Monthly Archives: June 2020

No Fun

I don’t want fun. Fun’s 
for the done, the no more
joy in the work
so let’s cut and run bunch.

I do want joy. Joy’s different —
a place at once inside
and outside self. A light over all,
warming from within, a change

to air itself. Fun blows though
like a boat cutting calm apart.
Joy is the lake itself
before, during, and after;

even when disrupted, even
under attack, joy holds up. I could
sink into that.  I could drown 
in joy for real. Death in joy? Perfect,

normal, natural. There are those
who would disagree, would say pain
negates joy, death its ultimate enemy —
no. If I fall before the bullets

I won’t be having fun, but closing my eyes
on the site of struggle, shutting down
at the end of a battle knowing others
will fight on? What joy in that!

Waking From Arithmetic Sleep

Four months now
of arithmetic sleep
instead of rest. Doing

the math of rent and
utilities, his own food
versus the cat budget,
chewing on his 
inadequacies by the numbers,
his heartbreaks by the score,
until just now. 

Hard to say why;
maybe a nightbird’s call
heard during
his meager sleep
pierced his dreams
and changed them;
maybe yesterday’s storm
purged his atmosphere;
no telling. Not our place
to know for certain,
as he did not. 

All that can be said
is that he woke up
without a spreadsheet
in his head for the first time
in four months and 
while he knew it was 
just tucked away
for a moment and not gone,

he felt light enough without it 
to step out on the
soggy ground before coffee
and look at the washed streets
and the fearless sparrows
on the feeders. 

Forensic Love Song

Originally posted, 2008. Revised.


“the answer is always in the body”
— heard in passing; a line from a TV crime show

licked and prodded,
it still refuses to express
a secret

in the dark, lit blue,
misted with laden rain,
our signatures revealed:
clouds on our still skin

the mottled shapes
of shared blood can be read
as a novel: here the plot
is thick, here thicker;

here is a second theme;
here, the pooling, the co-mingling,
so confusing to the outsider

though we understand
what has happened here

cooling happens
at a predictable rate
once all factors are accounted for

something unknown to science
must be holding all this heat

the answers
are always in the body

the body is always

Four Freedoms

When they got off their boats
in those first years, they had with them
worship, fear, and want. Used guns
and disease to spread what they’d brought
and cleared the land so their speech, theirs alone,
could ring out. You use what you have when you need
to run a genocide just to get by. 

They endlessly retell all their lovely myths
about how plantations ran, but in truth
fear and want and worship were made anew there
and no amount of speech can bind the wounds
from whip or rape.

Freedom of speech, freedom of worship,
freedom from want, freedom from fear.

They’ve declared themselves the default
so all those terms are theirs to define.

Which of their four freedoms
do you think they love the most? 

Which of their four freedoms
is most easily weaponized?

It’s not like they’ve ever stopped trying.
A prison here, a reservation there;
a blood quantum chant, a hypocrite anthem;
a redline, a voting line, a pipeline, a rope;
smug worship, suffocating want, cold-back fear;
speaking up is a gas worthy, gun worthy game to them. 

It’s not like they’ve ever stopped trying.
Mask-off sneering at the safety of others;
insistent demands for managers and cops;
churches set on fire, an ape with a Bible
offering fear to the terrified and want to the starving;
a border wall stabbed through the bones of silent ancestors.

Speak of new freedoms now:

freedom from their way of worship — 
how tiring it becomes to hear them speak of God
and show us nothing but the demonic;

freedom from their notion of speech
that makes heroes of their mythic killers
and tell us we never died at their hands;

freedom to want more than what they offer,
to want the return of things that they’ve stolen
and drained of meaning, turning them into mere style;

and as for freedom to fear? We see them holding that now;
gingerly, at last seeing how it feels (a little) not to be
in full hard control of their own story.



I’m supposed to be
punching a Nazi right now
but I can’t open the door
to go out and find one.

I’m supposed to be tearing down
a statue right now

but I can’t keep my grip on anything —
rope, stone, life.

I’m ashamed of the illnesses
that keep me from standing

and walking and breathing
with the armies of the righteous.

I’m tired of starting every sentence
with “I.” I am trying

to decide how to matter
without myself mattering the most.

