Monthly Archives: August 2022

A Bit Of Fat And Seed

I often spend my time here
in darkness because 
too often I am compelled
to it but then again 

I have never been good
at doing what I’m forced 
to do or tortured into
doing, so for a moment instead

I’ll celebrate how
that squirrel is eating
the hot suet in defiance
of the packaging

that swears they hate 
such flavors and even though
it means I’ll be refilling 
feeders more often 

than I should
and spending
money on
something I shouldn’t

if it makes me recognize a fellow contrarian
and offer them a bit of fat and seed
in solidarity, then I shall do so
and be, for one moment, content. 

Where I Am Is Always The Place Of Definitions

See myself,

cup of congealed blood
in shaded hand,
clouded leopard behind
in twilight
under broad leaves.

As always

what it means 
is literal
in one phase
of this plane, 
or nonsensical 
in others. 

The growl

of the cat. 
Iron sour stink
of the cup. All the 
gray light, shadows
moving slightly. The same
in whatever place
this is. All there is to do
is choose
between them.

The Deadly Piano

A complete rewrite of a twenty year old poem. 

She sits with her hands
twisting in her lap 
like kittens in a basket.

Her voice is just as furry
when she says, “I swear to God,
I can hear a piano

coming through the wall.” I hear nothing,
but try to soothe her by saying,
“Yes, it’s next door, they really like ragtime,”

and she clarifies, “NO, I MEAN A REAL PIANO

ALL THE WAY THROUGH!”  I tell her she’s safe
and shake her noon pills from the sorter,
pour a glass of water.

She believes the walls exist
the same way I used to believe in God,
the same way she believes in the deadly piano.

I feel like I’m standing
watching a house burn
on the edge of a wilderness

as I rock her in my arms
amid the smell of smoke,
the soft meow she makes

in her sleep, 
the faint sound of music
from somewhere else.

It Used To Be Summer

Revised, from 2016.

I thought all day about summer
If it were only summer again
Thought about summer and not about work
Grabbed just enough hope to live on

I thought all day about summer sunset
How sunset opens the door to night
I like nighttime as it hides what scares me
All my terrors look worse in daylight

That fear of being part of the crowd
Nameless, faceless, brainless and numb
Stuck thinking all day how it used to be summer
Looking busy and staring at the clock

I keep thinking, if I were only eighteen again
When I knew nothing and everything too
To be eighteen in summer with sunset approaching
Was heaven until I blinked and it passed

No lie, adulthood has been terrible
Traded passion for wisdom and I surely regret it
I keep waiting for sunset to swallow it all
But damned if dawn doesn’t follow every time

With that fear of being part of the crowd
Nameless, faceless, brainless and numb
Stuck thinking all day how it used to be summer
Looking busy, staring at the clock


the lack of rain 
come the fires

Then after 
the fires 
come the wars

The water runs out
and then
comes the judgement

The eyes of
Dull from starving

Still alive enough
to know
where to find blame

Didn’t anyone tell us
Of course someone told us
There are so many shouting
It is all you can hear
There are multitudes crying
that this hot world is dying 
and no one replying
does enough to ease fear

the fear
comes the hunger

Tangled up
in the hunger
will come the scramble to live

living a while 
past the end of the countries

We’ll find ways
to hate each other
Drawing lines in the dust


Words to live by:
nickel and dime.

As in nickel and dime
all the way into next month.

As in nickel and dime me, lover,
all the way to the end.

Or one might say
a thousand cuts.

As in here’s a lifestyle
perfect for the man

with a thousand cuts.
As in to get to the core

takes a thousand cuts.
Maybe the next words

ought not to be words
at all. Maybe instead 

the next message is
a backhand-slap 

reimagining of
a national anthem,

any country will do;
you don’t get to sing along

because you don’t know
this melody. It’s not the one

you grew up singing. 
It’s not what you were taught.

You’ve stopped sleeping and instead
wait for messages to come to you

in your dark bed. Your hope is that
the right one will come in overnight.

Your eyes sting in the morning
from eyestrain while

trying to read
something on the wall. 

Where Are The Spaceships?

I don’t know
where the spaceships are.
They’ve been promised
so many times and yet 
they’ve never shown up
in any provable way.
Now and then a sighting
suggests we’re all
just missing them:
looking at the wrong time
in the wrong place. Mistaking
them for strange clouds,
dismissing alien music
in favor of the cluttered percussion
that is the human way.
One way or another
the absence
of the spaceships
is troubling
and I fear I’ll die
knowing nothing of them. It may
mean nothing, but I feel
that all they’d have to do
is show unquestionably up
and everything, whether miserable
or ecstatic, would shift a few degrees
toward balance. I hope
they come soon because
I don’t know
where the spaceships are
and in their absence
it seems that 
everything miserable
is swallowing
everything ecstatic.

