Monthly Archives: September 2017

Time Has Come Today

I’ve stopped talking out loud
about the fate of the nation

having decided we’re stuck with it
until it breaks more of the people

who do not believe
they could ever be bent over

the knee of the nation’s
loathsome mythologies

Those are not my people
I do not know if they ever could be

Right now I know who hears me
and to whom I will listen

I know who loves me
and to whom I will return love

I know who will fight beside me
and to whom I will lend my sword

These are
my people

Beyond them already 
comes the war

as it has always been 
only louder

It has always been
at my door

yet somehow it seems a new time
has clicked around

a time to stop seeking
civility among the gray ranks

The time for talk
is done


Venus

It is something
like comfort, knowing
Venus in the dawn sky
will be there
long after all this ends.

I remind myself
that I’m awake before dawn
worrying and begin to scold myself
for stretching my arm out to 
such comfort in such horrid times.

Then it comes to me that Venus
doesn’t exist for any reason at all.
I take what I want from its beacon.
I do what I must to survive.
Comfort doesn’t come from the sky,

but from me.


Air-Conditioned Room

This air-conditioned
room has recently
been full of Nas

and Brand Nubian.
That’s just the truth. Not trying
to make a point 

or add to my name-weight
by borrowing heft from others.
It’s just that there’s an afternoon

of 90s videos on TV and those
were the only two
that made me look up.

I don’t believe in
nostalgia.  A lot of
so called classic rock

isn’t. A lot of hip hop
went over my head
and still does. When 

a good punch lands, though,
it lands well and age
means nothing to me

or to the music. “Street Dreams.”
“Don’t Let It Go To Your Head.”
In case you were wondering. In case

you want to know more as
I wanted to know more. I wrote
those names down

in an air-conditioned room.
I turned them up. I looked them
up and watched them again

alone, at top volume,
the way I listen to any rock 
that hits me right

at a given moment and makes me
want to know more. Anything that gets me
to sniff around new knowledge

excitedly, as if I was hot upon 
some original trail away from
the lonely air-conditioned room.


Beyond Expectation

Because I did not expect 
to live this long,
I have over the years
sold and tossed 
and given away
many things I loved, telling myself
that doing so 

was a way of ensuring
that I might be of some use
as a conduit for certain cherished things
to end up in righteous
and deserving hands. 

Then I did live this long,
far beyond expectation,
and now my hands 
are as empty as I am.

This is not a song of mourning,
not a self-pity song;
this is how we face the stripping away
of illusion at the close of day,
how we sunset when it’s time for dusk.

In the early days of knowing
I would not live long, I was free
and giddy as I shed
guitars and clothes and hats
and all those hours
of recorded music, all those
books, all those things
I’d loved, saying they were in me
now and no one could take them
from me.

Then I lived long
and now I am as empty as my hands;
so much sucked away, so much
drained from me by rough use
and diminishing returns. 

This is not a song of mourning,
not a self-pity song.
This is how we close our eyes
and see how hard the truth is,
how at once loaded and light it is.

What am I supposed to do now 
in such an empty space
if I want to stop existing at last?
Stick this truth in my mouth
and pull on some bitter little fact
like a trigger? 

Not at all: I’m going to sit here

with my empty hands
outstretched and see what,
if anything, falls into them
from above. Wait for the void
to take effect. See if my
remaining possessions 
flee me screaming,
leave quietly, or are taken
one by one into the light.


The Smell Of Blood In The Water

I’m 
of less and less
value
to those 

I love

as I move deeper into
my lifespan

My brain
Full of holes
My ears 
more or less
stoppered
I don’t know 
how to explain
the kinks 
in my heart 

other than to say
they hurt more
than just me

My pockets
so empty and they
don’t hold water or
a clue about how 
to fill them up
again

and there’s a 
lacking 
under my clothes
I can’t seem to fix

but I still love
and in dark moments

my skin moves with that
like the sea

I once dived into 
a night ocean
lit by a thin
moon

Swam afraid under
thin clouds wondering

what would come up
unseen and kill me

It is much like
that these
days

I feel love
and fear for those
watching me
from the beach

No need for them
to see me jerk and
sink abruptly
or bleed out shaking
in some huge mouth

But I came back to shore
laughing to them that
I’d dodged one

They turn from me
now as they should
knowing I’ve dodged 
nothing as

I shake in 
such jaws as these
that have me now

and the smell of blood’s
in the water

 


