Tag Archives: poetry

Hospital Bed

Cloud of unknowing:
a hospital bed. A hallway
full of sounds
likely meant for others
or perhaps this time for you,
the voices of better angels
come to give you comfort.

Cloud of unknowing:
the ceiling above, the 
holes in the tiles that lead
nowhere, most likely,
but perhaps there is one
tiny gateway to the peace
that may be waiting
when you leave.

Cloud of unknowing:
when you rise from forgetting
to an awareness of how little
is in your control but you decide
to rest while you can. You will
return to the world soon enough
but for now, you choose
the cloud where all you can do
is wait, and marvel, and heal.


Workplace Advice

When they say
“you’re overqualified,”
believe them. Thank them,
then surpass them.
Do better: 
become their bosses,
their competitors,
their rivals; better still, 
render them
irrelevant or forgotten.
Not everything 
is up to them.

When they say, “don’t
come to me with a problem
without having a solution,”
understand that in their heads
the sentence too often ends after 
“ don’t come to me”
and the rest too often translates to
“la la la la la la I can’t hear you.”
Your irritation, your pain, your
confusion or frustration
are enough reason 
to speak up. Not everything
is up to you.

When they say, “if you’re bored
then you’re boring,”
whisper or shout “bullshit”
depending on your level of safety.
Sometimes a meeting is boring.
Sometimes a person is boring.
Sometimes this grind grinds so hard
it’s easy to forget
that what’s out there
is soft and fascinating and 
endless. We wish for an end
to all their prattle
but you are here now and 

if they say to you, “Do what you love
and you’ll never work a day
in your life,” believe them
only long enough to distinguish 
between temporary consent
and permanent compulsion.
Your joy awaits,
and nothing of that
is truly in their hands.


What Did You Do In The War?

I wrote poems,
a lot of poems.
At the time

it seemed to many to be
an indulgence.
But now it seems

I wasn’t writing poems
as much as I was 
making bullets and 

planting seeds: bullets
for the moment, seeds
for the future.

Sometimes one poem would be
both — those were the times
I think I was at my best. 

I do not like war —
I am not one of those
whose blood sings with it.

But there were times,
I admit, when I’d look
at what I’d written

and say, there’s one
that will hurt, there’s one
that will sprout later,

and I would sit back 
and say, there. There
it is.  I mean,

why do you fight a war
except for the chance
to hear poems when it’s over?

(Which is why they killed
some of us,
you know.  It wasn’t

safe — not as dangerous
as some things, but still,
they killed some of us

not because our bullets hurt them
but because our seeds
terrified them.)

When you ask me
what I did in the war,
I tell you this: it wasn’t

as much as some did,
but it was everything 
I could do — an indulgence,

maybe, but I did it with
my hands and it took
all the strength I had

on some days, some nights,
when the firefights came close
and I thought I would or should die

but nonetheless I kept the lamp on
above the paper
 as I tried
to make a better world
 with my pen.


Fire In The Hole

the crater where we live shows
that an explosive heart once was set off here.

no one knows the names of all those
who were there when it blew apart.

the names of all those who became alarmed
at their disappearance are unknown.

that said, we must acknowledge 
that there are oceans of blood in the soil

where we live because
it’s all we have ever experienced.

we can’t see over the walls
to the things that may be out there.

whether it was always meant to be this way
is irrelevant to the limitations we face.

if it ought to be another way,
if another way is still possible, we can’t say.

crater walls limit what words we know.
walls keep us from even asking for more.

many of us don’t even know
the crater is a crater.

if we do we think time and erosion
have leveled it to memory alone. 

anyone who has been to the walls knows better.
they come back and point to them,

then lay hands upon the soil at our feet
to bring the blood up oozing

onto our shoes. they try to tell us
but we can’t seem to understand

that everything old is still new.
the ticking we hear is not an echo.

there is
fire in the hole.


No Clocks

That annoying piano riff that opens
that annoying Coldplay song
is running over and over within me.

I just want it to stop
so instead I can hear
one strong memory
of a living river
I’m not close to
anymore:

Rio Grande
between Santa Fe and Taos;
white water
by the road

where I pulled over thirty years ago
to sit and listen
straining to hear the wind over
ghostly penitente crosses
that might stand
lonely out there still
somewhere on land no one
can get to now because we’ve 
forgotten the way there 
in the cloud of clatter
where we are forced to live.

