Monthly Archives: June 2019

Wrong Answers Only

Here is a mirror
I look at daily.
First thing in the morning,
last thing at night;

I asked it all 
my easy questions
long ago,
when I did not mind
the truth;

now, though,
I whisper my worst questions
first thing in the morning
and last thing at night,
exhorting it to offer

“wrong answers only”

before turning my back on it,
as I know it cannot lie.

An Estimate

This is
an estimate
of size:

to say
as large as or 
as wide as

then to
bring in
a vast noun

such as
sun or ocean or
human love

and say this
is as large as

This is 
an estimate
of intensity:

to say 
razor or
hammer or vise

then to
speak of
a body part

and offer
a contradiction
such as

a chest squeezed
softly until agony
became a bed

This is how
to speak
of pain:

to say one feels
as would
a red giant star

warming slowly
to full scorch
just as one might describe

how it feels when
a vise is tightened
quarter turn at

a time until
jaws meet
through pinched skin

as thick

to offer comparisons
until one’s head 
cannot hold them

this is how
to write about
a sickness

that will never
let go
until one reaches

a place


an estimate of After

Edge Of The Bed

My body is trying
to kick me out.

Each morning
I must sit for a moment
on the edge of the bed
and take inventory
of what hurts and how

in case the body has found
new vulnerability, or pushed
a known one to the verge 
of breaking.

My body is trying
to put me out.

I check to see
where the locks are strongest,
where they are most tested.

My body is trying
to throw me out.

Which door is weakest
and what is it exactly
that is trying so hard

to push me through it
into whatever

is out there to take me
after the body is done
holding me?

From here
on the edge of the bed in the dark
before full light
I can feel 
my body winning,

pain growing and spreading
wherever it seizes me

to pull me closer
to ejection.

Then what?
More to the point:

once evicted from the body,
will I be me
without that home?

Will the pain stop?

Ruled By The Dead

Repetition of 
“not my fault”

produces no magic,
no spelled-out protection

from consequences.
A chant of “what’s past

is past” builds
no walls, forges no shields

for this past-molded
present moment.

“No one alive today…”
means nothing at all 

when all we do
depends on a country

founded by the dead
and still ruled by

what they wanted to hold
in their once-hot little hands.

They did make us what we are
but we only have to live that way

until we decide to wake up
and live as those truly living should:

in this moment,
this time, facing this day

as it is, knowing
what has passed without 

bowing and scraping 
before it as if it owned

all we are
and could ever be.

Interior Screens

In bed at night
if you close your eyes
tightly enough
your interior screens
turn white

Exactly as hard
as you resist that

is how hard it
will hit you

When you find it happening
in daylight too
you will pull your skin tight
over your hardest bones
and petrify

All that pale light streaming
blanding and blinding at once

makes this a hard place
and making yourself harder
in the comforting dark
will keep you breathing

but in bed at night 
as the whiteness
comes down
comes stifling down
open your eyes wide

to your darkness and
find yourself softening
to something like peace

Land That I Love

Revised.  Originally posted February 2019.

Open air salt mine surrounded by trees,
broken skin broken heart redwood dog pen,
blistered, bruised vending machine jail
overrun with self-guarding inmates,
I sing you my hidden prayer:

burn clean as you burn;
flood red when you flood; 
may you thus be wiped free of old stains.

If you be hell bound, may you hellhound loud;
if you speak ironbound words,
may they scar you dark and long
and thread you with traces of forgotten railroads.

Oil pan, catch basin, heart butcher to the world;
split window fastback hearse;
mistaken, glorious,

I offer you this finback wish:

may somehow you go leaping 
through hardening seas
toward the last places left with soft water;

may you somehow turn
to ice 
and jungle
and gulp replacement air;

may you somehow find safety,
dive deep, stay submerged, 
and learn to thrive in the absence of light.

Dragged Along

It feels, always,
like inside me
there’s a documentary 

about vanilla
playing on repeat: sometimes
it’s at full volume;

at other times
it’s barely audible
under my head chatter;

but it’s always on. There’s
a episode where
a man in a monocle 

purchases an escalator
that no one else gets to ride.
There’s the one with

a princess who gestures
from the top for me to come to her,
but I never get there.

