Category Archives: poetry

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 
myself. 


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
necessary

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.


Get Up (The Gardener)

A gardener lies on his back in the late fall stubble
in his suburban garden.
He looks up and begs God for healing.

His hair’s dirt-full from lolling around out there
for so long. It’s been a day or two, you see,
since he first laid back and let the earth hold him. 

So, how about it, God? he asks. Are you willing
to heal me? I’ve broken so many parts 
I can’t do recovery any more. I’ve got cornstalk slivers

somehow in my back, somehow the dirt 
in my hair is coming to life, somehow last night’s rain
didn’t do a thing to clean me or quench my thirst.

God, meanwhile, is listening with only half an ear
to this. There’s a giant gap in Creation
that needs filling and this is just wind whistling through.

When God speaks at last it’s only to say, 
oh me. Oh my. Get up, beloved. You’re mistaken
if you see me in your details. I dwell elsewhere.

If you want to heal, forget about them. Get up and grab a shovel.
Look at the big picture. Pitch in and help re-weave the rip in the canvas.
Don’t blame me for the little cuts, the thirst, your wormy head;

just stand up and stop asking me to do all the work.
Spring after winter, fall after summer; that’s mine.
Tilling, planting, tending, harvest are yours. Get up.


The Hole In The Pocket

To be lost
in a pocket
like a key or
an urgently needed coin
and know that
someone’s trying
to find you

To be right there
between their fingers
and have them 
impossibly fumble you
back into the dark

To be sought
then remain unfound
in a pocket or
a deep bag
riding on the hip
of someone
seeking you
calling for you
although they know
you are right there
with them

is to find
the hole
in the dark
in the cloth
and fall through 
to the hard floor
in the hope
that the sound
of you hitting hard
will serve to announce
your presence to those
searching for you
before they move on


Back When

back when
my summer days
started late

back when
in late morning
I’d leave the house
to go into fern-laden woods
on the other side
of the railroad tracks
sometimes (most times)
alone to write and maybe
(later on) smoke pot or perhaps
make out 
with one or more
neighbor girls
(that never happened
no matter how hard I try
to remember that it did)

back when 
summer was a friend
who had my back — 
cover of foliage
and the heat which kept
sensible and prying
adults inside with the AC
while I roamed between
the river and the tracks
thrilling myself
when I found junked cars
clandestine weed farms
(I never touched a leaf
I swear) and now and then hid
from other kids plinking cans
and squirrels with 
borrowed rifles

back when 
I had one beloved companion
the color of light filtered
through solitude
who had no face or known name
who nonetheless held me
as I’ve not been held since

back when I was
differently alone
than I am now

I didn’t know
how good I had it


Summer Bed

Who needs a reason
to be naked
in their own
summer bed?

A heat wave ought to be enough
to make you happy
to choose the exposure
but here you go again, rationalizing,

telling yourself 
that if you die in your sleep
it won’t matter to you
if they find you like this and

it’s so ridiculous
to think you’ll be forced
to rise from bed and fight
a home invader:

if they kill you naked
you’ll be as dead as
if you were clothed;
if you kill them

you’ll certainly have time to dress
before the coroner
and the police arrive — 
or you can choose to be found

in your just recently savage,
still bloodstained skin,
still clutching the bayonet
you keep by the bedside

or the baseball bat 
you keep by the bedroom door
against such an unlikely 
invasion of privacy. 

Sleep naked, then. You clearly
already have found enough
to worry about and no one’s
here to see or care.


Leave It Alone

leave what creates alone.
tend to its home
but not to it except
to stay out of its way
and listen to it.

you may at first mistake its voice
for that of an illness or a deity.
call it what you like,
a Muse even, but don’t
imagine it’s a separate entity
or anything but a mundane
part of you. it does its best work
if you ignore it. leave it
to its chores.

one day you’ll awake 
to a gift shining casually
from your seat
on the worn out couch:

freely given, left to you
by you, in your name,
to make your own. 


Diving For The Moon

The elders have told us
the moon is not fully at home

in the sky. Whenever it
vanishes it is because

it sinks to its true home
under the waters. 

Ever since I learned this 
I have been throwing myself into ponds, 

seeking the moon on lightless nights, 
but have never found anything. 

I have lately been eyeing
the ocean as a place to look:

the ocean, full of its own light 
at times but more often darker;

full of life, full of death, full of
whatever it is

that makes me long to dive in,
and if I don’t come back up?

Don’t assume I’ve found
the moon. It may be that instead

I’ve found the reason the moon leaves us,
and I’ve made that my reason as well.


