Category Archives: poetry

Wounds

A small, angry wound: short slit
on the side of my left thumb
from a clumsy test of the new edge
of an old Swiss Army knife.
It didn’t bleed at all
but somehow still hurts:
no more damage 
than a paper cut
but it’s hot and bothered
and more than bothersome.
The type of injury
you leave alone
and pretend it will heal
in short order

even though nothing on me
heals in short order anymore;
I ought to have known
this was going to happen,
having long been aware 
of how fragile the sugars
in my blood have rendered me
in late middle age. Knee
that will not stabilize;
hands that cannot grip
or sense; feet which imagine
against all other evidence
that they are always on fire,
and eyes that are beginning
to dim and twitch 
from dawn to dark.

I wish there was more of value
to say here: a deep lesson about mortality
or endurance, a metaphor for 
the state of the world, an insight
to lay my fears to rest;
all I’ve got is an inflamed thumb
and a list of chronic infractions against
my romantic fantasy
of having ever been
truly healthy and intact,
and I’m tired of looking at them.

Instead, I figure out a way
to type around them. I figure out a way
to walk while burning. I figure out
how the way things feel to me now
when I touch them with these new hands,
and I try to decide how I’ll manage
when I find myself, at some point,
in terminal dark.


Waiting For It To Finish

Sitting quietly
in my usual spot
waiting for coffee 
to finish brewing.

This is today,
just like yesterday.

I’m soft, I guess.
Soft and broken 
though broken and soft 
don’t feel compatible.
Torn, then.  Soft and 
shredded, all tore up.

I’m waiting 
for coffee to finish.

It’s just like yesterday
today. Right down 
to darkness, wind, rain,
what you might call 
desperation, what I call

today. Today is
hard and broken.
I’m soft and perforated.
It’s like yesterday,
coffee taking forever
to finish

brewing. 

I’m sitting in the usual spot
longing for it to finish.
Soft and broken in a soft way,
longing for a finish.
I wait for the finish but I’m not going
until I have my coffee. Today
is just like yesterday: broken.
Waiting softly torn for a finish.
It makes itself

known from the next room —

a gurgling. A soft 
sound, a strangulation
in progress, almost ready; I’m

waiting for today
as if it were yesterday.


Did Not

did or did not,
died or was killed,
suicide or homicide,

choose your focus:
another long day of lies
in a string of long days
or

one short night
you think is a

occasion for a burst
of truth

in the daily news
that feels like
just a
mystery

if it matters to you
or not, if you are sure
or not, if you have proof
or believe proof or not:

what are you going to do
except laugh at it or cry out
against it or make it into 
some middling joke to share
with the like minded

and those who did it
or did not

do indeed do
right out in the open

things you ought to
stop laughing at

and though mockery is all you have
or think you have 
or bother to use 

maybe

stop laughing 
pick a target
and do?


The Self-Help Taxi

“Stand on the corner,
you depressed bastard,

and wait. If you signal for it
joy will find you, certainly.

Certainly it’s only missing you
because you’ve made yourself

so small.  It’s as if you’ve shrunk
from what normal looks like.

Stick a hand up, make yourself
bigger, you sad beggar, and 

call joy to you. It’s not like
it’s going to come without that.

It’s not like you should expect it.
You, depressed. You, stunted. 

You, the one who won’t do 
what you’re supposed to do 

under illusion that this is not
under your control — call up

joy like a taxi
and get on board…”

so I did, and when I did
it missed me. Drove right by

and I nearly drowned 
in the puddle it almost splashed dry.

You know what? My arm is still up.
I’m still waiting — soaked through

but still hanging on for joy — though
God only knows why.


The Painting

In daily disguise as an average man
I keep my crazing under wraps.
This craquelure is not for the casual viewer.
I’ve never been able to explain what underlies it but now

this Average White Man-boy seeks closure.
Certainty. The ability to look the painting 
I have made of myself straight in the face
and call it artifice. To see through

what my parents made of me
and what I made of myself, 
point at something peeking through a crack
from under the surface, and say:

there I am, Average White Man-boy
through and through –or, look, there’s
the Mescalero, the Old One. There’s the Other
I was taught to believe was my canvas

and my truth. But what if, 
under all the trappings of Average,
I am in fact pure Average and Privilege
and it runs all the way through? What if

everything I have been schooled to show
while holding back a darker, better truth
is in fact all I am? Where will I begin again?
Why would I bother?

Straight up staring now
into the mirror and it’s pure Art there
looking back and even I can’t tell
if I was ever a good point to be made.

My parents whispered to me every night
that inside I should never paint myself White.
Then they started making sure
I’d never show a bit of what made that true,

and when I got my hands on my own pigments
and brushes, I kept it right up. I put crazy work
into that and kept telling myself it was all for show
and now I look and cannot see a damn bit

of what I claimed I was. I painted myself
into one sharp corner, and now Average White 
Man-boy can’t get out without slashing himself
to pieces and burning himself to ash.

