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that my memory could
disappear, but it is. The letters of words
are themselves becoming new.
Definitions seem fresh again —
you ask me for a memory of you
that makes me smile — what is a smile?
Those letters are unfamiliar.
I’m not even sure how I’m writing this.
Muscle-habit, maybe; the gross framing
of my body doing a better job
of it than my brain can now.
My world that has depended
on my being certain of what I already know
is turning into smoke so much of the time.
It’s fine. I’ll slip into a sea of forgetting;
I’ll be fine there.
taking a few days off to recharge and rest up after some minor health issues.
read some poems from the past.
see you soon — I appreciate your attention.
A tiger and a grove of cedars,
a door and one dead tree.
A sword with an apple on its tip, a seeded cake,
a crow perched within a heart-topped arch of iron.
A stone with a voice, a goat dancing the tarantelle,
a blue-tinged wind hurrying leaves of blood along.
Something happening. Chilled backbones,
wet lips, trembling hands. Sorting the beings
in our minds, wondering how they mean.
All the possible revolving meanings
of transformed symbols falling into
their respective places.
If there’s a prophecy here it is open
to interpretation, but not
to doubt in its existence.
If it is an affirmation,
what it empowers
is hidden from us.
It keeps getting harder.
Small things. Triggers.
Deeper holes, steeper sides.
Darker, darkest; pure and wholesome darkness.
Not a man. A flesh wound. A mere annoyance.
Originally posted 9/5/2011. Revised.
The rude elements
dressed your dirt-blessed hand.
Do not apologize for it.
Make the rich,
the distastefully clean,
shake it. Make them see you:
tired, aging too fast,
forearms threaded strong
from work. Force them
to see your clothes: how thin the fabric
on your jeans, the patches,
Give them a moment
to take it all in,
then smack them. Seize their throats
and impress upon them
the everlasting schedule
of your simplified days —
each day you rise, sup,
work, sup, work, sup,
a routine broken
only by the time you steal back
to make a home, make children,
bounce the baby on your greasy knee.
None of the dirt you carry makes you
unclean. All of it was borne to make them
what they are. You deserve this anger
as you count pennies,
You’re more glue
for this shiny cracked country
than any glitter-fed celebrity
or squinting dollar-breeding usurer;
make it known. Grab them one and all
by their hands and at the very least,
make them shake yours — show them
that honest tan under your grime.
If their fear is a likely result,
it may be the wedge
to open the doors
they’ve kept barred for so long.
Who better than you
to open them? Only your shoulder,
so long pressed to their wheels,
can possibly burst those locks.
It’s said that it is better to light a candle
than curse the dark.
It used to be on a poster somewhere;
now it shows up on flickering screens.
Some of us have learned
how to be at greater peace in darkness
than we ever could be in the light.
Know this: that benevolent flame hurts
from out here. It reminds us
of where we are and how we are
not you. How we have adapted, how some
have even found a way to thrive
in darkness. Out here hope
is a danger, as it has been snuffed out so often
that to approach your distant candle
is an invitation to darkness
more profound for its rushing to take us back
just as we begin to adapt to light
and to imagine that we could have
what you have — although in truth,
some of what we saw there before
the wick failed left us puzzled: why would
what you have be any better than what we have
here — you with your sharp definitions, your
assumed clarity? Out here the world is soft,
we are careful to assume nothing,
and if we ever have cause
to light a fire
it will be one so fed and informed
by the dark we have always called home
that it will make the Shadow
you want to eliminate
grow so large you will beg us
for a way out, for understanding.
In first light I see
the black cat waiting for me
below the kitchen window perch.
“Jump up, beautiful girl — you
can do it!” I urge her and she leaps
up light, lands heavy, settles in
to her treats and wet food. The calico
does the same for her bowl across the room;
they are, for the moment, content.
I allow myself a thin smile
before I start the coffee,
before the scent fills the kitchen,
before I look out the front windows,
before I take a breath of the Stench out there.
It takes me a hard breath or two
before I relax into the care
it takes to stand myself upright
in the teeth of the Stench.
Dare I turn on the television? Dare I
open my mail? Dare I think of how things
might be getting better or worse?
