Monthly Archives: August 2017

I Did Not

I did not punch a Nazi today
and I am sorry
Instead I punched my keyboard
until I’d named them and shamed them
Forgive me for avoiding violence
I am not opposed
I am just too weak

I did not pepper spray a racist today 
and I am sorry
Instead I found their address on the Internet
and took their job
but they lived through that
Forgive me for not killing them
I am not opposed
It’s just not my place

I did not scalp a Klansman today
and I am sorry
Instead I learned where he lived
and shamed him to his parents
Forgive me for not letting his blood
I am not opposed
It’s just not within my strength

I did what I could today
and stood up to my father
My uncle
My brother and sister
when they spouted evil and sounded evil
I carved them from my life
and it hurt like a death though I survived
Forgive me for this weakness
I am not opposed
I am merely lonely enough without them
to have hesitated

Forgive me for the Nazis 
the Whitelords and the Proud Boys
I am not a steel enough wall to save us from them
or from their furious stymied anger
Instead I reflect on how I made them happen
by apologizing and doing little to stop them

I am game to admit they are my fault
and that I’m not enough to finish what I started


America For Dummies

Originally posted in 2010.

Shut up 
you finger pointing bastards
who try to to teach us who we are
and how stupid we are to be who we are
We know ourselves pretty well

This is the USA after all
A whole culture based in constant apology
“Sorry we don’t live up to what we claim to be”
It’s the most human thing we are
except that we work it harder than most

You think us
unaware of our dangerous contradictions
How we’ve got love for the kiss of gangsta hand
Yet sleep uneasy thinking of it against our cheeks
We’ve got mad love for the wrong side of town
As long it’s only a quick stroll to safety
We’re uneasy with what we love
but we just want to live without thinking sometimes
We’re big block dummies who love a straight road
and rowdy pipes in full cry from underneath the ride 
and out of its crank windows
With the black exhaust we leave behind its own explanation
With cock rock blaring and explaining
Country music simplifying and explaining
Dumb pop flashing gold and skin to explain
and Las Vegas winning for the best explanation of all

You finger pointing bastards
You agenda manacled studs of opinion
You scolds and scourges and professional sobbing consciences
You don’t understand us at all

From the left we’ve got smug
From the right we’ve got stern
We’re in the middle with the TV on
Plugged up ears and screwed up muddled hearts
Do you think we don’t know how screwed we are
with chatter and smoke obscuring the exits
and thick chains that have been set on the doors
but we’ve still got windows high in the walls to entice us
into believing the sun is still out there
though that light might just be another fire

Give us some credit

We know the powerful hold on to power
because that’s what we would do

We know the money makes life easier
because we don’t have enough ourselves

We know the earth is dying from a case of us
because we live here and can hear it cough

We know that wealth can be either poison or manna
because we plan to be rich one day and will have to choose

Right now we’ve got sick hearts
sick kids sick houses and cars
Not enough work and we’re numb from it
The wrong kind of work and we’re dumb from it
Give us liberty or give us convenience
Either way we’ll likely be here still
Give us social degradation or give us peace
Give us the comfort of our skin or give us death
We’ll likely be here still

Some point left to the door they think we should take
Others point right to the door they think we should take

We know in our guts 
that the only way out
is to break the wall down 
that holds both your doors

but we’re scared for the kids
the house
the car
and who will be standing on the other side 
when it goes

So we stay where we are
and pray to stay where we are
We stare at the TV and 
wring our hands and say

we’re not who we are
that isn’t who we are 
we aren’t who they are
stop pointing at us


You Have Three Minutes To Answer

Originally posted 1/14/2013.

Actual question from a test designed to assess creativity:  “Just suppose we had the power to transport ourselves anywhere in the world in the blink of an eye.  What would some benefits, problems, etc. of this power be?  You have three minutes to answer.”

First

I would move
six inches away
and rewrite my entire body of work
as if I had always been
six inches away from it.

