Category Archives: poetry

Terraformed

Do or stop all doing,
be dead or be changed into
another’s expectation;

I’m in awe of how far
they’ve pushed me
into their pattern.
They’ve killed part of me, 
believing death will spread
and give them life.  

I’ve been made
into something useful 
to another…yet

under the alien soil
where they’ve buried me,
I’m still alive, opening space
around my feared body, and

soon enough
will come raging out
into their smug faces
and remind them

that the surface
they prize so much
is just that.


BigDumbNoise

The lure of 
that which is meaningless
to my larger concerns

is that there could be 
relief
available for the
weight:

a jack to lift
what’s crushing me
off my chest

So therefore bring on
the dumbest TV and 
the loudest three chords
you’ve got

as now and then
the Big Dumb Noise
is all there is
to ease the pain

of complexity 
ambiguity
and the solid leaden
grays 

that seem to be 
my ruling principles
my heavy core


Neuropathy Blues

A guitar neck just feels
like more of my nerve-drunk hand.

The strings burn graves
into my dead fingertips.

The volume knob turned too far
spikes my fear of exposure.

If I sound insecure to others
about how it feels to play,

it is because these raging nerves
are what I know of my hands lately,

and lately my guitar is where they go
to fail and (soon enough) to die.

The pain on the day after:
history informing the future.

Music comes from
the place between those things.

All my apologies flow
from how every broken arpeggio

climbs a ladder leading 
to a day when I will have to stop

all of this, or when I am
at last stopped. 

Till then, though?
Till then, I am yours.


Grain Of Sand

I have so little 
to give

except my life

which I do not
routinely consider

large or of value

although in its current size
and worth it may serve

as grain of sand in a precision machine

as killing germ or worm 
as parasite in an evil host

You grab me by the arms
and shake me
and your own head
saying no no no
you have so much to live for
and so much more about you 
is golden than you know

Hush
Be still 

As sand or virus
I take part
in cosmic order
in a time when stopping
the Machine or slaying
a Host bent on death
is truly all
we all have left to do

and you say
no no no
to my being
even a nameless piece
of how that happens

Try to be serious

It would be an honor
to be forgotten
to be anonymous
in the future

for that would mean
that I and the rest of 
the nameless who say

let them take me
if it stops them

made the future real


Stripes And Spots

Zebras on your mind this morning
Zebras in the driveway, trying to get in

Leopards in your dreams last night
Leopards hidden in the backyard junk

Is that a giraffe looming behind the neighbors’ garage roof
or a jaguar on a crane conducting surveillance

You are wondering if you should call a cop
but they’re more like the suspects than they aren’t

Not what they appear to be either
Everything in the jungle wears camo

Zebras now on the back porch knocking
Leopards scratching the front door bell

You put down your phone and start painting your face
But it’s like doing nothing at all in the scheme of things

So you sit and draw the shades and cower like a rabbit
though zebras and giraffes aren’t threats it’s not certain

that the cops will bother to tell the difference
if they come when called at all 

You’re just another critter and your hole isn’t safe
Lions and tigers and bears and jaguars and leopards

and cops and there you are and who is who
It’s not like you can tell who might have changed

their stripes
for spots


Why We Got Here

A faith like
Al Capone’s:
a gun and a smile
will get you farther 
than just a smile.

A vision like
Charlie Manson’s:
love is all you need,
“love” spelled
“K-N-I-F-E.”

A discipline like 
John Gotti’s:
well-dressed, cracking
jokes and heads, bragging
and daring you to try it.

A truth like
George Armstrong Custer’s:
if you charge long enough
and often enough, you’ll become
a famous loser. 

A holy fire like
Cotton Mather’s:
find a scapegoat,
hang it high, pretend
the rope wasn’t braided out of fear.

A repentance like
Jimmy Swaggart’s:
public and eyes up 
to a heaven somewhere above
a cheap suspended ceiling.


Death By Metaphor

Originally posted April 2010.

This morning
it feels like my heart
is knocking against my ribcage.

I mean that
in all sincerity. 
Heart, in this case,
is muscle and not metaphor. 
Ribcage is
a common descriptive term for the arrangement
of the ribs. 
Morning is when this is happening;
these words should be seen
as carrying no figurative weight.

I mean to say just what I say:
it’s morning, and it feels like
my heart is knocking against my ribcage.

Note that I did not say, “trying to break free”
from my ribcage.  That would be stupid.
The heart has no will of its own. 
It doesn’t know freedom and it’s not
going to leap from my body
leaving splinters of bone
and a huge hole behind it. 
That would invite metaphor again
and I’m trying to avoid it
as my breathing’s too shallow
to use so much oxygen
on creative thought 
right now.

