Monthly Archives: March 2017

The Agnostic

He admits to himself
that there are fleeting times when
he still believes
that up in the sky

there’s a bearded solution 
to all of this pain. He knows better,
of course, always has,
just like the cool kids do.
But knowing better
isn’t always enough to banish
certain things from his head
that took up residence long before
knowing meant more than believing.

What he thinks he knows
about such things now, he does not share.
All the cool kids would sneer.
All the cool kids know better than him —
by which he means they have a better process
for knowing. They’re better at knowing 
than he is. When they know something,
they know it. He, on the other hand,
keep gnawing at the knowing all the time,
trying to know better, trying to know more
and more certainly, and it never comes to him.

All this is to say that tonight, right now,
he’s aware of how alone this makes him.
How nothing is reliable. How no one
is in the same boat, at least not anyone
he could call and ask for help. There’s this
one important question he needs an answer to
and if there’s nothing beyond himself to provide
a safe space to ask it, he dares not say it out loud.
All the cool kids would laugh at him for feeling that way.
All the cool kids would turn away if he asked them,

so he doesn’t ask, and slowly pulls away.


James

Arrogant young prick
filled with unfortunate
rock lyrics
but also unfortunately
pretty as hell
Did high school as a god
Did college and law school
as a smaller god-king but
held court 
linked arm in arm to the whole
cosmology of
theft
Got away with war crimes
in peacetime
Got away with loot
from unreported robberies
for a living 

In mirrors
found his fan base

James

Aged out
Started balding but
still saw that self-created 
Jagger in his mirror
imaginary groupies
in every hotel bar
and new markets to conquer
in his sleep
right to the end
Died disbelieving
that he
Jack Flash in the flesh
could die at all

Another James right behind him to take his place
of course
They all believe they are the first
of course 
Cockmonsters of the walk
of course
and of course
they are as common as
garage bands made
by sticky boys in bedrooms
dreaming in the language
of stage lights
and ownership
who put down the guitars
at a certain age
took up MBAs and law books
Glocks and badges
pivot tables and coding
but none ever stop believing
they are owed 
a spotlight
their name
in lights
tonight only

JAMES


Trickster

My partner tells me
she came home 
to a coyote in the front yard
last night.

There is no need
to ask if she’s sure.
They’ve been around for years
and we’ve both seen them before — 
though never here, never this deep
into a dense city neighborhood.

Between us, we have now officially seen 
more coyotes here on this street
than we’ve seen guns
on anyone 
except cops,
gang signs
from anyone except on
Facebook,
and muggings except
on TV.

Remind me again 
how this city is a shit hole
and we’re all crazy for living here,
sneer again that it’s all going to hell.

That laughter you’ll hear
will not be the laughter of
the Trickster.


Boulders

Boulders within you. Fields,
forests of them looming,
covered in misted moss.

The rules for entering here:
duck them when they’re rolling,
climb them when they’re still.

You enter
when you learn

that an old friend unseen for years dies
and you learn that they lived 
close by
that whole time but you never saw 
each other
and did not cross paths

though many mutual friends
were held 
between you. 

Is that boulder moving
or stable?

Your family has forgotten your address
and doesn’t return 
your calls.
You are eating 
alone, sitting alone,
standing up

to pace the room alone.

How many boulders
are quivering now?

Beyond this field the mountains are rumbling.  
Landslides everywhere.

People scatter and scream;  others
shove prybars into ledges
and chortle as stones come down.
Your field is empty of such doings at the moment
and will likely stay that way as long as you
don’t draw attention to yourself
by stepping out to try and save someone.

Do you climb, do you duck?
Do you 
step out, or do you lie down
to be
crushed like a tossed can?

All the stones of the world
whether placed for worship
or worshipped where they were found
are questions. You are so much smaller 
than they are that it seems
there are no grounds from which to answer.

Then again,
you chose 
to enter the field in the first place.


A Drink With Death

I sat on the front porch with Death
and shared whisky. 

Death has a rep for terrible taste
in booze but all things considered,

I took the glass and choked it down.
Not horrible, not great.  Sometimes

mediocre is the worst option
but being the only one available makes it

the best option as well. 
Afterwards we shared a joint. Mine, of course;

Death can’t roll to save a soul
and my reputation for that skill is known in Heaven and Hell.

Death settled into the chair
and took a larger pull than was strictly 

polite, but arguing makes no sense
when you argue with Death. (Before this all

becomes “Princess Bride” parody, 
understand how serious this was

underneath the smiles and proffered drugs:
I was drinking and toking with Death

as if it all hadn’t been that for my whole life,
as if I didn’t know what might be at stake, though I did.)

