Tag Archives: poetry

Kilgore

Frank sat in the back of the room
talking to someone named Kilgore.

Kilgore, he said,
you don’t say much.

Come sit and I’ll buy you one,
whatever you want. 

Kilgore, he said, how come
you don’t talk anymore?

There was a time
you couldn’t shut up.

There was a time
we would talk for hours

and who talked more
than you did back then?

Gift, we called it,
gift of gab

and drink would unwrap
the gift even more. 

Kilgore, Frank said,
what happened to us?

I can’t even see you
and no one can hear you.

You must have an opinion,
a piece of advice.

You must know something
you’re not telling me.

It’s Goddamned cold here,
and I can’t face it. Talk to me, Kilgore.

Call me up sometime and tell me
what you used to tell me, soft and low,

all the good things. Or shout it out
the way you used to, the way 

you used to bellow. Kilgore,
talk to me, man. Talk to me.

Frank sat alone
in the back of the room,

at a table by himself
in the stacks. All around him,

books and books
full of unheard words,

and Kilgore nowhere
to be seen.


Meta-Argument

The argument was
about a stone.

Was it a gravestone,
headstone, or tombstone?

It became an argument
about arguing.

An argument about arguing.
How best to proceed?

Continue to 
argue about the arguing,

or get back to the stone
of the moment?

In the interest of wearing
the ground around the burial

to a full circle
of bare packed earth,

we argued about
that — an argument about

arguing about arguing,
and so we roared on,

circling the headstone or
or gravestone

or tombstone or stele.
A marker that showed the world

where something had ended.
Where living had come to an end.


Among Fires

Yesterday,
the breaking moment,
time fractured;
today, the beginning
of the pieces moving
away from each other;
soon enough
the edges will erode
and never come together
cleanly again. As if
they were never 
part of a whole. As if
they were not related.

Yesterday,
the breaking of time;
today, the lighting of fires
on the shifting remains;
blazes and smoldering wrecks;
bonfires underfoot,
ground cracking, smoke
insistently choking off the sun.
As if the sun was not also
a fire. As if heat did not have
both light and dark sides.

Yesterday,
I broke. I looked into
fissures, saw fire,
and broke. I felt
myself being chopped and 
shattered and now the parts
fall away from each other
and the one on which I stand
is so far from where I was.
An explorer floating on 
wreckage, hoping. As if there was
any place, any fragment
where one could land
that would not be on fire.


Whiteout Storm

You learn this early:
at night when you are
driving in a whiteout storm,
you keep your headlights 
low, focused on what’s
directly before you,
the next three yards of road.

If you turn them up,
put on the high beams,
the whiteness becomes
a blinding tunnel and 
whatever lurks ahead becomes
obscure and potentially
hazardous, if not Death itself.

You learn early that
staying safe in the whiteness
is best served by finding
a solid warm home where
you can sleep safely, have as many
or as few lights on as you want:
all you desire or need in full view.

When you wake and have to leave the house
(you will have to wake and leave the house)
you do it in full daylight. Do it
when you can see all the whiteness
for what it is. Everywhere,
the shroud and cold smother.
Hazards clear. Death, obviously there

but in plain view,
easier to fend off
and avoid for now,
if not forever; as time passes,
a promise rising in the air
that somehow,
all of this will be temporary.


The Holy In-Between

Where will we find
the playing field
where we can triumph?

Where is there
any scoreboard
that shows us ahead?

Where is any pen in hand
scratching a “W”
next to our name?

We are exhausted
and every piece of equipment
we have is secondhand or broken.

We are injured
and our bandages are laden
with toxins and old blood.

We are demoralized
and disorganized, sundowning
and angry and embarrassed.

But I am tired
and demoralized and injured
by refusing to speak in specifics.

I am sidelined
while watching people die
on our streets, in our cages.

I am wounded
and from the edge of the fire
I can feel the heat rising.

If I still had a memory
I might recall a time
when we were winning

but now I only have
the moment, and in the moment
a Hail Mary pass is sinking

from its apogee toward a spot
where no one is waiting
to catch it and run it in to score.

I hate sports metaphors,
to be honest, the two sides
they paint into our lives;

the night and day narrative
that refuses to see the reality of dawn 
and dusk, or the distant existence

of midnight sun in other places
not within their purview; yet I cannot help
but think of winning and losing today,

imagining someone on another team
jackal-grinning as they prepare
to declare the game over, to proclaim

their victory. And then what?
Do they turn from the field
and leave us here to die?

I cannot say what they are thinking
but what I think is this:
where is the playing field

they have long ignored?
Where is the old wisdom
of a game they cannot play?

Where are those
they have never dreamed
of confronting?

We are something else,
something they’ve forgotten,
people they do not know.

They do not know us, the people 
of the dusk, the dawn,
the littoral, the interstitial 

spaces, the neither,
the either, the holy
and resilient in-between;

and what
they cannot fully know,
they cannot ever utterly defeat.


