Tag Archives: poems about poetry

The Unwelcome Poem

Not for the first time
an unwelcome poem arrives
and demands your attention.

Perhaps it is the one you’ve always avoided
about your hometown, how it’s like all others
except where it is unique, one that insists

on pushing you
toward extravagant words
you have no time or energy to spend.

Maybe it’s the one that explains
how you believe in God but fear
the response of your atheist friends

because they’ve shown no mercy
to others in the past and while you are
not at all insecure, you know how rage goes

when you are enraged, and they
have enraged you — but you’ve held back the poem
and cannot attend to it now,

because God stopped talking to you
more than an age ago and you are trying so hard
to get along without counsel.

You don’t write poems any more.
You mostly take notes for poems
which keep nudging you: your time

is running down, your energy is
trickling down, your attention is
grinding down.

Today’s poem is knocking, not for the first time.
It refuses to introduce itself. Go away,
you scream at the door. Go away, I’m done…

and just like that, it’s gone.
One day it won’t come back.
Already the gaps between its appearances

are growing
and you are forgetting
it was ever here.


Art (Mud)

Playing in noise like it’s mud,
joyful childhood mud, hard construction
even in rain mud, slog through
because home is on the other side mud.

Knee deep mud holding on to your waders;
that deep suck then rushing sound
when you pull free, almost falling on your face
with the effort.

You know you could could just go around.
You could just stop playing in mud,
give up the call of dark soaked clay
and grow up like they’ve been telling you
for years. All your friends did it — climbed up
and out and cleaned up and joined the world
of hard surfaces and silent journeys —

but that mud, that impromptu playground mud,
that naughty slop, that flying up splat landing sound
of mud being mud while you get in and get dirty?
Playing in noise like it’s mud because it is mud — earth
and water singing? You know you want in. You know
you were born for going back in with both feet.


Words And Guitar

I wrote my first poem 
when I was almost too young
and marked by that
went on to write only poems
for an entire lifetime;
that was music to me.

It was always music I sought
in words, how they butted up
to song, slope of one line into
another, beat of syllables
against my teeth and tongue.

When deep in later life
I touched my first guitar
I thought of all those poems
and as my fingers built chords
I recognized what was happening;
it was the same.

All of that is vanishing now.
The need to play is slipping
from me. I sit and think
of my dusty guitar
on the far wall. I sit
and think about the dust
on the seams of this poem.

There’s fantastic music,
clouds of it in fact,
still playing clearly 
outside somewhere;

none of it 
is meant
for me to play.


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


A Plant

Grown averse to contact,
to being in the presence of.

People have always believed
me to be animal but in fact

I’m mostly plant. 
Call me stick in the mud.

More and more I just want
my own pot to bliss in.

Everyone else can just
dig my fruit and shade from

the other side of the room.
No regular need to interact, really.

If I need you, though,
I’ll need you acutely and quickly.

So: don’t go far, I think.
But don’t come close.

I’m as confused as you are
about this language I’m currrently using

in which every word’s a boomerang
coming back upon itself.

Plant, animal.
Aloof, needy.

I don’t understand it all myself
but that’s why I’m an artist: a plant

growing in a medium
without which I would die;

I’d droop, wilt, sag, fail.
And then I’d be brittle. 

So: don’t touch but give a little water,
a little sun.

You can have the fruit.
Sit by me and talk,

but no touch — offer care without
embrace. It will be

a breeze in 
my leaves.


Routines

waking up
before my father
in my father’s house
at sixty:

Sabicas playing softly 
before seven AM.

sitting upright
on a half made bed
wondering if it’s too early
to pad softly downstairs,
leave the house,
go get coffee for us both.

nearly forty years since the last time 
I slept here,
and so much has changed.

the music is not rock.
I’m not thinking about how to sneak out
to go get my car
from where I left it
at the bar.

everyone in the house is old
and fragile, in one way or another.

downstairs my father sleeps
waiting for my mother 
to come home from the hospital
and resume their routine.

somehow, 
here I am again

lonely,
worrying.

somehow,
as if I was back
at the beginning,

a new poem.


The Workshop Rebellion

Our professor worked hard trying to convince us
that our words were all bastards 
who stunk like animals 

as if they’d been alone in wild places for decades
and never bathed
, having been given
all the room in the world in which to grow
as feral and stubborn as they could, 
resisting our coaxing and coaching
settling at last into rough roles they’d chosen,
milling about waiting to be consumed. 

We knew better,
or more accurately
believed we did,
or most accurately of all 
we did not care.

Instead we simply and deeply loved
the smell of our wild words, the pungency
that dragged behind them in long ribbons
doused in dirt and filth and all the taste and scent
of all the places they’d been and foraged
for health and truth and the teeth of engagement
as they tore at this world’s fabric. 

It dawned on us while watching the professor fuss 
and give up on us, that we’d begun
to draw away from him and his ilk and their scriptures
long before we’d met him, perhaps as early
as the day were were born;

at least as early as the day we dared
to try and tame the first salty, crazy syllable
that gained us a reprimand;

at least as early as the first time we said,
“let’s hear that again…” to words

with a rock beat in their mating calls
or stinging swarms of jazz notes
lighting up our tongues.

It dawned on us that night in the workshop
that we had learned long ago
how to run with the wildest of words.

We’d learned long before how to turn away
from a professor who was trying to tame us,
who needed so badly
to see us and our words tamed.


Words At Night

Words now come
more often at night
than in daylight.

I would like to say
there’s a good reason,
but there’s not.

All day I fight and 
drain, struggle and 
sink. By bedtime

I have barely enough
breath left to admit
my terror out loud, 

but I push myself
into the keyboard and try
to come back out with

something fresh and hopeful,
even though often
I choke on the effort

before falling into 
a sleep I wouldn’t wish
on anyone: one so rife with dying

that most days I wake up dry
and brittle, my head a casket
full of other people’s bones.

No wonder I cannot
move for an hour
after waking, and no wonder

that to rise from bed
is akin to digging out.
Don’t ask me to give you art

made in daylight.
You’ll read it and

reek of graves.

Instead, 
take the words
that come to me at night,

when there’s at least
still hope we’ll wake up
alive tomorrow and stay alive.

 


Autobiography Of A Bad Dreamer

I was always told
to follow my dreams
I am lucky I did not 
for if I had 

I’d be walking around
carrying an unconscious seagull
into parties I’d not been invited to

A seagull who always
revives as I come through the door
into a room of beautiful people

and raises her head
to look me in the eye
(her head that is now

the head of a woman
with features from a classical 
statue of Greek or Roman origin)

She says something
recognizably human
in a language I don’t know

but loud and clear as a 
buoy’s bell as if she was
in my bedroom in the dark

and as the lovely party people
(none of them as lovely as the bird)
turn to drive me out the way I came

I wake and stare at the far corner
hoping and fearing the bird woman
will be there — but to this day

she has not been 
I then spend a few minutes 
trying to translate for myself

what words she gave me
before falling back to sleep
to seek her

but I never find her
until the next time she awakens
in my arms

and who could live
like this on the day to day
without falling to ruin

upon some bouldered shore
while stretching his hands toward gulls
who will not be caught


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.