Category Archives: poetry

Advice

To prevent being robbed
in a push in, secure
your AC unit with screws
and window locks 
if you are close enough to the ground 
that a would-be thief could get to you.

To prevent being hurt
in a street crime, give up
your valuables at once and
don’t try to be a hero no matter
what you carry, no matter
what movies you’ve seen. 

To prevent being victimized 
by online predators, scammers,
and trolls use firewalls 
and private networks, stop taking 
quizzes and playing games,
stop being so certain you’re doing fine. 

To prevent being wounded
by family, friend, or lover
stay sharp and ready,
set boundaries early, require
consent explicitly, expel toxicity
whenever it becomes necessary.

To prevent being torn apart 
by your country? Would-be
thief lured by your cool, 
red-white-blue sneer of a thug,
voice in your ear suggesting
blasphemous surrenders?

The advice remains the same.
Never become too surprised 
that the distance between
two criminals of any stripe
is slim, and the only thing
different is that sometimes,

heroism may be required of you. 

 


Supper’s Ready

The city, gracious and
grievous at once, 
stares at the plates,
rocks back and forth
with longing, with ravenous 
tradition to feed;

that today will call itself
a melting pot with all its flavors
blending into one,
glorying in the mashup
and saying.
this is good;

that tomorrow
will call itself a salad 
whose flavors are distinct
and identifiable, whose 
least desirable ingredients
can always be plucked out and set aside;

that deep down prefers
its plates regimented, this not 
touching that; that will sample
of course, try everything
of course, then wash it down
and away with coldish tap water;

that certainly 
welcomes you to sit at the table
(if you will use only the preferred condiments)
and eat as much as you can 
until you are unable to push away
when you’ve had too much;

that will say this is good again
when you tumble off your fragile chair
to the ground; the city
both gracious and grievous;
melting pot salad city, wash
it away later city, pointing and laughing

at you on the ground where you recall
the city’s ravenous traditions, 
where you see that when all
is done someone’s going to be made
to do all the dishes and if the city
doesn’t get up to help clear the table

it is only because 
it still has room for dessert,
some kind of pie, you know
what they say is in it
but the way they look at you reminds you 
that there’s not an apple tree for miles.


The Text

Overcome today with the understanding
that if there is a meaning to the universe
I’m merely a period closing one routine
sentence in the owner’s manual,

and if I’d been left out from the beginning
the meaning would still be clear from context.
My absence would mean nothing at all
except to the most nitpicky readers.

I am not absent
but I am minuscule in comparison
to the broad sweep of the text.
It’s a comforting thought. Nothing

depends on me, you say? No more
than on anything else? That’s 
a cold lick of freedom indeed, 
and as I fade into the invisible background

I’m thinking less and less, 
feeling more and more, and 
more or less invigorated by this,
I turn toward the light with a smile.


Ramparts

We have seen them, and met you;
this is why we build ramparts.

Some of you stand outside, calling out
that it will be fine. We will stay

where it’s safe, thank you.
You would likely fail

at living like this. We 
thrive here, more or less.

Contrary to the noise,
it’s nearly fine in here:

too narrow for you,
too tight for them,

but these swaddling walls
suit some of us just fine.

We’re tired of them killing us
and you wringing your hands

afterward.
We built this because of you:

you’re not the worst
of them, but you certainly 

make a lot of apologies 
for who they are as if you 

want to stay on their
good side. God almighty, 

don’t stand outside with them
and preach about community

and unity and love
for one another:

this is why we came together
and built the ramparts, after all.

Don’t you see that we can’t love you?
How could we? From up here 

behind the parapets,
we can see you.

You say it’s beautiful out there
and we should come be with you?

From what I can see, 
the only thing you have we don’t

is more room to be vicious
with one another, to flail wildly

whether you are slaying
or perishing. We’re good, thanks;

in fact, behind these ramparts,
we are dancing and laughing.

The gates lock from inside.
We will unlock them

when we’re ready, but certainly
not until we are sure you are done. 


Red Apple Man

I’m not some
red apple man
for you to factor in
to whatever you’ve planned

Don’t imagine
I can be held
in one hand
for your consumption

Don’t imagine 
that after you snap through
my skin it will be
sweetness and juice within

No red souvenir
for your shelf
No red badge of honor
with which to brand your self

I’m no
red apple man
I’ve got something else in here
that won’t be easy for you

to fit into the simple pie
you’d love to make of me
I’ve got turquoise guts
to break your teeth

and old worms some alive and twisting
More that are sliced and cold
You don’t have the stomach
for what you could make of me


When I Am Killed Before My Time

after a few days
place my rotten corpse
somewhere in the edifice
of whatever institution
brought me 
to my end — 
a church,
town hall,
police station, 
august tower of 
industry, or similar
palace of rule
and regulation;

let it be
somehow inconvenient 
to remove it right away —
lock it down with chains
or put it somewhere
obvious but
inaccessible;

make a phone call
with my demand
that someone from within 
the building remove it — not
a custodian or contractor
but a bishop or CEO, captain
or mayor; make sure
they do not send a flunky
to do the stinking work 
of handling death.

When they come forward —
gagging and tentative,
gingerly reaching
for my softened limbs —
offer them a slow clap
for finally getting
their hands sticky
with what they caused.

It will be good for all of us
living and dead to see 
how they move through 
this world in the days
that follow. 


Operating System Upgrade

no one
wants to dig
into the closet

where we keep the box
full of the directions once used
for installing this society

that explain that 
when you no longer
have roaming bands

of the native population 
to massacre
you will have to find

something else for those among you 
inclined to mass killing
to work with

some will go the solo route
leaving behind signatures
and ritual wounds

some will take a different tack
and “band of brothers” themselves
into what they’re told is the public good

and some
will turn themselves into heroes 
at gun shows

where they can
pick up the newest tools
of blood patriotism

since the Gatling guns 
once used at Wounded Knee
are so hard to carry 


Observations On Cats Inside And Outside Of Boxes

A truck goes by.
One cat sleeps,
the other runs. 