Next

I would move back to where I had been
and rewrite everything again
so all of it would be so unlike
how it began
that it would be like starting over.

Then

I’d move
six inches
in a different direction
to see how it looked from there.

I’d end up
moving swiftly
around the house
without ceasing:

desk
to bed
to kitchen
to shitter
to shower
to desk
to bed.

Then

I might burn all my poems.
Go buy some expensive paper in Venice.
Write them all again
even shorter,
one word per pricey page.

So

six inches away from the desk.
Back at the desk.
Six inches away from the desk.
Back at the desk.
Somewhere else far away.
Back at the desk.
Somewhere else again.
Back at the desk.

I’m

not really sure
how different
it would be.  

Not really certain
there would be powers
or benefits.

Not really certain
how much of a problem
it might be

except for the wear and tear
on my body
and 
the slippery possibility
of ever living
a grounded life.

Not sure it would be
that different.  Not sure
at all that this has not
already happened,

is not still happening

every three minutes

for three minutes at a time.


Keeping Time

Has your time here 
been a bass line
or a click track — 

did it ripple, 
did it march,
was it supple or

martial? Are there
fingerprints on
its flow, evidence of

choices, decisions,
imprecision,
or was it set in motion

early and
left to carry you
without shift or confusion

forward to this
void where you find yourself
now, pausing before 

a coda can begin
to see beyond
the overgrowth of

melody and lyric
with which you’ve
over-busied yourself

and discern whether
there was an organic
flow to your life,

or were you in fact
driven to closure
without deviation or 

flourish — and before
you resume, do you
want your time to end

as it began, or will you 
take time and wrestle it
to another path — set it

swinging or set it straight,
if for no other reason than to see
what you might have missed?


Fear Of A Brown Planet

Originally posted 5/26/2010.  Revised again, 9/28/2014. Third revision, 8/11/2017.

Noah invited no insects onto the ark, but they came anyway;
flies, roaches, gnats, and ants covering every square cubit
in a confident carpet of stubborn, resilient brown.

American bison, once endangered, have grown numerous,
leaving Yosemite to roam their old prairies, leading to calls
to thin them out, gun down some stubborn, resilient brown.

In the Gulf, scared men drop chemicals, lower booms onto
oil surging from a breached torrent they thought to own,
stare in despair at the mass of stubborn, resilient brown.

In Phoenix, water pours from sprinklers into dry soil,
desert held at bay by golf courses and lawns of green.
Let the effort lapse a bit, see the return of resilient brown.

South of here, along a man made line, patrols 
stare south into a shimmering oven, guarding against
a surge moving north — people of stubborn, resilient brown.

In tidy homes the fearful see everything as a threat
but are ashamed to say that what they fear most is 
the pastel walls of their world being restored

to surging, resilient brown.


The Despair Couch

A man lifts his head
from his despair couch,

sees pictures of 
his family on the table

across from his seat,
imagines them seeking

comfort. Right out loud
he asks the empty room:

where will we hide
if the fire comes?

I grew up and away
from having to think 

about this, and now
I have to think of it

again, not only for myself
but for loved ones, 

wondering how
to keep them

from the fire if it comes — 
and if fire comes

will I be ready, will I
know how to shelter us

from flame
and storm and

the long night
that will surely follow?

The pictures
do not respond,

staring into his
numb, silenced face.

A breeze shivers
the house.

The summer air 
simmers.

The couch accepts
his face as he falls

back into its warm,
illusory hug,

the night still safely
dark around him,

no sudden spark out there
breaking the world into coals.


Things Left Unlearned

How to walk into the light
with no effort.  How to 
stay lit as you fade. They say
glory waits for you 
somewhere. You say you
want a touch of glory now.
You wanted one yesterday.
You longed for one 
the day before yesterday.

