Monthly Archives: January 2018

Thirteen Ways Of Looking At A Tyrant (after Wallace Stevens)


The tyrant is not himself magical.
The tyrant is nothing himself but
the result of a spell.


There are some who say
his name is magical. They say
he cannot remain a tyrant
if we do not
say his name.


There are some
who call him
by his grandfather’s name.

agree with the tyrant
that some names
are less powerful
for their foreign origin.


The tyrant is
utterly himself. The tyrant
is always present, in the moment,
a bruise or fresh gash.


Dare we admit that
something in us is thrilled
that the tyrant has unmasked
the perpetual tyranny
that preceded him here?


The tyrant’s mood
is easy in the morning,
easy in the evening. The tyrant’s mood
is always easier to read
than predict. 


The tyrant walks among men
as if he were thin and everything
about him were golden. He 
walks among women as if
he needs, when among them,
to stretch an arm, to reach out.


The long game, the short game.
The endless hours riding around
outdoors. The sun on his scalp,
yet the tyrant will not believe
in the sun.


While wringing their hands
over the tyrant’s deeds and words

some fall into a shadow
and never come out again.


A tyrant, any tyrant,
must breathe the same air
as everyone else, but

more of it. This tyrant
draws like a furnace, 
chimney gone wild with flame.


There are not yet enough songs
to suck air from under the tyrant’s wings.


The tyrant sits up late, 
speaks to the dark, never dreams
without acting out the dream.


What a tyrant does, says,
what a tyrant is, is nothing new.
What’s new: this tyrant 

on a branch above the schoolyard,
staring at our children.  This tyrant
in the doorway of the bedroom, drooling
over us.  This tyrant bedecked

in a throng of blackbirds
adoring him, waiting for us
to take our hands

from our eyes.

Freedom Of Choice

Sometimes it’s good 
to give up and become
a camera in order to

choose a long view over
a close up, deciding upon what
to focus to the exclusion

of all else.  Sometimes
it’s better to shrug and become
a microphone hooked to a 

recorder and catch all the noise
for you to sift and edit to your tastes
later.  Sometimes it’s best of all

to write yourself a role in a grand play
and play it in context, with measured,
mannered voice.

Then comes the moment 
when you cannot transform into
the tool or medium of your choice

and you are forced
to be human, 
finally aware of how much

you have been privileged
to experience life
on whatever terms you chose,

and next you may rage and roil in pain
or fall into a swamp of tears,
but that is when you will begin to understand

that from then on, whenever
you are moved to reach for art,
art will no longer be a choice.


A dire wolf in winter, strong
and thick with frost-hung fur.

A unicorn, its coat
a cocaine-dyed feast.

A dragon cloaked
in ice, in shards of flame.

All your fantasies
are white — but a white man?

A man as white
as these myths, a man

who is also alive, and real,
and in the right place in this world?

Such a being would be so cold
its heart would freeze and its blood

would become a static avalanche.
Such a being might long for 

green, yet green life
would shirk its presence

and slink back
into the earth to hide,

and how then
would such a white man

live, thrive, populate
beyond its own death?

It’s not possible. No such thing
exists. Look at yourself, look at me:

skinned in shades
of warm pink or brown,

hues of sun and ground.
No white here — so why then the myth?

Some are made
to explain, 
some are made

to enslave, some are made
to explain enslavement

then tempt away any warmth
of the heart toward those enslaved.

We’re left with a white shroud
on a body gone cold,

hiding its shrunken frame,
its jutting bones. Then,

a sound breaking
the white silence:

howled recognition.
Pierced veil. A necessary burning.


from birth
you were walked
blindered into 
forever bumping into

stumbling off path
into a swamp
(as was intended)

your steps
sucking so loud
can’t hear a way out

and not like it’s easy to 
grope a way back
hands on trees
you can’t see
in a forest 
you can’t see
all you’ve got is your ears
but once you’re out of
the worst of the swamp
it’s all one white blur
of whitenoise

you’ll need a good brown voice
in your ear to find your way
outta here

and it will tell you
the first step
is to open your eyes
and see where the whitenoise
is coming from
and the second step is
to shut up

it must follow
that the third  
is to listen

What It Takes To Break Them Down

The grand mistake
of thinking you can do this in short order,
the grand mistake that gets you going.

Burning through shoe leather, and 
having the willingness to face
eventual bullets.

The entertained thought
of your own need for 
eventual bullets.

Shaking it off, then
letting it come back to rest
near the ancestors’ graves, if needed.

Shoe leather, again.
Cardboard for signs,
short money shared for bail.

A promise to take care of 
kids if…A promise to keep going
if…promises to…keep promises…

Wary eyes
on supposed alliances
made from necessity.

Hunger, thirst,
comfort, vinegar, bandanas,
holy lies, selective deceit, stealth.

End of the world as we know it.
End of the world we don’t.
Lying down to sleep in a world no one knows.

Hope? Honor? Success?
Don’t hold your breath looking for it
in a mirror. A telescope, maybe.