It’s a choice, always a present choice.
How much of me is a lie, how much of me
is underlayment for the lie, how much am I willing
to live from, how much truth does the world require

of me? If I am to be honest, I trust
nothing of how I have existed until now.
Average White Man-boy. Pretty average picture.
Pretty much the same as all the others. Pretty much

as disposable as a sad-eyed clown
paint by numbers mess in a thrift store.
Buy me cheap for the novelty. I would.
Hang me in a guest bedroom. I would.

Laugh at me till
the novelty wears off
then toss me. I would.
It’s what anyone with any sense would do.


The Family Sleeping Rough Down the Street

Sixty-two degrees in late October
feels cold in the house,
unseasonably warm outdoors.

Stay outdoors until dusk 
and as the temperature descends
you choose to go back inside

where the temperature has risen
to a stifling sixty-eight degrees.
You open a window, just for

a few minutes, you tell yourself,
just to moderate what the sun did 
to your home while you were gone.

Now both indoors and outdoors
are in your house. Indoors echoes
with outdoor traffic, outdoors the neighbors

can, if they choose, attend to
your indoor music, smoke, and
inane conversations. You will shut

the windows before bed and call that
the end of the day, the reset moment
that reaffirms the distance between you

and that family sleeping rough
in the encampment down the street
who are permitted no distinction between

indoor and outdoor, private and public.
The noise and the cold are always there.
Home is a tarp and an abutment

and they are always well aware
of what the neighbors think.
You’ve thought it yourself

as you pulled your sweater tight
and closed yourself off: brrr…it’s getting so cold.
I’d hate to be them. That must be awful.


Focus

Enter, stage right, the muzzled
and the dumb. I am ready
to take them as they come.
I do not judge them for what they
seem unable to do;

we do such a good job of binding
and stupefying that it hardly seems fair
to stare down adversaries so stunted
they cannot see how tall
they could have been, or could still be.

It is not that I will stand for their aggression,
their threats, their torches and their guns:
no. If they come swinging 
I will swing; if shooting,

I will shoot. I have no good reason

to save these already destroyed,
though I pity them. I do in fact mourn
the need to do what I must to save myself
and those I loved. But I must
look beyond them to see 

the true enemy who made them
and use them and suck them dry
of cash and logic and compassion.
If I am made to hate anyone, I will reserve
that capacity for them. 


Filling A Vacuum

I spoke with the ancestors this morning before getting out of bed
and they told me I was doing exactly as well as expected

which would have been comforting if I did not know for a fact
that they were a pack of inveterate liars while they were alive

and the stats on the prophecies and opinions they’d made since their deaths
were ragged and imprecise and full of as much fable as before

But it felt good for a moment to think I was fulfilling a destiny
even if that may or may not be true

as perhaps my destiny is to be lied to by authorities living or dead
and wander and stumble over foundational untruths till I fall

and end up prostrate and wounded under the thumb of the dead
until they lift me up and stand me upright supported by more lies

They shall raise me up and give me a sword and point me
at other suckers who have been betrayed into infantry

and we will charge and gut and kill and be killed
thus taking our place among the exalted company

of liars grown fat upon the rewards gained by winking at the lied-to
becoming someone else’s revered ancestors full of untruth

Tomorrow morning I swear I will look them in the eyes
when they come before dawn whispering of my destiny

and I will say
I don’t believe you

and when they turn from me I will be adrift and lost
which some will say should be cause for joy at my freedom

but I will say nothing of joy as I will be straining into the silence
listening in vain for something else

which will ring of better truth even if it is not better truth
and which offers a path to a destiny I can live up to

no matter how small or venal
that fate might be


Toothache

A toothache
premonition

wakes him up
far enough ahead
of the morning alarm
that he has to decide
if it’s worth trying for
more sleep. He chooses

to return to bed and begin
trying to recall a time
before such bodied fear
became so common,
back when insurance and salary
were daily givens.

The time before cost
in lost attention and time
(and of course the money)
meant this much, before

just lying in bed wondering
what devastation this might cause
if it becomes more
than just a transient pain.
If it’s real and not just
an anxiety stabbing him
in his most densely packed
bag of terror. 

Not long after,
he gets up. Makes coffee,
drinks coffee, skips breakfast,
considers his work schedule,
forgets the pain, remembers
the pain, forgets the pain,
remembers the pain,
stops remembering the pain;
never quite manages
to forget 
the pain.


Not Again

They again have asked me
to return to the persona
I once lived behind
and recite the words
I used to swear by

but I can’t go back. Not because
I’m appalled at what I used to be,
but because I can’t put on
that costume again: can’t
wear that mask that doesn’t fit

my face that’s changed enough
that I believe the bones within
would push through and break
the old facade; the combination
of who I was and who I am

would render the antique words 
so suspect and superficial 
that folks would turn away
laughing or shaking their heads.
They would be right to do so:

I can barely think
of my face back then
or read the words
and mouth them in my head
without wanting to do the same.


