Category Archives: poetry

No One Writes Me Cool Letters

Experimentally yours
Charles

A letter I received yesterday
from someone I barely remember
bore this signature
I did not recall the name at first
but then it came back to me
that we’d been in college together
for two semesters before I dropped out
to pursue a life of drugs

The rest of the letter was mostly illegible
What was not was incoherent
Reeked not as much of experiment 
as of utter incompetence at language

This is something
I am somewhat
of an expert at as being a writer
qualifies you for a life
of deeply felt incompetence
perpetually chasing proficiency

Charles however
had raised this to a new level
I fell in awe before the paper
upon which was scribbled either
a recipe for pineapple-glazed sofa cushions
or a scathing critique of barber shears
or perhaps a combination
with an added sprinkle of a conspiracy theory
regarding the true origin
of blue pancake batter in a secret lab
at Fort Detrick

Charles
I whispered
you have bested me
at the game of artist inscrutability
and began to mourn

Shortly after that I realized
that the letter wasn’t meant for me
The name and address
were for the house next door
where a perfectly normal
and consistently coherent guy lives
and as always
I’d received a communication
intended for another
from the Muse
totally by accident
and in fact 
I’d just committed a crime
opening the envelope

So I did what I could
I stole as much as I could
from Charles’s letter
Grew jealous of
the perfectly normal
guy next door
Wondered how he got 
such a strange friend
Took some doctor issued drugs
and shrank
just a little more


The High Road

You sit up all night
watching the trenches from
the high road,

pretending that directing 
love at the enemy 
is helping.

Save your love
for the lovable. 
The blood 

you’re collecting
on your other cheek
is crusting over

and your gentle smile
is becoming ghastly
and stuck in place.

If you want this
to end, get down
from your lofty perches

and fight where and how
they fight. Fight them
on their ground —

it used
to be yours,
after all.


Las Lloronas

A very old poem, a popular Duende Project piece, and one for Bastille Day and all of us who suspect we might need to protect ourselves against predators very, very soon.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 years of watching

 nature shows

 and I still can’t answer this question:

 

 given the opportunity

 will a predator

 kill two at once?

 

 imagine: somewhere

 in central america

 a jaguar is striving for a personal best

 

 and prays (in whatever way

 that big cats pray) that the kinkajous

 fooling about on the forest floor

 

 will stay still long enough

 for him to take both with one

 velvet razor swipe

 

 but he is thwarted when

 one sees him waiting and lets out

 a quavering cry

 

 (this is why they call the kinkajou

 la llorona

 the weeping woman)

 

 and when the two

 scratch their way up a tree

 leaving the jaguar behind to curse

 

 (in whatever way jaguars curse)

 they weep with joy and perhaps

 snicker at the loser below

 

 imagine at night that las lloronas

 the weeping women

 honey bears of the canopy

 

 tell stories to each other

 of all the death they’ve avoided

 at the jaws and paws of would-be overachievers

 

 pausing now and then to whisper

 of the ones who fell alone

 and unwarned

 

 there is strength in numbers

 they tell each other

 the jaguars can only kill us when we forget that

 

 so can a predator

 kill more than one at one time?

 las lloronas say si

 

 but only

 when we
 let it happen 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Link to a Duende Project recording of the piece with Steven Lanning-Cafaro on guitar: Las Lloronas   


A Sweet Plum

You are planning a murder
when you are interrupted by sunlight.

Predawn, post-sleep had been devoted to 
a revenge fantasy; it’s gone now.

It would have been so sweet,
and so cold.  A true plum

of an execution, a person
richly deserving, someone whose absence

would make your presence whole.
Your fingers are still itching to think of it.

But there you were mid-plot
and the sun rose above the house next door

and came in through the window
like a damned angel, and you woke fully up

and there you were, fat old snoozer
emerging from your avenger dreams;

your old nemeses long dead
or as infirm as you are now;

you’ve had a pretty good life
so far as well and as searing as

the old days were, doing this would be 
either a crown or a crash; no guarantees.

Anyway, with your hands and body 
you’d likely couldn’t handle the work.

So: here’s the sunlight. Remember how
you’ve always been a good boy, a very good boy.

You’ll be a very good boy today,
all the way to dusk. All the way through

to the night and the bed. Tomorrow
is another day and between now and then

there will be more fantasy of opportunity and motive;
after all, even a very good boy can dream.


Immolation

I cannot trust anything,
so I set myself on fire.

I’m burning now
and a crowd gathers.

Someone calls out,
“Is there nothing we can do?”

I can’t talk with lips this crisp
so someone else says,

“he must prefer it, let us
leave him to the flames.”

Of course, I prefer this
to help from anyone saying 

such a thing. I did it because
of my lack of trust. I’m 

a whole nation of distrust
in a single body

and this fire is how I tell you
you weren’t worthy of me —

how I show you my arrogance,
my horrid willingness

to start bigger flames. 
“Is there nothing we can do?”

