Monthly Archives: September 2019

Looking At My Cereal Bowl, I See Only That (I Swear)

That hairline crack in my favorite bowl
is going to split open one day, either from
an accidental contact in the sink
or the excitation of the microwave.

This is all I am thinking about
right now: a mess yet to come;
the shards in the soapy water
or the oatmeal splattered on the steel walls.

This is all I am thinking about 
right now: dread for the clean up;
the blood in the water when I seize
an edge or a point without seeing it.

This is the only thing I am thinking about:
how much I’ll miss that bowl even though its end
is obviously near; how much nourishment
it has held for me; how short is its remaining time.


Late Night Phone Call

I make a late night call
to one of the last self-confessed
Americans and ask them
if we can talk about
what that identity means when
we are being asphyxiated
with increasingly little regard
for what anyone thinks about it.

“Who is this?” they ask me.
I cannot speak.
They wait for a beat, maybe two,

before hanging up.
I sit there for a long time

unable to answer, quaking
in the chair until I drift into horror sleep,
waking up hours after that
to the phone. It’s them.

What do I say to them? After
they are done speaking,
do I dare ask, as they did, 
“Who is this?”

What do I do if they also
cannot answer?


Televised Hearings

Simple stoneware cup.
Forty-five degree angle shadow.
Cats dreaming of the outdoors.

In a city south of here
they are telling tales of betrayal
and treason. Criminal stories

broadcast to the world.
Less than half
the listening world

believes the thieves
are thieves and nothing
in the story convinces them

so they will continue 
to burn the world into
white ash and bone.

In this house, cats still
fantasizing escape. The empty cup
casts a longer shadow; reminder

that whatever is out there, 
my loved ones, is still just
as unsafe 
as what’s in here.


Shadow As Ink

When using my shadow
as ink, my most difficult task
is choosing the paper.

I have pulped and bleached
so much of myself
that I am blessed or cursed

with an abundance of surface
to write upon, remembering always
that to write upon it is as likely to be

disfigurement as it is decoration. 
I must take such care to choose
what is written, how it is written.

Readers who come to it when I am done
will have to decide
if this is fact or myth, and

must say if it is good and worthy
regardless, and whether the myth
(if it be myth) reflects truth or if the truth 

(if it be true) rises to myth. Even then,
after it is done, my head will be bruised
from the effort to make my own sense if it, 

to understand for myself
whether I’ve committed ruin
or glory in this work, this time —

and then, while staring down at my 
shadow-drenched hands, at all 
I’ve not yet sullied with that dark stain,

I will lean my head over the desk
one more time. Terrified, ecstatic, 
one hand moving, one holding the page

steady for the uncertain result
of the unsure labor of showing who I am
to the yet-unknown next reader.


Prayer For The Early Riser

Allow me the moment
before I open the blinds
for the impatient cats
who are waiting to see
the insistent birds rocking
suet cages back and forth
on their hangers as they work
for their meals.

Allow me the moment 
before the coffee maker kicks on
with bitter waft of flavor
and accompanying gurgle
to tell me that it’s time
and there’s work to be done
that will never be done
but that doesn’t excuse me
from settling in to do what I can.

Allow me the moment
before I realize I needed
more sleep than I got
but I need to stay up
and face the exploding world
with all the words and work
I possess, with every last tool
in my hands, to shore up
whatever might endure the fire
and flood that’s looming.

Allow me this moment
before the next one,
allow me my delusion 
that if I’m lucky or smart or good
on this morning in this life
rushing to conclusion

that what I do next
once I start this day might last beyond
the night that will certainly follow.
It’s what I have, all I have in fact;

Light Outside, allow me this.
Night Ahead, allow me this.
Whatever Offers Such Things, I ask:
allow me just this.


Kilgore

Frank sat in the back of the room
talking to someone named Kilgore.

Kilgore, he said,
you don’t say much.

Come sit and I’ll buy you one,
whatever you want. 

Kilgore, he said, how come
you don’t talk anymore?

There was a time
you couldn’t shut up.

There was a time
we would talk for hours

and who talked more
than you did back then?

Gift, we called it,
gift of gab

and drink would unwrap
the gift even more. 

Kilgore, Frank said,
what happened to us?

I can’t even see you
and no one can hear you.

You must have an opinion,
a piece of advice.

You must know something
you’re not telling me.

It’s Goddamned cold here,
and I can’t face it. Talk to me, Kilgore.

Call me up sometime and tell me
what you used to tell me, soft and low,

all the good things. Or shout it out
the way you used to, the way 

you used to bellow. Kilgore,
talk to me, man. Talk to me.

Frank sat alone
in the back of the room,

at a table by himself
in the stacks. All around him,

books and books
full of unheard words,

and Kilgore nowhere
to be seen.


Meta-Argument

The argument was
about a stone.

Was it a gravestone,
headstone, or tombstone?

It became an argument
about arguing.

An argument about arguing.
How best to proceed?

Continue to 
argue about the arguing,

or get back to the stone
of the moment?

In the interest of wearing
the ground around the burial

to a full circle
of bare packed earth,

we argued about
that — an argument about

arguing about arguing,
and so we roared on,

circling the headstone or
or gravestone

or tombstone or stele.
A marker that showed the world

where something had ended.
Where living had come to an end.


Among Fires

Yesterday,
the breaking moment,
time fractured;
today, the beginning
of the pieces moving
away from each other;
soon enough
the edges will erode
and never come together
cleanly again. As if
they were never 
part of a whole. As if
they were not related.