The lights went out long ago
in the lodges of the penitentes,
and their voices have been
drowned in
noise:

in my head,
that annoying piano riff;

down the street,
the Sunday morning mower
cutting a ridiculous lawn
down to community-approved size;

on a neighbor’s radio,
the allegedly
newsworthy voices
of the insistent dumb;

and in my head,
louder than all the rest,
roaring sorrow and 
invincible ticking down
to a near certainty that
I will never return to
that notch in the side
of the road. 

Some things, I know, 
cannot be saved;

but for there to be
no compensation
for such loss?

Like that piano riff:
ubiquitous; an earworm;
nearly unbearable.


Land Acknowledgement

When a civilization collapses,
it does not evaporate and vanish
but instead dissolves more or less slowly,

stains the earth and soil,
tints the waters for an age
or two after it appears to be gone.

What colors do you see 
under your feet? What is the tint
of what is in your glass? More to the point:

when you make a land
acknowledgment, open your mouths
to say “Today we stand on the land

of the Nipmuk, the Mskogee,
the Lakota,” do you think of this
in terms of what you can see and taste

right now, or is it more akin 
to describing long-extinct
fauna and flora? Do you even look

at where you are
before you speak?
We are dying to know. 


The Unlikely Event

In the unlikely event that I become the center of the universe
I would like it to be known that while I did not ask for it
I embraced the necessity of being the hub around which
this great disheveled wheel can spin as it threatens
to whirl off into the obvious darkness that waits to receive it
when the final day arrives with or without fanfare. Know that

I did not have to do much except sit there as my hair flew
on the undulating wind that rose around me from this whirl
of decay not slowing down but speeding up in a reversal
of what I always thought I knew of entropy, once again
revealing the limits of my understanding and even of my ability
to understand the wide repercussions of what was occurring. Know that

in the unlikely event that I become the center of the universe 
as we know it, I will have been as humble and as much a servant
to the mystery of how things tumble and fall as I am now, when 
the only universe I know keeps me edged out on the fringe of the spin
where I can feel it and see the trails of far away centrality 
that do not include me, have never done so, promise me nothing at all.

 


First

first we say now
then we say then.
once we know how
we say now is when. 

we say this
with one mouth
while still
of two minds.

so say we both
as we lose faith
and hope and
all the rest.

on a day 
in fall float
above the body
watching the body

open the capsules
and pour bitter
tranquilizers
into a green glass

of water until
it is half sleep sludge
and the rest is
not at all clear.

we say now and then
we say no. we say
now and then we say no
and then we fall away

into yes and yes again
and then no. and no.
and then no
thing at all until

awakening, bitter.
the mouth tastes it
when it is of one mind
at last again. sick

unto death but not
close enough. shove
the glass into
a black corner. close

our mouth and pretend
we are whole. we are
fifteen and already
a failure. we say that.


Third

For one long moment 
before October ends
in cooling November
after bursting
from September’s fire,

we stopped under trees,
thinking about
dark ways home
from here. 

One day.
Here, now.
A long time coming.
A long time still ahead
(even if how long
remains undetermined,
even if still shorter
than what’s come and 
gone).

A month
like this one just passed
was not promised.
No September
ever has been.

But October?
October,
threatened October,
is a different matter.

Put our clothes back on,
our jewelry. Walked out of
the woods
to the car.

Found a dark way home
to wait for winter.


Second

Drive fifteen miles north
into the forest between here
and the next place people
are bound to be, leave the car
with the keys still in it
in a rest area, walk some distance
across the leaf beds below
the huge old trees until
you cannot be seen from the road;

take off everything — poor clothes, 
random adornments, your long-inadequate
glasses, the bandage on your left arm;
lie on your back and stare up along the trunks
toward the sky that’s a rare shade
of black-tinged blue between the crown-shy
upper limbs of — what are these, oaks
or maples? You lift up a leaf to your eyes
and try to define and decide
but without glasses it’s all you can do 
not to close your eyes and say, enough
with naming things. Any other day
you’d have known without thinking.
Today, thinking is forbidden. No more
definitions, only one more decision
to be made — and the former wound
is already bleeding so even that 
seems to be complete.

