Tag Archives: poems

Minou Minou

Fifty thousand cats
owned by twenty thousand grandmothers
in my hometown and
every last one of those cats
was named Minou

That should tell you 
everything you need to know
about my hometown
but if that’s not enough
you need to know

that naming a cat Minou is in French
the same as in English naming it Kitty
We all knew at once what to call 
any random cat we ran across
so every Minou belonged to all of us

Fifty thousand cats we shared
with the twenty thousand grandmothers
who shared us among themselves
All those eyes in windows felt at times
like care and at others like fear

In the evenings when the streetlights went on
twenty thousand voices calling “Minou Minou”
as well as “get yourselves home it’s dark”
and who were they calling out to 
but cats and kids eager to play in the night

We knew the kindly nature of those
who watched us as we tried to live and grow
all the replaceable cats and kids
with the interchangeable names 
long lines of us stretching back to Quebec

from where the ancestors came 
with armloads of cats
all named Minou
and kids with names
that varied little until only recently 

If they still call the cats Minou 
back in my hometown where I do not go
because of how hard it was
to play in the dark when I was young
then I have no need to go back

In my new dark home I take comfort
in my own cats who are not named Minou
far from twenty thousand pairs of eyes
working to make sure I’d end up exactly like 
all who’d come before me

It would have killed me
to end up there listening every night
to voices calling Minou Minou
taking little notice
of which cats showed up


Hard Birds

Think of how hard the birds are
that survive seasons
we shudder to consider.

Every sparrow on the feeder
is a better animal than I
who cannot live long without shelter

out there whether torrent
or blizzard or a scorcher
like today. We think them gentle

and fragile, but today I saw one
peck the head of a squirrel who was
robbing him of suet until 

the gray pirate ran
and did not return. Humans,
think of how we condescend

to animals who neither live
as long nor build as high
as we do, yet there they are

and there they have been and 
when we say there will be none

if we do not change our ways,
I think we lie to ourselves
about our power to kill the earth.

If what is here now dies or drowns,
something will return from death
and retake these niches for their own.

It won’t likely be us,
and that’s why we cry:
not for the tough little birds,

but for our own looming departure
that we call “the end,”
centering mass extinction

on ourselves when after we’re gone,
whatever looks like a sparrow then
will say, in relieved bird voice: Finally.


Swelling On The Vine

Outside, heat
and humidity promise
certain rain, likely thunder.

You left the first cucumber
and the first summer squashes
on the vine for a good last soaking

before picking them 
tomorrow. Crossed fingers
that downpours leave them intact,

that they will get
one more day
swelling on the vine.

First thunder, now; rain’s
not far behind, likely within 
the next half-hour.

It’s comfortable, cool
indoors. You could go out
and pick them now,

stay dry, savor
your fruits of labor; 
then the rain starts.

It’s hope,
you tell yourself,
hope and not laziness,

hope and not some fear
or some demon 
of procrastination that keeps you

from the harvest. One more day
till perfection. It’s not quite time.
They aren’t quite ready. 

You turn on news that’s filled
with tales of a monstrous thing
on the vine, ripening; 

quickly you turn it off
and close your eyes.
You aren’t quite ready 

for that harvest, either;
you try to convince yourself
it’s not quite time.

It’s a contest, always,
between perfection and
rot. You as always bet on the hope

of perfection as lightning
and heavy, heavy rain 
mass around you, images

of bounty sure to come
crowding out the death
riding on the rising wind.


Jumble

Someone says to me
that if I don’t dig it here then
I should go back to where
I came from. 

You are asking me to choose
what stays and what goes.
Which half of myself
should I send back,
and to where?

Divest myself of legs and cock
and balls and ass
and say unto them

go, run back
to Napoli?

Keep the top half
here, call it my Indigenous 
game piece, make moves
as best I can?

Do I have it
backwards and it ought to be
feet don’t leave here now
while the chest and arms and head
are boxed up and sent to Italy? 

