Monthly Archives: February 2018

I Sing The Body Selected: Paul Bunyan

I sing the body selected for its utility;
today, I sing the body of Paul Bunyan.

No one knows the truth about
Paul Bunyan, secret hero
of the self-made mythos;

born as vague folktale,
dim origin story explaining nothing;
originally only seven feet tall
then grown by design to enormous size
as slim basis for an advertising myth;

rugged, near deity, holy logger,
ravenous for trees and food, good-natured
giant, honor bound to his azure companion
Babe the castrated behemoth;

Paul Bunyan is having none of it anymore.

In this long-ago opened
once-forested land
there’s nowhere to be
huge beyond simple explanation.

In this wide stretched
mythos of exceptionalism
there’s no room for his real story
as it should be told.

Paul Bunyan puts down the axe,
releases Babe to wander, sits down,
wipes his face on his shirt
and says:

done. I’m done.

I didn’t make myself into this,
I did not write myself this large
and never did I mean to be so alone.

There were camps, you know,
There were teams and squads and
communal effort and internal struggle.
There were many of us

but they chose me. They made me into a story
to sell lumber, paper towels, a useful tale
of Big Whiteness conquering,

and now I don’t recall who I really was.

So I’m done.  I’m done.

I cede the flannel to whoever
their next lonely self-made man might be;

I cede the flannel
to you, Kurt Cobain, secret hero
of all my logging, all my
clear cutting, all my
footprint lakes and axe-drag
canyons.  I leave it to you,
another young man alone,
your being soaked through
with myth and image
as was mine.
Drag your axe
through the world and leave
a deep, wide scar.

This will kill you
but they will all soon enough love
what they think you were.

I cannot tell you it will be worth it
even if you lose yourself in it.

That’s just how things get done
these days. That’s just how
the place runs. It needs
its hardworking lost men.
It needs them to be alone
when they vanish
into history.


Singing the Vision

People say,
honor the light inside you.
I say, I do honor it.
I honor it by allowing it
to cast the shadows it casts.

People say,
it is better to light a candle
than to curse the darkness.
I say, why would anyone
curse such a warm blanket
as darkness?

People say, go into the light.
I say, yes, I do —
and then I turn around
and adore the spill of deep night
from which I came,
and I turn and run back into it.
 
People say, oh my,
why can’t you be happy?
I say, I am happy —
I am fully in the folds of joy,
though not without sorrow
backing it like a quilt,
like the lining of a curtain
which holds back the light
and the eyes of the prying people
who cannot imagine this
quiet, this sacred shade.
 
People say so many things
that turn life into a switch —
light on, light off, this is good,
this is bad. 
I say, here is the idea
of the dimmer, the fader,
the deepening. I say
 
I’m in the midst and from there
both sides seem to beckon me.
That I stand in one to better see
the wholeness of the other is my
role and calling. I cannot stop singing
the vision long enough
 
to take time to entertain
what people say.

Crucial Bloom

In the first moment of flesh upon flesh,
spirit begins to open one of its blooms.

How one approaches that aspect of spirit afterward
depends on what one felt in that moment. 

There are approved myths that tell one 
what that feeling should be;

one says, one should, one feels, one does…no.
Talk to me, talk to yourself, take agency.

Let go of the impersonal, the passive voice.
If you bloom yourself after, then bloom. 

If you don’t — ah, do not even listen to me. Just this:
the myths call it “deflowering” as an insult.

Take your fragrance and beauty wherever you find it.
Spirit is a different field for everyone

and there may be a carpet of flowers in yours,
or none at all. 


Migraine

the first in years.

seems to be screen related,
lays me out and leaves me retching
when I stare too long
into the light and dark of it.

all I’ve got in my head
is a deep blue mistake
rimmed in white daggers
for the last several hours.

still here. 
still doing it.
still staring.

this is the most american thing I’ve done today:

given myself
excruciating pain
through the act of discussing
excruciating pain 

and using the source of
excruciating pain

to do so. 