Buzzed and worried,
I asked Death for a momentary reprieve — not for myself,

but for some random person. I wanted to tell myself
that I’d made some difference for someone

without regard for who they were. When Death
nodded and said it was done, I swallowed the drink

and the burning, dragged deep, fell asleep.
Someone didn’t die because I’d had that drink,

I told myself.  Such a wasted life as I’d had, 
I had to justify it at least a bit, even if I’d been in a fog

the whole time.  Even if I didn’t know 
that the saved person was worthy.  No one’s worthy

enough, really. It’s all a drunken plea
to stay alive for each of us. I didn’t do anything, 

really, except hope it would work to my credit
to have done something not for myself.  It’s what

every drink shared with Death is,
of course. A bargain. A deal, a commodified prayer

with indeterminate answers. Fire swallowed for heat,
chased with a hope for no scarring.


Those Teeth

Those teeth:
pearl white, 
perfected.

Straight, sharp, 
and no mistake: 
they can cut.

It’s the color
(or lack of one)
that makes them

so scary. Nothing
but snow and 
that tunnel entered

upon dying 
should be that color
(or lack of one). If you

bite me, you unnatural
blinders, you mirrors
that do not reflect; if you

take any piece of me —
proud walk, working hands,
core muscles, wide view — 

I assure you
that you shall choke
and in death you will not

remain unstained.


Ground And Pound

is working.

I haven’t been upright
in months. I feel
only head shots and body blows.

No blood in my liver, my limbs
cold and stiff with coagulate,
certainly none to be spared for anyone else. 

Opening my eyes
through the spray of little cuts
on my face is too hard.

Each one’s a distraction
I can’t manage to disregard
while trying to get up or at least

trying to try for that.
I’m not much to look at either,
and forget being loved; no one loves

a slab of meat, soft marble chunk of 
red and white, shaking tub
of bad decisions lying puddled on the mat.

Ground and pound it is for a wrap:
take it, fake it, don’t cave, don’t tap.
But it’s working. No denial here. Working

like a charm. No knockout blow
in this lifetime. From outside
it may look like I’m sleeping,

but from ringside you can’t know how
the roaring of my heart at my failure
keeps me awake for now.


Storm (Three Voices)

1.
Whatever’s going on outside,
we want nothing to do with it.

The weather’s gone
snarling and snappish.

It has a nuclear tone
of voice.

It’s not safe in here either,
but at least it’s quiet.

At least there’s heat, right now
at least. Water

and smoke and liquor. Enough
to eat, books to read. 

Whatever’s going on outside
seems ignorant.

It’s not our place to educate
an entire climate. 

Someone else who knows more
ought to take that chalice.

2.
We stared into their homes
from outside. So many of them

had fireplaces but even the ones
that did not seemed warm.

They seemed happy enough
so it was hard to understand

why at the first sight of us out here —
whipped and stung, soaked into despair,

being killed by the howling
taking over — why did they

draw the blinds against us?
We do not wish our fate upon them,

do not wish to
displace them. All we want

is to get out of the storm.
A share of a drier way to live.

They cannot possibly wish this misery
on us, can they?

3.
Those out in the storm
deserve the soaking they’re getting,

though they are not the reason
for the storm.

Those dwelling safe within the storm
are not the reason for the storm.

All the time, there are those
who live above them all,

high above the storm:
seeding the clouds, fanning

lightning into full stroke,
adding thunder and darkness.

There is a method to
this madness.

It is necessary
that some be made mad.

Some must become lost in the storm.
They must feel all of it, suffer and die.

The others must see themselves
as under threat of storms.

The ones who feel the storm
must fix their focus on what they cannot have.

The others must remain focused 
on what they stand to lose.

Everyone must want to climb up
and get away from the storm.

A few make it but only if they take hold
of an offered lightning bolt

and toss it down into the storm
when they get here.

It’s how it works,
how it has always worked.

As for life above the storm?
It’s usually sunny, 

but we hear thunder
under everything:

sometimes, like sweet music;
other times, like the drums of war.


A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time
there was

a little colony that
robbed the land blind,
stole whatever 
and enslaved whoever
it needed
to maintain, then
went feral, declared itself
free (it meant “free”
in the same way

that a clipped wing
can still flap freely),
got huge and bloated,
and now

we are here,

and we get to decide
how to finish the story.


How To Survive A Poetry Slam

Originally posted 8/13/2011.  

How can you deal 
with it being so loud?

Recall the times
you went unheard.

It seems, sometimes,
that the words form
a powerful flood.
What is there to do
when you’re drowning in it?

Recall how the air
you pull into your chest
when you break surface
is cleaner and fresher
for having been riled.

But they use so many words!
How are you supposed to hear them all?

Recall your toys
and how they all got time
from you in turns.
Move yourself among the words
in that same loving way.

It seems, sometimes,
that the passion overpowers
the poetry.  How then
do you worship the craft?

Recall the difference
between rock and jazz,
how each 
trips
a different trigger.  

One does not do
as the other does.
Each suits its time.

But it seems sometimes
that it’s been said before,
sometimes right before.
How do you 
tell the difference?

