Tag Archives: poetry

The Long Sleep

Daylight tinged
with dusk sliding 
up and over 

Accustomed birds
beginning 
to disappear

All day
I have fought a roiling and 
a burning within

The end of the sun
is a relief
Night will be a balm

unless this continues
through dreams
and emerges at dawn

to drag me into
another day
of wrath and confusion

Although the calls
of my neighbor birds
would normally calm me

I will not lay the burden
of easing me through this
upon them

Instead I will sleep until
the pain has stopped
or at least until

I can stop it myself 
day or night
unassisted and in silence

 


American Poem

Revised from November 2021.

To write the American poem,

start from a nature image. 
Pretend you are the colonizer’s god;
purple the mountains up 
then chew the scenery until
there’s nothing left to suck from it.

Set the meter
to a rigged jig stepping lively
around myth and cynicism.

In every true American poem
one should be able to hear
exuberant ghosts dancing
to the sounds of babies crying,
screaming, cooing, gurgling,
while other ghosts plead 
not the babies, please. Leave
the babies out of it, so
precious, so innocent…

humbug. It’s the Fourth of July.
The Fourth of July
is built on dead children,
uses fireworks to justify
a war everlasting.

Every great American poem
should describe an America
over half of its readers
cannot recognize. A mirror
shows your reflection, 
a better one shows you your other side;
the best one shows you more than one.

The great American poem,
if it’s truly any good,
will burn you as if
in your overreach and hunger
you have knocked the chafing dish
on the table askew while grabbing 
at the Thanksgiving turkey
and all those wonderful sides

as the purple mountains above us all
look down wondering
where it all went wrong
as they see what it takes now

to write the great American poem.


Broken Leg Dance

When its Work is done
a brain will try to dance

Even if it hears nothing 
and has not for some time

Even if it knows nothing 
of what is current among other dancers

Even if its legs are broken
and it appears to be in pain

over its failure to dance what is now
fashionable or at least acceptable

A brain will try to dance
when it has cast aside its Work

even if it knows it will be forced
to go back tomorrow and once again

heave itself into hard labor
No matter how reluctantly it rises

No matter if dancing itself 
led it to this shattering 

a brain will dance after Work is done
even if only for one night

or one second before it becomes dead
lying there with broken legs and its Work

left inevitably as incomplete 
as whatever it was trying to dance


Feeders

Unseen bird thumping
against glass
then flying away
unhurt 

Bursts of clacking
as downy woodpeckers
hammer their beaks
into bricks of seed

Fanfare of chirps
and wings flapping as
next door’s hunting cat
charges and fails as always

then inevitably
the sound of them
all returning together
immediately 

and that damned squirrel
at it again — probing
the cages to see what
could be gained there

They say you should
take your feeders down
in summer or never put them
up at all but truly

I would be lost and crazy
if I did as this is how
I make myself want 
to look outside

at something other than
the red black backs
of my eyelids shut tightly
against anything but myself


Poem To Be Poured Into A Musket Barrel

This is a poem
made to be poured like
120 grains
of gunpowder
into your musket barrel

as the advancing lines
of the enemy king’s
soldiers come
within range of
the deadly aim
you are sure
you possess
in your fantasy
of stopping them cold
before they overrun
your position
and force you
into surrender
or death;

this is a poem
for when your weapon
misfires, a poem
to be remembered
as you prepare to fall
to your knees or
upon your sword
in desperation
because nothing
in the legends
of your people
taught you how
to lose

and now you have
no choice but to learn
how to go low
now that the high ground
is no longer safe.


Poem To Be Etched On A Knife

This is a poem
to be etched
on a knife.

It does not deal
in wide scale acts.
The Statue of Liberty

will not be made to vanish
this way — this is instead
made for close-up menace.

This poem 
on this blade:
talisman upon talon

for intimate
self-defense. 
Can serve as well

as kitchen tool or
letter-opener,
freeing good news

or payment due message
from its envelope 
after a wipe-down from

the work of sustenance,
the chore of making do;
still, when gripped and swung

correctly in the 
right moment,
it can do enough

well enough. Even after
you are done this poem
shall hold enough blood

in its letters that it
will never forget when you had
no choice but to cut.

