Routine

Five days a week most weeks,
I hear a radio

playing out front
around seven AM.

Last notes of a current hit drain
away; another one starts.

A car horn insists from the curb
that someone is late

meeting someone. Hard footsteps
down the back stairs from

the third floor. A soft exchange of
Spanish. A van door

slides open, closes 
quickly with a deep 

chunk. The motor pitch
rises, the tires hiss, and then

all of it fades away
till tomorrow, same time.

It is torture on some days,
comfort on others, depending

on how the day before felt,
how my bed treated me last night,

what I expect from the rest
of this day and the day to follow.

On any day I do not hear it,
I awake as if I had. That is

torture some on days,
comfort on others.

Now and then I only hear
the radio and then fall asleep

again, or wake to the van
pulling away. I wonder then

if I have missed
a variation

that might have
changed my life,

then
I stop wondering

and my life
goes on unchanged.


Plans

If I had died young, 
before high school,
you’d speak of me
as you might speak of a bird call
you hear outside your window 
at dawn in spring
when it’s been a long time
and you don’t know
what you’re hearing but it seems
familiar and you feel 
a tug of joy and sadness
at the passing of time.

If I’d died young but older,
say in high school, 
you’d speak of me
as if I were a storm 
a whole town
had endured
that had torn out
monumental trees
and wrecked landmarks
but all sign of it
having happened
is now gone.

If I’d died 
after high school,
years later perhaps
but before now, 
you’d speak of me
as if I were a flash,
a meteor you heard about 
from people
who heard about it
from other people, 
and you’d regret
not having seen it
when it passed.

If I die tomorrow,
how will you speak of me?
As the unknown bird song,
the faraway, long-gone storm,
the fireball rumor? I’m here still.
I’ve no plans to go anywhere, 
but plans have a way
of manifesting unaided.

Are you going
to speak of me
at all?

If so,
what wild moment
will spill from your mouth
after you’ve said
my name?


Salt And Fire

Originally posted June 2017.

There are places on Earth
so soaked in hate that
the only moral thing to do

(after finding new places 
for people to live)
is to burn every scrap of wood

from furniture
to framing, fill in every
foundation, break up

all the roads that lead 
into and out of town, then
salt the ground sterile.

Every day you hear
of places so poisoned
they should live on only

as a shocked memory
of a country of horror stories
and nightmares.

I do not say this lightly.
Every town is someone’s home and
has at least a modicum

of love clinging to it. I do not
know how to make hate disappear,
and perhaps I have become hate

when I think these things —
perhaps I should
burn myself, 

have a friend
roll my smoking corpse in salt
and bury me in barren ground.

Look around. Something 
has to be done 

and it is hard to believe 

that it will not
require fire
and salt.


Apex Predator

In spite of
His reckless
and eccentric
reputation.

In spite of all the rumors
spinning out
in a wake behind Him
as he proceeds.

With no regard for 
how He steps upon
smaller beings or 
fragile footing. 

With a wink
at His handiwork 
and a smile for 
His damages.

Whistling 
His songs,
reading His books,
watching His shows.

Everybody knows
His name. No one knows
what He does 
behind the screen it provides.

Or everyone knows.
Or enough know and
they keep it to themselves
because He is good

to them. Good for them.
Good enough
that His walk

is its own excuse.

His work
is justification
enough. After all
this is how 

all of this was built.
Built by Him.
Built for hunting.
Built to drain away any blood.


Tired

tired. tired of animals,
their smells and wants. 
tired of the anguish of feeling
I have failed them.
tired of feeling like 
I have failed and failed
at satisfying any need.
tired of sobbing when
I can’t find the remote.
tired of anger at myself 
when I find it
where it should be,
where I thought I’d looked.
tired of my reliance
on this petty wordplay
to hold me together.
tired of white perfume
screaming in my head
every minute of every day
covering the scent
of a brown world.
tired of the shame
of knowing
my very existence
was the end result 
of a genocide
when they lifted babies
from their mothers’ arms
and sent them to their 
erasure factories.
tired of headlines 
and comments. 
tired of feeling.
tired of waking 
then spending the day waiting
until it is safe to become
unconscious again without
anyone thinking me odd.
tired of having to talk
to anyone who would think me odd.
tired of suspecting
that everyone thinks I’m odd.

the belief that
I am a tendril of something
growing all the time
into a new being
is all that keeps me
from succumbing to
fatigue and its mastery
but the stretching and 
cracking of old shells 
and cages is excruciating
in spite of its necessity.

tired of how obvious
and weary the house feels.
tired of my weak garden
and the way it fails under my care.
tired of my body’s vast
and prolific history of mistakes.
tired of animals
and their scents and wants
and how I bury my face
in their fur to weep over 
the lost control I never really had
in spite of all the illusions
I did not see as illusions
until I was one with them
and as dangerous
as any other deep ache
felt by those 
who somehow manage
to get by
while remaining awake.