Dare I count the dead?
Dare I count the sneers and curses?
Dare I measure
the indifference of the alleged good majority?
Dare I call them out as the deep source
of this smell?
It’s taken me far too long to call it
as I sense it: that it is not behavior seen
or anger heard nearly as much as it is
an odor that chokes me,
makes everything taste less healthy;
an odor so thick it coats my skin
and distorts my touch; a Stench
from a host of graves, blood soaked
so deep into the soil it stains every foundation
and leaks into the roots of every tree
and blade of grass.
In spite of how I choke upon the Stench
the cats seem to ignore it, are purring and happy,
falling back to sleep in their favorite spots
before I pour my first cup of coffee. I suck it down
and here I am again, wondering if today is the day
that I will suffocate at last.
One cat sneezes. I look up to see
the calico stretching and reforming to her tight space.
She wheezes a bit. Might be the Stench,
might be simpler than that.
I’m sure it’s simpler than that.
I need to believe there are those I love
unaffected by the Stench.
My love, asleep still in the next room?
All I want is for her to live through this
and thrive again, breathe clean again.
As for myself, all I ask
is that I may live long enough
to help to clear the air.
If you can keep a secret longer than it takes you
to walk from my mouth to the next available ear
you may learn from me a thing or two
about life itself, or perhaps less than life itself.
It may be the one insight needed, a last piece
to a puzzle you’ve had sitting undone for decades.
Of course, maybe the secret will only light up one absurd corner
of your own prosaic life, and you’ll shrug it off at once.
Or it will be in cipher form and so poorly made
you will lose interest at once and forget it before you’ve cracked it.
You may in fact only learn about my pretentious, pompous persona,
hiding place for a weakling attempting to seem strong.
All you need to do is approach me and ask to hear it.
I swear to you it will be told to you at once. You needn’t hang around.
I’m not the kind to make you stay with me longer than is necessary
for either of us. I will say I am the kind who needs to let it out,
in riddles sometimes but mostly in plain speech. Maybe you
are the same and you will go at once away from me and tell another.
Whatever: the world is always burning more or less everywhere
and if there are things we know that will douse a flame or more,
we should pour them out. So come close and listen. Maybe there’s something here that may save us all that will only work if shared.
If it’s time for sharing it, and you and I
are the only ones here, can we refuse each other?
I wanted to have the life some of you apparently have
where you are thoroughly in love with the purple throats
of the irises in your yards and ever-tumbling with joy
over the individual reds of the house finches on your feeders
where you dive headfirst into the language of awe
when perched atop a local cliff and sit enthralled
by the fungi you spotted in your neighbor’s yard
wondering if they’d kill you but oh so lovely how could they
If this is how you are I honor your optimism
over the need for beauty and love
in our battle for the lives
we all think we all should live
When it comes to awe I take mine
from the voices of those in pain
who yet struggle to be healed and I say
in the clatter of a world falling apart there is yet
a sacred sound that to me is equal to the slap
of humpback waves on the side of your boat
In the color of poster board rage and flags in revolt
I can see the depth of how staggeringly handsome
humanity can be in the teeth of the gale of repression
and while repression itself has no beauty to it
the response it engenders in those driven against it
for me comes close to the catch in your breath
from the sight of fields of wild lavender
the scent of the earth warming in spring
the petrichor that predicts the end of a drought
that feels to me like the moment the barricades fall
When time comes to me to take in your notion of beauty
I shall take it in as a due reward for pushing through
but until then I will have to hone my grim adoration
for the grim into an edge that will carve down walls
and if you choose to extoll your esthetic as superior
I will turn and hope for the best for you in what is coming
and continue to seek and hope to find a new hymnal
in this moment where the old one has begun to falter
Highlight of the day:
Lowlight: waking, then
the low-uttered “dammit”
