Tag Archives: prose poems

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.


Freedom

The bodies in front of their former homes. The homes themselves burnt to hell. The bodies face down, some with their hands tied. The homes no longer tied together by mortar and nails. 

You could say this has been an action devoted to freeing the bricks from the tyranny of structure. When you look at it from the point for view of the property, the land the structures sat on, this is an exciting new opportunity. Anything may happen now.

As for the bodies? Find a little property for them. Dig a pit and lime it, put the bodies in, cover them up, tramp the dirt down. It’s a simple process. It will be repeated, from bullet to bulldozer, as long as there’s property to be set free. 

I don’t know how to say it but to say it plain: freedom largely is defined in a point plotted between the axes of property and bodies. I don’t know how to say it but to say it with a dirty voice of truth: your freedom is largely defined by your comfort with that math.

I don’t know a place on earth where there have never been bodies lying dead in front of their former homes, where the property mattered less than the bodies, at least for a time, sometimes forever. 

You may or may not have put the bodies there. Whether or not you did, your freedom actualizes upon finding your comfort level with the faces on those bodies — the color, the shape, the time between their deaths and your realization. 

Did they die because they insulted the rights of the property around them? Did they die because their property wasn’t handled right? Did they die in order to keep you safe, protect your freedom? 

Ah, but your home is lovely, filled with artifacts from your travels and your long and happy family life.  You occupy such lovely property, my friends, my darlings. Freedom has been good to you. 


To Dream Of Duende

Revised from 1995.

I got up grudgingly
just to see if the world had ended.

All night I had been wracked by dreams of treachery, seeing myself being pushed or thrown from a road painted on a cliff
into miles below that opened into dead space.

I could not see who or what shoved me
over the edge.
I could not see anything of the stop at the bottom.
There are more important things to notice
when facing the end of the world.

During the long drawing of breath as the body falls, so much sharpens the senses.
They then make one point upon which a body can land, piercing up from the killing ground,
opening deep waters in the rich soils that begin to flow across Death’s country.

I got up grudgingly.
I will not make that mistake again.
I will willingly wake from sleep
to seek desperate, praiseworthy knowledge —
one lives best when aware of the longing for that huge, deadly fall.


Sitting Around

Originally posted 2012. Revised.

Mostly, people are sitting around waiting for it.

It’s not going to be like a tsunami, or a war.

No one wants to admit that we peaked at Lascaux.  

No one wants to admit that we were pretty much at our apex right before the first grain was planted, the first lamb was tamed…that it started to fail with the first surveyor who confidently said “this plot’s yours, this plot’s not.”  

No one wants to admit that we were OK about the God thing right up to the moment we shook God loose from a particular geography, the one outside the hut door.  

Get up every morning, yawn, stretch…hello, God.  Turn another direction, there’s another God.  Say hi to that one, too.  

It kept them small.

No one wants to admit we knew something back then we don’t know now, and we don’t even know what it is that we knew.  

I have some friends — oh, I cannot call them that as it’s untrue now and will be even more so after this —there are people I know  who are activists.  

They think they’re doing something.  They think…I like them because they move now that everyone’s mostly sitting.  

But do they do what’s needed?  No one can do what’s needed now.  Not on anything but a small scale, no matter how grandly they practice.  

Because when it comes, it won’t be much different than it is now —a slew of abandoned houses, a lot of rootless people. They’ll leave because their wallets betrayed them; they’ll leave looking for work; they’ll leave looking for food.  

The lawns will recall their heritage and swallow houses while making jungly noises.

We don’t know what we’ve lost.

We peaked at Lascaux; all those hunter-gatherers knew it.

We sit waiting for what’s coming.

We ought to be moving though it won’t come as tsunami or war, not at first.

No.

It will be as it is now. 


Suppose

Suppose you looked hard at your life, your existence, your being, the fact of your physical presence on the planet; looked at it and saw that you, the watered-down remnant of the combination of Native and Italian ancestry, were the site and the desired product of the Genocide.

Suppose you were raised with the words “never forget you’re not White” hammered into you and yet you ended up looking in the mirror at that which was undeniably White-passing and privileged and saw, to your eyes and upbringing, the image of a great Evil.

Suppose you could never shake the constant whisper of “you shouldn’t exist” in your ear.

Suppose that as you aged and decayed and body parts began to betray you and your abilities, you found it increasingly wearying simply to get up and go, yet more and more you understood how important it was to get up and go.

Suppose you lived in the incipient days of a Fascist takeover spearheaded by a man whose hatred of people like you was becoming more and more palpable at the moment you were least equipped to confront it.

