Tag Archives: poems

Awash

When we
get to the end
we likely won’t even notice.

We have been waiting
for so long we have forgotten
that tides often come in

slowly. If you do not
pay attention you will
find yourself far from shore

on a rock awash in danger
and it will be done
before you recognize it.

This swamp
will become lagoon and then
open ocean so gently

that we will see it
only when we are
almost drowned. 

We expect a tsunami 
but it will be erosion
that drags us fatally down.

In the end we will not only
not see it coming, we will not admit
we are in fact gone.

In fact,
let us say it:
we are in fact gone. Notice

how hard it has become
to breathe. Notice how cold
and dense the world has become.


I Voted

America
wakes me up
in the middle of the night
and wants a drink of water
in its favorite sippy cup
with the “I Voted” logo
on the side.
America
throws a tantrum
when I say it’s really dirty
and there’s fresher water
in this glass, and don’t you
want to be a big kid,
all grown up, and then
you can sleep better?
America
keeps screaming,
“I Voted! I Voted!”
so I wash the grime off the cup
and hand over the cup
and America drinks from the cup
and then I take back the cup
and sneak a sip myself from the cup
while America tucks itself back in
and falls asleep.
I stay up
a long time after
with such odd taste in my mouth,
my eyes soaked
with shame at my lack of faith
and my honest terror
of what I’ve consumed.
I go look at America sleeping,
realize again
that we can’t possibly
be family.


Not My Fault

I found a burned dog leg in our hearth.
How it got there, you and I both know;
I am sick with that fact. In fact

I’m sick with you and your whole
thirst for blood games. It does not
mean a thing that we did not know

that dog. It does not mean a thing
that I did not help you with your 
need and how you met it. All I know

is that here I am with a bit of bone
and hair fused to it and last night
this was in my arms with a squirm

and a tongue and you did not even cry
as I did when you took it from me
and took my knife and went out

to the yard to the flames. I stayed here
and sobbed. I had no part in this.
I am sick with your part in it. I am

sick that it may not be the last time
I will cry as you use my knife
on one more stray as if it were

your own. Now take this bone from me:
I have to go put the edge back on my blade,
the edge you took from me last night.


A Bitter History

A bitter history
floats stinging in my mouth,
the back of my throat tightening.

When I can finally choke down the truth
of how long and hard I have worked
to get nowhere

it sits in my core burning 
and freezing: heavy 
mistakes of ice and molten lead.

You would think I’d be used to
starting again, just cycle back to my first
bite of the apple and do the next round

differently, but I end up
here, full up with pain,
swollen in regret every time.

In my ears a different pain
demands repair
in an old song:

grow up, move on,
old man, 
old mess. Nothing 
about you is more than

temporary. A generation
of broken boys just like you
mourns itself 

while the rest of us
stand waiting for you 
to be lifted
from the earth, lifted 
off of us.


Desires

Originally written 1999.

I want to climb to you
as if you were living in a tree house
and from there look out at the world
from your level

Even though I’m afraid of heights
and would be paralyzed
and clinging like a rug to the floor up there
I would give up safety
to try and see things your way

Pinned down like that
I might have enough time
to learn you

If I could stick a pin into myself
and use it to hold my form intact until the final stitch
or set one pin in place to hold my bones tight
or use one to make holes in my skin
to receive ink for primal tattoos
that would last crudely forever and speak of things
that I will later wish were clearer and sharper
If I could feel the sharpness
of all the pins that could hold me in one place
and through these pains begin to feel things your way

I would

I would fall off a ladder
by slipping on a banana peel

I would open the door
on a cartoon cliff and stand abashed
for just a second
in a canyon of white space
like a temporary Coyote
watching your Roadrunner dust

I would even do impressions of myself
until last call at an empty comedy club —
stop me if you’ve heard this one before

What I want is for you to become a season
(I vote for late spring
so I can anticipate a full summer’s heat whenever you approach)

What I want is to open my eyes in the morning
and immediately adore what I see

(when what I see is you)

What I want is to see your own desire come toward me
and split open a fresh box of white candles
then set them all to burning

What I want has a name
(your name 
the only name)

Sometimes when I hear your name
I feel like I’m passing a church on Christmas Eve
and I want to be there
walking with a censer
among the faithful

chanting your name
the only name
your name


Those Names

Hearing names,

every one of them
formerly worn by someone 
dead, someone
killed by another, or someone
who perished from
indirect action or inaction.

