Tag Archives: poems

Getting To Tomorrow From Yesterday

Getting to tomorrow
from where we are now
is like preparing to take
an overseas trip on
a small old ship 
in hurricane season;

we don’t know
a thing about sailing,
it’s been so long since we
had to leave our country
to seek safety
we can’t imagine
it’s more than
an afternoon away,
and we certainly
aren’t dressed
for the journey,
but we’re going anyway

since staying here
in yesterday 
is terrifying 
and impossible

and the only shot at joy
we may left
is, possibly,
over there on 
the storm-crushed
far shore.


The War

This war being what it is,
a long time will likely pass —
too long, sadly —

before one side will realize 
they are facing those
who will kill and are ready
to do so;

under the misconception
that love is enough,
that what this war demands
is a tsunami of love 
to overwhelm hatred;

even as the ridge
above them fills
with snipers and artillery,
no one among them has the power
to raise that wave
and wash the hills clean

so they vote, they talk, they cry,
they laugh at the war; they mock,
they gossip, they pray — and down they fall.

On the other side of the ridge,
ignored by the killers,
some people are building
a new world within a fortress,

and of course
they have gun slots in the walls,

high above the gardens,
the nurseries, and the homes
they’ve prepared for peace
without assuming it as a given.


I’m Not Machiavelli

I knew a man who used to say,
“I’m not Machiavelli but…
there are days when the old guy
makes a lot of sense.”

I didn’t want to listen to him.
Maybe I should have paid him more mind
when he said things about ends
and means and how to play the game.

He’d say, “You don’t fight Evil from a distance.
You have to take it where it lives.
You have to go where Evil goes
to take it to the ground.

“Your face may set a little harder.
Your hands will not stay clean.
You will get dirty and it will show — 
but dirty is cleaner than filthy.”

I should have listened harder.
I should have paid attention.
It would have made it easier
to look at my hands today.

Tomorrow, another run
to where the Evil lives.
Every day I care less
about the stain and stench.

You can’t do this from a distance.
Can’t do it with words alone.
Can’t do it without feeling
grime beneath the nails.

But someone has to do it
even if, after it’s done,
the ones you did it for 
wring their hands about it.

Your face will set a little harder.
You won’t say much until you see
the one who needs to hear you say,
“I’m not Machiavelli, but…”


A History Of Masks

In many cultures throughout the world, a judge wore a mask to protect him from future recriminations. In this instance, the mask represents a traditionally sanctioned spirit from the past who assumes responsibility for the decision levied on the culprit.

— from an article in the Encyclopedia Britannica
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sunglasses may be worn
by a poker player or peace officer 
to conceal their glances, their tells,
eyes grown wide in pleasure or surprise.

Judges may hide their faces
from the people they judge.
Fear of recrimination, they say, or maybe
it’s performative impartiality;

there’s a reason
Justice is shown blindfolded,
though we assume these days
that Justice has always cheated

and peeked at who is to be judged
before going to verdict; likewise,
riot cop helmets are there
for saving face as much as for 

any other reason. There are reasons
executioners wore hoods.
There are reasons the condemned
wear them too.

Plague doctors strolled,
flower beaked and fantastic,
through the streets of 
cadaver cities into 

popular misunderstanding —
they weren’t medieval,
they weren’t trying to scare
diseases away; they were trying

to save themselves. But 
they look good to us now
as we mask up and creep
our own half-empty streets,

thinking they could
lend some elegance
to the fear
we are wading through,

seeking some spirit from the past
to inform us about the spirit 
threatening us: not only the sickness
but the now-unmasked dangerous men;

the judges,
their rogues,
their hired and self-appointed
killers.


Greed (The Blood Window)

To look through a window and see
pedestrians as coin
and imagine them

going about their business
unaware
or carefree, 

draining from your pocket
instead of filling it
it is to forget who you are.

To look out 
your blood window
onto a flesh world

and see only metal people
is to think flesh and
skin are blast-hardened.

Is to be blind to
the way all flesh
tears itself open

under enough pressure,
is to be oblivious to
how a bullet splashes it.

How a machete 
pries it apart.
How a bomb spreads it

across a room. Looking out
your window of blood
and imagining that’s

moneyworld out there,
you have forgotten
you aren’t made of steel, either.


