Tag Archives: poems

The Sight Of Blood I Drew

Revised.  Older poem — from 1999 or so?

Right after I turned eleven
Joe Frazier’s left hooks
were constantly on my mind
so, although I was a natural righty,
I threw one unprovoked
at Jeff Maxwell’s jaw
while we were goofing around
in the middle school gym
and laid him out
flat and crying.

I admit it felt OK
to see him there, sliding
on his ass away from me as I tried
to explain it was all in fun
to Mr. Tornello
as he shook me and dragged me to
his sweat-soaked office to await
my parents.

I learned something that day.

Right jabs and Muhammad Ali
were on my mind a few years later
when Henry Gifford
got dropped, this time in anger,
on the shores of Thompson’s Pond
for cussing me out over my being angry
because he’d broken my switchblade.
This time there was blood on his mouth
and I admit it felt OK
to see it shining moonlit black
on his face and I was shaking glad
that I hadn’t had the knife in hand
at the time.

I learned another thing that day.

Kung-fu movies and Bruce Lee
were much on my mind a few years after that
when it felt OK to deliver
a straight-arm open palm blow to the side
of Joe Peron’s nose in a work dispute,
and there was blood again
and the gentle snap of his bridge breaking,
and he knelt holding his nose in his hands,
and that felt even better than OK for a minute;
because we were men
we just shook it off
and told no one of the fight,
but Joe steered clear of me after that,

and I felt fine,
and I kept learning.

How good it felt then,
and how good it would feel again
if the opponents I have now
could be dispatched that easily.

I stand in despair
of unpunchable bills,
bloodless banks, ravening for me;
I’m helpless before
the creeping sense
of having no enemy now
I could beat. 

I can’t fight
what I am today:
old and body-broken,
weak and endgame poor;
obsessed with overthinking 
how much harder
I could hit today
if I could still hit,
now that I know
how it feels to be hit.

I stand in the kitchen
thrashing the kitchen air –
cross, jab, hook, uppercut,
palm strike, temple strike,
slash and stab, icepick grip,
sword grip, kick a support
off a rickety chair.

I was such a bully once.
I had such narrow eyes,
fixed always upon the easily defeated.

I’m learning.

I once again narrow my eyes.
The urge to admire again
the sight of blood I drew
is almost more than I can bear.
I don’t know
how much longer
I will want to hold on.

Procrastinator’s Ghazal

Waiting for coffee to brew. It’s been bright out but I’m a snoozer. 
Lying here guilty, nothing is done. I’m such a loser. 

I usually do at least one thing before coffee. 
Start a poem, balance the books — but not today. Call me loser.

So far? I opened my eyes and I fed the cat. I showered and opened
the living room blinds. Nothing else. Not much to say but “loser.”

Some folks would tell you it’s enough to chop wood, carry water,
let impressions lead to enlightenment. Keep it simple, loser.

Tony, you may say, it’s just a word. To fight is to win. I may say:
this is not your path and I’m not on yours. Stay your tongue, loser.  

The Head Of A Pin

I’m out here dancing on the head of a pin
I’ll keep on dancing till I swell
And fill right up with sin
I’ll be large enough to see
But small enough to spin
Like a razor balanced on the head of a pin

I’m out here dancing on the head of a pin
Angelic when I started 
Becoming demon under the skin
As the dancing grows more frantic
Limb over limb, limb over limb
A cyclone set upon the head of a pin

Hear the band that’s playing
Hear the rhythm of the drum
Hear accordion and violin
There’s a keening in the background
And a flute beneath it all
Hear a mystery of dark and light revolving

I’m out here dancing on the head of a pin
I’ll keep on dancing till I swell
And fill right up with sin
I’ll be large enough for you to see
But small enough to spin
If you choose to dance with me on the head of a pin

And I Would Not

Come to the table
and I will serve you
all you’ve asked for:
look, it all awaits

on formal china
with proper silver
set beside the plates
in proper order,
all laid out upon
the best linen,
and soft.

I promise this to you
in the name of propriety
and all I have tried to do
to explain my faults away,
at which I have failed
in spite of decades of 

You tell me 
I should have just tried harder
to not have the faults
in the first place
and we would have been fine
eating little but bread 
with our fingers and cheap wine
from old jelly jars
while seated upon stones
in a ragged ring around a fire.

I look at this table,
think of all
I’ve spent upon it.

I look up at the vaults of heaven.

I am not at all sure
I’d be the same person today
if I had done what you asked.

Perhaps that is your point:

if I’d been welcome
in the house of your God
all along I would have been

a different man;
you would be here,
and I would not.

How Are You?

Not having an answer
when you are asked how you are
makes you ruthless and honest
or maybe a little bit dumb.

The door in your chest 
flies open and you rise, 
hover above your chest
looking down at your body

which is still somehow trying
to figure out how to cover
all your bills. You’re outside of that 
calculation right now. It goes on

while you are hovering. Maybe
you have died and the bills 
will now be covered by your
not being present. If they ask you

later today how you are, 
you won’t have a real answer 
even if you fall back into the body.
How are you? Revenant. How

are you? Insolvent. How 
are you? I’m behind the door
again so let’s say I’m fine.
I can’t complain. 

Don’t let them know 
you’ve been smothered
by the math. Don’t let
yourself know

you don’t want to be
a person anymore. You were never
that good at it. How are you?
I’m fine. And how are you?

Riddleface Mountain

Riddleface Mountain
is on my bucket list
of places to visit after
I die. The name

tugs at me like a pup
on a cuff. I want to hover
before it, a midair ghost;
stare into the granite,

and let it make me whoop,
delighting in the punchlines. 
I’d have that slight twinge
of regret when I guessed right

and then of how I’d beg for another,
another, squealing for more. 
At some point I know I’ll need
to float away and see the rest

of the land around those parts.
But before I do, I’ll hang suspended
before the cliffs
of Riddleface Mountain,

laughing one final time
at moments of silly human delight
as if I were a four year old
delighted by small 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. 

