Tag Archives: poems

Dirge

Let us lay the bones of this nation in a damp hole 
and cover them with the ripest flowers we can find.

Let us sing a common song in all our languages,
a dirge for its history of black and blue skin, for its red, red blood.

Let us look at its birth certificate and last will and testament,
shaking our heads at how it might have been and what it left us.

Let us wash our hands of its illnesses and plagues.
Let us pretend that none of its wounds were self-inflicted.

Let us sit for hours by the graveside
and suffocate in the smell of bloom and rot.

Let us walk away when we think we have
somewhere better to go. 

Let us try to forget
that we knew the dead.

Let us try to forget that we knew it was dead
long before the hole had to be dug.


The Man Who Could Not Remove His Hat

A stage set
for a performance
of an obscure play
based on the life cycle
of a psychoactive fungus.

It is called 
“The Man
Who Could Not
Remove His Hat.”

We are still trying to decide
how to read the script
as it’s in a strange cipher,
and no one has a clue.

It looks a little like
an Egyptian code,
says someone from wardrobe —
which makes sense,
as they were obsessed with hats
in the days of the Ptolemies.
Cleopatra was known
for her lamb’s wool toques
decorated with the skins
of asps, hence the myth
of her demise by one;
in truth she died of hat poisoning,
died young but toasty warm.

No, you’re wrong,
said an understudy
with some mystery in their
face as if they had been
somewhere far away for a long
time and refused to think about it —

that code looks like something
I learned in high school
where we studied things like this
to prepare us for — well, for
life where we were. My uncle
in particular was skilled in such things
and he’d buy me beer when I was young
and help me with my homework,
letting me sip from his flask as well,
saying, I should keep all this
under my hat if I wanted to, well,
live where we lived back then. 
But it’s not one I’ve seen. Not one
I know. It just looks like one.

Several of us are beginning to rethink
our roles in the play. Most of us
have taken off our own hats now,

except for the lead who pulls his down farther,
tighter, over his forehead, down to the bridge
of his nose; a broken fedora in mottled yellow,
a damaged face under felted wool,
and when we step away to form a circle
around him, the lights come up 

and we are in a full house
with no idea how to act

but there are flags flying and 
secret knowledge wafting,
anthems and trumpet flourishes
as the Man Who Cannot Remove His Hat
rises above us, above us all;

hail, hail, cries the audience in the dark,
and for those trapped on stage

nothing stays real
for more than a second
at a time. 


Coco

Eyes on
every move 
of the never moving white van
parked before
the white apartments

until something else
rouses her interest

The big
tuxedo cat
comes out from behind
the building and
approaches our yard

Coco tenses
Wave of black fur rippling
across her shoulders
although she knows
she isn’t going out there

Something defensive
and deep angry in the way
she jumps down from the sill
to huff away to the kitchen
to eat


Not With Gold

Originally posted 4/10/2013. Revised.

Some have, some have not.
Those who have, keep;

those who do not have
do not see that they likely never will.

Occasionally someone who doesn’t have
will be allowed a taste

on behalf of a lottery number, great throwing arm,
or stupendous singing voice.

They let you think
you can get some too — 

hard work, they say, hard work
will do it and anyone can rise.

Those allowed to rise do,
and those allowed to rise

learn that to keep 
the little they’re allowed

to keep, they must keep
their mouths shut.

Your job leaves you
jealous and striving;

your leisure’s a stunted ration
of your small time here;

when you come home
to cradle that son or daughter,

you whisper to them
that it will be 
better for them —

but it likely will not be.
All that gold

will blind them as swiftly
as it blinded you.

Everyone thinks they’ll be rich someday.
Everyone thinks it’ll be better someday.

Meanwhile the oil runs out,
the seas lift from their beds,

the bridges fall sooner rather than later.
A whirlwind spins a noose over our necks.

Some of you still think love
will make it better.

You will be fooled again and again
into believing that love will win,

but love cannot win
in the long sunset of this age.

