Decoding

When among others
work to appear 
to be one of them.
I use words others use,

talk like them, write
like them. Do the subtle
bodyspeak, the gestures,
the moves.

When among others
I sing their song cycles
within earshot;
poem their poetry too.

When fucking though?
My own language, my own 
tongue — and no, not when
making love or even having

sex — those are their words,
not mine; no ruined sensibility
of theirs for me. I speak my singular 
rumbletone hard stop when

in the swing of fucking, speak it
with the Other I’m with, coding and
decoding in the moment
of utterance. Tense agreement,

plural touch. Grammar
of switch upon switch
across skins. Private syntax.
All the cipher we can handle.


Vectors

we the most precious
examples of how the spin of flesh
makes vessels of each of us

sets us whirling in place
our parts and bits end up
precisely where they should be

their placement in our lives
perfection — all of us exactly 
where we are meant to be

even if it leaves us in despair
or rage to be present
with our moment personal and global

even if it leaves us wanting
difference and upheaval 
we the agents of the disruption

this is no false peace
we were neither meant for peace
nor holy acceptance

of bend and bow and scrape 
we are the warriors and medics
of today’s mayhem and failure

we must look each other 
in the eyes and say
you are perfect not broken

worthy not deficient
honored not disgraced
no time for shaming or discarding

as we the mass are
one last chance for miracles 
vectors for hope


That Ghost

From 1999.

there’s that ghost in your face —
the ghost of your mother

beloved ice mist peeking
from underneath the skin so clearly

in one frozen second
your father sees it and gasps

covers his face
before your twin images

as light plays into
the planes along your nose

a shadow covers
your own face

her face seeps through
before everything goes finally dark

you carry so much of her inside you
it’s no wonder he refuses to speak with you

at certain times when he is lonely for her
the heart can only take so much

there can only be so many reminders
before it breaks completely


In Despair

Revision.  Posted originally in April, 2016. Original title, “I Wake Up In Despair.”

I wake up in despair most mornings
that the day will again slant uphill
and it will take everything I have to climb it.

I wake up in despair most mornings
but find comfort in doing things
no Pharaoh could ever do:

for instance, picking myself up
without an entourage to help me;
getting by with no entourage in celebration

or sorrow; falling down back-broken
and getting back up again next day for another round
with nothing but what’s in me to pull me up.

I wake in despair most mornings.
Each day bores me: sometimes a dull drill,
sometimes a chisel striking same and same and same again.

I wake in despair most mornings 
but find comfort in knowing
things a boss can’t know or has forgotten:

how to do the dirtiest bits of a dozen jobs;
how to take the next step when it’s time, how to 
fix the broken piece, how not to fail

from seven AM to lunch, how to stay awake
from lunch to three PM and longer
if three PM becomes 5 PM or later.

I wake in despair most mornings knowing 
how little of my life is good for me, based on 
the time I have to spend recovering from the rest of it.

I wake in despair most mornings
but almost get to glee knowing
what a king does not, what they may never know:

how to run riot in the streets to spite my aches and pains;
how to run riot in the streets with all the others aching and pained;
how to run riot in the streets knowing how little time I likely have.

I run riot knowing that ahead of me, somewhere
cowering, somewhere hiding behind their walls, 
a king, a boss, and a Pharaoh are themselves in despair,

filled with the knowledge
of their lack of knowledge
about anything that needs to be done.

In spite of the odds and the guns
and the war any of them could muster,
I no longer share their despair.


A Rumor Of Light

There is a light
that never fails

in a safe house
somewhere,

one that lights
the way home

for those who seek it
from dark places; as dim

as it might be from 
some places on the path

it always comes through
the trees eventually,

is glimpsed from 
the ship on the rocks,

shimmers on the edge
of sight when seen from 

a distant ridge; it blinks
of home and safety

to the long absent
traveller. At least that’s

what I’ve
been told.


