Monthly Archives: April 2021


In his head, loud
had always meant final

and had been the sound
of closing. It briefly surprised him

to find that his staggering in silence
after the loud was closer to the mark.

The bullets screwed through him
noiselessly on their trajectories.

The sweep of pain throughout his body
did not make a sound

and smothered
all the rest.

Death did it all
with a long white finger to his lips.

Four In the Morning

Up and at it,
four in the morning.

I’m not an insomniac.
I just went to sleep early
and got up early, yet somehow
I am dismayed;

can’t imagine why
I’m being subjected
to such disturbances at
this hour;

don’t get why birds dig singing
in “darkest before the dawn”
time, don’t get the junkie upstairs
rearranging furniture since 2 AM;

do not relish the too-loud scraping
of my bracelet against the shell
of my keyboard — the bracelet
I never take off as it speaks of

what you might need to know
if by chance you find me dying.
I suppose that’s also what I’m typing
at four in the morning: tales

of who I am and what you should know
in case you come upon me alive
or dying or even
long dead;

one of those things is that
I am the kind of man who will get up
at four in the morning, get out of bed
and step away from sleep to ruminate

on the natural order: birds singing
before dawn; an addict unable
to consider others; a small noise,
metal on metal; a slight clatter

I’ve heard so often I only notice it
when I need to fold it into my art
and change it from random annoyance
to a metaphor for life and death

at four in the morning, late April,
spring beginning to spring just before dawn.


Shocked by the daily news
being revealed as a lie and then being
walked back?

This country is a manipulation by nature.
Why did you ever think
anything that makes that work

would diminish, can diminish?
Expecting truth to come out
is a misunderstanding of what it is.

This country
is liquid by nature.
It tries to drown the truth

every time it opens its trap.
The truth disappears
in the flood. It stands there

under the surface, immobile.
You think it’s dead because
of that? Truth never dies.

It just stands still, hidden
from view, disguised by this country’s
hard, dishonest work.

But it doesn’t die. It holds
its breath. It stands there
in the muck, remembering

the existence of tides.


If you’re going to go, just go,
sneer the seemingly-healthy. They tell you
that announcing your departure from anywhere
before you go is all about seeking attention
and drama. Just ghost the party, the friends,
the community. No need to announce the exit,
sneer the seemingly-healthy. The ones
who feel entitled
to owe no one else a damn thing.

I think of the ones I knew
who just left, ghosting from parties,
news feeds, friend lists;
I count the ones
who then slew themselves
before we knew they were gone.

I think of the ones
who made some gesture
before departure, something
dramatic, clumsy; some outcry;
I count the ones
who are still here
because someone responded.

Don’t hang up, I used to plead.
I’d hang on as long as I could hear them
still there, still breathing.

No one uses a phone that way anymore.
Now I send a begging text, an instant message,
a public post —

You still here?
Why don’t you respond?

The Fool’s Dance

You thought you were safe
from what you had asked for,
you fool, even as you pulled it
toward you.

As the moonlight
fell across you in the garden,
naked from the waist up, carving
the runes into the slab of oak,
saying to yourself that safety
depended on your sure strokes and
not seeing at all that this is how
it was meant to be

it approached, concealing itself
within your certainty, your common
spirituality, your academic slant
upon such things.

You followed all the rules
and said everything right
as you worked

and so it came upon you, chuckling
in spite of itself, hearing from afar
the slight mistake you’d made:
thinking you were in control
of what you’d be summoning.

You look up.

There it is, not looking quite
as you’d expected but eager to begin
the ancient fool’s dance:
the side step, the menacing curtsey,
the too-close bow.

The leap.


With no regret for how I have been refined
by the decline of who I long thought I was
into this realization of what I truly am.

With no regard for what others may think of me
in my next stage — whether they pity me or break free
of me, whether they care for or studiously avoid me.

With no clear choice as to how I must plod through
the remainder of this current stage as it becomes
a bog sucking at my steps, begging me to stop, rest, and rot.

With no revelation in the transformation as it unfurls me
into some flag for others to marvel at or fear, the borders
of my territory becoming clear though little within is obvious.

With no usable personal history to back me up as I puzzle through
to whatever is next, and no proven sense of what might be next
as those who might know and pass this way cannot speak my tongue.

With everything I have said being true,
I once again come to the window in the morning
and, as always, raise the blinds to see the sun.

White Whale

If “the Other” continues
to bother you into madness
simply by existing,

by being elusive,
by being
your fixation,

I shall warn you
of the consequences
by reminding you of Captain Ahab,

of how he hunted, how he died,
of how his violence and obsession
changed the whale not at all;

of how the Great American Story
isn’t named for the captain,
but for the focus of his hatred.

Call them whatever
you want, but remember:
in this story Moby Dick

shall also be Ishmael,
at once wounded and triumphant,
the one left to tell the tale.

Look Out Kid, It’s Something You Did

You built a fire
by which to keep warm
and which you hoped
would keep demons away,

a fire you tended badly
and let burn mile after mile
of the earth, let the ash
poison the sea,

not to mention your role
in what it did to the air
and all the flesh and hair
that burned as well.

Now you have the nerve
to fall in love with a song
that insists you never built it,
and all I can think of

is how much you must love
the tale of Peter denying Jesus
and somehow being
forgiven for it.

Cops And Robbers

Think about how many
of your youthful TV loves
opened with the sound
of a gun.

Think about how many
movies you used as a mold
opened and closed with
the sound of a weapon at play.

