Monthly Archives: December 2019

Love Song For The New Year

Originally posted 12/31/2011.

Every day starts a year.
Every day ends one.
Any day can be celebrated,
any day regretted.

Regret one day
for one day,

let celebration
of the next begin.

All I need for
any year or day: 

one with whom
to celebrate,

one with whom
to commiserate,
one with whom to share

the New Year of every single day.

Just one with whom to straighten
up after the labor,

one with whom to soothe
and be soothed;

one with whom
to start anew

each daily
New Year’s Day.

The Earworm Scripture

I’ve been humming
the worst song in the world
for hours now
because I heard it
in a convenience store
when I was unguarded enough
to let it in and now it’s burrowed
deep. (There is a reason
they are called earworms, after all.)

The Nagging God
who has been an earworm to me almost from birth
repeats incessantly (in time to the beat)
that I have no one but myself
to blame for this. That if I’d been
a little more diligent and not stepped away
from my desk to go get smokes
and a very big and very bad coffee,

I’d be sitting at home in silence
with nothing to do but write something 
much better than this pop-slop mess
I’ve got to deal with now. 

Nagging God, I say, how can
pacing my room and procrastinating
and cursing my deaf muse
get me this level of punishment?
I wasn’t hurting anyone but myself
and now i’m getting downright
homicidal, suicidal, even
deicidal over this constant barrage
of alleged music inside.

God says nothing, just keeps singing.

How can
anyone claiming divinity
be this off-key, I wonder…
which leads me to another 
blasphemy and then to a sudden
heresy, followed by epiphany — 

and wonder of wonders,
here I am with a symphony playing
out of the pen in my hand.

Don’t Break

If this feels more like
the end of all things
than the beginning of 
some new thing, consider

my cats in their respective windows
and the feeding birds a few feet away
on the other side of the glass;
how in spite of cold and sleet out there

and the impenetrable barriers in here
they all continue to feed and fly
and watch and hope from their
present circumstances. Consider

these perfect little killers
stymied every day and still waiting
for their chance; consider the sparrows
and nuthatches blithely perching

within an easy jump if only
the glass wasn’t there. Consider that —
then consider where you and I are, where
we all are in this moment — what if we are

not meant to be observers, but are instead
the glass between the killers and prey?
What if our place is between the end of everything
and the beginning of something new,

and all that is asked of us, really,
is simple: hold on, don’t break. Not yet.


call me anytime

I say to the 

hanging behind
me, tacked to

my heels 
as if this were

an old cartoon and
my shadow could be

stolen by the 
right thief.

This shadow
found me and

stuck itself
to me long ago.

I barely recall
the pain of that

but I know I left
permanent tracks in my own

blood all over
everything. So when

the shadow started
asking for permission

to stay with me
I fell apart almost,

almost shocked that
all at once it seemed

I had a choice
in the matter; I looked

at how many rusted
brown tracks I’d made

that had already ruined
everything behind me, 

looked at the thorough mess
I’d made and 

surrendered to it, so now
when the shadow comes begging

to stalk me and cut me
anywhere I could go from here,

I just give one odd
mock-affable nod and say

Anytime, shadow,
anytime you want,

never even stop
to adjust the nails

in my feet, never even stop
walking and messing, 

never even stop to think
I could rise to my toes

and run, make it hard
for the shadow to catch me,

stop leaving my blood
all over my traces,

get far enough away
from it to only hear it

as a far-off squeak, reminder
of a lifetime of haunted trails.

Whatever The Weight

Whatever you feel:

long twinges of fear
upon rising; terror
of a full mailbox; 
happiness before sleep
if only fleeting;

whatever you feel,
I hold myself open
for you in that feeling.

Bring me pain or pleasure
and I will carry it with you.
Bring me ecstasy or final 
despair upon grief’s arrival,
or your own fear of death
collapsing into acceptance,
I will shiver and then embrace
it, and you with it;

for I know the poverty 
of loneliness and how it ravages
one’s capacity to be present;
how it drives you from past to future
with no time to stop for now. I know

where you are when you stop 
and cower, for I have been there myself;
I know the neighborhood of contentment
even if your address is adjacent to mine,
or a street away or more.

Whatever the walk demands of us,
we will walk it. Whatever the talk
gives us to speak, we will say it.

Whatever you end up being,
I will stand there and see you as you are;

and whether you walk on without me
or I without you, that there was a shared path
once, I will never deny. I will never
allow myself the luxury of edited past
and altered future without acknowledging
that you and I once shared the present
and all it held, we carried it together,
and it led us to today.

Everyday Carry

Obligatory knife, billfold,
pack of smokes;

pen, notebook,
lighter, and phone

tucked into various
pockets and bags

which also hold 
all my dead friends 

from long ago 
right up to yesterday.

