Tag Archives: poetry

This City Is A Garden

Inspired by Worcester journalist Bill Shaner’s phrase describing the city’s attitude toward the unhoused.

This city is a garden
and they are the weeds 
who keep popping up

in the cracks
of what we want to believe
is true 

about the state of
the heart
of our common wealth

This city is a garden
and they are the weeds
who keep showing up 

in places we pretend
we want to protect
and preserve

This city is a garden
and they are the weeds
we say we are willing to replant

in better beds somewhere else
in tiny pots somewhere else
Maybe they’ll be OK then

but in the meantime 
let’s have a mean time
and find them however we can

This city is a garden
and they are the weeds
disrupting our postcard campaigns

What we really want 
is a more manicured view
of who we are

than the one we see
when they show up
on corners

with cardboard signs
forcing smiles toward us
to make their empty hands seem

less a reflection 
of who we really are
and more a cartoon we can dismiss

This city is a garden
and they are the weeds
we long to uproot

and toss even farther aside
until someone else can figure out
how to fix the soil against their return

This city is a garden
They are the weeds
as are roses in a cornfield

if their presence
gets in the way of power’s idea
of progress or profit or propriety

This city is a garden 
being readied
for harvest 

Who knows who will have the say
on how soon today’s roses
will become tomorrow’s weeds


Opportunity

We believe
you should know
that you could become
the face of the moment 

like a green-eyed girl
in a refugee camp
on the cover
of a magazine

or a girl kneeling over a boy
shot through the mouth
in a newspaper story
about an antiwar protest

You could be even be more
A whole country’s heart-sized hole 
A tear-trailed staring mask 
A death-flecked dirty suit of clothes

hovering by a mass grave
full of black plastic bags and flies
in the wake of a conflict
we’ve chosen for all to see

We think you have 
what it takes to be
the specimen needed
for such a time

We can even leave your name
out of it if you prefer — trust us
Ever hear of Sharbat Gula
or Mary Ann Vecchio

Just think it over
Sleep on it 
We’ll get back to you
when the time is right


Wires Got Crossed

Third floor neighbors 
had a lovely cat
who went nuts one day
and attacked and drew blood
from all who came near.
No disease, no injury
was found after they put her down;
no one could explain, the vet saying only
that no one knows, sometimes,
how wires get crossed.

I got up to pee last night
and grandmothers,
none of them mine,
were everywhere
in the house —
musty old aprons a-flutter
as they thronged the rooms
silently disapproving of 
everything. I came out
of the bathroom and they
were gone, with only the scents
of lilac water and disdain
left behind. I went 
right back to bed as if nothing
had happened, as if no sacrifice 
or offering could or should be made
in response.

It’s faintly ridiculous
to hear all this talk from all sides
about saving “the country”
when “the country” in question
is as dead as a roomful of 
broken disappointed grandmas
and as savage
as a cat in a third floor walkup
who hasn’t been
outside for years and
chooses violence and death 
as a worthy way to go. 

I don’t know why
any of this has happened
or why I don’t keep sage
in the house against such things
any longer, as I once did,
as if no one knows
how wires get crossed.


Fox On The Run

I don’t believe in this lyric Muse
everyone talks about

Swear we’ve never
had a conversation

I’ve listened for her voice
in the corn by the river

Always ended those nights
running home frightened and alone

If believed in the Muse
I might have heard her

chattering in my ear
at some point

second hand news
of a second hand band

Instead I had to 
run from the silence

and here I am again
on that river bank 

panting and hungry
Full of nothing

but my voice wondering out loud
why this endlessly feels 

like I am built to be
alone — a poor boy bereft

surrounded by tall dead corn
and thoughts of plunging in

to this river that could take me
to hear what I do not believe exists

here or anywhere
but I’m willing to be convinced

I’m ready to listen
to any mythology now

having had the practice of decades
straining in silence

to hear my country 
speak to me

as if I were worthy
of nodding along to its voice

that instead sounds like nothing
as much as a snapping flag on the wind

that rattles through this dry dead corn
whenever I stop running away


The Norway Maple

In a strong box buried
under a Norway maple
brought from Europe
when they first came here

they keep the old education
they refuse to acknowledge
in daylight. Knowledge
they leave to you to hold

as they smash away at your hands, 
ways of thought they turned off
and stashed in the box they claim
holds so little that it’s not worth opening.

