Tag Archives: poems about poetry

Aging Into The Work

Begin
by switching 
from late night 
frenzy jags 
to mornings
before the coffee 
has finished brewing,
changing
your work wardrobe from
naked or T-shirts and briefs
in bed
to full dress
in whatever you decide 
to see as your office,
refusing to rely
on inspiration in bursts — begin
not carrying a notebook
everywhere and letting
the lines come and go within
as they see fit, trusting
the Work itself will put
those that would matter most
back in your hand when the time
demands it.  Continue like this
for as many years as you have left
to spend on it. It may be few,
it may be many, it may be
none at all and of course 
the Work itself
will continue without you
but when all is done,
take comfort in how
serious you were
about finding your own way
in your fading light.


Praise Poem Against The Grain

Revised from 2009.

There are people who think we should all write more,
one poem a day, one thousand poems a day,
five hundred fifty five thousand poems a day,
one for every thought that slips along our nerves — 

excepting only poems about poetry.
The belly full of meaning poetry offers should be emptied.
The places it lives should be cut out of us.
We should never write of it or speak of it.

What nonsense — to go into church
denying that church is worth discussing in church. 
To refuse to cry ecstasy when ecstasy is upon us,
to refuse to explain what it’s like to those all around.

I’m ill informed tonight, and half asleep.
I haven’t watched the news for a week.
I’m alone with no one but the cat
curled next to me on a fleece blanket. 

A documentary on Crohn’s Disease
plays unwatched in the next room. 
I could get up, or I could stay here
until spring.

All the poetry I have tonight is the poetry of poetry itself — 
a right whale inside me, dangerous, endangered,
rising island within my body reminding me of marvels
that could slip away and never return.

There may be something else to write about someday
and the poem I write then may be fibrous, luminous,
may hold together on its own
and pass from me without pain.

Tonight I write one poem about poetry,
write it over and over again, 
one poem for the blessing of knowing
that poetry still exists in me,

even if
it’s hanging
by a thread. Even if
it hurts.


Adjustments

People think these are poems
But they are more like adjustments
My bones crying out like
A door’s being shut

People worry my frame
sounds just like a breakdown
When comes the adjustment
You will hear me crack

If they call me to answer
they can call me in Hell
I shall have my phone silenced
for I break when it rings

People ask for more
and then more of the same
From a man who can’t answer
without crumbling within

They think these are poems
I’m stretched to create that
Stretched to create this
and I still can’t stand straight

If pain is a virtue
I’m topmost among angels
If poems are adjustments
why am I still so bent


Working Title

I’ve written a book I now pray
will never be published
Working title “Goddamn”
Subtitle “Fuck”

You think I’m joking 
but in fact the profanity
is the least offensive thing
about that book

I thought I was sweet 
until I wrote it
but the brain of one
who could write such a thing

(where the title and subtitle
were the least deadly words
the cleanest and sweetest
I could use to proclaim the rest) 

that brain grows from
a bitter root and I’m sitting
with all that means
in my little room

The air reeks from it
Disturbance on paper
Common vulgarity
announcing common dirt

I wanted more of my work
I demanded less of me than I was
What have I got to show for it
when “Goddamn: FUCK”

is likely to be my legacy
unless I burn it and start again
Unless I burn myself down while 
praying I’ll have time to start again


A Grand Stone

A grand white stone on the bed
of a familiar pond

seemed to be
in shallow water

but then you remembered
as you reached for it

this pond is clear
but deeper here

To retrieve it
you had to plunge

your arm in almost
to the shoulder

So cold
you were disabled

for a while
in terms of being able

to feel and hold 
the desired stone

to heft and bounce it
in that hand as you tried

to understand better
the reasons why it drew you

which had seemed obvious
until the shock

of seizing it
snatched your breath

It seemed so close
and easy to grasp

It looked
so perfect down there

Now all you’ve got is
this cold rock and

a longing
left unexplained

swiftly drying 
into mere memory


The Work Undone

Five in the morning
has always been my time
though I haven’t seen it
in a while. Sick as
a sputtering candle, 
sleepy as the old dog
I am, I’ve been keeping
less funereal hours of late
as once it gets dark
this body says go, sleep; 
get used to it, soon enough
this is all you will have.

