Monthly Archives: October 2019

Did Not

did or did not,
died or was killed,
suicide or homicide,

choose your focus:
another long day of lies
in a string of long days
or

one short night
you think is a

occasion for a burst
of truth

in the daily news
that feels like
just a
mystery

if it matters to you
or not, if you are sure
or not, if you have proof
or believe proof or not:

what are you going to do
except laugh at it or cry out
against it or make it into 
some middling joke to share
with the like minded

and those who did it
or did not

do indeed do
right out in the open

things you ought to
stop laughing at

and though mockery is all you have
or think you have 
or bother to use 

maybe

stop laughing 
pick a target
and do?


The Self-Help Taxi

“Stand on the corner,
you depressed bastard,

and wait. If you signal for it
joy will find you, certainly.

Certainly it’s only missing you
because you’ve made yourself

so small.  It’s as if you’ve shrunk
from what normal looks like.

Stick a hand up, make yourself
bigger, you sad beggar, and 

call joy to you. It’s not like
it’s going to come without that.

It’s not like you should expect it.
You, depressed. You, stunted. 

You, the one who won’t do 
what you’re supposed to do 

under illusion that this is not
under your control — call up

joy like a taxi
and get on board…”

so I did, and when I did
it missed me. Drove right by

and I nearly drowned 
in the puddle it almost splashed dry.

You know what? My arm is still up.
I’m still waiting — soaked through

but still hanging on for joy — though
God only knows why.


The Painting

In daily disguise as an average man
I keep my crazing under wraps.
This craquelure is not for the casual viewer.
I’ve never been able to explain what underlies it but now

this Average White Man-boy seeks closure.
Certainty. The ability to look the painting 
I have made of myself straight in the face
and call it artifice. To see through

what my parents made of me
and what I made of myself, 
point at something peeking through a crack
from under the surface, and say:

there I am, Average White Man-boy
through and through –or, look, there’s
the Mescalero, the Old One. There’s the Other
I was taught to believe was my canvas

and my truth. But what if, 
under all the trappings of Average,
I am in fact pure Average and Privilege
and it runs all the way through? What if

everything I have been schooled to show
while holding back a darker, better truth
is in fact all I am? Where will I begin again?
Why would I bother?

Straight up staring now
into the mirror and it’s pure Art there
looking back and even I can’t tell
if I was ever a good point to be made.

My parents whispered to me every night
that inside I should never paint myself White.
Then they started making sure
I’d never show a bit of what made that true,

and when I got my hands on my own pigments
and brushes, I kept it right up. I put crazy work
into that and kept telling myself it was all for show
and now I look and cannot see a damn bit

of what I claimed I was. I painted myself
into one sharp corner, and now Average White 
Man-boy can’t get out without slashing himself
to pieces and burning himself to ash.

It’s a choice, always a present choice.
How much of me is a lie, how much of me
is underlayment for the lie, how much am I willing
to live from, how much truth does the world require

of me? If I am to be honest, I trust
nothing of how I have existed until now.
Average White Man-boy. Pretty average picture.
Pretty much the same as all the others. Pretty much

as disposable as a sad-eyed clown
paint by numbers mess in a thrift store.
Buy me cheap for the novelty. I would.
Hang me in a guest bedroom. I would.

Laugh at me till
the novelty wears off
then toss me. I would.
It’s what anyone with any sense would do.


The Family Sleeping Rough Down the Street

Sixty-two degrees in late October
feels cold in the house,
unseasonably warm outdoors.

Stay outdoors until dusk 
and as the temperature descends
you choose to go back inside

where the temperature has risen
to a stifling sixty-eight degrees.
You open a window, just for

a few minutes, you tell yourself,
just to moderate what the sun did 
to your home while you were gone.

