Tag Archives: poetry

Burndowns

In July the ocean 
burned down. The Gulf of Mexico
on fire. The oil running up to the surface
and igniting. Fireboats flooding flames
fed by hellmouth far below. Water kills fire
on water that should not burn
and we breathe a sigh of relief.
That’s who we are now.

In June churches began
to burn down. Think of all
who might have taken 
torches to the churches.
Think of terrified officials
setting matches to their guilt,
or think of the children
who did not live to see this.
Imagine it in your own way
as clean revenge, filthy cover up,
or tragedy with no concern for context:
no matter. Churches burn
and some sleep better in the firelight.
That’s who we are now.

Elsewhere precincts
and drugstores and 
people burndown as if
the air itself were on fire;
in fact, the atmosphere
is burning down. Woods and homes
flash up and vanish. Lakes and rivers
drying into sinks and gullies.
Air thick with humidity and hubris
and get along to go along, fingers
plunged into ears against the screaming
of the losing earth. Burndown generations,
learning to live and die in the light of fireworks 
blowing up for the last time.
That’s who we are now.


Kintsugi

Open a window to see
how things have changed from yesterday,
or even as far back as the day before,
the last time the windows were open.

Look into whatever is out there:
a cloud obscuring a dimmed sun, a front yard
damp with failed promise. Having expected
so much from you, it looks back in disappointment.

The weeds keep returning and although
that is to be expected, every year it’s
a source of your submergence into regret.
Your landlord says he should have paved it all.

There are days you agree with the old grouch
until the moment the sun comes out of its obscurity
and you remember the pink and green-slate leaves
of the hen and chicks growing in the broken front wall.

You did not plant them or plan for them
but they keep fighting through to the light.
The weeds you deplore are doing the same.
Hope, in its many shades of green, always shows up.

So you sigh and dress for changing weather
and prepare to weed — taking the unwanted
away, clearing for the desirable. You think about
repairing the front wall. You decide to let that go:

what has filled in the cracks
is too settled to lose,
and too perfect inside the damage
where it grows.


This Train

If anything at all
could divert the train I’m on
to some destination not promised
on its itinerary, I’d gladly
make it happen.

Ride the line long enough
and you realize
it’s just a long commute
to an unappetizing job site
that’s been marketed as paradise.

They said we were bound for glory.
I see glory off on the horizon
and I don’t think the tracks
will pass through there, not if
we keep going as we have.

I could have been a gambler,
a midnight rambler — anything
but good and holy. So: next
slow curve, I’m jumping off.
Likely end up broken and dead.

No matter. I’ll be still.
If they never find me I will
be right here forever, off
to the side of the cursed track.
Could have been so much worse.


Cipher

In all the time I’ve spent
everywhere but here,
I only ever wanted to be
anywhere but there.

Here is also there.
Here is more there
than I care to admit. How
to be present anywhere

is my Great Unknown.
On the shore I long for desert.
In the desert I thirst
for sea and shore.

In a monk’s cell I would dream
of dissolute throngs; in a mob
I would no doubt separate
and seek a nook in which to cower.

Family, did you ever imagine
I would ever settle well, nearby,
ready to drop in for a visit and stay a while?
Friend, beloved, did you ever fully believe

I was as much a nomad as you are?
Inside, the best face I can muster
is a sour one. All outside will see
sweetness, a lifelong facade.

I only know how to be absence
in your presence, and I am sorry,
but these times being what they are
it is a living of sorts. Onward.