Listening To Queen

(like it was yesterday,
like it was the first time again)

to “Keep Yourself Alive”
and the chug of Brian’s 
guitar throughout 
and especially
the creamy and climactic ascension
of chorused notes following 
the back and forth lines
between Roger and Brian
before Freddy kicks back in with them
for their final

I first heard this song when
I was thirteen or fourteen
and it hit like a religion
and made me want to shine forth.
I don’t think 
there’s any god in there
or anywhere
that cares much whether or not
I feel the same and
I’m thinking now

I should have listened more closely
all these years
to John,
remarkable anchor
too often unremarked,
as I’ve involuntarily
lived my life
more often in
the background
of whatever cosmos
I have found myself in.

Colonial Style Furniture

Ask the Colonial style furniture
on which I’m sitting.
It will tell you
I’m a heavyweight

but compared to the ledge
that juts into the basement 
of this ragged, saggy house,
I weigh nothing. In 1890

instead of blasting
they figured it out and
put the house on that stone
then dug room for stone walls

around it and for 132 years 
they’ve borne the weight
of all the wood and mice
and people who’ve been here.

Don’t tell that to my furniture,
though. It denies history
and the earth that holds it up.
It hogs the glory for bearing my weight

as if it has been my sole support.
Maybe it doesn’t know how often
I go to the basement and thank
the ledge and the dirt floor

for their years of service
to my big, dumb ass
and all the asses big and small
that came before me.

Don’t listen to the furniture.
It has forgotten that it came from
the same earth. It wants to take
all the credit for holding me up.  

It’s as much 
as its dated style 
would suggest.


I don’t feel that this
is how I should feel.

I feel like a weight bench
has appeared before me
in the street where I am standing 
in front of Philadelphia
City Hall.

I don’t feel that this
is how I should feel.

I feel like wind has blown open
a door and wherever I was
in solid life is now behind me
and this apparatus is trying
to tell me I can’t turn around. 

I don’t feel that this
is how I should feel.

I feel that feeling is unremarkable
and unimportant when you are pressed
to use what’s before you in a setting
you don’t know at all except
from pictures and maybe one trip long ago.

I don’t feel that this
is how I should feel.

I feel nothing beyond
the vague need to strip to the skin
and lie back and begin a workout
I’ve never done in my life and don’t think
I should be doing here. 

I don’t feel that this
is how I should feel.

I feel like denying this is Philadelphia
then wondering why it is Philadelphia
and why the weight bench is red
and who any of this was meant for
as it doesn’t feel like it’s meant for me.

I don’t feel that this
is how I should feel.

I feel like I should embrace
the feeling that this was meant
for someone else and perhaps
I am no longer the person I was
when I was on the other side of the door.

I feel I should change my name and move
to Philadelphia and forget my hometown
and my hometown love and my longing
for desert and mountain and a long
and fruitful life ending in a hometown bed.

I feel like a weight bench in Philadelphia
is all I’m good for now, that I’ve become
a sweaty old man struggling to lift 
things that get heavier and less
balanced as I go, a tin can beside me

with a scrawled sign
beside that that says, “Don’t you
love your brother, good 
people of Philadelphia? Toss me
a penny or two or more.”

I don’t feel like this 
is how I should feel,

but there is the bench and there is
Philadelphia City Hall surrounded by
heedless Philadelphians, 
and what difference does my unease make
when this is apparently all I have left?

A brief note to my readers

You’ve likely noticed a pretty significant drop in my output of late, and I’d like to explain why.

First off, I’m spending a great deal of time and energy in caring for my mother, who is 94 and was recently diagnosed with moderate dementia. She has severe mobility issues, still live alone in the family home, with my sister living next door and me about 25 minutes away. My sister is pretty sick too with a fairly rare autoimmune disorder and associated flare ups and consequent conditions that especially of late have rendered her less than able to do all she typically does. Hence, I’ve been there a lot handling issues and daily concerns, including estate and insurance stuff related to the estate of my late father. It’s a lot and is both physically and emotionally exhausting, so my energy for doing this work is pretty depleted, though I’m still up by first light most mornings to try. 

Second, my finances are disastrous right now; my consulting practice, always slow at this time of year, has been downright anemic and I’m scrambling for every dollar. That takes time and energy, too. 

Third — on top of everything else, my own health is not great. Diabetes complications like neuropathy in my feet and fingers makes it very hard to do certain daily tasks and adds to my exhaustion at the end of the day. There is, also, a cognitive problem going on — short term memory issues and ability to negotiate complex thinking at times aren’t easy to deal with, and I’m usually pretty much in a fog by late afternoon and evening on many days. (Not saying more about this issue, and not entertaining advice. I know what’s going on. Some of it is aging, some of it is not. Right now, that’s all I’m going to say.)

I recently received an award for a history of achievements and support of poetry in this area. It was sweet, but I’m unable to think of it as other than a “lifetime achievement award.” Can’t help thinking the the timing is about right for that. (A joke, but more than a little sobering.) 

Still, I’m plugging away at a full length manuscript; still doing readings; still producing work and maintaining my Patreon site as an alternate way of getting work out there and generating income. I’m still here, and I hope that certain things my sister and I are doing to bring professional in home care to my mom will ease some burdens in relatively short order. 

Thanks for reading. Still here, a little slower than before, but still going. I’ll be here as long as I can be. Promise.


