Bad Dog Blues

You make a damaged statement
and every last friend walks out of your home
while you sputter your mystified apologies.

Afterward, in bed, you lie awake just long enough
to be satisfied that you didn’t retire too early;
you sleep well for a change.

Isn’t it magnificent to be completely alone
and allowed to be the freakish, broken dog
you always knew you were? This is what

your family made you for, this angelic feeling
that you would be perpetually misunderstood:
whatever would come out of your mouth,

no matter when, no matter who was around,
even them, you would say the wrong thing.
You get up, offer a whimper, a bark. It’s all

annoying. It’s all the wrong language
for those around you. Hello, you say,
but it comes out good bye. I love you,

you say, but it spills out like a popped
blister soaking the earth and it’s too late
to shut up, to stop; no one’s listening

to what they call your bullshit
You might as well eat acid, a gun barrel,
a Nazi talking point, a dagger cookie,

and a baby one right after the other. It doesn’t matter:
you’re a bad dog. They don’t want you
anywhere other than on the killing table now.


Pandemic Pajama Pants Blues

my life’s as ragged now
as the bottom of the pajama pants
I’ve worn for 14 months
stepping through the hole in the hem
at least once a day and not caring
about who saw me when I was outside
puttering in my sad garden
among the bottom rot tomatoes
and struggling beans — y’know

I cut those pants down so
they would finally be out of the way
of my clumsy stepping
and they have been worn down
till they’ve become a feeling
a fabric no more
pants made of tears as
soft as my memory
of the many sorrows and far fewer joys
that swept around my ankles last year
tripping me up
throwing me down

it hardly seems right
to throw them away and go back
to jeans and khakis
but throw them away I did
for I have at least three more pairs
in reserve
waiting to be worn to tears
in case
it happens again
and if it does
if it does
I will not call myself ready
but


Quartz Point

This is
a quartz point
stolen from where
it grew. Now it rests on
a folding table
called “altar”
in the home of a
colonizer who keeps it
lit with a full spectrum light
all hours of the day,
all the days of the year,

and if you listen you can hear
a sharp growl like that of a black dog
from the corner of the room
where it languishes.

Nothing should surprise you
about this as it is not
unusual for a colonizer
to exercise what they call
“stewardship”
in whatever way they deem best,
regardless of listening to
the earth itself which speaks
in tongues they can’t fathom
even exist.

The language
of a stolen stone comes less
from the tongue
than from the lung and throat,
for instance, and when
a colonizer hears it

they assume it is their own
voice within, depression
they call it, the black dog
they call it; and it will persist
as long as they hold on to
what they’ve stolen.

Is it not lovely, they say,
touching the quartz point
under the full-spectrum light
they bought for the purpose.
It glows under this, they say, as it would
under the sun. Exactly so, in fact,

and they look around for the source
that will explain
why their black dog is growling
like a stab within.


An Actor Prepares

Today I shall begin anew.
I will tell myself
I was born
to play this role.

Even before I get up I will lie here and pretend
I have changed overnight
into someone who gets the right things done
at the right time. I will lie in bed and tell myself

that if I do it right I will get to do this again tomorrow,
and again on the day after that. I will erase
previous days from my track record —
all of them, if possible. I will lie there and decide

that even if I wipe the record antiseptic-clean
I will keep my name the same so those
who have disapproved of me can change their minds
and praise me for the transformation.

All this joy to come from just lying in bed
and running new lines. I swear won’t think today
about yesterday and how I blew it. How I have
blown it over and over

by lying in bed too long and thinking about
yesterdays, the permanent record
of yesterdays strung into a necklace of lead.
I will lie here and think of anything other than dead weight.


Letting Go

To maintain isolation in this crowd
of friends, good people
gathered in a deep backyard
around food and smoke and
hours of catching up
after a plague year, seems
such a ridiculous pose.

To imagine that
a tragic face and story
should be your sole currency
among such friends would be a sin
if sin is real; instead
call it a willed stance, a facade —

which is not to say that
your story is not tragic and
your face does not bear the marks
of it, but to say that every face here
bears marks and yet somehow
there are still loud birds unseen
in the trees and lazy dogs and cats
and laughter all around.
You can be gloomy anytime.

Let go for one afternoon
and see a promise here that
after hard seasons
there will be softer days, and
even if you never attend
another, someone in the future
will recall this night
and your presence here
and be comforted by it.