The Rug, The Door, The Ceiling

they pulled the rug from under her feet
just as she stood triumphant preparing to knock on the door
that had always been slammed in her face before
she was certain as she could be that this time things would be different 
and it would be opened to her with a flourish and a fanfare
but instead the rug was yanked and as she fell backward
someone was clearly laughing somewhere behind her 
someone she couldn’t see who might have been
the one who placed the rug before the door in the first place
in just the right spot to facilitate the jerk
and it might have been the same laugh she had heard before
from the other side of the door that nearly crushed her hand
every time it was slammed on her before she could even speak
and as she lay there on the hardwood staring up 
as a ceiling made improbably of opaque glass
(or one-way mirror and who knew who was watching and laughing up there as well)
it hit her at last in a different and better way that after all
whoever was behind all these obvious injuries and cliche assaults
built this place in the first place
built it full of booby traps
built it without her
built it to keep her out

and whoever was behind the door
or above the ceiling
whoever it was
who pulled that rug out from under her

was no one without this structure to protect them
and it was only natural
and long past time
for her to build something else


IF

If. That’s all, really:
if.  It all comes from 
if, comes down to if.

Go sit outside
and look at one last
good sunset.
If you had never
seen one before,
would you feel this same sadness,
would you still ache with its loveliness
and say to yourself,
that’s enough?

There’s your sleeping child.
What if they’d never been born?
If that spot where they sprawl 
on the couch were unfilled,
would you turn so quickly away 
as you do now and go forward
with…with…

You can’t even say
what’s on your mind.
If you could…
would you dare to?
Will you dare to?

Look at the pile of work, the poems
and essays and wrong-directed
manuscripts you long claimed
would be your legacy
if anyone were to find it. Now
that you are afraid they will find it —
if you burned it in the fire pit
out back, if you then drenched 
and stirred the ashes until they were 
dense black mud, if you did all that
would you exist for long afterward
in the minds of the few
who knew your work?

If there were only
a wooden match in the house,

if there were gasoline in the garage,
if only the house was emptier,
if only the night were noisier to hide 
the sound of, the sound of…

In the dark at last, the sunset over,
the child asleep, the firepit full,
you wonder: 

what was the first “if”
that sent you here? What choice
did you make that created 
this moment? 

There isn’t a moment to spare.

Overhead the stars whirl slowly by,
a machine without choice. It is all
as it should be so if you go ahead
and follow through, that will be
the last if, and isn’t that perfect?

Fill your hand with certainty,
and go.


Movement

Anywhere I go
I see movement from 
the edge of sight —
live dark blurs shooting by
across the floor or ground; 

nothing I can ever name
although indoors I sometimes fear
I’m seeing roaches, or mice,
or other beings shamed and shameful
by reputation; outdoors 

I’m less afraid than curious
although that’s ridiculous —
potentially what I’m seeing
fleeing me or speeding by
out here is possibly less familiar

and offers a greater threat.
Perhaps what I’m seeing
regardless of where I am
is something else again,
beings without name trapped here

and running for their lives
to alternate dimensions
where they are kings and queens
and heroes for their bravery
in facing me who for some reason

is privy to all this motion; also
I consider the likelihood
that there is nothing there, that I am
seeing things that don’t exist
and the landscape’s a mythology

of my own making. Maybe
what is moving is within me,
nameless and furtive, scuttling
like the memory of long-ago mistakes 
through my view then disappearing

until such time as I can capture them,
examine them, choose to hold them
or end them or release them.
I should be wary of where I step.
I cannot tell how hard they might bite.


Drive It Like You Stole It

She pointed to the road
Said let’s go for a ride
Got the car right here
Let’s get going

She gave me the keys
I turned it over once
Started a little rough
Then it started purring

Asked her, “Is there anything 
I should know before we go”
She sat back and said
“Just drive it like you stole it”

Drive it like you stole it
Drive it like you stole it

Just drive it like you stole it
Drive it like you stole it

There’s nothing safe about love
Ride as rough as a moonshiner’s road
Until you find the sweet spot
Then it’s smooth as a freeway

She said let me drive
I gave up the wheel

I said “I promise I won’t quit on you”
She just smiled and punched the gas
Started ticking like a perfect clock

I’m not the kind to let that go

We’re ticking like a perfect clock
That tells the right time all the time
Ticking like a perfect clock
Clicking on all cylinders

Drive it like you stole it
Drive it like you stole it
Just sit beside me while we drive
We’ll drive it like we stole it


Scenario

for the end 
we took with us
what we had
even if it was not
what we needed.
we walked or crawled
toward light, or toward
darkness. some went
alone, some carried
another, some were
carried. we suspected
that once we got there
it would be a bad place
but we pretended
it would be heaven
in order to hold
the desire to keep 
moving and not meet
the end in the same place
we came from. such a failure
would tell volumes 
to those few who might
come upon us after.
what a waste, they’d say.
it is as if they never lived at all
or even tried to survive.
did they think they were
stones that would not break,
would just continue being
after the end had come? 
to have others think
such a thing of us
would be unbearable
so we gathered
what little we had
and moved for the end
as if it might offer a new start
or at least amnesia.
we moved, thinking
at least what we left behind

would speak well of us.
our legacy would be
that when we knew
the end was near

we moved toward something
though it was too late
and had been too late for years.
thinking that in
the best case scenario

maybe no one at all will be left
to speak ill of us.