To slip into the river
of the moment and vanish
may be all I can muster.
To disappear. To not leave

a damned thing behind
except anything someone better
could use. I would like to be
of some use, even if it

requires my absence.
Let there be an axis without me
upon which new things may turn.
Let the turning

pass me, let the passage
be swift enough that
I vanish quickly from view,
slow enough

that by the time you come back
to where I was,
there’s nothing of note —
not a statue,

not a bloody eye,
not a handprint on a rope.
Take what you need from me
and let me go, let me go.

I Will Be Broken

I will be broken
by the demise of
this country, 
of course. How could
I not be — it made me.
I can only modify what I am
just so far — cannot 

transform entirely. Not now,
not this late. 

You tell me,

of course you can change.
Of course 
you can shift yourself 
aside of the tumbling 
stones and statues, the smoking
crash of the ruins — you can
survive and even thrive.
You can be something else.

No. I know better, and I know
even more than better —
I know a limited amount of best.

Best for me
is to stand open handed under
the looming wall of the thing
that was built for me and those 
like me and catch the rubble
as it begins to crumble,

try to keep it from crushing
the ones without safety
or a place to hide.

It will take me eventually
but I will be damned if 
I let it take anyone I have
the ability to save.

Losing It

Losing it —
colloquialism for 
a break in your
social equilibrium

which rarely was more
than a mask on
the face of your inner
disaster zone

What you’ve lost
is the mask and 
when you examine
the world

you might be
better off as a

of what
the proper
reaction to the world
should be

More should lose it
More should scream
More of us should shed
these shells

What we’ll be left with
Soft faces
Mouths open
Howling en masse

Losing it
Losing so much
we used
as armor

Fear must precede 
the new
that must replace
what we must lose

You Should Be In A Band

If you look like you should be in a band,
you should be in a band. 

You may already be in a band, or maybe
you are in camouflage, in disguise as a member

of a band. If someone asks if you’re in a band,
whether or not you are

you’d better be able to tell them
the name — 
and if they ask what you play,

you’d better say you are a vocalist —
unless you play something?

Do you play something, play well enough
to be able to comfort the eagerness of the questioner?

They’re going to ask you if there’s anything your band does
they might have heard. Shrug it off; be modest.

Be the band member you’d wished you had met at fifteen,
the one too cool to boast. Be the one who answers

all questions and maybe you give an autograph, 
a hard to read scribble on a stray napkin.  

After the encounter, get back in your car.
Write a damn song, would you? The band is depending on you.

If you aren’t in a band,
you know where to start.

Flowers Of An Unknown Species

First day of summer,
yard work, looking at
flowers of an unknown
species.  Yellow, dainty,
on long stems springing
from the abandoned bed
where we once grew
early salad — mustard
greens perhaps? I have
forgotten what was there
now; it was years ago
that we grew
more than weeds 
in those beds.
This may not
even be something
descended from what
we planted. I take one
into my mouth — bitter
as ironweed, astringent
bright on my tongue;
spit it out praying it’s just
distasteful and not

Back inside, out of the heat,
I turn on the television
and turn it back off again
at once. Astringent and 
dark, the visions there,
and surely poisonous
as that weed was not. 
This news growing from beds
we abandoned long ago —
was it something we planted
or an invasive species? 

A god’s voice says,
eat of this and know
the truth. I bend a knee
to the floor, hungry,
terrified, and not sure 
I’ve got the strength 
to rise. 


The greatest longing, always,
has been to belong, to find
a place to belong, or even
to belong in whatever place
I was in.  Whatever place

I found myself in, I decided
I would belong there. I tried.
I tried to belong — not fit in —
I could always fit in — I wanted

that lived-in look, that perfect
archetype look. Sometimes I’d get
close, but then I’d wake up at dawn
or before and see the dim street
and say, this is not a place for me,

I do not belong. I’m too — elsewhere
for this. Too off-world origin story,
too mystery parentage
for this settlement. Whatever,
I’d then say, that’s all too much
romance for a potato-man like me,
and I’d move on. 

Moving on is where I belong.

3500 poems…

3819. That’s the number of days that have elapsed since January 1, 2010.

3500. That’s the number of new poems I’ve posted on this blog since then, counting today’s post. A little under a poem a day for a little under 10.5 years.

I have more than that on the blog from before that date, transferred here from LiveJournal (no idea how many — too much work to figure it out when so few had tags back then); have digital files of a couple thousand more going back to about 1996; more in notebooks and binders back to the early 70s; more lost to time and the mysteries of moving and mildew, I’m sure.

So — I don’t want to double that number for an overall total, but maybe 6000 or so total lifetime? Maybe there are only a few out of that that are worth holding onto, but I still hold on to them.

