Monthly Archives: October 2020

I Had To Leave The Room

I had to leave the room
what with all
that yipping and yapping
How does one decide

how to sort through it all
How does one choose
what and who to save
and who and what to toss

After a long season of noise
that seemed to miss
such obvious points
about the terms of the argument

and since all in there are still committed to
a belief in the creaking house
they’re standing in
that seen from out here is clearly

about to crack and fall
I had to leave the room
and kneel on the earth itself
that is patiently waiting

for the walls to crack and fall
thus returning to the depleted soil
the gypsum in the drywall
the limestone in the cement

all the wood that frames the walls
and all the bickering flesh they hold
I had to leave the room and come outside
Listening to the screaming inside

while kneeling out here on the ground
I began to gain patience from seeing how
the earth has suffered so long
from screeching humans and yet

survived more or less so well that
even with all the depredation
it will take only the Collapse and
a subsequent century or so

before it heals itself well enough
that all this yipping and yapping
will be forgotten
It will not be the same but

the world will be quieter and that
will be a huge step forward
I had to leave the room
for a minute to see it is too late

to save the room and to resign myself
to how much pain there will be when it implodes at last
I kneel on the earth bent with fear and joy
knowing the weight of what is to come


Certain people
have stories
about nights
they couldn’t sleep
for the wind whistling
in the crabbed trees
outside their childhood
and how the sound
masked the steps
of the bad parent
coming up the stairs

They tell them
every chance they get
the rest of us
are condemned sailors
and this is our part to play
in their lives

One of them
is bending my ear
almost double right now
with the weight of
that long ago inflicted
still acute pain

and I’m chafing
at the telling because
I’ve got my own
long rehearsed story
queued up and ready to go

and there doesn’t seem to be
an opening for it here

We’ve all been there I know

Don’t you hate how
that weight
hanging from your neck
gets heavier with
their every word

That Deadly Angel

Simply stated, tonight
I have looked at my life.
Where there should be

terror and misery, I find instead
the face of peace and
a sliver of beauty,

what Rilke called
a form of terror
located this side of terrible.

Maybe I’m not far enough in
to see the far side tonight
and fall to my knees in fear.

If so, then this is as far
as I care to go right now.
I will allow myself to pretend

for an evening. The horror
in my life can remain beautiful
tonight. Let me sleep till

the broad light of day.
I’ll deal with it all then,
and at least have the memory

of this peace to steel me
as I turn to face
that deadly angel.

If Your Shadow Hatches

If your shadow ever
breaks open before you
and a shinier you pops out
like a fresh chick from a dark egg

what you should do
is eat the shell at once, swallow it whole
(because nutrients, y’know)
then shoo that newbie away into the forest
or desert or teeming city streets —
wherever you find yourself —
to fend for itself.

Swallow enough of your shadow
and you will change for the better,
we promise. Look
at how that new you is doing,
for instance. Whenever its shadow
hatches a shinier child
it sucks up those fragments
then mothers that new bird
all the way, every day.

You wouldn’t do any of that, of course.
You wouldn’t have a clue.
You would drink in front of the kid
and kick it and call it names
until it wilted or rotted clean through
and dulled itself right back to being
just like you —

which is why we’re telling you,
don’t do it. Don’t try.
It will hate you for it
but be infinitely better off on its own
even if it doesn’t survive,
and the rest of us will be, too, because
no one needs another just like you.

Another Stumble On the Ring

A joint smoldering in the ashtray.

I’m breaking my own rule
about trying to write behind smoke.

It hardly matters other than
as a break in my routines,
my long and stubborn tradition
of disliking the way I write
when I’m smoking.

I come back to it,
usually the next morning,
look it over and moan.
Then, it’s gone.

I wonder where I’d be
if I’d ever grown to like
the looser words
I too often saw.

I will have
another chance to reject
this. Another step upon
the ring around the sun
I call my control.

Do Not Despair

To all my well-loved ones
throughout this time,
across all this space,
I beg you not to despair
for more than a moment
over that which appears
desperate and beyond change,

for the single lesson of history
is that anything
may shift in any direction
at any point
through the appearance
of something unexpected:

a plague,
a wayward ship,
a rogue wind,
a single bullet.

All we must do,
always, is learn
to see the open door
beyond the moment,
gather ourselves into
a phalanx of hope,
and walk through.