Now both indoors and outdoors
are in your house. Indoors echoes
with outdoor traffic, outdoors the neighbors

can, if they choose, attend to
your indoor music, smoke, and
inane conversations. You will shut

the windows before bed and call that
the end of the day, the reset moment
that reaffirms the distance between you

and that family sleeping rough
in the encampment down the street
who are permitted no distinction between

indoor and outdoor, private and public.
The noise and the cold are always there.
Home is a tarp and an abutment

and they are always well aware
of what the neighbors think.
You’ve thought it yourself

as you pulled your sweater tight
and closed yourself off: brrr…it’s getting so cold.
I’d hate to be them. That must be awful.


Focus

Enter, stage right, the muzzled
and the dumb. I am ready
to take them as they come.
I do not judge them for what they
seem unable to do;

we do such a good job of binding
and stupefying that it hardly seems fair
to stare down adversaries so stunted
they cannot see how tall
they could have been, or could still be.

It is not that I will stand for their aggression,
their threats, their torches and their guns:
no. If they come swinging 
I will swing; if shooting,

I will shoot. I have no good reason

to save these already destroyed,
though I pity them. I do in fact mourn
the need to do what I must to save myself
and those I loved. But I must
look beyond them to see 

the true enemy who made them
and use them and suck them dry
of cash and logic and compassion.
If I am made to hate anyone, I will reserve
that capacity for them. 


Filling A Vaccuum

I spoke with the ancestors this morning before getting out of bed
and they told me I was doing exactly as well as expected

which would have been comforting if I did not know for a fact
that they were a pack of inveterate liars while they were alive

and the stats on the prophecies and opinions they’d made since their deaths
were ragged and imprecise and full of as much fable as before

But it felt good for a moment to think I was fulfilling a destiny
even if that may or may not be true

as perhaps my destiny is to be lied to by authorities living or dead
and wander and stumble over foundational untruths till I fall

and end up prostrate and wounded under the thumb of the dead
until they lift me up and stand me upright supported by more lies

They shall raise me up and give me a sword and point me
at other suckers who have been betrayed into infantry

and we will charge and gut and kill and be killed
thus taking our place among the exalted company

of liars grown fat upon the rewards gained by winking at the lied-to
becoming someone else’s revered ancestors full of untruth

Tomorrow morning I swear I will look them in the eyes
when they come before dawn whispering of my destiny

and I will say
I don’t believe you

and when they turn from me I will be adrift and lost
which some will say should be cause for joy at my freedom

but I will say nothing of joy as I will be straining into the silence
listening in vain for something else

which will ring of better truth even if it is not better truth
and which offers a path to a destiny I can live up to

no matter how small or venal
that fate might be


Toothache

A toothache
premonition

wakes him up
far enough ahead
of the morning alarm
that he has to decide
if it’s worth trying for
more sleep. He chooses

to return to bed and begin
trying to recall a time
before such bodied fear
became so common,
back when insurance and salary
were daily givens.

The time before cost
in lost attention and time
(and of course the money)
meant this much, before

just lying in bed wondering
what devastation this might cause
if it becomes more
than just a transient pain.
If it’s real and not just
an anxiety stabbing him
in his most densely packed
bag of terror. 

Not long after,
he gets up. Makes coffee,
drinks coffee, skips breakfast,
considers his work schedule,
forgets the pain, remembers
the pain, forgets the pain,
remembers the pain,
stops remembering the pain;
never quite manages
to forget 
the pain.


Not Again

They again have asked me
to return to the persona
I once lived behind
and recite the words
I used to swear by

but I can’t go back. Not because
I’m appalled at what I used to be,
but because I can’t put on
that costume again: can’t
wear that mask that doesn’t fit

my face that’s changed enough
that I believe the bones within
would push through and break
the old facade; the combination
of who I was and who I am

would render the antique words 
so suspect and superficial 
that folks would turn away
laughing or shaking their heads.
They would be right to do so:

I can barely think
of my face back then
or read the words
and mouth them in my head
without wanting to do the same.


Middle

I scribbled, I scratched, I scrambled;
sought toeholds in extended
metaphors, did average work
that was never enough to lift me
up the face of my chosen cliff.