Retail Therapy

When I am lost and disconnected
my retail therapy
is to buy a new pipe
or flask. The process
of breaking in distracts me:
do I go with bourbon or Scotch,
dense purple or loose green? At the end
I’m still lost and still disconnected
but warmer. I own a lot of flasks
and pipes, but can always add more
and that gives me something
to look forward to.

When I’m less disconnected
than enraged
my retail therapy is 
to buy a folding knife. Do I go
with assisted open or simple
old folder, liner lock or frame lock
or old school switchblade
from a disreputable source? I tell myself
it’s the workmanship that draws me, 
but I know better, you know better.
I own a lot of knives: not as many 
as I once did, but I can always buy more.

When I am lost and restless and need
to reach out on the deepest level, seeking,
my retail therapy is to buy a guitar.
I lose what little sense I have and
the last money in my pocket for the joy
of stumbling the same old chords over
the stiff strings of something new, and even if
nothing or no one answers, I try.  I struggle
toward nothing new with the same hands
that I’ve always had, I try. I own fewer guitars
than I used to, but then again, I try less, too.

When I am broke, I write. 
I don’t have to feel anything
when I write. I don’t have to 
pretend it’s going to work
this time. I don’t have to pretend
I know what “working”
even means anymore.
Is any one poem
better than a pipe,
knife or flask?  Is this keyboard
better for me than a fretboard?
I can’t say. I just know
I’m broke more than I’m not
so I have a lot of poems
and though I’ve not spent a penny for them
they still cost me plenty.


Reenactment

There’s a shooting —
maybe at a school or 
a night club —

or an injustice — rights
being taken from someone
or a swift deportation and
separation from family —

or a scandal — a sex thing
or maybe it’s espionage
or a mix of both —

and while shaking your head
and exclaiming your now-routine
amazement and shock 
at such goings on

you are shocked and amazed
all over again when your head
falls right off
and rolls 
across the ground
for what seems 
like an eon
before it comes to rest

against a Civil War replica cannon
being used in a reenactment 

and without warning your head
gets rammed down the barrel 
and in a blast of sulfur and flame
you are flying toward the other side

your loose and empty head
having become someone else’s ammo
for this drawn out massacre called
The American Experience
and you realize

if you had just had your head
tied a little more tightly 
to something solid
like an understanding of history
to hold it down
instead of being so floaty
with reaction and awe at
the everyday more of the same

you might have avoided this

you might have at least been 
the one firing the cannon

you might at best have been
the one who stopped it from firing


Project in progress

I don’t mention my Patreon site here very often, mostly because it’s chugging along fairly well through social media exposure alone.  That said, I’ve started a new project there that involves audience participation of sorts, and I’d feel bad if I didn’t offer you all a chance to get in on the fun.  

The description is on the sit for patrons only, but the gist of it is that I’m working on a series with an aim toward creating a book at some point that will be available to patrons before anyone else sees it, as well as some tiered rewards that I’m still developing.  

If you’d like to get in on the fun, you can for as little as one dollar a month minimum pledge.

Information about how Patreon works and how to get involved can be found here:

Tony’s Patreon site, of course.

Thanks!


Liturgy

Some say there is
a singular God,
a mad male monster.
We ought to stick him
in a dumpster and move on.

Some say God
smells like grand incense and 
is made of love and gentle words.

Some say sulfur
is heaven’s breath and
you’ll smell it forever in hell
to remind you of God’s 
withheld kiss
if you 
don’t watch out.

Some say, c’mon,
you morons, you children, 
you can’t prove God so there isn’t one.
They shit on the notion
and laugh as they make you
wipe up after.

I’d like to tell you about
the God I don’t worship
but keep at arm’s length
because of all those people
I just mentioned
but you scare me, you
whose certainty blinds you
to how often received truth changes.

This God I acknowledge
but refuse to worship
resides 
in a crack in a dungeon wall,
holds a handcuff key sacred
without having hands,
seeps 
like groundwater to the surface
in the dark and soaks the land
before growth, 
but never
causes anything to happen. 