I should perhaps split down the middle?

Or carve myself to pieces and
distribute this to there, that 
to here? Say, this finger is
New Mexico, pass it over
Sierra Blanca before
letting it fall to rest
on the rez where I’ve never lived? 
Send this elbow overseas 
to Caserta, to Marciano Arpio
where I’ve never lived?

What cells should go where
if I am to go back to
where I came from?
None of me is directly from right here
so I already feel dislocated
on my own land, after all.
Perhaps I should consider
the land of my birth,
New Jersey? Land of my 
conception, Germany?

All you care about is that I’m gone,
you sneering so certainly
with your comfortable masses behind you.
You never trusted
a half-breed anyway, right?
According to you I’m a mistake.
According to you I’m an anomaly,
an aberration, a never shoulda been.
I’ve only lasted this long
because I look like you — 

and right now, considering 
the white stench suffocating all,
I wish I could discard 
my Whiteness
as I’m not sure, ever, 
that it’s not me
who stinks —
no matter how true, 
it frightens me to say it out loud.

Absurd.

I’m from here, though
I am a jumble.

I will pull the pieces together and say
and do and love and try for
wholeness, not half this,
not half that, try to belong
to myself and be true to myself
and everyone before me
and behind me
and far ahead.

You don’t like it?

You. Go.


Wisteria

Originally posted, 2010; revised, 2014; revised again 2019.

i called her wisteria.
wisteria,
in its short bloom.

thought of her as warm days
and cold nights 
in mud season
when grass blades 

start their rise from the soil.

she was remarkable.

she left me, i was lost,
though it was a night

and a day and a night again
before i could cry

for her, a long numb sweep
of hours in succession.

i wept in the privacy of the bedroom
that was newly empty.

i emptied myself.

i cried more as the walls inside me melted
and i sweated them out.
i was paper thin afterward.

light passed through me
and from within i was lit.

this is grief, i said, and it is a cold wind. 
this is unseasonable weather.  
the flowers on the early vines shriveling.  
this is her doing, i told myself.  

i said, i have been illuminated by her.
because of her, i shine.  

she was much more than my purpose.
so much more than i had ever thought to say of her,
sun of a distant unglimpsed sky over a world i hadn’t explored.

not only wisteria, 
but forsythia; violets;
thistles, oaks, redwoods, fig vines.

she was the very bones of spring and beyond.
cut her down with my small interpretation.

she was a sun i will not see again.

here in a twilight of weeping 
i indulge the urge
to endlessly recreate the moment 
when i lost my chance
to stop and listen to her
and let her expand within me 
as i should have. 

what a fool. 

the moment of loss is deep weather, 
a season of interruption
when the simplest answers go unnoticed.  

i should have been motionless
and perhaps
i could have held her here,

or perhaps not. perhaps

it was because i thought of her as
wisteria, delicate and frail,
that when she heard me
she was gone.

i still shine with her still within me
but try as i might
i still light nothing beyond me.


Friday Night Guitar Poem

On a Friday night
I have a date with 
my guitar
a bundle of weed
and all my insecurity

because in the afternoon
I was bound by frail family
to their service
and in the morning I felt
every twinge of my chronic diseases

I need to get back to the doctor
but I can’t make myself go
because of what they might tell me
and I can’t let my family go
because of what they might call me

while we’re at it
I am only surreptitiously fighting the beasts
who are owning the world right now

I ought to buy a gun
to kill a fascist 

but I know
my hands make me a terrible shot
unless the gun is pressed 
against my head

I do the research 
compile names
addresses and hatreds
but who is going to care
among my gentle friends 
who are sure that love will conquer all
once they are bulldozed 
into the poisoned earth
I need to seize the guitar
the way I used to hold my pen
before I stopped writing poems
in favor of playing guitars
with these broken hands
full of dead nerves that hate me
as I have grown to hate so much

all I want is one good touch
all I want to love is one good person

but instead I fear the voice inside saying
fuck black brown white
center left and right
America
and the rest of the world
(the dolphins too)
and all the love the great unknown holds tight
instead of letting it flow

