Poems From The Slam Years

Below, you’ll find an archive of some of the old slam-era poems I don’t perform much anymore but which are requested often.

For a good number of years, I was deeply involved in the world of the Poetry Slam, and for the most part, this represents the work I used during those years and immediately afterwards when I was performing, touring, competing, etc.

While a few have been revised and in some cases added to Duende Project shows for a second life, I really think of them as relics.  But I know some people really like them, so I’m putting them here so they can get to them if they need them.



Mission Statement

Our mission is
to act up at public gatherings
to toss stones at the comfortable
to sneer at the television
and afflict the generic
to dance naked in the clean laundry in the great steam room of the world
to get LAID/ to get LOVE /to get NOTICED
to waltz against the knives of war and greed
as they try to cut us loose from the church of our freedom
to look each other in the eyes at 2 AM
to speak like flowers and act like idiots
to write rants missives novels novellas epistles
and advertisements for our huge and tender

to find a child crying alone
and offer a hand
to get an old woman up from her electric rocker
and hear stories of the holocaust
in her lonely patriarchal days
to stop bullets with a single line
and make them over into pencil leads

Our mission (should we choose to accept it)
involves us – all of us – even Bill Gates
(in theory)
in a mass chain improvisation
leading a dance of tongue and cheek
bump and grind
Amos Andy
Sacco Vanzetti
skatepunks riot grrls and anyone else
hurling epics and haiku into the face of bland conformity
it’s rap snapped like a chalkline
to mark the way to the street
a whisper of erotica sliding home
end rhyme as tightly matched as lips
the right words cut and shaped to fit
into white hot bursts
of short sharp verse
and the longline wasted pseudo Beat nonetheless pure at heart stories of pain and gargantuan gothic gallows laughter

Our mission friends is
and we are on a mission only we can define

so, dig

poets in other places and times
have died doing what we do here tonight so casually
They stand at our elbows every time we pick up that pen
step to the mike or
(God Forbid!) listen to one another
so do not let anyone define your voice
Do not wait for a leader
If you want a leader then lead
And many voices will come together in one mission
The way stormclouds come together to make lightning
And when lightning passes it leaves thunder
And one day
they will say the same about us


someone stripped the emperor
and the sneer became an honest form of speech
and someone who had never twisted a knob before twisted a knob
and someone who’d never bent a string before bent a string
and someone sent a cowboy’s chords to do a bulldozer’s job
and someone let joy out on a rampage
and the devil became a hero
and we forgot the time
but we remembered how to bang things
we recalled the joy of bomp bam boom
whether it was drums or bodies we were slamming
and the radio quaked daily
and the songs got shorter
and the music industry couldn’t get its pants up in time
to get out the door and milk the noise until it died
and someone stuck metal under their skin
and made a memento of the blood
and someone pointed out that there is NO FUTURE
and if there is NO FUTURE there is only NOW
and if there is only NOW there is also NO PAST to hold us back
and everything began to bounce very hard
and everything began to whip around itself
and someone made a magazine and sold it without benefit of bookstore
and someone wrote a poem with reverb
and it shook the colleges down
and someone made an evening gown of sackcloth
and started a religion which began with Jesus dying
for someone else’s sins
and what it was was freedom in the form of a rejection letter
and what it was is what it still is
because someone somewhere
is still trying to find out how far the human soul can go
on three chords tuned to exhaustion
wet sex in a van
the roar of the crowd
and most of all on the joy that comes
when you spit all the outrage and triumph in you into the face of death
as you realize that it’s you – you – YOU
YOU did it
YOU stripped the emperor
and crumpled his vanity
and you did it all by yourself
and when you were done
the gods of the big beat looked down on you
and said in one dirtysweet voice
“hey you kids that shit’s too loud”
and you screamed right back
“there’s no


The agent who really killed JFK was last seen
at the Dallas Airport buying two tickets to New Orleans
using cash covered with Illuminati flyspecks.
Why two? I can’t tell you.

Surviving Branch Davidians (23 of them)
have been spotted in the upstate New York compound
of the Rockefellers, all of them having been surgically
to resemble either David Duke, Doris Day, or Doris Duke — whichever comes first.

STOP LAUGHING AT ME! It’s not like I’m the Antichrist. No —
the Antichrist this week is a small time hood who runs a combination gas station
and orgone generator on the outskirts of Las Vegas,
where he takes his orders from the disembodied brain of Howard Hughes,

who is in fact Hitler, and always was.
Don’t believe me? Here’s the proof:
photos J. Edgar used to keep in his garter belt —
I downloaded them off the Web.

