Monthly Archives: December 2021

Messages

This is a message
from oatmeal and cinnamon

From blueberries and
dark amber agave nectar

It reads
You keep hope alive sport

All this will be worth it
one of these days

And then there’s a message
from a walk through the swamp

From trash below the boardwalk
and the sight of a fox not far off

It reads
Nothing is easy but restoration is possible

and what is worth restoring
is wary — but it is nearby

Finally a message
from the bed you so want to replace

full of lumps and bad springs
that eclipse all the wholesome memories

It reads
Get your rest while you can sport

You will need it 
in the coming good times

if indeed
they come in their own good time


The Steering Wheel

In cars drivers 
clothed for mistakes
they made years before
grip steering wheels
they barely need as
the cars work
those same routes
every workday.

After years of 
dressing and driving
like this, they 
know in their 
bones that to imagine
different roads
would tear them
to shreds.

They clench
the steering wheels,
their teeth; they clench
their buttocks
as their cars go 
where they always go.

There by the roadside,
a steering wheel.
The sound of 
someone screaming,
or cheering.


Adult

Moved to dance
in the hallway of 
my childhood home
as it is empty now
and the echoes of
feet on the floor
will disturb no one

Trying to choose
a beat to work
from among
the memories of all
the songs I tried
to listen to here
but was told to turn down

People who know me today
can’t hear the caterwauling
that goes on within for my denied past
Symphony of what I never had
when I lived here
If they did they’d understand
but perhaps if they did they’d flee

Moved to dance
but unable to
Frozen in remembrance 
of all that glory unused
I settle myself back into stillness
as it is easier than trying
to choose


Alarm

When you are uncertain
about where that nearby
car alarm is going off

and your own car is out of sight
and you can’t say for certain
what your alarm sounds like

you might want to pull
some pants on before
stepping into the cold

to see if you are responsible
for your own awakening
and any others out there

When you are sure that
it’s not you but
the silver Acura parked

across the street and up
the block in the driveway
of the only single family home

around here 
The one whose occupants
you’ve never even seen

you step back into the foyer
and wait to see who comes out
but no one does

You cannot go back to sleep
wondering if it shut off by itself
after what seemed like an hour

or did it get shut off
by someone inside using
a remote 

Someone remote and
unseen who lives among us
putting forth disruptions

like small bombs that will trouble
our sleep until the day
we no longer hear them at all

and thus will be destroyed


Christmas Eve Coin

On the rug
I see a quarter
that flew from my watch pocket
when I peeled off the jeans
to put them in the wash

And I at once regret that it’s lying there
when I could have put it in the hand
of the bundled up houseless person
on the corner 
but found it too much work
to dig it out of that constricted pocket
while seated in the warm car
I had no folding money to offer
but I could have passed it on

I regret that I’m no longer the sort
to wait to toss it into
the collection plate 
of a church I no longer attend
and do not trust

So full of regret 
for it still being here 
when it might have been doing 
something else more worthy
or less worthy
At least would have
been doing something

I take it outside
and fling it at the sky

I do not hear it
come down

Could it have become
a star for someone
to follow

or am I just 
so full of regret
for all the good
I haven’t done
and all the faith
I do not have

that all I have left tonight
is a dim hope
for this absurdity
to open someone’s eyes 
to a brighter hope
of doing

May my wasted coin burn
in the night sky
above something out there
just as absurd
and worthy as
the last time
this happened


Turning A Key

To call a place home
it must have a door that 
will swing both ways:
one to let you out
if you want to go out
and one to let you back in
if you want to come back in.

Every door into and out
of this place appears to be both
but is neither. It doesn’t matter
what you want. It doesn’t care
either. It’s not the place
you first thought it was
when you first entered and
when you left after learning that
it turned into a different place again. 

Home becomes graveyard. Graveyard
becomes garden; garden
becomes train station; train station
becomes a corner shop; corner shop
becomes a stereotype, a seedy foreign port
from a movie you find one night
while searching for a new place to call home
or a map back to the old place
you once called home
that never was but at least
you could see doors there
if you squinted.

Standing on the steps;
friends and people you know within,
glimpsed through familiar curtains.
If there’s family they must be
in the interior, hidden from view.
It all looks like Christmas
or a casual visitation after
a formal wake. In your hand,
suddenly, is a key you half hope
will break off in the lock
and keep you safe out here.