We have exhausted ourselves.
Love is nothing more than a gesture now.

You’ll still sit back and say it was better once.
You’ll imagine a time when love was enough.

But love has never been enough
to conquer this.

What’s always been needed
is a terrifying justice

and Gaia is preparing
a terrifying justice:

one swipe of her hand,
and we are gnats full of blood

who cannot rouse themselves
to fly.

You want a golden age?
Get rid of the gold

ahead of that sweeping hand.
Learn to fly for your life.

Land in something new.
It will not be called America.

If when you land you want to try love,
then by all means try it,

but do not expect it
to grow in this soil

so full of gold,
blood, and lies — 

not without
a cleansing fire.


Movies

In this movie
you play a decrepit man
driving a rancid silver car
through the thick old towns
on the spine of Cape Cod,
your neck cranking side to side
as you exclaim over all
the colonial homes
you will never be able to enter, 
let alone own. 

In the sequel,
you are
an arsonist.


Autobiography Of A Bad Dreamer

I was always told
to follow my dreams
I am lucky I did not 
for if I had 

I’d be walking around
carrying an unconscious seagull
into parties I’d not been invited to

A seagull who always
revives as I come through the door
into a room of beautiful people

and raises her head
to look me in the eye
(her head that is now

the head of a woman
with features from a classical 
statue of Greek or Roman origin)

She says something
recognizably human
in a language I don’t know

but loud and clear as a 
buoy’s bell as if she was
in my bedroom in the dark

and as the lovely party people
(none of them as lovely as the bird)
turn to drive me out the way I came

I wake and stare at the far corner
hoping and fearing the bird woman
will be there — but to this day

she has not been 
I then spend a few minutes 
trying to translate for myself

what words she gave me
before falling back to sleep
to seek her

but I never find her
until the next time she awakens
in my arms

and who could live
like this on the day to day
without falling to ruin

upon some bouldered shore
while stretching his hands toward gulls
who will not be caught


Binge Watch

I’m sorry
it didn’t work out,

says a character 
in the television

through the mouth of 
a dead actor. 

If the character remained
in the television after

it was powered down,
it’s undetectable. The actor’s

remains are probably
real enough to find

if one were
to seek them out,

but those words
resonate long after

the driving breath
has dissipated.

I’m sorry
it didn’t work out.

Nights
marathoning shows

with dead actors speaking
live words. Days 

spent restless
before the TV 

with no idea what to do 
besides that, other than to dread

the moment the shows
ended and the TV shut down.

Lost character,
dead actor;

the fiction
is over.

 


Countdown

Ten more or
fifteen more
hours, days,
weeks, months,
or years: someone
offer me
one more hand
to give me
an outside chance
that I will need
more fingers
than my own
for the countdown.

Luckily for all of us
looking for hope, 

it’s nearly spring. Daffodils
poking up. Downy
woodpeckers are
constant and frenetic
upon the feeders —
have been all winter,
really, but it’s nice
to see them taking
turns upon the suet:
gorging for tomorrow
but so solidly in the moment
that ten or fifteen more
of whatever units one uses
to break down time
matter not at all to them;
there’s only now.

I will try to emulate
their joyful presence
though I’m compelled
to count down:

fifteen more,
ten more,
five more;

bathing in sighs,
buried in breakdowns;

two more,
one more,
now; the whole time

praying more
for the birds
than for myself.


Another

Sowing joy
for another.
That’s the life.

Who was I
to think I should matter
more than another?

Bag of fragrant seeds,
soil, sun and rain —
planting for another.

I’m nothing but someone 
else’s another — is it 
the person I am working for?

Does it matter
if it is not, as long as
another lives because of me?

We carry water
for one another. Stop
to sip from offered cups.

The fields we work
for one another
stretch to the far line

bordering sky and earth.
We can never know another
field than this one. 

So: out across the waiting rows
we go, laden with possibilities
meant for another.

