Tag Archives: revisions

Polytheism

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.


Venice

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.


Not With Gold

Originally posted 4/10/2013. Revised.

Some have, some have not.
Those who have, keep;

those who do not have
do not see that they likely never will.

Occasionally someone who doesn’t have
will be allowed a taste

on behalf of a lottery number, great throwing arm,
or stupendous singing voice.

They let you think
you can get some too — 

hard work, they say, hard work
will do it and anyone can rise.

Those allowed to rise do,
and those allowed to rise

learn that to keep 
the little they’re allowed

to keep, they must keep
their mouths shut.

Your job leaves you
jealous and striving;

your leisure’s a stunted ration
of your small time here;

when you come home
to cradle that son or daughter,

you whisper to them
that it will be 
better for them —

but it likely will not be.
All that gold

will blind them as swiftly
as it blinded you.

Everyone thinks they’ll be rich someday.
Everyone thinks it’ll be better someday.

Meanwhile the oil runs out,
the seas lift from their beds,

the bridges fall sooner rather than later.
A whirlwind spins a noose over our necks.

Some of you still think love
will make it better.

You will be fooled again and again
into believing that love will win,

but love cannot win
in the long sunset of this age.

We have exhausted ourselves.
Love is nothing more than a gesture now.

You’ll still sit back and say it was better once.
You’ll imagine a time when love was enough.

But love has never been enough
to conquer this.

What’s always been needed
is a terrifying justice

and Gaia is preparing
a terrifying justice:

one swipe of her hand,
and we are gnats full of blood

who cannot rouse themselves
to fly.

You want a golden age?
Get rid of the gold

ahead of that sweeping hand.
Learn to fly for your life.

Land in something new.
It will not be called America.

If when you land you want to try love,
then by all means try it,

but do not expect it
to grow in this soil

so full of gold,
blood, and lies — 

not without
a cleansing fire.


Death By Metaphor

Originally posted April 2010.

This morning
it feels like my heart
is knocking against my ribcage.

I mean that
in all sincerity. 
Heart, in this case,
is muscle and not metaphor. 
Ribcage is
a common descriptive term for the arrangement
of the ribs. 
Morning is when this is happening;
these words should be seen
as carrying no figurative weight.

I mean to say just what I say:
it’s morning, and it feels like
my heart is knocking against my ribcage.

Note that I did not say, “trying to break free”
from my ribcage.  That would be stupid.
The heart has no will of its own. 
It doesn’t know freedom and it’s not
going to leap from my body
leaving splinters of bone
and a huge hole behind it. 
That would invite metaphor again
and I’m trying to avoid it
as my breathing’s too shallow
to use so much oxygen
on creative thought 
right now.

Did I mention my breathing was shallow?
Don’t assume I meant something else. There’s
nothing hidden there;
my breathing 
is shallow, meaning I’m taking
smaller breaths than usual, higher in my chest,
more quickly. I could add that they do not
expand the ribcage as much as normal breaths.

You should get the picture
though I’m not trying to paint one:
just the facts here. I’m wincing
with the effort of staying in the moment
with the pain in my shoulder. 

Yes, I’m in pain.
For a full description of it,
I’m going to have to dip a bit into
comparison. 
Forgive me.  It’s what 
we all do;
I don’t know how else to say it, so:
it’s like something’s cutting me at intervals.
Sharp pain. We call it that because it explains it
to another. We’ve all felt it.  Right now,

it feels like my left shoulder’s being slashed
from clavicle to pit; a rod’s being shoved in the wound
and shoved down my left arm from the inside.

That’s accurate as a description
even if it’s not a fact. 
No wonder
my breathing’s so shallow. 
No wonder my heart
feels like it’s knocking on my ribcage.

I would feel safe
in having you assume
that these are the signs

of a heart attack, which itself is a metaphor
used to describe a myocardial infarction
or some other cardiac event.  Heart attack
is a bad description: as if the heart
were capable of hostilities. 
It’s not attacking me. 
It’s doing what it is supposed to do
in response 
to my not taking care
of it properly.  Fatty foods, 
no exercise, pack a day habit.
No metaphors there, just facts, though
I suck at self care contains a metaphor
that works, 
even if the sentence
makes no objective sense.

