Monthly Archives: August 2020

In Memoriam

When light was snuffed. When we
couldn’t see in darkness.

When wind took our power. When we
lay there like infants.

When storm was voice, was all we heard, all
we could hear. When we
waited for other sound: water
rising, trees tearing free, rising on wind
or water.

When fire loomed beyond our vision. When we
could feel heat from such a distance
it would have been as far as fantasy
if we did not know it was real.

When more was clearly going to happen,
then it did. When it happened, and
again when more happened. When we
grew old, grew tired of it happening,
grew inured to it happening.

When it happened at last;
hugely, completely. When we
became exhausted from witness.

When we chose
to move in darkness, fire, storm,
wind, and flood.

When we
did what we could far too late
but did it anyway.

When we
grew up at last.

About That Candle…

It’s said that it is better to light a candle
than curse the dark.

It used to be on a poster somewhere;
now it shows up on flickering screens.

Some of us have learned
how to be at greater peace in darkness

than we ever could be in the light.
Know this: that benevolent flame hurts

from out here. It reminds us
of where we are and how we are

not you. How we have adapted, how some
have even found a way to thrive

in darkness. Out here hope
is a danger, as it has been snuffed out so often

that to approach your distant candle
is an invitation to darkness

more profound for its rushing to take us back
just as we begin to adapt to light

and to imagine that we could have
what you have — although in truth,

some of what we saw there before
the wick failed left us puzzled: why would

what you have be any better than what we have
here — you with your sharp definitions, your

assumed clarity? Out here the world is soft,
we are careful to assume nothing,

and if we ever have cause
to light a fire

it will be one so fed and informed
by the dark we have always called home

that it will make the Shadow
you want to eliminate

grow so large you will beg us
for a way out, for understanding.

The Stench

In first light I see
the black cat waiting for me
below the kitchen window perch.

“Jump up, beautiful girl — you
can do it!” I urge her and she leaps
up light, lands heavy, settles in
to her treats and wet food. The calico
does the same for her bowl across the room;
they are, for the moment, content.

I allow myself a thin smile
before I start the coffee,
before the scent fills the kitchen,
before I look out the front windows,
before I take a breath of the Stench out there.

It takes me a hard breath or two
before I relax into the care
it takes to stand myself upright
in the teeth of the Stench.

Dare I turn on the television? Dare I
open my mail? Dare I think of how things
might be getting better or worse?
Dare I count the dead?
Dare I count the sneers and curses?

Dare I measure
the indifference of the alleged good majority?

Dare I call them out as the deep source
of this smell?

It’s taken me far too long to call it
as I sense it: that it is not behavior seen
or anger heard nearly as much as it is
an odor that chokes me,
makes everything taste less healthy;
an odor so thick it coats my skin
and distorts my touch; a Stench
from a host of graves, blood soaked
so deep into the soil it stains every foundation
and leaks into the roots of every tree
and blade of grass.

In spite of how I choke upon the Stench
the cats seem to ignore it, are purring and happy,
falling back to sleep in their favorite spots
before I pour my first cup of coffee. I suck it down
and here I am again, wondering if today is the day
that I will suffocate at last.

One cat sneezes. I look up to see
the calico stretching and reforming to her tight space.
She wheezes a bit. Might be the Stench,
might be simpler than that.

I’m sure it’s simpler than that.

I need to believe there are those I love
unaffected by the Stench.

My love, asleep still in the next room?
All I want is for her to live through this
and thrive again, breathe clean again.

As for myself, all I ask
is that I may live long enough
to help to clear the air.


If you can keep a secret longer than it takes you
to walk from my mouth to the next available ear

you may learn from me a thing or two
about life itself, or perhaps less than life itself.

It may be the one insight needed, a last piece
to a puzzle you’ve had sitting undone for decades.

Of course, maybe the secret will only light up one absurd corner
of your own prosaic life, and you’ll shrug it off at once.

Or it will be in cipher form and so poorly made
you will lose interest at once and forget it before you’ve cracked it.

You may in fact only learn about my pretentious, pompous persona,
hiding place for a weakling attempting to seem strong.

All you need to do is approach me and ask to hear it.
I swear to you it will be told to you at once. You needn’t hang around.

I’m not the kind to make you stay with me longer than is necessary
for either of us. I will say I am the kind who needs to let it out,

in riddles sometimes but mostly in plain speech. Maybe you
are the same and you will go at once away from me and tell another.