The Tale Of The Ithaca Shotgun

My father once owned
an Ithaca shotgun
he got from a kid at his job
who was going to Vietnam
and couldn’t take it with him

12 gauge with a monster kick
that knocked my six year old ass
right down the one time I shot it
Weird looking gun with a lever
that broke it open
at the barrel for loading
Good for birds and pests
and not much else

No idea when or where he sold it
or gave it away or turned it in
but now and then
I think about its oaken stock
and wonder about
how the kick would feel to me
now that I’m grown

Last night I dreamed I was living
in a condo somewhere not here
and a boy with bright eyes
knocked on my door
and asked for his gun back
I said didn’t have it
and told him the name
of the town where I grew up
and if was looking for his gun
he should knock on their doors
He nodded and turned away
to walk there in his combat boots
to go ask people he’d never seen
for a gun long ago lost

I saw him join
all the rest of the ghost boys
from all the rest of history
thronging the streets
asking strangers for their guns
because they knew that if only
they could fire them one more time
they’d remain standing up after the kick
this time they wouldn’t fall down

My shoulder aches for them
Aches for the gun my father got rid of
Aches for wanting to handle correctly
what I could not when I was young

Just another ghost boy
citizen of a dead nation
a whole nation of us

imagining a gun
that we could master this time
to feel masterful
and grown



Nothing To Pour

I can see the shape
of what I must say,
what I long to say,
but not how to fill it in.

The container is perfectly
made, seamless and clear;
there’s nothing inside.

In my conception, once I fill it
anyone reading it will understand it
at once, regardless of
their literacy, their language.

The moment they lift it
from the page and take it in,
they’ll be so moved…

yet somehow for too long
I have had
nothing to pour.


These Are My People

I came back
to my house
before dark

after a day of being on fire and taking fire
from the people I’ve been told
I descend from.

Told by a lit match
to watch my
short fuse,

I think about
the long trail of sparks
stretching behind me.

Dark or light
I suppose
they are my family,

enraged or at peace although
they are more light when enraged,
more dark when at peace.

Meet the Reversal Family, the
inside-out clan. No one
can be happy unless all

are circling the drain
or the bonfire. Straight-up
equilibrium — everyone

minding themselves,
their business, helping
the others as needed? No need.

No one in the Reversal Family
needs anything except
the misery of the others.

and if you don’t share that you must be adopted,
alien, crazy, or free,
but you don’t get to choose.

Once home I try to forget
my allegedly short fuse and
that actual long trail of burning behind me

but I can smell it
in my sleep.
Everyone can.


Mad And Lost

The difference between
what I look like
from the outside and
what I am like within
is three thousand
miles or so give or take based upon
the precise starting points
and exact destinations

or so I’d like to think

The distance to the village
where I thought I might look right
for the part
but didn’t
is four thousand miles

The distance to the rez
where by rights no one could trust me
to be who I said I was
is two thousand miles

in the other direction

I’ve been to both
Neither fit me well
or at all

You hear this and choose to question
why geography and history
should matter so much to me
when I live right here and
I’m the only one bringing this up
on a routine basis
an obsessive basis

If I’d forgotten all that
gotten over it
I’d have been happier
you say

You remind me that
I’m old poor and sick now
It would seem that should
matter most of all
not race and ancestry
Not missing any sense of home

Make a home here you say
It’s all that matters

I’ve lived among people like you
my whole life
and talked about this
the whole time

and somehow you still wonder
why I have been and will continue to be
mad and lost
all the time


Something Something

I should be content
to look at a mountain
for what it is
and not as a comment on my life.”― David Ignatow

Outside something something
nature. Creature, plant,
rock, shadow on ground.

Inside something something
human emotion, insight. Illumination.
Metaphor as deep as depth.

Between something something
and something something a wall
unbreachable. Out there we call

“the world.” In here we call “soul” or
something. We call poems “keys.”
We try to make world into soul

with a key to a door we think we see
in the wall. Something, something;
something about the lock being broken

and something about trying to make things
work for us that are not our concern
while something laughs behind our backs.

That’s not door. That’s still wall.
That’s not a soul and maybe there’s no
world. This is a poem, or something, it seems;

a key that unlocks Nothing.