If it seems obsessive to do this, you should know that I refer to this record keeping as “the Pursuit of the Meaningless Goal.” It was something suggested to me by a therapist years ago as one way of controlling one aspect of the symptoms of bipolar disorder — I won’t say more than that.

It’s part of the continuing effort to say that the Work, the body of Work, is more important than any one poem to me.

I’m going to take a few days off, I think. I have things to do elsewhere. Just needed to note the moment.

Thanks for reading.  Plenty more to read here. 

Modern Architecture

An article 
on modern architecture
laments how ugly 
it all is, compares and contrasts
Dubai and Singapore skylines
to the streets of ancient Italian
cities, mocks physics-defying towers
of steel and glass
set into city blocks worldwide
at nearly impossible angles and 
presents the street map of Paris
and a collage of pictures
of Roman aqueducts
as the perfection of human
spirit made real, weeps at how much
grace and soul we have pissed away
on such monstrosities, blames
every disease of our society
on the retreat from such classical norms —

and here I am
thinking of broken temples

in India and blown up mosques in Iraq;
of what Timbutu must have been
in its prime and how mounds 
across North America still undulate
in harmony with the landscape
wherever they have not been bulldozed;
thinking of six grandfathers dynamited 
for four presidents; 

I want to say a lot of things
about destruction and rebirth and
the relevance of the past to the present

and they all just come out at once
in words I can never fully mean
as to say them is
to condemn myself as well
but I must, I must:

fuck you, old Europe, old head,
no more than small peninsula of vast Asia,
skull cap above the head of Africa,
made rich by the long plunder of the Americas:

yield your time.


I take close up photos of my face with my phone.
I discard several of them, choose one, manipulate it
into a more sullen shading that feels more me tonight;
cartooning it, making a graphic novelization of a man.
I take this changed photo and with the power vested in me
to do what billions of others have done, I transfer it to
the world-shrouding cloud and place it or some link to it
where others can see it so that they may identify my words
by my face. Some offer approval at once, others ignore it.

I am disappointed that this is my face tonight.
I am disappointed in how I see myself.
I am disappointed that this seems honest and accurate
and somehow, the best picture I’ve ever taken of myself
or even of anyone else, or anything else. It is so —

ugly. Ugly is not considered a valid word and someone
will likely contradict me upon reading this and say no,
this is you and it is beautiful. All things are beautiful.
Every face, every person, every, everything — except
Evil of course, that’s ugly. Always ugly. 

I look at the photo again. It’s honest. It’s truthful
about the current state of a man with multiple illnesses
and a graying conscience. The light manipulation I did
was as honest as the framing and the lighting. I did it
to grow and accent truths worth noting about the face
and no attempt at hiding the changes has been made.
The face hides nothing, and I am here to say
ugly is a truth as strong as beauty, and more common.

If you must insist on all things being beautiful,
if you must call this face beautiful, then I must ask you
to consider what you may be denying
about the ways of the world. You aren’t doing me a favor.
I’m fine, or at least at peace, with not wanting
to stare enraptured into that face that was never anything
but a deviation, long before I took this picture,
long before I started making this face my own.

Hope, Said Emily

Hope, said Emily,
is the thing with feathers
and she was right, but not
in the way you think —

Hope is in fact the thing
with a torch and a sword
fighting for you in dark swamps
and reeking bogs. Standing between you
and the cop’s headlights.
Laying a hand on your shoulder
as you tremble near the railing of a bridge. 

The feathers Hope carries
are yours. After such battles,
Hope pulls them from
a bag where they’ve been kept
for you.

Hope puts them carefully
back into place upon you: trophies
for valor doing double duty
in your wings.

Hope says: fly.
I will hold you up,
will bring you home 

if you fall. Fly.

Instructions For Viewing The Sunrise

How to be a white American
this year: shift your stance

and consider the view of the drain
from inside the drain.

Think of a sunrise viewed from here
where sunset’s in progress. Bend down

and smell the thrown rocks, the landed bricks,
tear gas floating across the soil.

Get out of the hold
your skin has on you: armor

you may have counted on,
tattooed spells of protection

you say you never knew existed — 
and if you admitted that you knew,

you denied
that you could read them.

It’s not fun here right now.
It’s not going to be fun,

not supposed to be fun.
Never fear: you will someday

dine and screw
and find joy in small things

as always. Just don’t 
try to shift back

to where you were standing
before all this:

the ground there won’t be as solid
as it used to appear.