Category Archives: poetry

A Tub of Eels

Behind a small head of smoke
on a Friday night, taking care
of business, keeping it real, tight
and clean, at the same time weeping
at all these near-exhausted cliches
which so perfectly summed him up
without one ounce of novelty needed
to make them more precise;
how did it happen
that he had become
so easy to describe?

He’d stopped trying,
he guessed. It didn’t feel
at all that way to him,
he felt so tired
from what he’d thought
was strenuous work to maintain
his freshness,
yet here he was:

it had to be a clerical error.
It had to be a mistake in the math.
It had to be in the calculations
that decided what was effort and
what was just getting by.

Behind a small head of smoke
on a Friday night, baseball on the
television, words slipping
around themselves
like a tub of eels, the way
they always have. Taking care of
business, the business
of herding eels; looking for
the outlets they use for escape —

and still he’s so tired
of himself. So tired and stale.
He’s been doing this
for longer than the cliches
have existed. They were cut
to fit him, tailored to his form;
they fit too well to just throw away
no matter how worn they all were.


Delight

Coherence requires
contrast; aberration
affirms the norm.

In daylight every thick shadow
opens doors and offers
reminders;

at night, even at a distance,
any pinprick glow
will do the same.

I grew up thinking
this was nonsense,
of course, encouraged

by all that is considered
normal to maintain purity
of existence, strict protocols

for what should happen when,
what should be where. I think
the first time I saw the moon

in the same sky as the sun and realized
that even in daylight its dark side
remained hidden yet was also present,

the pins that had held down
what is and is not normal
began to tumble within me

as if I was a cylinder into which
a key had entered, and full delight
was opened to me in that moment.


The Long Tract

The last time I looked
I had not fulfilled
any of my early promise.

Then again,
the hell with that.
The rewards I’d expected

were given by assholes,
and designed to reinforce
themselves.

It’s as if my early promise
had their scent to it but after a life
of stinking up their joint their way

I’d opened a window
and breathed deeply of air
that smelled so different

I smelled different
after one breath. They couldn’t
take me in now, of course;

said I was a dud after all, said deep down
they always knew I would be.
I’m still myself, of course,

award-free yet tasting
not at all like sour grapes, surprising
myself if I am to be honest,

which I thought was the point.
I always thought that was the point;
tell the truth, do it clean,

let the rest take care of itself.
Maybe there are rewards for showing
late promise? Maybe there are none

and the reward now
is the increasing scent
of the outdoors

and the diminishing scent of
where I longed to belong, the smell
of trophies that pass through

the long tract into filthy hands.
The reward now is not having
to scrub myself raw

every time
I look at where
I’ve been.




Pirate Song (Red Flag)

Mystery flag fluttering over a face
in a bar with no open window
or ceiling fan yet there it is stretched out
over someone, you know you can see it
but you keep staring at that face
trying to ignore the flag,
how it has no apparent color
in the dim light but you know the color
without seeing it, the dulled crimson,
the carmine warning now fully extended
in a wind blowing you toward it
from offstage cold front, now gale, 
not quite hurricane yet but getting there,
you’ve always been a sucker for the red
snapping in rhythm to irresistible forces,
you’ve never been an immovable object 
no matter how hard you try and try, 
the red flag over your own head a testimonial
to the danger you have learned to cultivate
when it presents itself and now
as you rise from your seat to go to the bar
you’ve got the wind at your back and 
all your pirate cells are singing.


What Should Remain Unsaid

Chop wood, carry water, sing; 
all about the same, I think.

Every word, blow, or step the same, I think. 
Perhaps I should think less but carry wood
or chop water feel the same
to me, feel like my song.

The pen shall be at once axe or bucket;
the words written in cuts upon the logs
shall leak music.

As for splitting chunks
(looking at the grain and picking your spot)
or pouring the water out when you get there
(careful not to slop too much over), which of those
is not also worth a song?

Sing, then. Do not speak of singing.
Carry water, and sing; chop wood, and sing;
don’t stop to talk of these things.