Today’s Assignment Is On The Whiteboard

Trying to understand how things happen.
Silence is the whiteboard upon which
the teacher writes with a small
stick of light. The words glow blue-black
up there before us all. Each minute of class
contains a lifespan. All minutes
are lifespans, in fact. Do you know
how many lives end as quickly
as they begin, how we thankfully
are never fully aware of it
but can sense, somehow, at times,
the sputtering back and forth
of ghost beings who were never here
long enough to register as such?
Human and inhuman alike, they mattered 
as much in their impermanence as we do
in the only slightly longer time we are held here.
The teacher writes on the whiteboard with light
drawn from the flickering in the room.

Trying to understand how anything happens
in such poor light. How in all this cycling
there is no moment where everything is alive enough
to have full agency, and no moment 
where everything is dead enough to have full peace.
The teacher writes in silence. Feel, it is written.
To understand how everything happens, you must
feel the static from all these comings and goings.
The stones themselves flicker under your feet.
Can you now feel them? Nothing and everything
happening at once, lives and deaths, existence 
a flame first here, then there. Consciousness
humming a steady note with a name
we keep meaning to look up to see
if one truly exists for this. The teacher
writes in what we once called silence
with a small intense light on the whiteboard, 
dismisses us without turning around, keeps writing
as we go out single file from the room. 

Exposition (How To Read My Poems)

If any lines 
are addressed to
“you” it is likely
that I’m talking
to myself

unless I’m thinking of 
a specific “you”
in which case
it’s not likely that
I’m thinking of 
or speaking to you,

in which case you should
also know that “I” is never 
completely me but is some
part; perhaps an aspiration
or a cringe, but not “me”
as a “me” whole and
imperfectly human
as I write and live and 
eventually die;
unlike, I hope,
the “me” I will
leave behind.

I’d rather not
have to tell you
any of this,
of course,
but there are times
when I need
to be reminded 

Peppermint Schnapps

This is a very old poem, also a Duende Project track from our “americanized” album from 2007.
Link to the recording below the poem.

August 16, 1977:
it was pissing rain the night
Elvis Presley died

I want the night back anyway

the way I want the switchblade back
I threw in Thompson Pond that night
that German switchblade
with the brass shoulders and ebony scales
I want it clean I want it shiny
and I want the tip to be back to the way it was
before Henry Gifford snapped it off
trying to work it out of the floor
after we’d played drunken chicken for an hour or so

I tossed it in anger
as far out into the water as I could
and then I hit Henry Gifford
in the mouth when he called me a stupid fuck
for tossing such a beautiful knife so far away
and even after he apologized
I hit him again and again
until I saw his sister watching me

I want to take it all back
so Henry Gifford’s sister Diana
can see me again the way
she used to see me
and furthermore
I want to kiss her right this time
I want to kiss her the way I could kiss her now
not like the sloppy teenage drunk I was that night
all on fire with weed
and schnapps
and inexperience
I want her to not turn away from me
without knowing that I had just tossed
my beloved knife out into the nighttime lake
I want her to know what passion can do to me
I want my passion back

because I think I lost it that night
I tossed the knife into the lake
then let Diana run from me
when she saw me beat her little brother bloody
without having a chance
to make her understand why it was all so

and though I have had
many knives since then
even another German switchblade
just like that one
and though I have kissed
so many people since then
in love and friendship
and lust and grief

and though I‘m so much better
at all of this stuff now
because control is everything
and control is all I have at 47

still there are times – rainy summer nights –

when I get up late to use the bathroom
and while I’m standing there
I look out my window across the manicured grass
I can just taste
a ghost of peppermint schnapps on my lips

then I fumble for the light
I pick up a pen
and I write myself back
toward August of 1977
when the radio played the songs of a dead man
while I nursed
my bruised and tender fists
and cried like a baby
for the very last time


The track from the album.

Scratch And Bleed

Buy the tickets,
then dig from your pocket
the lucky quarter minted
the year you were born.
Rub the gray parts, trade
any winning tickets in
for new ones, repeat 
until you win no more.
Having scratched the itch 
you wipe the blood 
from your wallet
and head for home.

On the way you feel the tug
of the bar and stop for one, then two.
This whisky tastes like your own blood
as it stops the tickle within for a moment.
The air here is full of karaoke, 
a night of allergen songs,
happy people who somehow
aren’t scratching. You hope
that joy is contagious
but as your skin is getting anxious,
home at last you go.

Which of the convenience store meals
in your fridge should you microwave?
Pull out that quarter one more time,
settle on the deadly burrito.
This is, of course, a pure contradiction
to all you know about your body.
You’re going to itch inside all night
if you eat this late, as you always do.
At least you are home,
bloody man, itchy bloody man.

You try to count what’s left in the wallet.
The denominations are so red
you’ll have to try again
when the bills are dry. It won’t matter
overnight that you don’t know;
you know that come morning,
whatever happens,
it won’t be enough. They used to call it
death by a thousand cuts. 
Now it’s just called being an American:
scratch and bleed from wallet to belly
to soul or to what replaced the soul
after you sold it while thinking the itch
would go away.