Yesterday,
the breaking of time;
today, the lighting of fires
on the shifting remains;
blazes and smoldering wrecks;
bonfires underfoot,
ground cracking, smoke
insistently choking off the sun.
As if the sun was not also
a fire. As if heat did not have
both light and dark sides.

Yesterday,
I broke. I looked into
fissures, saw fire,
and broke. I felt
myself being chopped and 
shattered and now the parts
fall away from each other
and the one on which I stand
is so far from where I was.
An explorer floating on 
wreckage, hoping. As if there was
any place, any fragment
where one could land
that would not be on fire.


Whiteout Storm

You learn this early:
at night when you are
driving in a whiteout storm,
you keep your headlights 
low, focused on what’s
directly before you,
the next three yards of road.

If you turn them up,
put on the high beams,
the whiteness becomes
a blinding tunnel and 
whatever lurks ahead becomes
obscure and potentially
hazardous, if not Death itself.

You learn early that
staying safe in the whiteness
is best served by finding
a solid warm home where
you can sleep safely, have as many
or as few lights on as you want:
all you desire or need in full view.

When you wake and have to leave the house
(you will have to wake and leave the house)
you do it in full daylight. Do it
when you can see all the whiteness
for what it is. Everywhere,
the shroud and cold smother.
Hazards clear. Death, obviously there

but in plain view,
easier to fend off
and avoid for now,
if not forever; as time passes,
a promise rising in the air
that somehow,
all of this will be temporary.


The Holy In-Between

Where will we find
the playing field
where we can triumph?

Where is there
any scoreboard
that shows us ahead?

Where is any pen in hand
scratching a “W”
next to our name?

We are exhausted
and every piece of equipment
we have is secondhand or broken.

We are injured
and our bandages are laden
with toxins and old blood.

We are demoralized
and disorganized, sundowning
and angry and embarrassed.

But I am tired
and demoralized and injured
by refusing to speak in specifics.

I am sidelined
while watching people die
on our streets, in our cages.

I am wounded
and from the edge of the fire
I can feel the heat rising.

If I still had a memory
I might recall a time
when we were winning

but now I only have
the moment, and in the moment
a Hail Mary pass is sinking

from its apogee toward a spot
where no one is waiting
to catch it and run it in to score.

I hate sports metaphors,
to be honest, the two sides
they paint into our lives;

the night and day narrative
that refuses to see the reality of dawn 
and dusk, or the distant existence

of midnight sun in other places
not within their purview; yet I cannot help
but think of winning and losing today,

imagining someone on another team
jackal-grinning as they prepare
to declare the game over, to proclaim

their victory. And then what?
Do they turn from the field
and leave us here to die?

I cannot say what they are thinking
but what I think is this:
where is the playing field

they have long ignored?
Where is the old wisdom
of a game they cannot play?

Where are those
they have never dreamed
of confronting?

We are something else,
something they’ve forgotten,
people they do not know.

They do not know us, the people 
of the dusk, the dawn,
the littoral, the interstitial 

spaces, the neither,
the either, the holy
and resilient in-between;

and what
they cannot fully know,
they cannot ever utterly defeat.


The Rug, The Door, The Ceiling

they pulled the rug from under her feet
just as she stood triumphant preparing to knock on the door
that had always been slammed in her face before
she was certain as she could be that this time things would be different 
and it would be opened to her with a flourish and a fanfare
but instead the rug was yanked and as she fell backward
someone was clearly laughing somewhere behind her 
someone she couldn’t see who might have been
the one who placed the rug before the door in the first place
in just the right spot to facilitate the jerk
and it might have been the same laugh she had heard before
from the other side of the door that nearly crushed her hand
every time it was slammed on her before she could even speak
and as she lay there on the hardwood staring up 
as a ceiling made improbably of opaque glass
(or one-way mirror and who knew who was watching and laughing up there as well)
it hit her at last in a different and better way that after all
whoever was behind all these obvious injuries and cliche assaults
built this place in the first place
built it full of booby traps
built it without her
built it to keep her out

and whoever was behind the door
or above the ceiling
whoever it was
who pulled that rug out from under her

was no one without this structure to protect them
and it was only natural
and long past time
for her to build something else


IF

If. That’s all, really:
if.  It all comes from 
if, comes down to if.

Go sit outside
and look at one last
good sunset.
If you had never
seen one before,
would you feel this same sadness,
would you still ache with its loveliness
and say to yourself,
that’s enough?

There’s your sleeping child.
What if they’d never been born?
If that spot where they sprawl 
on the couch were unfilled,
would you turn so quickly away 
as you do now and go forward
with…with…

You can’t even say
what’s on your mind.
If you could…
would you dare to?
Will you dare to?

Look at the pile of work, the poems
and essays and wrong-directed
manuscripts you long claimed
would be your legacy
if anyone were to find it. Now
that you are afraid they will find it —
if you burned it in the fire pit
out back, if you then drenched 
and stirred the ashes until they were 
dense black mud, if you did all that
would you exist for long afterward
in the minds of the few
who knew your work?

If there were only
a wooden match in the house,

if there were gasoline in the garage,
if only the house was emptier,
if only the night were noisier to hide 
the sound of, the sound of…

In the dark at last, the sunset over,
the child asleep, the firepit full,
you wonder: 

what was the first “if”
that sent you here? What choice
did you make that created 
this moment? 

There isn’t a moment to spare.

Overhead the stars whirl slowly by,
a machine without choice. It is all
as it should be so if you go ahead
and follow through, that will be
the last if, and isn’t that perfect?

Fill your hand with certainty,
and go.