Monthly Archives: January 2019

Music And Rapture

We say

day by day,
minute to minute,
now and then:

no more. 

Instead let’s say

day by hurricane,
minute by 
lava flow,
now and riverbend.

There is no reason
cliches become cliches
except that they are true
and express something
we’ve all agreed to accept

so let’s make time
flex from concept to 
solidity, make it 
tangible, even surreal;

let’s accept that today
is casket, tomorrow
is rotted eyes, next year
is dust; let’s agree
that passage is 
fruit, that aging is 
white cracked leather;

that day in fact precedes hard wind,
second is best followed by cobra,

and now and then?
Now is ecstasy
of drunken hands
on an antique keyboard.
Then is a fumble, a mistake
in the stream.
Now and then:

Now music,
rapture then.


You were told 
once and then again
that there are no rules
to this art and 

shortly after were scolded
about how many rules you
were breaking
They knocked you down and

made it hard to continue through
all those ghost rules that
were not to be found in one book
but were engraved instead upon the panes

of a henge of glass
Some you saw through and slipped past
while others cut you and some
were long broken but still standing

In the end you saw in them
what you needed and (as you
should do with any sacred space) you
gave of your blood and walked away

having changed it and
yourself by seeing
how the edges of the rules
were the center of the path through


In this
fascist daylight
a sensible man 

holds back

Keeps his edge
hidden in the presence
of killers
Waits till dark
to slit them
and carve them down

before slipping back
to his mild life
and family

and the sheep
who love them

call him a coward
to wait for nightfall

and not confront the killers
right out where they
can see him

He will end
more of them his way

and stay alive
longer than he would

if he fought the way the movies
insist he should 

If the fight comes to him
in daylight
that’s one thing but

his way seems more
sensible and the results
speak for themselves

The toxin of dumb bravery
is a long memory
Casts a longer shadow

He who moves past those
while disregarding the jeers
of those enamored
of its cinematic allure

ends up
blood soaked

thinking of it
as a matter of 
in real life and
not fantasy

A Stone In My Shoe

There are words in print
that I am not certain
I know how to pronounce;

they are stones in my shoe.

A dry patch of skin
high on my left cheekbone
that come and goes,
is more gone than here
but which worries me
all the time — is it back,
is it there, is it visible,
is it hideous —

it is a stone in my shoe.

Trying to replicate
a lightning one string slide
in a Robert Johnson song
that I’ve played well exactly once
and never again to my knowledge,
a note I pursue and fail to catch
so I lay my head down
and weep over it when no one’s here —

a stone in my shoe, a stone in my passway.

I am a prisoner of these shoes
that crack me from sole up.
When I tell you I’m hurt
you sit there and ask me
to grit my jaw 
and grind my head to dust
to get past this and produce.
To walk for you in spite of the pain,
speak some words I don’t know how to say out loud,
flaunt skin I cannot heal,
put my hands and voice to a song I cannot fathom.

Your insistence
upon such things is
a stone in my shoe.

My joy demands
that I tell you
that none of that 
is ever going to work.


Anything you buy
has a name given to it
by people who’ve been paid to name 
cough drops and cosmetics
using words they think
you will remember;
making up words they think
will soothe you;
creating words to shift
your confidence or fear.

If you buy that Bible tale
this started long ago.
Back then it was done for free
by divine decree.
Even if you don’t buy that

it’s clear from all the books
holy or unholy, secular or sacred,
that naming has always been
at least a little about

and marketing rarely asks 
that which is being named
for permission to name it
or even for input
as that might not fit
the needs of those 
doing the selling

which is how we got names

Mental Health Advisory

Outer silence, yet
so loud within;

to still that clamor
you try everything.

You transfer 
your inner noise out

to page or stage. That
quells it, doesn’t end it.

You stone it, you drown it.
It coughs, it gurgles. It lives.

You turn off, tune out.
Inside gets louder in delight.

You sit zazen,
claim success,

stuff your ears
with lotus blossoms.

Your roaring head
blows them out 

like unsolicited

Perhaps you
should resign yourself

to noise? They say it’s all 
the rage these days.

This is also an 
unsolicited opinion,

of course. If there was 
peace making to offer

that was tried, true,
proven? Shout it

into you. Break
your exterior silence

with it. Leave you
to ponder it

among your 
souvenirs. But it’s not

real. Nothing
applies universally

when it comes to
storms inside.