“The Great Man”

often portrayed smiling
with hands outstretched to all
and sundry

has almost always been
also a hangman
in some sense


someone else’s noose

putting it over
someone else’s head

pulling someone else’s

he smiles in public
in order to get
the hangman’s job

he wears the hood
so you can’t see
he’s still smiling

Every Noise At Once

My base tongue is
rock, even more foundational
than English. My dialect, punk
underlaid with classic,
smatterings of metal. I know
a few words in prog. 

Old blues and country and basic folk
are a second language to me,
mostly because I have a passion for
etymology that led me to 
learning them to better understand
my root and seed.

I know enough jazz to do more
than get by.  It’s a language
I love; I’m swiftest to translate fusion
in my head, but nuances may
slip by if couched too deeply in bop
or swing; most excited when I hear
free being spoken, though I cannot
say a word.

Orchestral? Fine. Chamber?
Fine. I grew up surrounded,
immersed in these and opera too,
but have lost the taste for them
and now it’s like recalling 
childhood as it was before my memory
was solid enough to track.

I wish I could speak hip hop
better than I can now.  I know
what I love of it and how it fastens
to poetry, my first and best craft. 
I am resolved to any facility
I may yet develop being 
strictly rote, merely mechanical;
I am serene in knowing hip hop
is now and forever will be fine
without me.

I turn it all off

and face the world:
salsa, son, bachata, merengue;
rai, reggae, reggaeton, dub;
Breton, Irish, Scottish, English;
K-pop, J-pop, EDM, trance;
drum and bass, raga, township jive;
how much noise do you want me to love?
How many tongues can this old man learn?

Then there’s this:

somewhere on a beach
with no musicians around for miles,
the ocean, the drummer,
is still beating time 

on the earth itself.

Song Of The Stone Around My Foot

My age’s lately been 
a stone tied to my foot.
Waking up daily feels more and more
I’m standing poolside,
bound in weights, afraid 
to jump in. 

I’ve got
a tremor in my leg
that might be more of 
the sugary damage my feet
are already feeling.  I’ve got
lungs like sponges and 
honestly, I’m damn tired of
all of it.

That old devil
suicidal ideation — it almost 
sings, doesn’t it? 
“Sue is idle?” Tell her to get back
to work then! It’s a song of sorts.
Makes me want to yank my larynx
to keep from singing it.

You think that’s extreme?
It’s extreme, alright. Extremely
hilarious in the face of doom.
It makes me laugh
as I’m hovering over
a recreational drowning.

My leg keeps vibrating
and I could despair over
the progression of the disease
all day long, but then

who would do the dishes? Who
would do anything around here
if I let myself die early rather than
on time, naturally at the end
of all this decay?

I step away
from the pool, laughing. Plan
to keep making ridiculous music
as long as I can, no matter how heavy
my steps become.


I will not say
they are animals.
Their behaviors are
far too human. 

I will not call them
stupid as what they’re
doing seems to be
focused and working.

I will not say
this is temporary,
that at heart I’m sure
they’re fine people.

I will not say
they have some
good ideas. They do
say what many

are thinking
but until this were
afraid to speak aloud.
They aren’t afraid anymore.

I will not say 
there’s no hidden
agenda. Someone’s
certainly not talking

about something,
because somehow
certain people win
regardless of public

knowledge, regardless
of apparent opposition
by the powerful. Regardless
it always seems to work out

for the same people.
I will not name them.
You know them, I know them,
they don’t care who knows.

All these ideas and words
I’ve left unsaid are things
people know, and they
either detest them

but despair of changing them
or they dismiss them and think
they will be gone soon or
they love them and are

sitting pretty with those ideas and words
in their laps as if they were darling
children with full sets of teeth
from birth to go along with

their deep yellow eyes.
I will not call them by their names
but I will not avoid those eyes,
I will not refrain from cracking their teeth

if I get the chance
before I am devoured.


St. Vincent

“…there is a certain amount of writing that can only come from a monastic space.”  — St.Vincent


Alone. A lost tree
seeking a forest — thing about
trees, though, is they

can’t move so is it lost at all
if it’s living where it’s 
been planted? Perhaps

solitary is a better word
if it is a happy tree. It stands by
itself, seeking best words.

All of its time caught in a web
of slow growth and searching.
Speaking of best words,

happy doesn’t enter into
a lone tree’s vocabulary. 
Say instead it’s self-contained

and always fixed upon 
what it grows from: it grows
from matins through lauds

to vespers, morning prayer
through to night prayer. Speaking of
St. Vincent, musician and not

saint, it is always possible that prayer
may become song. Speaking 
as man and not tree, I refuse

to see difference between those
words. Speaking as a solitary,
i am not ashamed to grow bark,

resolve to be rooted,
settled without patronage.
St. Vincent non-musician was

patron saint of poor people and vintners.
Never an extra word for poets. I am
poor and I am drunk on my assets:

I speak of course of words, prayers, 
songs, monastery walls,
vows, oak, bark, and bite.

