Category Archives: prose poems

Sitting Around

Originally posted 2012. Revised.

Mostly, people are sitting around waiting for it. 

It’s not going to be like a tsunami, or a war. 

No one wants to admit that we peaked at Lascaux. 
No one wants to admit that we were pretty much at our apex
right before the first grain was planted, the first lamb was tamed…
that it started to fail with the first surveyor who confidently said

“this plot’s yours, this plot’s not…”

No one wants to admit
that we were OK about the God thing
right up to the moment we shook God loose
from a particular geography,
the one outside the hut door.

Get up every morning, yawn, stretch…hello, God.
Turn another direction, there’s another God.
Say hi to that one, too.
It kept them small. No one wants to admit
we knew something back then we don’t know now,
and we don’t even know what it is that we knew.

I have some friends — oh, I cannot call them that
as it’s untrue now and will be even more so after this —
there are people I know who are activists.

They think they’re doing something.
They think…I like them because they move now
that everyone’s mostly sitting. But do they do what’s needed?

No one can do what’s needed now.
Not on anything but a small scale,
no matter how grandly they practice.

Because when it comes, it won’t be much different than it is now —
a slew of abandoned houses, a lot of rootless people.
They’ll leave because their wallets betrayed them;
they’ll leave looking for work;
they’ll leave looking for food.

The lawns will recall their heritage
and swallow houses while making jungly noises.

We don’t know what we’ve lost.

We peaked at Lascaux;
all those hunter-gatherers knew it.

We sit waiting for what’s coming. 
We ought to be moving though it won’t come
as tsunami or war, not at first.


It will be as it is now.

Cats And Politicians

The morning writing I’d conceived overnight was going to compare cats and politicians. It isn’t going well. I like cats too much to do that to them and in fact I don’t think they are that much alike

until Coco, the elder of my pair, black, long furred, cranky, loyal to me above all other humans, once again sticks her claws into my bare foot to remind me of my morning routine

and to insist upon a spell of chasing the red dot until she is done with the exercise. I almost always submit to the demand but soon enough grow tired and stop until she huffs away

to find another annoyance — pawing at the bookcase doors, pawing at a yet-to-be-opened window, yowling in the kitchen for some yet-to-exist perfect food I’ve refused to offer

then coming back to where I’m trying to work to fall sideways before me and purr, illustrating her continued support regardless of my many failings. Sometimes I sit back and close my eyes

and pretend it will end if I ignore her, but it never does. 

All this time Miesha, the younger cat, sits and watches. Never engages unless I break down and offer more food, then shows up to eat and leaves to return to her observational duties. I worry

that she is half the age of Coco and is absorbing knowledge for her own future shenanigans, working through potential changes in her calico head
to make herself both more adorable and more successful than Coco

who is back from the catnip now, poking my foot. “Don’t you want to be immortalized in these words I am fashioning through your behavior?” She just pokes my foot again. I resort to the spray bottle,

thinking about the unopened window, the cold outside, the yowling in the kitchen. Miesha is watching birds now as I’ve obviously become stale. Coco comes back in and falls at my feet

and I’m still trying to think about politicians and cats, but the nagging and the constant insistent pain of Coco’s claws is making me so hopeless about ever living up to my promise as an artist

that I do not think
there is much left
for me to say
as one morning soon
(unlike any politician I know of)
I will likely die of despair
for never having done enough
to satisfy any being’s needs.

Sitting Around

Originally posted 2012. Revised.

Mostly, people are sitting around waiting for it.

It’s not going to be like a tsunami, or a war.

No one wants to admit that we peaked at Lascaux.  

No one wants to admit that we were pretty much at our apex right before the first grain was planted, the first lamb was tamed…that it started to fail with the first surveyor who confidently said “this plot’s yours, this plot’s not.”  

No one wants to admit that we were OK about the God thing right up to the moment we shook God loose from a particular geography, the one outside the hut door.  

Get up every morning, yawn, stretch…hello, God.  Turn another direction, there’s another God.  Say hi to that one, too.  

It kept them small.