Outer silence

all anyone can do
is toss you a line

and whether or not
you grab it is 

chance or
fate or something else;

whether or not it is
long enough, strong enough,

easy enough 
to hold fast,

is chance or fate
or something else again

that might have a name
you can’t hear above the wind.

The Easy World

Down with this easy world
we live in now

where thought becomes word becomes deed
at the blink of a trigger 

one hard thought
breaks a heart

and hard thoughts fly like missiles
in the night 

one hard word
breaks a spirit 

and hard words fly like bullets
through the halls

one hard deed
might break a world

and hard deeds wait in shadows
for their time to come

Here’s to a harder world
than the one we have now

where thought and word and deed
work together to keep things right

one soft thought
keeps someone alive

when it leads to one caring word
against the darkness

and one simple deed changes
a hard moment into something shining

Here’s to the end
of playing it easy

Here’s to the start of doing the harder thing
until it becomes easy

Grime Under Your Nails

What matters in the end
is not that you believe
but that you act.

I’ve seen such good people swallowed
by this, folks who thought
belief was enough to sustain them.

Gentle hands, clasped in prayer
with not a callus to be found
upon them; all that uplift

and not a thing on earth
reflected in line or scar
upon those perfect hands.

What matters in the end: 
did you get dirty before the dirt
came down upon you?

What matters in the middle
and not long after the beginning,
too: did you step to it

when challenged? Did you learn 
that prayer flows best
over skinned knuckles?

Or did you close out
in sad peace on the couch,
cold insomniac in shorts

with nothing on TV,
just your self-control
to hold you here:

you tell yourself
you just can’t be taken yet, 
you’ve been so good. But

what matters in the end
is a scratch in the dirt
you can call your work,

grime on the knee,
the shine off your shoes,
something dark under your nails.

Tuesday Fragment

if it all fell to earth before you
like first snow or warm rain

was laid out before you
so you could choose
that which would satisfy you most

could you
open your hands enough
to take it
fold your arms enough
to hold it

if there was one song you could hear
without weeping or turning away

one melody subtle harmony
perfect for humming along
or remembering fondly

could you
open your ears
and hear it
could you 
set your face 
to smile past your tears

all we have 
are possibilities
if we shun them
we have nothing

all we are
is what comes to us
if we flee it
we are lost

The National Mood, January 2019

Standing over
a roadkill dog
Poking it
with a stick

it is fine
it is just resting

Clearly still alive
Look at the movement
under the skin
Look at the eyes
still wide open

All it needs is
a little tender loving care

All we need
is to turn it over
and it will
get right back up

run in joy
over the plains
to the sea and back
to us

its tail wagging
no teeth showing


Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
said Robert Frost that one time.

He was making
a point about how weird it is to think
walls help anything, that the earth itself hates them
and tears them to little wall bits;
you had to keep at them to keep them whole;

something there is that knocks them down
then knocks them down again.

What he didn’t say: something there is in us
that doesn’t love another. Something in us 
that doesn’t love, that pays love lip service 
even as it short sells love against some imagined
future gain, and that’s the force that builds the wall.

Perhaps he did say it when he said so little
about the neighbor who comes to set the wall 
back in place, who only knows how to repeat
what his father told him even as he casts aside
the poet’s note about the folly of pines and apples
devouring each other?

Perhaps when the speaker named the neighbor
as some risen caveman wielding stone
he was trying to tell us something — 
Frost by all accounts was himself
a bastard and a half
and he might have had
a moment of clarity there
when he put the speaker
right there beside the savage
as the two of them mended wall;

think on that —

even though he knew
every wall will someday fall,
that in the long run
that wall would do nothing,
a man stood beside another man
and together they built
a useless wall.

Then And Now

I don’t do nostalgia.
It wasn’t better then.

I hated life a while ago.
It improved, failed, improved again.

That was a bad body I had.
I was a bad, bold mistake.

My mother was a bad cook.
My father wasn’t wise. Or maybe

I’m the dumb one and my taste buds
got too numb to feel comfort.

The music was the music.
Full of promise, most unfulfilled.

Some came true then other songs
came along and made those wrong.

The movies were rude and crude
and shifted little, if you look around.

My old books smell as musty
as the ideas therein.

Even the sun was dim back then
in exactly the way it’s dim now.