We are more than vessels, though.
In the Other we see who we are,
who we can be if we turn to one another.

See how far we’ve come 
together even if we never meet?
We are one another; that’s our only hope

against famine and drought.
Sowing for one another,
we become joy like no other.


A Pair Of Boots

misplaced
confidence
in the process
will lead you
to camps

undue
trust in your
leaders
will bring you
to blindness

minimized
disruptions
of the underlings
will obscure for you
how your comfort is warfare

trivialized
aggression
toward those oppressed
will lead you to
a pair of boots

buttery boots
broken in
as if they were
made for you

you will put them on
you will step out in them
you may draw some stares but 
you will explain them away 

as all you have to wear
just a pair of boots
like many others
like all the others


Fault Lines

Fault lines
and other wrinkles
more or less 
shaking me 
more or less daily
until I can’t see
the mirror reflecting me

What’s there
is more like refractions 
or fractures 

I’m trying not to speak ill
of my face in the mirror but
some of those cracks are so deep
I can see other people in there

I don’t like them


Last Apology

So much to apologize for
and soon enough,
no one left to accept the apology. 

No one to care
about good intentions
or consciousness of impact. 

A shrinking crowd
in the graveyard waiting
for this funeral to end

so they can go home
and wait for the next one,
whispering “sorry” the whole time

until they are silenced
and buried. When the last one
is ready, they’ll say it a final time;

after, the word will no longer exist
and the long stubborn dialogue
between us and our damage

will be over at last. It will be
a relief; it may serve 
as acceptable penance.


Buzzcut

“I got debts no honest man could pay”   — Johnny 99, Bruce Springsteen

Months since my
last haircut

Money’s so short 
that a few dollars means so much
I stay shaggy to save what I can

but how I long for a buzzcut again

so I won’t have to fret
over care and time
when I’m on the hunt
for scraps

Also if I could have no hair at 60
at last I wouldn’t have to listen
to my mother at 92
praising my curls as she
has never praised
anything else about me
not a word I’ve written
not a thing I’ve done
or my father at 87 
asking me
back when I wore it long
why I did not braid it
as he used to do his own

How I looked
occupied so much of their time
for so much of their time
a competition to see how close I could get
to who they wanted me
to seem
to be

A friend of mine once shaved
twenty years’ growth of locks
I asked him why and he said
all that time and weight 
locked up energy
he needed for other things 

Man I wish a buzzcut
could lift my load
from the top of my head

Put a dollar in my wallet
against these debts
no honest man could pay

If I’m to be an honest man
I think I was born
to pay my parents’ debts

I know I could lie a bit
and get free of all this

Let the wind flow
over my scalp
on my way out of this town
to anywhere else

But where would I go
where their debts wouldn’t follow
Not Italy
Not New Mexico
Neither Rome nor Mescalero
Not Providence

Not NYC

Run your fingers through my hair
All you’ll feel
is what’s underneath

A memory
of the rare times
I gave loss
nothing to work with


Bread And Circuses

my bread
and my circus
are better than
your bread
and your circus
are better than
foreign loaves and
alien balancing acts

better than 
beignets and 
jugglers
better than
croissants and
tiger tamers

I’m mesmerized
by my nacho chips
and quarterbacks
while you stare
at clearly inferior
donuts and
metal bands

to hell with all the bread
and all the circuses
in the world that aren’t 
mine —

despite how similar
the bakers
and the ringmasters
appear


Good Morning America

Here’s a lifestyle report
about grocery stores
that serve liquor to shoppers.

It’s so civilized, smiles the reporter.

Here’s a spokesperson 
for one of the stores in question
who recounts the story of a customer
who bought a crown roast of lamb
and then had to find room in her freezer
because she bought it
with no idea of what to do with it
and didn’t want to throw it out.

Here is everyone
smiling and nodding.

Somewhere
in a very stuffed freezer
sits everything
you need to understand
where we are now.