Tag Archives: poems about poetry

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.


August 16

1.
Too often now I stare at a screen
and try to recall what it was like
when I could easily change blank
into not blank.

Sometimes I’d make
a good thing, more often I would not. 
However it ended, at least there was 
a result. Back then emptiness

didn’t stare at me like an adversary
the way it does now. The challenge now
is to survive, more or less, 
while fighting the whiteness of that void.

2.
Yesterday, Aretha Franklin passed.
Today daylight is still sagging
in the absence
of her possibility. 

Eighty years ago to the day
Robert Johnson passed. The moon
still hasn’t recovered all of the melody
it loaned him.  

Somewhere in between them
Elvis Presley died — same day,
different song; I know people miss him
but what song we lost that day, I can’t imagine.

3.
I’m not ready yet.  If I go tomorrow
the only song I’ll take with me
is a small one, a pebble in a shoe
shaken out after a good day walking,

forgotten once the immediate pain 
subsides. A tuneless whistle 
to get by one of life’s little discomforts.
Right now, that’s all I’ve got.

So back into the empty white I go
to blotch it up then read the portents there,
turn them into full-blown glory. I want the earth itself
to mourn me. It may not happen. I will try.


Poem Or Trigger

I’ve done many things
already today

but what I cannot apparently
do today

is pull a poem.

Once I could do that
as easily as I could once
pull a trigger. 
It might not be good —

I have been admonished
more than once
for abruptness, for

doing it too fast,
for not taking time

to breathe or aim 
as I should —

but I could do it easily
and most of the time

strike where I aimed.

Today though.
Not today.

A poem is
beyond me — 

ah, but the trigger
is simpler and more
to the point and while
it has been a long time

even scared and unsure, 
even possibly at the risk
of making things worse,

I think I have no choice.

That’s how it always is
with a poem
as well.  Right down to the 
potential for 
death resulting, but

in the face
of such a day as this,
who am I not to do
what I can.


For The Sound

Originally posted 4/25/17.  Revised.
 
You think of this work I do
(when you think of it at all)
as the opening 
of petals, or of veins,

no matter how many times
I tell you otherwise,
no matter that you know
how many years I’ve been at it.

If it were the opening of petals, 
I’d have long ago turned to fruit,
fallen to the ground, 
rooted as seed, regrown.

If it were the opening of veins?
How red would your hands be
every time you touched
one of my poems? Would you feel guilt

waiting to read
the next one?
Would you wash
your hands first?

This isn’t as easy
as simply blooming or bleeding.
It is indeed an opening
but one more like cracking a safe

or picking a lock
and then pulling 
a door
until it swings wide. 
Inside, maybe,
will be flowers, maybe 
buckets of brimful red.

You can have those.
I live for the cracking, the picking;
for the sound — my God, for the sound —
of those moving doors.

 

Arse Poetica

With one glee-drenched hand I push myself closer to the edge.
I’ve always liked to think I do better there.
No matter how wrong I am I keep pushing.
A little off balance has become my motto.
Teetering is my preferred exercise.  
A fall just confirms the risk I will take for small reward.
It makes me an artist indeed. 
A tightrope’s frayed end for a paintbrush.
A crumbling ledge a blank canvas.
A cracked pane of glass over a sixty story fall for an empty page.
I press my nose into the fractures and watch a spiderweb grow.
I stare into the rotten soil above the view of where I’ll drop.
I wriggle my toes over the unraveled line above the drooling crowd.
I reach back and put one sticky hand into the small of my own back,

bow,

and fall forward wondering if it will be at last enough
to make a masterpiece.


The Wave

While working on someone else’s work
strictly for my pocket’s improvement

I’ve been thinking all day of
cresting a deep drone tone

played on a dark electric guitar
as if it were a wave far out at sea

racing toward land overnight
across the whole of an ocean

moving toward the shore of a stage
where it will break

and alter everyone in attendance
with a drench of black sound

I don’t know how to create it
and from guilt over things undone

I’ve touched no guitar today to try and learn
But tomorrow — come tomorrow

I’ll put in less time on someone’s job
and bettering my normalcy

Instead will surf the deep ocean
riding the imperceptible wave in my ears

from origin to end to see what comes with it
from abyssal depth or strange port

as if I were a brave sailor and not
a prosaic and mundane slump of a man

worried about bills and chest pains
to the exclusion of making the music I’m here to make

along with words to ride the wave
all the way 
over the shelves of shore

into the high tide line
so everyone there gasps and says

they were glad to be present when it came
to be present for such a sound


Retail Therapy

When I am lost and disconnected
my retail therapy
is to buy a new pipe
or flask. The process
of breaking in distracts me:
do I go with bourbon or Scotch,
dense purple or loose green? At the end
I’m still lost and still disconnected
but warmer. I own a lot of flasks
and pipes, but can always add more
and that gives me something
to look forward to.