Incantation For Silence

silence to you,
voice of the end.

silence, I command you to 
silence, to your ears
opening wider than your maw
of a yapping face. 

silence I tell you,
silence from your
cottonmouth brain,
your self-important
hemlock breath,
your falsely righteous
gas chamber
world view.

free speech,
you scream, give me my free
spew. as if you’ve ever
paid for any of what you’ve said.
as if there’s ever been 
much if any cost to you
for being this loud.

I hear what clatters 
out of your body
and I cannot call you
by your given name
and feel clean. 
you don’t sound 
like a real person. you sound
possessed, or gone
from your shell, supplanted by 

this stench. this is not sound
you are speaking. this is
odor. this screams in all my parts
that hold history. memory

of hangings, massacres.
of camps and reservations.
of the rule of thumb and 
the machinery of rape. the land
drained. the people drained.

if I were to give you a name 
it would be cristoforo colombo.
it would be bull connor.
it would be aristotle.

if i had magick I’d say:

silence, then.
silence, you voice of 
end all, be all, screaming for 
obedience to the dead and gone.
I bind you to silence.
I cast you into it.
silence, I say.
you are now made historical,
caught in the pages of a book
which can be closed upon you.

we will always know you’re there.
we just can’t know you now.


Waking In The Dark In These Challenging Times

It’s not from a fear
of death; I’ve been in love
with the line between 
for decades now and 
to finally step over would be 
a relaxation more than
a terror. 

It’s not from
a fear of the dark itself
as I know there’s light
beyond it, even if I never
see it again myself. 

It’s not from something
bodied within, no clock
or silent alarm
that burns through me
till I sit upright in the night. 

I can’t name what awakens me
in the dark almost every night,
but it feels new and ancient at once;

the scent of a tomb
that has just been opened;

that old stench
on a new wind.


Everything Not Here

Can’t explain
what we long for
beyond the shrug that says, 
“Everything not here.” 

The presence of 
having company and of how
we used to long for them
to go home.

The joy of going out to eat
and saying afterward,
“next time, let’s just
stay home.”

Frenzied sex followed by
falling asleep, waking up
late for work, deciding to be
naughty and stay right there
in bed all day at home.

Home sick, home
with a sick child, home
exhausted after a road trip,
boring Sunday afternoon
at home. 

Can’t describe it completely —
for some it was hell,
for some it was peace, 
for some it was just a place
to sleep, to eat, to fuck or yearn to fuck;
a laundry room, a tub and shower,
a toilet bowl wobbling on a bad floor;
landlord making false promises,
off-street parking, garage, good yard,
curb appeal, transient housing
on the path to a dream palace.

What we long for:
pastel light in bay window home;
view of the ocean mountain desert home;
proximity to the hot new neighborhood home;
childhood rhyme home — 
home again home again jiggetty-jig.

Home is where you end up,
that place to stay that feels like home
after you are done being elsewhere;
anywhere but here because
call here whatever you like but

we’re done with here.


Silence And Roar

I am going to sleep now
not because that world is better
but because it is quieter.

I will put everything aside
and let myself down easily
into that world.

It is as dangerous there 
as it is here, but if you are taken
in that world, you go quietly

to whatever comes next.
No screaming, no tears,
not a news story to be heard.

When and if you wake up,
it will be a moment
before you know you’re back

in the Noise. Hanging there
between the Silence and the Roar;
that’s its own world, I think; Lord,

how I want
to pursue certainty
about that


Hating My Words

Hating my words today,
my failing words.
This time demands more
than ill-shaped breath
but it seems that’s all
I have left. Interior 

of the body longing
for the exterior,
spewing words,
trying to make words fit
into places 
they’ve never gone.

I can’t see anything
through the words
stuck to my eyes,
can’t hear anything 
through the words
plastering my ears,
and don’t I just I long
to cut out my tongue — 

if I could stop the flood
I would
for the benefit of all,
for the benefit of me
most of all.

But this is all I have:

this and hope that somewhere
there will be a place and time
where I can love this again;
where it feels 
like it matters

that this is all I can do,
and it is enough.


To Sit In the Sun

I will sit in the sun
for an hour someday soon.
Eyes crunched tight, fists 

squeezing and relaxing,
trying to act. Trying to make amends.
I know what the odds are that it will work

but still, I have to try.
It’s the only chance I have
to be remembered the way I’d like.

Even as I try
to choose the right hour,
the best day for the last

and most important thing
I will ever do correctly, a change
at the place of self-definition — 

for my originating definitions
got me here, and have proved
to be worth nothing.

This isn’t me, I tell
myself.  I’m not this
level of failure. By doing this

I will redeem and erase that —
it’s literally selfless action. And then,
we’ll all be free.  All of us, all of you.