Shithead

I’m up at four-thirty
cracked like dawn
trying to write
but there are cats here
and they want food and
a clean shitter and above all
for me to stop using them
as a source of excuses
for not writing
I have to go bathe my father
which is no excuse
I have to go feed my mother
which is no excuse
My feet on fire and
my left hand frozen numb
with neuropathy
Pain that goes from
nagging to screaming
that it’s not an excuse
The drugs that ease the pain
slow me and dull me at the same time
but that is no excuse
My broke timid ass overwhelmed
with all the doom within and around me
to the point of disgust and saturation
with my lack of excuses
The siren songs of bullshit self-care
are no excuse to step away
from the cliff
I need to fall over to land on
an enemy below
and even as I burn out
and fall dead while crushing them
snuffing them out
they look up saying
You are killing me and killing yourself
and those are not excuses
for not writing a poem today
Feed the cats shithead
Take the drugs shithead
Kill the billionaires shithead
Whether you live miserably or die happy
you truly have just one real job
Write that goddamn poem
shithead
or all this will be worth
exactly as much
as you are
which is
vessel
conduit
gutter
that’s all

Chastened thus
I suffer and bend to
the task





Eldercare

Your parents are going away,
diminished ghosts drifting off.
Whatever shall you do?

They are feeble, spiteful clouds
now, raining perpetually on everything.
You dry and fold their clothes

and fret to yourself about how
you will ever empty the house
while they thunder, cast bolts, start fires.

In other words, you keep living as you always have,
doing all the hard work you think is necessary
to hold them, like smoke, in your hands.

Nothing has changed. Look down at those palms,
those naked palms. All that’s there is a scent
you can’t follow to learn where they are going.


Call Out

Check yourself. There appears to be
a thin coating of slime
on your affirmation of purity,

a subtly gleeful aggression
in the way your principles allow you
such arrogance, perhaps indicative

of a willed inability to compare and contrast
your own righteousness on one subject
to your complicity on another.

If I were looking into a mirror
while doing and saying these same things
I hope I’d shut up and tear my face off.

If I found your face underneath mine
I do not know what I could do
except wall myself in with mirrors

so I would always remember
where I came from and never be able
to go back into the world.

If I later tore that face off to find beneath it
only the bones that history gave us both,
I would do the only thing left to do:

go back out there and let the people I’d hurt
judge me, then shun me or embrace me as they choose
while I bled and tried to grow something new.


A Career In Poetry

My last great literary act
is to admit out loud that
I’ve always been repeating myself
and it’s no longer enough.

It used to be enough.
I would tell myself
in response to writing a bad poem
I was at least being original.
Then came the moment when
I saw I was not, but kept trying.
Today I can see
the whole point of me: there’s been
just one, there’s been
only one poem I’ve ever written, I’ve been
endlessly rocking the same poem
with different words; I have repeated it
only out of desperation, then walked up to you
and shook you
over and over with the same motion
and glazed sensibility,
wanting to be
owed something
I fooled myself into thinking
I deserve from you.

Anyway,

here’s a new book for your consideration
called “I Repeat Myself: The Villanelles.”
I know it’s the same as my last book,
“Once Again: The Sonnets.”

I see you already looking away.

Bear with me, give it a read, give it a listen,
give it the old college try. Give it
your full attention, even if only briefly.
You won’t have to read it more than once.


Kinder, Gentler

Enraged at unknown others’
words and actions
read or heard about or seen
through a screen, I say
so often to myself,
“May Death take you…”
as a curse upon them.

I walk away muttering, change
the channel muttering,
drive past muttering; I throw
the middle finger, sometimes
I even shout out loud in the car.

Then I grow ashamed of myself:
who am I to lay this magic
like a bludgeon upon these people?
I try and try to change, to say:

may Death take you
as a taxi would, to your
desired destination.
May your ride
be white-knuckled and filled
with obscene commentary from
a wild-eyed driver,
but may you end up
where you need to be.

May Death take you
in a horse cart to
a field of long grasses
and small blue flowers
on long stems that scratch you
as you walk to the center of
the centering meadow,
where you shall lie in the sun,
itchy from the passage,
but where you wanted to be.

May Death take you
in Death’s time
as Death wills it,
being what you are.

May Death take me
when my work is done,
as soon as it is done;
may Death take you
before you can finish yours.

May Death take us both
as we would like to be taken
whether or not our work is done:
gently, with a pat on the back
or the head as we are guided past
the Veil and through the Gate,

and may I not see you there.