If only I could tell you
everything I know
about this space
into which you have come

and see how your face might change
as you learned of what is in
those dark corners
and got a glimpse under

its shadow-born foundation
to see the hard stone
it is built on,
I might feel better

about how I breathe now.
I might learn to inhale
without fearing the worst
has entered me.

I might imagine
exhaling no trace
of poison into
your available air.

Instead, wordless and unable,
I sit and wait for you to just feel
the same nameless
everything I know.

It’s all I seem to be able
to do: this waiting, this stunted
breathing, this fear of full living.
This selfish dying within

that offers you nothing
but precipice.
It is unfair to assume
that you should fall when I do.

Shedding Grace

The driver of the white Sentra in front of me 
at this legendary most dangerous intersection in the city

has tossed a handful of crumpled bills into the face
of a panhandler on the curb. 

He’s turned left onto the highway ramp,
accelerated, is gone.
I could see him laughing
through his open window
before he got away.

I turn wide around the old man
as he steps off the curb into traffic, 
bending to try and collect the money
before the wind takes it.

If this were not
the most dangerous intersection
in the city, I would stop to help,
or at least to block the cars
behind me. As it is

I’m hydroplaning
as I turn onto
that same ramp —

slipping toward ruin
on a puddle of shed grace.

eBooks available!

I have eBooks/PDFs of my work available for sale to those who might be interested. All were previously offered as rewards to various tiers of my Patreon subscribers (a program I will be continuing there, btw). If you want access to the most recent collections as they come out, I’d go there. Just sayin’.

The titles include:
Annual “best of the year” collections. Currently available: 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021.

“Then Play On,” a chapbook of poems about music

Pushpins and Thumbtacks,” a volume about icons and cliches of American culture

“Noted In Passing,” a revised eBook of a chapbook from 2012 that was a limited edition written for a single feature

“White Pages,” my collection of poems related to race and its role in my life

Decay Diary,” a collection of poems about aging

In the Time Of Contagion,” a collection of poems about you-know-what

“The Wrong Flowers,” a prose/poetry meditation on the state of the USA in 2020

Show Your Work,” an eBook version of an earlier, out of print chapbook.

“The Day,” a selection from 20 years of poems about 9/11/01.

“Ideation,” a short collection of poems old and new about living with depression and suicidal ideation.

“Long Winded,” a collection of longer poems.

“songs for reluctant warriors,” poems for the US political moment of early summer, 2022.

“3 Quarters” released in October 2022. Random and recent.

Minimal # of repeats among the collections.

All are available as both PDF and ePUB formats.

If you are interested, let me know with a comment on this post. Right now? They are 1 for $5 through Paypal, 3 for $12. We can talk about more if you want more.


American Fugue

Welcome. Everybody is welcome.
Tired masses, welcome.
Those who were brought here, welcome.
Those who were here, welcome.
Old and new family, welcome all around
to everybody in line right now.
You are all the tired masses right now
and right now everybody
has to get in line. Get in line, everybody.
Lines being drawn, drawn around the tired masses.
The tired masses. We are everybody,
we who are tired. Masses of us
in lines, welcome. Welcome to the lines.
Welcome to the masses.
Open up your windows and your hearts
to the people in line. Break a window if you must,
if it’s holding you back. The cops will be by
shortly to handle the broken windows
between you and the tired masses.
The cops are so tired of the masses.
The line forms before the masses.
Get behind this line, masses.
Get behind this good blue line.
Everybody is welcome to stand
in line behind the line.
Welcome to standing in line
behind or in front of that blue line.
You will be asked to speak. Know your lines.
Know where you stand. Speak. Stand.
String yourself out along your line.
Lines tugged back and forth.
Every line, also a string.
Your strings are being pulled.
Strings are being pulled everywhere.
The cops are not pulling the strings.
The cops are just pushing the line.
Did you forget who pulls the strings?
Welcome, everybody, to the line.
Choose a line to stand behind.
See where you stand
and see who’s behind you.
is watching everybody
to see where everybody else
chooses to stand.
Everybody is so tired.
Welcome to the fatigue state.
Welcome everybody.
The minute you think, you fall.
The second you fall,
in that second you are more than welcome.