I would have liked 
one last minor triumph
of my own choosing, of course.

Would have liked one last
modest glory of the sort I’d come
to accept as my lot — but

this is my lot. To sit in the sun,
thinking about how good it feels
even as I plan to reject it

in favor of the dark. Is it a failure
if I stay, or a failure if I go?
Is there really any way to change?


Passages

When the architect passes
you still have the building.

When the musician passes
you still have the music.

When the person passes
you have what you remember — 

when Fats Domino passed,
when Little Richard passed,

I remember how their hands
looked on the keys.

I remember how I knew
from watching them that the piano

was not for me. I remember
nonetheless imagining

how it might have been my path 
in another life. I remember 

my own long years of lessons
and how I struggled. When

I heard of their passages,
I fell back into those struggles

and recalled the flash of sequins
from one, the explosive chords;

the strong steady rain of notes
from the other, the sideways smile.

But it’s not about me today.
It’s about gratitude and about

new holes in the air
around the building.

The building’s
still standing.

The music’s
still playing.


Casual Friday

Started out as Friday
but became a Monday
and thus the weekend
became confusing. I baked
a flourless cake and wept
over a Sunday dinner 
that felt more like Tuesday’s
leftovers, like the whole
leftover menu from the whole
week. Why do we bother naming
the days anyway — it reminds us
we once had schedules and places
to go on specific days.
I used to put on someone else’s
Sunday best, someone else’s
casual Friday wardrobe. Who
that person was I am not sure
I ever knew. Even the language
is missing its marks, drifting
from its targets, not achieving
its objectives. We used to talk 
of safety and job security and 
professionals and expertise
and those things meant something.
Maybe they will again, on some
future Monday that finally feels like
a Monday, a day on which
to resume our sacred hatred
of routines and dress codes
and learn to walk in lockstep
once again. I cannot wait
to see who it was
who used to wear these clothes.


Incident At Price Chopper

He’s standing in the dead middle
of the meat section at Price Chopper
screaming “HOW CAN THERE NOT BE
ANY FUCKING STEAK?” 

Someone comes out bearing chicken
from behind the steel clad gates
of the backroom where they cut meat
and stage the cases.

“Hey, you got any steak back there?”
“Steak? No sir. None.”
“How is that fucking even possible?”
“Sorry, sir.”

Both men talking and everyone watching
has a mask on, at least; everybody’s standing
two carts apart. Looks like the last scene
of a spaghetti western right before the last shootout.

The man with no steak turns his back on
the man with no name in a black mask
to start putting out the chicken. Spell’s broken —
it would never happen that way in a movie,

after all; no one would turn their backs
on anyone else, then all would pull
their stoic triggers, just business really, and 
someone would fall. That’s the way

it goes. No one would get any steak, of course,
but the steak is beside the point
in those films. What matters there is
the satisfaction of killing, of existential affirmation

through virtual elimination. It’s all
just a reason for the squint, for the stone
shine of focused gaze. For art, not for life  —
for now at least; but maybe tomorrow…

“How is that even fucking 
possible?”  “Sorry, sir.
There’s nothing. No sir, none.”
“I don’t believe you.

Liar.
Fake news.”
Then, gun.
Then, done. 


Delicious

How delicious it would be
to have a world that did not require
all this thinking — where instinct
and emotion were enough to carry civilizations
from birth to death — where guns
and brawn were acceptable in the face of
disease — where fear of the unknown
was codified into quick and dirty law —
where the individual could stand supreme
as long as they did not stand out too much
within the ranks — there would only be
a handful of Gods to choose from (if that)
to simplify the view — there could be
cultural differences if they were colorful
and easily adapted to commerce or control — 
where those who dared to philosophize
or speculate could be swiftly neutralized
or vaporized — where appropriate addictions
could be nationalized — where the bees 
flew in diminished numbers away from us
when we went outdoors — where the oil content
of every river basin was measurable
and extractable — where the sharks 
stayed in the movies — where the scent of sex
was routinely worn behind the ears — 
where flowers bloomed in the right beds
and only the right beds — where it all went away
at night — where night went away in the daylight —
where daylight was a property — where we all
understood the Rules and nobody balked at them
except to volunteer as a cautionary tale —
where the flags flapped regardless of wind —
where the wind blew regardless of flags —
where thought was good only for counting coin — 
where coins looked their best on closed eyes —
where all our eyes could be closed at any time.