Legendary Animal

I once was
a legendary animal
without reservation. Could
savage a body
to a near-mythic level,
offer fierce
teeth to my enemies,
feed on the weak
till I burst open;
you don’t know
who I used to be

once upon a time,
back before I woke up
my inner humanity
and turned away from that

so long ago
that although I need
my animal back
to face what is ahead,
i cannot call it up;

my left hand
can’t feel anymore,
the right one
can’t close enough
to grip a hilt or throat.
I admit to atrophy
of the fighting heart.
I confess 
to aged weakness
and, at last, 
to fear.

I want what I once was,
long to have the teeth
and claws I once had,
but I am old, and sick;
and now can feel other animals
closing in upon my bed,
can smell their drool and 
my own sweat and piss —

let them come
by dark or night.

I will die but I swear
they will not walk away
unchanged.


Safecracker

Your tongue’s  
a burglary kit.

Your language
spins and steals. 

Everywhere,
cracked safes

and opened rooms,
and all you did

was speak.
I take inventory,

trying to decide
what is missing;

nothing, it appears.
In fact some things

long thought lost
are in fact here now.

In fact, the rooms
are rearranged but full,

all the doors
still close when needed,

and all the dials on all the safes
still spin, endlessly

creating new combinations
for you to test and try.

You are forever breaking
all my locks, all my little codes. 

The sound of your voice
picking its way in. Your hands

turning and turning upon me;
then, the sound

of the heavy door
swinging wide.


Gandhi And King, King And Gandhi

From 2017. Revised.

“Though violence is not lawful, when it is offered in self-defence or for the defence of the defenceless, it is an act of bravery far better than cowardly submission. The latter befits neither man nor woman. Under violence, there are many stages and varieties of bravery. Every man must judge this for himself. No other person can or has the right.” — Mahatma Gandhi

“The principle of self defense, even involving weapons and bloodshed, has never been condemned, even by Gandhi.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Gandhi and King, you say,
King and Gandhi
Though you never quote them completely
or well

Please stop selling me
hippie shit
about how love is all
I need

and trying to convince me
to unclench my fist
in favor of kissing
the face

of someone who has said
they want to kill me
for my parentage
and my wish to be

left alone to live a life
unlike the one they think I should have
under their god and their sexytime rules
and all their ancient proverbs

So miss me with your
quick spouted peace talk 
If you don’t want to swing on one of them
stay out the way

Some folks have lived generations
ducking their fists
It’s time at last
to swing back

Gandhi and King, you say,
King and Gandhi
You never quote them completely
or well


Not Over

This isn’t over
although it appears to be
almost beyond repair.

It is not over
although the bears
are falling into pits
and not rising up.
Not over although
an eagle dropping from the sky
misses the intended target and 
seizes a scrap of human
instead. Not over although
smoke is filling eyes
and lungs and discourse.

It’s not over
because this morning 
someone stepped out
groggy from heat and 
lack of sleep and 
filled the feeders before
making coffee,

and then waited to see
who would arrive first,

and recognized 
the usual downy woodpecker
and said good morning to her
as he turned from her perched
on the log full of suet plugs
hanging not three feet away,

the nonchalance of the bird
in his presence suggesting
for once, the possibility of
a future, offering a chance
at small, tentative relief
that maybe it’s not over,
not yet.


Ism Schism Game

Originally posted 2015.
With acknowledgments and respect to Bob Marley, whose words inspired this piece.

Dictionaries
tell you with authority
how words are used

to do work
on behalf
of Authority

If they mention 
when primary meaning is 
in dispute

or when primary meaning
is a cornerstone
of a prison or when

that cornerstone
rests firmly on negated
backs and necks

If they do tell you a meaning
came from a definition 
written repeatedly in blood

with pens
made from bones
plucked from slain infants

they wink it off with
a bandage label such as
“colloquial” or “obsolete” —

trying to chase 
unquiet ghosts of struggle into 
forgotten fields of rubble

left over from 
construction of 
their order

The dictionaries
have no words
to sing of those who

having come up from under boulders
having come free of rejections and crush
having come from understanding

to see this ism schism game
for the death match it is
and then sing new words to win it

Words of how stones refused
by builders become soon enough
cornerstones and

keystones of
aqueducts to carry fresh water
to those who still thirst

and they do so
by any definition
necessary