Whatever: the world is always burning more or less everywhere
and if there are things we know that will douse a flame or more,

we should pour them out. So come close and listen. Maybe there’s something here that may save us all that will only work if shared.

If it’s time for sharing it, and you and I
are the only ones here, can we refuse each other?

The Road Taken

Now we are at remarkable.
Passed intriguing and interesting
long ago. Deep into ourselves
we’ve gone and look at the time:
how we marvel at the long run,
at how we fascinate ourselves with ourselves.

Around the corner is obsession.
Around the corner is a track that will take us
off into the trees on the hills above the lake
on the down side of the road. There will be
no turning back once we’re there.

We took this route not expecting we’d be
so into ourselves that we’d be unable to see
others. That we’d be stuck on a road
between drowning and tumbling over rocks
and have to follow it right to the end
into whatever abattoir might be sitting there.

If you sniff the wind, you can tell
how close we’re getting. You’ll call it
perfume, of course. In your head it will smell
like the colors of the flag. Like an eagle
not tearing at your back.

Stuck Inside

Like they woke up trapped
in a Bob Dylan song
between a stack of rickety rocking chairs
and a small band of musicians playing
sad accordions and clarinets

Like they fell back into the Sixties
as if it were a tie-dyed mattress
upon which they’d learned
to screw and sleep with select randoms
Like they can’t get up without groaning
from the broken springs
but that’s the bed they chose to lie in

Like they hoarded money
Keeping it in bags woven from hemp
trimmed in beaten-up motorcycle leather
then crawled in and forgot to come out again

Like they put their hands over their ears
and said it was all alright

Like they heard some fancy blues
and said it was authentic tonic for the times

Like they’d
once upon a time
traveled the whole white world
seeking redemption
found a facsimile
called it good
and stayed stuck
in a rocking chair praising St. Bob
to the sound of wheezing
as they began to drown
in the new morning flood

New Hymnal

I wanted to have the life some of you apparently have
where you are thoroughly in love with the purple throats
of the irises in your yards and ever-tumbling with joy
over the individual reds of the house finches on your feeders

where you dive headfirst into the language of awe
when perched atop a local cliff and sit enthralled
by the fungi you spotted in your neighbor’s yard
wondering if they’d kill you but oh so lovely how could they

If this is how you are I honor your optimism
over the need for beauty and love
in our battle for the lives
we all think we all should live

When it comes to awe I take mine
from the voices of those in pain
who yet struggle to be healed and I say
in the clatter of a world falling apart there is yet

a sacred sound that to me is equal to the slap
of humpback waves on the side of your boat
In the color of poster board rage and flags in revolt
I can see the depth of how staggeringly handsome

humanity can be in the teeth of the gale of repression
and while repression itself has no beauty to it
the response it engenders in those driven against it
for me comes close to the catch in your breath

from the sight of fields of wild lavender
the scent of the earth warming in spring
the petrichor that predicts the end of a drought
that feels to me like the moment the barricades fall

When time comes to me to take in your notion of beauty
I shall take it in as a due reward for pushing through
but until then I will have to hone my grim adoration
for the grim into an edge that will carve down walls

and if you choose to extoll your esthetic as superior
I will turn and hope for the best for you in what is coming
and continue to seek and hope to find a new hymnal
in this moment where the old one has begun to falter


are natural
after a fall
from a height.
Putting pieces
together again
is also natural.
Letting them remain
separate, also
natural. Scattering
them about, also
natural. There is
so much history
for all ways of
dealing with fracture;
when confronted with
breakage there is choice:
knit, spread, or let fall
to ruin, let others
find shards years from now,
try to reconstruct
what happened.
They will get it
mostly wrong, hit on
some sharp edges
and snag some small truths,
but never take it all in.
What it once was
will be called broken
and what it will become,
a new kind of complete;
some knitting of
disparate parts
into new pictures of
what is natural;
some discarding
of what is inconvenient;
some fragmentation
into what they will call
a multifaceted world.

To The Summit

This is only one of many paths to the summit.
On this path the journey is all,
and all the work put it is work
toward the highest point attainable.
Rest is a step, detour is a step, falling
to the rocks below is a step.

This is only one of many paths to the summit.
Steps taken along this path are not counted
unless they advance progress; minimal dawdling
and meandering are welcome but are considered
time wasters when overindulged in spite of
lip service given to the importance of
dream, fancy, and inspiration.

