Monthly Archives: December 2017

335

Well, I have officially posted 335 new poems (including a few heavily revised oldies that were so altered I called them “new”) on the blog this year.

I think, based on the next few days’ schedule and a couple of projects I have to complete for my Patreon site patrons, that I will be calling it there for 2017.  No worries about being back in strength in 2018, though; plans and a couple of drafts are already afoot.  

Thank you all for reading my work this year and in years past, wherever you are. There are regular readers and followers here from all over the world, including large contingents from India and the Philippines, which always gratifies and astonishes me.  

I love hearing from you all, so don’t be shy — comment!  Let me know who you are  and what you’re thinking.

Again, many thanks and let’s look forward together to 2018.  

Onward,
Tony


December 2017

A year ago,
prayer for some,
drums for others,
glee in secret for some,
public fear
for others. 

Not so different today

as meanness walks the land
with a bared sword in a dirty hand.

Some words once whispered
are now shouted by those
raised up by fear and loathing
to seats of power.

Those opposed
barely know each other,
fight pessimism, share
sketchy rumors, grateful
for moments of agreement
while under suspicion
for our nods and smiles.

A year ago we didn’t know
how hard it would be to hope.
A year ago, we didn’t know
how vital it would be that we try,
how much it would cost us to try,

but a meanness
walks the land,

and we have no choice
but to try.


The Contrary’s Christmas Tale

Why do you think your savior 
came to you under cover
of the night, under sentence
of death? You will say he came

in darkness to show us
the Light. I will tell you in response
that he came to you in darkness
because he was most comfortable

there.  After all, he himself
was dark, his parents were
dark — the ones you could see
as well as the One you could not.

What we know of his life
is mostly nothing — think
of all those missing years:
dark rooms in which he matured.

He was at the end taken 
by soldiers in the dark
and on the day he died,
they say 
the sky itself

went black to welcome him.
All this talk 
of him
as light of the world
is misinformed:

he was dark embodied,
yet in the name of easy vision
you’ve made Dark Evil 
and Light, Good. You put his birthday

near to your shortest day
and claimed it was
to recognize the coming of light,
but what if he came at Solstice

to celebrate darkness and your longest night?
You’ve ridden for years against
the dark peoples of the world
claiming you were bringing them

Light, but we didn’t need more Light.
Before you came we mostly
had the balance right, yet you hanged us

like lanterns and set us ablaze

and called it salvation when we
fell to our knees and balled ourselves up
like black stones as protection against it all. 
You think your savior set this path

for you.  You think he’s out there
at the blinding white end of it.
No. If he’s anywhere,
he’s back here 
with us,

with living and dead
holding us tight to himself and each other
in the warm embrace
of the much maligned night. 


The Shapeless Dark Of Joy

— From a prompt by Thea Mann.

Whenever we reach for
peace in the night
and find it, 
whether in the reassurance
of the child still breathing
in the crib
or in the feel of a lover’s skin
still warm to our touch, even
if only when we place one foot
firmly on the floor
to prove to ourselves
that the horror of the dream
has ended, we understand
the shapeless dark of joy —
how it has no form, no
visible face, but instead
settles upon us like warmth
rekindled after a cold wind
has stopped blowing; how
it moves us from fear to comfort
without any apparent effort of its own. 


The Day I Was Born

— From a prompt from Barby Jane Lumb.

The world on the day I was born?

Oh, I can’t recall.

Eisenhower
was president. I know that much.
Nixon was looking for his seat,
I know that.  Kennedy wanted it
bad enough to steal it, not knowing
he’d die after getting it. 

Elvis Presley
was in another part of the hospital
I was born in that day, getting some kind
of physical before mustering out
of the service, leaving the building
as I was coming in, haha,
I’ve told that joke forever but
it’s the truth though it’s another thing
I don’t recall.

All this
was coming down — how things
were going to change was in the air —
Elvis about to lose his edge, Kennedy
about to lose his life, Nixon
about to lose — all that was going on

and there I was
squalling like a storm,
like I knew what was coming.


