A fat old man sits and writes at a little table
in his living room for a few hours
nearly every single day:
most Sundays, most holidays, even on
his annual birthday, which he
always assumes will be his last
and therefore whatever he writes that day
will carry special poignancy for others,
even if it’s just a list of grievances,
even if it’s never published and only shared
among the few who knew him.
That fat old man, they’ll say,
shaking their heads before naming him:
he couldn’t get past this even in sickness and
in death. (They will be correct, but then again
he never aspired to be anything, really,
except a poet — not a writer but a poet,
and we all know what cautionary tales they are
Fat old, stupid old man, they’ll say.
Dumb bastard could have done
so much more than dying broke and
insufferably devoted to how to set
complaints to music. Fat old
sickness-sodden man, they’ll say.
He had love and honor
and all the rest of the beauty of the world
to pick from when he wrote
and this is what he left.
The fat old man sits and writes
at his little table, knowing
“fat” and “old” and “man”
and even “poet”
mean nothing, really. He
means nothing either: all that matters
is the light in the tunnel
from here to the shaman’s world,
where the dragons at the far end
of the long hall wait in ecstasy
to welcome travelers upon arrival
and later to bid them grand farewells
when they turn away to go back and speak
of what they’ve seen. You’ll be back,
they say, and this is why he sits
at the little table every day he can
for at least a few hours, even on Sundays,
even on holidays, and will until
Revised. Original post, 2007.
Ein Jeder Engel Ist Schrecklich (Every angel is terrifying). — Rilke
Close a door, open a door.
Write a letter, burn a letter.
Endings are as easy as beginnings
when there’s little potency attached.
What makes it hard to end or begin
is the Angel of Possibility
who hovers on the margin
of each decision.
Her scarred wings, her fruit-toned breath.
Each time I have flown with her
I have been scared of the height
from which I might fall.
Tonight she floats at the edge of vision,
near the door, beckoning to me.
I pray for my feet
to remain on the ground —
yet she is an Angel, after all,
and I begin to rise,
attended by all the terror
I can bear.
Heat’s off. Sun’s way up.
Just planted tomatoes and eggplants
are looking right
and upright, for a change.
Trash bagged and on the curb.
Recycling bins full but intact.
Nothing got at anything left out
overnight, for a change.
Not a single dead opossum
or skunk on the road
in scent or sight, for a change.
The neighborhood can-hunters
as they divide the homes between them,
and everything gets put back
in the right place, for a change.
It’s nothing out of the ordinary
when the ambulance arrives for
someone in the green house
across the street. But this time
someone is stretchered out —
it’s been a while since that happened.
At least their face is showing this time,
for a change. Right up the street
await the tow trucks to move the cars
that block the path of the street sweepers
who finally have come to fulfill the prophecy
of the signs hung so long ago, no one
still believed it would happen; least of all
on a Wednesday trash day, can picking day,
garden getting started day, save the life of my child
day. All happening at once, for a change.
It’s what they do.
“Colonial” now is just
a settled style, a label
for what to them is
a quaint moment
in their past. “Frontier”
is a counter spell
they’ve settled on
the miasma around
their mouths and settles
raw old acid in their stomachs,
and “settler” itself is now nobler
and sweeter than history
They tell me to leave it alone,
say it’s just a way of speaking,
aren’t you tired of talking as if
it’s so damn deadly out here?
Settle down and look at the lovely eclipse
or something more or less not
killing you or those you love right now.
So much beauty in the world. So much
to be said for that, you one-note note taker
on the warped order of the settled places;
try speaking instead of what you think
of the sparrows and starlings. Speak of how they settle
on the feeders or the ground to eat and eat
and shit and eat some more, of how they do it all
so natively you’d think they were here all along.
Settle in, half-breed; after all, you look like you could belong.
Find some beauty round here and act like
you are the poet we know you can be and watch
the sun come up over the old farm pastures
where the surveyors and diggers have yet to roam.
you should know
that you could become
the face of the moment
like a green-eyed girl
in a refugee camp
on the cover
of a magazine
or a girl kneeling over a boy
shot through the mouth
in a newspaper story
about an antiwar protest
You could be even be more
A whole country’s heart-sized hole
A tear-trailed staring mask
A death-flecked dirty suit of clothes
hovering by a mass grave
full of black plastic bags and flies
in the wake of a conflict
we’ve chosen for all to see
We think you have
what it takes to be
the specimen needed
for such a time
We can even leave your name
out of it if you prefer — trust us
Ever hear of Sharbat Gula
or Mary Ann Vecchio
Just think it over
Sleep on it
We’ll get back to you
when the time is right
Third floor neighbors
had a lovely cat
who went nuts one day
and attacked and drew blood
from all who came near.
No disease, no injury
was found after they put her down;
no one could explain, the vet saying only
that no one knows, sometimes,
how wires get crossed.
I got up to pee last night
none of them mine,
in the house —
musty old aprons a-flutter
as they thronged the rooms
silently disapproving of
everything. I came out
of the bathroom and they
were gone, with only the scents
of lilac water and disdain
left behind. I went
right back to bed as if nothing
had happened, as if no sacrifice
or offering could or should be made
It’s faintly ridiculous
to hear all this talk from all sides
about saving “the country”
when “the country” in question
is as dead as a roomful of
broken disappointed grandmas
and as savage
as a cat in a third floor walkup
who hasn’t been
outside for years and
chooses violence and death
as a worthy way to go.
I don’t know why
any of this has happened
or why I don’t keep sage
in the house against such things
any longer, as I once did,
as if no one knows
how wires get crossed.
