Tag Archives: meditations

No One Writes Me Cool Letters

Experimentally yours
Charles

A letter I received yesterday
from someone I barely remember
bore this signature
I did not recall the name at first
but then it came back to me
that we’d been in college together
for two semesters before I dropped out
to pursue a life of drugs

The rest of the letter was mostly illegible
What was not was incoherent
Reeked not as much of experiment 
as of utter incompetence at language

This is something
I am somewhat
of an expert at as being a writer
qualifies you for a life
of deeply felt incompetence
perpetually chasing proficiency

Charles however
had raised this to a new level
I fell in awe before the paper
upon which was scribbled either
a recipe for pineapple-glazed sofa cushions
or a scathing critique of barber shears
or perhaps a combination
with an added sprinkle of a conspiracy theory
regarding the true origin
of blue pancake batter in a secret lab
at Fort Detrick

Charles
I whispered
you have bested me
at the game of artist inscrutability
and began to mourn

Shortly after that I realized
that the letter wasn’t meant for me
The name and address
were for the house next door
where a perfectly normal
and consistently coherent guy lives
and as always
I’d received a communication
intended for another
from the Muse
totally by accident
and in fact 
I’d just committed a crime
opening the envelope

So I did what I could
I stole as much as I could
from Charles’s letter
Grew jealous of
the perfectly normal
guy next door
Wondered how he got 
such a strange friend
Took some doctor issued drugs
and shrank
just a little more


The High Road

You sit up all night
watching the trenches from
the high road,

pretending that directing 
love at the enemy 
is helping.

Save your love
for the lovable. 
The blood 

you’re collecting
on your other cheek
is crusting over

and your gentle smile
is becoming ghastly
and stuck in place.

If you want this
to end, get down
from your lofty perches

and fight where and how
they fight. Fight them
on their ground —

it used
to be yours,
after all.


A Sweet Plum

You are planning a murder
when you are interrupted by sunlight.

Predawn, post-sleep had been devoted to 
a revenge fantasy; it’s gone now.

It would have been so sweet,
and so cold.  A true plum

of an execution, a person
richly deserving, someone whose absence

would make your presence whole.
Your fingers are still itching to think of it.

But there you were mid-plot
and the sun rose above the house next door

and came in through the window
like a damned angel, and you woke fully up

and there you were, fat old snoozer
emerging from your avenger dreams;

your old nemeses long dead
or as infirm as you are now;

you’ve had a pretty good life
so far as well and as searing as

the old days were, doing this would be 
either a crown or a crash; no guarantees.

Anyway, with your hands and body 
you’d likely couldn’t handle the work.

So: here’s the sunlight. Remember how
you’ve always been a good boy, a very good boy.

You’ll be a very good boy today,
all the way to dusk. All the way through

to the night and the bed. Tomorrow
is another day and between now and then

there will be more fantasy of opportunity and motive;
after all, even a very good boy can dream.


Barnwood

originally posted 2/19/2019.  revised.

Wouldn’t you love the look of barnwood
in your home?

Wide boards dented
from hooves and heavy boots, or (more likely)
from chains dragged and slammed upon them
in industrial furniture mills until they meet
a mythic standard for anything made to look
as if it once had harder, honest use. 

Wouldnt you love the smell of incense
in your home?

Sandalwood
in the nostrils
of your pampered guests
in your barnwood home

instead of perfuming the temples
in praise of Lakshmi and Shiva,
rising from soft flame. 

Wouldn’t you love a dreamcatcher
in your home?

The Assiniboine net
framed perfectly on the charcoal wall
over the bookcase; centered, empty of ghosts
as far as you know; 
merely there to let folks know
you appreciate authenticity,
found some on that last trip out West,

and brought it into your perfumed,
barnwood home.

Wouldn’t you love sleeping 
in your home?

Lying at night on the cotton sheets, on the
bamboo pillow.
Your partner
a shadow on the other side,
more memory 
than solid figure in the dark.

Wishing they’d wake up
and touch you.
You wish on invisible stars
for that to happen.

You cannot wait 
for the day to begin
and fill the barnwood house with light
so you can dismiss bad dreams
in a puff of smoke

while looking
at the pretty things
you truly own.


