Category Archives: poetry

Another Failure

I keep seeking music 
in language, meaning
in both; all days

I struggle, most days
I fail, sometimes I catch
a tune, now and then

I fully sing, more rarely
something I sing
moves someone else,

maybe something
has changed somewhere
as a result, though I’m unsure

of that and do not trust
my hope for it. This is
what I am, what I have been,

what I have given myself to — 
and now? Nothing within
feels like music. Nothing within

but noise I’m not skilled enough
to transform, and to sit in silence
hums only of death

which is more meaning
than song,
and no language at all.


Stepping Outside

Get out of bed
and step outside

in short sleeves today 

when only a few degrees
keep the rain 
from becoming snow.

Your skin asks hard questions
of you: why now, why today,
why is this necessary? 

It’s not that you are
deathly cold, but it is
raw enough out here

to drive you to full waking;
why, considering everything, 
in the midst of all things

being on fire,
did you crave
the routine misery of cold and wet?

Was it to remind you
of other
possibilities?


Anywhere But Here Looks Good Right Now

In this slim hole
named home

angels of discord
jostle for primacy, 
raise up fresh dreams,
conjure new hybrids, misshapen 
offspring of dreaded ancestors
and fearsome strangers
who somehow look familiar;
bring to mind names
we are afraid to utter
for fear of them turning,
smiling, nodding, 
calling us kin.

Do you find yourself
wanting to run away? Do you
long for new and open country,
unfenced, empty and clear?
Do you find yourself yearning
to move somewhere new
and become someone new?
To escape these bitter demons?

More to the point: are you certain
you aren’t one of them yourself? Are you
running from yourself? Is it possible
that you are at heart, when faced with
what you consider unspeakable,

a colonizer?


The Haunting

how are you
he said,
worming forward 
from the foot of your bed

to where he could
see you better, him being
almost blind from years
underneath 

the corner dresser
in the dust where 
you’d forgotten him
that time when he fell

off the bed and rolled
under there and now
somehow he’s back
as familiar and needy as ever

but you aren’t having any
and when he gets close enough
you toss the covers
and off he flies again

into the corner
where he has lived
although you thought
he’d gone away years ago

and now you see he’s not
so what does that mean about you
that he’s back haunting you
getting this close to the new you

you’ve worked so hard to create
how are you, he said blindly
as if he couldn’t see how different
you are now

proof of that being
how quickly you fall back to sleep
and how little he shows up
in subsequent dreams

but in the morning
you move the dresser
sweep underneath it
and everything else in the room

leaving the curtains and blinds
flung wide and the windows open
for hours in an exorcism
that’s worked before and you hope

will work again because
this is what you deserve
a night free of his voice
and a home as fresh as a good wind


Episodes

1.
I came to this moment
with my head in my hands
and my hands wet from years of sobbing.

It was not a journey’s end.
It was being roused
from dumb despair to find myself

in precisely the same place
and position I’d started from,
having mistaken

long nights
of shaking and staring into darkness
for progress.  

Now I see that of course
progress is relational
and depends on how easily

people take hold 
of those around them
in the dark. With my head

in my hands and my tears
drowning me, with no one
to shake me free of it,

how could I ever
have seen
that I was not moving?

I could choose to look up
and dry my face
now that I know, of course;

I could pretend I recognize
any of these concerned faces
and reach out.

But progress is relational
and this is not progress,
I think, but a change

of set-dressing. Still
the same place, faces
changed but still

not quite visible.
Reaching out from here —
my hands so wringing wet —

who can hold onto me long enough
to help lift me? It is practically
guaranteed that I will slump again

into this. Maybe
this time I ought to agree
with the dark that I should remain

invisible to all including myself, or maybe
I should try to stand on my own, convince myself
there is a path out, a journey

that will end up somewhere else. I cannot tell.
Hope or foolhardiness
look about the same from here.

2.
I pull my head off my shoulders
and bowl it into those before me.
They fall like pins, and this time there’s no reset. 

I’m still sitting, headless
in darkness. It’s better.
The crying, at least, has stopped,

or at least is happening
somewhere
other than right here. I can’t hear it anyway,

what with my ears
on the detached head
that’s vanished into a pit

somewhere.
It will come back to me
changed. I’ll be alone

when I set it back onto
my shoulders and leave this place
for a real journey.

I won’t have to cry any more
or lose my place. I’ll be alone.
I’ll be gone. Loose headed

and so far gone, I’ll be on
a return track the whole time.
Around the world and back again.

3.
I came to this new moment
with my head back in my hands
and my hands once again wet.

But it’s different this time,
or so I tell me. This time
progress can’t be relational

because I can’t see any faces
around me when I lift my own
to look at where they were. 