A New Color

Originally posted on 10/28/12.

How to explain a new color?
How to define it beyond calling it
a crisp, refractive purple
only visible behind my eyes?

I sit in my driveway 
thinking of two women
panhandling in the rain at the end of our street
at the start of a hurricane, 

and of how
to explain this color 
I know I have
never seen before.

I asked them 
if they had a place to go.
One smiled and the other said,
“Thank you, bless you sir.”

I’m sitting in my driveway
looking at a color
with closed eyes, 
resting my head on the steering wheel.

Looking at a color I’ve never seen,
a clear and crisp refractive purple
in the crazed, urgent, irregular form
of a paper flower or a crumbling gem.

This is the color
of a blessing or a mercy,
the color of driving back down the hill
to take them to a shelter,

the color of shame when they refuse
to get in my car,
the color of understanding
why they refuse;

the color of a subsequent prayer
for them, the color of feeling
that I have not given enough,
to them, or maybe to anyone.

Grief (Mountains)

Some days
we wake up
atop a mountain
of bones.

We settle 
upon the summit,
snow caps waiting for
the full sun of hoped-for

If the mountain
is tall enough
we may never
melt free
and pour back down
to the green lands;

in the mountains of bones
some peaks remain
frozen forever.

A day will come
when we pass and become
bones waiting
to be grieved
and covered by those
who loved us once;

for their sake and my own
I pray I shall not end up
part of a mountain
that will never thaw.

Three Cats

I think too often about three cats
who some decades ago

forced their way
into my bathroom

and came close to me there on the floor
and walked around and around me, tails

an unrelenting massage, not speaking
but nonetheless not allowing me

to finish what I’d started. Staying with me
until I put down the knife 

and got up and wiped away
sweat and snot

and tried to look
once again like a willing survivor

before I left the bathroom 
to reenter and face the kitchen

and take myself back to bed
where I woke hours later

crowded off to the edge
to find all three still with me

as they apparently still are,

Deep Fake

I saw the edge of my world 
in the face of a border-trapped child
on a screen, and shut it off at once.

Someone’s going to blame me
for doing nothing,
for turning away. I feel the same

or at least I used to
until the images
became so familiar

I could tell at once they were not current,
that the borders in question
were not my own, the child 

in the scene died in a camp
or on a reserve decades before my birth
and I needn’t care anymore as they were

beyond my sympathy. I am beyond
my sympathy now, for that matter.
I admit I’m garbage who happens to be

alive in the now
on the right side
of the barbed wire fences. What a time

to be alive, in fact: the powerful
have made it easy to deny such hungry eyes
the courtesy of simply looking back.

It’s not real, I tell myself. It’s deepfake,
photoshop, propaganda. The sound
of the rumbling gut, the stare — all 

pulled from history, remade
for today’s eyes. It’s not as if
nothing ever changes

on that side of the barbed wire.  That kid
will be alright and pain free one way
or another, one day, no matter how I see them today.


They say it
all the time
on the serial killer shows.

Say the latest bit of mayhem
shows “the unsub is
decompensating” and
“we may be moving
toward the endgame.” 

By which they don’t mean
a person of interest
is throwing up his hands
and looking at his bills
and trying to decide how to pay
or escape them.

That person’s so common
they can’t be by definition
a singular person of interest.

No one needs to have
that drama onscreen
when it’s right there
in the kitchen 
and it’s them

the brain not working, hope
down the drain, any blood involved
barely contained within
and so sky-high pressurized
a pin prick would turn into Vegas fountains… 

Vegas? Card games or dice?
Lottery tickets bailing them out?
Online sports betting to the rescue…

a whole broke-ass country
pretending to hope, 
looking for its endgame.


I eat all the words in my head
as soon as they arrive.

I surge from skinny to fat then skinny again
ten thousand times a day, ten thousand times

a minute even. I’m a pulsar, not a man:
huge for a flash, then vanishingly thin again.

If they ever stop I suppose I’ll become normal.
No more extremes. No me to be found. 

Doorframe Theology

To have been here as long as you have
and seen so much without seeing 
how little you have mattered 
in the ways you were taught you would matter

and at the same time not understand
how instead you were of the utmost importance in small ways
to the continued spinning of this Rock
where you have lived your whole life

is to prop yourself against a grand doorframe
and insist you are in fact in the room where you truly belong
as it dawns on you that you are truly in neither room
and you’ve never lived anywhere that wasn’t Limbo

Let me assure you that you look just right standing there
Let me assure you the doorframe understands your confusion

To see how bifurcated you feel 
when there is no need to stay that way
is to miss a world defined entirely
by existing under a door frame

If there’s a single God it is one with the doorframe
and not in either room on either side
You are there to be a part of that divinity 
and to be serene in seeing how all rooms are one room

If there’s no God you may do as you wish 
and move between rooms or stand between 
and if there are instead a multitude 
ask for a tour and come back to the doorframe refreshed

Let me assure you the view from there is genuine and complete
Let me reassure you that you may lean there as long as you wish

Siberian Iris

In the corner of the front yard
Siberian Iris are preparing to bloom:

flat blades, oval buds. Every year,
I imagine a ship with that image

blazoned on the sail. I am waiting for
the ship to launch — but how it will go

from solid land into deep water,
I cannot say. The iris whispers

one thing, logic insists upon 
another. It’s a mystery,

of course, how to move
from one world to the next;

how to trim the sails, 
how to set the course.