Hearing names

that don’t sound like yours
until one day they do and you spiral
into the center of a heap
of blood scraps. 

Forgetting you’ve heard those names

until later; sitting in front of the news
feeling nothing because
those names don’t sound like yours
until they do again

and then you turn
it off, because you don’t
want to know, because 

if you don’t know it didn’t happen.

In your sleep you are not hearing
names. In your sexing, feeding, walking,
working, voting, dancing,
you are not hearing those names.

Your life
is built on not hearing those names
even if they rhyme with yours.


Overthinking It Or Not

I read a comment 
from someone on 
an Internet post:

all you mixed-breeds are 
crazy. You shouldn’t
exist. You are mistakes.

Truth be told?
I’m crazy, and I
qualify,

yet I look so much like them
I’m sick each time
I pass the mirror.

If I’m
that much of
a genetic mess

why do I appear
so average
in the mirror? 

All the parts 
in the right place.
All the expressions

nameable. All the air
coming from my mouth
translatable. 

Those who want
me undone, who feel 
heritage should be

death sentence,
who chew trophy bones
all night and day,

see my face
in the street 
and somehow

pass me by.
I should be grateful
but then I think of those

who by accident of 
birth don’t 
pass killers’ muster

and I want to 
scream my self
into becoming 

a target. I want them
rocked back on their
heels. I want them 

to kill me and then
go home and stare
into mirrors, wondering

at the stories
they were told about
who they really are.


Anti-matter

They will blow me up
because to them, I don’t matter.

They will cut me up and down,
and to them it won’t matter.

They — who are they?
If I name them, will it matter?

Abbreviations, nicknames, designations —
none of that will matter.

This is old, bedrock-old, and so cold;
glacial ice at the heart of this matter.

They showed up here as ground-down losers.
Where they’re from, they didn’t matter.

One by one, those lost boys and girls
grew up to think they are all of matter.

The rest of us — the rest of me — insubstantial
to them; that’s the core of this matter.

To them I am a crude ghost from past conquest.
To them, I am anti-matter.

To me, I am solid and they are smoke.
To me, to us? None of them matter.

Their world will burn as ours once did.
Nothing left but the hardest matter.

I have proved, we have proved how hard we are.
In the end, what will last is all that will matter.


Spinning

In bed with the universal
I try to sleep, but it wheels
around my head

as it wheels around everyone’s head.
As if I am the pin in the center of
a garden pinwheel.  
As if each of us is a pin,
each of us believing
we are at the center.

As if. Look at it spinning.
How could it be
that we each are the center?
Surrender that. You and I will never know
that answer. We see it spin the ceiling,
the floors, the ocean of sleep
waiting for us, and we worry
that if we slip free 
it all falls apart. As if.
Look at it spinning around 
so many centers. Impossible physics,
maddening science. Either that is wrong

or we are. As if the universal
could be wrong.

As if. As if there is anywhere
to which we could fall
where the spinning would stop.


Bouquet

Originally written 2007.

1.

The brain
knows many things.
Some of them you know,
some you do not.

2.

If the brain
was a flower,
you would be
its scent.

3.

Perhaps the brain
is
flower, starving
for light, lunging out
through the eyes
for sustenance.

4.

If you plucked
your brain out
and held it to the light,
would you find a mind?

5.

The mind lives
in the brain and
hides in its petals.
The mind is the dark
among the riots of color.

6.