I do nothing but watch.
I do nothing but tell
stories — some are even
true.

Was there a truck? 
I think so. If not, 
I’ll make it so.
Such power in lying
if this is a lie.
Such resolute power
in sitting and watching
if one can tell a story afterward.

The cat who ran knows this.
The one who sleeps might know this
or might not.

I can choose
the stories to tell
about the cats and turn them
into fodder. One’s sleeping in a box
and maybe isn’t even aware
that I’m here. The other one’s
ears keep twitching at the sound
of my keyboard. Maybe. Maybe
they move at the sound of starlings,
or in fear of the truck returning,

if there was a truck.

Schrodinger failed to account
for the observations
of the cat in the box
regarding the nature
of living and dying. He knew
the discussion was ridiculous.
He chose his story without asking
the cat for its view. The cat was likely
more afraid of trucks on the street
than such a story as his.

It would be nice
to know the truth.
Truth be told, I suspect
it would be best for me
to just pet the cats,
both of them,
while we’re all still here. 


Routine

A backhanded prayer,
a promise made in a meadow,
a body twisting,
a whole zoo of animal thoughts,
small-town bravery
in the face of big town
midnight,
a teacher rolling dice that nothing
will go any more wrong,
vacated bodies handled 
gently by lesser superheroes,
no victory to be had, 
no power to which to offer sacrifice,
no reason,
no reason,
no reason.

 


Apathetic Ghazal

Say that phrase no one will admit they love.
Say it as if you are proud to say it: I don’t care. 

Say it with your whole body as you turn away from today.
Say it symphonically, as a string quartet might play it:  I don’t care. 

So much to think about when you stare at everything all day long.
So many people you don’t know want to discuss all this. Say it: I don’t care. 

Say it as if it could cure the poisoned air, as if our need to weigh in
has turned such an admission into Magick: I don’t care. 

As if your opinion matters without action, if it matters at all with
or without action. Let your tone of voice be your action. Say it: I don’t care. 

Give it a place beyond this one. Put it out, free yourself.
Once free, you will fly. Fly now. Say it: I don’t care. 

Eat better, sleep better, be more at rest while awake; make love
without overthinking. Stop fretting and say, I don’t care. 

You ask: but how should I push through the blood in the streets?
Dye your legs red and blend in with the surge. Say it: I don’t care. 


After Jericho

It might not be an immediate fall
but I can wait for what’s clearly inevitable
for as long as it takes.

No matter if I die waiting
as long as I can be buried
with my horn in my hands.

I want my grave to be close by
in case someone tries to rebuild,
in case we are needed again. 

Last thought: for those who remain,
give some thought to those whose loved ones
were buried under the ruins, 

who had gathered there
simply because they heard music
and thought the angels had come for them.


It Has Stopped Now

It has stopped now.
No going forward.
It’s going to end right here
where it has stalled.

Gently, gently,
we call to it. If you’re
going to fail, do it
gently; fade, don’t explode.

Each day it sits there
we can hear a fuse
burning within, crisp sizzle
suggesting that 

it’s not listening or
can’t hear over 
that sound. It’s stopped
and going no further.

Its weight is sinking it.
Its rust is hindering it. 
It’s too close and too vast
for us to escape from

how this will end. Gently,
gently, we implore it.
It’s not listening. Shouting
gently, gently? Nothing. 

If history holds true,
we should be running 
now. Far away, as fast as
we can. But here we stay

praying for fadeaway, a getaway,
good closure or improbable escape
after all: but here it is, stopped,
right where we are.


Fatted Calf

When those bodies
hit the floor, falling
insensitively into
our lives via our
screens, poking 
once again at
our entitled sense
of safety (how dare
these children die
before we have a chance
to sit down from 
last week’s funerals)
we take barely
the customary moment
to stop and smell
the rancid smoke
of pyre thoughts
and cremation prayers
pouring from the ears
of those who might in fact
have the power
to stop this shit
before we let them 
kick the bullet-full can
down the blood-full road
while saying to ourselves
this time will be surely be
different as we keep one eye
of our fatted calf’s view
on the horizon
and wait.


Don’t Write A Poem When You’re High

Don’t write a poem when you’re high.
The words might be marked with hard labor.
You might forget how to make it look easy
and the struggle will be real for the reader,
not just for you. 

Don’t write a poem when you’re high.
It might sound like you put in work
and any instructions you followed from within
will be written on your hand for easy reference
and anyone who wants to look can look.

Don’t write a poem when you’re high —
if it happens by accident, don’t show it around.
Keep that one to yourself until you can erase
all the signs of how hard it was to get it on paper
without coughing up everything you’d been holding in. 


Headstone

As soon as I heard
that they’d set
my father’s headstone
I went to see it

with my carelessly curated stack
of memories and imagined moments
that should have happened
but did not

wrapped up tight like a deck
of worn index cards
with the essentials written
in carpenter’s pencil on each one

rubber band
holding it all together
so they would not come undone
in my pocket

elastic so old and 
blackened from age
that to attempt to open the pack
and sort truth from lies from wishes

would have meant losing
the whole of it to wind
or vagaries of chance 
revelation 

I’d hoped to leave them
on the base of the marker
then turn and go 
but here they still are 

stubborn and uncut 
back in my junk drawer
thick writing in crude lead
unfaded cryptic but clear

I will touch them now and again
whenever I go fishing
for a tool for some stubborn home repair
far beyond my capacity to achieve