In a strong box buried
under a Norway maple
brought from Europe
when they first came here
they keep the old education
they refuse to acknowledge
in daylight. Knowledge
they leave to you to hold
as they smash away at your hands,
ways of thought they turned off
and stashed in the box they claim
holds so little that it’s not worth opening.
Anyway, the box isn’t yours, they tell you.
The box holds Atlanteans, aliens,
Templars and old ones from
everywhere else but here. Go forth and be
mascot, crisis actor, crystal-waving
smudge idol for a generation of fakes.
When we need you, we’ll let you know.
When the box rises from the ground
like a coffin displaced in the next great flood,
we’ll let you know. When the Norway maple
dies and falls upon us, we’ll let you know.
When it’s too late, you’ll figure it out.
In the beginning,
after the collapse became
inevitable, no alien hand
reaching in to stop it,
we kept using words like
“awakening” and “rebirth,”
but no one really wanted that
if it meant things would look
In the beginning,
after the birds fell silent
and the seas turned gray
and hopeless, after we began
to notice the voice
of flatline in the wind,
people said that was a song,
a new song, and it would be
alright sooner or later —
but none of them were singing
and that should have been a clue.
In the beginning,
once it had become clear
that hope would be a mistake
unless it was a hope of complete
erasure and restart, we kept at it
with chants and the like
for a time. We did all
the small things
we were asked to do even after
it became obvious it wasn’t going
to be enough.
In the beginning,
we sat in the ruins
of the time before
and did all the same things
and hated all the same people
and shit in the same holes
we’d always filled with our shit
before. We looked with disfavor
upon what we’d wrought and then
wrought it again in a slightly
cleaner form until the true beginning
took us away from it and put us
in the garbage by ourselves
to dwindle as the new day began
to brighten and there we stayed until
finally we were gone.
He put his worry on the table
where he could watch it steam
and bubble. It made a rat sound
while he watched: almost a coherent
word at first, but the more he listened
the less he understood. Worry’s not
for understanding, but for feeling.
You don’t have to understand a thing
to know what worry is. It just is.
It sits there being. An essence that needs
no adjective, no modifier. He walked away
from the table but the voice of worry
and its slow heat is not going away,
no matter what.
This place, my home,
narrowing to the width
of a sick dropping falling
from a sick hole.
Or, it was always this way
and I’ve gotten bigger —
not much, but enough
to see difference
between what I used to think
was vast and what I see now as
already small but tapering off even more
before it falls to the bowl,
the smell noticeably
more acid than rose,
now that I know
what a rose can be.
Sandy’s coming up from the bottom of the street,
calling for her dog again — fat graying pit pull
who hardly seems the runaway type, too slow
to be hard to catch, too big to wriggle through
a fence; maybe the gate’s broken or too easy to open?
I’ve never walked down to see although it happens
once or twice a week that I hear her calling the dog:
“Busan, BUSAN!!” An odd name. Of course
no way to know why she chose it. Maybe given
by a past owner. Maybe she got the dog long ago
in Busan. I look across the street and see the dog
standing behind a car; it stops its slow escape
and turns to look at Sandy lumbering toward
the top of the hill. Soon the leash will be reattached
and they will turn back to the insecure yard
at the bottom, where Busan will hang out in the sun
and Sandy will recover from the effort
of getting them home until the next time it happens,
when the chances are good that I’ll be sitting here
still, mystified by Sandy, Busan, and their patterns
that lend themselves to incipient insanity
as they lead you to expect different results;
for instance, right now I’m saying “Busan”
out loud, tearing up, and thinking
of my dead father, the veteran, yet again.
I’m just here
for the days when
I don’t drop a cup or
a bowl into the sink,
for the days guitar strings
feel right again for even
a single song, for the days
the floor doesn’t yield
to my spongy feet and send me
staggering into a reach
for a wall, the fridge,
a door jamb. I’m here
for the days coping with
of my thick blood by
my ever-strained heart.
I’m here for the hope
of touch yet to be given
and received, for peace and
finality; it’s too much to hope
for closure, too late for
resolution. I’m here for days
that feel more or less
unremarkable — no peak
or valley experiences, nothing
unique, nothing to write home
about if I were any farther
from a place that feels like home
than I am right now, leaning lonely
on the door jamb, waiting for
my feet to get firm enough
to take me where I need to go.
In the center lane,
the one cars use
to go straight through
instead of turning
left or right,
of a dark blue Nissan
is smiling, car dancing
to what from here sounds like
Doja Cat while her child
wiggles in the passenger seat
more or less in time with the song
and their mother’s glee.
It hurts more than a little
when I turn left
away from these
happy two and go back
to my empty home
where no one’s
waiting for me
(right now anyway)
and where the music
I play in the empty house
doesn’t make me dance
(I miss her too much for that)
and it’s not going to change
(not soon enough anyway)
whether or not I say so.
Your dilemma today? How to go quietly.
You’ve lived out loud for so long
people think of you as embedded
in a permanent echo of yourself.
The air is calling your name.
You can’t escape it. You are
honored as much as you feel
cursed and invisible — the others
don’t know who you are
other than what they’ve heard
on the wind. You know you are
at once better and worse;
more real, less solid. More
thick, less angelic. How are you possibly
going to get away from yourself
long enough to become silent and more real?
There is enough to work with:
ample material, strong skills,
easy place to work — so why
is this so difficult now, this
necessary stitching together
of old parts and new findings?
I’m apparently ready to be defined
by a failure, as if it would
render me immortal. Truth
is, it’s as likely to make me
invisible once the news,
now broken, is ground into
scraps and is no longer clear
to the historical eye.