When I’m less disconnected
than enraged
my retail therapy is 
to buy a folding knife. Do I go
with assisted open or simple
old folder, liner lock or frame lock
or old school switchblade
from a disreputable source? I tell myself
it’s the workmanship that draws me, 
but I know better, you know better.
I own a lot of knives: not as many 
as I once did, but I can always buy more.

When I am lost and restless and need
to reach out on the deepest level, seeking,
my retail therapy is to buy a guitar.
I lose what little sense I have and
the last money in my pocket for the joy
of stumbling the same old chords over
the stiff strings of something new, and even if
nothing or no one answers, I try.  I struggle
toward nothing new with the same hands
that I’ve always had, I try. I own fewer guitars
than I used to, but then again, I try less, too.

When I am broke, I write. 
I don’t have to feel anything
when I write. I don’t have to 
pretend it’s going to work
this time. I don’t have to pretend
I know what “working”
even means anymore.
Is any one poem
better than a pipe,
knife or flask?  Is this keyboard
better for me than a fretboard?
I can’t say. I just know
I’m broke more than I’m not
so I have a lot of poems
and though I’ve not spent a penny for them
they still cost me plenty.


Freedom Of Choice

Sometimes it’s good 
to give up and become
a camera in order to

choose a long view over
a close up, deciding upon what
to focus to the exclusion

of all else.  Sometimes
it’s better to shrug and become
a microphone hooked to a 

recorder and catch all the noise
for you to sift and edit to your tastes
later.  Sometimes it’s best of all

to write yourself a role in a grand play
and play it in context, with measured,
mannered voice.

Then comes the moment 
when you cannot transform into
the tool or medium of your choice

and you are forced
to be human, 
finally aware of how much

you have been privileged
to experience life
on whatever terms you chose,

and next you may rage and roil in pain
or fall into a swamp of tears,
but that is when you will begin to understand

that from then on, whenever
you are moved to reach for art,
art will no longer be a choice.


St. Vincent

“…there is a certain amount of writing that can only come from a monastic space.”  — St.Vincent

 

Alone. A lost tree
seeking a forest — thing about
trees, though, is they

can’t move so is it lost at all
if it’s living where it’s 
been planted? Perhaps

solitary is a better word
if it is a happy tree. It stands by
itself, seeking best words.

All of its time caught in a web
of slow growth and searching.
Speaking of best words,

happy doesn’t enter into
a lone tree’s vocabulary. 
Say instead it’s self-contained

and always fixed upon 
what it grows from: it grows
from matins through lauds

to vespers, morning prayer
through to night prayer. Speaking of
St. Vincent, musician and not

saint, it is always possible that prayer
may become song. Speaking 
as man and not tree, I refuse

to see difference between those
words. Speaking as a solitary,
i am not ashamed to grow bark,

resolve to be rooted,
settled without patronage.
St. Vincent non-musician was

patron saint of poor people and vintners.
Never an extra word for poets. I am
poor and I am drunk on my assets:

I speak of course of words, prayers, 
songs, monastery walls,
vows, oak, bark, and bite.


The Leonard Cohen Poem

When I lose myself
in sleep while writing
I will sometimes
find upon waking one odd line
in an otherwise perfectly
coherent paragraph or stanza.

I call those the cracks
where the light leaks in,
a concept I admit I borrowed
from that Canadian poet
I never liked, the one
I feel guilty for not liking, the one
everyone loved right up
until he died and then
they loved him even more. Anyway,

upon waking I’ll sometimes find
a single line, a crack full of light
in the middle of work I’d finished
in a fever, trying to get my point across
before darkness fell, and I’ll look at it
and scratch my head and chin
and try to decide if the light’s
from a window or a fire, and if

it’s from a window I then decide
if I should close it and keep that light
out of this poem, then decide if I should see
if the line belongs to another poem
and go to the room where that one lives
and make the line comfortable there instead;

and if it is from a fire I then decide
if I must extinguish it, bask
in its warmth and try to contain it
within this poem, or use it to burn
the whole poem down so I can sift its ashes
for something on which to build anew
that starts with that line as a cornerstone.

