Tag Archives: poems about poetry

Imposter Syndrome

Whose words these are, I think I know.
They are not mine. They fall out of me
from whatever broken cabinet they’ve hidden in
until now. No idea when I put them there,
where I took them from, what book, what
conversation; whatever gloomy room
they came from, now they’re here in this one,
on page, on stage, settling into another’s
eye or ear, and all can see how deep
my criminality runs. I’ve never had
an original thought in my time. Everything
is evidence now of how little I worked
at anything other than hoarding words
long enough to spit them back out 
into air that would see them as mine, as fresh. 

Sitting here shivering with my plagiarism,
I stare into it as if my thought alone
could shift a solstice and bring a new season,
a warmer time, something truly mine
to offer; enough of these cold stolen goods.
I seek a new thing, but all I have is memory
and lament. Joy in creation is so far from my grasp
that I may fall off into an abyss simply by reaching
for it; yet, I must try for myself if no one else,
and if I fail, I fail. Any husk of mine left behind
will look so much like that of every other failure
that no one will even notice me drifting off
on whatever blizzard wind has been ordained
to sweep such things away. 


Unopened Books

How many own books
on which they’ve never cracked a spine,
holding on to whatever’s inside
as if these were precious eggs
made to keep their secrets.

One day they become bored
with the look of shiny unread words
on their shelves and they purge.
All those books go to the donation bin.
Someone else will take them in:

me, probably. They all come to my house
in stacks and stay in stacks near the bed,
on shelves, under the nightstand.
One day I’ll break those books open
and let their music and their words free

to slip out and slide around inside me
or hover in the air of the kitchen
while the chicken browns in the frying pan
and I stare at the refrigerator shelves
looking for something to go with it,

something not there. There is often
nothing there, or nothing fresh, nothing
appealing. This is where we are now,
I tell myself. I think of all I’ve let down.
I imagine loved ones, who if they could see me,

would frown. At least I have the words
to describe this, I tell myself. At least
I’ve had the books and the space for the books
and their words and music, learned enough from them
for this poverty dance to be seen and heard

and understood. Wasn’t that enough?
Comfort and joy aren’t meant for some of us.
Maybe I was born to be the writer
of an unopened book, one no one will read
except another like me. Hello, if you’re out there;

get out if you can.


Brutal Word

A brutal word
has come to me.
It seems to hold some truth;
I don’t know for certain.
I didn’t invite it,
yet it seems to be
inside me,
digging itself
a home.

I am trying
not to think of it
or say it out loud. 
To do either

would be to allow it
to claim a place in my life;
even more dire,
if it required
a definition from me
I’d be forced to
give it more meaning
than is proper
for a man like me —

who would I be
if I understood
such a word, 
its use, its context-
making energy?

When the word
begins to chafe
against my resistance
and demand that I voice it,
I have to hold my tongue
in ice tongs I keep
for this purpose — cold
teeth biting into
stubborn muscle.

I sit in a standoff
with this rude particle
of language, hand clenched
around a torture tool, refusing
to yield to the word’s claim
upon me — its demand
for time and space
in my mouth and beyond.

If I cannot win
and the word triumphs,
burning itself  
into the hard poem it seems
to be made for,

I may be a better, 
humbler person.
I may in fact
have told the truth —

but that is
not at all
what I came here for,

and not at all 

what I came to say. 


Another Failure

I keep seeking music 
in language, meaning
in both; all days

I struggle, most days
I fail, sometimes I catch
a tune, now and then

I fully sing, more rarely
something I sing
moves someone else,

maybe something
has changed somewhere
as a result, though I’m unsure

of that and do not trust
my hope for it. This is
what I am, what I have been,

what I have given myself to — 
and now? Nothing within
feels like music. Nothing within

but noise I’m not skilled enough
to transform, and to sit in silence
hums only of death

which is more meaning
than song,
and no language at all.


The Earworm Scripture

I’ve been humming
the worst song in the world
for hours now
because I heard it
in a convenience store
when I was unguarded enough
to let it in and now it’s burrowed
deep. (There is a reason
they are called earworms, after all.)

The Nagging God
who has been an earworm to me almost from birth
repeats incessantly (in time to the beat)
that I have no one but myself
to blame for this. That if I’d been
a little more diligent and not stepped away
from my desk to go get smokes
and a very big and very bad coffee,

I’d be sitting at home in silence
with nothing to do but write something 
much better than this pop-slop mess
I’ve got to deal with now. 