No one wants to admit we knew something back then we don’t know now, and we don’t even know what it is that we knew.  

I have some friends — oh, I cannot call them that as it’s untrue now and will be even more so after this —there are people I know  who are activists.  

They think they’re doing something.  They think…I like them because they move now that everyone’s mostly sitting.  

But do they do what’s needed?  No one can do what’s needed now.  Not on anything but a small scale, no matter how grandly they practice.  

Because when it comes, it won’t be much different than it is now —a slew of abandoned houses, a lot of rootless people. They’ll leave because their wallets betrayed them; they’ll leave looking for work; they’ll leave looking for food.  

The lawns will recall their heritage and swallow houses while making jungly noises.

We don’t know what we’ve lost.

We peaked at Lascaux; all those hunter-gatherers knew it.

We sit waiting for what’s coming.

We ought to be moving though it won’t come as tsunami or war, not at first.


It will be as it is now. 


Suppose you looked hard at your life, your existence, your being, the fact of your physical presence on the planet; looked at it and saw that you, the watered-down remnant of the combination of Native and Italian ancestry, were the site and the desired product of the Genocide.

Suppose you were raised with the words “never forget you’re not White” hammered into you and yet you ended up looking in the mirror at that which was undeniably White-passing and privileged and saw, to your eyes and upbringing, the image of a great Evil.

Suppose you could never shake the constant whisper of “you shouldn’t exist” in your ear.

Suppose that as you aged and decayed and body parts began to betray you and your abilities, you found it increasingly wearying simply to get up and go, yet more and more you understood how important it was to get up and go.

Suppose you lived in the incipient days of a Fascist takeover spearheaded by a man whose hatred of people like you was becoming more and more palpable at the moment you were least equipped to confront it.

Suppose people kept assuming you were ready and able for the War you knew was coming and did not see you as anything more than their expectations of you.

Suppose this all came together for you on a hot summer morning in a pool of sweat in a soaked bed sheet on a couch in the kitchen staring out the front window at an empty bird feeder two empty feeders and birds staring back at you.

Would you go outside and water the garden?

How To Be An American Artist: A Cautionary Tale

The artist wanted to paint America.

Took all the canvas in the studio out to a parking lot in a plaza in a small Massachusetts town.

Laid out paints and pigments, pots of blood drawn from a cut on the wrist, blood mixed with ashes of old sheet music and legal forms, dirt in rain water, boiled down hides and hair.

Set the canvases up on easels and car hoods. Laid them flat on sidewalk and asphalt.

Screamed to the curious folks gathering to see, 

I cannot do it alone.
I fail at doing it alone.
I am crushed here doing it alone. 

Started tossing brushes at the crowd.

Seized some by the shirt and tried to pull them to the canvases. 

There was whining and the artist was rudely shoved.

The crowd whimpered at the artist,

This is your job.
Your one job.
If it crushes you that is how we are best satisfied.
We don’t know what to paint. 

Accountants of the captains of industry showed up with sharp pencils and started precision drawings on the canvases.

Penciled in numbers, made up numbers:

here is what this should look like here,
here is the right shade for this face, this hand, this heart,
this hole in the skin, this slit in the eye,
this bit of necessary damage,
this hot mistake,
this brand,
this logo, this loop,
this flag.

This is how you paint America, they told the crowd.

The crowd stepped to it glad to know the rules and filled in the colors right and tight between the perfect lines.

When they ran out of blood, they made do with the artist.

What a genius,
they said,

once the artist was dead.

The Apocalypse Began This Morning

The Apocalypse began this morning. I am sure of it; I dreamed it, and as I rarely dream of anything at all, I rely on the few I have to tell me the truth. 
As it began, I wore a blue beaded jacket I found in some ruins, and stood together with others as we tried to work out details of sanitation and shelter. I was alone in that no one I knew was with me; not alone at all as we cared for each other’s needs.
At one point the air was filled with strange and majestic music as a pickup truck drove swiftly by, followed closely by a garbage truck driven by uniformed cops, a few of whom rode on the sides as well.
They did not look at us, and as they passed the music faded from the sky and the first night of a new age began to fall.

