Dream-shopping while odd music plays
in the backroom of the dream grocery store.
My foot tapping — wind droning, hand drum beat
and a strum — is that bandurria or
fado guitar? I should know this.
Should be able to differentiate. It’s
my dream after all. I don’t like my
instruments mixed. Give me purity,
not this wholesome mess of intentions,
though I admit to sustained grooving
as I try to pick out something for lunch
that will do more than just sustain me.
I want to eat something transformative.
I want to consume dream-flesh and become
all that suggests. The music keeps playing
and the counter clerk glares at my dawdling
and prodding about what each food can do.
“Try it and see,” is the refrain. “But I can’t
eat it all,” I cry out to the dream space.
I am beginning to love the music now
precisely because I do not understand it.
It’s evidently too much to ask that the food
be as simple as the music is not. If I am to be
transformed it will be on an empty stomach,
possessed by rhythm, longing for more.
I wake up, humming.
Where is my guitar?
So much to do before breakfast.
taking a few days off to recharge and rest up after some minor health issues.
read some poems from the past.
see you soon — I appreciate your attention.
proud of standing up,
getting around to it,
getting on with it.
If a tangle ensues, cutting through.
If a tumble arises, rolling with.
If crisis then double
and address the matter at hand
with a letter to the editor.
Explain the nature of how this ends.
How it makes sense at least within
the circle of its sense
where if in crisis
all meaning moves
more than a little left.
You were there, seated on the low wall,
breathing hard after running. Recovering.
I was there too, though we did not speak.
Both of us had just finished running from
what had chased us. Were we done or just
taking a moment? We never spoke. Our eyes
never met. If we had taken a moment there
we might have learned something, gained
a little time, made a plan to fight back. Might
have stopped, been able to settle, been able
to put down actual roots. Instead we were
caught up in recovery, preparing for
more running and more attempts to escape
and live. This is how it works, how it was
always designed to work. This is how we’ve come
to call this living. It never lets up and
we never learn how many of us there are
running away from the same thing.
This work is not for the cowardly.
Everything in a room or yard could be
weaponized upon first glance;
if not, it could be a key to a room
where land mines are stored, left
carelessly armed and all over the floor
the last time you were in there.
You’ve lost limbs over this before.
It takes time to grow them back.
The growth hurts like hell itself.
Nonetheless you forget all this
the second you begin to write.
Sit and see the things.
All the things.
Make a plan to observe
the best things, the ones
that make for a best you
sitting there pleased
Examine, for instance,
the winter moths still
astonishingly alive, then
think about life in the
concrete, the me music
The things can be harsh
or soft. Sit with them
day or night, sit with
whatever your choice
of time of day or turn
Maybe there’s a dog, maybe
some hawk takes a bird.
Observe the waning moon,
how the night around it
is a shade lighter on one side,
not a comment
on your life or any life,
just the moon being itself
in sunlight’s angled path.
Learn that you
are not the boss of things.
It is good to sit and see them
and learn that things
do not center you, that things
do not even try.
Trying to read
a book tonight
with my name on the cover;
title, “My Story.”
I don’t know
who wrote this but
most of the chapters seem
I hear there’s
a movie being made from it.
I’m sure they won’t ask me to star
or consult me on the script.
Nonetheless, I’ll pay good money
to sit in a theater and watch.
Just me and my Milk Duds, just me and
my giant Coke, just me and some foods
that might kill me. That would be
something, all right. One for the sequel —
a man dies from self-inflicted damage
while watching himself on a screen.
Aren’t you dying to see yourself
fifty times larger than life? Isn’t that how
you want to go — I know I’m good
with it happening that way. It just feels right:
better than dying in bed, better than dying
a hero. When I’m gone you’ll have the fake book
and the lights camera action of the film
to remember me falsely by. Meanwhile,
I’ve got this book to finish and hope
that they cast a better person than I am
to play me. It won’t be hard. This book’s
a good lie, with good bones to work from;
exactly the type of book I’d write about myself
if I were inclined to do so, though I’m not.
I’m better as reader than writer. I’m better
in this than I ever was out there.
The disappearance of light this evening
was a comfort. I’ve fallen out
with the need for engagement, lying here
on the couch with nothing to do
but note every sign of aging
and disabling, no need to hide dismay
or fear. Strangely, I felt none;
it is accounting time.
For once, no feeling other than
a dispassionate summing up.
Outside the feeders have gone night-quiet.
The usual flocks are somewhere
doing the same slow rebuilding
as I am before the light dares us all
to come back into daytime
where every weakness shall be exposed.
Until then? The couch, the thinking,
the steeling of my own wings
for tomorrow’s flight.
and unloved becomes
in our heads and
another’s invalidation shatters
our own experience of
our own validity
them breaking a window
to escape from us
as if we were on fire
translates into us thinking
what we see in the broken glass —
shards, blood, scraps caught
on the points — is an accurate
mirror for who we are
we must close our eyes
to all that
and chant ourselves back
I am not
nor in flames
open your eyes
Used to be when the television got tired
it would briefly display a waving flag
while an old racist song played
(they always played an instrumental and few had heard
or even knew about the racist verse)
and then all would become a burst of static
or the soul-cry from the Emergency Broadcast System
while on screen you’d see a stereotype, what they called
in what they called
a war bonnet
displayed in the center of a bullseye graphic.