Saucy (A Study In Goth)

you were saucy
once upon a time

in love with all
the damned objects

tingling if you heard
anyone mention Satan

forbidding the term
“adulting” from your discourse

except in complaint or
humble brag 

you were easy-wild
once in a while 

sat up all night
cybersexing distant names

with one hand
from a close-up screen

while below you in the family room
you thought of as hell

the others sat feet apart
and never talked at all

you were busy
back in the day

with a life no one but you
claimed to want for you

they almost had you convinced
you were the crazy one with your

black leather and star studs
it felt wrong to them that you brought them

into the chamber of orange plaid upholstery
and something soothing on the stereo

you were something
you were onto something


Bright As Corn

I’d like to see
the world become
as bright as corn
and as sweet

As shiny as
a sword fallen
to the ground
when dropped
by the soldier
running to embrace
their child

I’d like to taste it
and find it
as sharp and thrilling
to the back of my throat
and the front of my head
as a good whisky
after a terrible day

There have been days
where I could see how
it holds itself
above our slash and burn
Where the liquid churn
of the feeder’s many
starling voices
made me forget
they are another part
of the problem
we’ve made for ourselves

It’s too hot already and
it’s barely sunrise
but a good sunrise it is

In the time left
it’s grand to see the ailing world
still able to be as bright as corn
solid as song
strong as a Scotch in the soul
ready to show us
how great it can still be
and will again be eventually


Politicians’ Hairstyles

behold
the mad construction of 
these politicians’ hairstyles 

sculpted to hold
a hard crest like 
a cruel dragon or cold raptor

or left loosely spectacular
as wild as some 
indecent architecture 

what you see is the result of a devil
running its hand through
early on in their lives

tousling their pelts into flags
saying “don’t ever forget
you’re my special boy”

and they don’t


The Unaccustomed Sea

o my people
hear me when i say

do not fall in love with
a poet. a poet will learn

nothing of you unless
it directs them back

to the cosmos and then
you will be left to wonder

if they are in fact
with you when they

lie with you or are instead
attempting to understand

the language of stars
through your cries. to fall

for a poet is to develop
invisible parchment over your wounds

only to have them write 
all over you without acknowledging

they are sustained
by your pain. if they speak

of love know that they are
worn from love and too wary

of the word to know how to use it
in any way without slanting it

toward themselves. 
o my people — may i say

to fall in love with any poet
is such a disaster — and if

the poet in turn falls
into a true love with you

understand how much of a tsunami
it will become before you can both

come up for air and try to find yourselves again
in the unaccustomed sea

that has swallowed you both
and (if you are lucky) has 

raised you to high ground
and kept you together.


The Warm And Fusty Air

NOTE: I would just like to apologize for my absence for the last few days.  I’ve been a little under the weather and simultaneously very busy.  Not a good combination for a writer.  

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

It is a not-small thing, maybe just
a man-thing. I don’t even know
what that means, not anymore,
it may be wrong to say it, maybe
I’ve always been wrong and it’s
more of a white-thing or a consumer-
thing, a privilege-thing made
for Americans by Americans —
an agreement-thing, consensus
enforced by having grown up and 
made to live by immersion in its
warm and fusty air — 

that sense of competition
with whatever that is scurrying
behind you that is never there
or visible when you look back
to see what’s catching up,
the perpetual echo of shoes
dropping, doors shutting
back there you should have 
walked through instead of
plodding along this way,
forced through the warm
and fusty air — 

the sound of your weight
pushing past regrets into
this brainless way of being 
whatever you have become
today, now, being yourself
having come to mean 
unconscious respiration,
gasping in the warm and 
fusty air — 

where it’s always
the national anthem
on the stadium speakers and always
the same accurate deploring
of the lyrics by some
and always fighting immersion
in the vastness of the masses
who don’t care much
about the song
as long as what follows is
a good game or race, where always
the provocation to a fight
is present and part of the 
attraction, where it’s a 
man-thing or not, just
a human thing to be this
deep in the struggle to breathe
as one treads water, the fetid
water we have no choice 
but to struggle in as we struggle
to draw in what we need
from the warm and fusty air. 

 


The Fuck Up

We have not discussed this 
but you should know that 
there are specific ways 
in which I can be easily 
moved to impulse;

for example,
let’s say you tell me
something about myself
that I know is true
but refuse to admit:

something pleasing
or desirable will do it
most strongly
as I tell on my mistakes
and flaws readily,
almost glorying
in the one-sided frankness
of agreeing with others
about my faults and failures. 

With this admission
and your compliment
I am now moved to create
a disaster of myself
that will end my appeal: see,
I told you I was a problem
and you didn’t listen. That’s 
not on you but on me.

What a world 
you live in
that you encountered
me and thought I was 
worthy.