So to bed
after dinner I go, hating
myself for succumbing.
But somehow the graceful lamp
of Work Undone
relit itself tonight and now
before dawn I am here: back at it;
uncertain of the time left;
I am here aroused
into sword time
with the old weapon of choice
at hand. I ask:

what am I supposed
to do now, dimming body —
pretend to joy
while I stare at despair? 

It shouldn’t be a pretense,
retorts the body half-lit before 
the Work Undone.  So much to do
before you drown. You are
out of the dark and joy is
out here, somewhere, waiting;
pretense is for false warriors. Go.
You are not
allowed to fade without 
at least making a stab
at finding it. 


Anathemas

Quieting my
breathing until
it can slip past words
longing to leave me

so it may sustain me
through the fire of
wanting to speak
but not trusting myself

to say things 
softly or with precision
Slowing my heart rate
until it is no louder

than thoughts
of righteous outbursts
terrifying self-exposures
infamous last war cries

My best work
is destined to remain 
imaginary because 
to put it out there would be

to proclaim anathemas
intended to be seductions
and watching
the world recoil


Apologia

More than once I’ve thought about
a man in his recliner watching football, 
and told myself that it should have been me. 

I should have continued my career,
such as it was, and worked myself to rest
fully funded and mostly healthy in such a chair,

or so it would appear to others.
More than once I’ve lamented
that I took what some would say

was the lazy road and followed
words down another path. 
I could have done it part time

as I did for years and maybe
done more if I hadn’t been so bent
on chasing them where they went

instead of having them come
to where I reclined in comfort.
More than once I’ve mourned

the self I lost the day
I turned in my ID badge 
and walked to my car with a box

of stuff I did not need which felt like
gold I’d mined and wanted to keep
as proof of my having mattered

in one specific place and time. 
I was a fool, of course, then and now.
I had never mattered that much then

and I don’t matter now. If I stop now
in ten years most won’t remember
much of anything I’ve said or done.

It’s fine, really. Did I move 
the earth? No, it moved 
anyway pretty much

as it would have if I’d stayed
in that job. Did they miss me
when I was gone? No, at least

not for long.  Did they miss
the gold I’d taken with me? No.
It was not real, as it turned out. 

As for the time since: did I move the earth
with my words? No. Did they pay back
all I owed? No. Do I get to rest

now that I’ve acknowledged
how small I am? No.
Did I owe you all this work? No.

All I wanted, all I needed
was a recliner and handfuls of love
from those I loved in this life,

then silence in the next. 
I’ve been told it’s golden.
I’ve been told it feels like peace. 


Exposition (How To Read My Poems)

If any lines 
are addressed to
“you” it is likely
that I’m talking
to myself

unless I’m thinking of 
a specific “you”
in which case
it’s not likely that
I’m thinking of 
or speaking to you,

in which case you should
also know that “I” is never 
completely me but is some
part; perhaps an aspiration
or a cringe, but not “me”
as a “me” whole and
imperfectly human
as I write and live and 
eventually die;
unlike, I hope,
the “me” I will
leave behind.

I’d rather not
have to tell you
any of this,
of course,
but there are times
when I need
to be reminded 
myself. 


Leave It Alone

leave what creates alone.
tend to its home
but not to it except
to stay out of its way
and listen to it.

you may at first mistake its voice
for that of an illness or a deity.
call it what you like,
a Muse even, but don’t
imagine it’s a separate entity
or anything but a mundane
part of you. it does its best work
if you ignore it. leave it
to its chores.

one day you’ll awake 
to a gift shining casually
from your seat
on the worn out couch:

freely given, left to you
by you, in your name,
to make your own. 


The Unaccustomed Sea

o my people
hear me when i say

do not fall in love with
a poet. a poet will learn

nothing of you unless
it directs them back

to the cosmos and then
you will be left to wonder

if they are in fact
with you when they

lie with you or are instead
attempting to understand

the language of stars
through your cries. to fall

for a poet is to develop
invisible parchment over your wounds

only to have them write 
all over you without acknowledging

they are sustained
by your pain. if they speak

of love know that they are
worn from love and too wary

of the word to know how to use it
in any way without slanting it

toward themselves. 
o my people — may i say

to fall in love with any poet
is such a disaster — and if

the poet in turn falls
into a true love with you

understand how much of a tsunami
it will become before you can both

come up for air and try to find yourselves again
in the unaccustomed sea

that has swallowed you both
and (if you are lucky) has 

raised you to high ground
and kept you together.