I don’t understand it,
neither do you.
But clear as day
there’s the water, 

there’s definitely
a prisoner singing
in the dark,

and there without question
is the sound
of manacles cracking open.


Describe The Glass

Here stands
the glass.

Here stands
the question: is it
half full or half empty?

Of course we know,
intellectually,
that it’s full, always. 
Whatever that clear
liquid is, it stops where
the air begins and thus
the glass is filled with both
at once in equal measures.

To press the metaphor further,

let us pose the question
another way:
how do you feel
about water, how do you feel
about air?  Which do you
side with in your observation
of the glass before you?

If you choose air,
do you say what’s there is enough
to fill and overflow and
thus the glass is brimming 
of air, air laden with traces
of war from world over or wildfires
from half a continent over,
air which the world calls clean
and then says that
is the same thing as being 
half empty? 

If you choose water — 
do you assume what you see 
is water? Perhaps it is not,
but let us assume for the press
of metaphor that it is;
let us further assume 

it is clean water,
unadulterated, water not from, say, 
Flint or Standing Rock, with
no added solids to complicate 
the question; do you choose
water with all its uncertainties
and say the glass is bottom-full 
of water, which the world says
is the same as being half full?

There plays the news,
there lies the country — 

when you look at the news,
when you look at the country,
is the glass half full
or half empty? 
If half full, is your half full
a clean fill, if half empty,
is your half empty
crisp and honest?

When the metaphor is pressed
will you say that in truth it’s
nothing but shattered 
and the space where it was 
is now broken and boundless,
full only of wind and flood 
and storm and poison?

There stands the question.
There stands the glass.
There you stand between them,

asked to describe
the state of the 
glass when you aren’t sure
there is any glass
there at all. 


Silent Alarm

I’m so tired 
of all this outrage, tongues

clacking surprise,
horror, post-verbal wringing

of digital hands
in cyberspace. I mean, it’s been

a colony for a minute now.
People keep forgetting — 

one privilege of being
a colonizer, I guess, no matter

how many generations you are
removed from the first,

is that you are alllowed
to forget

how the good old gears
turn and grind and

who and how many get ground
changes, but the colony itself

always remembers 
that it was built to grind. 

I am trying to be like
everyone else around me 

and be shocked and surprised
and wring my hands

and say the right things
but I can’t.

I can’t. I feel alone
here because none of this

seems new to me except
this general bewilderment 

that it’s happening, as if
all the shrill wailing of history was in fact

a silent alarm and only some
heard it, while others have had it

in their ears from birth; now it seems
everyone can hear it, 

but most are paralyzed,
and those still in motion

are scattered and separate,
grains fallen unground from the mill.

After centuries
of listening to that,

the wailing is
an insult

almost as loud to me
as the grinding.


Pitchforks

American Gothic is a very famous painting
Experts like to argue about which America it’s about
But one thing I think we can all agree on
is that the picture is centered on a pitchfork

We like to think we’re better than them
We like to think we’re beyond all that
We like to think we’re not the ones
who are supposed to hold the pitchfork

Our biggest problem 
is that out of an excess of kindness
we’ve let the other side pick up
all the torches and pitchforks

No one’s scared of
any of us because 
we said “this can’t be happening”
instead of “where’s my pitchfork”

Stop thinking of it as the exclusive tool of the devil
It’s just another tool on the rack
We can’t make hay while our sun dims
unless we learn our way around a pitchfork

Boycotts chants and votes all matter
and they matter even more when
it’s clear that behind the words
are the tines of a forest of pitchforks

And it is good to punch the obvious ones
but we’ll eventually have to get around
to watching a billionaire wriggle
on the end of a pitchfork

So go and look at that painting
Put yourself in it whoever you are
No one in there looks happy but they sure as hell
have a solid hold on that blessed pitchfork


The Flying Monkeys

The flying monkeys flew in
from Oz to suburbia
and landed just in time
for Sunday dinner.

