Tag Archives: poetry

Berry Father

The first thing I see this morning:
photo of a graveyard.

Two stones stand out
more clearly than the others. On one,

the word “Berry.”
On the other, “Father.” I tell myself

it’s a portent of how
the day will go, that this is how

today is going to be:
random messages, written in stone,

any meaning to be drawn forth
by the viewer who right now

is seeing one sweet word,
one less so, and nodding his head.


then again, look at where I am

My eyes already hurt
and all I’ve done so far today
is read a story of two children
killing a friend over some toy

and another one about
not teaching kids full history in schools
which if they did might explain a lot of things
about killing and why they do it

and it made me think about the possibility that
all of history’s dead people are sitting beside me
on the bus on my way to work
I’m always so cold by the time I get there

the last thing I want to do for a job
is take orders and abuse
from people not yet dead
who just keep repeating the same mistakes

because they don’t know history
and I want to tear out my hurting eyes
and push on the columns of the temple
that look so strong and solid

all it would take
is a few of us
to take them down
and though I’d be first blind and then dead

I am willing to try but then again
when I look at where I am
my eyes hurt like the hell I see
and all I can do is close them




If You Qualify

you stand behind the yellow line
and wait for your number to be called.
they’re waiting on number 403 now,
you are holding number 415,
it shouldn’t be long, they tell you.

half a life later you are still waiting but at least it’s
not your life. you saw them carrying off
the still-breathing form of 407 and he
looked about half your age. what did they do to him,
you wonder out loud. nothing, says 414,

not even looking up or turning around
before speaking. if you qualify, it takes less time
than waiting for it out there in the world
where it’s random. 408, someone calls.
everything moves up. you shuffle ahead. this is fine.


Edgar Lilith Rosebush

Edgar was a rosebush.
Lilith was a rosebush.
They were the same rosebush.

They answered
to different names
depending on who invoked them.

They ran a little wild and
took up more than their planned space.
The huge blooms more than compensated.

After hours Edgar Lilith did try to understand
who was truly who and why it was so
but in the end they gave up

when their scent shut all that down.
They’d heard there was a quote
about names and roses in some book

but they were proof enough. Didn’t
need Shakespeare or anyone else
to make them love their names and self.

Who was Shakespeare, anyway,
but a bunch of names over time
and just one the world had settled on?

They were Edgar Lilith. Whatever’s
in a name, they were as settled on it
as the people who called upon them

and their blooms grew huge and fragrant
as they grew as large and wild
as their doubled name would allow.




Vespers

From 1998. Revised.

One, two,
three, five–seven-nine,
eleven
dark brothers
at sunset:
wetsuited surfers
off the beach at Del Mar.

The bell for vespers tolls
from the seacliff mission.

Two parallel acolytes
in this year’s hot fighter jets
arc south toward
San Diego.

What is it about
the brotherhoods
that men form
that makes me want to watch them
for hours and hours?

I pose that question
to Angela, crazy plaintalker
from the Encinitas streets,
while we sit in a booth
and mull over her fabulous life
in this bar called
“The Saloon”.

Two hours pass.
I’m buzzed and no closer to my answer
though I have heard
all of her own thoughts
about men
and their missions:

she’s told me how
once she was a clerk typist
and then she was an engineer
but the boys at the Atlas-Titan plant
made it so hard for her
to hold a job there
that she walked away
(and it’s been a while
so she doubts it’s still there — )

so now
instead of gliding toward the stars
with the boys
she lives with a man
who’s a hundred years old
and tonight she’ll be damned
if she’s going home again
because he is so
damned
angry all the
time.

In the booth across the aisle
two women are
kissing
and Angela
flashes a smile full of surprisingly
white
wild woman teeth
at them
and then at the
bartender, who is watching them and
squirming.

“It’s right,” she says to him. “It’s right. 
Leave them alone.
Couples in love ought to kiss.
Everyone here is just fine.
Everyone ought to do just
what they like.”

I get up to leave and ask her if I
can take her somewhere.
She thanks me but says she never
gets into a car with a strange man.

Back in Rancho Santa Fe,
in my expense account
movie star hotel room,
I open the window to let
the night breeze bring me
the scent of camellias.