This is a poem
made to carry that
for you. Go then, eat,

then rest. You’ve done enough,
and well enough. You have time. 
You remain alive. You are still you.


Poem To Be Wrapped Around A Brick

“i don’t want to see a poem unless it’s wrapped around a brick.”  Madeleine Roux, on Twitter, following the Roe v. Wade reversal. 

This is a poem
to be wrapped around
a brick

Because the sound
of breaking glass
swells a crowd 

which then surges
in the direction
of the shattering

Because a crowd 
is necessary for what comes
after the glass is broken

as reading a poem
out loud only does
so much in so much noise

Because so much
needs doing
So much glass to break

This is a poem
to be flung
through those windows

Because paper
has proved itself
untrustworthy

Rewrite this poem in 
gasoline then stuff it
into bottles also full of fuel

Because a good match
held to the poem
before launching

will turn it 
into a fire anthem
agains the now-sunless sky

This is a poem
to be hurled at
the sources of darkness

Because
it’s not their war
to win

Returned as projectile
As remonstrance  — as reminder
that this cannot stand

against the fire
this time
next time

This — bah!
No more poems unless
they are written in blood


The Dimming Of The Day

My legacy
will not be one
of honor and fame,
I know. No 
easy rest for me
in the knowledge of
a lasting memory
what I’ve done.
I suspect instead
that there will be
for only a few years
a flurry of 
brief, vague 
comments upon
who I was
and what I
left behind
and then
the forgetting
will begin
and that
will be all,
will have to be 
satisfactory. 
I’m practicing
for it now: blending
into the curtains
drawn across
the windows
that look out upon
the bright bright
world. Soon enough
I’ll be pulled back
so people can see
how it shines.
Maybe a few 
will learn to love
what I left behind:
tales of how
to take shelter
in the dark
that inevitably follows
the dimming
of the day.


General Strike

Somewhat broken.
Frayed. So-called
irreparable.
Dinged up and 
flagged for
obsolescence.
Reduced,
made ready to go
to highest bidder.
You know us. You 
think you know us.

Been here
under your noses
long years passing. 
Folk-song old, 
nursery-rhyme
obvious, not
pop-tune insinuation
incessant; more
embedded, part of
vocabulary — you 
use us unconsciously,
need us but cannot
bring yourself to see
that we as aggregate
cannot be bought,
not completely.
We rent ourselves
to you. You
owe us what we
are worth and we
are worth everything
you have.

If we 
just hold tight
to each other. If we
do not fail along
our faults. If we
sing as we are born to 
sing, stay as your
base layer, keep you
warm until we melt away
and then stand by as you
shiver. We hold 
power over
temperature. We
know how to make you 
freeze, how to
stand by singing
as you do.


Coal Tar Blues

From age
and diabetes and its
attendant conditions
as well as a long term
mood disorder
and who knows what else,
I’ve fallen into 
a human sort
of slow rust,
almost.

I daily
soak myself
in coal tar
for what’s on
the surface,
my rotten skin,
take tinctures and talk
for what’s wrong
within, disrepair
with unlikely odds
for repair. 

Nothing about this
is temporary or
acute. Chronic
is my name,
now — speak of
conditions,
not illnesses;
talk of status quo or
increase, 
not progress.

Coal tar and skin creams — 
odors of one failure
to treat myself
correctly, or so
I tell myself. Others
say buck up, it’s not 
a fault or a
punishment, you
needn’t club yourself
with that one,
no matter how good it feels
to feel that bad at times.

Indeed, there is a sort of
blessing, a relief 
in the hours after
I step out of the shower
as though
I’ve found a path
to normalcy but then
I lose my way as I start
the day and I tell the others,
you think so? Then
come live in here
and tell me
I’m not right.

See, I’m being
hollowed. I need
something to take up
residency in
my old center, to build
upon the dust falling 
out of me until I’m
gone for good,
which could be soon
or so what’s left of me
assumes, based on
the way the air around me
smells whenever I feel
as good as it ever gets.