Maybe water, maybe
smothering, maybe just

bury me in sand or under
a dome of concrete.

You could paint a flag
over it later — it’s what

I would expect of you:
glorifying me and my 

narrowed, stunted life.
You’ll pick the flag

that works best for you,
I trust. I know you that well.

Hence the flames,
hence the greasy bitter ash

I am now. Hence the memory
of what I once thought I was,

curling away
in smoke.


Barnwood

originally posted 2/19/2019.  revised.

Wouldn’t you love the look of barnwood
in your home?

Wide boards dented
from hooves and heavy boots, or (more likely)
from chains dragged and slammed upon them
in industrial furniture mills until they meet
a mythic standard for anything made to look
as if it once had harder, honest use. 

Wouldnt you love the smell of incense
in your home?

Sandalwood
in the nostrils
of your pampered guests
in your barnwood home

instead of perfuming the temples
in praise of Lakshmi and Shiva,
rising from soft flame. 

Wouldn’t you love a dreamcatcher
in your home?

The Assiniboine net
framed perfectly on the charcoal wall
over the bookcase; centered, empty of ghosts
as far as you know; 
merely there to let folks know
you appreciate authenticity,
found some on that last trip out West,

and brought it into your perfumed,
barnwood home.

Wouldn’t you love sleeping 
in your home?

Lying at night on the cotton sheets, on the
bamboo pillow.
Your partner
a shadow on the other side,
more memory 
than solid figure in the dark.

Wishing they’d wake up
and touch you.
You wish on invisible stars
for that to happen.

You cannot wait 
for the day to begin
and fill the barnwood house with light
so you can dismiss bad dreams
in a puff of smoke

while looking
at the pretty things
you truly own.


What I Will Miss Most

after the fall

chrome face 
of a restored GTO
rumbling by
a flash of sun points
in my eye

silver pink street lights
their glow
their dulled hum

the doppler effect
of a truck approaching
then passing on the street
below my open window

a car apparently doing the same
but instead slowing
and turning in to our driveway

bass the only thing to be heard
from that new club
until the doors open
to push everyone home
at closing time
and then the laughter
and then the shouting
and then no more

until the stores begin to open
and commutes begin
and voices and 
scraps of car stereo music

bass the only thing to be heard

turning from the streets
I will surely miss

the tap working
the power on
the words on a screen
the diseases staying far away
from me and mine

I do not know
all that exists right now
that will not exist
after the fall
there will be something 
I will not miss but 
I cannot know

I watch the streets
for comings and goings

because there is so much
inside and within
I desperately want
to remain unknown


Living At The Movie

We focus too much
on opening credits.

Character development,
plotting, how the optics

are arranged and changed;
all that is set aside.

The writing of it — how
the arc is presented, where

one must suspend disbelief,
what makes no sense, what

is left unsaid and left to dangle
out there unanswered — shit,

even the who and when
of the writing are ignored — 

those who stay for the the last crawl
of all those behind the scenes

are few, those who understand
all the roles and occupations

as they are assigned on screen
are fewer still.

We’ve unapologetically loved
the movie, though:

the lights; the special effects;
the heroes and the villains —

but damn people, damn.
This is no way to run a country.


Guidelines For The Summer Of Corona

Admit that we are stopped cold
Say that and acknowledge the pain of cessation

Turn away from one another and into ourselves
Resist the longing to touch and hold

Fall to your knees and demand something from above
Speak as if nothing was needed except a bluff to survive

Run with the smallest beings in pursuit
Act bewildered with the first cough, fever, moment of fear

Ask and ask for certainty from fog
Dismiss fog as a hoax from behind a bitter mask

Hold a gun and imagine it will be enough just to hold it
Put it down to take a shovel and lay an elder to rest

Roll dice any number of times and boast of your glad numbers
Pretend snake eyes are not as powerful as boxcars these days

Remember scenarios with strangers, historical figures, family
Demand of your mirror that it say something unexpected

Stand at the window crying for the ten thousandth time 
Turn from the window and square your shoulders again

Forget and remember and forget and become aged
Spring up new but then again still be your old failed self

Hold your breath
Hold on to your breath for as long as it takes

Loosen your tongue
Loosen your tongue until this hard moment breaks


Morning Departure

Old poem, heavily revised.  Late 90s, perhaps?

Dew burdening a distant lawn.
Sudden crow drops from grey sky.
Chilly air gooses our flesh.

Last hardy songbird on the wire.
An old dog on point.
Yellow grain waving.

The city is so far away 
we have forgotten
it exists.

She turns left,
away from the sunrise.
Autumn does this –

turns a body
to face the cold
as astringent,

as protection,
to build immunity
for what’s coming;

she says, “I know it’s early
but we ought to think about
heading back.”

