Category Archives: poetry

For the Fancydancers

revised from march 2020
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

within days
of the contagion’s start
something

took me over
rolled my hands into chafed red fists
started punching through my pale shell 

I spend my mornings now
watching fancydancing videos

little girls in jingle dresses
little boys in full regalia stomping
all raising their arms against contagion

on small and common
snow-iced lawns
on the edges of empty roads 

in furrows left
in winter land
by spring and summer plowing

all of them elsewhere west of here
beyond this city
crowded still

with unbelievers shopping
for safety from what
they don’t yet fully believe is already among them

is no longer a rumor of plague
east and west of here
but no, not here

west of here
people are dancing
toward healing

I think of my sister
sick as sick can be now
in her jingle dress at eighteen

whatever is inside me pokes me gently
reminds me of smallpox blanket stories
says

this is how you survive


Tunneling

It seems
that I’ve been walking
through a tunnel for
a long time;

one hand on
each damp wall,
pinprick light behind me,
pinhole of hope ahead;

the lights
before and behind
have winked out
and here I am —

cold wet hands,
tearing my fingers open
on stones I cannot see.
I stop for a moment,

listening to dripping water,
listening for something scrambling
through the dark
toward me — and while there’s

nothing at all besides me
in here, I’m certain,
I need to feel fear anyway.
I’ve been told the dark is

terrifying my whole life,
after all. I’ve been told that tunnels
hold danger at their core,
but all I feel here is space.

Perhaps I am the danger?
The stones whisper that to me.
I don’t know if they can be trusted.
I don’t know if I can trust myself,

alone with myself in the dark.


Manifesto

First principle must be
that words matter more to you than
anything: ideas are in words

and all you need to release them
is a key that opens a chest full of
right words in which to trap physicality:

truth comes out of that
even if you must lie or fantasize a little
to strengthen a listener’s sensation:

based on what words you pluck
from your breath you recreate
this world as it truly is:

a paradox of course but
that is how it works
and always has:

ideas coated in words.
Truth coated in words.
Reality coated in words: it’s

mythic work — not lies,
enhanced sensing of how words
carry all, weight beyond meaning:

truth balanced on syllables
balanced on sensation and
under all, ideas. Bedrock.


Cars

That which began to drive me to this point
was my dad’s battered Mercedes 219 from 1959,
black with a worn red leather interior.
No show car, no rich man’s prize —
brought it back from his last German post
driven it to its death as a family car
that at the end couldn’t carry a family
to conclusion.

That which then continued to drive me to this point
was a succession of my own rat-faced used cars —
’67 junkyard rebirth Belair
in brush-painted brick red, two Saabs,
an International pickup, two Toyotas,
three Subarus, five Hondas; somewhere
in the mix was a fifty dollar Volkswagen
which lasted as long as a fifty dollar Volkswagen
would be expected to last.

Whatever has driven me to this point
was never a beloved steed, never
a cherished ride; instead a series
of disheveled limited options exercised
only when absolutely necessary, only when
I had to get somewhere else than where I was
when the previous option had fatally failed.

Whatever drove me to this point
always came with just the basics and problems
that came from basic breakage; wear and tear,
bad choices badly executed, poor daily care;
now and then the good old wrong place,
wrong time. I sit now and dream of
how it might have been different if I’d only,
if I had only, if I had only…and that is
what drives me now: a theory of my past
assembled from regrets and misread directions,
rides that did what was needed in the moment,
and nothing more until it all fell apart.


Aftermath

Meanwhile in the meanwhile,
in the mean time, this meanest of
intervals goes humming by
and there on the far edge of it
is a human, someone clinging
who once might have been centered,
might have been the ruler, the slick
dancing ruler, the measure
of the center, how they led
the edge forward before this,
before the year broke loose,
the whole decade in fact
slipping its moorings and now
that human clings for life
as the decade spins off its spine
and all are flung out into space
except for them, and after the mean time
they sit with their head in their hands
wondering if they really needed
to cling so hard to this plane
that now is so utterly changed
it is hard to imagine them ever being
centered again.


The Nested Country

Behold: a country of nested
borders.

Look at it and be awed by
the Big, the Bright, the Beautiful of it.

If you manage to twist it open and enter
you’ll find another within —

less Big, less Bright. (Beauty is in
the eye of the contained.) If you

go in, you will find another,
and then another; it will be dim in there.

At the heart, a battered core with two faces:
one, Black Kettle, the other, Nat Turner;

it is nowhere as Bright and Beautiful
as the Big Doll you can barely recall

now that you’re
all the way in and can see

that even though it is full,
it is also hollow.


The Scent In The Mirror

It’s so dumb and common to speak of
the mirror moment of an easy
and tired description of
introspection. I’m not less
susceptible for knowing it’s
a cliche. That said,
when I see the desertification
below my eyes, the end-zone theatrics
of the silver overwhelming my beard
and brow’s defenses, I take a moment
to shift my sense and note how
all the scents of all I’ve been through
have stuck to me almost in spite of the visuals;
I smell everything from early sex to first death in that image,
and now and then the fragrance
of roses, lilacs, every one of my teachers’ eau de colognes
and aftershaves; stale cigarettes,
beer and whisky long soaked into cheap carpets,
Thai sticks smoldering, the antiseptic skin-burn
of cocaine cresting inside my pore-pocked nose;
suddenly I am young again in defiance
of the mirror’s insistence that I am not.
I inhale and suck my youth straight out
of that reflection, and the clinging flavor
of all those years takes my old breath away.