The Heir

— From a prompt by Jeff Stumpo.

in an anteroom the size of
a fairy tale palace

the prince of the moment
eldest son of the king

schemes in stage whispers
to burst out of the door

and tell a little white lie
the size of a gingerbread house

full up with cannibals
and unsuspecting victims

a fatal little story
about the trickle down effects

of shed blood
on dry skin

in hope that he will be
believed just long enough

to get his in the form of
a treasure the size of a dragon’s hoard

and all around
the people fall for it

and fail to notice how
he is as lizard-dry as any dragon

already and sweats not at all
neither water nor blood

as he lies and pontificates
and schemes and swindles

the way he learned to do it
from his father the king

whose wary, puffy eyes
are turned in suspicion upon his son

just as the son’s eyes are turned
upon his father with equal caution

though neither can see the other
through the greed that fills his view

while the world dies
before them in service to a hunger

the size of a mountain perched
on a larger mountain — 

two blind men defending
their precious darknesses


Final Wishes

If at the end of 
a long enough life you find
that there are still stories
you’d rather not tell yourself,

that would be the time
to sit down with your choice
of writing tools and put them
into someone else’s
imaginary mouth.

The storyteller you create
might look like you or not.
Might sound like you
or not. Might have every detail
perfectly recorded for playback,
might not. But the gist of 
what you’ve never said
should come through and
it had damn well better be
true, true enough

that when you listen
to the telling you can say
in utter peace
that you’re free of those tales and

you can feel something charitable for them
now that they’re loosed from prison.
Their new freedom adorns them
the way a cape laid upon
the shoulders of a hero endows them
with a certain energy. 

Listen: there’s so much
that gets left over in each life,
so much that goes to waste.
Do you really want to be a party to that,
to hold inside
what has stunted you and deformed you
until you pass on and it escapes,
snarling, into the dark to grow 
into something beyond all our worst fears?

Let them out.
Prepare to die empty.
Give those rotten fables a voice,
see who they might save.

If nothing else you might find room
for better tales within
before you go.


The Last Bottle

The last bottle,
once knocked over,
drained quickly.

When someone
set it right, there was 
less than a quarter remaining.

At that point
someone far less thirsty
than we were threw it away.

It drained its last 
into the trash bucket.
We were left wanting.

Any of us
would have taken that little bit
to tide us over.

Any one of us
would have shared it
with the others.

We died 
thinking of the one
who threw it away,

no doubt with the best
of intentions. No doubt
that they saw themselves

as virtuous, perhaps even
slightly messianic. 
No doubt in our fading moments

that had they even seen us
sitting there parched,
they would have pitied us.


The Meaningless Goal

I hit my Meaningless Goal for the year and beat last year’s posted poem total by 1.

328 poems posted for the year.

I’ll try and get to 330 by New Year’s Eve, but I think I’m taking a few days off for the holidays.  

Enjoy your holidays, and thank you for reading.


Spooky

Spooky
the black cat 
is missing 

the neighborhood
snoop who would
let you pet him

anywhere anytime
as long as it was only
on his head

Been gone a month
now and we’ve seen
a silver fox and coyotes

around of late
City predators 
bolder than in the past

It seems to be
a predator’s moment
right now so

I’m not holding out 
much hope for Spooky
However hope is

one of those things where
a little goes a long way
and tomorrow is 

the shortest day
of the year so it can 
only get brighter

and even if Spooky
is gone for good
we can hope that 

somewhere he’s
fine and thriving 
even as we look out

into the city night
for unaccustomed 
predators at the door

as we do every day now
peering into every corner and under
every rock

into every office in city hall
and into every Church of
Fox and Coy-wolf Triumphant

We treat it like a prayer
to listen to the news
and cross our fingers 

for Spooky either
to come home

or find a new home


No Lines No Seams

They keep asking that old question:
which half of me is 
Abruzzese and which is 
Mescalero — a question

as old as I am and
maybe older if you think
of how many generations
before me had to hear it —

and if you think about how often
I’ve heard it myself,
you’ll understand that it’s gotten
pretty Goddamn old for me as well.

Tonight I’m looking at myself 
naked in a full length mirror
and can’t decide — where, exactly,
are my sections? Am I

Italian waist up? Apache
waist down? Brown left,
White right? Maybe the divisions
are within? Maybe I’m

a blend — always in flux,
swirling like coffee with
milk? Maybe there are
no boundaries at all within me?

Dammit. No. I seek the physical
proof tonight that would 
contradict that — some slight
configuration to explain me

to the open eye. I’m tired,
tired of living inside this body
that screams one thing to the world
and holds another back —

I’m tired, tired of my entirety
being invisible, tired of looking
like a lie to myself, tired of how
ridiculous I feel for feeling this way

on days when I am not secure
in full knowledge of myself.
They cannot understand, when they ask
me that question, how old it makes me feel.