I do not recall any more of this, but I am afraid and hope-filled at once; all this before breakfast, before the second cup of coffee.

An Open Letter To Blank

Dear Blank,

I’m starting this letter without knowing exactly who it is addressed to, figuring and hoping that your identity will become clear by the time I get to closure.  In the meantime, I hope you don’t mind me calling you “Blank,” do you?  

While in the past this may have been strange behavior, I feel that with the current pervasiveness of social media and the resultant increasingly public nature of formerly private communication, this feels like so much of what we see and hear today — a need to express oneself with little regard as to who the actual, tangible, physical audience for the letter will ultimately be.

So…without knowing who you are, Blank, let me get down to the business at hand.  I’m trying to parse out the nature of fear in 2018, and I feel like the only way to do it is through an intimate dialogue with someone as terrified as I am on both social and personal levels, because that is where fear lives for me these days.

I’m terrified for society, my unknown friend or friends; terrified because while I’m not naive enough to believe that the current national and world situations are new, or unprecedented, or even all that unexpected, I’m experienced enough to see as well that something evil has become commonplace enough in our dialogue that the overall level of it is rising as we focus on the greatest, most visible expressions of it.

For example, the current rise of Fascism world wide is stunning in its banality; as we think of the gaudy-greedy, gold-stained, over-eager hands of Trump meddling in, well, everything, we can’t help but focus on his taste and lack of finesse as the infrastructure of government thins dangerously beneath him and the judiciary becomes a imperialist rubber stamp.  It’s like a giant game of Jenga, with the players having no long term intention of trying to keep the structure upright at all.  

(I think the Big Guys are terrified themselves, of course.  Not for a moment do I think they are unaware of climate change and resource exhaustion as a looming apocalypse, whatever their public pronouncements. I think they are cashing out, taking what they can before the whole structure collapses…but that’s a story for another day…)

At the same time, I’m terrified on a personal level as a person with multiple chronic illnesses, a precarious income, and a support circle drawn largely from people much like me.  I’m terrified because if as we so often and so glibly say the personal is political, then I clearly have a vested interest in fighting back about what’s going on out there — except that my resources for doing so are fairly compromised at the moment in some ways by the stuff that’s going on out there.

I see my friends and family of color, my poor family and friends, my LGBTQ family and friends, my non-binary friends and family, my fellow artists…I see all of us being pressed these days in unprecedented ways, accelerated ways.  Ways not unlike those of the past, but aided and abetted and enhanced by the very ease with which every adversary from the government to their allied media to the private citizens who’ve become fellow travelers on the path of oppression may stick it to us on FB and Twitter, may compromise our very finances and privacy and identities with a little bit of work from the comfort and safety of their own anonymous homes.  

Part of how we got here is that we’re fed on falsehood from an early age these days.  We’re exposed to so much bad information, so much distortion, and so little practice in critical thinking that we often can’t tell Fascism from its opposite…but that’s beyond where I wanted to go with this, at least at the moment…because how we got here, dear Blank, is a long story, and I want to make this letter briefer than that. 

I want to say that right now, after history, after the past, we’re in a place of Fear that I think is indeed different than it was in past crises. I think we’re approaching a terminal moment that may last a few years, a decade or two, or a bit longer, but which will ultimately bring formerly unimaginable consequences to all.  And while it  may indeed lead to a collapse of capitalism, patriarchy, heterosexism, and all that as the most utopian among us believe, the world we inherit after will be unlike what we have now in terms of resources and infrastructure, and we will have such a long moment of suffering to follow as we rebuild.

Thing is, Blank, I won’t be here to see it.  I’m aging and somewhat unwell as I alluded to earlier; while I continue to do what I can to resist the worst of the depredations of the Fascists (after all, not everyone who sits anonymously at home, working in the darkness online, is one of their supporters), my reach is limited and specific.  My art and writing and music are tools and weapons as well, but I can only do so much. 

Blank, I thought at first I didn’t know who you were.  Halfway through, I thought I’d figured it out; I thought you might be my conscience and that this might be my guilt reaching out to you for my own purposes.