How to walk into the light
silently. How to stay lit
as you slip into such a
good warm glow.
They say the strong are always
ready to speak up. You say
you spoke and spoke
your whole life and yet
you were weakened with every word.
You used one word yesterday and
sank to your knees. You used
one word the day before and
it staggered you. 

If only there had been a way
for you to walk screaming
through all your darkness
and come through it into a light
that was warm and not final. 
A light of growth and healing.
A light you could have borne 
on your stooped shoulders. 
A light that kept you steady
and quieted you down to live
in peace. 

How you walk on now
with the light on you burning
so much it hurts.  How you
disappear into it. How you
curse it in counterbalance
to aphorisms and proverbs.
How you go down talking
with people either listening
or not.  How you can
vanish without a care.


The Empty

I’d rather be
a horn 
in a great
player’s hands, or

a stout pocketknife
sitting on a woodcarver’s 
bench waiting
to whittle; 

I imagine there’s a master’s 
breath pouring through me
with some great song, or
a master’s hand wielding me

to pull a dragon from
a block of rosewood.
Channel, not channeler;
vessel to be emptied

of what has filled me
from a source, the Source.
I am nothing here but
glad to be of service,

seeing myself
as what rests in the Hand
of the Maker and what will be
laid aside when all is done.


Work To Be Done

I rise early to start work
upon a treatise 
to be called,

“An Inquiry Into Not Being
Violently Sick To My Stomach From
Reading The News.”

I don’t have a clue as to 
how to begin this. There
is no talk therapy for it.

Every effective pill is either fatal
or so obliterating that
the rest of my life

would be swept away too.
I could do what some do and 
never open a book or paper

again and try to forget, sink into
coffee or beer or weed, play 
the oldest music I could remember,

plug into unplugging from the right now.
I’d be lying if I said I haven’t tried
all that; I’m not capable of lying

anymore. My stomach keeps me
honest, spits up truth in spite of my fear.
As convulsed as I am minute to minute 

it would be hard to say
I’m not a better person for it:
my gut’s well-toned enough now

from retching to take whatever
stab or blow or bullet that comes;
even if I am pierced, even if I am killed,

I will leave this work behind and survive.
I dip my head over the page,
fight back what’s in my throat, and begin.


The War Face Down

The war is lying face down
on a hard cot. Legs twitch, 
breathing gets hard. I think
the war is dreaming much as

a dog dreams. People always say
a dog dreams of running when
they see its legs jerk like that.
Truth is, we don’t know what 

dogs dream and neither do we know
what the war is dreaming about
except that it is not likely
to be anything good. Not like peace

offers much more than the war
to everyone, certainly not
to those who fight, not 
to those who die, not to those

left behind. When the war lies
there on its face, kicking and
whimpering, all I can think of is
hope and hate: hope it doesn’t

turn over so I can see
its restless, mashed up face;
hate the idea of the war waking,
turning 
face up, seeing me.


Small plug…

The music site “Bandcamp” is where my poetry and music group, The Duende Project, sells its work.  

Today, Bandcamp is donating 100% of its profits to the Transgender Law Center.

If you’d like to help out, and maybe grab some of our recorded work as well…

Our site is at http://theduendeproject.bandcamp.com .

While you’re on Bandcamp, check out the vast variety of music offered there. It’s a great site that does a fine job of helping music creators to make a little money from and promote their work.  

Thanks in advance for your time.


Left Hand Story

My old left hand
feels so strange today

with its new little bend
that limits
how well it holds
and hangs on

but with it I cradle the stone
I raised years ago
from the bed
of a pond
where I swam
daily for a summer
when I was twelve,

a white stone chased 
with black smears, laced
with mica stars, lifted
from the rich stew
at the bottom in 
the deepest part
of that pond the first time
I touched bottom, swimming
straight down to snatch it
and bring it back with me

to where I burst
through the surface into

late morning sun, holding it
tighter than I can now
with this weakened paw:
bursting up to the air back then
from the silted water,
taking a great breath
as I breached;
a browned, slim boy
coming into my own
so many years ago
that I cannot recall if I
was as alone then
as I am now:

neither slim nor browned,
not wholly alone in life
but solo in this moment,
hanging on
to what hard treasure
I may find 
in deep, unfamiliar
places. 