Five Thousand Woodrose Seeds

Every hour on the hour
a drink or nine of bourbon
Every hour on the hour
pound a pipe of sinsemilla
Every hour on the hour
two fresh ounces psilocybin
Every hour on the hour
five thousand woodrose seeds

You say you don’t believe me
Say I am exaggerating
Say I am overstating
Say I am a liar

I’m just looking for alternates
I keep hearing they’re out there
Infinite dimensions right here with us
Universes sharing space with ours

Every half-hour I knock on a brass door
Always shows up next to me
Always with a party right behind it
Every half-hour I I wait for it to open
Always end up waiting for a half hour
Always end up not getting in

You say you don’t believe me
Say I’m hallucinating
Say I’m obviously deluded
Say it’s messed up how I’m messing with you

Every day at dawn and dusk
I start pretending I’m like you
Every day at dawn and dusk
I start pretending I can make it here
Every day at dawn and dusk
I start imagining this reality
Every day at dawn and dusk
I fail and so

every hour on the hour
I go hunting for the key
to that brass door I know
is showing up in half an hour
Every hour on the hour
I start listening for the password
to let me in on the fun
Every hour on the hour
I pull my head out of the fog
to find my way clear
to a better place on the other side
Every hour on the hour
I puzzle my way toward
the whatever that could be
better than this with

every hour on the hour
a drink or nine of bourbon
Every hour on the hour
a pipe of sinsemilla
Every hour on the hour
two fresh ounces psilocybin
Every hour on the hour
five thousand woodrose seeds

Every hour on the hour
Every half-hour on the half-hour
I play like there’s no chance
that whatever happens
will be any worse


As They Will Forever Be

It’s John Coltrane’s
birthday 

and Ray Charles’s
birthday 
today, September 23rd,
as it will forever be.

Ought to be
a national holiday —

but I’ll bet the damned President
of the USA has never heard
of them, or if he has
he thinks they’re 
just more
of that nuisance noise

that suits nothing and no one
until he is suited by it,
him and his suits and ties,
him and his ears
turned away from song.  

I’ll bet
he never sings “What’d I Say”
in the shower. I’ll bet
“Interstellar Space” is just
a mining venture in his head.
There is gold out there for the taking
among the stars, says the damned
President Of The USA, and it’s 
blessedly silent there, as silent
as he hopes and dreams

his enemies
will forever be,
as his friends
will forever be,

as his wives
will forever be,

as his sons
will forever be, as

his daughters
will forever be.

 


Self-Concern

When I stare into
the deep well of my
self-concern, I see only
darkness.

If I were to light
a torch and toss it in,
I’ve been told that it
would vanish in deep 
shade.

I do not trust
that I’ve been
told the truth
about myself.

I will turn from myself
and my self concern.

I cannot be self-concerned
when I feel how shallow
I truly am — when I suspect
this perceived depth is in fact
just a received deception.  Instead,
I will turn from my self-concern

and say enough.  Enough
of this easy 
gloom.  There’s a wrong world
beyond me, a world that says
my self-concern is all that counts,

and it’s built of tinder and straw
and as for it being strong and
deep — no. Enough. I will give up
myself, proclaim myself
the torch,

and burn it down.  I will
step back from the well that
is in fact my navel, not so deep —

I will burn myself up
and burn this selfish,
stunted world of mine
that tells me I am lord
and master
down. If others do the same

after me, I will not be here
to glory in that and I hold 
neither hope nor desire for that.

All I want is to blaze enough
to set the world ablaze 
with me and for there to be

nothing but new to build with
on the other side.


Pop Star With Machete

A pop star is filmed
holding a machete
in what I think must be
a field of sugar cane.

Is this her first time
holding a machete?
That’s quite a hat.
Where was this filmed?

I look it up to be sure.
Yes, that’s sugar cane.
Yes, it’s possible that 
she has held a machete before,

based on what little I know
from what I’ve read of her.
It doesn’t answer the question
of how these images connect

to this song. I didn’t listen
to the lyrics.  I’ll have to look them up.
Once I’m prepared, I’ll be able
to live more in the moment

the next time I hear this song
or see this video. After all
I did like her previous work.
Perhaps I will like this, 

now that I am fully informed
as to what I will be watching.
Until then, nothing.  I feel 
nothing.  


Limit

I’ve lost my appetite
for having an appetite.

If pieces of your life die
and you die a little with each death

how much do you have to lose
before you are no more?