Carbonated Mouthwash

Upon waking from a dream
of being awarded the Nobel
for inventing
carbonated mouthwash

I immediately look up the possibility
that the dream was prophecy
and not a side effect of the weed
I smoked before bedtime

only to learn that not only
is the invention a done deal
it was in fact a bad idea
for what it does to teeth

Once again I’ve dreamt
of being honored for crap
Gotten my hopes soaring
over dangerous and unoriginal thoughts

and thus have replicated in this dream
and its sobering aftermath
the entirety of
my literary career

Fortunately
there’s some weed left


Attention To Detail

Attention to detail suggests that
in order to complete the full circle
someone who looms large to all
will likely have to die before anyone
will admit this is over; a person
beloved or hated by large factions
will have to die to fuel a round
of theories and essays, violent reaction,
polarized grief and mourning; a person
chained while in this sphere to opinions
they will drag with them
into the next world, deafening us
and leaving scrape-marks behind.

Attention to detail suggests that
in order to come to what some will call closure
and others will call the start of a new cycle,
someone will have to die in some extreme way
that offers a chance for mythic explorations
and rejuvenated symbolism about royalty
and a snake swallowing itself
as it disappears in fire, only to become
a legendary bird upon its rebirth. A stone-tipped arrow
shall be found on the cooling stones after
and all will begin to argue about which direction
it is pointing, what it means, who should take it up,
set it on a bow, and let it fly.



The Great Conjunction

They will look back upon us and see us for idiots
looking for stars to do work we needed to do.

They will say the great conjunction
was not Jupiter and Saturn’s illusory closeness

but our own embrace of magical thought
in the face of the growing heat and disease

that took us down. They will say this
while shaking their heads at how

we ignored the mocking laughter
of the implacable science that runs the universe

as it rolled right over us. Our hatreds
spread like a plague even as a true plague

spread just as fast, as we choked the oceans and air
until we were choking as well. The Great Conjunction,

they will say, was not the doubled up light in the sky
but people down here, a black hole,

angry, scared, crowded
into one another so tightly

nothing could penetrate.
No light, no heat, nothing in there

but faith in the efficacy of crossed fingers,
crosses, and whatever the stars might say —

although the stars said nothing except
this one, dear people, is all on you.



This My Body

This, my body:

nondescript and hard-regretted tattoos,
pedestrian piercings, a belly hung
over the belt line, badly crusted feet,
wounds long healed in the skin if not
in the tissues below. I claim the title of
man covered in evidence of mistakes
that led to this being, this now.

Some would say do not fall into the trap of comparison
but here I am staring into my own eyes, seeing
coal mountain strip mine, railroad cut
in New England granite, shoreline wasted
under washed up oil and the garbage of decades.
I claim the title of warning shot, alarm
long ringing and long ignored.

Old friends stand aside,
watch me self-inspect; they do not interfere.
Who knows me, knows I will go hard upon
this dark body, down this long tunnel called old man,
will mine it until I can draw out gold from poison.
I claim the title: I am temple of hard road.

Thus, my body,
my only shelter
against storm I brought
to bear upon me; storm
of unmet challenge, of
lessons remade and repeated;
storm bent on cancelling me,
storm I birthed to make me free.


Late Night Cable

You can be truly free somewhere,
possibly. That is The Claim:
that there is a place where horizon
is an arm’s length away
no matter which direction you face.
There, your skin shall change to a stunning
reversible bronze. Your dog gets bigger and fluffier,
your yard greener and wider. Successive partners
will dance with you under electric town square stars
where no one shall ever gun you down. There is certainly
a prophecy that mentions you and yours, offering you
perpetual honor and generous means;
and while once there you shall gently age,
you shall never pass from that land
of easy grasp and casual arm’s reach.


Dinosaurs

This society’s been
huffing gasoline for so long
it can’t sense anything else

All those cells vaporized

It has killed its way
to this point and now
it has only itself left to kill

in the hope it will feel something then

Thrived on erasure
All those bodies left behind
that it can’t even see

The dead keep screaming for it to turn back

Maybe it hopes
that those corpses will compress and fuel
a future like their past

It imagines that it lives on dinosaur leavings

Of course it is wrong about that as well
but without full brains
the people it has sheltered will never understand

how all they have left is fire




Heresy

Some people say they just need
the paper. The scent of a book
in hand, the weight of it,
the slight bend of the page
just shy of creasing
between their fingers as it is turned;
to me it is as if they hold the vessel
more dear than the words within.
It is as if the vase matters more
than its flowers. As if the poems within
are less real if they can not be highlighted,
scribbled on, or torn out; as if the stories
only work if they can be burned
for warmth when society comes to
its eventual end, which will come
once its artifacts are worth more
than their contents.


Favorite Places

when I am asked about
my favorite places among all that I’ve visited
I answer
new mexico (all of it)
venice italy (all of it)
all the ghost castles I’ve ever seen anywhere
new york city’s left front pocket and
the far corner of all those rooms
with a couch upon which I’ve been stuck
for days on end half stoned and half
ready to drown myself in the memories
of all other places I’ve visited
and cannot believe I’ll ever see again
without having to pass the veil