So I’ve ended up clinging.
Do you see me up here?
I thought not. I’m tiny.
If I fall I won’t make much
of a splash. If I succeed

I’ll have to face the climb
down. Is there a trail
to follow after you get there?
Or do you jump and hope to float
back to the valley in one piece?

Once there you look around
for another nasty ascent.
Some peak worthy of both your fear
and your need to not only
live on the edge, but to keep so close to it

that you lose your sense of danger;
one day the most ridiculous
and simple reach fails you, and you 
die in the middle of the big climb.
So they tell me, anyway. But now

I’m losing grip
and I’m suddenly aware
that the fall I thought
would surely slay is small. 
I’ll surely live

if I hit the ground, 
might not even break a bone.
I made this whole grand adventure up.

I’m caught at last between a rock
and a self-delusion.
But I can’t let go. Not yet.


Suppose

Suppose we allow
for the likelihood
of a single God. 
Suppose we say
to deny the possibility
is to be arrogant
on behalf of
our own total agency.

Suppose we say
one and only one
can be real. Suppose
we ask ourselves to 
choose among the 
many faces we’ve assigned
the One. Suppose
we cannot decide. 
Suppose we revisit 
the initial thrust of
the argument and say,
maybe more, maybe none,
but something. Suppose
we agree it matters
not — one, many, none —
until something confirms
one, none, many
to such a degree that
all of us agree to hold 
no grudge against it
if there are many, none,
one. Suppose we leave
the density of the arguments
behind that day. Suppose 
we find other reasons 
to be as we have always been.
Suppose it matters not at all
if there is none or one
and the only thing that ends up
being of importance is
what we are: many or one,
or soon enough none:

what then?


Epitaphs

1.
It’s not like 
I made a good mark,
but more of a scuff — a sign
of clumsiness, accidental
reminder of my passage,
just squeaking through.

2.
Here lies (blank)…
if you are reading this,
clearly I am not
for if I could 
I’d be editing frantically
to keep you from seeing
such a paltry representation
of who I am.

3.
This plot holds
a parcel no longer full of lies,
a bone-box stripped
of spirit. It’s not worth
your time.  Nothing to see,
nothing to hear.

If you do see 
or hear anything, rest assured
it’s nothing. 

4.
If I had become wind
and you were still you,

I’d choose to be here.

If I’d become sun
and you were still you. 
I’d choose to be here.

I’ve become dead. I am here, 
but not by choice —

unlike you. I thank you for it.


How To Throw A Brick

First of all of course
you must choose the brick.
It can be any shape or size:

being yourself 
in an unexpected place,
one where you’ve been
forbidden, is often brick enough
to break some wall or window;

it may require
a bit more — the purchase
of a wedding cake,
a clothing choice no one foresaw,
stubborn insistence on a name or pronoun —
to crack a thicker wall or head
grown old and bitter
from long authority.

Next, the throw.
It should be overhand —
let it take flight, let it soar
over the ruins between you
and the target. Those
who fell before this time
will look up in the dark
and see a brighter sky and think
of a bird that can fly and land
wherever it wants;
they will rest easier.

You will not be alone in the fight.
Bricks that arc together land harder;
there are so many walls and windows to smash 
before they fully open the gates.

As for yourself in the aftermath?

You may retreat to save yourself
from what they do in response
but the ground where you stood remains yours;
though some may see it as a paradox,
you are also the brick you tossed,
a piece of something new yet to be built.


The Semi-Conscious

To be left uneaten
by the cannibals:
that is the fondest wish
of the semi-conscious.

To see the feeding
and the preceding slaughter
and merely cower:
that is the privilege accorded to them.

To crawl away and hide
and be able to stand up
and pick their way
through the bone-field,

then go safely home
after the feast is done,
to be left untouched and whole,
is their purest joy.