Downstairs, other
businessmen are
drinking Scotch
and pounding veranda tables
for emphasis,

while somewhere in Encinitas
an angry old man waits for dinner
as pilots’ cheeks flatten in the force of the turn
and monks fall off to profane dreams
while engineers stew
before their monitor’s blue fire —

and somewhere
ecstatic Angela
builds a new world right around our ears
by challenging nervous bartenders
and refusing to be with anyone.
In the starry dark she walks the beaches
to do just what she likes,
free of strange men.


Means of Production

We are really becoming productive again
and it shows in every shiny pore of our tender skin
that’s been locked away from sunlight and community

The possibility of changing everything is still ripe they say
but instead we’re going into the office and oooh
it feels so good to do those same things again

the way we used to in the same spot that somehow
feels a little different and it’s not like we haven’t been
locked down to doing them from home except for the ones

that had to be done in the war zone itself along with
the blood jobs and the food jobs and the shit jobs and the death jobs
and even at home we worried about death a little more

and the kids thronged the house behind the makeshift workspace
and the kids needed teaching which was a second job
and the second job was a first job and the first job became a dull ache

and the third job was a dread and how do we comfort each other
when we can’t touch each other and tell each other it will be alright
when we don’t know how to be alright anymore

Except we’re really becoming productive again and that’s alright
What counts is what we are becoming
We have the opportunity to change everything

We have the opportunity to say we’re changing everything
including who gets to define what we’re becoming
We don’t have to leave that in those same old hands

The virus was as mindless and hungry and implacable as they are
No wonder they loved it so much though they would never admit it
but it also put a spotlight on us as the means of production

and in that spotlight is where we find ourselves now
This is how we could seize not just the moment
but our own definitions instead of slipping back into theirs

and becoming really productive again
with our kids thronging behind us
to sweat and die from the same old plague


Grasses

this is a collection of words
with broken hips.

it sits in front of you
squirming.

it is trying to rise and greet
you and the day but has been stuck

waiting for revisions
for what has felt like forever.

it is uncomfortable with how much
you expect it to fly

when it eventually does rise,
changed, to its feet.

you are eager for it to take flight,
but that is not its nature.

it would prefer to stay close
to the ground. it longs for you

to stay with it and peer into
the dirt around the roots of grasses,

all the kinds of grasses. it wants to
be anything but one of those poems

that soars high above all.
its bones have been unknit for so long

it has learned to just be here,
close to the ground.

all it wants is to get out of the chair
and take a knee and stare into the earth

around grass roots, learn the names
of what grows there, and help you do the same.


The Body And The Souls

It’s amateur hour here
in the body.

Everyone living within
is confused

about what
should happen next.

All running into
one another.

All dancing mad
tarantella impressions.

Some like to say
the body’s just a vehicle

the soul uses to get around —
no. It’s all one being, though my soul

is a multiple. No binary for me.
The body and the interior world

are one crowd in chaos.
We’ll get by, more or less;

more likely less of course
considering the bruising going on.

But I’m there,
crowd that I am,

body
that is also all souls.

I’ll be there,
joy as a plural, pain

as a plural, saturated
with the plural nature

of the pieces of deity
we hold within.


Just An Ape

Just another aging ape in a restaurant
dining on some descended
dinosaur — chicken, maybe.

That’s what I appear to be
to others. Little do they know
who I really am –I can’t

tell them, of course. That would be
unrectifiable. It’s how I get by,
you see — allowing others

to define me by mistake and then
living up to the wrong billing.
All I’ve ever done, in fact,

has flowed from the mistakes
of others. My one true path has been
threaded through falsehood and

this ape, this unevolved fat boy
chewing with his mouth closed
in spite of his wanton instincts,

is satisfied. The chicken is good.
The people who think I’m good
are good with me. What I am to myself

is ridiculous and unimportant
to them. Inside though? Inside
the well fed body, the glittering

at my core would blind them
if they could see. They never will.
Let them think me small and ashamed,

or grandiose and self-important.
Everyone’s got it right as long
as they let me be.


“I Am Asking For Your Vote”

My hands flew open and I found myself
mistakenly trusting someone once again.
It felt like hell afterwards, worse than normal;

I’m certain that this blood
all over my hands
is my own.

Once again I’ve received what I deserve
for my perpetual, hopeful foolishness.
I reset my center, swear, “never again.”

I will no doubt do it again,
accepting what appears to be
kindness. It may even be

intended as kindness. No matter:
I will trust someone and afterward
I will bleed and swear not to bleed

ever again. Every two years,
every four years, I will remind myself
of this as I bleed and bleed.


Why We’re Doomed

Take a moment to think
of all the sad sick children of our parents
who should not have been parents.

