Category Archives: poetry

Land That I Love

Open air salt mine surrounded by trees,
broken skin broken heart redwood dog pen,
I tell you my secret wish:
if you burn, burn clean;
if you flood, flood red;
if you blow sun-high may you be
wiped free of old stains.

Blistered, bruised vending machine jail
overrun with self-guarding inmates,
I sing you my hidden prayer:
if you be hellbound, may you hellhound loud;
if you speak ironbound words,
may they scar you dark and long,
thread you with traces of forgotten railroads.

Oil pan, catch basin, heart butcher to the world,
split window fastback hearse, mistaken, glorious,
I offer you a finback wish:

may somehow you go leaping
through hardening seas
toward the last places left with soft water;
may you somehow turn to ice
and jungle and replacement air;
somehow, may you find safety,
dive deep, stay submerged, 
and learn to thrive in the absence of light.


Lil Greenie

There are so many bodies
between a frog
and its grandfather
they may not know each other
when they meet.

Think of a full pond
of offspring and grand-offspring,
how many eggs, how many tadpoles…
Gramps and Lil Greenie
easily may see each other,
croak back and forth
with no awareness
of genetics held in common.

Lil Greenie grows up
swiftly, turns out pretty 
ordinary.  One day someone
sketches him badly and 
eventually the drawing makes him
famous under a new name — they
call him “Pepe.”

He gets taken
all the wrong ways to all
the best places by some very 
fine bastards indeed. Frogs being
what they are he doesn’t care
as long as he gets fed. They put
bloody words in his mouth and slivers
of ice under his skin and he
burps out this is fine thank you
whenever he gets a chance to speak.

If you ask him what his grandfather
or great-grandfather, what
his Original Mother would think of this,
Pepe will look at you with a half turned, 
crude smile that says he knows just enough
of his ancestry to be dangerous,
which is almost nothing. 


Mist Or Mystique

In these eyes, either
mist or mystique
but not both:
either tears or a veil,
blurred vision or second sight.
You ask how those modes

cannot stretch to include one another?
Can you not cry while seeing the future?
In response, I turn from you
and refuse to answer.

I cried myself out about the future
long ago; if I cry now, it is only because
of the moment’s touch upon me.
I cannot allow myself the luxury
of pre-mourning that which I foresee;

there is too much to be done before then.


Barnwood

Don’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 some harder use. 

Don’t you love the smell of incense
in your home? Sandalwood
pressed into decorating the nostrils
of your guests in your barnwood home
instead of perfuming the temples
where it once praised Lakshmi and Shiva
in its rising from soft flame. 

Don’t you love the dreamcatcher
in your home? The Assiniboine
net framed perfectly on the charcoal wall
over the bookcase, centered, empty of specters 
as far as you know, merely here to let folks know
you appreciate authenticity, found some
on that last trip out West,
and brought it into your home.

Don’t you love sleeping
in your home? Lying at night
on the cotton sheets, on the
bamboo pillow. Your partner
is a shadow on the other side,
more memory than solid figure
in the dark. You wish 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 house
with light so that you can look at all
the pretty things you truly own.


Ain’t That America

1.
You arrive, there’s
a church ready made
for you.  A grand car lot.
Sign spinners
and blinking neon.
Plastic pennants point shaking, 
acolytes rump shaking.
Come on down, step right up,
huckster gospel hour of power,
walk on in and be approved,
drive away in your holy wreck,
come back soon for more new shiny.
Like that song says,
ain’t that America. 

2.
Stick here long enough
and someone
may slip you a whisper
or maybe you find out
for yourself 
not to trust deities
who keep eight decks of cards
up each sleeve. Who invert
at dusk to hang inert 
in their Paradise, ignoring
desperate prayers
so they can wake up 
refreshed for their new day
at the expense 
of refreshing yours.
Who play you when they play.
Who made this house that always wins.
Ain’t that America?