Suppose people kept assuming you were ready and able for the War you knew was coming and did not see you as anything more than their expectations of you.

Suppose this all came together for you on a hot summer morning in a pool of sweat in a soaked bed sheet on a couch in the kitchen staring out the front window at an empty bird feeder two empty feeders and birds staring back at you.

Would you go outside and water the garden?


What It Will Take

1.

Not words, as they know what to do with those: no listening, no answers, no acknowledgment that anything of value has been said; when you own the definitions you do with words whatever you want and they’ve spent culture and treasure on gobbling them up.

Not marches as they simply set a frame around them, a proscenium, a monumental arch; they’ll call them theater, showpieces, paid spectacles of acting out; in extraordinary cases they will call them war and blow them down as soon as they look like they might catch on.

Not votes as they see every last one as an impending joke with the punchlines in waiting years away in the desert of the future where they’re already been paid for on the installment plan.

It won’t take words or marches or votes. It won’t take shame or mockery or public scrutiny.

2.

It will take pain.

A willingness
to bring pain that they have never felt,
an ability
to offer and then provide pain,
mercy
to pull back once an aim is achieved.

3.

Afterwards
we can wash up and then
lie awake and imagine ourselves
pure again, 
sweet as Spring,
generous and forgiving as
any river ever

that broke its banks
when overfull, raging
with the runoff from
a winter’s worth
of cruel snow

and then returned
to its bed to roll on,
steady and calm
in its knowledge
of its power,
to the peace of the sea.


Two Sentence Horror Stories

Revised from earlier this week.

I was first introduced to the concept of the two sentence horror story by poet Jeff Stumpo.  He may not be the originator of the concept, but he gets the credit for getting me into them — or the blame, depending on your point of view.  

Here are ten such stories…or perhaps it’s only one twenty sentence horror story. 

1.
I wouldn’t drink the charcoal-filtered whisky they serve here if I were you, friend; the distillery is next to the crematorium. May I suggest instead a blood-orange Margarita?

2.
The poet Rilke once said that every angel is terrifying. Based on your expression, I must be an angel indeed.

3.
The four teenagers warily approached my stray pug, unaware that they had little to fear. Daisy had just eaten and wasn’t feeling threatened — lucky for them as they’d barely be a small mouthful to a hungry, anxious Devourer.

4.
Dark brown stains developed on the blade of the hunting knife as it lay in the Justice Machine’s chamber. I smiled, pressed the button that would cause Maria’s fingerprints to form on the hilt, and started to think about where to plant it when the process was complete.

5.
I raised my head from the battlefield to see hundreds, perhaps thousands of shattered faces doing the same — each in an enemy uniform, each one looking directly at me with hatred as they rose from their own places of dying. Each one murderous, each one ready to die again — and as if this were a field of mirrors, each one could have been my twin.

6.
My dirty little secret isn’t that I know what it feels like when a knife enters a human body. My dirty little secret is about which end of the knife taught me that.

7.
I stared at the painting, hoping something in that dark puddle of black pigment on the upper left corner would move and reveal itself as The Meaning. Then something popped, and I saw it — a crowd in a museum gallery, shrugging their shoulders and turning away from my gaze.

8.
There’s nothing new under the sun, friend. Last week, though, something new developed behind it, and it doesn’t like us.

9.
I woke up.  “Damn,” I thought.

10.
“I…I don’t know what I’m doing,” I stammered. I agreed, then continued doing it until I couldn’t deny it anymore.


The Saints Of Our Household Shrines

New poem (draft — just getting it out there; it’s been in progress for a while.)

The saints of our household shrines are banding together to form a political party. 

Throngs of our beloved dead memorialized in table altars in gently shabby homes and clean-swept humble cubbyholes are massing to stand against officially canonized hypocrisy regarding who we should honor with supplication and offerings.

They refuse our tithes, saying we’ve paid enough in loss and pain to fund any campaign.  

The platform?
Chase down and face down the Founding Fathers, the missionaries of genocide, the greed-slurping apologists for bad acts that make a profit, the prophets of compartments, the sky-godmothers of assimilation, the go along get-alongs.  

The slogans?
“Behold the dead to understand the living.

“Behold the living who come to make you understand, 
but know we do not need you to understand 
before you stand aside.”

The saints of our household shrines march before us carrying no signs, wearing no buttons, adorned only in scraps of family photos, funeral cards, locks of treasured hair, newspaper clippings, the stains of generations of tears.

We will not lose. We cannot lose.

We, and they, have nothing to lose.