One more night before the mirror.
One more night in search of myself.
One more night trying to answer
someone else’s questioning of how it is

that I am both and neither, and all at once
I break the mirror and see it as
the beginning of becoming visible
as a whole being, no lines, no seams.


So Much Has Slipped

In Austin
someone I know once threw me
a small bag of weed
as I stood in a hotel elevator
surrounded by 
cops on vacation.

I’ve been to some
cracked moments
while on the Journey.

In Venice
I stared down 
rapacious gondoliers
and watched
from an unsafe distance
as students
in Piazza San Marco
rioted for lower tuition.

I’ve been close
to the fur-gloved hands
of Fate often enough.

Sat at a university president’s desk
during an occupation of 
the administration building
in Amherst. Was in the rush of bodies
that broke the glass doors when we 
stormed it. Was one of the last ones
to leave next day at sunrise,
weary and jubilant all the way
back to the dorm; cannot for the life of me
recall why we were there.

I have forgotten more of my life
than I have lived, I think. Forgotten,
I think, how close to the front lines
I’ve come without ever engaging,
how clueless I have sometimes been
about the breath of history and disaster
on my neck.

I watched the Towers fall from less
than two hundred miles away and watched
friends die on television as they fell
and sat in an empty office for hours after
breaking the news by phone to other friends,
some of whom 
could see the smoke
from their rooftops, 
some of whom
were thanking their stars

for the blessing of escape
until they heard from me. 

I have been the Angel Of Death,
posting open letters to the dimming light
in beloved eyes,
all in the name of holding on
to whatever I could
when so much else 
has slipped.


Clearcutting

Clearcutting
began years ago: the ground
in some sectors
is nothing but leveled
stumps. We
didn’t always know
they were
there until after they’d
left but
when we tracked sawdust
into our homes
and looked out into what
we’d once called
“forest,” we saw the white disks of
stump-tops
shining in the moonlight.
How were we
to build now that the stuff
of worship
and sustenance were gone?
We never took 
more than we needed and now
there would not be
enough. There would not be
enough and we
shivered and stared into
the barren night
until someone — one of the children
or an elder, it’s
still not clear — someone drew
a handful of seeds
from their pocket and gestured
that there was
room now we could fill anew,
and we fell down
and wept for the loss while
planning
to sow for the gain.


Maestro, Virtuoso, Aficionado

Revised from 2011.

In the hands of a virtuoso 
even a decayed instrument, 
ignored for years, attic-bound,
can make a music strong enough 
to bend walls.

Maestro
my maestro
play on 

I don’t claim the title for myself 
but my age being its own reward
and punishment at once,
I live toward the words 
maestro and virtuoso 
as if they were mine to use.

Virtuoso
I am aficionado

Maestro
I am waiting 

What do I call myself now when,
with my instrument all but played out,
I cannot help but seek a clarity
in the use of a single string?

Ossessionato
I am obsessed with the hunt

Maestro
I am forsaken

I’ve been told that nothing made on the single string
is performable,
but here I find myself facing an audience
who expect performance.

Maestro
I am the impression of you only
Aficionado
Ossessionato

In command of the single note
and — of course, now I see!  
In command of the silence
around it, 

Maestro
I am aficionado
I cannot stop this
Am no virtuoso

Can one perform silence?  
On stage, perfected, I do nothing.
The audience expects something —  

but how to replace this?


The Stick

When I was a boy
we had a washing machine
too small for the loads
we stuffed it with and by the side
of the washing machine

we kept a maple stick
cut from a tree we’d cut before that
to heat the house

and when we washed clothes
we’d come back into the basement
after it started and use that stick
to push the dry clothes down
into the water and the suds.

Over time it became smooth
and was bleached white and all
the bark was worn away as if it had
been whittled. It may sit there
in my parent’s home
next to the machine still as far as
I know,

but I am certain that I have become
like that stick that I have suddenly recalled
out of nowhere for no apparent
reason. Maybe I feel whittled
by the constant wash of living like this,
living a life too small
for the loads it’s been asked to handle,
stuffed with them over and over and yes,
I’ve been worn to a splinter trying to cope,

but I’m still here, 
a bleach-sanded artifact
of what was once 
a grown-up, cut down
and sectioned out
and plunged over and over into 
agitation, but somehow
useful still, and perfected
for my purpose, and good
to the touch;

how can anyone say
neither the stick nor I
have not fulfilled
our destiny?