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.”
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
all the rest.
Death did it all
with a long white finger to his lips.
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
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
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
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.
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?
You thought you were safe
from what you had asked for,
you fool, even as you pulled it
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.
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.
If “the Other” continues
to bother you into madness
simply by existing,
by being elusive,
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.
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.
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.