Whatever I do, before deciding
I stare at the crack and the light inside
and the older I get the more I feel
like a baffled king composing, one who knows
not everyone will love what I do
or how I rule, but the light’s still there
and the line’s been let in, and
regardless of what I do with that line
it’s holding me hostage until I choose.

Someday I too will die, and some
will remember me fondly and some 
will shrug me off and say
I never made much sense to them
in the first place, the way I feel

about that croaking Canadian
who I must admit had some 
damn good lines that made me
sit up now and then and put
my distaste on hold and say
Hallelujah, that light’s
indeed glorious.


The Arts As A Profession

On the clock
for a whole day
with no rest. 

There are people
who consider that
a hardship, an 

inequity to be
redressed at some point
with a dramatic exit

and all the fireworks
they can muster. 
I am not one of those —

I welcome this 
round the clock job,
all week gig, all year

career. Any stoppage
or break feels like a death
or at best a sickness.

I did not sign up
for this life but I take it
as my reward for

something I did in
a previous one where
I was stunted and kept

from this. This is no
job, after all. This is
an identity; why would I want

to break that? 
I turn back to it.  Go 
away. There’s work to be done

and I would prefer
to be alone, wearing myself
to a nub, as I do it.

Like most others 
who are called to this,
I’ll rest when I’ve 

died. I’ll take my break
on my back, or slumped in
a chair, better yet, head fallen

onto the desk. They’ll
pull me up and wheel me out
and someone else

will sit right down
and go, go, go
all hours until they fail.

It’s how it’s done.  Once
you’re in you stay in
till you drop

right beside
your last word
and someone new steps up.


If I Could Explain

If I could explain
why I listen to gospel services
on Sunday morning radio
though I am no Christian or even
much in sympathy with Christianity,
paying nearly the same attention 
to its content

as I do to a stray episode
of “Law And Order” on a barroom television,
though I am not at all a cop, neither
am I at all a lawyer, and am
slightly less criminal than many;

and slightly less attention
to either of those than I do 
to distant salsa tunes from two floors up,
though I am no dancer or singer
in Spanish or anything else,

then perhaps I could explain to you, 
and to myself as well, 
how I became a poet. 

Maybe I could explain why Jesus
and Lenny Briscoe and
Marc Anthony rotate through
my firmament on some 
indecipherable yet certain timing;

or I might be able to explain
why I feel like life barely grazes me
most of the time, 
though I feel all of it 
at least lightly;

I could even maybe explain 
how when I am nicked by living 
I bleed out everything 
I’ve ever felt
and call that art 
once I’ve run my fingers
through the flood
and tried to make patterns

in what lands and dries 
in front of me, although
it never does the job
quite well enough;

so I go back to cursory church and 
peripheral crime and loving music 
I can’t understand
just for the sake of listening

while waiting for the next barrage
to brush me, the next wound to open me, 
the next opportunity
to play in my red.


Two Woodpeckers

I used to robe up before writing,
slapped on a wizard cap to make of myself
a mystic, kept a wand under
my clothes to wield when I needed
to drape clouds around my words.

Then one day I stood at my window
and watched two downy woodpeckers,
male and female, perched on opposite sides
of a suet feeder.  They fluttered

back from the cage and landed again,
having switched sides. Returned every day
for a season and repeated this swap
at least once per day. The world is already
a miracle and a mystery. Why overdecorate it?


Fossil Poems

In anger, we say, “Fuck it.”

That’s a kind of poem. One kind of poem, the memory of a moment of utter disgust digested, compressed into a singular phrase. Cliches are fossil poems; pat phrases are living, wriggling fragments of attempted poems — and who among us doesn’t have a pat, pet phrase…?

These are attempted poems.

All around us a murder of attempted poems, their wings barely raising them from the ground.

All of us are poets.  All of us are suspect to the art police. — daring us, goading us to say something at once superfluous and necessary.  

When we say “Fuck it,” we decide how the scale tips.