Monthly Archives: April 2018

No Like

Don’t care if you like me.
Poets don’t need to be liked.
Heard is enough, if you you want to help out,
but liked is more than we need.

As people, yes, we want to be liked.
But as much as we channel
people, people we are not,
sometimes being liked is extra, 
not critical as long as we are 
heard. Sometimes we don’t even 

channel people. We speak for stones
and bricks and guns and maybe now and then
a tree or two.  Maybe a bird, and we’re in this
for the evocative song or report from the barrel
and not for being liked.  It’s easier, you see,

if they think we’re angry or sad or messed up behind
their dislike of us when truth be told
we’re easily as happy as hell to be mentioned
or noticed instead of liked. We leave liking

to the politicians.  We leave it to those
we speak of: the wronged and saddened, 
the oppressed and dead and all the broken.
Like them if you want to like anyone
as we are the ones who should step beyond

the categories if we want to be true
to the calling.  For me at least
I don’t care it you like me. I don’t care
for your liking.  How shallow were my poems
if you even have an inkling of comfort from them?
How much did I miss
if you like me

for having written them?


The Mockingbird

A mockingbird just landed on the railing.
It stares through me as if I were not here.

I may not be here.
True, I may have passed through

and left a mark in the air
but that bird either sees it

and sees nothing worth imitating, 
nothing calling out for it to copy,

or it sees nothing at all.
We are three feet apart.

I am not moving. My body
will not move toward the light,

or perhaps light
will not fix itself upon me.

I sit in the shade
and the bird sees nothing

or sees me and does not care.
I hold my breath

and hope to exist again, differently,
when the bird is gone, if I have existed at all;

I feel like a ghost
or spirit honored 

by this bird’s disregard, so often
have I been an object of fear;

if I resume presence
upon its departure

may I remain less terror than landscape,
less threat than fellow being to all.


Private Language

I am trying to explain the delicacy
of our private language
to a sparrow,

hoping the drab bird
will understand enough
to translate it

and let it pour 
across morning
outside our window.

I hope it will mean something.
I hope it will succeed 
in bringing what we say

into fuller being. 
I hope nature draws it in,
holds it close, passes it back.

I want to hear it in the rain.
I want you to hear it
in the rain and wind. 

I want what we whisper
to one another
to become a shout

everyone hears.
Make it a battle cry,
rally chant, holy song,

Love, you know:
what we say in secret 
to each other

could carry the world
if they could
understand it.


Pushpins And Thumbtacks

1.
Think of a map on a wall 
that shows where everything is and should be.

Thumbtacks hold it in place,
pushpins mark the important points on the map.

2.
Every Confederate statue is a pushpin.
Mount Rushmore is a pushpin.

One World Trade Center is a pushpin.
Every picture of the smoking towers is a pushpin.

The words “Wall Street” are a pushpin.
The words “Main Street” are a pushpin.

Barbie is a pushpin.
Ken is a pushpin.

Pushpins are pink,
Pushpins are blue,

hamburgers and hot dogs
are pushpins, too.

Donald Trump is a pushpin
who thinks he’s a thumbtack
surrounded by pushpins
he’s pressed into the map.
They almost act like thumbtacks,
there are so many of them,

but don’t let them fool you:
they’re still just pushpins.

3.
The military is a thumbtack.
The police are a thumbtack.
The justice system is a thumbtack.
The prison system is a thumbtack.
The labor of prisoners is a thumbtack.
The disenfranchisement of former prisoners is a thumbtack.

The educational system is a thumbtack.
The healthcare system is a thumbtack.
The food supply system is a thumbtack.
The deep decay of infrastructure is a thumbtack.

Pop culture is a series of brightly colored thumbtacks
placed in such a way that they look like pushpins.

Standing Rock is a thumbtack.
Flint is a thumbtack.
New Orleans and Puerto Rico are thumbtacks.
Michael Brown? Eric Garner? Sandra Bland?
Native women missing near the man camps of the oil fields?
All the people dead or missing for their bodies and souls
that did not fit the map?
Fresh blood on old stains that have been on the map so long,
we think they’re supposed to be there;

fresh blood in endless supply
seeping out from under the thumbtacks,
making it clear that they were pushed in to stay.

4.
You see the map anew and realize 

it’s not only wrong, but that it’s designed, in fact, 
to get and keep people lost 
and to conceal certain information and features 
that exist but which are not shown on the map.

You reach up to the wall 
and start pulling pushpins out of the places 
that are deemed important by whoever put up the map.

The places THEY want to highlight, 
the routes THEY want you to travel, etc.

You start tossing some aside, 
put others back in different spots.

If there is a color code to the pins, 
maybe you subvert it 
or discard certain colors, add new ones, etc., 
so that they no longer represent 
what the mapmakers wanted.

You stand back and look at your work…
and it’s troubling, isn’t it?

It’s still their map.