You sleep
and the brain corrals
the mind. They talk all night,
pretending they are
you. In the morning
you are nearly mad
from the echoes of their
conversation.

7.

Put your hands
around your mind
and know it’s not
part of the scheme
that you should understand
everything: there are things
shoring up the partners
that would terrify you
if you knew them.

8.

The brain blooms
long after you close your eyes.
The mind rises from its nooks and folds
to escape, moving past you,
playing in the meadows.

9.

The mind drifts back
in the hot late afternoon. Your head grows heavy
with pollen. You open your mouth
and bees fly in
to take their fill while the mind
avoids being stung
by the danger in the commerce.

10.

When you sleep
the mind and brain bear ideas.
You pretend they are your own fruit.
The brain laughs at you. The mind
strokes you softly, saying,
“There, there…”

11.

You are the scent.
Something plucks your brain
and you die slowly. Maybe
another brain and another mind
recall you for a while, but
you’ll certainly fade.

12.

Anything
fed long enough
on vision, scent, touch,
sound, taste will double back
on its own surety. The brain
makes you sleepy. The mind
makes you frightened. You
make yourself believe
there are reasons for everything.

13.

A night blooming flower
holds its beauty
until first light, collapsing
at the first touch of your hand,
staining your memory
with a scent you can never name.


In America

Originally written late 1996, early 1997.

In America there are drive through liquor stores
and cream corn wrestling pit strip joints
I am a child of the modern vacuum
and I am eager to be American
so I listen to television news
describing huge American pistol
throwing lead into a 14 year old

his ten year old companion screaming –

we didn’t know anyone lived here
we were getting wood for a fort

his ten year old companion screaming –

I don’t want to die

into 911

The dispatcher telling him –

Sweetie, you won’t

and him replying –

I might

and the whole time
the 76 year old killer saying

I gotta right they were stealing
they were on my property

In America there are Elvis churches
and spy shops full of surreptitious cigarettes
I am hearing our property come to life
I am hearing the country die

They say

that the Electric chair in America doesn’t work too well
They say the mask blew up into flame and
solid citizens got to see the head of Pedro Medina burn
I bet someone somewhere said it served him right
and someone else started a drive to switch from Old Sparky to
more humane and less confrontational lethal injection
so much easier on the witnesses
in America

In America there are head shops
peddling pseudo-Rastafarian hokum
and flea markets of Congressional loyalty
and it’s better to have the innocent die
or better that we become beasts to the beastly
than to let ourselves be fooled
by the modern ghosts of evil

(you can see evil in their eyes
but I’m confused: is it supposed to be all grey in there?
or should it look like Miami Beach
full of fun and pastel?
or does it look like the Everglades
full of gators and rare birds?
or does it look like me looking out?)

In America there are bridges
that flake until they fall
and rhyming monsters beneath them
waiting to invade the nurseries

I am a child of the modern vacuum
eager to become American

Ponce de Leon came ashore in Florida
hundreds of years ago
looking for
a Fountain of Youth
but what he really wanted was

Hooters
manatee blood
bison hide
passenger pigeon extinction
bales of weed wasted on the shore
drunken gropings resolving into violence
rootless numbers adrift on crazed ozone wind
immigrant massacres in the dark

flames leaping from the head of Pedro Medina
old man gunfiring into childhood forts
cream corn wrestling pit strip joints
drive through liquor stores
and a horizon as flat as a mouth

The center was empty
when Ponce got there

the Fountain of Youth was a booby prize

and today the center is still empty
but the vacuum is filling rapidly
with mystery boxes
full of cheap ripoffs of

Voudoun
Santeria
Wicca
Krishna Consciousness
Holy Rolling
Lutheran
Catholic
Buddhism

all swarming in ecumenical floods
around our true faith

Evangelical Consumerism

all molded by Television
into a spectacle of death
through satiation

I am a child of the vacuum
I am an eager American
In the absence of anything solid
I will believe whatever you tell me