There is that one where
I see myself riding a unicycle
up a long hill.

I’m sure
I have never ridden one before
but somehow in this film

I’m straining and
making slow progress.
I begin to wonder 

this was filmed, is it the reason
I’m such pain here and now?
A spokesman comes on,

a voice over extolling
the wonders of vanilla.
A documentary voice

that makes a compelling
case for the dry factual,
the obviously correct

flavor of vanilla. It doesn’t matter
how hard I drive the sticks
into my ears, how much I bleed,

how hard I squeeze the throat
of the man with the monocle
or cry out my rejection

of the princess; my skin
is caught in the escalator.
I am bleeding;

dragged along, the scent of
vanilla deep in my nostrils,
voiceover yelling my name.

The Summer Squash Promise

Too done yesterday with the state of things
not to put my better time into
trying to forget it all today.

I’ve got peppers to tend
and tomatoes to stake.
Might be a summer squash or two

to see, and from that look I might predict
when ripeness might take hold.
I’ll plan, or maybe daydream,

that first meal with them:
perhaps stir fried in a thick bath
of butter and garlic, tossed loose

and hot onto a plate with 
whatever’s easy
and quick that day.

The summer squash
so long anticipated will be the highlight
and whatever else the meal offers

will scarcely matter
on that night
when the news will undoubtedly be

worse or at least no better 
than today’s news. But
the summer squash will be 

better than that. Better than
the end of the world,
if it hasn’t already come and gone by then.

A Social Construct

Originally posted 6-19-2018.  Revised.

“Race doesn’t exist,
you know.
It’s just
a social construct,”

he said.

I jabbed him gently
in the face
with my real fist.

real men
showed up waving
real guns
and real badges, 

I indicated
that whatever
we all did next

in response
was in fact a social construct —

whether or not I went
easily, whether or not
they took me down, whether
I lived or died or they lived or died — 

none of it was real
and all of it
should be easily ignored,

but for some reason
they did not ignore a thing.

Was arrested, a social construct.
Made bail, a social construct.
Went to trial, 
a social construct.
Pled out, a social construct.

Got probation, a social construct.
Came out marked
civically blighted,

a social construct.

Race is
a social construct

that works better for me than for many.

That’s real.

Money is
a social construct

that works better some days
than others for me,
better overall for some folks,
much worse overall
for others.

That’s real. 

What’s real
is a social construct

unless it’s
a mountain

or a desert
or a robin
or a lion

or the skin
you’re in,
the hair you

grow or do not grow,
the strength of
your pulse or
the jerk it makes
as it slows and stops
in response to a bullet
entering your body.

How quickly it stirs
at the screaming
of a child not your own, or at
the sight of
someone else’s blood
on a cracked street?

That’s a social construct.

On page or screen
I’m a social construct.

I wish sophistry
wasn’t so damn real.


Originally posted 9-15-2016.

Here is a riddle

A clerk at a butcher shop
stands five feet ten inches tall
and wears size 13 sneakers

What does he weigh?

He weighs meat  

Ha ha
good one
we’re supposed to say and
it’s true as far as it goes but

it doesn’t take into account 
the possibility 
that the butcher might also sell
various deli items

and the clerk
might weigh out piles of slices 
of provolone into 
white waxed paper 
sealed with brown tape labels 
with name and price handwritten 
in black grease pencil
or that said clerk might also weigh
heaps of potato salad
into plastic tubs
from a white enamel case 
with huge sliding doors

the way Michael Morelli did
when I was a kid
on my family’s Saturday morning trips
to his dad’s market in Milford
I remember his old man 
would hand slices of cheese
over the counter to me with a wink
when my mom wasn’t looking

The riddle also
doesn’t take into account
that the same clerk might also 
at some point 
have to weigh
a decision set before him

whether to maintain 
this family business
or sell the building to a barber
upon his father’s death
so he might go on 
and do other things