4.
You reach up and pull the pushpins out you just put in,
because they play a role in keeping the map
securely in place.

Then you start pulling the thumbtacks themselves, 
the ones that define the borders,
the ones that hold the map up.

You pull them one at a time at first
until you get enough slack to get a hand on a free corner 
and you rip the whole thing off the wall. 
You crumple it up and burn it in the fireplace.

And then you go outside:
bloody, singed, exhausted.

Maybe you are alone,
having lost everyone and everything,

but it’s been so long
since you saw the actual territory 

that you don’t know what’s actually out there, 
and it’s time to find out.


The Origins Of Leveling Up

Level up
Build your brand
Get on your grind

Hustle and disrupt
Stay on your track

Never let anything
distract you from your goal

Get paid
Get paid at the highest level 
Get paid what you’re worth 
You are worth what you are paid
You are worth exactly what you get paid
You are obviously not leveling up
if you aren’t getting paid

To be rich is to level up
Heaven is riches
leveled up and up again

If you’re not rich you’re not worthy 
Every day is a new chance
to be worthy of your worth

You level up when you’re worthy
You are level and up and worthy
Worthy of a higher level
No one can make you feel unworthy
without your consent

You consent to be unworthy
You consent to be unleveled

Get back on the grind
and get on it

Get paid get level get lifted
Get worthy

Get paid or get got
Get paid or get out

They said it long ago
as they stepped off the boat
and granted themselves a continent

and that’s how we got
to where we are today


Education

The rush of understanding
exactly how parts come together
to grind out a solution 
to a problem — how much energy
surges inside 
with that recognition — even if

what you’re seeing
is how the machinery
made to crush you
was built, what was used
to construct your demise
or at least your oppression 
if your physical demise was not
the aim of the builders —

education, even on
such horrible topics,
carries some rewards —
you learn where the gears
mesh, how the pistons turn,

and ideas flare inside you,
lights going off like muzzle flashes,
phosphorus rounds in the intended darkness,
illuminations in your head
like the bare bulbs
in stern, filthy interrogation rooms —

this time, though, 
once you get at last
how it all works together,
you get to be

the one
behind the gun,
the one

interrogating a perpetrator. 


Addressing Mr. White

I note your objection
to my protest
and set it aside.

I acknowledge your expression
of your opinion
and do not consider it valid.

You rationalize with 
great precision why you are right
and it moves me not at all.

You proclaim 
universal truths
that look parochial from this angle.

I will not apologize
for not apologizing 
for your offended moment.

I will extend my vision 
over your potential for growth
but am not holding my breath.

When will you understand
how narrow you look from here?
It’s not a question of your longevity

or endurance.
It’s how damnably strong
your default position still is

at this edge of a century
where we’ve been in constant danger
of being 
obliterated

and how much anguish
we’ll all be in
if we have to support it any longer.


Arse Poetica

With one glee-drenched hand I push myself closer to the edge.
I’ve always liked to think I do better there.
No matter how wrong I am I keep pushing.
A little off balance has become my motto.
Teetering is my preferred exercise.  
A fall just confirms the risk I will take for small reward.
It makes me an artist indeed. 
A tightrope’s frayed end for a paintbrush.
A crumbling ledge a blank canvas.
A cracked pane of glass over a sixty story fall for an empty page.
I press my nose into the fractures and watch a spiderweb grow.
I stare into the rotten soil above the view of where I’ll drop.
I wriggle my toes over the unraveled line above the drooling crowd.
I reach back and put one sticky hand into the small of my own back,

bow,

and fall forward wondering if it will be at last enough
to make a masterpiece.


Rumble

in near distance, closing in,
a leaden rumble.

a blowhard’s camouflage 
keeps us guessing, makes us

want to throw hands, 
or cover our ears.

no matter. we still feel it
roughing up our guts and brains.

everything’s become
questionable and suspicious.

no mail again today.
is it connected to this?

was it swallowed up? store
out of trashbags again.

are they trying to bury us?
how potholed the roads, 

how empty the dialogue,
how happy the dagger tongues

stabbing at their perceived
enemies. all the time we bleed

and draw blood is time away
from attending to the sound

and preparing for what will come,
for scraping away the blowhard cover,

for sweeping into the teeth of the rumble
and breaking it as it deserves. 

you think you’ll be all right, I know.
you won’t. no matter how many

trashbags you hoard. no matter
how much mail you receive. 

you’re as done as anyone else,
no matter how hard

you press your hands
into the shells of your ears.

it will take you
even if you never hear it coming.


The Deal In Two Parts

1.
From here you can see
a church and someone
bombing a church. Someone
painting a crucifixion, someone
tearing apart a cross. Someone
adoring a randy goat, someone
laying their firstborn on an altar,
and everyone is certain they’re right
and everyone’s missing how each of them
depends on the other to be well and healthy
and strong if they’re going to survive.

