Tag Archives: poetry

Words At Night

Words now come
more often at night
than in daylight.

I would like to say
there’s a good reason,
but there’s not.

All day I fight and 
drain, struggle and 
sink. By bedtime

I have barely enough
breath left to admit
my terror out loud, 

but I push myself
into the keyboard and try
to come back out with

something fresh and hopeful,
even though often
I choke on the effort

before falling into 
a sleep I wouldn’t wish
on anyone: one so rife with dying

that most days I wake up dry
and brittle, my head a casket
full of other people’s bones.

No wonder I cannot
move for an hour
after waking, and no wonder

that to rise from bed
is akin to digging out.
Don’t ask me to give you art

made in daylight.
You’ll read it and

reek of graves.

take the words
that come to me at night,

when there’s at least
still hope we’ll wake up
alive tomorrow and stay alive.


A Little Dark Musk

He was not usually
given to nostalgia,

by which I mean
he routinely lived
without surrendering
to a suspect, edited version
of his own past.

However, he’d recently taken to recalling
past intimacies: dim lit faces; 
the sound of close beloved breath
in the dark; doing this not so much
(he told himself) 

out of nostalgia
as from a longing to hold onto
as many people as possible
for as long as possible
while facing a tidal wave of loss;

the people he had known best,
known their best and their worst,
who’d known him at his best
and his worst, the ones
who’d taught him his full identity
in the dark corners
of long-lost bedrooms. 

It was not for lust or love,
not from a yearning for rekindling,
not even a touch of what might have been;

it was because his world had faded
to such a pale imitation of life
that he hoped
a little dark musk from the past
might remind him
of how bright it might still be.


Originally posted 2014. Revised.

This God the atheists
do not believe in

is nothing like the Ones I know
who have always been

as numerous as leaves,
slippery as free mercury,

devoid of faces, disinclined
to interfere even when implored

as they are yoked to larger purposes
than we can know — purposes

they serve as surely 
as we do our own. 

Omnipotence, they laugh,
is a child’s dream — 

what God of Sound Mind
would desire that

considering how much
needs doing in the universe?

Having spoken they turn back
to their 
appointed tasks,

not caring much at all
whether or not we follow.

Meeting In A Time Of Contagion

We talk to each other from across streets
and through screens now, slowly becoming
acquainted with the low-touch rules; still, when I

see a long lost friend in a store, someone I thought
had moved to Florida decades before, it is natural 
and innate that we shake hands in the center aisle

and then immediately with regret we both look at the floor
and say, “we probably shouldn’t have done that,” and so
the conversation continues for the requisite few minutes

of catch up before we move on to his purchase 
and my car, though I stop in the lobby before I go
and scrub myself with wipes meant for cart handles

and door knobs, the sting of the sanitizer tearing into
the cracked skin on my hands like the fire of knowing
that acknowledging joy and friendship without thought in these days

might be fatal to one of us or to someone we love
or someone we never even meet, as if we are the wings 
of the metaphorical butterfly who destroys the entire world — 

as if we have never been
that disastrous before all this happened
simply by living our casual consumer lives.

For The Fancydancers

Within days
of the contagion’s start

something inside took over,
rolled my hands
into chafed red fists,

and started punching through 
my pale shell. 

I spend my mornings now
watching fancydancing videos:
little girls in jingle dresses,
little boys in full regalia
stomping, tall men and women
raising their arms 
against the contagion
on small and common snow-iced lawns,
on the edges of empty roads, 
in furrows left in winter land
by spring and summer plowing;
all of them elsewhere,

west of here, beyond this city
crowded still with unbelievers
shopping for safety from what
they don’t yet fully believe 
is already among them,
is no longer a rumor of plague
east and west of here,
but no, not here.

West of here
is where the people are dancing
toward healing. 

I think of my sister,
sick as sick can be now,
in her jingle dress
at eighteen.