This is only one of many paths to the summit.
On this path one must climb and only climb;
the only thing worth noting is the upward motion;
the calculation only runs upward and one wrong step
resets the count to nothing at all. There are masters
along this path who keep track of the track,
endlessly repeating the mantra: grind, grind, grind.

This is only one of many paths to the summit.
On this path, one turns each corner expecting
a sage will materialize to announce your arrival.
Even now, you are expecting someone to tell you
you are already there no matter where you are on the path.
That someone will not be me. I’m in the mist off the trail
myself, waiting for directions or at least for a sign
that I’m near to my path, or that I should keep sitting
for a while or an age, as if there is still time
or any summit at all ahead.

The Lost Tapes

Somewhere there must be
an archive that explains
all the mysteries that underpin
the truths we collectively accept
as bald and obvious
as sunrise coming
after or before sunset
on where you stand
and how calm you are
about your beginning
either being forged in the dark
or germinating in the growing light
and your end either coming to you
in a dawn blaze
or the dimming
before night slides down
over all you are and
where are the tapes that explain
why you are one way
and others are another
why you are day
and others are night
and why when you meet
you cannot forge wholeness
from your separated selves

Dark Villanelle

Poem from circa 1995. I believe this is the first time posted.

This night of stars that have tunneled through the dark

has kept me up so much later than I should have been up.

A cloud across the moon fills my eyes with tears.


Watching the sun vanish opened up a night of dread.

I sat by the river fearing the dead approach of

this night of stars that have tunneled though the dark


and thrown a wink of infinity against my hope for closure.

I wish I knew who to call. I wish I knew what to say.

A cloud across the moon fills my eyes with tears.


If there were any distance to travel that would take me past the lights

to places where I could not see the open sky, I could say less of

this night of stars that have tunneled through the dark


and kept me up so much later than I should have been up.

In an hour the sun will rise but it cannot dim the memory that, like

a cloud across the moon, fills my eyes with tears.


Night, day, the cycle repeats with no hope of a change

until the day the fist of God slams down upon

this night of stars that have tunneled through the dark.

A cloud across the moon fills my eyes with tears.

Tastes Like Iron

I bite the inside of my mouth. Tastes
like rust, like the inside of a long-uncleaned
tank —old blood, more iron than liquid.

Then I take a picture of my wounded face
and imagine who I’d be if I had better skin,
if I had better eyes and better hair —

you ask, who decides
what better means? If I had the face of another man,
is what I mean by it. A face born in another time,
better suited to another time.

You say I don’t know
what I mean by that, that I look like a man
at rest in his era, but you can’t taste
my antique blood. You can’t understand
how mournful, how wistful that I was not born
in a day unlike our own I can become. How broken
my own face makes me feel.

Lastly, I take a sip of water.
Shake off the messy moment.
Step back into these blowback days.


Uncle says he loves you.
Holds it together for you
in spite of his tornado brains.
Reaches out to pull you off
the diminishment track
ahead of the demolishing train.
Go to your dream space, he tells you. 
I can’t save you but you’ll be safe there.
I have to stay here by the track 
and play bait and bail out songs
to bring the train down to a crawl
that could still kill but you should be able
to get out of the way with only mangled limbs.
This is what Uncle does. He was
never father but was a son, a brother
of sorts at some point, knows
what he expected and never got. Can’t
do it all but has wrestled blue dragons, 
black dogs, and accountants in charge of 
finding you deficient; has beaten back fire,
thrust his arm into snapping jaws, paid debts
all for you. Uncle loves you,
asks nothing more in return than you
bring your own fullness to battle
and be what he wasn’t. Be one thing
he wasn’t and call the account square.
Be more than that and call it paid
with interest.  Be all you can
and take the overpay back,
slay new dragons, tame new dogs,
and even if you don’t
recall Uncle 
forever after
it will be more than enough.

Not Again

Not again:

obvious lie,
the words alone
a weak response
to the moment.

Of course it’s about
to happen again.

I am tired 
of saying it.

I’ve been so tied
to repeating those words
for so long
that my hand
has gone dead
for much beyond 
cutting sad food and 

Any magic
that would work now

will have to move 
beyond chanting.

Silver bullets.
Sacred daggers.

An army raised
in the land of
vengeful dead.


out in the streets —
massed like bristles
in a new broom

an urgent cleansing
in progress —
shaking off dust

chanting —
sound of layers of filth
beginning to shift

what was built from dirt
cannot stand —
new broom wrecking all