Their dreams mostly
untroubled by the sound
of chewing. Their lives
lived as fatly or thinly

as they choose. Their children
guaranteed to thrive
unbitten or even to grow into
the next class of flesh-eaters:

what else could they desire?
It’s not their fault others 
were designated as fast food.
That so many were roasted

and consumed by the cannibals.
All those people had to do was lay low
and blend in. It would have been
easy to survive, 

camouflaged, half-awake,
just aware enough to know
what it took to survive.
They must have
deserved to be prey.

As for the current sound of cannibals 
gnashing their teeth and thrashing the bush f
or the next meal? 
That sound is meant, they trust,
for someone else to fear.

 


Black Snake

To wake up
is to unwind the black snake
from my chest.

To stand up 
is to set the black snake aside
and see it race away.

To walk to the living room
from the bedroom
is to step past the black snake.

To leave the living room
for the world
is to sing the black snake to sleep.

To return to the house
when the world has pressed upon me
is to lift the black snake to my chest.

To sleep in the house
with the black snake upon me
is to become the black snake.

To dream of the black snake
is to dream of myself pressing upon my heart
until it enters utter stillness. Suddenly

I am
the black snake,

racing away.


Three Rituals

Two older poems, one (Washing Dishes) new. I saw a series and pulled it together.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Washing Dishes

It doesn’t matter if there are
few or many: I do the dishes
in the morning, every morning.

My hands stinging from the hot water,
I sigh inside when there are many,
rejoicing impatiently even if there’s one

and only one because I’ve set myself
a parameter that no coffee can be poured
until the sink is clear. The drainer

can be full, the silverware basket
overfull, but until the last item’s
clean and set aside to dry 

I am unable to move on. The first thing
I do, every morning, is cleanse
from the day before.

Why not do the dishes
before bed? Start the day
with nothing waiting?

That would seem dishonest to me,
to be fair. It seems a lie
to pretend upon waking that

the day before never happened
and that all I’ve got before me
is new and untouched.

To wash the previous day’s dishes
firs thing in the morning, though?
An acknowledgement of past

before the future begins. A statement
that in the present, the past and future
demand attention too. 

The Straight Razor

This deep into my life
I have begun shaving with

a straight razor,

not so much for
the trendiness of the act among
certain smug sectors of the hip population,

but from a lust for sustainability
born from a desire to stop 

disposing of so much good steel.

Also (in the spirit of this
historical moment)

I need solid proof

that with care
I can enter danger daily

and come out clean;

as I do not believe
danger will play fair

in the streets

it is good to know
I can take it on my chosen turf

in at least one small way.

I wet my face and lather up,
set the edge against my skin,

draw it at the proper angle

through the white mask I’ve donned;
think of my grandfathers

as I take care upon the jawline and chin.

If I nick myself I do not stop.
If I see red I do not flinch

but finish and administer stinging care

until I see the face I want before me.
Then comes maintenance of tools.

Cleansing of sink and mirror.

It is a ritual and as such
things must be done well

and precisely from start to finish.

One more thing:
a straight razor

fits well in a boot if need be,

and once you know
what you are doing with one?
That is a fine place to keep it.

Tomatoes

I come home
thinking of fall and 
craving tomatoes.

I go to my backyard beds
and pick whatever’s ripe
for my favorite summer meal:
thick-sliced plum tomatoes,
Gorgonzola cheese,
a few shreds of basil, 
balsamic vinegar,
light on the olive oil.

You once questioned me:
why not traditional Mozzarella?
I said it’s because I feel that 
strong blues make flavors pop
and without strong flavors,
what’s the point?  

You tasted it,
agreed, told me later
you could no longer imagine 
not using a strong blue cheese
in a tomato salad, and I was 
as well pleased as I could be
that we’d fallen once again into 
the same place on something — 

I remember this as I stare into
strong blues and bright reds
in this bowl, stare into oil bubbles, 
a brown slick of vinegar, remember
you weren’t here to help me
plant this year, to plant the beds
scant weeks after your passing;
you weren’t here to help me weed
and toss and water and feed;

realize again, as if for the first time,

that you aren’t here to help me savor
the likely last summer salad of the year,
picked ahead 
of the inevitable 
killing frost.