Nagging God, I say, how can
pacing my room and procrastinating
and cursing my deaf muse
get me this level of punishment?
I wasn’t hurting anyone but myself
and now i’m getting downright
homicidal, suicidal, even
deicidal over this constant barrage
of alleged music inside.

God says nothing, just keeps singing.

How can
anyone claiming divinity
be this off-key, I wonder…
which leads me to another 
blasphemy and then to a sudden
heresy, followed by epiphany — 

and wonder of wonders,
here I am with a symphony playing
out of the pen in my hand.


Shadow As Ink

When using my shadow
as ink, my most difficult task
is choosing the paper.

I have pulped and bleached
so much of myself
that I am blessed or cursed

with an abundance of surface
to write upon, remembering always
that to write upon it is as likely to be

disfigurement as it is decoration. 
I must take such care to choose
what is written, how it is written.

Readers who come to it when I am done
will have to decide
if this is fact or myth, and

must say if it is good and worthy
regardless, and whether the myth
(if it be myth) reflects truth or if the truth 

(if it be true) rises to myth. Even then,
after it is done, my head will be bruised
from the effort to make my own sense if it, 

to understand for myself
whether I’ve committed ruin
or glory in this work, this time —

and then, while staring down at my 
shadow-drenched hands, at all 
I’ve not yet sullied with that dark stain,

I will lean my head over the desk
one more time. Terrified, ecstatic, 
one hand moving, one holding the page

steady for the uncertain result
of the unsure labor of showing who I am
to the yet-unknown next reader.


Regretting All This

Poetry: damn
it for its
storm versus calm,
misplaced lightning
coming down, 
metaphor over all
trench warfare way
of life.

If it weren’t
for poetry, I’d have gotten
more sleep. Maybe I
could have been happy:

a little blinder, certainly;
maybe a tad less overwhelmed
by just breathing on Earth
among all its poisons
and attacks; missing out,

of course, on how to speak
exactingly of what
another’s skin feels like
upon my own;
or of how when 
at noon during a walk I stop
to sit on a stranger’s stone wall
and imagine that the sunlight
is the kiss of some god.

Poetry: this damned art,
this curse of primary sensation
that will not let go. If I had never known
of it, I’d be different — lesser,
yes, and I would have said yes
to that; it might
have kept me safer.


Boudin Noir, Boudin Blanc

It’s not enough
to just say sausage
in a world with
boudin, andouille,

sujuk, saveloy,
bratwurst, kielbasa, 
chorizo, linguica, 
mortadella, and more;

or to speak of booze
in the presence of

arak, poitin, tiswin,
pulque, Calvados,

lager, pilsner,
Henny, MD-2020, aquavit,
absinthe, corn liquor,
and whiskies galore;

this world is built
on specifics, motes 
of savor and flavor
and all manner of tastes

pulled from local waters
and land and legend.
To condense them
only leaves you wanting;

to turn away from soft words 
toward ones with gristle
is to humble yourself
until you can sit

at rough tables
with tough people,
listen to them
speak of joy and pain,

sucking the burn
of andouille, or
debate, laughing, between
boudin noir or boudin blanc;

wash a thick meal down
with strong bock followed
by shots of schnapps or korn;
perhaps hear someone tell

of how they came from some place
where the old folks made one thing
that put all else to shame, and
hear in that a cry for a lost home;

a home where the right words
open the right doors
into where and how the world 
is made right.


The One In Which I Trust

There — a poet 
saying

soul, crystalline,
illusion, diaphanous,
eldritch, mystic,
heartstrings, crystalline
(again);

and another 
saying

justice, aggression,
oppression, supremacy,
revolution, war,
peace, justice
(again).

Over my shoulder 
the voice of one
saying

nuts, bolts, 
pencils, slipjoint pliers,
leaf-litter, lighters,
smocks, lighters
(again);

this is the one
I turn to hear,

the one
in which I trust.


Among Poets

I’ve decided not to be among poets anymore
They smell to me of anarchy and whimsy
amplified to the point of pain till it swamps truth
All their misplaced love of words over action
Their bouquets of mystery obscuring the obvious
I know some who claim poetry will save the world
much as gun nuts and organic juicers do
who make the same claim with far more evidence to go on
Poetry only changes the world as a stiff breeze does
if it moves the people to action you can say it but not till then
So a poet who tells me this or claims it or stands on that hill
is someone whose words I expect to be a hurricane
but more often than not it’s a slight breeze of ordinary
or barely a leaf lifter’s worth of language they toss 
and maybe they try and maybe they fail or maybe the world
is heavier than they ever believed but still they keep at it
as if it could matter what a poet might say
as if poets can’t die for what they might say
though they have and they will and they will once again
because people believe that old line about change
so I’ve decided not to be among poets anymore
even as I sit with a pen and plan fusillades and charges
as I sit with a pen and imagine I matter or what I do matters
I will not be among poets with their spiderweb gossip
I will not be among poets with their ardent machinery
I will not be among poets with their flagrant weak fists raised
until I can look at what I’ve done and say
I belong here beside them as weak as they are
as fragrant with idiocy and self-importance as they are
till I’m just as ready to swing in the breeze
or put my back to the wall
and go to death with them
be gone
and forgotten


No Muse

I wish I had a Muse who could do for me
what some of you claim one does for you.