Whatever is inside me
pokes me gently, reminds me
of smallpox blanket stories,
says: this is how we survived.

This is how we got through so much.

The Animal Song

This is an animal that needs to be trapped
with its fireplace pelt and its bulging frame
with its mimic cries and its fat thick name
This animal needs to be trapped and tamed

This is an animal needing a cage
with its long reach and hoarseness and rape and disease
with its cavalier blubbering face full of lies
This animal needs to be taken and held

This is an animal that must come from here
with our painted-over history and veneer on our God
with our love for the surface and our hate for the horses
we used to get here then shot and consumed

This is an animal on a stage we provided
This is an animal foaming with contagion
This is an animal that needs to be caged
This is an animal we bred for our needs

Clutch, Cling, Slip

Waking up talking out loud —


the morning glories
climbing the chain-link fence
one tendril crossing the face
of the arborvitae in the neighbor’s yard

the monster heat of the bonfire
on Fourth of July
in the sandpit

what it was like to breathe and taste
before cigarettes

leftover vinyl of artie shaw
discovered in best friend’s barn
scratched to fusstone but still

orchards in abandoned farms
gone back to poplar and scrub ferns
timid among the rotten fruit

lying awake at night
with nothing but dark and not
caring that there was no sound


names and dimlit backyards
names on shallowcarved school desks
names and names
and blame
and fervent hope of notice and friendship

stumbling fingers on the first joint
rolled with single wide papers
praying it wouldn’t fall apart before
the watchful gods of freakdom

rare birds and longed-for cars 

far from famous bands
gone to accountancy and parenthood

slinky patch jeans and embroidered 
Big Daddy Roth army coats

the first switchblade
hash pipe
condom stolen from dad’s drawer
long before the first

waking up
talking blue in the face

Fresca and vodka

sweating in the middle of a broke-ass broken sleep
waking up talking VERY LOUDLY


everything inside is solving itself for zero
cutting larger and larger holes into this being
with its comfortable shoes and sensible coat
with skin and graying hair gone to pot
this battling hydra refusing suddenly
to grow its old head back



Wednesday Morning, March 18, 2020

Almost forgetting.
Delighting at the silence
in the street. Then: oh.

Sparrow waiting
until I finish the trash.
Settles back upon the feeder

as if nothing has changed.
Birds rioting here and
in the next yard. 

I leave the TV news off
as long as I can
but danger tugs the remote

into my hand. So much
for silence. So much for the 
delight. So much — oh. 


Everyone’s planning
to become the fictional
heroes of historical novels
no one’s written yet.

not quite
far enough
from each other.

in the soup
and no one’s felt
the scalding heat yet.

Everyone’s got
a lonely shoulder and
a broken throat to call from,
though not many have started.

Oh, everyone.

Think about this:
all the people
you could have been, 
and you still turned out to be everyone.

Raven Reconsidered

To go to work
in this time
is to take a raven
off her perch,
set her on your shoulder,
and set to your tasks

with her croaking
impossible instructions and 
vague prophecies
into your ear at exactly
the worst possible moments:

during meetings,
at the beginning of your commutes,
alone at your desk in deep focus
on critical concerns.

You try to brush it off,
to silence the bird,

but since you’re the one
who put her there,
who took her from the top
of the door frame and put her
on your shoulder,

you feel a little guilty.
“Shut up,” you whisper.
“I’ve got so much to do.”

She sits, and shits,
and croaks out far more words
than you thought she knew.
Everything’s so complex.
Meanings are so obscure.
You’d assumed
you already knew 
her whole vocabulary,

but no.

To go home from work
in this time
is to set the raven
on the seat next to you
and say,

“Traffic’s bad.
I just want to get home
fast and safe.
Raven, find a way.
Raven, take me home,”

but she chooses this moment
to fly out the window
and go home on her own
(or so you assume.)

You start the car,
ooze out onto
the clogged roads
and wonder how long
it will take
and what you will find
when you get there.