The Envelope

It became clear
that arriving at a last good place
would never happen
under my own power,
so I surrendered 
and decided to put myself
into an unaddressed envelope
to see where I might end up. 

Once inside I sealed it behind me
and kept pushing
until I reached the far corner.
The light within was a paradox:
it got brighter the farther I went;
at the end it was more blue
than the sky I’d forsaken
to get here.

From inside
I could hear the mail carrier
approach heavy stepping,
singing; and I flattened myself
to fit, excited to see
where I’d end up;

then I remembered
that I’d never felt anyone do anything
to the outside — no address, not even
a return label, and no postage.

I’m still here and still 
I remain elated as I am carried
out into the world, knowing 
that when I arrive and burst through
it will likely be be dimmer there than
it is in here, but then again
it may not be, and until then it’s
perfect here in the far corner
of the envelope; even when
I close my eyes, I can feel the light.


Sunset

What happens
in the backwash
of history
is still history.
Each massacre
is ongoing;
theft and conquest
rumble on until
it’s all been taken.

After that it’s just canon
and it reads cleaner,
like an old film
people call out as
the way they used
to make them, not like
today. They say,

stars were bigger then
and the movies today
are too small, too focused
on bullets, blood, and
who dies and who lives
without considering
all the glory the big films
made so clear and so
lovely to think about.
They really love their movies,
their tales of glory. History
be damned unless
it can be shined like silver.

Lucky there is always
more history to polish,
shape, and put to work.
That lucky old sunset
is always there for them
to ride into at the close
of their film.


Cryptozoologists

When cryptozoologists gather to speak
among themselves of their field of study,
are there cryptids they dismiss out of hand
as being pure fabrications or folklore?
Or do they accept every story ever told
as clear evidence of existence?

If there is one they all dismiss, I want to become
that one. The one that looks in a chosen one’s window
at night, trying to glimpse them through
their curtains. The one that sits in night-alleys
or ditches, waiting to soak their journey
with uncertainty. The one they will not speak of.

I want to be the one that makes them doubt their faith.
They will be silenced by the others if they dare to mention me
but the memory of my ratted fur shall be a rebuke to that dismissal.
Nightmares about my scaled eyes will haunt their shaming.
My chimeric being shall be their trial by fire —
and if there is not one, if all take all at face value,

let me become one so easily explainable
as a mundane creature imperfectly seen or heard
that I can walk through this world secretly snickering
at their inability to see me right in front of them.
Let me embody for them the need for humility
right before I explode into fabulous unreality before their eyes.


Again

so.
again.

perfect angel
or mistake. big dumb
or slight intellectual.
war cry or
blue honorific,
again.

so.

you find this
hard to follow? consider
how a bullet feels
upon learning its trajectory
has made it infamous

again.
so.

if you are
not yet numb from talking about it,
if you are not yet dumb about
only talking about it

again,

tell us:

what should we say this time?
how do we wrap this one in words

beyond so
and again

so tightly
it shall be bound away
as the last?


Lone Wolf

We give you now
a self professed
freedom fighter
safe at rest
Who fell asleep
on a bed of stars
Awoke cocooned
in hardened scars
Then wore them like
a pale thick stole
Proclaimed them each
as more than royal
Presented them
as proof of purity
A broken frame
An insecurity
which led them to grow
a heart of bombs
to excavate
graves and tombs
in which to bury
the unfortunate collateral
casualties of ideologues
just as they are
a self-confessed
vigilante blessed
with peace
in knowing
they are already gone


Closed For Repairs

Shortly after arriving in
my heady, early twenties,

a sign, “CLOSED FOR REPAIRS,”
was hung above my eyebrows. While waiting for

new parts to arrive I pulled individual hairs from my body
and arranged them on a bone china plate

for display, for memorial. I starved myself to preserve
that tableau for as long as I could.