Comes a point
when everything done right
is still not enough, and hope
becomes not a right but
a privilege your mind
has never allowed you
to exercise before, and now
is just a way of passing time
before time laughs
and then kills. 


Not Kids

“Hi, kids,”

is how I greet the cats
this morning
while threading my way
between their passive-
aggressive body thrusts
against my legs as I 
try to get to the bathroom
before feeding them, my priorities
not focused on their needs
right now, leading them
to decide I must be
shrooming or something
to be so out of touch
with the nature of reality as to put
my urgent need before theirs.

By which I mean to say
that I do not subscribe 
to the notion that pets are kids
for all of us childless people
of the world, and that I am glad
these two
are direct and gentle enough
in their opinion of me
not to force the point so far
as to carve me with their claws
or make me trip and fall
until I cave in and feed them
before I can get to where I need to go,
later to crumble in shame and fury
simply because I must put myself first at times,
and I am forced again and again
to understand that is not allowed.

It tells me that I did not absorb
all the lessons of my family
and transfer them to how I love
these two. 


Recess

stop 
playing musical chairs
with people who are told beforehand
when the music will stop so they are
always ahead of you in getting to
a seat. 

stop
playing double dutch
with people who can tie a noose
in the rope and catch you by the neck
in mid-air before you
touch down.

stop 
pretending life 
is no longer grade school. 
it will always be
battleground recess, 
every day. 

stop
thinking that bully and bullied
isn’t the name of the big game
we start playing early
and are made to play until
very late.

you
have choices. pick a side
or walk away. play the role
written for you or 
write another game for yourself
to play. but

whatever
you choose, stop pretending
the streetlights are not yet on
and it is not time to come in
from the dark before it gets too dark
to win.


A Star, A Particular Star

As a child,
I loved a star,
a particular star.
Did not know
its name, just
where it hung
in the sky all spring
and how it moved
over time and 
I would look for it
there, then
over there. Now
I cannot find it 
anywhere. Do not
even know where to
look. Forgot directions
and orientation
and when it
shows itself off
to best effect. 

I am old and live
in the city now
where there is
so much light at night
it is not worth trying
to find my star or
any other. Pollution,
light pollution,
they call it. My brain
is smogged 
night and day and 
if I could find that star
it might help
or it might not but
what I miss most
is seeking it across 
the sky, finding it
among the others.

Pointless now
to even try;
instead I sit by
looking to the flow
of myself into mess, hoping
to see something there
(glint of sunlight on a 
foul wave, tumbling bit
of trash caught
in an eddy)
to help me recall
how to find 
a star, a particular star.


Contrary’s Prayer

If I am chosen
or doomed to this

then let me be it
fully

Let me make and sling
the necessary fists

for those who will not raise their own
to strike back at their tormentors

Let me roil the rising water
with my anger

for those committed to calm
when there is truly none to be had

Let me walk ahead 
of those willing to be slain

despite their calls for peace
and let me bring the sword they will not carry

Let me long for a different fate
even as I fulfill the one I’ve been given

Let me go wrongly 
among the righteous as they cannot

Let me die if I must
doing what others cannot or will not

and if I must die that way
let it be said of me

that balance was my only aim
and while I was willing I was not joyous

in the role I was assigned
I longed for an easy life and death

but it was not for me
Nothing of it was for me


Civil Unrest

They so smug
and stinky
with attitude

unearned power
inability to think beyond 
their own Stench

Worry up the people
saying there will be
civil unrest oh no

if and if and if oh no
this that
and the other oh no

oh no
oh no
oh no no no no

No to
sword and scales
doing as designed

They so smug 
and ripe with
a hey nonny nonny

hey derry down
Singing the one song they know
Always ends with don’t even go there

One hand on a big damn gun
One on some fat book
or another 

They so tremendous
Gaseous cloud making
national poison sunset

They so wring handed
They so rolling eyed
You don’t want civil unrest do you

Talking past us
born Stench sick
Talking past us 

song sourcing
land naming
world molding

choke throated
chest burned
child missing

grave stained
stolen
school tortured

compressed but
never small or beige enough
to hide or fit among them

They so right
We don’t want unrest 
to be at all civil

when — blessed paradox —
fire and smoke
can clear the air