Your parents are going away,
diminished ghosts drifting off.
Whatever shall you do?
They are feeble, spiteful clouds
now, raining perpetually on everything.
You dry and fold their clothes
and fret to yourself about how
you will ever empty the house
while they thunder, cast bolts, start fires.
In other words, you keep living as you always have,
doing all the hard work you think is necessary
to hold them, like smoke, in your hands.
Nothing has changed. Look down at those palms,
those naked palms. All that’s there is a scent
you can’t follow to learn where they are going.
Check yourself. There appears to be
a thin coating of slime
on your affirmation of purity,
a subtly gleeful aggression
in the way your principles allow you
such arrogance, perhaps indicative
of a willed inability to compare and contrast
your own righteousness on one subject
to your complicity on another.
If I were looking into a mirror
while doing and saying these same things
I hope I’d shut up and tear my face off.
If I found your face underneath mine
I do not know what I could do
except wall myself in with mirrors
so I would always remember
where I came from and never be able
to go back into the world.
If I later tore that face off to find beneath it
only the bones that history gave us both,
I would do the only thing left to do:
go back out there and let the people I’d hurt
judge me, then shun me or embrace me as they choose
while I bled and tried to grow something new.
My last great literary act
is to admit out loud that
I’ve always been repeating myself
and it’s no longer enough.
It used to be enough.
I would tell myself
in response to writing a bad poem
I was at least being original.
Then came the moment when
I saw I was not, but kept trying.
Today I can see
the whole point of me: there’s been
just one, there’s been
only one poem I’ve ever written, I’ve been
endlessly rocking the same poem
with different words; I have repeated it
only out of desperation, then walked up to you
and shook you
over and over with the same motion
and glazed sensibility,
wanting to be
I fooled myself into thinking
I deserve from you.
here’s a new book for your consideration
called “I Repeat Myself: The Villanelles.”
I know it’s the same as my last book,
“Once Again: The Sonnets.”
I see you already looking away.
Bear with me, give it a read, give it a listen,
give it the old college try. Give it
your full attention, even if only briefly.
You won’t have to read it more than once.
Enraged at unknown others’
words and actions
read or heard about or seen
through a screen, I say
so often to myself,
“May Death take you…”
as a curse upon them.
I walk away muttering, change
the channel muttering,
drive past muttering; I throw
the middle finger, sometimes
I even shout out loud in the car.
Then I grow ashamed of myself:
who am I to lay this magic
like a bludgeon upon these people?
I try and try to change, to say:
may Death take you
as a taxi would, to your
May your ride
be white-knuckled and filled
with obscene commentary from
a wild-eyed driver,
but may you end up
where you need to be.
May Death take you
in a horse cart to
a field of long grasses
and small blue flowers
on long stems that scratch you
as you walk to the center of
the centering meadow,
where you shall lie in the sun,
itchy from the passage,
but where you wanted to be.
May Death take you
in Death’s time
as Death wills it,
being what you are.
May Death take me
when my work is done,
as soon as it is done;
may Death take you
before you can finish yours.
May Death take us both
as we would like to be taken
whether or not our work is done:
gently, with a pat on the back
or the head as we are guided past
the Veil and through the Gate,
and may I not see you there.
I knew a broken shell
with a name and a shape,
a solid being somehow
more or less invisible
to people on the street
where they lived.
Some said they had
some said they cracked
in the recent past,
some said nothing. Most
said nothing, just crossed
themselves or looked
away from the thing
the recycle bins once a week.
It was the eyes or the clothes
or the nonsense they spouted
that kept people looking away
and one day they did not
come around anymore, some said
they were the dead found behind
the convenience store but there was
disagreement about that but not about
how much my dog missed them,
how they loved to pat my dog
whenever they passed my own
precariously inhabited building,
long out of code, the unregistered cars
in the driveway, the weary yard
full of feeders and birds; whoever
that cracked shell was, I didn’t know,
but I trusted my dog
for missing them when they were gone.
To see yourself. To see another.
To reach out to touch when invited.