Didn’t eat, didn’t sleep, pretty much gave up
all allegedly healthful things, figuring

the new parts would do
what all that would not do, and why not

enjoy myself in the meantime? I did not ask
the ones who hung the sign when I would be

fixed. Inside and under the sign
I was what I thought was comfortable,

and though I did now and then fantasize
a life after repair, I really didn’t mind this,

or so I thought until I realized how far away
the necessary parts for my repair must be;

to this day I stand out watching for the mail
as if today, today I could sweep the old hairs

from my plate and gorge myself from it;
as if today, today could at last be reopening day.


Eulogy (YDF)

you dumb fuck

you dumb cracked vessel
you dumb negation of evolution
you dumb as a final mingle in the boys’ room at your high school
you dumb thinking you’re gonna miss this
then treating every interaction for the rest of your life
the same dumb way

you dumb fuck

you toxic little germ

you spitting toxin like some bad banger
you fawning over everyone like they too spit toxins
you thinking you are all in the same toxic club
you dance like one toxin settled in your feet
another one settled in your born-toxic throat
and you sing like you spit
the same toxic way you always have

you toxic little germ

you claimant to the stab throne

you claim a heritage you didn’t inhabit
you claim something beyond that
you stake a claim and it takes up the air in the clean room
you claim you know the way to the sharpest edge
and then the time comes
and you come up blunted
you wannabe quitclaim

you claimant to the stab throne

you beyond the point of shame jester

you shame of a blistered little boy grown not up but down
you got to preach redemption to smother your shame
you take a shame enema to flush it all out
you had a shame cloak and wore it the fuck out too soon
and when the time comes you dumb fuck
when the time comes you toxic little germ
when your time comes to claim you for its own
don’t try to say
you are more ashamed than proud
at how everyone’s going to wipe their mouths
free from the taste of your name


Absence

To wake up naked, alone,
tracing the empty outline
next to you with your finger
before rising,

is to think of the mourning doves
who are no doubt outside under the feeders now
and imagine you are in communion
because you imagine you could understand their calls.

To stumble from room to room this early
without needing to be quiet;
to use her favorite curses for the junkie upstairs
and his parade of suspect visitors;

to put off breakfast until this aching
is so inadequately addressed; this is how
you get through a week without her
being here, all while knowing

there’s more time like this ahead.
Knowing it will end, but not soon enough.
Knowing she’ll come home,
but not soon enough.


Geodes

A poem from, roughly, 2002. Slightly revised.

1.
Monday night bar in Union Square,
loud enough to allow for intimacy.
You have been here for hours when a co-worker
who is also the woman you’ve been seeing,
who has also been sitting across from you all this time,
rises from the table and turns toward the door.

You catch a glimpse
of a tattoo on her back, 
visible between the shirt and the belt;
it stretches from hipcrest to hipcrest
as if she has sprouted 
low-slung wings.

She leaves the bar,
moving away from the sound of your voice
out into the night.
You suspect she’s thinking that 
though your words, like stones,
were clearly born in fire, 

you have tumbled them too long between
your water heart and your earth tongue;
made them cool and gleaming and edgeless; 
you took and tossed
the once-burning words at her
and it felt like hail in July.

How will she ever rise
when you keep burying her 
under such a tumble
of dead things?
Inside her a stone is growing
where you once were.

She is gone,
but you drink for another hour. 
On your own cab ride home,
you begin to plot a new path 
toward her heart.
Your dreams burn and spin all night.

2.
Next day,
you wake at 6 AM.

There have been many things 
in your life that were 
seen once or many times 
and unremembered 
until they were needed —
ripple on a lakebed, 
patch of wrinkled layers in old stone,
some tree gnarled into a twist waiting
until they could give meaning 
to something else. 

Her face last night.

You hear secret voices,
voices heard solely in the body, 
saying that
revelation exists 
in a simple trace of 
transcendence – even inside 
the skin and eyes 
of someone you think you know.

Before now, you certainly
would not have called out to God
when thinking of her. 
Now your brain slides into that way of being — 
now you say, alone in your bedroom,
what you have learned: 

it exists, 
it certainly exists,
a way of living, 
a holy space
that only another body
can make real —

because you will not call it 
‘being in God’,
you will call it 
‘being in love’. 