Cobbler

Originally posted 2001.  Revised.

words do not come independently
to me
looking for equations to solve
or causes to exalt

instead words
work for me
like ants
in service

to something underground and distant
whose existence
is inferred
from the way the words

draw attention away from themselves
and in tandem
draw attention
toward a common end

so that
only upon reflection upon the many
do first the pattern and then the path
become clear

my trade:
make
language
over

so that to speak is
to stitch words together
and shoe meaning
with them

so that meaning and I
may walk in steady pace
across
rough ground

so when I get to where
I am bound
I can set language
aside

and set meaning free
to dip itself in cool spring water
wriggle in the grass
and be itself

this is the nature
of the way I work with words
it is not the job of a poet
it is cobbler’s work

I’ve been apprenticed to a hard master
seated at the bench each day
I must be simple before the need
and sing as I work

at each day’s end I can feel the welts raised
on my callused hands
from building these verses
I make my bed at night

knowing I have come far
knowing that
tomorrow
I will rise and set to work again

to make
language
over is
to work

as if meaning
is enough
as if work
is enough


Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday to you
who I will not see today,
or tomorrow. Happy Birthday
to those whose birthdays will come
tomorrow, or the day after, 
who I will not see on those days.
Happy Birthday to all whose birthdays
came and went and I did not
see, have not seen since, will not see
again soon. Happy Birthday is how
I say to you that I am sorry and yet
I still feel joy in knowing that you
made your circuit and are here still.

Happy Birthday to those
I should have known but did not,
whose birthdays passed unnoticed
by me as there was no tie between us
except for the Unknown that ties us all,
that we are born and pass
and never touch one another, or 
may have touched without knowing
and it is much the same as if we lived
in different eras, on different lands.
Happy Birthday is how I say to you
that there is something in the world —
a pulse, a beat humming under all
that contains you, that I feel, that is
joy I am not familiar with but love anyway.

Happy Birthday to those
whose birthdays I will miss because
I will not be here to see them. Happy Birthday 
to those unborn, waiting in the wings for me
to pass, or to come into a better world
than this one I am part of. Happy Birthday
to those of you I will not see again 
due to the vagaries of life and distance
and death. Happy Birthday to those
I will fail with bitterness and anger,
who will slip from or flee me, who will be
set aside or dismissed.  Happy Birthday
is how I say to them that I know
I failed you. You did not fail me.
Happy Birthday 
is how I say
that I hope you are well

and that the world keeps you, holds you
as it spins. How I say that you are missed
and that wherever I end, it will be incomplete
and emptier for not having seen you.


Dagger Of Light

I did not ask for this fight.
I did not ask to be born to this war.

Would rather have been born 
on a far mountain, living life

with my loved ones in quiet
and peace from my start to my finish.

But it seems that I am a dagger of light.
It seems that I am a dagger of light.

The night we saw the darkness start
was the night I felt my edge.

Saw that thin line of glow and knew
it was more than fire and steel.

The night the darkness closed upon us
was the night I first raised my self and said:

it seems I am a dagger of light,
I have become a dagger of light.

I did not ask for the war, the fight, the fear.
I did not ask to be born now, born here.

You find yourself
in the places you did not ask to be

and here I am shining, scarlet ivory,
one small blinding blade among many

who may live or may die, who are terrified
but cannot turn away — 

we burning, we trembling, we daggers of light;
we doomed but splendid, we daggers of light.


Phone Bank

Random atoms
brought me here this morning
last night tumbled me into a phone call
with someone I never met
who was sobbing on the other end
and thanking me for making a phone call
about something that made them think 
and feel their way past where they were at
into a space for holding others up
and there I was with random atoms
on my cheeks 
humbled for I felt I’d done so little
yet somehow it was a huge thing
and I hung up and took a breath
then made another phone call
random atoms aligning 
pulsing out
a maybe
a yes
a no
a no one’s home
I keep at it
thinking maybe 
we’re going to be OK