To be touched in return at your own invitation.
To strip another, then play.
To be stripped by another, then played with.
To strip mutually and play together.
To take on full nakedness and take on all else that way.
To wear the playclothes, to take on all the toys.
To be yourself. To be another. To be each other.
To play with another at being selves or others.
To arch and stretch and turn and moan together or alone.
To do nothing like anything already spoken of.
To find another way to see the Fire and chase it.
To come to the edge of the Fire and run with it as it gallops along.
To run alone or with others parallel to the edge of the Fire.
To leap across into the char behind the Fire’s edge.
To leap back again. To do the great back and forth across the Fire.
To be flame resistant. To be Fireproof. To be unscathed.
To be singed. To be the Fire. To be burned.
To find yourself or another in the burn.
To never cease burning. To live on Fire.
Advice so frequently given
it’s almost an instinct:
Don’t go to bed angry.
But what if we’ve been hearing it wrong,
forgetting a comma and a capital letter:
Don’t go to bed, Angry? What if
Angry is a being? A trollish
essential worker. Angry’s job is
a work-through-the-night position.
Angry doesn’t and shouldn’t sleep, runs
on maintenance shop coffee and off-brand corn chips.
Chows down on liverwurst on white with mustard
at 2:37 AM. Fuels up to poke your fires
all damn night. Burns off the reluctance
and the civilization you cherish
to keep you warm and alive. Angry
gets a bad reputation only because
they’re working class efficient, proletarian
strong in the face of the Big Bad.
Get up and see Angry at the foot
of your bed holding your armor.
Go to bed, Angry. Thank you for keeping watch.
We should count on you more than we do.
We ought to take a note, stay up, see
what the Big Bad’s been up to
while we sleep. You can whet a blade better
in the dark, at any rate — see the sparks,
smell the burned metal. Angry
keeps us honest, ready. Don’t go to bed,
Angry, as long as there are billionaires to scare.
The clinic at my old university
is a parking lot full of hope and fear.
One odd man in a boonie hat
pacing, obviously talking to himself
or to someone on an unseen phone;
from here it seems like he needs convincing.
Pairs of college kids laughing
and walking masked toward their gym.
The older couple complaining
as they return, unvaccinated,
to the car, that now they’ll have to
get all geared up for it again.
I’m sitting in my car
already double shot and thinking
about whether it will ever seem
like forever ago that we were here —
not wishing to go back to all the chaos
that got us here; more precisely,
that someday we will be in a place
where past as prologue means
that we shall find ourselves wiser,
steeped in a new understanding.
The secret to not feeling pain
is to swim in a world of hurt
so thick and profound
you cannot tell the difference between
agony and getting by.
I’m sorry if this
suggests that personal heartbreak
is my job to such a point
that I appear to have tattooed it
on my eyes, shading everything.
Believe me, I wish that were true
for it would suggest that I believed
in redemption, that I believed that
erasure was possible with
work that allows for art’s divine intervention.
I might believe that, if
the right god had ever appeared to offer
a hand. If the art had ever taken me closer
to that throne — bah. There’s no
one throne, no matter what the books say.
I’ve read them all, even written a few.
The secret to not feeling agony
is to make a place to put its overflow.
Art can do that. It can’t erase it completely,
but out there, somewhere: equilibrium.
Overhead, one bird of prey.
Most likely redtail but surely a hawk
surmised from shape and behavior,
but in truth its identity for me is uncertain
from this angle.
Not a vulture,
of course; those are obvious
from below by the fingered wings,
the circles tightening and lowering.
no true clue.
I should know this.
Once upon a time, I did
or thought I did. I spent more time
outdoors, from predawn
to deep into the night;
I looked up more often. I was confident
every time I pronounced my
identification of the shapes above.
I was, I’m sure, as wrong
as often as I was right
back then. Am I smarter now
that I just shake my head and say,
“I have no sense of truth
when faced with this, other than
the truth that I am simply thrilled
to see it out my front window
and am relieved to know
that is no vulture out there circling me,
at least not one I can see.”