STOP LAUGHING AT ME! There is an order out there, and I need to see it —
just like Elvis did. Now there was a man who knew the truth —
and that’s why the mothership had to come down and scoop him up for home.
You didn’t believe that toilet story, did you?

Once upon a time, there were gods and goddesses,
and if we wanted to know who was pulling the strings
all we had to do was look at the nearest mountain top, or sacred grove.
Nowadays we can’t even see the strings.

But I know there are strings,
and I know someone’s hiding them —
there have to be strings
leading back to the reasons —

because there must be a reason
my brother got sick in the Gulf,
and there must be a reason
why no one will tell the truth about that —

and there has to be a reason
why good men who served their country
have to live in cardboard boxes
and scrape their survival out of this country’s skin as if they were dirt —

yeah, there’s a order out there,
and that is why I sit on my front porch, cradling my son and my gun,
watching for the black helicopters. And don’t call this paranoia.
I know about paranoia. This is not paranoia —

this was born on the Trinity Site, this was raised in Roswell, and this learned to walk
by forcing its legs against the flood of blood
that has poured from the secret motives
behind this century’s wars.

So –
do you still
feel like

What You Call It

What d’you call it
that thing
that thing that came in the night
that hung above our village
and a war fell onto us from its mouth
what d’you call it

what d’you call it
that thing
I couldn’t see it too well in the dark
I think it had grey skin
know it had red eyes
it wasn’t a dragon
it was too hungry to be a dragon
it was too angry

Whatever it was
a thing like that
ought not to be free
ought not to be let loose to do that
ought to be locked up
ought to be somewhere else

What d’you call it
that thing
that roasts your children
that cinders your wife
takes your father in flame
melts your tongue to the roof of your mouth
burns the consonants out of you
until all you can do is scream open throated, only vowels,
nothing to give shape or form to the sound
no words
and what words could you have had before this
to describe — this

what d’you call it?

yes I suppose
you could call it
a helicopter
a vertical takeoff and landing armored air support vehicle
an Apache
a Cobra
and I suppose its anger and hunger could be
a mistake
an unfortunate incident
nothing to deter us from our mission

all work just as well

There are no clean words for some things


Note: This poem was published originally as part of one of the most unique collections of antiwar poems ever created, in 2003, prior to the start of the Iraq War. nth Position, a well known literary website, put out a call for poets to submit poems to be collected into a free, downloadable chapbook called “100 Poets Against The War.” The resulting chapbook (still available on the nth Postion site) was created in one week from over 1500 entries, and the file was downloaded over 175,000 times; copies were used at readings and protest rallies all over the world. The poems were eventually collected into a book of the same title by Salt Publishing in the UK in 2004; that book is also still available and all proceeds are donated to Amnesty International. I am proud to have been part of this unique and powerful phenomenon.


The Kathy Bag

Eric is hitting Kathy again
with his arm doing the customary
sickle rise
and hammer fall

He says he’s sad that it happens
(will not say that he finds some electric thrill in the sound and the fury of it)
He is reminded of the dog
how she snarls back when punished
even though all he has to do with her is raise a backhand and say GOOD GIRL

It is different with Kathy
he thinks
She is so
Eric has no idea why

this is why

Kathy has a bag she hides in when the hitting starts
one made by her father years before
a bag her mother left her

inside the bag Kathy is dreaming
She dreams of Magic and Old Cartoons
and the introduction sounds like this:

When I was young in NYC I dreamed of San Francisco
And when I moved to San Francisco I dreamed of NYC
I knew that somewhere the streets were full of master magicians
and I waited my whole life for a master to appear

When I was young I kept handfuls of flash paper handy
would once in a while toss orange flame into the faces
of those who tried to make me disappear

When I was young the world was terrible and handsome and loud
When I was young the sweetness was fleeting
Father always had a hatful of angry doves and Mother was a keeper of doves
I was never young when I was with my family

Now at forty in NYC this magician I love
is pounding at the door of my one safe room
like a father gone rhinoceros
with a horn as long as his love of death
pounding pounding
with that smile like my father’s that I can’t hope to emulate — or erase

and so I hide in this bag
it is easier sometimes to stay in here
and dream of magic and old cartoons
to see myself on stage saying


But the trick never works —
Sometimes I cannot find my own strength
It’s easier sometimes to stay in the bag

but sometimes
the trick changes and
the trick is different

sometimes the swords go all the way through the bag
those times —
Sweet Jesus —

he is inside

The Radioactive Artist

The radio today
brings me the story
of an artist who builds sculptures
from radioactive waste.