The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra

Originally posted 7/21/2010.

A klezmer band purchases a sheepdog to act as band mascot.  They change the name of the band to the Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra.

The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra begin to travel widely and soon achieve a degree of acclaim.  Everywhere they go, they bring the sheepdog (known to the audiences only as The Sheepdog) with them.  He lies on stage during their sets, perking up for the dances, then dropping his sad head to the floor for the vocal lamentations and slow songs, peering out at the audience through his fringe of fur, looking right and left.

The Sheepdog is in private life named David. The band keep his real name to themselves, as they keep their own names private from the audiences they play for, using stage names — Aaron Out Front, Judith Judith, Ronaldo Star, Jonathan Regretful, Felix the Cat, Sam The Fiddler.

Sam The Fiddler, in particular, loves The Sheepdog and is David’s closest companion in the band, walking him during breaks, petting him for long hours in the privacy of hotel room, brushing his thick coat until it shines before every gig.

In their hometown south of Detroit, the Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra plays weddings so often that the sound of a clarinet in the street would lead to proposals and engagements.

I only have ever seen them play once, as I am not a fanatic for klezmer music in general.  But at a wedding of close friends from college, The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra played for hours, and I danced and wept as much as the families did for their offspring, and I have not forgotten.

Tonight on the radio, in the early dark of pre-dawn, I heard a recording of The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra and thought of you again:

how your hair fell before your eyes so often
that I was always brushing it back
to see them more clearly;

how I used to dance and weep with you
and called both things
a celebration of us;

how it seemed that a band was playing
whenever we spoke or loved together;

the air itself blurred into song.

This is not to say that remembering you reminds me of a sheepdog, or of The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra, or of weddings or dancing.  

This is to say that when I think of joy and sadness mixed, and of the caring that demands the constant brushing of hair from soft eyes, of hours of travel and the rewards of keeping private what is most your own,

those moments
have a soundtrack

in which you still sing to me

like a clarinet,  like Gershwin;
like klezmorim singing the music of names
used gently and only in confidence.


Gunstock

Originally posted 4/10/2008.

The word “gunstock”
sends the listener into a maze,
evoking as it does
everything

from the anticipation of a fast run 
down the New Hampshire mountain which bears that name, 
powder surging around the tips of your skis,

to the feel of oiled walnut against your shoulder.

There’s anticipation there too
of the sound coming a split second late,
the long whoosh of the bullet drawn out into the air 
just ahead of the punch of the blow to your shoulder.

You cannot know much of the reality of either of these things
until they have happened to you,
so if you have not skied or shot, 

the word “gunstock” is a theory at best.

It is a gate that may lead you to contradictory places,
or at least to places that bear little resemblance to each other
until you decide to cut through the walls of the maze 

and see that in truth,
“gunstock” always means
“rapid movement”
with a related meaning of
“potential death.”

That “joy” is also operative in each of those meanings
may not be apparent until you cut through the green walls
that define the maze established by the presence of the word.

Learning which of the meanings is operative
changes the nature of the maze.

Holding all of the meanings to be true in all situations
is a key to cutting the maze down.


Cryptozoology

Originally posted 4/14/2008; original title, “Cryptids.”

So, there’s this website where you click to spin a wheel
and it tells you how to make a life decision
based on you doing what a unicorn would do
if a unicorn was in the same situation you’re facing.

I spun the wheel this morning
and it said i should
“whinny and rear.” 

Well, I do this all the time so it didn’t seem to be a huge stretch.
I was glad I was not advised to nuzzle a newborn or frolic in a meadow.
I was hoping that I’d be told to impale evil things 
but I confess I’m not really in shape for that — 
good call, wheel.

So: out the front door on my hind legs,
waving my arms around.
My voice has too much tobacco in it for a solid whinny,
but I made some sort of approximate noise
as I went forth.

At the gas station, the pump refused my credit card. I whinnied at it.
There wasn’t much space to rear since I’d parked too close to the pump,
but I managed something that didn’t look too un-unicorn-like
and fulfilled the prophecy.
I was becoming mythical!
Certainly, the pump’s refusal to honor my credit made that belief credible.

I drove out to the Tower Hills, just outside the city.
I knew I’d be the lone unicorn out there, since it’s not the season for the regular unicorns —
while they equally adore frolicking in meadows covered in snow or wildflowers,
the mud of a Massachusetts spring is something they’d rather not touch.
They go to Arizona, I think, in winter.

I pulled off the road by the reservoir
and found a trail there,
which I followed to a bar
in a clearing.

