Tag Archives: poems about poetry

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.


Grasses

this is a collection of words
with broken hips.

it sits in front of you
squirming.

it is trying to rise and greet
you and the day but has been stuck

waiting for revisions
for what has felt like forever.

it is uncomfortable with how much
you expect it to fly

when it eventually does rise,
changed, to its feet.

you are eager for it to take flight,
but that is not its nature.

it would prefer to stay close
to the ground. it longs for you

to stay with it and peer into
the dirt around the roots of grasses,

all the kinds of grasses. it wants to
be anything but one of those poems

that soars high above all.
its bones have been unknit for so long

it has learned to just be here,
close to the ground.

all it wants is to get out of the chair
and take a knee and stare into the earth

around grass roots, learn the names
of what grows there, and help you do the same.


Nothing To Pour

I can see the shape
of what I must say,
what I long to say,
but not how to fill it in.

The container is perfectly
made, seamless and clear;
there’s nothing inside.

In my conception, once I fill it
anyone reading it will understand it
at once, regardless of
their literacy, their language.

The moment they lift it
from the page and take it in,
they’ll be so moved…

yet somehow for too long
I have had
nothing to pour.


Shithead

I’m up at four-thirty
cracked like dawn
trying to write
but there are cats here
and they want food and
a clean shitter and above all
for me to stop using them
as a source of excuses
for not writing
I have to go bathe my father
which is no excuse
I have to go feed my mother
which is no excuse
My feet on fire and
my left hand frozen numb
with neuropathy
Pain that goes from
nagging to screaming
that it’s not an excuse
The drugs that ease the pain
slow me and dull me at the same time
but that is no excuse
My broke timid ass overwhelmed
with all the doom within and around me
to the point of disgust and saturation
with my lack of excuses
The siren songs of bullshit self-care
are no excuse to step away
from the cliff
I need to fall over to land on
an enemy below
and even as I burn out
and fall dead while crushing them
snuffing them out
they look up saying
You are killing me and killing yourself
and those are not excuses
for not writing a poem today
Feed the cats shithead
Take the drugs shithead
Kill the billionaires shithead
Whether you live miserably or die happy
you truly have just one real job
Write that goddamn poem
shithead
or all this will be worth
exactly as much
as you are
which is
vessel
conduit
gutter
that’s all

Chastened thus
I suffer and bend to
the task





A Career In Poetry

My last great literary act
is to admit out loud that
I’ve always been repeating myself
and it’s no longer enough.

It used to be enough.
I would tell myself
in response to writing a bad poem
I was at least being original.
Then came the moment when
I saw I was not, but kept trying.
Today I can see
the whole point of me: there’s been
just one, there’s been
only one poem I’ve ever written, I’ve been
endlessly rocking the same poem
with different words; I have repeated it
only out of desperation, then walked up to you
and shook you
over and over with the same motion
and glazed sensibility,
wanting to be
owed something
I fooled myself into thinking
I deserve from you.

Anyway,

here’s a new book for your consideration
called “I Repeat Myself: The Villanelles.”
I know it’s the same as my last book,
“Once Again: The Sonnets.”

I see you already looking away.

Bear with me, give it a read, give it a listen,
give it the old college try. Give it
your full attention, even if only briefly.
You won’t have to read it more than once.


A Tub of Eels

Behind a small head of smoke
on a Friday night, taking care
of business, keeping it real, tight
and clean, at the same time weeping
at all these near-exhausted cliches
which so perfectly summed him up
without one ounce of novelty needed
to make them more precise;
how did it happen
that he had become
so easy to describe?

He’d stopped trying,
he guessed. It didn’t feel
at all that way to him,
he felt so tired
from what he’d thought
was strenuous work to maintain
his freshness,
yet here he was:

it had to be a clerical error.
It had to be a mistake in the math.
It had to be in the calculations
that decided what was effort and
what was just getting by.

Behind a small head of smoke
on a Friday night, baseball on the
television, words slipping
around themselves
like a tub of eels, the way
they always have. Taking care of
business, the business
of herding eels; looking for
the outlets they use for escape —

and still he’s so tired
of himself. So tired and stale.
He’s been doing this
for longer than the cliches
have existed. They were cut
to fit him, tailored to his form;
they fit too well to just throw away
no matter how worn they all were.


To The Friend Denying Who He Is

Stop. Stop this.
You sang the corners and more.
I heard you. Everyone did.
We know who you are.

Stop. Stop this.
We saw you watching, listening,
writing. The backs of keno tickets
know who you are.

Stop. Stop this.
That you say you never this
is proof. We all say this. The “why you start”
stops mattering once it’s who you are.

Stop this, start that,
continue or not. Being is being.
A fist, a pen, a handful of snakes and roses.
You see them the same. It’s who you are.