Anyway, the box isn’t yours, they tell you.
The box holds Atlanteans, aliens,
Templars and old ones from 
everywhere else but here. Go forth and be

mascot, crisis actor, crystal-waving 
smudge idol for a generation of fakes. 
When we need you, we’ll let you know.
When the box rises from the ground

like a coffin displaced in the next great flood,
we’ll let you know. When the Norway maple
dies and falls upon us, we’ll let you know.
When it’s too late, you’ll figure it out.


Whatever You Do

whatever you do
don’t stumble

they’re listening
for that

if they sense
weakness — oh

shhh
none of it makes sense

in any human way
unless you think

predator in place of 
human 

whatever you do
don’t be you out loud

messy you tripping 
exuberantly through

what should be safe
except they are there

listening and claiming
you — shhhhhhhh

don’t even breathe
they sit there gills out

in shallow water or
perched in crooked trees

with ears open
with claws for the likes of you

SHHHHH
you know better — don’t have to do

a damned thing to be prey
except exist out loud and 

maybe stumble or not but
it’s what they do

the men in the water or trees
that’s what they do


The Barbarians

Don’t ask how it happened 
that they were raiders by birth 
or education — it’s not worth
the effort to understand it now,
this late in the game. Enough to say
they were raised and whipped
to be descendants of such people
and such ancient habits, once ingrained, 
are the hardest to kill. Somehow 
their homes are still castles
in their eyes, no matter how flimsy;
to them their big windows up front
are still the mouths of cave shelters, 
no matter how shallow they’ve made
the space behind them, the rooms 
where they live.

Most of us out here in the fields below
are targets, serfs, or lackeys; no exceptions.
It’s been folly to bet against them for so long
we fall in as rigidly as they do to our roles —
or we have for generations now. Sometimes
we stir and wonder about how this all happened
but once again, what matters more is how swiftly 
today can become tomorrow, how they seem now
to quiver for real at last as they look out upon us
from the caves they cannot help but call home:
the aging holes, the sagging walls, the coming
of a storm or a war they will not admit
is theirs to forestall.


Custody

That we do not understand 
how much of
each of us 
is already in custody

is the great triumph of an Enemy
we cannot see as an Enemy
because we have such
a broken definition of that word.

Each day that passes
is tacked on to our sentences,
even though we see
neither walls nor gates.

It’s all
in our heads, they tell us,
as if the bars and locks
are less effective because of that.

All night the screaming
elsewhere, but still in here.
Is it getting closer or is it all
in our heads, as they’ve said?

All night inside our heads, as they’ve said.
We wonder where it’s coming from.
It sounds so close. So familiar, close enough
to catch us by the throat and squeeze.


But Hey, We Did Get Out And Vote

In the beginning,
after the collapse became
inevitable, no alien hand
reaching in to stop it,
we kept using words like
“awakening” and “rebirth,”
but no one really wanted that
if it meant things would look 
truly different.

In the beginning,
after the birds fell silent
and the seas turned gray
and hopeless, after we began 
to notice the voice
of flatline in the wind, 
people said that was a song,
a new song, and it would be
alright sooner or later —
but none of them were singing
and that should have been a clue.

In the beginning,
once it had become clear
that hope would be a mistake
unless it was a hope of complete
erasure and restart, we kept at it
with chants and the like 
for a time. We did all
the small things
we were asked to do even after
it became obvious it wasn’t going 
to be enough. 

In the beginning,
we sat in the ruins 
of the time before
and did all the same things
and hated all the same people
and shit in the same holes
we’d always filled with our shit
before. We looked with disfavor
upon what we’d wrought and then
wrought it again in a slightly 
cleaner form until the true beginning
took us away from it and put us
in the garbage by ourselves
to dwindle as the new day began
to brighten and there we stayed until
finally we were gone. 


Worry

He put his worry on the table
where he could watch it steam
and bubble. It made a rat sound
while he watched: almost a coherent
word at first, but the more he listened
the less he understood. Worry’s not
for understanding, but for feeling.
You don’t have to understand a thing
to know what worry is. It just is.
It sits there being. An essence that needs
no adjective, no modifier. He walked away
from the table but the voice of worry
and its slow heat is not going away,
no matter what. 


Warning

Pay attention: they’ve put a new hit
out on us. Anyone holding something other
than their Sun-bright view of this world
has a target on them now no spell alone can erase.