Now they just turn their time over to sell, sell, sell.
I’ve always thought the old way was more honest
about who we are,
but was it?
what did you understand beforehand about
the end of your self. what were you told it would be
like. did you prepare accordingly. did you feel
ready when it came and now that it has come
do you know that your eyes have closed
or are you seeing things more sharply now
that all the trappings of your self
are out of the way. maybe this is how
one becomes immortal. no one else ever knows
you are not gone. you see them mourning
and bang on the Glass between you saying
stop, no. i’m not gone. i can see all better
than before. that’s all that’s changed. i see
you and forgive you, love you, wish i had,
wish i had not. it isn’t jesus land here, nor is it
valhalla or even something better or worse.
it’s just here. it’s being here near all of
the everlasting here and always now
and not being able to be a part of it
or even to be seen. we throng here, all of us
longing to be seen and heard
and you don’t can’t won’t
see us. we never left. i’ve gone nowhere.
you can’t see me and cannot realize
how complete the world remains.
how little has changed.
whatever could you have understood
about any of this
if you had been told the truth.
no wonder someone had to invent heaven
and its neighborhood.
Snip snip and a snippet of fabric
tumbles and twirls to the middle
of the floor under the worktable
where it’s going to stay too far
from easy reach, safe from discard
or scrapping for the moment.
We are having a superhero cape made;
no time for the mess we leave behind.
Cape to wear when being heroic. Cape
to fling about dramatically upon victory
or to pull over our face as we slump in
temporary defeat. All the beautiful cloth
in such large dimension. All the dynamic
movement inherent in the drape and shape.
All you need to be a superhero is how you feel
when you’ve got the right cape. The waste
left behind is of no matter. The apparent blood
on the shears: is the blood coming from the hands
of tailors in the crowded shop or (more
fantastically, more illogical but still possible)
flowing in fact from the fabric itself; is it
possible? Do you in fact start with actual skin
to make a superhero cape work
and flow as it should?
It’s not our concern;
someone else makes the cape. We just twirl it,
make a great show of twirling it
as we put a supervillain temporarily away
because to vanquish them utterly we’d likely have
to take off the cape and get down on the floor.
Someone else gets down on the floor
to clean up the blood and the scraps;
then snip snip, start on a new one,
or perhaps on a shroud.
They have their calling. We have ours.
We live for the show. They are lucky to live.
revised — originally posted 2/11/2018
American Gothic is a very famous painting
Experts like to argue about which America it’s about
One thing I think we can all agree on
is that the picture is centered on a pitchfork
We like to think we’re different
We like to think we’re beyond it
We like to think we’re not the ones
who are supposed to hold the pitchfork
Our biggest problem?
Out of an excess of kindness
we have let the other side pick up
all the torches and pitchforks
No one’s scared of
any of us because
we said “this can’t be happening”
instead of “where’s my pitchfork”
It’s not the exclusive tool of the devil
It’s just another tool on the rack
We can’t make hay while our sun dims
We need to learn our way around a pitchfork
Boycotts chants and votes do matter
They matter even more when
it’s clear that behind all our moves
are the tines of a forest of pitchforks
It is good to punch the obvious ones
but eventually we will have to get around
to watching a billionaire wriggle
on the end of a pitchfork
So go and look at that painting
Put yourself in it and imagine the feel of the handle
No one in there looks happy but they surely have
a hold on that blessed pitchfork
Look at you there: holy,
solid, and still, as if all night
you had been walking the dark paths
of a once-familiar wilderness,
of predation and mishap
nearly piercing you the whole way
— and now you’ve come
to a clearing and are standing there
under the blessing of the moon.
You cannot forget
the sounds that terrified you
but without them
pushing from all sides
you would not be here now.
Look at you, holy:
honoring the howling as holy;
as holy as this silence,
as holy as this light,
as holy as all else.
I’ve posted a rare public note on the craft behind this poem on my Patreon account, if you’re interested.
I’m good. I’m OK with this
walking, talking, working, being —
all the while wading through, falling in,
playing in, loving in a field of shit.
I’m OK with this. I’m good.
Live with it long enough
and you will be too. I mean
live with it, really learn
the game of shit, the process of it.
How we made this for ourselves.
How we added blood and flesh
to the mix to make shit into bricks.
How we Rumplestilskinned it into
this yellow stuff and called it gold.
You love to be revolted by it.
I’m good enough now with it to admit it
and if not to embrace it at least
to know how far away we are
from a clean-up. You are going gentle into it,
gently forward as if you ever could be clean
having been born here, raised here, made here.
You won’t even admit you can smell it
on yourselves. You say it’s the other
side. You say a lot of things, talking shit
and it smells like it. I’m OK with it
which is not about acceptance
as much as it is about seeing it and saying
it’s there. It’s everywhere. I’m soaking in it
up to my neck sometimes and sometimes
I play in it just to keep from drowning.
Sometimes I even enjoy the game. Sometimes
I even dig the music. Sometimes I have to
take a little joy from watching the horror
rather than let my self slip underneath
the crust on top, never to come up again.