I was wrong.  

Blank, I still don’t know who you are, exactly.  I’m not even sure you’ve been born yet, if you can read English, or ever will.  But I know this: you will come along one day and you feel this same fear and know this discussion as if you’d written the letter yourself.  You and I will be in dialogue across space, possibly even across time.  Maybe you’ll be deep in the midst of the upheaval yet to come as I’ve pictured it.

All I want you to know is this:  you aren’t alone.  You’ve never been alone, as I am not.  We all do our parts and even if we never meet, somehow we must be comforted by the knowledge that we are not alone in the struggle.  We do what we can, we do what we must, and as long as we do what we can, even if “They” win in the largest sense, “They” will forever know that the victory will never be absolute as long as we can name and address and fight and sneer at the Fear that is their greatest weapon.

Don’t fear, Blank.  Not in the deep sense, not in the ultimate existential sense of ultimate despair.  Don’t give them the satisfaction of your fear.

Thanks for listening to this, however you do eventually hear it.  I have no doubt you will, and that you will understand. 

Love always,


Fossil Poems

In anger, we say, “Fuck it.”

That’s a kind of poem. One kind of poem, the memory of a moment of utter disgust digested, compressed into a singular phrase. Cliches are fossil poems; pat phrases are living, wriggling fragments of attempted poems — and who among us doesn’t have a pat, pet phrase…?

These are attempted poems.

All around us a murder of attempted poems, their wings barely raising them from the ground.

All of us are poets.  All of us are suspect to the art police. — daring us, goading us to say something at once superfluous and necessary.  

When we say “Fuck it,” we decide how the scale tips.

What It Will Take


Not words, as they know what to do with those: no listening, no answers, no acknowledgment that anything of value has been said; when you own the definitions you do with words whatever you want and they’ve spent culture and treasure on gobbling them up.

Not marches as they simply set a frame around them, a proscenium, a monumental arch; they’ll call them theater, showpieces, paid spectacles of acting out; in extraordinary cases they will call them war and blow them down as soon as they look like they might catch on.

Not votes as they see every last one as an impending joke with the punchlines in waiting years away in the desert of the future where they’re already been paid for on the installment plan.

It won’t take words or marches or votes. It won’t take shame or mockery or public scrutiny.


It will take pain.

A willingness
to bring pain that they have never felt,
an ability
to offer and then provide pain,
to pull back once an aim is achieved.


we can wash up and then
lie awake and imagine ourselves
pure again, 
sweet as Spring,
generous and forgiving as
any river ever

that broke its banks
when overfull, raging
with the runoff from
a winter’s worth
of cruel snow

and then returned
to its bed to roll on,
steady and calm
in its knowledge
of its power,
to the peace of the sea.

The Chastisement Of Christopher Eggplant

Christopher Eggplant — so called because he always seems tightly skinned and shiny, and because in the right light when showing his usual level of vague expansive derision at all things not Christopher appears also somewhat purple in flesh tone — Christopher Eggplant may have just given his final lip to a dangerous man; as usual not knowing when to apply the brake to his wit, he has decided to tease a large and surly pale laborer at the next door construction site, a man who having finished work for the day is sitting in his silver Buick with the door open chugging a tall Colt 45 and loudly singing the hook of a popular song in a surprisingly thin and pitchy tenor voice; to which apparent provocation Christopher Eggplant has responded by calling out to the man his sarcastic appreciation of the tune, calling him by a brutal parody of the name of the heart-throb who has made it a hit; the man’s comrades upon the job are starting to trot from their own cars and drinking spots toward Christopher Eggplant even as his target rises himself from the Buick no longer singing but with a strange blank look upon him, almost as if he has become some kind of machine, almost as if there’s something inside him that has turned off any sense of irritation, almost a contrast — although more of a goad — to those who are approaching with anger on his behalf, or fear for Christopher Eggplant as they seem to know that something deeply awful is about to happen, something that only the most depraved among us would be so excited to observe, and as I am excited to observe from a distance I feel thus depraved but will not lift my own finger to help Christopher Eggplant as none of us who know him from the neighborhood will, as time slows to a crawl, as the danger surrounds him, as we take a deep and uneasy satisfaction after taking years of his abuse at the prospect of watching him fall so awfully, so wetly, to the infertile ground.