Done With

the broken arm of lady justice
the evened-out rage of alleged allies

my own agreement with those
who urge agreeability over gunfire

Done with

the stink of my confusion over who I truly am
the longing to reconcile all my parts

the ornery spirit that then seizes my hands
and pushes them into this sodden mess of art

the damnation that adheres to them
when I pull them out again and try to simply live

Done with

the notion that living could yet be simple
the sunsets and sunrises that try to say there is hope

the hope that will not touch me as I wish to be touched
the touch that hope offers that will not do to calm me

this whole curse of a hopeless body
that stumbles over everything

the time I’ve lost recovering from stumbles
trying to right myself on the grand wrong path

the mistaken faith of others that
such an implacable path leads anywhere worthy

Done with

the days of staring at my inadequate garage
the garage itself as public tell of where I fell from grace

shame and anger and guilt and insomniac self judgement
over my blind acceptance of lady justice’s sullied grip upon me

the days behind the days ahead and the days between the cracks
in the mirror I have in front of me at all times

the legacies of all who put me here
my own ease in how I have let them matter

Done with

the compulsion to say all this and still claim citizenship
in a place where I was never meant to be

Done with

opening days always with a sneer
closing days always with a sob


America’s Shoes

Walking in America
wearing its mandatory shoes
hurts. They don’t fit but because
they are superficially pretty
and match the rest of the outfit
people try to tell you your feet
are the problem. It’s fixable, they say.
Having tried on and even worn
dozens of the annual versions
of America’s shoes, you disagree.

You keep walking
in pain. Shoes
full of blood, shoes
lined with gun metal.

Finding others like you whose walk hurts
in the same way yours does
is nearly tragic most days.
Finding a place where others
have stopped to kick them off,
even briefly for quick respite,
is its own kind of ache.

The problem, you say, is the shoes, not the feet,
but even some of your fellow striders
who’ve stopped beside you on the street
to pull the cursed shoes off and rest
say the next version will fit at last.
They’re finally getting it right. Look at
how much progress we’ve made, how
far we’ve come. The walk ahead may be
daunting, but we’ve certainly left
all the bloody footprints we need
to show the way.

When you refuse to
tie the shoes back on, they’ll be the first
to stomp your bare feet until you are dead or
so crushed you might as well be, so you
stop trying, drag yourself to the nearest funeral home
(because you can’t even limp there)
where they’ll box you up, hide your feet,
burn or bury you and call you a martyr
long before you are in fact dead,
when all you ever wanted
was to get home
without screaming inside
at every step.




Monday Again

Time to rise, my friend,
but before you do, a question:
if you were to die while dreaming,
would you know?

Would you lie there cooling in the bed
while wandering through a palace
or riding a wild dog along a red ocean
at the sunset of twin suns? Would your heart cease

in the middle of finally getting
an answer from your mother
about the troubling dates of her first marriage
and your birth?

While dancing,
perfectly abandoned,
with the never-before-seen Right Light
of your Life?

In other words, if you die
in the middle of a dream —
if you stop being, just stop —
do you continue?

Would you even know you are
no longer? Are you certain?
Are you certain it’s Monday again,
and that you will be rising shortly?


Lowell George, Sylvester, and Heaven

Let us pray on the questions.
Let us listen to the answers:

is church or swamp the holiest of holies?
How deep into murky water will you go to find God?

Heaven, Hollywood, Watts: how far apart are they?
Did Lowell George meet Sylvester at the Whisky back in the day?

Glory, glory in the Commodore Hotel;
a choir full of lust and memory.

Glory, glory, hallelujah on the dance floor,
as real as anything, as anything could be.

Is a dance floor less real than the seat of Heaven?
Is the church the only true entrance to paradise?

Preacher in white coveralls offers Scripture
with six strings and a spark plug socket.

Gay black angel in glittering wig and robe
unfurls wings below the sacred mirrorball.

Is any rock club you could choose any more sacred
than any disco you could name?

Is the distance to Paradise from your stage
truly shorter than theirs, or do you just measure them differently?


Broken House

The door to this house is open,
leads nowhere. Once inside
you are outside again and you
will keep entering and soon you realize
you will never get in.

No matter how long you do manage
to stay there you will have no choice but to leave
and then no matter how far you go from the house
you will find you are inside. Once inside you cannot stay;
once outside you cannot leave.

The people who live in the house are
shells. Hard, sometimes showing a trace
of what they once were, but overall when you listen
to them? Ancient oceans, the cry of drowning
in sight of a house by the shore, forever falling into the sea.


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