Think of all the children whose parents
never learned a thing about how to do it right
because no one gave a second thought

to how the world was failing, to how
they had failed it themselves and how
they were passing it all down to their kids.

You see them every day walking in parks
and seeing nothing, sitting in bars, lying together
on joyless, broken beds.

A nation of slipped discs —
a full measure of people with
untenable spines for the battle ahead,

nearly bent double from the pain
of trying to just survive. They aren’t going
to revolt or even protest. They can’t see

what’s right in front of them,
for the pain of standing upright
keeps them blind. If it takes

a village to raise a child,
where is theirs? You are a fool
to believe in any revolution

rising from people whose only model
for society is what they can see
when the only society they can see is an anthill.


The Church Of The Hairy Woodpecker

I mention my pain out loud and
to facilitate my healing, kind folk
point me toward a hymnal for the Natural Congregation

of the Church of the Hairy Woodpecker.
Pick it up, they urge me. Go into the woods
and sing along, or better still, just listen.

I do and it’s certainly a lovely rhythm,
but not meant for me. I’ve tried
and the peace of nature’s not my language,

not in my range; I cannot fake it well enough
for the congregation gathered there
not to know and not to stare.

Instead I’ll sit here and keep the windows open
and think about what it would be like
to be rid of the kind folk, to just leave

the windows open and let the Church
say what it will about the one who won’t come
to the service. He’s got his own

God, or hymnal, they might say. If they’re right,
I’ll sit in waiting for that for the rest of my life;
the windows are open. Let it come, and let it be soon.




Bad Dog Blues

You make a damaged statement
and every last friend walks out of your home
while you sputter your mystified apologies.

Afterward, in bed, you lie awake just long enough
to be satisfied that you didn’t retire too early;
you sleep well for a change.

Isn’t it magnificent to be completely alone
and allowed to be the freakish, broken dog
you always knew you were? This is what

your family made you for, this angelic feeling
that you would be perpetually misunderstood:
whatever would come out of your mouth,

no matter when, no matter who was around,
even them, you would say the wrong thing.
You get up, offer a whimper, a bark. It’s all

annoying. It’s all the wrong language
for those around you. Hello, you say,
but it comes out good bye. I love you,

you say, but it spills out like a popped
blister soaking the earth and it’s too late
to shut up, to stop; no one’s listening

to what they call your bullshit
You might as well eat acid, a gun barrel,
a Nazi talking point, a dagger cookie,

and a baby one right after the other. It doesn’t matter:
you’re a bad dog. They don’t want you
anywhere other than on the killing table now.


Pandemic Pajama Pants Blues

my life’s as ragged now
as the bottom of the pajama pants
I’ve worn for 14 months
stepping through the hole in the hem
at least once a day and not caring
about who saw me when I was outside
puttering in my sad garden
among the bottom rot tomatoes
and struggling beans — y’know

I cut those pants down so
they would finally be out of the way
of my clumsy stepping
and they have been worn down
till they’ve become a feeling
a fabric no more
pants made of tears as
soft as my memory
of the many sorrows and far fewer joys
that swept around my ankles last year
tripping me up
throwing me down

it hardly seems right
to throw them away and go back
to jeans and khakis
but throw them away I did
for I have at least three more pairs
in reserve
waiting to be worn to tears
in case
it happens again
and if it does
if it does
I will not call myself ready
but


Quartz Point

This is
a quartz point
stolen from where
it grew. Now it rests on
a folding table
called “altar”
in the home of a
colonizer who keeps it
lit with a full spectrum light
all hours of the day,
all the days of the year,

and if you listen you can hear
a sharp growl like that of a black dog
from the corner of the room
where it languishes.

Nothing should surprise you
about this as it is not
unusual for a colonizer
to exercise what they call
“stewardship”
in whatever way they deem best,
regardless of listening to
the earth itself which speaks
in tongues they can’t fathom
even exist.

The language
of a stolen stone comes less
from the tongue
than from the lung and throat,
for instance, and when
a colonizer hears it

they assume it is their own
voice within, depression
they call it, the black dog
they call it; and it will persist
as long as they hold on to
what they’ve stolen.

Is it not lovely, they say,
touching the quartz point
under the full-spectrum light
they bought for the purpose.
It glows under this, they say, as it would
under the sun. Exactly so, in fact,

and they look around for the source
that will explain
why their black dog is growling
like a stab within.