A Taste, A Sniff

The only thing I want now is
a taste, a sniff

of life. A sample of it.

Living itself
has become 
such a cold concern. 

To have access
to any flavor 
that reminds me

of how warm it used to feel
to be immersed
in living, to think of 

living as a surge
into which
one could dive

to come up soaking
and joyful with life:
that’s all I want.

A memory of that
would be enough.
Living as we do now

is beyond me.
I can’t do what living
in these times

demands: the virtual killing,
the deadly spiritual sneer,
the all or nothing thrust

of getting through
and getting by
on this world’s current terms.


Originally posted 2012. Revised.

There are facts
which are known to be facts
through deep apprehension of their truth

long before they come true. For instance,
there’s no evidence yet
for the truth of my conviction

that I shall never return to Venice;
that how it vanished, slowly,
as I stared back at it

from the stern of the motoscafi 
that took me to the airport for the trip home
will be my permanent last memory of the city.

It’s not yet a fact
that I will never see Venice again,
but I know it to be true as solidly

as I know anything.
It’s as true as the scar in my foot
from the time I stepped

on broken Murano glass.  As true
as the view of Ezra Pound’s grave
and the smell of the nearby crematorium

on San Michele.  As true
as the Albanian refugees
begging wordlessly on bridges. 

Someday you will be able to say
that I visited Venice
just once in my life,

that it left a scar upon me
I can feel
whenever I walk.  

Every step I’ve taken since I left
has carried me farther
away from Venice. 

This won’t be a fact for years yet,
only blooming fully as such
on the day I die.

But I know a fact
when I conceal one,
and daily I do my best

to conceal from myself
this thing I know to be
unalterably true:

that I will not return 
to Venice, not in this life,
not in this body, not in this form.

Next Time

Something has fallen and broken
in a nearby room.

It sounded like 
diamonds scattering
over flagstone tiles.

There are no diamonds
or flagstones here, though.
Something poorer

must have tumbled, then.
We should go and see
what it was, what might need

to be gathered,
what should be discarded,
what might need repair.

But we’re not moving.
Sitting here speculating,
imagining diamonds

and stone or else
terrifying ourselves
with fabricated demons 

and myths about 
the end of the world
coming in the form of 

a shattered vessel
for what we held dear.
But look outside — 

there’s the world
as always, either ignorant of
or unbothered by what we

most fear. Time
to get up, high time,
someone says.

Ah well — the seats 
are so comfortable.
Next time, maybe. Next time.

This Wonderland

Mistakes are made,
half-measures are taken
in half-hearted response,

but no one can ever name
maker, taker,
responder — 

it is as if
things just happen and
no one needs to be present

in this wonderland, this
busted clockwork world 
where no one acts;

things slumping
to a conclusion; a slowing
ticking as it shuts down,

anthem for all of us
watching, shrugging; 
our eyes moist, confused;

looking at each other,
suspecting each other,
more than halfway certain

of each other’s guilt
in the matter of the mistakes
that were made.

Cracked My Skull

cracked my skull.
Exposed the walnut

slipped on blood. Fell and 
watched the meat roll
out and under a stone.
Scrabbled over to retrieve it
and under there was
a world.

After that?
Learned the language of 
the world under stone.
Didn’t need my head for that.

All at once: 
bisected brain
lost its seam. Stopped asking
the questions I’d been taught
solved everything.

Then, this.
then exposition of 
ghost tongue. This
translation, not perfect,
of what I’d heard:
that historic intellect
is a type of fog.
Talking in a circle,
moving away from 
all-potent straight line, 
forced orientation of 
Point A to Point B.

Last: waiting
to hear back.

If understood, joy.
If not, patience.

Inside, bewilderment;
becoming wild, as in

loving trees more than
Aristotle. Waves
more than Plato.
Autumn scent
more than Descartes,

understanding that
there’s no word
in this tongue

for Jesus.