The bar was better furnished than I would have expected,
and the drinks were well made and cheap.
The bartender greeted me with a nod;
apparently I had been there before,
though it all seemed new.

I knew no one else,
at least by their faces,
though I recognized them by their traits —

gryphons whose wings had been stolen,
chimeras with odd parts from random plastic surgeries,
basilisks who could turn you to Corian with a single glance.

I joined my fellow cryptids there
and we indulged in our fortunes
for many, many hours
until I was drunk on the dizzying rhythm
of my whinnying and rearing.

I came home flecked with sweat
and exhausted. I dreamed of virgins 
seeking me, I dreamed of eluding capture —
and then I woke up — here. Again.

I’m going to return
to that website with its majestic wheel.
It tells me old stories 
that make me feel like I’m not alone 
in believing that there’s a greater purpose. 
I know it’s supposed to be for amusement only,
but it’s a joke
that has led me to the place 
where I feel most justified,
and most at home.


Two Crazy Kids, An Old Man, And A Host Of Lizards

Originally posted 3/31/2011.

We called him “the Old Man” because of our lack of imagination.  
He was usually seen smoking a fat tube the same color and size as the ubiquitous local lizards. 
We assumed these were cigars, mostly because it seemed unlikely that he possessed the requisite igniter to get a lizard to burn.

We were there because of our lack of imagination. 
Our art was escape, not arrival. 
We had been on the run so long, place names seemed superfluous. 

The relationship between us, if you can call it that, was superfluous.
On the rare occasions we fell into sex in those days it was usually due to losing our balance versus our having been open to abandon.

As the days wore on, we surrendered to a lack of definition.
We lost entire weeks in the calendar grid.
Began referring to the Old Man as the Lizard Smoker, having forgotten our earlier decision that this could simply not be so.

He taught us that the trick to smoking a lizard is to put the tail end in your mouth and use the dry skin around the eyes as tinder. 
Once you’d learned the trick, they were remarkably easy to light.
The hardest part was learning to coordinate the biting of the tail end to create a vent for the draw.
It had to be timed perfectly with the ignition of the blowtorch.
That first drag was a doozy — all the gut and blood bubbling inside made for a strange if not entirely unpleasant taste.  
It was not unlike that recalled from the factory air of our youth, with a trace of bewilderment in the aftertaste.

That were were torturing animals never occurred to us. 
We’d been tortured animals ourselves, after all, and casual death seemed natural. 
Organic. 
Accustomed, in some ways; I’ve already testified to our lack of imagination, after all.

Weeks turned into days. 
Instead of marking the passage of time (however poorly we’d done at it) we simply rose, lit up, and passed the day in the company of the Old Man.
He told odd stories of bureaucracy and petty intrigues, then fell into bed at dusk to await the next sunrise, the next smoke. 
That there were names for the days seemed superfluous.

We awoke one morning to the Old Man’s death rattle. 
That one of us might have killed him did not occur to us until we saw the blood, the knife, his blowtorch bubbled skin. 
We thought at first it might have been the lizards, but there were none to be found anywhere in the village.

The local constabulary arrested us, charged us with various types of extinction. 
There was no trial, and we were incarcerated in the flimsy local jail to await transport to the regional prison to serve life sentences. 
Fortunately, the bribes required to get us out of town were small enough for our meager savings.

On the road back to our long-abandoned homes, we realized how long it had been since we’d had to think of schedules, itineraries, names. 
We had little imagination, but managed to concoct a story to explain our absence to our loved ones.

We told them a story of exploration and suffering, of the smell of desperation and bewilderment.
We told of the kindly Old Man who’d taken us in and showed us the way of the indigenous culture. 
The story was bogus-sounding, but as we came from places where lack of imagination was endemic, it was accepted with little hesitation.
Of course, it was all but true, though we’d left out the lizards and the mystery of the Old Man’s murder in consideration of the delicate sensibilities of our simple homefolk.

We sat on a hill outside of town, staring into the curls of autumn smoke above the plain chimneys. 
We made love again as we once had, stable and grounded. 
This was a temperate climate, after all; no lizard temptations here, and we knew the names of all the old men and women there below us. 
It was almost good.

The next day, we left for Los Angeles; bought blowtorches before we left, betting on the possibility of lizards. 
The memory of the taste and the bubbling of the blood and fragile skin was so strong…maybe there was a movie to be made of all this. 
Something to fire the imagination. 
Something not to be seen as superfluous in scant years after it was made. 
Something we’d be remembered for.


Sitting Around

Originally posted 12/13/2012.