Guidelines For The Summer Of Corona

Admit that we are stopped cold
Say that and acknowledge the pain of cessation

Turn away from one another and into ourselves
Resist the longing to touch and hold

Fall to your knees and demand something from above
Speak as if nothing was needed except a bluff to survive

Run with the smallest beings in pursuit
Act bewildered with the first cough, fever, moment of fear

Ask and ask for certainty from fog
Dismiss fog as a hoax from behind a bitter mask

Hold a gun and imagine it will be enough just to hold it
Put it down to take a shovel and lay an elder to rest

Roll dice any number of times and boast of your glad numbers
Pretend snake eyes are not as powerful as boxcars these days

Remember scenarios with strangers, historical figures, family
Demand of your mirror that it say something unexpected

Stand at the window crying for the ten thousandth time 
Turn from the window and square your shoulders again

Forget and remember and forget and become aged
Spring up new but then again still be your old failed self

Hold your breath
Hold on to your breath for as long as it takes

Loosen your tongue
Loosen your tongue until this hard moment breaks


Morning Departure

Old poem, heavily revised.  Late 90s, perhaps?

Dew burdening a distant lawn.
Sudden crow drops from grey sky.
Chilly air gooses our flesh.

Last hardy songbird on the wire.
An old dog on point.
Yellow grain waving.

The city is so far away 
we have forgotten
it exists.

She turns left,
away from the sunrise.
Autumn does this –

turns a body
to face the cold
as astringent,

as protection,
to build immunity
for what’s coming;

she says, “I know it’s early
but we ought to think about
heading back.”

I swallow hard, disbelieving.
The rhythm of this day
slows down, swaps

waltz time for
funeral march.
I can’t think of what to say.

We will have to be
on the road
for hours. She is

right in that way, 
but I can’t imagine
leaving this place

that’s glowing
beneath a halo of almost icy
dew.

Looking across the fields
for a tree with fruit that,
once eaten, 

will let me hold my knowledge of her
after we’ve left
this perfect place –

but she knows that story,
gets a jump
on its ending:

“You can always come back,”
she says, brushing something
from her eyes.

“You.” Not “We.”

She is wrong. I’ll never be back:
I know what a sword
looks like

and there’s one now,
burning its way up
over the horizon.


United

You could just pretend
it’s a united country.
That has worked for you for years.

You could tell yourself everything
from the ice cream truck to the singer at the ball game
was singing our song.

You could admire the colors in the flag
without ever conjuring the words
“bleeding out,” “erasure,” or “suffocation.”

You could stay home just long enough
to claim it’s a hardship not to work
at the job you whine about seven days a week

but you’ll do it for your family
and your country — and what
are your neighbors’ names, anyway?

You could watch the gunners and bombers
and sigh about how the country’s fallen so far
and never even think of bounties placed on scalps,

a Klansman serving in the Senate for decades,
murderers laughing at their trials while in the courtroom,
everyone forgetting all of that happened

because that’s what “united” means.
United in memory loss. United in the hope
that this too will pass. One nation under a fog.


Piano On Fire

Piano on fire
in the courtyard of this old mill
where the train used to roll right inside.

How the piano got here we don’t know
but now it’s on fire. Seems right.
The finish bubbling, the big strings snapping.

This calls for a chaos pianist.
The bench is over there,
not blazing;

a brave musician could do something 
with all this: play, perhaps,
a train song on fire.

Pull the bench up,
not too close, hit those
scalding keys,

the piano detuning the whole time.
Whoever knows 
how to orchestrate melody

from such destruction
is going to do fine here.
We don’t know how the piano got here

but until it’s consumed
we know exactly 
how to make it sing,

how to bring the ghost train
back to life, smoke-strung,
resurrected long enough

to fly off the rails
and tear them up as it goes;
how to call that an anthem

and build a nation around it
as we warm our hands 
on the last of the piano’s embers.


Worthy Of Suspicion

Longtown Larry
and his big-headed friend
with the unknown name
(though they’re always together)
sit talking in the town beach parking lot at sunset
in Larry’s blue Dodge Ram truck
parked at an angle to the lines
far away from the remaining few cars 
again

They’re talking about 
White supremacy or maybe sandwiches
hunting dogs or muzzle velocity
or how to dismantle the colonial state

Either that or they’re in love
and this is all they ever do about it
in this beach town where everyone
knows Longtown Larry
and his truck and the friend
with the big head and no name
who isn’t from here

It’s worthy of suspicion
on so many fronts


The Holy Land

One of my gods lives
off Pound Hill Road
near the overgrown source
of a spring. I could drive you there
in forty-five minutes.
We can get there by sunrise
if we leave now, 
and we should leave now.