Bootstraps

Born in a tunnel
looking up. There is
so much
light above. There’s a ladder
that begins
above me, higher than I can jump,
the low rung
shining like a sword unsheathed
against me

and everyone else down here.

I don’t have
the strength to climb to it
even if there
were purchase to do so.
I’m so hungry.
We all are, having built small fires
and roasted 
our bootstraps into tough meat
long ago. 


Awakening With Apocalypse

Dead fish float
on the surface of dead waters.
I wake up suffocating.

There’s a presence
in the room. 

Is this what it’s like
to die? To be alive
as the world dies?

Whatever is in the room with me
won’t explain.  Won’t say why here,
why now. 

I roll over to try and sleep
on my side.  I’ve been told
it’s better for me. I don’t recall
who told me.  It may be a lie.

The One in my room lifts its arms.
All that has died blazes back to life.
Fish swarming silver across
a pulsing sea. Vanished birds

overhead. My grandparents,
their grandparents.

All that has
vanished — or is this also a lie?
Once gone, always gone.

Forget languages,
customs. Viewpoint,
the taste of smoked salmon, 
love-touch.

The Presence tells me

I’m dishonest,
mercury-souled, foul as sodden cashmere
neglected in an unemptied washer.

Is this also a lie? The world is
ending, to be fair. Truth seems to be
going with it, to return at some point
when it matters again.

I roll over
on my side as I’ve been told to do
and try to get back to sleep

in a room filled with
the fragrance 
of lilies
without a lily in sight.


The House Falling

This is a house
falling and 
so many under the roof
will be compressed
into somebody’s unfortunate
consequence

and now
and then an escapee will 
be asked, “wasn’t it worth it
to be out from under”

and they
won’t know what to say
with their flattened faces
grown long and broken from
the trauma of having been 
inside the rotten house
as it fell.

This is a house
falling and
all over the neighborhood
bricks are being thrown into
the yards and through
the windows and

look at all the people
bleeding and calling out
for shelter and protection and
they are asked

“isn’t it nice
to have light from where 
that nasty building used to be”

and they won’t understand 
after being blinded by 
flying glass.

This is a house
falling and 
noise and brown dust
are choking and strangling
people who were hoping
to be heard in the 
stillness after its collapse

and they are asked “are you
better off now that it’s not
holding you back” and

they try to answer in the 
affirmative for those
who were outside already
and missed all the damage
from the moment the damned
house fell, the kids and others
who will benefit in the absence
of the fallen house

while the ones who were inside
and knew it was going to fall
accept death and the weight of debris as
the price of someone else’s hope.


August 16

1.
Too often now I stare at a screen
and try to recall what it was like
when I could easily change blank
into not blank.

Sometimes I’d make
a good thing, more often I would not. 
However it ended, at least there was 
a result. Back then emptiness

didn’t stare at me like an adversary
the way it does now. The challenge now
is to survive, more or less, 
while fighting the whiteness of that void.

2.
Yesterday, Aretha Franklin passed.
Today daylight is still sagging
in the absence
of her possibility. 

Eighty years ago to the day
Robert Johnson passed. The moon
still hasn’t recovered all of the melody
it loaned him.  

Somewhere in between them
Elvis Presley died — same day,
different song; I know people miss him
but what song we lost that day, I can’t imagine.

3.
I’m not ready yet.  If I go tomorrow
the only song I’ll take with me
is a small one, a pebble in a shoe
shaken out after a good day walking,

forgotten once the immediate pain 
subsides. A tuneless whistle 
to get by one of life’s little discomforts.
Right now, that’s all I’ve got.

So back into the empty white I go
to blotch it up then read the portents there,
turn them into full-blown glory. I want the earth itself
to mourn me. It may not happen. I will try.


Prediction

What’s become clear is that
your enemies have the easy stuff
figured out and countered and

that’s at least in part because
you yawp like a puppy instead of
growling or better still coming at them

in silence with cunning 
and the strongest weapons you have
loose and swinging in your hands.