Seaweed

Seaweed, I know nothing about
seaweed — the difference between
kelp and anything else is a mystery,
but anytime I’ve seen a kelp forest
on a television show I’ve thought
either that such a place might be 
fascinating to explore, terrifying
to become entangled in — the long
stems and flat hands of black-green
waving, like flags of our forefathers
waving, their entanglement of fury
tinged with fear made over to represent
pride, look at the flags of the moment
claiming to protect innocent masses
stuck down there in the murk
and shadow; I think of the kelp
every time I must go into the crowded streets;
I remember my fear, looking at the others,
wondering who among them  
is terrifying, is furious, is terrified,
is oblivious to fear and anger but is 
nonetheless a danger even without 
trying; I am among them as one of them,
a being moving slowly through
an undulating dilemma: is this 
what we are, is all of this natural,
are we the fury and fear and what is
nature if we cannot separate ourselves
from it, why is it so hard for me
to remember anything but kelp
when I see the word “seaweed?”


Nursing Home Dogwalker

“I hate bingo. I like cribbage.”
Random enough talk from an old woman
a physical therapist is walking 
up and down the rehab center’s hall.
“I like cribbage too,” sys the therapist.
“That’s a good game.” “Maybe we
could play sometime…” and then it trails off
as they get away from me. I pull out 
the notebook, write it all down. I’m like that.
When it come to people, I’m a metaphysical
dog walker. You see me talking, hear something
coming out of my mouth, sounds like 
something I made up or felt or chose
but truth be told — and this one’s true
I promise — I don’t have many original thoughts.
(No one does, really; at least I admit it.)
Everything I say has a leash on it
and  secretly I know I borrowed it from someone
as if I knew they wanted me to take it out for a stroll,
or would have been glad to know I’d thought 
enough of their utterances to let them loose
on the larger world. Dignified them with craft. 
Doing all this hard work of listening and then
trotting out the words of others like eager puppies
as if this work I’ve been made to do paid me
instead of others. As if I just like words
as much as the rest of the world likes dogs,
and walking them is its own goal. Meanwhile
the bingo game’s getting underway
in the common room, the patients are being wheeled in
with their markers and oxygen and cards.
“B 14…G5…” Nothing here needs me, and neither
does my father, resting in his room  
down the hall, away from the yapping and 
the physical therapy that he no longer needs;
neither does my mother in her room across the way,
disdaining all the socializing, impatiently insisting
she could go home tomorrow if we let her. That dog
won’t hunt, as the old timers say. It’s not something
worth discussing, and I’ve got other dogs
I can’t wait to walk, if only to get me out of here. 


A Kite Nosediving

In the park,
a kite nosediving.
Child crying
as mother strives to 
prevent a crash
that likely will happen
regardless of her hard work.
A red kite straining against
its lead, straight out,
line gone stiff on the wind
as it comes down like
a clock hand being wound
swiftly toward the correct time
as it smashes to earth. Kite
broken, child crying, mother 
now between rattled and relieved
at the cold day outdoors now over
and she can take child home,
sorrowing together: child sobbing,
her trying to explain, sympathy
on full bore; saying they can
put it back together though
she knows they can’t possibly;
the child mollified for now,
not recognizing the scent
of Wite-Out saturating the air.  


Jesus H Butterfly Decal

Jesus H, he says,
then he says it again. He looks
sweet in a merchandised way,
like a butterfly decal
on the rear windshield on a car
ahead of me that I can’t pass,
irritating for his actions not his
nature. I can’t discern his nature, 
obviously. He’s standing in front of
an endcap table in a discount store,
raging at the children’s books
piled there in no particular way. 
I know it’s here, he says. Jesus H,
why can’t they shelve these? It’s 
one book they have, I saw it yesterday, 
would have bought it then if I’d known
it would look like this today. I ask myself
how could he know it would be different
today? Then again, how could he not know?
Things pile up. The children’s stories
get lost in the piles. Your butterfly decal
don’t mean shit compared to the fascist state
and Jesus H gave up a long time ago.
Rage all you want. This is literature
in front of you. It’s not supposed to be 
anything except a mess. Whose world
do you think you live in, old chum?
I realize my fists are clenched so hard
I’m almost bleeding from the dents
in my palms. Chill, I tell myself.
Jesus H, who do you think you are
that this man should matter this much
to you or to anyone other than his family?
They probably bought him the damn decal.
He probably put it there
to placate his granddaughter. And you’re
making that up, anyway. You have no idea 
what he drives, if he drives. He sure doesn’t
seem sweet. What are you looking for,
I ask him? He names a book, I help him look,
it’s not there, maybe it was bought I said, 
he agrees and that’s it. Nothing sweeter
than that: two old guys lamenting
a world without satisfaction. Jesus H,
I tell myself. I walk away, relieved
that so little was demanded of me today