I want to hold my guitar
and play it loud
drown out the butchers
claiming my dying ears
for their own

singing me hemorrhage songs
drawing me into their arms

I’m tired of you if you think this is
remotely a good poem
remotely a prayer
can’t see this is a wound opening with a hiss
once cherished blood
(yours and mine) flowing out
on a Friday night

you ought to
thank God for this guitar
in my hands
which is not at all a gun


Assuming Forever

By assuming “forever”
is our future,
we lose our past
in its mist.

We step into 
fog and forget
what clarity
we had,

what we stepped 
away from to find
this. We assume
forever,

then are swallowed
by coming dark.
All the signs
of ending might be

right behind us,
might have been
in plain sight, might even
have been discussed

incessantly 
and we’d still
never see their like
in forever’s fog,

the haze that covers
our imminent end.
Whenever we claim
forever for a future

we assure that there will be
no such thing. It’s
too good a myth
for us to deny.


That Scent

Scent: 
grand trigger,
concealed weapon, 
unexpected clue.

Standing on
a corner, watching
pale people 
walk by:
some solo and
others in pairs
crushing tight
under umbrellas
in light rain.

I smell them
going by. I
smell their fear,

can almost understand
if not sympathize — 

yet thereafter
step out

unprotected:
less than concerned
with my own imminent
drenching

as I’m too familiar
with that
to fear it;
no concern for 
whatever future bullet
that smell might foretell;

those pale folks
don’t have a clue
what a deluge
feels like, 

while I’ve lived under one
my whole life.


The Old Man Speaks Of War

I’ve seen a war approach before
and know how it made me feel;
I crackled with murky energy,
learned how to burn
and how to dodge burning.

I have gone to war before
and adored how it made me move;
I ran forward, stopped short,
cleaned and leaned upon my weapon, 
swallowed my fear,
freed the Evil in my hands.

I’ve come home from war before
and sat for hours staring into clouds,
drinks, eyes, mirrors, carved stones
and Tarot cards. It never felt like home
again, no matter what fortune told.

And now, here comes a war again;
I have no body to offer it; my hands can’t hold,
my feet won’t charge; 
my heart’s all for it
but my skin holds me back; 
if I had a child,

I’d offer it up to war:
I’d weep and wail but also,
I’d see that kid as my arm, my hand
stretched out to touch the old energy: 
cross my heart and hope to never die.


As Happy As A Dead Person

As happy as
a dead person

(specifically, that one
emerging from

the pile of leaves
in the corner lot).

That one whose face
has just been exposed

by this teensy tiny wind
that popped up just after dawn. 

The neighbors on either side
must either have known it was there

or have been improbably oblivious,
as that huge smile

took a while
to come to the surface

from the look of
the rest of the face,

all white and naked
bone. Setting speculation

on why it’s here
and how it went unseen

this long aside, 
can’t help thinking that

as happy
as it looks now to me

as it smiles and peers
black-holed out

of the oak and maple
clutter in the lot (which is

now I see also full
of trash bags and other

hopefully neutral humps
in the underbrush),

as happy as it appears
to me taking 

my plodding wobble 
of a morning walk

past here as I do
every morning,

that’s a level of happy
I could aspire to,

and after all these months
of unsteady and hurt,

I finally don’t care how
I might get there.


Those Proud Boys

As terrified of glitter
as if it were poison,
those boys dance around
with sticks in their fists,

claiming they are impervious
to fear. Claiming birthrights
and heritages they’ve made up,
devoid of sweetness and flash,

these boys prepare a sham parade
for their false history of a future country
whose only social rituals
will be shouting matches and funerals.