It skips entirely
the possibility
that the clerk might also 
continue to weigh
the consequences of that decision
every time he passes
the now empty and decrepit
storefront that long ago
went from being
a butcher shop
to a barber shop
to an antique shop
to a computer repair shop
to an empty shop
to a broken hole 
on a broken block 
in a broken downtown

The clerk goes home
Weighs himself
Stares into his bathroom mirror
Ssits in the dark
in his clean modern kitchen
at the butcher block island

Ha ha
Good one
he says

This riddle is endlessly retold
for new audiences

more and more of whom
have never seen
a butcher shop
white paper
brown tape
grease pencil

have never smelled
mingled sawdust and blood

never felt the cold blast of air
from the walk-in
where full quarters of beef
hang behind glass
behind the counter

So now
here’s a new riddle

A writer on a couch with a laptop
five foot eight when standing
wears a size ten shoe
at 59 is shocked to realize
he can still remember
the name of a butcher
and his son
who once owned a shop
that’s been gone
for most of his lifetime
and at how much 
this memory weighs

When does this all get funny


Toward A Break In The Fog

Words repeat inside me
as if I had no power:


I struggle to decide
if I should write them down,
sing them, say them
out loud to another or perhaps

just to myself 
while walking deep
into a forest
with self-care
or harm on my mind?

It is not as if
I have volition, 
to be honest. To be honest
I cannot recall
having free will or
an intent to do anything
for some time now: weeks
at least, months more likely.

Like a plant in spring,
urged upward unknowing, 
cresting from soil to sun
and transformed being, although

there’s poison 
and smoke and foulness
up here instead of health:

what I am becoming
as home burns
and stone breaks
and gold dulls from want
to fear is unclear; walking
unsure of what to say
under a fiction
of choice, toward
a place where words
may be mine again
to choose and live by
with any luck and 
a break in this fog.

A Singing Bowl

Dove-hearted lover
of a quiet life,
have you ever understood
how hunger can make you
loud even as it makes you weak?

Flower-eyed changeling,
sure of a place in this order,
have you ever seen how those teetering
on a ledge might rage at you
as they fall?

Moon-captured elf holding on
to mythic peace for blind life,
do you see anyone at all
out there in shadow?
They see you:

like a target,
a singing bowl 
empty of sustenance
by design.

What Now?


Sit back,
watch home burning.

Secret evil
soon be gone;
sigh in relief.
Concealed treasure
soon be gone;
grieve it in secret.
Open wealth
soon be gone;
gnash teeth and wail.
What was ever unknown
will remain so;
nothing to say
or do; so:

sit there 
sit there 
on unburned stone,
flameproof rock,

by one question:

what now,
with so much lost
for good or ill? 

Sit back,

Voice, trail off;
eyes, close.

Regretting All This

Poetry: damn
it for its
storm versus calm,
misplaced lightning
coming down, 
metaphor over all
trench warfare way
of life.

If it weren’t
for poetry, I’d have gotten
more sleep. Maybe I
could have been happy:

a little blinder, certainly;
maybe a tad less overwhelmed
by just breathing on Earth
among all its poisons
and attacks; missing out,

of course, on how to speak
exactingly of what
another’s skin feels like
upon my own;
or of how when 
at noon during a walk I stop
to sit on a stranger’s stone wall
and imagine that the sunlight
is the kiss of some god.

Poetry: this damned art,
this curse of primary sensation
that will not let go. If I had never known
of it, I’d be different — lesser,
yes, and I would have said yes
to that; it might
have kept me safer.

Heat And Light: A Myth

When I lay
my last tool aside

and turn to the West
to see the sunset

I know I will think
of how long it took

for the sun to cross
the pale hot sky.

I will imagine that my birth
brought heat 
and light,

though I was born
in late winter at night; 

I make a myth
of who I am

as any one of us might,
as any number of us do.

The trick is to allow
a myth to be not a lie,

but a story told on behalf
of the truth, even if facts

fit imperfectly, even if
it changes as one lays

a last tool aside
at sunset, at rest.