His Wallet

A bald brown man
is out on the curb with a black
trash bag of a kind disallowed 
by my city carefully picking through
our building’s recyclable bins
for cans and bottles, almost tenderly
placing those he cannot use
to one side on the pavement before 
adding to his bag with what little
he gets from us and then
putting the ones on the pavement
back into the bins, although
I cannot be sure
he puts them back into the ones
they came from they all go back
into the bins where they belong
without ever touching the yellow bags
the city makes us use for trash

and then he straightens up and 
moves on, up the hill, up the street
to the next three decker, then the next;
then he crosses over and descends
doing the same on the other side 
where I see him one more time, 
directly across from my window, 
picking through the plentiful options
from the green building’s bins,
and I note as an afterthought that
he’s new, not one of the usual crew
who come through on Wednesdays
or Thursdays if Monday was a holiday;
he’s younger, fitter, more neatly dressed,
stands up straighter, looks like he can carry
more weight as the bad black bag the city
won’t let us use for trash is full now
and he is tying it off and pulling
another one
from his back pocket
where you’d expect
a man
to carry
his wallet.


You Half-Unbuckled

You,
half-unbuckled,
verging upon 
dropping all your armor,
ready to take on what is coming
from out of those dark mists
before you, those charcoal clouds
boiling from eternal battles;
you, 
half-unarmed, 
edge dulled, bow unstrung,
arrows blunted, still
with your stance set to stolid,
holding fast before
what is coming toward you;
you,
trying to recall every word of advice
about how to meet this enemy
with no toxins in your grasp,
no arms to bear against it;
you,
trusting you cannot fall
or fail except by failing
to face it, even if it kills you,
even if it takes you almost
serenely, almost with grace,
lifting you into its maw
and swallowing you;
you,
refusing to let yourself
be absorbed, digested,
making it spit you out
or choke upon the weight
you carry with you into war;
you,
unbuckled, unshackled,
naked now as it approaches, still no
shake in you, no shiver,
nothing but the unsheathing 
of what sits at your core,
the one thing it cannot surround
or destroy: the essence
of what has answered
throughout history

whenever your indomitable name
has been called.


Getting Closer

When they first came
they measured themselves
against the trees, found themselves
less than acceptable; shrugged, cut down
the trees, built homes, built forts,
slid the scraps into their mouths
like toothpicks chewed solely 
for the soothing taste
of wood, of victory.

When they’d been here for a little while
they came out of homes and forts
to witness and approve
beatings, burnings, massacres,
displaced thousands marching from 
their homes, footprints freezing into memories
in reddening snow, baking into
blushing sands; they slid all that 
into their mouths, pills to be swallowed
for prevention, for nourishment,
for their great peace of mind.

When they had been here for a while longer
they began to imagine themselves
measuring up, full-rooted here, seeded here, 
forest primeval; shrugged, cut down memories
of those who’d been here all along,
slid those names into their maps,
their family trees, called them their own. 

One day I came out of my home
and saw that no matter how much
I mourned departures and raged over
shed blood, I was now mostly one of them
thanks to the long “whatever” and “so what”
of how casually they’d cut down and consumed
my place, my people, my places.

When I’d known that for a while
I chewed off a piece
of me, a huge piece of me as one might
chew off an arm or leg, a piece I saw only dimly
as it disappeared, as I left it on the path
and moved on, a wraith, with a mystery
taste of ashes, wood rot, metal flake
on my tongue; then I shrugged,
told myself I was getting closer to an end of this road

and said I was long overdue for that
and lightening my load in such a savage way
was a departure all its own
and nearly as efficient as any other.