that follows opening my eyes
Falling back to sleep
is a cheat almost as bad
because I will have to wake up again
I’m not saying
will last forever
I’ve had the disorder too long
not to know better
but at the same time
it’s so tiring to be
so selfish about my own discomfort
at my continued breathing
Shameful as any scandal
in the face of this horrid world
that’s cracking now
is the notion that I
matter enough to be
my own focus
when truly no one
cares about what I do unless
it advances the cause
of dignity and equality
even for the mood-crazed millions
like me who are
That is why
I am ashamed to wake up
and feel so disgusted at my being
that I cannot move
without stumbling over and mumbling
about my inadequacies
I’ve had it better than most
and I seem so trivial to the world’s spin
that my own issues are afterthoughts
The highlight of my day
The low point is when it ends
Everything in between
is a burden drawn out
for one more day
in a lifetime
If you find this
selfish and contemptible
you are not alone
If you read this
shake your head and
then we are family
cousins in arms
against this waste
3819. That’s the number of days that have elapsed since January 1, 2010.
3500. That’s the number of new poems I’ve posted on this blog since then, counting today’s post. A little under a poem a day for a little under 10.5 years.
I have more than that on the blog from before that date, transferred here from LiveJournal (no idea how many — too much work to figure it out when so few had tags back then); have digital files of a couple thousand more going back to about 1996; more in notebooks and binders back to the early 70s; more lost to time and the mysteries of moving and mildew, I’m sure.
So — I don’t want to double that number for an overall total, but maybe 6000 or so total lifetime? Maybe there are only a few out of that that are worth holding onto, but I still hold on to them.
If it seems obsessive to do this, you should know that I refer to this record keeping as “the Pursuit of the Meaningless Goal.” It was something suggested to me by a therapist years ago as one way of controlling one aspect of the symptoms of bipolar disorder — I won’t say more than that.
It’s part of the continuing effort to say that the Work, the body of Work, is more important than any one poem to me.
I’m going to take a few days off, I think. I have things to do elsewhere. Just needed to note the moment.
Thanks for reading. Plenty more to read here.
Third floor neighbors
call the cops
because one floor down from them
a crowd of people
we don’t recognize
are smoking crack,
and one floor down from that
all I can hear is the noise
of heavy stumbling on
the kitchen floor, bedroom floors,
bathroom floor, living room floor
Third floor has a newborn
and they’re a little bit upset
at second floor’s disarray and clamor,
how we all had roaches for a few months
because no one there took out the trash
and now we’ve cleared that up —
but who are all these people
Third floor wonders
why the cops don’t come
to see to the second floor.
I know they won’t.
They didn’t come for my break in,
and when they came later on
for the one next door
they told me it was my fault
for living in
The only time they’ve ever come
to rattle our doors
was in the deep of the night
when a roommate died
from a fentanyl kiss
on the second floor
So I sit and wonder
about the limited potential
for there ever to be
a big blue knock
on the building door,
badges and flashlights
and guns asking me
to let them in
to the hallway to
the floors above me,
fat chance of anything at all
unless someone dies
or is about to die…
What answer should I make
to a knock in the night
from someone who thinks
any pain on this street
No idea, but
we need something
that doesn’t look like this,
like any of this.
How delicious it would be
to have a world that did not require
all this thinking — where instinct
and emotion were enough to carry civilizations
from birth to death — where guns
and brawn were acceptable in the face of
disease — where fear of the unknown
was codified into quick and dirty law —
where the individual could stand supreme
as long as they did not stand out too much
within the ranks — there would only be
a handful of Gods to choose from (if that)
to simplify the view — there could be
cultural differences if they were colorful
and easily adapted to commerce or control —
where those who dared to philosophize
or speculate could be swiftly neutralized
or vaporized — where appropriate addictions
could be nationalized — where the bees
flew in diminished numbers away from us
when we went outdoors — where the oil content
of every river basin was measurable
and extractable — where the sharks
stayed in the movies — where the scent of sex
was routinely worn behind the ears —
where flowers bloomed in the right beds
and only the right beds — where it all went away
at night — where night went away in the daylight —
where daylight was a property — where we all
understood the Rules and nobody balked at them
except to volunteer as a cautionary tale —
where the flags flapped regardless of wind —
where the wind blew regardless of flags —
where thought was good only for counting coin —
where coins looked their best on closed eyes —
where all our eyes could be closed at any time.