I’m thinking not many, 
not for me at least.  I’m thinking

all the little losses were just 
needles reminding me of the first cut

and I’ve lost the desire for desire
as a result.  I’ve got no sense

that being alive
requires more of me

than existing does.
What does it matter

if I covet better
experiences, more justice,

less anguish
for myself and others

in an anguished world? Those
are on the other side

of a universe I can’t imagine,
a system in the sky I cannot

grasp. I only pretend to
because someone out there

hasn’t died as much as I have,
not yet.  They haven’t reached

my limit. They haven’t 
had their eyes go dark

and their longing
fossilize.


Sleep Deprivation

Four hours of sleep,
five days in a row.

Five minutes to think
between fatigued stupidities,
and still they spill 
out of my mouth
as if carried on 
a swift stream that cuts
through without stopping;

such a splash each one makes.

Three hours of sleep,
ten days in a row, and

I don’t even know 
the current name of the country
I live in.  Trying
to put my finger on how else
it has changed, I drop
another clumsy chunk
off my lips into water
everyone has to drink. 

I’m trying to figure it out
even as I make it worse.

Apologize and then say no,
it’s not that, no,
it’s not that, no,
it’s not that.  

I am not afraid of
offending, only of offending 
by not being clear.  

Two hours of sleep,
ten weeks in a row;
two hours of sleep
ten months, ten years,
for a few decades now;

this place I’ve always called
America, to be honest,
is only comfortable now

for those who get 
all the sleep they are allowed

with no alarms to wake them
and no lumps in the bed 
and no noises to rouse them
into night terrors.

As for me?
One rotten hour a night
hundreds and hundreds
of years in a row;

I can’t tell you 
who I am.


The Nugget

I’m told that once
I was a nugget,
hard, small, and spare.

Hard to say if I’d been
made that way
or ground down
from a larger stone.

I had no surface area.
I had no depth. If I’d 
been hammered open, I bet
I would have looked the same
all the way through. 

At least,
that’s what they tell me;

I can say for certain that
however I was first made, later on
I was indeed hammered open,
tossed into forge
level heat, plucked and 
tossed into a quench
that shaped me, charged me,
changed me into 

this, or so I tell myself: this

multi-hued, burned-in
iridescence; these fractures
smooth and gritty; these 
materials as tough and complex
as I once was simple.

Or so I say when asked

to avoid thinking
that after all,

all I am is still
a nugget that’s been
hammered open. 

Maybe all I am
is a broken nugget
and not one of great interest, but
instead just a smaller piece
of something as ordinary as dirt.

 


The First Strike

Noticing
the twin flags 
on your car — 
flag of Confederacy,
flag of Union; seeing that

you’re heading into
the same bar
I’m going to; letting

my hands brush
my pockets —
clipped-on knife,
cell phone; checking for
pepper gel snapped to
belt loop;

calculating 
whether — and when —
first strike will make
more sense;

choosing to recall
that there’s no accounting 
for The Dumb who fly
the flags of 
betrayer and betrayed
with equal pride;

choosing to recall 
that both flags
are red, white, and blue;

returning to calculating
when the first strike
will be required of me —
perhaps not today

but soon.


Pale Sweet Path

I’m trying to cast a dark
and savory poem, a spell
aimed at diverting the path
of a pale sweet future.

It’s not art as much
as barricade, as much as
turn signal flashing red.
A left turn after coming

to a full stop. I’m trying
to write the full stop into
being, or at least trying
to build on what others

have done, trying
to make it strong and tall.
Had quite enough of
the long, pale, sweet path, 

of those who need me to be 
pale, sweet, happily
built for passage on that path.
I was made for dark

and savory words. I was made 
for shadow, not sun.
Made to be harbinger both of 
what conceals and is concealed.

I put the poem and put myself
in the middle of the pale sweet path.
I am the wall, the poem is the wall;
I am trying to find a longer way around.


Uncle

My uncle,
who long ago handed over to me
his ancient Hohner Chromonica,
with whom I talked jazz
as a kid, with whom
I often spoke at length
concerning
the Marine knife from 
WWII with his initials 
on the sheath that now
sits in a cubby
next to my bed,

is now in twilight
after a brain bleed.

I look through a box of CDs
they’ve put in the hospital room
next to a small boombox labeled
“Compassionate Care.”  

Into the player 
goes Dinah Washington;
into the room goes
the voice.

Everyone here is 
old — all of us, all
my family gathered round, 
all of us in some way
damaged by age —

in the air,

“What a Difference
A Day Makes,” 

as each of us thinks
about tomorrow.