Pockets

I keep dead friends
in my pockets: so many
people minimized. They
pinch my hands when I reach for
my keys. They tap out regrets
on my thighs when I do not
expect it. I stop in mid-stride
on busy sidewalks
and try to decipher
the messages — dear me,
so many. Names I’d tried
to forget but it’s such a crowd
now, worse in winter when
they surge into all of my coats and some
even hang off my scarves,
swinging free in blizzard wind
when it blew and covering up
when it is still and cold. 
I wish they were still and cold
as well but there they are
among gum wrappers 
saved for the trash,
straddling the Swiss Army knife
as they wait for my hand to appear.
Dead friends, so many, how difficult
to hold them at arms’ length
when they are there all the time 
tugging at me, staying warm
while I stay cold and wishing
they’d stop, leave, go where
they have always belonged
and stay there. Leave
my pockets alone, old chums.
Empty them and go.
All that’s in there now
is your dark mess
and I do not wish
to carry it for you.


Abolish Midnight

They’ve trained us so well
we believe in midnight
magic, a dividing line.
After a while we cannot recall
that the mind
makes midnight, not the world.
No different than
2:47 AM, it moves
all around the earth. Call it 
a boundary because you need one.
Only reason. It makes you feel
heroic to breach it or to 
honor it, depending on 
what you desire. Fly in
across that line to stop 
a bomb, a train, a love
affair. Fly in across
that line to advance
a dream, a peace, a war
on hammering sound and
thickened old blood. 
Time is one of those things
that’s real but not
as we have been led to
imagine; that fact sounds
so pedestrian it might get killed
as it crosses the street toward
midnight. Toward what we 
have been taught to believe.
The body, the belief lingering 
between life and death. You lie 
there thinking interstitially
right up to 2:47 AM when 
you finally fall asleep, flat
on your back, mouth open,
inhaling, exhaling, hanging
out of time completely. 


The Guilty Project

It’s a project. Doorways. Walking backwards through.
Not like entering, not like leaving.
Ghosts know this: not all passages
lead somewhere. Who you are 
and where you’re going are sometimes
unrelated. Where you’ve been might be
the only place you can know. The walls
become exhausted here from holding up
lights, so they go dark. Easier to hold up
mystery than fact, journey than destination. 
This is a doorway and you are halfway here,
halfway there. Peekaboo, darling I’m home,
now I’m here, now I’m there. This is how
loss never ends. Doorways out of interiors.
Interiors glimpsed from doorways, from 
exteriors. Wilderness everywhere. Tired
of assuming civilization’s in there, and
uncivilized is out there. You lean against
the doorjamb, sleep
standing up halfway between.
Walking backwards exhausted, 
a guilty party behind you, or before you. 
How to describe this world 
that endlessly holds its past at arm’s length
and won’t enter its present for fear
of walls enthralled to ghosts forever,
leaving no distance between us
that suspends us in doorways
between what is allegedly safe and 
what’s drowned in flop sweat? Don’t bother,
walk backwards, keep quiet, stay alive
if not free, if not either in or out.


The White Rug

They always want you
face down on the white rug.

Want you to be afraid
to stain it.

Want you to bleed
somewhere out of sight.

Some extraordinary
wounds you’ve got there,

they say. But how old
are they? They can’t still

be bleeding? You must be
mistaken. It must have been

something else, something
you did. Don’t stain

the white rug with it.
Crawl over there if you’re

going to do that. The rug
is fragile, and expensive.

We don’t want to have to
replace it, or dye it — although

we would know
it was a white rug to begin

and still is under the cover
of color. And if we tore it out

we’d just put another white one
down. Meanwhile, 

you’re still bleeding and
face down on the rug as they

begin to clean up around you then
tie a rope around your neck

and start to drag you off
to other rooms where the rugs

aren’t white but the color
of older blood and also, maybe,

 the ash of many bonfires,
black paint on a graveyard marker,

dirt from their disturbed 
basement floor:

from where you’re lying,
nothing looks or smells clean.


What It Would Take

What it will take you
to be present now,
this deep in time
from your starting point,
is the willingness
to chase presence
along ruts in your road
until it stands still
for you. For you,

it will pull off
the trail
and watch until 
you see it and then
it will gesture.
To see it and respond
you will have to 
stop. Stop

and step away 
from the too-worn trail
for a moment and walk 
(don’t run) into 
the clearing where it
stands and say,
hello or namaste
or whatever moves you;
it doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter

if it answers you
in your own language
or with words you’ve
never heard or even if
you do not understand
them as not much
about this
is about understanding.

Understanding is 
your boogeyman,
your feared beast,
your somehow
still-longed-for handcuff;
if you’d given that up
long ago
and relied on just 
standing there with
what you’re currently
facing, what’s always
been ahead of you,
you would have known
all along the truth 
of your presence and
how to hold it close,
what it would take.