One eye out for the ambush, one eye
fixed on possible sniper’s nests; once again,
we must learn to live in the Sun’s kingdom
where Gray means nothing to the keepers of White.

Look out, my folk: there’s an ancient contract
with our names upon it. All their scopes trained
upon the time between twilight and dawn;
they only love the Sun, allow for nothing else.

Eyes wide open, all: as always, they wait in daylight
to seek those who step aside from their plain view
and their easy explanations. Under the light
of their Sun, we have dared to have shadows. 


Cats And Politicians

The morning writing I’d conceived overnight was going to compare cats and politicians. It isn’t going well. I like cats too much to do that to them and in fact I don’t think they are that much alike

until Coco, the elder of my pair, black, long furred, cranky, loyal to me above all other humans, once again sticks her claws into my bare foot to remind me of my morning routine

and to insist upon a spell of chasing the red dot until she is done with the exercise. I almost always submit to the demand but soon enough grow tired and stop until she huffs away

to find another annoyance — pawing at the bookcase doors, pawing at a yet-to-be-opened window, yowling in the kitchen for some yet-to-exist perfect food I’ve refused to offer

then coming back to where I’m trying to work to fall sideways before me and purr, illustrating her continued support regardless of my many failings. Sometimes I sit back and close my eyes

and pretend it will end if I ignore her, but it never does. 

All this time Miesha, the younger cat, sits and watches. Never engages unless I break down and offer more food, then shows up to eat and leaves to return to her observational duties. I worry

that she is half the age of Coco and is absorbing knowledge for her own future shenanigans, working through potential changes in her calico head
to make herself both more adorable and more successful than Coco

who is back from the catnip now, poking my foot. “Don’t you want to be immortalized in these words I am fashioning through your behavior?” She just pokes my foot again. I resort to the spray bottle,

thinking about the unopened window, the cold outside, the yowling in the kitchen. Miesha is watching birds now as I’ve obviously become stale. Coco comes back in and falls at my feet

and I’m still trying to think about politicians and cats, but the nagging and the constant insistent pain of Coco’s claws is making me so hopeless about ever living up to my promise as an artist

that I do not think
there is much left
for me to say
as one morning soon
(unlike any politician I know of)
I will likely die of despair
for never having done enough
to satisfy any being’s needs.


Before You Blame The Former Guy

Before you say
this is all new

Before you blame 
the former guy for launching

this parade of coffins
this festival of sneer then shoot

Before you thank
your current stars and future votes

and press keys or buttons
to share a lazy meme or simple choice

look at any shadow
you fear today and then

tell me it’s not just the same old darkness
taking on more weight

Shade thickening shadow slipping out
from behind what has always created your comfort

Coming on from behind
bank redlines and yellow crime scene tape

Coming on from behind reservation borders
and internment camp barbed wire

Coming on from burning bars
and raided social clubs

Coming on from surreptitious clinics
in a perpetual rain of blood

Before you blame the former guy
for everything you loathe about today 

look at all the former
that drew up the latter

Look at the throng of ghosts
massed behind that big bright flag

you like to imagine ever meant 
the same to others as it does

to you who still love to hear it snap
in the breeze

like a symphony of boots
coming down on necks almost like yours

but never enough like yours
to keep them from becoming dead


This Ain’t It

This place, my home,
narrowing to the width
of a sick dropping falling
from a sick hole. 

Or, it was always this way
and I’ve gotten bigger —
not much, but enough
to see difference 

between what I used to think 
was vast and what I see now as
already small  but tapering off even more
before it falls to the bowl,

the smell noticeably
more acid than rose,
now that I know
what a rose can be.


Sick To My Stomach

Sick to my stomach — is it
bad milk or White Male
Death Cult shockwaves, 
bees in my right brain,
yellow jackets in my left,
the stinging from one struggling
to overwhelm the other 
and the battle rolling, rolling…?

Sick to my stomach — is it
their laughter or their disregard
or both, the buzzing of all
the insects around me disorienting
the air itself so it all smells
like vomit, the coupled scent of roses
and lead, the flavor of
how long the disappearance of good
will be, can be, might be…?

Sick to my stomach…is it
the year? the news? the unexpected
drama from so many who should 
have known? This is the Church
of Worship of Churches. Its incense
opens nausea windows in the world
we have known, people voiding
their rights, the bees making
a last stand against it all, 
enraged, fighting, going for 
their eyes, their balls…their unholy
conception of a god’s will.