Did I mention my breathing was shallow?
Don’t assume I meant something else. There’s
nothing hidden there;
my breathing 
is shallow, meaning I’m taking
smaller breaths than usual, higher in my chest,
more quickly. I could add that they do not
expand the ribcage as much as normal breaths.

You should get the picture
though I’m not trying to paint one:
just the facts here. I’m wincing
with the effort of staying in the moment
with the pain in my shoulder. 

Yes, I’m in pain.
For a full description of it,
I’m going to have to dip a bit into
comparison. 
Forgive me.  It’s what 
we all do;
I don’t know how else to say it, so:
it’s like something’s cutting me at intervals.
Sharp pain. We call it that because it explains it
to another. We’ve all felt it.  Right now,

it feels like my left shoulder’s being slashed
from clavicle to pit; a rod’s being shoved in the wound
and shoved down my left arm from the inside.

That’s accurate as a description
even if it’s not a fact. 
No wonder
my breathing’s so shallow. 
No wonder my heart
feels like it’s knocking on my ribcage.

I would feel safe
in having you assume
that these are the signs

of a heart attack, which itself is a metaphor
used to describe a myocardial infarction
or some other cardiac event.  Heart attack
is a bad description: as if the heart
were capable of hostilities. 
It’s not attacking me. 
It’s doing what it is supposed to do
in response 
to my not taking care
of it properly.  Fatty foods, 
no exercise, pack a day habit.
No metaphors there, just facts, though
I suck at self care contains a metaphor
that works, 
even if the sentence
makes no objective sense.

This morning, then,
let’s just say that it feels like my heart
is knocking against my ribcage.
Let’s say, further, that my dumb heart
and my ribcage
and my arm are in some kind of distress
and as a result

I am too 

although I don’t know
what I means, who I am
distinct 
from awareness
of my body. 
If I did,
would I be writing this
instead of calling the ambulance?
If the heart dies I’m sure I’ll find out.
No metaphor in that, either. 

I suspect there will be a moment
when I will understand
the meaning of I 
if keep writing instead of calling.
I won’t come back to tell you about it, though.
You will have to draw conclusions
from the poem and the pain and the heart
and the dying.  You will say

that stupid bastard died
writing a poem while his heart was failing,

and you’ll be correct.

I’m sure someone
will make it into a metaphor,

though in fact it isn’t.


Paid In Full

We lay our hope
these days

upon imminent endings:
the last mortgage check

slid into an envelope
and dropped into the mail;

the last “click”
on the “Pay Now” button

on the car payment
Website; the meteor

from on high
rendering the need for action

on everything at once
obsolete. 

O beautiful,
for fiery sky,

for closure 
on our pain.

Sing it, 
my countryfolk,

my weary troupe
of roleplaying warriors.

Curtain call,
final bows,

leaving the dark theater;
then, off we go to 

our debauched
after party.

Partings
are all we have to 

anticipate now;
do them drunk and

lawless. Do them weepy
and raw. Sit up

alone till dawn to wave at all this
one last time;

wait for the sound
of  “Paid In Full” 

being stamped on our notes;
lie down to rest.


You Liar

When you knew it was over 
you did nothing drastic,
did not weep or moan. 

You tucked
all your loves
into their beds,

went outside
into winter rain,
sat on the step

at the end of the walk
and got soaked through
listening to the highway below.

Late night traffic, still busy,
people heading home,
you tell yourself,

though in fact
you don’t know that.
They could be fleeing,

could be joyful or manic and
destination-free, urged along
by a wild compass within.

You had to make it up
as they went along, because
you weren’t going anywhere.

You had to believe
they must all be going home.
Home felt safe and solid

and someone had to be
as safe and solid, as
clear in their intent

and execution
as you were not.
The cars rolled on

and you sat still
in the rain, soaking 
through, still trying

to pretend all of us 
would be fine,
you liar.


Unimportant

Her name is unimportant here,
not because she was 
but because I do not want you
to know her in the way
I will describe her.

She hung around us,
not with us.
We had a nickname for her.
I will not say it.

Did not mock her, not 
directly, not to her
face, unless our rolled eyes count
as mockery, or our excuses
to leave and go to class,
even if there was no class;

I will say it.
I understand now
and will admit it now:
there was no class.

In casual discussion 
she mentioned once that
if they ever filmed 
the story of her life
she wanted to be played by
Olivia Newton-John.

We rolled our eyes.
We went straight off to no class.

She died young of cancer.
Her name was Unimportant. 
Her nickname was cruel
and unnecessary and
mocked her body.

God, we were awful
behind her back
and I suspect
to her face too 
if I think hard about who
I was, who I may still be.

In the movie of my life
I should be played by
a stone sunk into the silt
at the bottom of a cold lake,
a stone so deep in the water
the chance of it ever being seen
by human eyes is next to nothing.
Infinitesimal. A probability so small
you could hear the dead laughing at it.