What Is The World Now

Am not D and D
Am neither Magic nor Minecraft
nor even Pokemon Go
Not anime
Cannot speak in manga
Cannot read emoji
Am not EDM
Am no Internet troubadour
When new songs are mentioned
I am bewildered by them all
From behind these changes
I am asking

what is
the world now

Cannot stand in cipher
or freestyle
Words slip by
faster than I can hear
Though never shy to stage myself
As heads turn from what I do and am
I puzzle over how and why and

what is
the world now

I squint to see gray today
Was born to black or white
I strain to see gradation
from pole to pole
Was born to see either heat or ice
It turns faster
than I was raised to move
Was born to claim either here or there
Male or female
Right or left

I am being changed but

what is 
the world now

Stood so long
where ground seemed strong
So little need
to shift my weight
Footing changes below me
I maintain
but not without fear
Mind unclear as scramble
becomes routine
Body sore and incomplete
as pace rises and

what is
the world now

Am not made for this
Was made for a slower climb
In fact was not built to climb at all
Was expected to float and rise
by nature over nurture

What is
the world now 

A rock shuddering through changes
impersonal and fatal

People who are proudly not
what they were long forced to seem

And as for
shrunken, straggling, uncomfortable me

Am not D and D, am not shibari
Am not EMD, am not Fall Out Boy
Am lost old man
Zigging in panic to try and keep up
Increasingly unsure if I want to or should

for what is the world now

but a growing rejection
of all I was built for

Ready for my self-demolition
of which it will take little notice

as it moves in another direction
from where I shall rest in its dust


23 And Me

Revised, from March 2018.  Original title, “23.”

Somebody give me two imaginary things:
a top hat dyed dark with noble blood
and a statue of me wearing the hat.

Then, call me
lord and ruler; a statue
of the imaginary me

is enough of a vessel
from which to sip
the red juice of privilege.

If you give me the bloody hat 
and the statue as well, perhaps
I shall be regal and in charge,

so go ahead and give me
the title as well. Something good,
something recorded on parchment,

for I want to choose who I am 
and discard what I was raised to be:  
that matters less, it seems,

than what a scrap of me
has to report. 
All that history

we used to wrestle 
once could exalt or damn a person, 
and now all we have to do

is check a box or stuff one
and we are what we claim.
Easy enough for everyone. 

I’m enjoying the sticky hat on my head.
I’m enjoying the hell
out of my pale marble face.

I’m dreaming of what it all must mean
although all it truly means
is that I’m dreaming. 


Runner’s World

When running up
to a finish line
you will feel 
swords
in your chest

You must decide then
whether to ignore them
or stop to draw them forth
to either die there
or recover and finish

or even win

No choice is wrong

but what happens
to your swords

after you choose

That’s a puzzle
with its own sword hanging over it

Leave them in 
and push through and perhaps
you die or turn cold
and twisted in pain

Pull them out and contaminate all
with your blood as you fail
or finish or win
without them

but leave them behind
so others flay themselves
as they approach you

standing there
laurel-decked and
whistling from
all your holes

Aftermath is where
right and wrong
come out to play

Aftermath
is everything
in this race


The Diamond Horse

End this

and the diamond horse it rides

Blow the bridge behind and before it
Bring fire to it where it stands bewildered
between the two

But it has come so far, you plead
Not far enough we respond
and how long must we wait for it
to come the rest of the way it should go

Blow the bridge to the past behind it
that it may not return
Blow the bridge to the present before it
that we may be safe from what it brings us
from that past

End this and its platinum blonde warrior locks
End this and its steel hoofed steed
End this with a song or a sword it does not matter
as long as it ends and ends hard and finally

let it not leave a thing behind it
when it goes
Let the diamond horse
shatter and melt away

Let the rider
fall into the shadows
and be gone


Neuropathy 2

My hands 
began to lose hope 
somewhere around two PM
on a Tuesday. 

On Wednesday I looked
at what they were doing
on my guitar’s strings;
familiar songs,
songs I’d written,
did not sound the same.

I sit with them in my lap
often now: invalid limbs,
kin to my feet
that lately burn and prick 
with the same disease.
They sob out loud 
at times but mostly
fry in silence as we watch 
the world itself
attempting suicide.