To pull one
mundane tool

or item forth
is to drag with it

smiling old ghosts
covered in lint.

After lighting a cigarette
or peeling an apple, I nod

to Eddie or Joey
or Kelly or Terry

or whoever else it is and
put them away along with

my everyday carry — the things
I need to get though the day;

all of them, knowledge and fire and edge
and wealth and Death and 

of course, the means to my art;
all of them with me every day,

smiling in my pockets, waiting
for my need. 


For at least one moment,
nothing remains of pain 
or worry for me 
after hearing each string of a guitar
tuned to a unison with
the fretted previous string —

all ache resolves
when the tones
lock into each other
so that one cannot tell
two strings are sounding —

it will not stay in tune 
forever, I know; but even
this one moment is long enough —

a sustained note of hope that things
can be set right, that there is
a way to do that, an art or science
or both, that just works —

that up until the moment
the string breaks,
it can be well played.

How To Spell American

Originally posted 8/2016.  Revised.

Spell it with two guns,
a coat of whitewash,
three picket fences
and a wolverine trapped
under a left thumbnail.

Spell it with seven dirty words
and rigor mortis laid thick
between adobe bricks.

Spell it with fifty-seven apologies
flavored with forgetting,
sixty-three apologies blind to remorse,
one hundred and eleven apologies
offered on a dagger’s tip.  

Spell it fourteen ninety-two,
original thirteen,
broken five hundred and sixty nine. 
Spell it three-fifths, 
spell it six-nineteen.  
Spell it nine-eleven.

Spell it with a toxic cloud,
an unrestrained flag,
a lowered boom.

Spell it with twenty-one more guns
and a Nagasaki blister. 

Spell it with moon rocks,
tent cities, caged kids,
dead kids, dead eyes
dotted with good flowers. 

Spell it with a burr.
Spell it with a brogue,
a lilt, a bang-up job of trying to deliver it

Spell it with bison flanks quivering. 
Spell it with pink dawn over gray streets
and a boat swift-rocking 
down a snow fed river. 

Spell American
with a cauldron. A melting pot
if you prefer. A bullet mold,
a fireproof suffrage, a vote
for steam over simmer, 
a last summer of drowsing bees.

It’s not like anyone ever knew
a right way to pronounce it.


Somebody left a lot of words
on this table.

Someone felt their own tongue
and what they already knew was

Someone felt
that if they couldn’t
pronounce a word, it wasn’t

Someone felt
that changing the words
did the trick
so they mauled them, then stole them,
called them their own, leaving the rest 

Someone forbid
these words over here:
names for God, maybe,
or for plants no one’s seen
for a long time. Same thing,

Someone slapped stolen words
all over their map
and made up cute definitions for them
in their own

Do you know how many words
they left behind of the ones you
were destined to speak before
they came in and robbed you
of the perfect way to shape your

Someone left many of your words
on the table. Hard wind blowing now and 
they are drifting, lifting off; dissolving
into thick air — unless you want them?
Catch them, stuff them into your

to wait until the time comes
to open up and sing them

Someone is terrified of the things
you know how to say, the things
they cannot, things they’d hoped you would

Someone’s standing silent

What you could say
using those words,
they will likely not 

Go ahead,

It has been
an age since the last time you could,
and no doubt, someone is straining to 


You woke up this morning
perched on a blister. Don’t protest:
you know it’s true. Hear me out:

you know it could burst
at any minute; you know
the fall into the leavings

will be dangerous, and 
you’ll be soaked with whatever
is in there. You understand 

the word “befouled”
as something more than
prediction, something less than

promise. You see you are both alone
and not alone at the same time:
those who fall when it tears open

may fall together or apart
and safe landing
with those who love you

is not guaranteed. Safe landing
is not guaranteed in any case,
and then there’s the matter

of the blister itself — whose hand
is it on, and will they choose to clench it
upon us all when it breaks?

All you have now is the sight of sky above,
the scent of the earth, the sound
of beloved voices, the taste of memory,

the touch of future. When it bursts
you will have the relief of 
the end of fear. When you land,

what you will have left of yourself
is unknown. You have this morning
now. That’s all any of us have now.

John Kills For Joy

John Kills For Joy,
awakened by white potions,
comes out of hiding
for the first time in an age;

as calm as snow at 2 AM
that submerges all roads
and smothers the earth
too early for most to care,

John Kills For Joy steps out
into perfect weather for what he’s about.
What he has done to get here
was best done in cold silence;

he proved himself 
cold, took his falls in silence,
built and mounted his throne in ice quiet
and now can hawk-sing with impunity,

let his claw-hand fall wherever he chooses.
John, pale John, John Kills For Joy,
lord of the Talon, god of default atrocities,
John Kills For Joy is knocking for me.