Oh, I do not doubt you
when you say it; I only know

that I have been alone 
in this work. Nothing whispers in my ear

or comes to my bedside
to shake me awake in the dark

and say, “now then…now then,
here is the pen, and there is the book;

all you need do is take down
what I telling you.” Not me.

I have to scrape it up
from the desk while battling

fatigue and neuropathy. 
I have to drag it out of me

myself. I have to, have to,
have to look at every word

like a nail in my eventual
coffin or more like one

that needs pulling from a board
I need to cut to make that coffin.

If I had a Muse I could farm that out.
I could lie back and laugh

at their cruelty in the name
of art while waiting for the glory

of seeing my name alone
on the Work. Instead

I’m here between the gas bill
and the rent scratching in the dirt

to free a sprout from a seed I planted
thirty years ago and forgot to water

until now, and yet it’s coming along
pale and proto-green and maybe

if I worry enough about that and
forget the bills it might have a chance

but I’m hungry now, and angry-handed
and in pain, and money’s tight

and I’m old and this is Work
I’d love to lay off on a Muse,

but per usual I’m in this alone
and if there’s a stray Muse to be found

anywhere, I’m sure
it would offer too little and too late

for me to even bother with a summons;
back to my stubborn

scratching, worrying, and
digging in the dirt.


Regret

I adore how each word represents itself
in the congress of language.

It stands up, demands,
cajoles, thunders. It makes itself

known. I wish I’d been born
a word instead of…this.

Had I been born a word myself
instead of one enslaved to them,

I might have been more secure
when I spoke, could have gestured

at myself in many situations
and just said…”this.”

I might have been enough
had I been born a word

instead of fumbling among them,
seeking to put the best of them 

in the best order, hoping
to say something that validated me. 


Henge

You were told 
once and then again
that there are no rules
to this art and 

shortly after were scolded
about how many rules you
were breaking
They knocked you down and

made it hard to continue through
all those ghost rules that
were not to be found in one book
but were engraved instead upon the panes

of a henge of glass
Some you saw through and slipped past
while others cut you and some
were long broken but still standing

In the end you saw in them
what you needed and (as you
should do with any sacred space) you
gave of your blood and walked away

having changed it and
yourself by seeing
how the edges of the rules
were the center of the path through


Cobbler

Originally posted 2001.  Revised.

words do not come independently
to me
looking for equations to solve
or causes to exalt

instead words
work for me
like ants
in service

to something underground and distant
whose existence
is inferred
from the way the words

draw attention away from themselves
and in tandem
draw attention
toward a common end

so that
only upon reflection upon the many
do first the pattern and then the path
become clear

my trade:
make
language
over

so that to speak is
to stitch words together
and shoe meaning
with them

so that meaning and I
may walk in steady pace
across
rough ground

so when I get to where
I am bound
I can set language
aside

and set meaning free
to dip itself in cool spring water
wriggle in the grass
and be itself

this is the nature
of the way I work with words
it is not the job of a poet
it is cobbler’s work

I’ve been apprenticed to a hard master
seated at the bench each day
I must be simple before the need
and sing as I work

at each day’s end I can feel the welts raised
on my callused hands
from building these verses
I make my bed at night

knowing I have come far
knowing that
tomorrow
I will rise and set to work again

to make
language
over is
to work

as if meaning
is enough
as if work
is enough


Write A Continent

Prompted by a misreading of a Facebook field that actually said, “Write a comment.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Start with a mountain range,
or a single peak, or a ridge
on the peak, or a string
of boulders, or a single boulder,
a stone, a pebble, perhaps 
a clump of a few grains of sand.

You could do a novel on 
a few grains of sand.
Multi-volume, intertwined plots,
unresolved conflicts — get these handled
before you move up to the continental
challenges. In your lifetime
you may never get there,

and woe unto you if ever the words
“compose an ocean” swim into
your field of view. That’s how
you die unfulfilled. A recipe for 
drowning. A death sentence
you’ll never be able to appeal.