Middle

I scribbled, I scratched, I scrambled;
sought toeholds in extended
metaphors, did average work
that was never enough to lift me
up the face of my chosen cliff.

So I’ve ended up clinging.
Do you see me up here?
I thought not. I’m tiny.
If I fall I won’t make much
of a splash. If I succeed

I’ll have to face the climb
down. Is there a trail
to follow after you get there?
Or do you jump and hope to float
back to the valley in one piece?

Once there you look around
for another nasty ascent.
Some peak worthy of both your fear
and your need to not only
live on the edge, but to keep so close to it

that you lose your sense of danger;
one day the most ridiculous
and simple reach fails you, and you 
die in the middle of the big climb.
So they tell me, anyway. But now

I’m losing grip
and I’m suddenly aware
that the fall I thought
would surely slay is small. 
I’ll surely live

if I hit the ground, 
might not even break a bone.
I made this whole grand adventure up.

I’m caught at last between a rock
and a self-delusion.
But I can’t let go. Not yet.


Suppose

Suppose we allow
for the likelihood
of a single God. 
Suppose we say
to deny the possibility
is to be arrogant
on behalf of
our own total agency.

Suppose we say
one and only one
can be real. Suppose
we ask ourselves to 
choose among the 
many faces we’ve assigned
the One. Suppose
we cannot decide. 
Suppose we revisit 
the initial thrust of
the argument and say,
maybe more, maybe none,
but something. Suppose
we agree it matters
not — one, many, none —
until something confirms
one, none, many
to such a degree that
all of us agree to hold 
no grudge against it
if there are many, none,
one. Suppose we leave
the density of the arguments
behind that day. Suppose 
we find other reasons 
to be as we have always been.
Suppose it matters not at all
if there is none or one
and the only thing that ends up
being of importance is
what we are: many or one,
or soon enough none:

what then?


Epitaphs

1.
It’s not like 
I made a good mark,
but more of a scuff — a sign
of clumsiness, accidental
reminder of my passage,
just squeaking through.

2.
Here lies (blank)…
if you are reading this,
clearly I am not
for if I could 
I’d be editing frantically
to keep you from seeing
such a paltry representation
of who I am.

3.
This plot holds
a parcel no longer full of lies,
a bone-box stripped
of spirit. It’s not worth
your time.  Nothing to see,
nothing to hear.

If you do see 
or hear anything, rest assured
it’s nothing. 

4.
If I had become wind
and you were still you,

I’d choose to be here.

If I’d become sun
and you were still you. 
I’d choose to be here.

I’ve become dead. I am here, 
but not by choice —

unlike you. I thank you for it.


How To Throw A Brick

First of all of course
you must choose the brick.
It can be any shape or size:

being yourself 
in an unexpected place,
one where you’ve been
forbidden, is often brick enough
to break some wall or window;

it may require
a bit more — the purchase
of a wedding cake,
a clothing choice no one foresaw,
stubborn insistence on a name or pronoun —
to crack a thicker wall or head
grown old and bitter
from long authority.

Next, the throw.
It should be overhand —
let it take flight, let it soar
over the ruins between you
and the target. Those
who fell before this time
will look up in the dark
and see a brighter sky and think
of a bird that can fly and land
wherever it wants;
they will rest easier.

You will not be alone in the fight.
Bricks that arc together land harder;
there are so many walls and windows to smash 
before they fully open the gates.

As for yourself in the aftermath?

You may retreat to save yourself
from what they do in response
but the ground where you stood remains yours;
though some may see it as a paradox,
you are also the brick you tossed,
a piece of something new yet to be built.


The Semi-Conscious

To be left uneaten
by the cannibals:
that is the fondest wish
of the semi-conscious.

To see the feeding
and the preceding slaughter
and merely cower:
that is the privilege accorded to them.

To crawl away and hide
and be able to stand up
and pick their way
through the bone-field,

then go safely home
after the feast is done,
to be left untouched and whole,
is their purest joy.

Their dreams mostly
untroubled by the sound
of chewing. Their lives
lived as fatly or thinly

as they choose. Their children
guaranteed to thrive
unbitten or even to grow into
the next class of flesh-eaters:

what else could they desire?
It’s not their fault others 
were designated as fast food.
That so many were roasted

and consumed by the cannibals.
All those people had to do was lay low
and blend in. It would have been
easy to survive, 

camouflaged, half-awake,
just aware enough to know
what it took to survive.
They must have
deserved to be prey.

As for the current sound of cannibals 
gnashing their teeth and thrashing the bush f
or the next meal? 
That sound is meant, they trust,
for someone else to fear.