I remember the sound
of them crashing away from me
so well now. It’s traveled

around the world
and back again. So loud,
as if it was still yesterday.

So loud I wish
my head had never
come back to me last time.

I bury it again
where it was,
where I tell myself it belongs.


Gears

sand in gears

teeth scratched
cracked

gaps

hard stop

I hear 
breakage

I cannot look

anything there
still running

right
won’t be running
long

a failed machine
is such a common machine

I am full
of sand

I am
that common


Early To Rise

I take a moment upon rising
to adjust my Whiteness
for the coming day.

Set the beard straight,
suppress irrelevant facets
of my core being, put on
the palest face I have.

I’d turn on 
the television
for background noise
as I fetch coffee
but I’m so damn tired
of Europe and its tropes.
Sick of Thor and Halloween, 
the fat man in the red suit
for equinox 
ritual. Sick of Jesus, 
sick of Karl Marx, sick of
donuts and latte, 
grand theft disguised
as industry, the right way
to walk, the proper way
to talk — 

I have so little of who I am
beyond that,
having been robbed
of most of my Other before birth;

after, found myself pummeled 
with family expectations
and contrary exhortations,
explanations as to why,
in spite of my White body 
and White schooling
and White Messaging,

I’m still Other and
don’t ever
forget it, son, said my dad
who tried not to forget
the little he had left of 
his Other.

Don’t ever
forget it, son, said my mom
who had set herself up
for never quite loving
her Other. 

Don’t ever
forget it, kid, said the members
of the family who couldn’t
forget it either though
they did not quite approve
of Other.

Before the year begins
I take one more moment
in the mirror
and there is all that Whiteness
spilling out of my pores and 
look at that hair and
diabetes and depression and
loveless moving through clients
and taxes and worry and
face it, I’m too near unto death 
to change; maybe it’s time
to just fall all the way into the bleach
since when I strain to hear my Other,

most days all I hear 
are gasps and screams
in a tongue I can’t understand.

They tell me
the source of my Other
met the source of my Whiteness head on
over 500 years ago
and did not win then but 
oh, it survives in me

in spite of Jesus and Thor and Marx
and John Maynard Keynes and 
white sale linens pressed hard over my face,
in spite of 
the Vikings and the chiseled superheroes;
the way they wear their hats;
the way they kill low-key.

No, I say as hard as I can, no, Europe;
no to your culture and your counterculture;
whatever it offers
I don’t want any more of that — 
I am Other. 

Except I’m Whiteness.

Except I am Other.
Except I’m not.

Like petals pulled
in that kids’ game —
love, love not,
embrace, repel;

I bet that game 
of destruction as play
came 
from Europe too.


Rising Now

rising now
you are 
leaf upon wind
lifting you
from where
you’d fallen

you dip and whirl

how can you possibly regret
losing your grip
upon the tree
that raised you

when this is how you are now
for however briefly
this last flight lasts


Love Song For The New Year

Originally posted 12/31/2011.

Every day starts a year.
Every day ends one.
Any day can be celebrated,
any day regretted.

Regret one day
for one day,

let celebration
of the next begin.

All I need for
any year or day: 

one with whom
to celebrate,

one with whom
to commiserate,
one with whom to share

the New Year of every single day.

Just one with whom to straighten
up after the labor,

one with whom to soothe
and be soothed;

one with whom
to start anew

each daily
New Year’s Day.


The Earworm Scripture

I’ve been humming
the worst song in the world
for hours now
because I heard it
in a convenience store
when I was unguarded enough
to let it in and now it’s burrowed
deep. (There is a reason
they are called earworms, after all.)

The Nagging God
who has been an earworm to me almost from birth
repeats incessantly (in time to the beat)
that I have no one but myself
to blame for this. That if I’d been
a little more diligent and not stepped away
from my desk to go get smokes
and a very big and very bad coffee,

I’d be sitting at home in silence
with nothing to do but write something 
much better than this pop-slop mess
I’ve got to deal with now. 

Nagging God, I say, how can
pacing my room and procrastinating
and cursing my deaf muse
get me this level of punishment?
I wasn’t hurting anyone but myself
and now i’m getting downright
homicidal, suicidal, even
deicidal over this constant barrage
of alleged music inside.

God says nothing, just keeps singing.

How can
anyone claiming divinity
be this off-key, I wonder…
which leads me to another 
blasphemy and then to a sudden
heresy, followed by epiphany — 

and wonder of wonders,
here I am with a symphony playing
out of the pen in my hand.


Fate?