I swallow hard, disbelieving.
The rhythm of this day
slows down, swaps

waltz time for
funeral march.
I can’t think of what to say.

We will have to be
on the road
for hours. She is

right in that way, 
but I can’t imagine
leaving this place

that’s glowing
beneath a halo of almost icy
dew.

Looking across the fields
for a tree with fruit that,
once eaten, 

will let me hold my knowledge of her
after we’ve left
this perfect place –

but she knows that story,
gets a jump
on its ending:

“You can always come back,”
she says, brushing something
from her eyes.

“You.” Not “We.”

She is wrong. I’ll never be back:
I know what a sword
looks like

and there’s one now,
burning its way up
over the horizon.


United

You could just pretend
it’s a united country.
That has worked for you for years.

You could tell yourself everything
from the ice cream truck to the singer at the ball game
was singing our song.

You could admire the colors in the flag
without ever conjuring the words
“bleeding out,” “erasure,” or “suffocation.”

You could stay home just long enough
to claim it’s a hardship not to work
at the job you whine about seven days a week

but you’ll do it for your family
and your country — and what
are your neighbors’ names, anyway?

You could watch the gunners and bombers
and sigh about how the country’s fallen so far
and never even think of bounties placed on scalps,

a Klansman serving in the Senate for decades,
murderers laughing at their trials while in the courtroom,
everyone forgetting all of that happened

because that’s what “united” means.
United in memory loss. United in the hope
that this too will pass. One nation under a fog.


Piano On Fire

Piano on fire
in the courtyard of this old mill
where the train used to roll right inside.

How the piano got here we don’t know
but now it’s on fire. Seems right.
The finish bubbling, the big strings snapping.

This calls for a chaos pianist.
The bench is over there,
not blazing;

a brave musician could do something 
with all this: play, perhaps,
a train song on fire.

Pull the bench up,
not too close, hit those
scalding keys,

the piano detuning the whole time.
Whoever knows 
how to orchestrate melody

from such destruction
is going to do fine here.
We don’t know how the piano got here

but until it’s consumed
we know exactly 
how to make it sing,

how to bring the ghost train
back to life, smoke-strung,
resurrected long enough

to fly off the rails
and tear them up as it goes;
how to call that an anthem

and build a nation around it
as we warm our hands 
on the last of the piano’s embers.


Worthy Of Suspicion

Longtown Larry
and his big-headed friend
with the unknown name
(though they’re always together)
sit talking in the town beach parking lot at sunset
in Larry’s blue Dodge Ram truck
parked at an angle to the lines
far away from the remaining few cars 
again

They’re talking about 
White supremacy or maybe sandwiches
hunting dogs or muzzle velocity
or how to dismantle the colonial state

Either that or they’re in love
and this is all they ever do about it
in this beach town where everyone
knows Longtown Larry
and his truck and the friend
with the big head and no name
who isn’t from here

It’s worthy of suspicion
on so many fronts


Starting To Break

Impudently reaching
for justice, the people
dared to approach those
unused to such encroachments
upon their high places;

people who spoke
imperfectly, did not spell
as prescribed, who now and then
set things on fire below the pedestals
where the powers

were beginning to tremble
as the people surged up.

Insisting upon justice,
people moved forward:

then, the sound of stone cracking. Not 
deeply, not all the way through,

but certainly
something was starting to break,
something was starting to fall.


The Holy Land

One of my gods lives
off Pound Hill Road
near the overgrown source
of a spring. I could drive you there
in forty-five minutes.
We can get there by sunrise
if we leave now, 
and we should leave now.

Another god stays
out behind my shed
where they sit centered
in a ring
of mushrooms. 
(You call it a “fairy ring?”
I don’t.  No fairies here —
they didn’t come over with you,
no matter how you hope for that.
I have another name
for what does live here, and
I’m not telling.) 

I only go there 
when passing
from this side of the yard
to the woodpile where
there may in fact be
another god who’s squatting there
until I burn it all up. 

Neither god
seems concerned at all with me.
That suits me just fine.
I give them the space
they deserve and need;
they stay happy.

None of these gods,
in fact, care much about
what I do. They are
non-interventionist.
I pay attention to them
because the landscape 
demands I know them
and that ought to be enough.

I know your God — a singular
God, a capitalized God —
lives elsewhere. You get around that
by saying God is everywhere at once.

I’ve asked mine about that.
They say they’ve never seen your God
around here and having known them
for years, I think I’ll trust them on this.

The car is warmed up.
Are you coming with me?
Maybe you’ll see something
worth seeing, maybe not;

maybe you’ll deny everything
from your God to my gods
to the sacred nature of red ripe
tomatoes. Maybe you’ll be right.
Suit yourself. I’m leaving now.