Two Sentence Horror Stories

Revised from earlier this week.

I was first introduced to the concept of the two sentence horror story by poet Jeff Stumpo.  He may not be the originator of the concept, but he gets the credit for getting me into them — or the blame, depending on your point of view.  

Here are ten such stories…or perhaps it’s only one twenty sentence horror story. 

I wouldn’t drink the charcoal-filtered whisky they serve here if I were you, friend; the distillery is next to the crematorium. May I suggest instead a blood-orange Margarita?

The poet Rilke once said that every angel is terrifying. Based on your expression, I must be an angel indeed.

The four teenagers warily approached my stray pug, unaware that they had little to fear. Daisy had just eaten and wasn’t feeling threatened — lucky for them as they’d barely be a small mouthful to a hungry, anxious Devourer.

Dark brown stains developed on the blade of the hunting knife as it lay in the Justice Machine’s chamber. I smiled, pressed the button that would cause Maria’s fingerprints to form on the hilt, and started to think about where to plant it when the process was complete.

I raised my head from the battlefield to see hundreds, perhaps thousands of shattered faces doing the same — each in an enemy uniform, each one looking directly at me with hatred as they rose from their own places of dying. Each one murderous, each one ready to die again — and as if this were a field of mirrors, each one could have been my twin.

My dirty little secret isn’t that I know what it feels like when a knife enters a human body. My dirty little secret is about which end of the knife taught me that.

I stared at the painting, hoping something in that dark puddle of black pigment on the upper left corner would move and reveal itself as The Meaning. Then something popped, and I saw it — a crowd in a museum gallery, shrugging their shoulders and turning away from my gaze.

There’s nothing new under the sun, friend. Last week, though, something new developed behind it, and it doesn’t like us.

I woke up.  “Damn,” I thought.

“I…I don’t know what I’m doing,” I stammered. I agreed, then continued doing it until I couldn’t deny it anymore.

The Pig Tattoo King

Originally posted 9/21/2010.

I’ve met someone who spends his weekends liberally applying bacon grease to his arms and drawing swirls in it.

Wipes them off, draws them again.

He’s a map of bacon labyrinths.  

Calls himself the Pig Tattoo King. Says these are the maps to his domain. 

He leaves stains on everything. He stinks a bit. 

I’ve also met people who swill money like chocolate, coat themselves in dirty metals pulled from the ground, smell like rare flowers crippled with salt, build small honesty into huge lies to keep people guessing and off balance.

They leave stains on everything.

I place my faith in the Pig Tattoo King.  I honor his Kingdom of Making Do.  And I prefer the perfume of that place.


The Saints Of Our Household Shrines

New poem (draft — just getting it out there; it’s been in progress for a while.)

The saints of our household shrines are banding together to form a political party. 

Throngs of our beloved dead memorialized in table altars in gently shabby homes and clean-swept humble cubbyholes are massing to stand against officially canonized hypocrisy regarding who we should honor with supplication and offerings.

They refuse our tithes, saying we’ve paid enough in loss and pain to fund any campaign.  

The platform?
Chase down and face down the Founding Fathers, the missionaries of genocide, the greed-slurping apologists for bad acts that make a profit, the prophets of compartments, the sky-godmothers of assimilation, the go along get-alongs.  

The slogans?
“Behold the dead to understand the living.

“Behold the living who come to make you understand, 
but know we do not need you to understand 
before you stand aside.”

The saints of our household shrines march before us carrying no signs, wearing no buttons, adorned only in scraps of family photos, funeral cards, locks of treasured hair, newspaper clippings, the stains of generations of tears.

We will not lose. We cannot lose.

We, and they, have nothing to lose.

The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra

Originally posted 7/21/2010.

A klezmer band purchases a sheepdog to act as band mascot.  They change the name of the band to the Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra.