Sat there on the neat margins
between the sidewalks and the curbs —
crouching on the fresh cut grass,
shitting on the blade savaged dandelions. 

Did you know there is a word
for that strip of green between?
It’s called “the verge.” The flying monkeys
were on the verge

that Sunday. Jackets,
hats, attitudes intact, acting
exactly as we’d expect: tails tucked,
wings folded, waiting for orders.

Down the block from here
someone cracked a screen door
and said, “You look hungry. Why don’t you
come in for a bite,” to the ones

perched outside their house.
One by one the monkeys filed inside.
The neighborhood was dead quiet.
What was going on in there?

The monkeys came out hours later
dressed in the clothes of the folks
who had invited them in, who followed
the monkeys 
naked into the streets,

who stood passive as they were taken
and lifted 
and carried higher and higher,
seeming to rise almost forever
until they vanished; 
then some among us

rushed to proclaim this
the Rapture at last while others
simply laughed and clapped their hands
along with the suddenly welcome

flying monkeys and their magical
flight plans, and more and more
stripped and flew, stripped and flew,
and the monkeys took over

their empty homes and their jobs,
their routines. They folded up 
their wings tight under T-shirts
and mowed the lawns and even

the verges, sat out sunning themselves
in their yards in swimsuits, their tails
slung lazily to one side of the lounge chairs
or the other. That’s how it’s been for a while now;

now and then, a distant scream; now and then,
decomp on the wind as if somewhere
there’s a huge and growing pile of broken bodies
in a valley just beyond the verge of sight.

Those of us left aren’t saying much.
There are a lot of monkeys around,
and frankly we can’t tell the difference
anymore. Not sure

who’s giving the orders about
who flies and who gets flown, who rises
and who falls. We fret, we fear,
we whisper to each other that old line,

“these things must be done delicately,”
even though it’s clear 
that for the monkeys, that’s no longer true:
no. No, they most certainly do not.


The Stream

I keep an image of myself
as a stream on a shelf 
in my chest. Now and then 

I take it down and remind myself
that I was made to flow
at the worst of times,

even when I am nearly dry,
even when I’m only a trickle.
Even when I am leached full

of poison and death, I try 
to see myself as a stream:
even with the pollution

I am better as a stream
because you cannot step into
the same stream twice and

that makes it hard to maintain
my accustomed level of self-hatred
for very long.


Regrets (I’ve Had A Few)

That was a time:
anyone who said “let’s go”
found a friend
in me. 

I’d be ready at once. I insisted
on buying the tickets or driving.
I’d hold the door as we glided out,
a company of foolhardy beings
adrift in the mysteries of the world.

But even then I knew
I did not belong among them.

I was raised instead
to sit by the window
in a hard chair
on a sore ass
and snub the rude world
when it approached

but somehow,
I kept standing up befuddled
when it came for me

and bewildered I would walk to the door
and swagger out among those 
urging me to join them and 
I would although
I’d be terrified the whole time.

Now I stay home pretending
I can still be counted among

those ragged, brave ones
even as I know

I never truly was
cut out for danger,

and when the world knocks now
I hide behind my curtains and say,
“Shhh…go away…”
and I am proud of myself

for ten whole minutes
after the knocking stops,

after which I curse myself
and begin, once again, to die.


Appropriation

They treat us like tombs
eager to be emptied.

What they call artifacts
we called our lungs and heart.

Those things were how
we thrived, and more. 

We put our lives
into what they use

for pretty decor.
To them 
we were no more

than feathers
and a bank 
to be robbed.

Did they imagine
they could or would belong

whenever they wore
what they stole? 

They certainly took
enough of our blood 

to keep some
for their own.

They think we live
entirely in their commerce,

their fabricated mythology. 
They buy and sell

and take and fake
and slay and rape — still,

we’ve held back some.
It may not prove to be

enough, but it’s something
to build on and we swear

they will get nothing
of our new. We swear

that in their tombs
will be nothing but echoes.