Existence

Existence
A function of language

To bring a flower forward
from thought

description
matters as nothing else

does
Pictures now

can be fake
and who trusts 

that all is as it appears
But add the precision of color words

Talk to us of
the threaded ridges of

the stem and the way
its damaged green sticks

in the nostrils
peppery and stiff

lasting after the bloom
is taken away 

and thus it exists
for you as no picture could

With 1000 words
or 100 

in your ear
before your eyes

easy to say
there was a flower

It was without doubt
real


Driving Bad Roads

Tonight,
driving people to their destinations,
listening to them
worry on their phones,
barely talking to me
or talking to me nonstop and 

I agree,
I agree,
I agree
till I’m weary of agreement;

yes, these roads are bad.
Yes, these roads are busy.
Yes, there are too many 
deep ruts. Yes, someone
ought to do something
about it.

Tonight, I drove
the longest unpaved road
in the city to its end
with a man stinking of 
some sweet liquor
who warned me and warned me
how bad the road
ahead would be.

Tonight,
I drove Wildwood Road
to its faraway end,
came back around
the cul-de-sac
onto the same ruts and potholes
I’d just covered,
knowing enough
this time about where
the hardest blows
to the suspension would come
to slow down enough
to soften them.

Tonight, 
I came home 
over the roads I know best,
missing every pit and 
axle-breaker hole
because I know it all 
so well.

Someone ought to do something
about it one of these days

but until then
I take it one night at a time:
dodging, avoiding,
half listening to complaints
and monologues;

trying
to hold it together
while I drive
and drive.


Chantey

You can hear a recording of this with music here: 
https://soundcloud.com/radioactiveart/chantey
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

you walked for miles to the ocean
stood on a jetty to see
if the horizon was as distant 
as you’d always presumed it to be

you stepped off the edge into water
as rough and disturbed as you were
swam past surf breaking hard on the rocks
toward a line you never would reach

sovereign over yourself
ruler of all you contained
you turned on your back
you let yourself drift
to see what would fade or remain

you left your thoughts on a sandbar
your vision and voice caught the waves
whatever you thought you knew of horizons
was lost in the storm and the gray

once you were back on the jetty
once you’d returned to the shore
the horizon refused to release you
you were not the same as before

submissive now to a larger sense
of what you had lost and retained
you turned back to your life
where you never forgot
how that motion rocked you awake


Also Ran

Thinking of
all the talent show
also-rans
you never hear from again

(unless by chance one of them
makes it big and then
how the news loves to bring it up
as in, wow, looks like the show
got it wrong, look how this one
was the real talent and 
ooh wee ooh, we told you so
back then, although in fact
they didn’t), but then
there are the others

who go back to more or less
the same old same old,
the used-to-be that rises up
to cradle them or swallow them.

For most it’s no doubt fine and they settle in
with memory and love for the moment,
the not-even-quite-Warhol moment
that gets mentioned now and then
by locals when they sing the anthem
at a high school game or tear up the floor
at a family wedding or jump on stage
to sing at the village bar with a cover band:
c’est la vie say the old folks, etc., etc….

of course, there are no doubt a few
who crumble like cookies into dust
and use words like robbed and contender
and should have been and rigged,
who groan for decades afterward about injustice.

I do not know
whether I would have been
contented or embittered
in the aftermath

had I ever had the courage 
to step to the stage,
even as I mutter
“too late, too late”
while refusing to consider
that I might have been
none-of-the-above,

that I might have won.


On A Tuesday

There are three basic themes to manifest destiny:

The special virtues of the American people and their institutions
The mission of the United States to redeem and remake the west in the image of agrarian America
An irresistible destiny to accomplish this essential duty

Historian Frederick Merk says this concept was born out of “a sense of mission to redeem the Old World by high example … generated by the potentialities of a new earth for building a new heaven.” –

– from a Wikipedia article on Manifest Destiny

On a Tuesday.

A Tuesday.

A day so normal it couldn’t bother
to be symbolic. So not 
a weekend, so not a week’s 
beginning. A Tuesday. 

That is when it happened.
That is when we began to fall
for the last time. 

It was in every way inevitable
that we would at some point
stagger into history
feeble and angry, our shaking hands 
holding our most ancient swords 
to each other’s throats, but
because we did not call ourselves 
an empire,
we forgot how they have all ended
and so we missed it when that ending
started on a Tuesday. 

Which Tuesday? Which date?
No telling. Truly,
no one is certain and no one
is talking. The date doesn’t matter, 
the weather that day doesn’t matter,
the stars lie about everything
so why the date should matter
is unclear:

just say 
it must have happened
on a Tuesday,
the day built for 
anticlimax.