Another god stays
out behind my shed
where they sit centered
in a ring
of mushrooms. 
(You call it a “fairy ring?”
I don’t.  No fairies here —
they didn’t come over with you,
no matter how you hope for that.
I have another name
for what does live here, and
I’m not telling.) 

I only go there 
when passing
from this side of the yard
to the woodpile where
there may in fact be
another god who’s squatting there
until I burn it all up. 

Neither god
seems concerned at all with me.
That suits me just fine.
I give them the space
they deserve and need;
they stay happy.

None of these gods,
in fact, care much about
what I do. They are
non-interventionist.
I pay attention to them
because the landscape 
demands I know them
and that ought to be enough.

I know your God — a singular
God, a capitalized God —
lives elsewhere. You get around that
by saying God is everywhere at once.

I’ve asked mine about that.
They say they’ve never seen your God
around here and having known them
for years, I think I’ll trust them on this.

The car is warmed up.
Are you coming with me?
Maybe you’ll see something
worth seeing, maybe not;

maybe you’ll deny everything
from your God to my gods
to the sacred nature of red ripe
tomatoes. Maybe you’ll be right.
Suit yourself. I’m leaving now.


No Fun

I don’t want fun. Fun’s 
for the done, the no more
joy in the work
so let’s cut and run bunch.

I do want joy. Joy’s different —
a place at once inside
and outside self. A light over all,
warming from within, a change

to air itself. Fun blows though
like a boat cutting calm apart.
Joy is the lake itself
before, during, and after;

even when disrupted, even
under attack, joy holds up. I could
sink into that.  I could drown 
in joy for real. Death in joy? Perfect,

normal, natural. There are those
who would disagree, would say pain
negates joy, death its ultimate enemy —
no. If I fall before the bullets

I won’t be having fun, but closing my eyes
on the site of struggle, shutting down
at the end of a battle knowing others
will fight on? What joy in that!


Waking From Arithmetic Sleep

Four months now
of arithmetic sleep
instead of rest. Doing

the math of rent and
utilities, his own food
versus the cat budget,
chewing on his 
inadequacies by the numbers,
his heartbreaks by the score,
until just now. 

Hard to say why;
maybe a nightbird’s call
heard during
his meager sleep
pierced his dreams
and changed them;
maybe yesterday’s storm
purged his atmosphere;
no telling. Not our place
to know for certain,
as he did not. 

All that can be said
is that he woke up
without a spreadsheet
in his head for the first time
in four months and 
while he knew it was 
just tucked away
for a moment and not gone,

he felt light enough without it 
to step out on the
soggy ground before coffee
and look at the washed streets
and the fearless sparrows
on the feeders. 


Forensic Love Song

Originally posted, 2008. Revised.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“the answer is always in the body”
— heard in passing; a line from a TV crime show

1.
licked and prodded,
it still refuses to express
a secret

2.
in the dark, lit blue,
misted with laden rain,
our signatures revealed:
clouds on our still skin

3.
the mottled shapes
of shared blood can be read
as a novel: here the plot
is thick, here thicker;

here is a second theme;
here, the pooling, the co-mingling,
so confusing to the outsider

though we understand
what has happened here

4.
cooling happens
at a predictable rate
once all factors are accounted for

something unknown to science
must be holding all this heat

5.
the answers
are always in the body

the body is always
asking


Losing It

Losing it —
colloquialism for 
a break in your
social equilibrium

which rarely was more
than a mask on
the face of your inner
disaster zone

What you’ve lost
is the mask and 
when you examine
the world

you might be
better off as a
screaming
representation

of what
the proper
reaction to the world
should be

More should lose it
More should scream
More of us should shed
these shells

What we’ll be left with
Soft faces
Mouths open
Howling en masse

Losing it
Losing so much
we used
as armor

Fear must precede 
the new
that must replace
what we must lose


You Should Be In A Band

If you look like you should be in a band,
you should be in a band. 

You may already be in a band, or maybe
you are in camouflage, in disguise as a member

of a band. If someone asks if you’re in a band,
whether or not you are

you’d better be able to tell them
the name — 
and if they ask what you play,

you’d better say you are a vocalist —
unless you play something?

Do you play something, play well enough
to be able to comfort the eagerness of the questioner?

They’re going to ask you if there’s anything your band does
they might have heard. Shrug it off; be modest.

Be the band member you’d wished you had met at fifteen,
the one too cool to boast. Be the one who answers

all questions and maybe you give an autograph, 
a hard to read scribble on a stray napkin.  

After the encounter, get back in your car.
Write a damn song, would you? The band is depending on you.

If you aren’t in a band,
you know where to start.