No one wants to admit that we peaked at Lascaux.  
No one wants to admit that we were pretty much at our apex
right before the first grain was planted,
before the first lamb was tamed.

It started to fail with the first surveyor
who confidently said
“this plot’s yours, and this plot’s not.”  

No one wants to admit
that we were OK about the God thing
right up to the moment we shook God loose
from a particular geography,
the one outside the hut door.  
Get up every morning, step outside, yawn, stretch…
oh, hello, God.  
Turn another direction, there’s another God.  
Say hi to that one, too.  
That’s how we kept them small enough to manage.

No one wants to admit 
we knew something back then we don’t know now, 
and we don’t even know what it is that we knew.   

No one wants to admit
that it all began to slide
the first time someone paid someone else
to keep Others off their property
and slung one of the names of their God around
as a good excuse for all that spilled blood. 

There are people I know who are activists.   
They think they’re doing something.  They think
they can stop it from coming.
I like them because they keep moving 
now that everyone’s mostly sitting.  
But do they do what’s needed?  

No one can do what’s needed now.  
Not on anything but a small scale,
no matter how grandly we practice.  

When it comes, it won’t be much different than it is now —
miles of abandoned houses,
a lot of rootless people
who left home when their wallets betrayed them.
They’ll leave looking for work.
They’ll leave looking for food and water.

The lawns they leave behind
will remember themselves
and swallow the houses,
making jungly noises as they do.

Soon enough the only thing left will be
a handful of concrete walls
adorned with strange paint
that our distant descendants
will finally have the sense
to adore.

We ought to be moving now
because it is coming,
though it won’t come as tsunami or war,
not at first…no.

It will be as it is now. 


Remote Viewing

Session the first:

it looks like a pin. it looks like a needle. it looks like a sting. it looks like a pain. it looks like a reminder. it looks like a bad time. it looks like a place to go. it looks like here is there. 

Session the second:

a tube.  a tunnel.  a closed space.  veins.  arteries.  empty inside the vessels.  a heart pushing air.

Session the third:

it’s what I imagine the worst to resemble, but it seems peaceful.  a man is there.  a woman has just left.  

now the man’s leaving.  now the pin is in his hand, its point in the skin.  he’s not bleeding.  the empty veins.  the whistling out of a wind that was in him. it seems like here is there.  

have I done well?  has this been a success?

 


Rules Of Thumb

We sit over the end of a comfortable dinner and discuss the state of all things.

A study has shown that exceptions to popular proverbs, laws of physics, rules of thumb, common knowledge, sensible notions, and given assumptions are becoming more and more the norm.  Geometry is shifting.  Angles, never before provably trisected, now regularly fall into neat triplet piles.  Shelter is losing its place in the hierarchy of needs.  Soon, it will be forgotten entirely. 

It appears to knowledgeable observers that knowledgeable observation is becoming a lost art, akin to alchemy and divination by gut of pigeon and pig. There are suspected reserves, not measurable, of container ships laden with butterflies who are waiting to change the world’s climate.  If there are ghosts, they wear visors and lean deep into ledgers with our very dimensionality at their calculating mercy.  Nymphs, fauns, and revenant Pan himself establish Websites and collect scores of followers, who fondle tokens of their avatars while staring at doorknobs, thinking of the potential for rattling entry in the dark.

My love, this world is slipping away into an immeasurable mystery.  Nothing we have known to be true is certain.   We should sleep with our eyes open now, scanning the dark for signals.  And then, when we think we have seen enough, it will be up to us how we choose to live.  What we choose to measure.  What we count on.  How we refine and define the terms.

So if a butterfly comes close, hold your breath.  If a god possesses you, count rapidly to one hundred seventeen.  If the door rattles in the night, we’ll cast a cold eye on it, pass through the walls, and escape, carrying nothing with us.  Not even the meaning of love, or of home.  We will come back for them later, or make new ones while holding up our thumbs to plead for rides to new places.

Our thumbs — once the measure of punishment, as the story goes — will become our transport. We will have to depend on each other to carry each other.

Eventually, we’ll forget the old origin of the term and say: a “rule of thumb” measures the distance you were carried before you decided you could live where and how you are living right now, and is only fixed until the next departure.

And then we’ll say: Love is the vector of human travel.  We’ll say: Home is the fare humans paid for the transport. 

And when we say human, what we will see is aluminum pie plates — when full, flaky and soft centered; when empty, easily flung into flight, shining as they fly.

We polish off the last of the dessert, and leave the clean up for tomorrow as we hurry off to bed.

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