Recall the story
of Cain and Abel,
how hearing it once
did not stop fratricide.

Are you saying it’s all
a matter of memory?

It is all a matter of memory.

Recall the campfires,
the hunt and the grief of 
how new we were once
to simply having tongues
that could do this —

every time,
it is new to a new listener;
every time,
memory lodges in one ear,
even as it goes out another.

But even after all that,
it seems so 
overwhelming,
so unnecessary.

Recall the first thing
I told you,
that you should recall
what it was to be
unheard.

What part of being human
is so lost to you
that you should feel
so uncomfortable
in the presence
of a need
such as this? 


Confession

listen to
my bitter
now

a bad brain
that can’t hold water
or thought very long now

footfalls from feet
on fire now
and for years before now

snapping fingers
beginning now
to hurt like those feet

an old voice
no one hears
because 

it gave up
flash and
volume

in favor of
subtler and
less certain words

mined from 
its most 
unquiet source and

with that surrender
lost
so much and so many

fucked up now
and so many times before
fucked up

so many ways
fucked up
falling for so long

now as
everything else
falls too

maybe I do not
look so bad for
dying this way

but
still
dying now seems a

coward’s response to such a series
of dumb moves 
when

I was the one
moving so stupidly
as to look like

a hero to 
those stupid enough
to equate 

plain old fucking up
with 
artistic vision

as I did not love hard enough
or well enough
or plainly enough

now that 
so much is
breaking inside me

and my
cavalier striding
through this

has brought me here
it’s so obvious
that what ends with me

in such stumble
was born from that stumble
I called a path

that was no path
that was a crash
and what you want to call a career

or a life
was in fact
a steaming pile of

stereotype
torture porn
mythology

forget about it
as swiftly
as you can

now I am beginning to
do just that and
cannot wait

to become
blank
with no need to begin again


Alchemy (for M)

The coffee got left on
with little in the pot.
It looks like there’s a fog inside the carafe
where the fumes baked into a film on the glass.

Such a small disaster as that
cannot be allowed to stop the morning.
My lover has taught me
how to clean such grime with ice cubes and kosher salt:

combine them inside; swirl them around;
dump it and wipe the glass; then
rinse thoroughly
and make a new pot.

I do that and as it’s brewing
I think about what else she has taught me:
how I am growing older and how I am not;
how to sit and be still;

where I am failing and how
I may recover. How to be myself with her,
and how not to be lost to myself
when I am not.

That last is the lesson 
that came the hardest and
remains the hardest. As hard,
perhaps, as a film of hot fog burned

onto old glass — but with her
and with the alchemy I’ve learned from her,
no such small disaster as that
can keep us

from sitting together each morning, still 
and quiet, over coffee in the shade
of the living room before we raise the blinds

and let in the hard light from outside.


My Greatest Fear

My greatest fear
is of
becoming finalized.

That I set, and set hard. 

That one day I look around
and say, “close enough” or
“this is the way of things” or
worst of all, “whatever.”

That I fall into contentment
from this tightrope
and settle for it.
As much as I itch
for it now and again, I know
comfort is my enemy.  

A founding American liar
said we were owed 
the pursuit of happiness,

then made us believe
that meant
we were entitled as well to 
its capture.

I’m one who knows better.
Would not know what to do with it
if I caught it
except to let it go and 

start chasing it all over again.

Call me crazy.
I do.
I whisper it

to the night.

That itch,

I think,
makes my sun rise
and set.  I think it keeps me
whirling about
so that sunrise and sunset,
journey’s beginning and end,
are always just ahead of me,

always just out of reach,

always one apparent
stutter step away.


Red And Green

In the rough and tumbled
road rash we have made
of this country, all we do 
leaves a mark.  

Inside, we’re
shining in red and green: 
home to the spirits
of blood and money. 

Our hides? Mostly scar tissue,
mostly from how those spirits
bang us around
for as long as we live, 

partly from how
we bang against each other
by accident or intention,
seeking comfort so clumsily.

It’s not easy being here.
Not that it’s easy being anywhere
but we claim so much for this place
that really it ought not to kill us

just for being here.


Battlefront

Suppose you find yourself
to be a battlefront
in an unconventional war.

At night you’ll ring your bed
with sensors to prevent
incursions.

You’ll wake up each morning
rubbing bullets
out of your crusty eyes.

Walking in daylight:
dangerous. Walking
at night: dangerous.

Somewhere else, politicians
shall argue about how best
to resolve you

without ever lifting a foot
to come down off their hill
and really see you.

Pieces of your soul
will become refugees from you
and you’ll wonder if they’ll ever

return, even in the peace
you would hope will come
once hostilities have ended.

If that day comes soon enough,
you might become whole
more swiftly.  None of this means

you’ll never smile or feel love
or joy or even a dash of silliness
now and again, more or less often,

but you will always know
the cost of being the site
of a war you did not choose to fight.