Never Trust A Muse

Try to start,
it says, 
from something 
outside of yourself.

Find a way into
the edge of the picture
once you understand 
how you fit, fill in
an empty place, tell us
what you see and hear.

You fit somewhere
in the everything 
out there, one with the 
orcas, one with the squirrels
and the sphinx moth
clinging to the wall
inside the front porch.

It’s simple, really,
it says.
All you need 
is to become
part of everything
and the whole
of everything 
will become obvious.

Nothing, I retort,
is obvious
and never has been.
I’ve been looking outside
since I was too young 
to truly see the difference 
between outside and inside
and now, now that all
is on fire no matter whether I look
within or without,
what is supposed to become clear
through all this smoke
now that I am also smoke?


One Week

Wake up
bathroom
cats fed
coffee on
write
coffee

or

bathroom 
cats fed
coffee on
garden
write
coffee

or

wake up 
crack open
coffee on
bathroom
cats fed
shatter
assess damage
stop
coffee
write

or

write
wake up
sleep
wake up
iced coffee
coffee on
write
coffee
write
sleep
coffee
write
coffee
sleep

or

sleep
write
sleep

or

sleep
coffee on
garden
cats fed
coffee

how did I forget
the litter box? the 
opening of blinds
to daylight? the 
cursing of the bills? the
running of the 
mouth inside about 
what is read and unread
on the bedside table? how
did I forget to say
I am not alone enough
and lonely more than not?
how did I forget to say 
that I am churning with questions:
how are my mother, my sister,
my lover, all my tragicomic
friends, all the deadly Senators,
all the fucking style prisoners, the morning
becoming sexually awake, the spiritual
evening of entire mountains, the
timezones and islands and
orphans and smugglers of orphans,
the smiles of how many better equipped
than I am to take on what I’ve got to
wrestle?

or

wake up
lie there
imagine
what I must write
lose it before
the first cat is fed
coffee on
die a little
grieve the loss
write


The Little Table

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
at heart,)

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
he passes.


Cats And Politicians

The morning writing I’d conceived overnight was going to compare cats and politicians. It isn’t going well. I like cats too much to do that to them and in fact I don’t think they are that much alike

until Coco, the elder of my pair, black, long furred, cranky, loyal to me above all other humans, once again sticks her claws into my bare foot to remind me of my morning routine

and to insist upon a spell of chasing the red dot until she is done with the exercise. I almost always submit to the demand but soon enough grow tired and stop until she huffs away

to find another annoyance — pawing at the bookcase doors, pawing at a yet-to-be-opened window, yowling in the kitchen for some yet-to-exist perfect food I’ve refused to offer

then coming back to where I’m trying to work to fall sideways before me and purr, illustrating her continued support regardless of my many failings. Sometimes I sit back and close my eyes

and pretend it will end if I ignore her, but it never does. 

All this time Miesha, the younger cat, sits and watches. Never engages unless I break down and offer more food, then shows up to eat and leaves to return to her observational duties. I worry

that she is half the age of Coco and is absorbing knowledge for her own future shenanigans, working through potential changes in her calico head
to make herself both more adorable and more successful than Coco

who is back from the catnip now, poking my foot. “Don’t you want to be immortalized in these words I am fashioning through your behavior?” She just pokes my foot again. I resort to the spray bottle,

thinking about the unopened window, the cold outside, the yowling in the kitchen. Miesha is watching birds now as I’ve obviously become stale. Coco comes back in and falls at my feet

and I’m still trying to think about politicians and cats, but the nagging and the constant insistent pain of Coco’s claws is making me so hopeless about ever living up to my promise as an artist

that I do not think
there is much left
for me to say
as one morning soon
(unlike any politician I know of)
I will likely die of despair
for never having done enough
to satisfy any being’s needs.