Tag Archives: poems about poetry

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.


Material

Just now one arrow
or sharpened word
landing in an arrow’s place

Bandaged hand holding either
pen or sword but either way
struggling with grip

A face so common
no one feels any need
to  put a name to it

Did someone stutter
or was that a
mechanical noise

A voice made of
ground down gears
and silt still in its teeth

Can anyone dance
to a song first sung
by stones falling

from a ledge to
a highway below
and then a car

falling from there and
in this car was a child and 
no one dared to climb down

and see what happened
An adult climbed out
years later with

a broken grip 
weapons and 
a quest 

Never mind a dance
There’s a whole book in there
somewhere 

says someone 
who really doesn’t know
anything about these things


What Are The Rules

 You don’t use the word “love”
in a love letter. Instead you speak
of feather and turn and light under
the bedroom door. The curtains
serving as screen for
an independent film, the distance
from the summit of a volcano 
to the ocean’s edge still boiling
from its latest eruption. 

You don’t use the word “sorrow”
in a suicide note. Instead, try to explain
as carefully as possible how the wind
never relents, how peregrine falcons
can hang motionless of the edge of a cliff
for what seems like hours before
they plunge, productively,
to the ground below. 

You don’t use the word
“poem” in a poem. Instead, talk
of anthills and of how all we see
is what’s been moved to create
the truth of the living that goes on
out of sight, deep underground
where the queen nestles in the dark,
the unspeaking engine
for the trains that roll in and out
of the light. 


Now I Am Stone

Once I could embrace
everything that had a pulse,
and since everything did, I drew 
everything in and held it
until I pulsed with it.

From plain old dirt to brand new seedlings.
From slippery sweet words of love to
harsh talk in the tongue of ravens,
those slow wrenching croaks.
From brilliant concept to laughing dismissal:

if it could move, and everything did,
I moved to grasp it and take its essence
into my own arrhythmic dance.
I would tell the tale of it, and then
I would run off chasing the next wild pulse. 

I am so far removed from pulse now
that all I know of it is what I recall and the words,
the dance of how it used to feel means so little
I may as well say nothing as I fade. Now, I am stone.
Nothing moves me. Instead, I cleave in place.


Only A Fool Could Be You

Only a fool would say that:
a fool, or a writer trying
to make you notice them.
To make you think
they were deep,
or at least that the work
was deep. Something
the writer could claim was
channeled from a deep source,
not entirely their own. 
That it was nonsense,
but contrary nonsense, 
something the world
had forgotten. Selling
bullshit as wisdom is
the perfect skill, after all.
Anyone can go far in any field
with that, not just writers.
You can eat and drink for free
damn near forever on one
foolish bit everyone thinks
is brilliant. That you longed
for brilliance is immaterial.
That you struggled and failed
for brilliance is of no consequence
to anyone but you, if you are
so inclined to care, once you are done
eating and drinking off your failure.
Are you done?


Remarkable

Remarkable —
the sunflower leaf 
holding water
after a night
without rain.

Remarkable — 
all I need to do
is describe it this simply

and someone
will call this description
art, someone
who never notices
remarkable things
happening so routinely,

who might have been
profoundly changed
if they had just looked up
from a book
and seen it for themselves.


An Old Poet Admits It’s Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be

up by five am daily unless there’s
illness or rare refusal. the Work begins 
before coffee, breakfast, or inspiration.

first it’s just me and a shimmer, a pang.
then it’s just me, my pang and/or shimmer,
and blank space, waiting.

inspiration is for amateurs.
the pang is the pain of not writing,
the shimmer? anticipation, joy.

then the poem comes up out of the Work.
no effort is needed until it shows up.
our work only begins after the words punch in.

we wrestle and chip. we form and reform,
seeking the poem the poem insists
on becoming. seeking the writer the poem demands.

do this long enough, often enough, and you become 
immeasurable to others unless you are measured
against your last poem. it has not been long enough

for me. tomorrow it’s back to sunrise
and no inspiration; just
shimmer, pang, and blank space. 

as for satisfaction in the Work? an artist’s statement?
ask me later. ask me later tomorrow, in fact.
prepare yourself for a lie. assume everything said

that is not in the Work
is somehow a lie, just one of those things
left behind after the Work is done.


An Old Poet Skips Yet Another Open Reading

It’s a joy to watch myself
disappearing at last
from spaces I once felt
I needed to dominate.
Truly, I wanted to vanish
every time I showed up
but the best I could do
was be central,
larger than life,
and false,
so everyone looked at
my illusion
and not at me.

Now I am
old enough and voluntarily
diminished,
so far beneath these people
who never look down
that I can be both
invisible and more real
than I ever have been before
as I burrow away
from expectations and
reputation into the places
where I can do the most
good, or damage,
or good damage, praying
(in an uncharitably fulfilling way)
that they may they never know
what hit them, what tunneled
below them, what changed
the ground that no longer
holds any of us well.