Jesus and Lucifer talked this out eons ago —
family matters, after all. They understand
that however often or much you reverse
the iconography,
you’re still on brand either way.

2.
Meanwhile,
the Goat and the Lamb
watch their backs.

These humans,
they say.
They’re gonna make it

either/or
until they starve,

and neither of us
are likely to survive that.

They pass their time in museums,
laughing at Durer, Dali, and Velasquez,
at all the ravening demons, at all the lascivious
nudes, at all the gaunt faces of saints.

These humans, they say.
Always so obvious. So blind
to the anguish and depravity
held in the petals of flowers, the holiness
of earthworms drowned in puddles.

Nothing else is straight and balanced.
Why do they think Good and Evil are,
and why do they paint such crude work
to argue their points when life
does not differentiate?


Cat TV

Suet cakes hang in cages outside the living room windows.
The cats hang out on their perches to see
what will take the bait.

The regulars come right on time: sparrows
in bunches and clusters chased away en masse by 
blue jays and bully starlings

who then fuss each other off and on again;
later, the pair of woodpeckers, male and
female, each upon their own feeder, 

and always nuthatches on the ground
taking the seeds dropped
from all that racket above.

When the squirrel comes and dangles upside down
from the cage, dragging out
bits and pieces of fat and corn,

I get up and bang on the glass to no avail.
The cats watch all this without apparent emotion;
I call it Cat TV.

Later I hit the couch and turn on Tony TV
with the evening news of famine and feast,
of crumbs falling from the racket above,

where the bullies take and take
with little care for the noise from those
who seek to drive them off.

I like birds better. At least when they’re satisfied
they fly away. I like squirrels better.
They get what they need and go. 

I dig cats the most. They get bored
with the struggle and find better
things to do somewhere else

while I sit here going mad watching the world go mad
for fat and scraps, and though I know
I could do more, I don’t, and I can’t look away.


Unrecovered

No one has ever described me as gentle and sweet
but there was a moment when I think
I could have gone that way.

I think it happened
that summer between
junior and senior high.

I don’t recall the circumstances
of my pivotal moment, or why
I instead went coarse and cold in seconds.

I just know that I started that next year
ripped up inside and as I scarred
I changed. 

Neither compassion nor sweetness
lasted long in me. I was a child, then
I became machinery

and chewed at the world and ripped it
as I had been ripped. I tore through
my lifetime like a paper shredder.

I kept the scraps. I can puzzle
them together to try and find a meaning
that was clear once and now is 

damaged and obscure, or
I can toss them up in the air
and say it’s a victory celebration

for my triumph over the past but either way
I’m lying. There is a hole
in my own definition and I fill it with lies

because I don’t want to know
how I got this numb and careless.
There was summer full of sun

and swimming and being
young the right way,
and then there was fall

and I became a darker kind 
of young which has led me to
this dim age. You describe me

however you want. Once 
I could have been called
gentle and sweet.

What I am called now
is whatever was left to me after
that forgotten crossroad.


Nihilist Laughter

the sound of a civilization burning
sounds at first like laughter to those
born swaddled in asbestos

who do not see how they have been made naked

there is nothing like the sound
of them starting to scream

to make me laugh

I do not care
that this is Evil of me to say

my moral sense 
(what YOU call my moral sense)
having been singed past your redemption
(though even thus burned
is still useful to me
and in fact may be sharper now)

the sound of the country burning
cleanses me
the sound of fire eating trash
tickles me

I know I am naked too

I feel the heat then
laugh and laugh


Amplifiers

Take a second to honor
the amplifiers that made
the music louder, swung it
from parlor to night club to
theater and then arena;

commemorate the day feedback
came to be, the day distortion
came to be; salute the heat
of gain, the saintly shiver
of spring reverb, the jaw-clench
of chorus all carried

by boxes marked Fender 
and Gibson, Supro and Vox,
Marshall, Mesa Boogie, 
Randall and Roland; Orange,
Peavey, Hartke, and all those
one-offs and forgotten names,
tubes aglow in each
like the candles on so many cakes:

happy birthday to the Big Noise.


Twisted

I’ve been called that by some to indicate
that in me they see a departure from the norm
as if my torsion is not natural.
They have never marveled
at the growth of a vine.

They never marvel 
at the growth of a vine, instead
falling upon their knees before
the straightest trees they could find
and bowing their heads.

They bow their heads before
the straightest trees.  They stand
in the empty space between them
and cut down anything around
that is torqued and bent.

I sit at night, torqued and bent within,
glad to turn my face from the straight
and tall. I turn that word over and under
on my curling tongue and listen
to the breaking trunks in a hard wind.

In a hard wind the straightest trees
snap and shatter and fall first. Outside
the tended grove the gnarled vines
and brush moves and shakes, but remains
strong. I whisper the name they gave me,

and I endure.