The Depths

Take the Grand Canyon, for instance.
It swallows your head. It breaks
your dimensions apart. If
you’re on the edge of it and
you toss a stone here
it may travel over a mile 
before it stops. Where else can you 
say such a thing —

except perhaps when 
anchored above the Mariana Trench?
A stone dropped over a ship’s rail there
can travel seven miles straight down
with no effort on your part
other than whatever it took
to get there in the first place.

Get to the right place 

and if you just let go,
you can watch it fall away
as far as it’s possible
for a burden to go.

Skip climbing.  Everest
is only five miles high and
it’s not strictly, purely vertical.
You feel stuck? You feel low?
Here’s the totality of what I know:

the depths can offer 
all you need. If you’re
already there, let go.

A Closed Eye

A closed eye, shut tight
by choice, fallen
comatose or dead,
having willed itself blind
or having shifted suddenly,
involuntarily, into

A hand gone limp,
crossed over another like it,
resting on a chest
which may or may not 
be moving up, down,

A body, small enough
to be overlooked if one
were to walk by in a hurry,
lying covered in dry leaves
by a main street but in a stretch
where there are few homes
and few who walk by.

How I know
this is my hometown:

I reach gingerly down
to the body and touch it,
almost tenderly, and when it
stirs and raises its head,
I look closely into the face
and say,

“Hey. Joe. Getting 
cold out here. Go home.
You need a ride or something?
I can go get the car.”

How, when this improbably
happens for the second time in 
my life, I know I have come
very far from home:

I reach into my pocket
and pull a phone from it
and call the emergency number
and stand to one side
and wait there for someone to come
and raise the body up and 
see how the person is,

and never get close enough
to see for myself, 
to touch, to feel.

Flaws And Mistakes

My flaws
are built in.
They refract —
might distort
what’s inside
but also might
throw rainbows
at your eyes.

My mistakes,
add-ons all,

cover the facets.
They obscure, they
block. They will
make you think
of shadows and
you will start thinking
of what may lurk
in here.  

I’ve had 
the flaws
from inception.
You will
have to get 
used to them.
The mistakes 
I took on, 
were all my own.

Some of them
might wipe off. 
Others left hard stains.
I’m sorry for those.

I promise you
in the right light
I’m still brilliant,
though I admit it’s often
too hard to look
for that, even for me,

so if you turn away
I will be
at peace with you
and your choice,

though I will never
get there myself.

The Leonard Cohen Poem

When I lose myself
in sleep while writing
I will sometimes
find upon waking one odd line
in an otherwise perfectly
coherent paragraph or stanza.

I call those the cracks
where the light leaks in,
a concept I admit I borrowed
from that Canadian poet
I never liked, the one
I feel guilty for not liking, the one
everyone loved right up
until he died and then
they loved him even more. Anyway,

upon waking I’ll sometimes find
a single line, a crack full of light
in the middle of work I’d finished
in a fever, trying to get my point across
before darkness fell, and I’ll look at it
and scratch my head and chin
and try to decide if the light’s
from a window or a fire, and if

it’s from a window I then decide
if I should close it and keep that light
out of this poem, then decide if I should see
if the line belongs to another poem
and go to the room where that one lives
and make the line comfortable there instead;

and if it is from a fire I then decide
if I must extinguish it, bask
in its warmth and try to contain it
within this poem, or use it to burn
the whole poem down so I can sift its ashes
for something on which to build anew
that starts with that line as a cornerstone.

Whatever I do, before deciding
I stare at the crack and the light inside
and the older I get the more I feel
like a baffled king composing, one who knows
not everyone will love what I do
or how I rule, but the light’s still there
and the line’s been let in, and
regardless of what I do with that line
it’s holding me hostage until I choose.

Someday I too will die, and some
will remember me fondly and some 
will shrug me off and say
I never made much sense to them
in the first place, the way I feel

about that croaking Canadian
who I must admit had some 
damn good lines that made me
sit up now and then and put
my distaste on hold and say
Hallelujah, that light’s
indeed glorious.

All Comfort Is Promised

All comfort is always promised
to the boy with the broken mouth
who himself was fractured in the street
by shadowy thugs in service to the rule
of order imposed in place of righteousness.

All comfort is always promised
to the girl coerced, the woman coerced, to those
cajoled and coaxed, captured and crushed
by some masked in privilege and others
who simply took what they wanted and left behind 
whatever they did not.

All comfort is always promised
to those displaced now housed
far from home, to those
who’ve made the best of it and those
who’ve made nothing from it,
all of whom nevertheless dream
the same homegoing dream every night.

All comfort is promised
in every book of every scripture
to every one of these oppressed and violated,
every one of those seeking refuge
from acts driven in some cases
by the double dealing tongues of those
who hold those same scriptures up
to ward off the guilt of having led us all here —

when willl it begin?  When will the night be 
safe, the coerced free to walk away,
the unhomed free to rehome themselves?
When will the last violation be redressed? 
When will promises be kept at last? 
When will 
all this promised comfort 
descend like a blanket
upon all who need it,

and when will we
have learned enough ourseves
not to question
anyone who in fact
truly needs it when they ask?