What a sky to be under.
What a bed to enjoy.
What a time to be alive. 


Purification

On Sunday morning
you discover you are not
who you were 
the night before.
You were a mistake,
you’ve been corrected,
and it hurts but still you try
to maintain a facade of 
used to be
for the sake of
those you love.

Sadly, your hair
betrays you,
its random gray
and consistent wispiness
whispering, casting
your purification as 
perfidy. You plead 
that it’s not true,
but you can’t explain it 
well enough, and you are cast out
of the castle you’ve built
with all the ones you have loved — 
but the question remains:
if you have been purified,
if you are better off now
than you were
when you fell asleep
last night,
were you betrayed at all?


Something’s Red

The air or the light?
Something’s red.
The green house looks red —
what’s tinting it? Maybe
it’s neither air oe light — 
instead it could be that
my eyes are bad, full of rosewater
or fruit punch. Or the sun
is blushing from
being caught out
this early — a rise of shame, 
tiptoeing up the sky
until it can brazen it out.
I’m haven’t mentioned the air again
because it’s everywhere and it might
hear me and then who knows
what would happen. The air
might choke me or it might be
indifferent. Or perhaps it might say
“well done, that was a test just for you,”
and for a change the air
won’t depress or oppress me today
and all I will have to contend with
is the red light or the 
paint in my eyes which of course
might be blood, I just don’t want
to say that too loudly, it never pays
to acknowledge that the bleeding
you see in the world is all you.


Career Counseling

Our work is the work
of becoming complete
regardless of disruption — 
that’s the work we should crave,
or so the career counselors
tell us. They have books upon
books of self-guided exercises
full of words like
“mission” and “vision”
and “purpose” threaded
onto their thick pages — 
needlepoint philosophies
suitable for tattoos or
framing, quaint calligraphy
for perfect, well-washed 
walls in minimalist houses. 
Meanwhile too many of us
stare down grocery and utility 
disruptions as our true work dissolves
into a series of jobs, all of which serve others.
We are battered. We are tired
of being told to just lean in
and do what we love until the money
follows. The money never follows
whether we love what we do
or not. We are tired of leaning;
time to line up, find the wall,
and push. 


If It Is Not One Thing It Is Another

Am not amused by
the condensation between
the panes of the allegedly sealed
double paned living room window,
which is supposed to 

be impermeable to moisture 
yet there the moisture is,
a small cloud dampening the glass
in the space, an oval stain
there slightly off center; 
what am I supposed to

do about such a thing, what does it
mean now in these broke moments
that the windows themselves that offer
the only reliable view of what’s beyond me
are failing in the failing walls
of the house that’s failing
as I’m failing?


To Stand In The Rain

A good reason to stand in the rain
is so you can watch a bus driving away
for as long as it takes to disappear
and then if you like you can either go inside
or stand there a while longer, wondering
if it will by some strange reversal of your fortunes
and those of everyone on board
come back and restart all your lives
in dramatic or subtle ways
and forever after make the sensation 
of cold-soaked clothing clinging to your skin 
the greatest feeling you could ever imagine.

A good reason to stand in the rain
is when the air has gotten
so sharp inside that to breathe there
is to bleed there or to burn from within
so intensely that as the heat begins to dissolve you
from inside out you can look up openmouthed
into the dark nimbus above
and let the drowning of your pain commence 
as the downpour enters your core. 

A good reason to stand in the rain
is to feel something again
after you’ve been so numbed down 
by attempting to live in the light 
that thoughts of dawn and daylight
have come to mean nothing
and then you hear the water in the sky
coming for you and at last something
corresponds to the wild ocean
you’ve been holding within 
for fear of the shaking heads of those 
who just love you more when you’re on 
their dry and sunny shores. 

A good reason to stand in the rain
is how perfect you feel at last out there
even as the crowd inside waves at you
to get you to come in
and gestures with coats and umbrellas
to get you to come in 
and eventually turns their back on you
forgetting about even wanting you
to come in and be as warm and dry
as they are, even as the rain continues
uncaring for them while it bathes you
as you wish to be bathed,
as you have always wished to be bathed.