The only thing then had over now
was the feeling that hope had a point.

I can’t live on that full memory
when I bite down on tinfoil today and every day.

It hurts exactly the way it always has.
I remember that and only that from my youth.

Hope was a luxury then,
a luxury now. 

Go on living. Bite down. It’ll hurt. It always does.
That’s the lesson of the past:

you will only remember how the world can glow
once the agony ends.

Travel Brochure

Come to our stunning land
of shuttered offices
and shattered myths

of historic capital founded upon
no memory. You will
travel in its ruts

from one coast to another
and learn to pronounce
place names in the tongues

of the forgotten. Dine 
upon its bounty, pick your teeth
with its sharp old bones,

see its cloudy mountain tops
and thrill to its endless,
burial ground plains. Its cities

will snare you, its villages
will hang you up, its forests
and lakes will burn before you

as you marvel at the light
and the way it moves
the shadows away

from your scrutiny.
You’ll go mad with tourist joy
at the mystery. All expenses

paid by others, 
meals included but often
rushed and spotty.

Restrictions apply.
Some assembly required;
bring tools, glue,

your own plans,
lowered eyes and 
brows. Patience. Armor.

Jerry Or Tom

I call him
Jerry or Tom,
that White Man In Me.

Jerry or Tom,
who I prefer to
forget about

but who refuses
to stop being
me in public.

And I call 
that Mescalero In Me
Tom, or Jerry;

Jerry or Tom
isn’t using today,

he gets. I wish
I knew more about him
than I do, except

I make up 
too much already
and the older I get

the less inclined I am
to indulge in

about Tom
or Jerry, whichever
he is. Who knows

whichever one
is the Truth?
Can both be, or is Truth

truly a casualty
of war and as I am
war embodied, 

am I pure lie? I have
friends (I think) who say
I make too much 

of all this: be yourself,
they say, little of
that matters, really.

I’ve got some who sneer and say
I’m pure Tom, others
who scrape and say

pure Jerry,
others who praise me
for being entirely

open to such torture.
On the rez
they’ve called me

other. In the office
they’ve called me 
other. Once at home

the White Man In Me
sits up and barks
at every little sound

whenever the Mescalero In Me
isn’t doing it and it’s striking
how they less and less often

agree. Tom tells Jerry
to die. Jerry tells Tom
the same thing. Maybe

that’s something
we can all agree on —
after all I get to 

ride behind them 
and watch them
punch it out and

such fatigue as that
you might imagine only
if you know them

intimately or have
your own war-pair
to wrestle with. 

What keeps me going
is knowing that I am what
the people who made this happen

wanted to happen: one of
a host, one of a generation of 
denatured progeny

drifting between names
and selves, guilty and raging
and disintegrated; knowing that

and hating that
and refusing to die
until I figure out a real name,

one they would hate, 
one I can finally live with, 
is all I’ve got now.

Tom or Jerry, Jerry
or Tom; at the end
the cartoon will circle in

upon them, upon me.
I will have no certain name
then, other than Dead Man

and then Tom or Jerry,
Jerry or Tom, Mescalero Or
White Man In Me Or Not,

shall become as academic
as anything else ever carved in stone
over a set of sodden bones

or left on the wind
in high desert, never
to be spoken again.

Observing Sparrows

Observing sparrows,
drab and puffed, pecking
at my homemade cakes of
suet and seed.

A squirrel climbs the feeder post
but will not touch the food itself
thanks to red pepper flakes
in the seed mix.

Squirrel skips about 
below the feeders, nipping up
bits of neutral, unseasoned
feed fallen from above.

The sparrows 
seem unbothered. Maybe
they even like the small fires
in their food. 

I should be
putting my talent into
saving the world,
unless this

does save the world;
perhaps I fret needlessly
that there is so much more
to be done. This is such 

a small thing, this feeding
and saving and replenishing
while not harming as I go.
I do not like thinking

it’s all I can do, but it might be.
I do not like thinking I am reduced
to rendering fat and making poetry;
would rather imagine myself gunning

and shouting, slicing and 
leading a charge. Instead
I wince at my pains, stay off my feet,
nurse my confusion and memorialize

all I once was
while the sparrows
eat, the squirrels eat, the cold
settles in

and the world 
goes on without me 
to stand and bar
its crushing way.