Your best bet
is to keep your mouth shut,
mostly. Don’t expose
the back of your throat

where your best weapons 
hang — not the throwaways
you store on the tip of the tongue
but the sharpest edges,
the thickest batons,
the rifles with the laser sights.

You won’t listen.

You will die pretending
we are not at war.

We are not there yet,
you will say, even as you fall
bleeding into the sand.

We are not there yet,
you will say, as you die.


Always The Work

Here is
where I was born,

and there is where
I’ll be soon enough.

The space between them
is called by some “waiting to die,”

by others, “learning to live.” All of them say
that how you name the space

is an orientation and
a choice. They argue;

I try to cover my ears.
One day I heard someone else

call the path between them “the Work”
and I opened my arms. 

Couldn’t wait for that embrace.
Into the Work I fell,

landing hard upon it,
sinking in after a few minutes,

learning to breathe 
what I wrote, learning to

write from my breathing, 
all while on my knees

in gratitude for a space
between waiting to die

and learning to live,
for the path called the Work

that has kept me for years,
breathing poetry 

as I learned
how to navigate between

where I was born
and where I will be soon enough.


Edging Your Lawn

You edge your lawn
by trimming off
the parts of it
that intrude upon
the borders of
cement walks,
well mulched
beds of flowers, and
clusters of
hedges and shrubs.

You edge your lawn 
although you know
how unnecessary
your lawn is.

You know, you should turn it over
and make it into a garden.
Do it to feed yourself,
your family,
your people.

You know
what you should do
but instead, 
you edge your lawn.

You edge your lawn
with small swords. 

You edge your lawn 
to hold back a riot,
to stem chaos.

Clean lines,
segregated spaces,
perfect delineations,
evenly spaced boxes
for life.

Your lawn
pushes you
to keep it pretty,
serving that
which is useless.

You edge your lawn
in spite of 
how hungry you are.


Recognition

I don’t have it anymore.
It’s possible
I’ve never had it, 
that I fooled myself
into believing I did.

It’s possible that every word’s
always been
a smear of ash.
Poured a few tears on it,
watched it turn to ink.

Starting to think
that each minute on stage
was a mistake made in public,
a stumble turned into
interpretive dance.

I hate ash,
and I hate dance.
How did I get here?

This is not to say
I did not enjoy it at all.
It had its moment.
It petted my ego and
gave good illusion;

at this point though, any stab
at recovery seems
ridiculous, an obvious
ploy for lengthening
my minuscule, improbable fame.

I’m the downside
of Andy Warhol’s 
fatuous words. The 
last tick of fifteen 
bad, sad minutes approaches.

I hate time,
and I hate loss.
How did I get here?

I could, I suppose,
buckle down and do
the real work
I should have done
early on.

I could, I suppose,
put some blood
into the ash and change
its hue. Stop crying,
stop dancing, stand still

and let myself 
become a target
for the hard bullets 
that come with the harder work;
I could still learn a thing or two.

I hate this dumb face
and God, I hate this blank screen.
How should I proceed?


True Crime Stories

True crime stories
half the day
on half the media

unless you include
celebrity news

and then it’s all media,
all the time.

I wish instead of this 
I could go outside and 
talk to a tree but I think
it would insist on speaking
of climate change and air quality
so there’d be no relief there,

that’s a crime as well
and as true as the rest
and we know who the culprits are
and we have the evidence
of our bitter sweat
and hampered breath

to turn over to the authorities
if only we knew who they were.

So I stay inside and use
the flipping of channels as
palliative care, changing 
when the dread becomes
overwhelming.

The only comfort left to me
is the hope of updates on ancient episodes
of Cold Case Files and Unsolved Mysteries;

anything to suggest that though justice
grinds slow, it does grind fine
and finally.


Volcano

A fire from the center of the earth
breaks out now and then
to remind us of what is possible
and beyond our own capacity.

Flaming, streaming rock
turned plastic, slippery, and red
comes to the surface
through generations of old stone 
and when it catches anything
it burns everything and our weakness
is made clear.

We stare into it, 
offer it fear and faith. 
Name it for a goddess or god,
curse it as an evil, 
flee it and photograph it
and tell stories of its potency,
its devastation,
its swift re-creation
of the land it seizes
or the ocean it boils.

On the horizon,
a glow announces the coming
of the central fire. The world
made new, in ways we cannot
replicate. No wonder

we fear it.  No wonder
we gave it a god’s name,
a goddess’s name, a divinity
all its own.