Anytime, 
call me anytime

I say to the 
shadow

hanging behind
me, tacked to

my heels 
as if this were

an old cartoon and
my shadow could be

stolen by the 
right thief.

This shadow
found me and

stuck itself
to me long ago.

I barely recall
the pain of that

but I know I left
permanent tracks in my own

blood all over
everything. So when

the shadow started
asking for permission

to stay with me
I fell apart almost,

almost shocked that
all at once it seemed

I had a choice
in the matter; I looked

at how many rusted
brown tracks I’d made

that had already ruined
everything behind me, 

looked at the thorough mess
I’d made and 

surrendered to it, so now
when the shadow comes begging

to stalk me and cut me
anywhere I could go from here,

I just give one odd
mock-affable nod and say

Anytime, shadow,
anytime you want,

never even stop
to adjust the nails

in my feet, never even stop
walking and messing, 

never even stop to think
I could rise to my toes

and run, make it hard
for the shadow to catch me,

stop leaving my blood
all over my traces,

get far enough away
from it to only hear it

as a far-off squeak, reminder
of a lifetime of haunted trails.


Whatever The Weight

Whatever you feel:

long twinges of fear
upon rising; terror
of a full mailbox; 
happiness before sleep
if only fleeting;

whatever you feel,
I hold myself open
for you in that feeling.

Bring me pain or pleasure
and I will carry it with you.
Bring me ecstasy or final 
despair upon grief’s arrival,
or your own fear of death
collapsing into acceptance,
I will shiver and then embrace
it, and you with it;

for I know the poverty 
of loneliness and how it ravages
one’s capacity to be present;
how it drives you from past to future
with no time to stop for now. I know

where you are when you stop 
and cower, for I have been there myself;
I know the neighborhood of contentment
even if your address is adjacent to mine,
or a street away or more.

Whatever the walk demands of us,
we will walk it. Whatever the talk
gives us to speak, we will say it.

Whatever you end up being,
I will stand there and see you as you are;

and whether you walk on without me
or I without you, that there was a shared path
once, I will never deny. I will never
allow myself the luxury of edited past
and altered future without acknowledging
that you and I once shared the present
and all it held, we carried it together,
and it led us to today.


Everyday Carry

Obligatory knife, billfold,
pack of smokes;

pen, notebook,
lighter, and phone

tucked into various
pockets and bags

which also hold 
all my dead friends 

from long ago 
right up to yesterday.

To pull one
mundane tool

or item forth
is to drag with it

smiling old ghosts
covered in lint.

After lighting a cigarette
or peeling an apple, I nod

to Eddie or Joey
or Kelly or Terry

or whoever else it is and
put them away along with

my everyday carry — the things
I need to get though the day;

all of them, knowledge and fire and edge
and wealth and Death and 

of course, the means to my art;
all of them with me every day,

smiling in my pockets, waiting
for my need. 


Tuning

For at least one moment,
nothing remains of pain 
or worry for me 
after hearing each string of a guitar
tuned to a unison with
the fretted previous string —

all ache resolves
when the tones
lock into each other
so that one cannot tell
two strings are sounding —

it will not stay in tune 
forever, I know; but even
this one moment is long enough —

a sustained note of hope that things
can be set right, that there is
a way to do that, an art or science
or both, that just works —

that up until the moment
the string breaks,
it can be well played.


How To Spell American

Originally posted 8/2016.  Revised.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Spell it with two guns,
a coat of whitewash,
three picket fences
and a wolverine trapped
under a left thumbnail.

Spell it with seven dirty words
and rigor mortis laid thick
between adobe bricks.

Spell it with fifty-seven apologies
flavored with forgetting,
sixty-three apologies blind to remorse,
one hundred and eleven apologies
offered on a dagger’s tip.  

Spell it fourteen ninety-two,
original thirteen,
broken five hundred and sixty nine. 
Spell it three-fifths, 
spell it six-nineteen.  
Spell it nine-eleven.

Spell it with a toxic cloud,
an unrestrained flag,
a lowered boom.

Spell it with twenty-one more guns
and a Nagasaki blister. 

Spell it with moon rocks,
tent cities, caged kids,
dead kids, dead eyes
dotted with good flowers. 

Spell it with a burr.
Spell it with a brogue,
a lilt, a bang-up job of trying to deliver it
unaccented.

Spell it with bison flanks quivering. 
Spell it with pink dawn over gray streets
and a boat swift-rocking 
down a snow fed river. 

Spell American
with a cauldron. A melting pot
if you prefer. A bullet mold,
a fireproof suffrage, a vote
for steam over simmer, 
a last summer of drowsing bees.

It’s not like anyone ever knew
a right way to pronounce it.