It would be easy to open up
and let him in, let him set his big boots
by the door, offer a smoke
and a drink, give his song an ear.

He has sung this before:
overture, prelude, variation
on a prelude; seeking choir boys
to turn allies, converts,

fodder, traitors, turncoats;
fellows Joyful and Triumphant.
John Kills For Joy carries
more than a sword, and does not travel alone.

John Kills For Joy and an army
standing in the aftermath
of his blizzard, knocking, singing for me;
calling my name; John Kills For Joy

offering weapons, fortresses,
sweetened treaties, road maps
to the next fortune, plunder,
philosophies to ease the shock

of succumbing; John Kills For Joy
making suffering a virtue, sin a ticket
home, forgiveness a ripe plum;
saying the land and sea and air

are just the threshold to Better,
to More, to Greater. John Kills For Joy
points at his battle jacket, at the crosses
and flags, says he’s got Answers for me. 

Dear John: In the past, I have sipped
white potion myself,
pictured myself now and then
in the ranks.

I cannot sing this song
as well as all of you. Was born
with a different tune ringing out
in the birthing room;

it echoes in me still, sometimes 
louder than yours does
although you are everywhere
and louder indeed than all the rest.

Tonight I hold myself silent
while everyone is singing 
in order to hear
dissonance under their unisons.

It is becoming harder and harder
to hear wrong notes (I should say instead
notes that don’t fit) but they are there
and as they are all I have, I have to hold on to them.

John Kills for Joy will not leave my door
without an answer. That’s how
he got to where he is. That’s how
the throne was built.

If he comes
howling through it
I swear
he will find me singing

no song he’s ever heard. May he be
silenced then, even
if only for the moment it takes me
to fall.

I Wanna Be Your Dog

Revised from 2009.

She orders
seven hundred dollars worth of merchandise
for Christmas for her pets.

Yells at me when I can’t hear her
spell “Misty” and “Sparky”
for the matching personalized doggy PJs.

My headset is wonky
and drowning in static,
and the boss won’t give me another one.

I press my hands to the headphones
and take her abuse, apologizing, advising her
about sizes on merchandise I’ve never seen

as if I care about this, because
I do, I want her to be happy, want her to buy more
if only for the commission I’ll make if she does,

so I make it up and keep a gentle tone
even though I’m so ready to be done with her
and her cherished pets, Misty and Sparky

with their obvious names,
a couple of Black Labs,

probably sleek and shiny

and well fed without being overfat,
who will soon be getting
an extra run in everyday

on their new bridle leather harnesses,
sleeping in their new cedar framed
twill cushioned beds.

If you want to understand why I listen to punk,
barking and snarling along with the music
all the way to work and all the way home,

this should help.

The High Road

Nicolae Ceausescu
and his wife Elena
were executed after a short trial
for crimes against 
the Romanian people;
three formed the firing squad
although there were

thousands of willing
volunteer executioners;

Benito Mussolini
and his mistress Claretta
were shot by one man 
willing to take the bully
by the horns.
any have claimed
they were the assassin;

the planet dies
at the hands of callous men
while we sit
with our heads in our hands
that cannot
grip a gun or a knife
for fear of losing our souls
somewhere on the high road
we insist we must take.


I don’t feel 
like buying a calendar
this year — demarcation
of the future feels like
a farce —

the days will surely
heat up and fall
into a progression
of same upon horrible same —

If there is to be hope 
in the coming year
I don’t want to pin it on
a date — instead I shall plant
a garden

and mark time by shoot
leading to seedling 
leading to bud and bloom and 
fruit or thick-enough root —

and if there is meal enough for me
at the end

I shall count it
as my small hope fulfilled
and if I can feed another

I will say I have exceeded my hope

even as the rest burns

for it is already burning
and what we mean 
when we say hope
is singed and buried in ash
so deep
we would not know it
if it emerged and came to us

and how will we cross
the date from the calendar
if we cannot know 
the day has come 

or even if
it has already come and gone

Old Tune

The slaver wrote 
“Amazing Grace”
and felt he’d gotten free.

Kept to his profession
long after writing the song
because that’s where

the money was. When he’d
gotten enough he finally said
“let those people go”

and passed away
with all the grace
a blood fortune could buy.

The billionaire said
“it’s time to give back”
and “it’s time to save

the world,” 
did just enough of each
to remain solvent

while running for 
office and caring in 
public. The world

remains unsaved
and here we are
smothered in billionaires — 

slavers too, as if
they’d never left. 
As if they’d never

been rendered obsolete
by soft new words

chained to an old tune.