You have never felt like this 
before work before –
ready to pray all the way up to the 
forty-fifth floor.

3.
By Tuesday noon 
you have run back down 
forty-five floors,
you’ve learned thousands 
of new names for God, 
crying them all 
as you run from thunder, 
fleeing stone 
and powder 
and shock.

The running itself is a kind of prayer
that she is running too
or watching this happen from elsewhere, 
one hand on her mouth, tears 
leaving trails in the white, 
awful dust on her cheeks.

Your running is a prayer
that she can fly.

4.
You kick over the television at 9:30 PM.

You have not spoken for hours,
staring at the phone,
waiting for it to ring, waiting.

You close all the blinds
while waiting,
waiting for the phone to ring, waiting.

You wish you could drink but everything tastes like suicide. 
A pill forms in your hand while you wait,
wait for the phone, waiting.

A pill washes down
past the scratch and raw breath of your coughing. 
A pill makes you lucid in the face of delusion
long enough to realize
that someone really is at the door, it’s your landlord, just arrived, 
all the roads closed, been waiting for hours in the lines,
waiting,

checking up on all of his tenants, tells you
the towers are gone,
the towers for the cell phones are gone, 
no calls coming in or out, no calls, 
all those hours waiting, 

air filled with voices in tears, 
in arrest, in thrombosis, in embolism, 
waiting, waiting,

with crush injuries, 
burns, inhalations, rages, fevers,
blames and names and hatreds,
silences and understandings,

moments gone with
all the bodies newly torn, flung, 
sundered, crushed, and cindered;
all the memories

and the bearers of the memories 
waiting to get through, 
hoping to reinflate, 
to reanimate, to be reborn:

you’re still 
waiting.

5.
Wednesday, driving north from the city
before dawn toward New England
to stay with friends. It’s mid September,
nearly time for the leaves to come off the trees
in one last burst of flame. 
The day looks like it is going to be perfect.

You are trying to remember yesterday morning’s dream of her,
how it felt to rest in the moment of knowing she could leave you.

You linger on one small moment of it:
the moment of not caring where she was, 
as long as she was out there somewhere, 
as long as she was happy. 

You called it love then, 
but now you know it was God. 
that moment of being
without attachment to the result 
was something you could call God; 

a name you could hang 
on the moment,
a name you’ll cling to 
though it has become hard to say because
it does not include enough syllables 
to describe the fact

that you didn’t bother
to bring your cell phone with you this morning,
that you did not leave
a message on hers before you left.

At a rest stop outside Waterbury
you pull over.
Maybe you fall asleep. 
It isn’t important ?
what matters is that 
suddenly all around you
the earth is pushing up geodes
by the thousands.
You pick one up and it cracks in your hands,
spilling oceans of ancient, limed water,
soaking your hands with salt and 
the flakes of 
long concealed
crystals. 

She is suddenly there,
watching you weep, 
and as she rises from the ground 
she tells you:

keep moving

there are more names 
for God 
than any of us ever 
could have 
imagined


Congressional Record

In a government built 
for and by men and only men
the most honor will be given
to those whose eyes mist over 
with bland depravity, the ones
who will square their shoulders
and sigh, "Well, nothing else
to be done here," then send 
soldiers and bombers
off to do bloody dirt 
they would not do
with their own hands. 
With their own hands 
they will sign orders 
for murder squads, then
go home to families, trot babies
on their knees till bedtime when they will
hand them back to women and go sit 
in their dark studies wondering 
what will emerge tomorrow morning
from the beige fog 
of incremental catastrophe in which 
they live and breathe.
They live and breathe 
for this distance from their kills
as if they've developed a taste for the news
of how children's bodies were churned
by explosives, how the targets ran screaming,
how the pushpins then were moved 
around their maps as a result, their eyes 
misting over with bland depravity, 
their lust for other lives twisting within them
as they vote, as they argue and deal,
as they campaign, as they square their shoulders 
and say, "So much more to be done, 
may we have your vote?"