
become a fusion bomb
and spread its heat

into all my limbs.

Soon to follow?
A blinding light
as I burst from within.
This is how I will 
become at last a sun. 
There will be only burning 
where I once stood.
That is one thing
in which I still trust.


Privileged

When I fell face first and bleeding within
from amphetamines at prep school,

all the school did was counsel me
and send me home for a week or so
on medical leave. That and my family’s begging
kept me on the college track.

When my buddies at the summer party 

dragged the cop out of his car
and began beating him with stones picked up
from the gravel pit, I was asleep,
drunk in my car, and missed the whole thing.
That and my family name kept me out of jail and the papers.

When I got caught smoking weed
in the Student Union building,

all the cop did was take
my bag and pipe and toss me out
and tell me to go home to the dorm. That
and the decade’s weariness with such crimes
kept me off the court docket.

When I told a cop off for an unjustified stop,
and he let me drive away.
When I tossed the barroom groper into the street
with a broken nose where he hit the sidewalk,
and a cop finished what I’d started
with a laugh.

When I realize how much I’ve gotten away with
and still get away with
compared to some, I am ashamed,

but not enough to do anything
but write this
and swear I’ll do something about it
eventually. That and my kind face

ought to be enough
to protect me. To absolve me.


A Late Blizzard

Daffodils came up 
before this late blizzard —

while shoveling the front walk
last night I uncovered

the edge of the cluster.
There was a robin, fat with cold,

chowing down on the old biscuits
I’d crumbled onto the front yard

yesterday. Today, sparrows
crowd the top of a small bush there

with the snow concealing 
whatever that robin might have left.

It’s hell out there this morning —
overnight everything went hard and icy

and there’s shoveling left
that I dread, but

robin and sparrows and
daffodils suggest

that dread
may not linger long.