3.
You leave feet first,
they always say,
unless of course you don’t
and you depart while still
upright, walking around in debt
to those gods of the house
with the church and the holy tables
where you laid your life out
and kept betting chunks of it
in pursuit of happiness.  Midnight
prayers unanswered except
through the last radio left on
all night in a tired coffee shop 
full of other mesmerized folks 
singing along. Ain’t that America?


Goth Villanelle

Poem from 1996.

This night of stars that have tunneled through the dark
has kept me up so much later than I should have been up.
A cloud across the moon fills my eyes with tears.

Watching the sun vanish opened up a night of dread.
I sat by the river fearing the dead approach of
this night of stars that have tunneled though the dark

and thrown a wink of infinity against my hope for closure.
I wish I knew who to call. I wish I knew what to say.
A cloud across the moon fills my eyes with tears.

If there were distance to travel that would take me past the lights
to places where I could not see the open sky, I could say less of
this night of stars that have tunneled through the dark

and kept me up so much later than I should have been up.
In an hour the sun will rise but it cannot dim the memory that, like
a cloud across the moon, fills my eyes with tears.

Night, day, the cycle repeats with no hope of a change
until the day the fist of God slams down upon
this night of stars that have tunneled through the dark.
A cloud across the moon fills my eyes with tears.


Jeffery Lee And Skin Guitar At The Open Mic Part 2

mixed into night Jeffery Lee
found he was more everywhere than distinct

as he had been formerly and now 
that skin guitar had dipped

he saw he had been more music than flesh
abdicating his song had reduced him

he had lost his hands
nothing to grip the old salted wound anymore

missed that possibility
looked up to see star and perhaps skin guitar

if it was there it was no longer visible
Jeffery Lee dissolved at last away

back in the bar where he’d fallen into such disrepair
things went along swimmingly 

mistakes were sung
now and then someone played their entire skin 

host said clap and wow and blues and love
crowd said ooh and wow and where was I before that happened

at the star heart of what Jeffery Lee had bled out for
all was noted 

fool said skin guitar hanging there
should not have taken life so seriously


Jeffery Lee And Skin Guitar At the Open Mic

he carried it in like a wound
he had learned to live with

sat with it infantile
wondering at untutored wisdom

then struck it 
and drew forth unfiltered stream

as he played Jeffery Lee
changed himself to be Jeffery Tree

then Geoffrey Spree
exposed his nature first in slow touch with wood

then how reckless with speed
Jeffery Lee and skin guitar a blur union

the listeners sat before him in chairs
and talked of elsewhere and otherwise

Jeffery Lee stepped out from behind the mic
went outside into the night 

at that point the host paused the list
for short applause and beer 

no one went after him or saw
Jeffery Lee dissolve or his skin guitar

rising away
to the star


Shrug It Off

Amid the shock and awe at the final arrival of the long-inevitable,
at burn patterns already veining surfaces, at cities that smell like mistakes,
at villages cowering, at collapsing sea walls in hot rising surf, at isolated farms
where life’s winking out as flames consume…you’re here

where deep down you believe all that mess can’t bother you. You’re here
where you can feel the heat and think it’s…nice. You’re here
where you can watch and shake your head in time to the crackling
and you’re here where you can tell yourself that at least the art

may soon be as good as it always is under such stress.
It can’t be helped, you say.  It’s the way of things, you say.
Forget the bucket brigade, forget the hoses, forget
pulling livestock and children from the flames.  Their owners

and parents should have known better — but they aren’t yours.
You now may wring your brutal, soft hands. You need do nothing more.


Starving Artist Whimper

When at the end
a summary of my life
came down to a soft trumpet flourish
as I fell away from it,
a quick tattoo
on someone else’s marching drum,
I felt no disappointment, no
deep pain; more an appreciation
for how artfully drama may enhance
a simple, nearly-squalid demise. 
All I kept thinking as I sank was

where are you,
choir of disapproval?
Where are you,
angels of warnings unheeded?
Shouldn’t this be your moment?

Nothing came of that.
I fell away from this life
with no mass requiem. I dropped
into ooze below like a stick,
sat on top of it held up by tension 
for a while until I finally sank
and vanished into near silence.


Man Without Qualities

Originally posted 2013.  Revised.