I sit back amazed
and listen to a doomed voice
in full cry
on behalf of his art.

He has
his Nuclear Materials Handler license number
tattooed on the back of his neck.
He has the stuff of his every sculpture in his blood.

He builds his work
from the scraps and tools left behind
in the wake of nuclear weapons manufacturing
and keeps them in a gallery

that will be off limits to critics
for 10,000 years.
Someone has to do this, he says.
Someone has to make these things beautiful.

He says this
and the energy of the earth rises from below his feet
and the energy of the sun closes around him like a sphere
and he stands at the center of our modern storm.

And he will die, sooner rather than later,
having made art that no one will ever see
and considering it a privilege
to have done so.

And his art —
the sculptures
I will never see?

They made me quit my day job.
They make me want to fly low
over volcanoes

to feel that heat
and bring it back with me
on a legal pad.

It makes me weep
to think that I’ve wasted so much time –
to think that we’ve all wasted so much time.


She burns sage at the root of her favorite tree
and calls herself priest while in town they call her slut and worse
because she dares to love who and what and when she wants.

On the nights of the full moon the men and the women of this town
come out and circle her stucco walls.
There is something in there they need.

And out there, in front of the white church, on the green lawn, right under the nose
of the fat pastor, she dances without bending a blade of grass.
God finds her agreeable.

Over there, in front of the frat house, two men kiss —
and the dangerous drunken boys inside see it
and decide to do nothing — this time.

That’s a start. Two have begun
to be comfortable making public
their own sacrament of the infinite.

And my grandmother sniffs,
” ‘ Elderly’ is such a spindly word.
The legs of that word do not begin to support me.”

She traded her electric typewriter for a laptop
two years ago and writes the definitive poetry of our age
between the innings of Cubs’ games.

She will not stop smoking. Ever.
Swears that if she gets to heaven to find the clouds are posted,
she’ll find another place to light up.

Friends, the arms of God are nearly endless —
but there you hang out at the end of one of them,
like a finger on a vast hand.

All that’s asked of you is that you touch the earth
and transmit what you feel
back to the Heart.

So — make a living.
Make a life. Make love. Make art.
Adorn this world with the work of your soul. But —

Do it yourself. No one
can do it
for you.



a print of “Guernica” hangs on the foyer wall
above the drink table
here are the famous horse and the upraised human face
they’re screaming as the hors d’oeuvres are passed

and on the facing wall
behind the buffet
hang two photographs
carefully chosen for tonight

in this one is a girl we have seen before
running and burning on a road in Vietnam years and years ago
back then she was trying to fly to safety
on the innocent strength rising along her fiery arms

in this one is a man we’ve also seen before
and despite his death in 1890 he also keeps trying
but he’s frozen awkward and insolent in his attempt
to rise from the snow at Wounded Knee

we are making small talk tonight
clicking our tongues at all these pictures
making crestfallen small talk
because we know we should

handing over money
to save Afghani statues from the guns of rapists
handing over fistfuls of green guilt
for the anesthetic of aesthetics

buying permission to posture unflinching
before those who have fallen
permission to shelter in these picturesque memorials
in the hope of receiving from them some kind of prophylactic grace

as we stare at the burning girl
as we sadly regret Wounded Knee and genocide
as we admire the abstraction of that burning Spanish town
we will click our tongues

while marking the skill of the artist at having those faces
seem so stark in their angled black and white
seem so shot through and through
with an undertone of subconscious red

it’s from this we’ve learned how to watch the news
the news that gives us each day our daily dread
a new crop of victims to be cropped and photoshopped
and we know just what to do when we see the faces

we observe
we regret
we remark
we move on

tonight there’s a gallery fundraiser
tomorrow there will be another
we’ll see the burning girl and the rising corpse again
and we’ll make another print of “Guernica”

do we need
all these prints
of “Guernica”?

someday we’ll see
that if we had been changed by all this art
at the first hint of genocide we would smash our cameras
hang our paintbrushes back on the wall

stick our checkbooks back in our pockets
lift the paintings from their frames
and carry them through the streets
to the places of power calling why


if the people inside our work could speak
they would tell us that if witness alone could change the world
the world would be changed by now
and we would have no need to learn

that this picture
of that girl
is not

4 responses to “Poems From The Slam Years

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