Hopeless, failed hands;
stinging, failed soles
of unsteady feet; heat and
drought everywhere and
a tingle within
that whispers both personal
and general doom.

When I tell my hands
there is no easy end to this,
that this is no longer
a crisis, but a state of being,
they flutter up from my lap
and then fall still. 
It is hard for hands like these
to see all that demands to be done.
Hard for feet like these
to see how far there is to go.

As for me: in this body,
nothing is solid. Nothing
stops shaking. My hands
lose their grip. My feet fall out
from under me. I end up, daily,
staring up immobilized
from endangered ground,
ashamed that somehow,
I keep breathing.


Immigrant

Where you come from
the people speak the language
of eyelids: all messages, direction,
and mission revealed
in hints of motion visible
behind shuttered faces. 

You can usually 
get past the noise level here,
but some days, you come home
and lie in the dark wishing
for someone to read
what you’re thinking.

Such a loud land
you’ve landed in: news
a broken set of bells
echoing every minute, opinion
half screaming angry,
half screaming in sorrow.
You wonder if it will ever
fall silent, then fear that moment
is coming soon and no one
will know what to do, 
except explode.


Chosen

World outside is greasy
with nonsense 
today; that wind
has some throat to it.
Had to get up early; no sleep

to be had with that voice
slipping around corners, 
through windows, along eaves.
Anyone would prefer

to stay in bed with that
chaos blowing so hard; rather
keep sleeping, keep screwing, 
keep blank and dark and quiet

pretending it’s going to end
as quickly and silently as it began,
but it doesn’t work that way; this same
scouring windstorm has blown

from first day to this one
and all that changes is who is here
to confront it and build new shelters
among its teeth. No matter how slippery

life gets, someone always finds a footing.
No matter how loud and dirty life gets,
someone always whispers
something clean enough 

to break through it. It might well
be you: uncomfortable you,
frightened you, present 
and dawning and perfect,

born in this time for this time.


Feeding The Birds

He’s feeding the birds
before putting out the trash —
making sure they’re fed,
making sure the recycling’s done
right, making sure of his own little circle.

He will not watch television this morning
because they’ll be showing the funeral
of a villain, and after all the funerals he’s wept at
he does not want to see 
the weeping at this one.

He’s feeding the birds
before putting out the trash,
before anything else he might do
to avoid the prattle and rattle
of ceremony.

He will not stop thinking
“rot in hell” today
because it’s the only way he can assuage
the horror of knowing the funeral means
the bastard got away with everything.

He’s feeding the birds. He’s putting out the trash.
He’s amazed he made it this far
and after all the funerals he’s been to,
he’s glad he lived to see this one although
he’s sorry it took this long.


Prayer To The Daymaker

Let there be one moment
exactly like the last one.
I dare you, Maker of Days,
to repeat yourself. To copycat
time, plagiarize yourself 
just this once — or twice.

It wasn’t perfect, I suspect,
although I was not paying attention
all the way through it; still, a perfect moment
isn’t perfect if it’s recorded, I suspect.
It has to live memorialized, static
in its recalled context. So even if it
had been perfect, there’s truly no way to know.
Only you, Maker, can in theory recall it entirely
and could in theory reproduce it. 

So I dare you, Daymaker: 
give it back. This was a learning day
and that was the capstone. I’m 
nearly educated to the point of tipping
and I need to be sure of what happened
to be sure of graduating into
the next unknown moment ripe
with potential perfection.
No one beside us will know it’s a glorious
rerun. No one beside us will know
I begged you to slow down and let me
have more out of the day than I strictly
deserved. Let me have the chance
to savor it or fear it correctly. Let me
be anything other than a man in despair
of aging into the dark.


Pushcart nomination…

Very pleased to note that Radius, an excellent online journal, has nominated my poem “The Patriarchy Apologizes” for a 2018 Pushcart Prize.

You can read the nomination essay and link to the nomination poems here.

Thanks to the editorial staff at Radius for the honor.