There is a man
who has 1500 friends
on Facebook.

When he counts his friends
he has to use

everyone’s hands to do it.

Of the 1500 people
this man calls friends

he has met approximately 800 in person.

Of those 800, he’s had
more than passing conversations

with maybe 200.

Of those 200, he’s had longer
and more intimate conversations
with perhaps 40.

Of those 40, there are perhaps 15
who are “friends” in the sense of the word
that existed prior to the year 2006.

1500 friends — 800 he’s seen,
400 he’s spoken with in meatspace,
200 he’s connected with,

40 he would tell this story to,
15 who would agree that they are friends
if they were not vanishing into a cloud.

He no longer sees friendship
as a solid object. No rock upon which
to build. No seawall against which

the ocean can pound. He stares
at screens where all he can see
is a storm on the way.

One day he decides to read
a three volume unfinished novel
titled “A Man Without Qualities.”

He opens the first volume, closes it,
opens it again. He struggles to understand
how there could be

a story three volumes long
of a man who is nothing
beyond what 
he is asked to be by others.

The book sits on his bedside table
unopened for long spells
as he talks to 1500 friends online

where, if there is a Quality to “friendship,”
it has been absorbed into a cloud.

It is being absorbed. It shall be absorbed.

1500 friends — 800 he’s seen,
400 he’s spoken with in meatspace,
200 he’s connected with,

40 he would tell this story to,
15 who would agree that they are friends
if they were not vanishing into a cloud.

If he desires to hold on to those 15 friends
he will have to learn a new word with which
to draw them forth from the hurricane.

 

White As A Ghost

they said to 
a frightened man

you are as white
as a ghost

he said nothing
but thought

about the paradigm that after existing
in the skin

he was born to 
for an entire lifetime

the fear of death
would render him as white as the ghost

they thought he would become
after dying

thus negating at last
all else he was and had been

in this notion of the afterlife
fear and death bleach all

and the goal of total assimilation
is thus achieved 

but the frightened man
did not say any of this

instead silently resolved that
when at last his term was ended

if he could come back 
he would come back

the wraith he would become
would haunt all of this

and his ghost
would be dark


Indoor Weather

no one ever speaks of
the weather inside buildings

people pretend
they’ve come inside from weather
to no weather

they misinterpret
the sensation
of a single drop of water
landing on their skin 
from an invisible source

call it a phantom
call it imaginary
dismiss it

in fact rain happens indoors on a small scale
what you felt
was a monsoon in the break room
or spring shower in the kitchen

we are never told this when we’re young
among all the mysteries held back
this may be the greatest of all

that we cannot escape

the cool season of the closet
the mutable climate of the front hall

the terrible inevitable
that is the dark freeze
of the bedroom


Waves

Waves lifting silt and muck
from seabeds,
darkening surfaces enough
for certainty 
to become elusive
even as all is refashioned
from their endless beating
upon land.

So many mornings
I awake so exhausted
from dreaming of surfing, 
sailing, or swimming
that I cannot rouse myself 
to ride those waves 
while awake.

I tell myself
my Work is done
at night, in darkness, in sleep,
beyond light.
All I do after dawn
is recordkeeping.

Waves under sunlight, though;
there is something to be said
for how diamonds
sting from spray, how glimpses
of shadows in those waves
may spark visions
and offer other truths,

but it is not something
I have learned to say,
I cannot stay awake
long enough to learn,
and how long it may take
to become fluent in that tongue
is more uncertain than 
what shape this shore will take
when these waves at last subside. 


Forty-Five Minutes

Forty-five
minutes lying awake
after rising briefly 
and returning to bed
where nothing happened

so I rose and
sat with water and smoke
waiting for pain to subside
for another forty-five minutes

At forty-five
I would have brushed off 
a broken night like this one
as merely a test
of the preservation
and evolution of my energy

but at fifty-nine
frozen in the living room light
wanting nothing more
than oblivion temporary or
otherwise 

it is hard to imagine
that once upon a time
twice forty-five minutes ago
I had it

as it feels like I will never
have it again