The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra begin to travel widely and soon achieve a degree of acclaim.  Everywhere they go, they bring the sheepdog (known to the audiences only as The Sheepdog) with them.  He lies on stage during their sets, perking up for the dances, then dropping his sad head to the floor for the vocal lamentations and slow songs, peering out at the audience through his fringe of fur, looking right and left.

The Sheepdog is in private life named David. The band keep his real name to themselves, as they keep their own names private from the audiences they play for, using stage names — Aaron Out Front, Judith Judith, Ronaldo Star, Jonathan Regretful, Felix the Cat, Sam The Fiddler.

Sam The Fiddler, in particular, loves The Sheepdog and is David’s closest companion in the band, walking him during breaks, petting him for long hours in the privacy of hotel room, brushing his thick coat until it shines before every gig.

In their hometown south of Detroit, the Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra plays weddings so often that the sound of a clarinet in the street would lead to proposals and engagements.

I only have ever seen them play once, as I am not a fanatic for klezmer music in general.  But at a wedding of close friends from college, The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra played for hours, and I danced and wept as much as the families did for their offspring, and I have not forgotten.

Tonight on the radio, in the early dark of pre-dawn, I heard a recording of The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra and thought of you again:

how your hair fell before your eyes so often
that I was always brushing it back
to see them more clearly;

how I used to dance and weep with you
and called both things
a celebration of us;

how it seemed that a band was playing
whenever we spoke or loved together;

the air itself blurred into song.

This is not to say that remembering you reminds me of a sheepdog, or of The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra, or of weddings or dancing.  

This is to say that when I think of joy and sadness mixed, and of the caring that demands the constant brushing of hair from soft eyes, of hours of travel and the rewards of keeping private what is most your own,

those moments
have a soundtrack

in which you still sing to me

like a clarinet,  like Gershwin;
like klezmorim singing the music of names
used gently and only in confidence.

Rules Of Thumb

Originally posted 9/11/2010.

When it comes to popular proverbs,
laws of physics, rules of thumb, common knowledge,
sensible notions, and given assumptions,
exceptions are becoming more and more the norm.  

Geometry is shifting.
Angles, never before provably trisected,
now regularly fall into neat triplet piles. 

Shelter is losing its place in the hierarchy of needs.
Soon, it will be forgotten entirely. 

It appears to knowledgeable observers
that knowledgeable observation is becoming a lost art
akin to alchemy and divination by gut of pigeon and pig. 

If there are ghosts, they wear visors
and lean deep into ledgers
with our very dimensionality at their calculating mercy. 

Nymphs, fauns, and revenant Pan himself establish Websites
and collect scores of followers
who fondle tokens of their avatars while staring at doorknobs,
thinking of the potential for rattling entries in the dark.

There are suspected reserves of container ships laden with butterflies
who are waiting to change the world’s climate.  

My love, this world is slipping away into an immeasurable mystery.
Nothing we have known to be true is certain.
We should sleep with our eyes open now, scanning the dark for signals.
When we think we have seen enough, it will be up to us how we choose to live.
What we choose to measure.
What we count on.
How we refine and define the terms.

If a butterfly comes close, hold your breath.
If a god possesses you, count rapidly to one hundred seventeen.
If the door rattles in the night, we’ll cast a cold eye on it,
pass through the walls,
and escape carrying nothing with us —
not even the meaning of love, or of home.
We will come back for them later,
or make new ones
while holding up our thumbs to plead for rides to new places.

Our thumbs —
once the measure of punishment, as the story goes —
will become our transport.
We will have to depend on each other to carry each other.

Eventually, we’ll forget the evil source of the term and say:

a “rule of thumb”
measures the distance you were carried from your point of origin
before you decided you could live where and how you are living right now,
and is only fixed until the next departure.

And then we’ll say:
Love is the vector of human travel. 
We’ll say:
Home is the fare humans paid for the transport. 

And when we say human,
what we will see is aluminum pie plates — 

when full,
flaky and soft centered;
when empty,
easily flung into flight,

shining as they fly.