Think about how much
of how you used to play
needed the sound of a weapon
for the games to work right.

Think about how easily
random items could become
guns and swords in your
magically fatal hands.

Think about how happy
it made you to gun down
a playmate, relegating them
to play dead on the battlefield lawn.

Think about how they used to get up
after being dead and take their turn
to kill you back and how you went on
taking turns till the streetlights

came on and you were called away
from all the killing by higher powers
to eat something and watch a little more
killing before bedtime.

Think about how surprised you still are
that killing them now leaves
the dead on the ground.
Think about how real blood smells.

Shudder to think of them rising.
Thrill to the thought of how you grew up
into who you are: barely chagrinned, relieved
that none of them will get their turn.

A Tub of Eels

Behind a small head of smoke
on a Friday night, taking care
of business, keeping it real, tight
and clean, at the same time weeping
at all these near-exhausted cliches
which so perfectly summed him up
without one ounce of novelty needed
to make them more precise;
how did it happen
that he had become
so easy to describe?

He’d stopped trying,
he guessed. It didn’t feel
at all that way to him,
he felt so tired
from what he’d thought
was strenuous work to maintain
his freshness,
yet here he was:

it had to be a clerical error.
It had to be a mistake in the math.
It had to be in the calculations
that decided what was effort and
what was just getting by.

Behind a small head of smoke
on a Friday night, baseball on the
television, words slipping
around themselves
like a tub of eels, the way
they always have. Taking care of
business, the business
of herding eels; looking for
the outlets they use for escape —

and still he’s so tired
of himself. So tired and stale.
He’s been doing this
for longer than the cliches
have existed. They were cut
to fit him, tailored to his form;
they fit too well to just throw away
no matter how worn they all were.


Coherence requires
contrast; aberration
affirms the norm.

In daylight every thick shadow
opens doors and offers

at night, even at a distance,
any pinprick glow
will do the same.

I grew up thinking
this was nonsense,
of course, encouraged

by all that is considered
normal to maintain purity
of existence, strict protocols

for what should happen when,
what should be where. I think
the first time I saw the moon

in the same sky as the sun and realized
that even in daylight its dark side
remained hidden yet was also present,

the pins that had held down
what is and is not normal
began to tumble within me

as if I was a cylinder into which
a key had entered, and full delight
was opened to me in that moment.

The Long Tract

The last time I looked
I had not fulfilled
any of my early promise.

Then again,
the hell with that.
The rewards I’d expected

were given by assholes,
and designed to reinforce

It’s as if my early promise
had their scent to it but after a life
of stinking up their joint their way

I’d opened a window
and breathed deeply of air
that smelled so different

I smelled different
after one breath. They couldn’t
take me in now, of course;

said I was a dud after all, said deep down
they always knew I would be.
I’m still myself, of course,

award-free yet tasting
not at all like sour grapes, surprising
myself if I am to be honest,

which I thought was the point.
I always thought that was the point;
tell the truth, do it clean,

let the rest take care of itself.
Maybe there are rewards for showing
late promise? Maybe there are none

and the reward now
is the increasing scent
of the outdoors

and the diminishing scent of
where I longed to belong, the smell
of trophies that pass through

the long tract into filthy hands.
The reward now is not having
to scrub myself raw

every time
I look at where
I’ve been.

Pirate Song (Red Flag)

Mystery flag fluttering over a face
in a bar with no open window
or ceiling fan yet there it is stretched out
over someone, you know you can see it
but you keep staring at that face
trying to ignore the flag,
how it has no apparent color
in the dim light but you know the color
without seeing it, the dulled crimson,
the carmine warning now fully extended
in a wind blowing you toward it
from offstage cold front, now gale, 
not quite hurricane yet but getting there,
you’ve always been a sucker for the red
snapping in rhythm to irresistible forces,
you’ve never been an immovable object 
no matter how hard you try and try, 
the red flag over your own head a testimonial
to the danger you have learned to cultivate
when it presents itself and now
as you rise from your seat to go to the bar
you’ve got the wind at your back and 
all your pirate cells are singing.

What Should Remain Unsaid

Chop wood, carry water, sing; 
all about the same, I think.

Every word, blow, or step the same, I think. 
Perhaps I should think less but carry wood
or chop water feel the same
to me, feel like my song.

The pen shall be at once axe or bucket;
the words written in cuts upon the logs
shall leak music.

As for splitting chunks
(looking at the grain and picking your spot)
or pouring the water out when you get there
(careful not to slop too much over), which of those
is not also worth a song?

Sing, then. Do not speak of singing.
Carry water, and sing; chop wood, and sing;
don’t stop to talk of these things.

The Envelope

It became clear
that arriving at a last good place
would never happen
under my own power,
so I surrendered 
and decided to put myself
into an unaddressed envelope
to see where I might end up. 

Once inside I sealed it behind me
and kept pushing
until I reached the far corner.
The light within was a paradox:
it got brighter the farther I went;
at the end it was more blue
than the sky I’d forsaken
to get here.

From inside
I could hear the mail carrier
approach heavy stepping,
singing; and I flattened myself
to fit, excited to see
where I’d end up;

then I remembered
that I’d never felt anyone do anything
to the outside — no address, not even
a return label, and no postage.

I’m still here and still 
I remain elated as I am carried
out into the world, knowing 
that when I arrive and burst through
it will likely be be dimmer there than
it is in here, but then again
it may not be, and until then it’s
perfect here in the far corner
of the envelope; even when
I close my eyes, I can feel the light.