Terrified of glitter and resentful
of rainbows, this clump of boys — 
this clot of twisted ball sweat, this lump
of damage and lost anger — 

steps up smartly to their idiot march.
If there’s a God, God will surely toss
a handful of shine behind them to clean up
the stink they leave behind.


Tiny Spiders Of Cultural Appropriation

You know the old saying
about never being more
than a few feet away

from a spider,
no matter where 
you are — 

sources say
it’s not true, bit
of an urban legend,

but people love it
and repeat it
to illustrate some deep fear

of how close danger
or simple unpleasantness always may be,
of how close nature is,

how we’re not-as-dominant 
as we’d like to presume we are
even in the splendor

of our well-built homes
and the perfect turf
of their invasive lawns

and planned non-native gardens,
our imported birds,
our disruptive states of easy being;

strange how no one speaks this way
of the demonstrable swarm
of tiny spiders known as cultural appropriation,

the savage venom brewed
of captured spirit
and web-caught dreams;

how we are never more
than three feet away
from something stolen

that is often underfoot, that other times
is floating by in music and air;
we don’t shudder thinking about what’s inside us,

what has made a home within;
most only dimly aware
of how the tiny spiders hold sway,

crawling upon us daily, 
minutely, second to second;
why we don’t run screaming into deep water

to cleanse ourselves
of all this is a mystery;
it is as if a screen has fallen

before our eyes, websilk
woven thick and strong 
that shields us

from seeing the tiny spiders
of cultural theft we are never more 
than skin-thick away from,

tiny spiders like ghosts
of a past we took, visions
of futures that never will be.


This Mood Of Mine

This mood of mine, 
serotonin desert,
endorphin drought — oh,
science be damned:
to put it plain, I’m killing me
and I don’t know why.

It’s been so long
since a manic storm
took its toll upon me
that I almost miss it.
Almost. Folks assume
those highs are a pleasure;

let me tell you: no,
no and no again. The crest
of that wave rises too high
and the adrenaline lift
only makes you too loose
to handle the damage

when you plunge
to the trough 
that waits below.
Right now, though, 
I’d welcome the ride
as a change of pace,

for mood of mine, bipolar’s
trench, shallow grave
that deepens
as I lie in it,
I swear I will fight you
as long as I can.

This too shall pass, some say.
This too shall fade away
and I will remain, 
but none who speak of this can say 
what will be left:
a man alive or a mummy,

a nest of bones weathered
to leather scraps and white junk
or a croaking mess begging
for anything wet at all
to drown in. To put it plain
I am
 killing me

and although
it might save me
to do so,
to trickle forth a little pain
for public view,
I can’t even cry.


They Think Themselves Divine

applauding themselves,
pretending that sound 
is the call of the hands of God,

pretending so hard and so well
they begin to think
themselves divine,

forgetting they are as human
as the executed and imprisoned
whose pain they claim to sanctify,

turning down the sound
of their own frightened breathing
and covering their eyes as Death begins

taking all those they’ve demonized, as Fear
begins dragging all those they’ve targeted
and stigmatized into the Dark,

not recognizing that Darkness 
is their own long shadow,
not seeing how it hangs behind them,

following them with every step,
swallowing all their perceived divinity whole
before choking on it and spitting it out.


Requirements

Revised.  Originally posted March, 2018.

Start picturing
a starving eagle in tears,
exhausted to the point that
it cannot feed
after all those years
of having to hang there:

wings up,
talons full.

Start wondering
what’s under 
your Uncle Sam’s 
hat and why he
looks so pissed 
as he points at you:
you thought you
were tight. After all
you’re family, or
so you were told.

Start thinking about dollar bills
in your pocket, your hand,
against your bare skin.
Imagine who paid for what
with them before they came to you.

Start seeing 
that flag
as a door
anytime you see it,

a locked door
with a code
to enter. 

Start imagining how hard 
you will have to kick to take down that door.

Think about what might be on
the other side.

Keep at it until your foot spites your fear
and twitches without you willing it.