Old Friends Hike Up The Mountain And Back Down

Hardest work of all in all of this,

he said while gesturing at
our world below this cliff
we’d climbed for what we suspected
would be the last time we’d have together,
his lean arm stretching
to arc over the panorama
of mostly autumn forest
with here and there
a spot of town peeping through,

the hardest work I’ve found in all of this,
in looking upon all of this so late in
my struggle to leave something behind
of value to all,

is to accept that one thing
I cannot help leaving behind
is bad memories of who I was
in so many. Even if you convince me
it’s not as many as I think.
Even if you convince me that
those memories will dissolve
in the good I’ve done. Even if
you convince me that
even the bad memories
add some value — no,

I cannot accept it.
I will leave unresolved debts
with those I have harmed,
no matter how long ago —

hard work notwithstanding,
I will leave some behind
to whom I owed better than I gave
and those debts will be my truest legacy.

I reached out to touch his arm,
to reassure one of us at least
that he’d been a good man,
mostly, but by then
he was beyond touch
and reassurance and as we
started back down the trail
to our car, I could feel
my own debts massing
not far away, waiting to gnaw me
in the same darkness
into which he’d just flung himself.


My brain slows to a crawl by noon most days
so I rise early to cram in any hard thinking
required by my calling. After that
I slide downward toward manual effort and
eventually end up in something like catatonia
because I cannot find my words
for how this sudden downfall takes me
from laughing bright and sharp to mourning for
the fading light behind my eyes. Once upon a time
I had it going on at least from dawn to dusk
and often well past midnight. Now I’m a mess
by the time lunch rolls around from recalling
how all I had going for me from day one
was my intellect and now that is going away
like a protective glove being pulled off my hand
by the gears of a terrible machine that will chew up
my weakening arm and swallow me entirely one day.

Appropriation 2

A friend, a chef,
uses the same secret ingredient
in anything they make, and all they make
are acclaimed masterpieces.

Naturally, they have told no one what they use
and just as naturally we try to guess,
as much for the game of it
as for the gossip or theft

since no one believes that using any one substance
is all it would take to replicate any of their dishes.
We suspect they are in fact
using some magic for their results

as opposed to a tangible spice for what else could explain
the signature spell of their food
from first course to last bite of dessert?
I will not say we are transformed by it,

instead will say we are transported.
So we needle and wheedle and bug them: tell us,
we say. Don’t try to laugh it off and say
it’s all about the love, either; we can tell it’s more.

We know esoteric when we taste it. This is
esoterica. You got your hands on something
and we will leave you to your own use of it
once we too have it on our hands,

even if it’s blood. So tell us. All we want
is the flavor. If it demands a sacrifice or a torture
we already know you took that pain, and thank you
for that — but it’s over. Why should anyone else suffer?

Sitting Up In Bed Soaked And Desperate

I’m trying to convince myself,
not for the first time,
that if I can just get all my ancestors
to stop warring against each other
inside me, I will get better.

That until I make a truce happen,
I will be at their mercy.

That if I can calm them
and put them to sleep
they will never again make me
sit up straight in bed
soaked and desperate,
wondering who among them
from which side of the family
had spoken the death-spell
that roused me: “here you go with
that stupid half-breed shit again.”

That I have healed myself
from history and its consequences.

I’m trying to convince myself
that if I somehow put them together
to talk out all the violent years among them,
they — and I — would be OK.

That they would throw a party
to honor me.

That they would gather in a hall
somewhere to mingle and laugh,
to smudge the air and toast
the better days ahead,
waiting for the healed me
to make a great entrance
down a broad staircase.

That after everything
we’d gone through together,
I would not fling myself down the stairs
to die at the bottom among them.

See, I’m trying to convince myself
I won’t fuck it up.

That all my pain
comes from my past
and fixing that
will save me.

It’s that stupid half breed shit again,
I tell myself. The need to become
the site of the peace accord.
The broker between the factions.
The broken one who heals all
and himself in the process —

but once again
I’m sitting up in bed
soaked and desperate
with no one but myself
to blame, and I don’t even know
who that is.

The Sacred

Any time at all, the sacred.
Over the moon with that which calls.
Behind the diner, making God.
All night. Staring at the ceiling. Unable to breathe.
Break syntax in case of emergency, is what the doctor said.
Pick up after. Leave it as good as it was.
Did you wash? Are you clean enough to be jewelry now?
Want to see you, sparkler. Want to see you, altarpiece.
I require nothing from you, sacred. I take you whole.
Whole and puzzled and here we are at church everywhere.
Profane left behind, mundane made sacred. You’re the priest.
Also, the deity. Also, the adversary. (Also, no adversary, no deity.)
I am coming to look you in the eye and beg you to stand up.
Stop pretending you are anywhere else.