Tag Archives: poems about poetry

Why Poets Are Always Lost In One Way Or Another

Let me come to the point:
I can’t remember the name
of the particular door I open
whenever I step through into this

from that 
where I daily make a cup of coffee
and scratch my various itches
before sitting down to this Work. 

If I ever knew the name
I have forgotten it, or 
let me say instead I feel
more often than not 

that whenever I walk through,
coming or going, the name of the door
changes. I’ll puzzle over this
each time. What is the name

of the boundary between where the Work is
and where living happens? I pass
back and forth wondering
about such foolish things. 

Warning The Would-Be Poets

Please contact me
that you may at least understand
where I’m at.  

I can’t describe
the landscape well enough
for you to come find me

but you might find yourself enlightened
and informed by the view.  I hope
I can do it justice — really that’s

the only hope I have now: 
that by you being in touch I might
be able to warn others who might come.

Please contact me, reach out
that you may understand
that I was never comfortable among you,

even if you still cannot see why;
and even if I am somehow at home here
it is not any place most would want to live. 

The Tool

I get up
Write a poem
Make some coffee
Have some food
Put another round into the clip

I get up
Make some coffee
Write a poem
Make some food
Count some pills into a plastic cup

I get up
Have some water
Make some coffee
Fix a poem
Sharpen the edge of the big knife

I dream a poem
Get up and write it down
Delete it when I read it back
Make some coffee
Eat a food that one day will do me in

One day I’ll change it up
One day I won’t think about poems
One day the coffee will be left unmade
One day I’ll won’t get up
One day the Tool will be set aside


Wish I could take back
everything I’ve ever said —
each word, ill timed grunt,
sigh in passion, moan of distress.

It’s language that has cut
all my crops down, set the fires
in each of my villages.
If I’d just been silent,

things would have been different.
But I just had to do this. Had
to open my big fat mouth. Had to
make a whole series of noises

and call them art, say I was 
seeking beauty, truth, that 
folderol; forgot that a stone has beauty
on its own without making a sound,

reveals truth when hurled through
a window; the noise you hear then
doesn’t come from the stone 
that lands mutely on the castle floor.

Wish I’d stayed silent. It’s done me
little good not to be. It’s made me
want to sit with a glued-up mouth
on my scorched earth till I’m gone. 

People say I owed it to them, to the earth,
to be this, to make noise, to rumble
like a damn volcano, tweet like a bird.
What I owed myself, they tell me,

is unimportant. It’s the artist’s just fate
to disappear into their hollering,
happily or not. I say no, then say
no more. Be here that way till I’m not.

What Drives Me

Bags filled with
broken promises and
hands full of random illnesses
and injuries: that’s where I am
in this late middle age.  I have
the residuals of bad choices
to weigh me down
and of course
the words, the Work,
always and forever
driving me.

To feel better
I’d give up a lot, 
but not the drive, not the Work.
I’d let blacktop cover me,
let the city take my home, 
let me fall on a sidewalk
outside the library.  Let them
use me as a warning, let them
slip me into forgotten history
and leave me there — but the Work

shall remain on my tongue
poised for release
then fight its way past
my light stripped eyes through
frozen fingers into the world
where it will live or not on its own
because that’s my Work 
and I’m not done with my job.
I’m not quitting it just to die
at peace with my body
and my wallet. No.

A Posse Of Deadly Clowns

the form I see before me
is not the true form.

do you see what I do not?
it is possible my eyes deceive me.

it would not be the first time for those little liars,
those deceitful balls playing with tricky light. 

if you say my true name I’ll change
into my true form, if the tales are to be believed,

but why should they be? the writers
have eyes which may be just as dishonest

as my own. they might have no backstory
to support the legend. so the legendary true form

may be not a true form at all but simply that
which kills the perceiver before they solve the mystery. 

never trust a writer to give you all you need 
to seize control of the world. they’re a posse of deadly clowns

riding out in search of illusions they’ll tell you are true,
and they may be right but they don’t know and won’t know

until you are staring into the mirror they’ve given you. 
they wait to see what happens.

no matter what happens,
they try again.

An Uneven Day

What an uneven day
it has been already.
Rose late and made coffee
before I showered 
because priorities
and rituals must be
honored to make things work
as they should

and now I’m sitting here 
with a pile of notes and
something that purports to be 
the start of the greatest poem
I’ve ever written and seeing that
it’s clearly on its way to being 
more crap than canon. Which
hurts more because
when it comes to all of my work
those may not be 

Later on someone
will call out of the blue
to say, can you
come help me move?
and inside I’ll hem and haw
but get up grudgingly and go
because I have a station wagon

and while it’s no pickup truck
priorities and rituals
must be honored.

When we’re done
one apartment will be empty
and another will be full
and I will come home
to my own that is both full
and empty at once.

Then I’ll take a second look
at the Work I left behind.
I’ll sigh and light a pipe
and after that close my eyes on the day
hoping to find myself tomorrow

back on the winding road
that leads from the bones
of one uneven day
to the next one,

where there is still
to be chased regardless
of faint chance of snatching it,
because priorities and
rituals must be observed,
even in the absence of honor.

The Mythology Of Scorched Earth

Last night
I dreamed
that there
in my hand
I had conjured
a gnome
in a red hat,
from a book
I’d read long ago. 
He began to spin
there on my palm 
and when he at last 
spun away it was as
a dervish born
in a handful
of fire.

Last night 
I remembered writing
this poem once before
when I was no more than
18.  Back then I thought 
I was something,
didn’t I — back then I thought
I too had been 
formed in a hand
to be a dervish
in a handful
of fire and that I had 
a fire hand of my own making
and I spawned poems in it,
fast red, and long burning hot,
and I spun them into the world
to ignite anything
other than myself, but still
I burned, almost, to ash.

I soak my wounds these days
in any running stream
I find
and think of how
I am no longer what I was,
am I — no dervish,
no wick, no kindling
in this poor hand,
and I am grateful
for how final and good
it feels to stop short of a full life
of poems romancing the mythology
of scorched earth.

Trash Day

First I take out the trash
and then I sit down to write.

I hold off on coffee until after
I’ve done something poetic.

I have friends who swear
the coffee must come first

but the coffee comes second around here, 
or even third on a Wednesday trash day. 

My friends understand why
the trash comes first, but how is poetry

something to get past and not
at least in part something I owe

to downing at least one delicious cup?
They don’t understand: I have to have

something to look forward to
so I hold the first cup in reserve. It’s

the Blue Mountain on the end
of the stick before me. Writing the poem,

on the other hand, is less a pleasure
than a — not a pain, no; more

of a requirement. More of a 
“take your pills” practice, a glucose test

of what pushes your blood through you.
Not so much medically required as 

now so much a part of the rituals
that to do so on some days hurts, on others

sings within, but is each day ignored at my peril.
So first the trash on Wednesdays, then

the poem, then the coffee. Today
it’s all tasting pretty much OK:

trash out half an hour early, and listen 
to this — not great, not terrible, but when the body

holds it up for inspection, it says 
all is in balance for now; I pour a cup

with a splash of milk and nothing else.
I don’t know what else I’ll be doing today

but at least I’ve done this and if today I pass away,
when they find me they can say they found me at rest.

Aging Into The Work

by switching 
from late night 
frenzy jags 
to mornings
before the coffee 
has finished brewing,
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.


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.