This morning, then,
let’s just say that it feels like my heart
is knocking against my ribcage.
Let’s say, further, that my dumb heart
and my ribcage
and my arm are in some kind of distress
and as a result

I am too 

although I don’t know
what I means, who I am
distinct 
from awareness
of my body. 
If I did,
would I be writing this
instead of calling the ambulance?
If the heart dies I’m sure I’ll find out.
No metaphor in that, either. 

I suspect there will be a moment
when I will understand
the meaning of I 
if keep writing instead of calling.
I won’t come back to tell you about it, though.
You will have to draw conclusions
from the poem and the pain and the heart
and the dying.  You will say

that stupid bastard died
writing a poem while his heart was failing,

and you’ll be correct.

I’m sure someone
will make it into a metaphor,

though in fact it isn’t.


The Man Without Qualities

Originally posted 2013.  Revised.

There is a man
who has 1500 friends
on Facebook.

Of the 1500 people
this man calls friends
he has met approximately 800 in person.

Of those 800, he’s had
more than passing conversations
with maybe 200.

Of those 200,
he’s had longer 
conversations
with perhaps 40.

Of those 40, there are perhaps 15
who are “friends” in the sense of the word
that existed prior to the year 2006.

1500 friends: 800 he’s seen,
400 he’s spoken with,
200 he’s connected with,

40 he would tell his story to,
15 who would agree that they are friends
if they were not vanishing into a cloud

with all the others, because
he no longer sees “friendship”
as a solid object:

no rock upon which
to build, no seawall against which
the ocean can pound; he is alone

as he stares at screens
where all anyone can see
is a storm on the way.

One day, the man decides to read
a three volume unfinished novel
titled “A Man Without Qualities.”

He opens the first volume,
closes it,
opens it again.

He struggles to understand
how there could be
a story three volumes long

of a man who is nothing
beyond what he is asked to be
by others.

The book, over 1500 pages long,
sits on his bedside table
unopened for long spells

as he talks to 1500 friends online
where, if there is

a Quality to “friendship,”
it has been absorbed
into a cloud.

It is being absorbed.
It shall be absorbed.

1500 friends — 800 he’s seen,
400 he’s spoken with,
200 he’s connected with,

40 he would tell this story to,
15 who would nod and agree
if they were not vanishing into a cloud.

To hold on
to those 15 friends
he will have to learn a new word

with which
to draw them forth
from the coming hurricane.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Reference: The Man Without Qualities


Love Song For The New Year

Originally posted 12/31/2011.

Every day starts a year.
Every day ends one.
Any day can be celebrated,
any day regretted.

Regret one day
for one day,

let celebration
of the next begin.

All I need for
any year or day: 

one with whom
to celebrate,

one with whom
to commiserate,
one with whom to share

the New Year of every single day.

Just one with whom to straighten
up after the labor,

one with whom to soothe
and be soothed;

one with whom
to start anew

each daily
New Year’s Day.


How To Spell American

Originally posted 8/2016.  Revised.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Spell it with two guns,
a coat of whitewash,
three picket fences
and a wolverine trapped
under a left thumbnail.

Spell it with seven dirty words
and rigor mortis laid thick
between adobe bricks.

Spell it with fifty-seven apologies
flavored with forgetting,
sixty-three apologies blind to remorse,
one hundred and eleven apologies
offered on a dagger’s tip.  

Spell it fourteen ninety-two,
original thirteen,
broken five hundred and sixty nine. 
Spell it three-fifths, 
spell it six-nineteen.  
Spell it nine-eleven.

Spell it with a toxic cloud,
an unrestrained flag,
a lowered boom.

Spell it with twenty-one more guns
and a Nagasaki blister. 

Spell it with moon rocks,
tent cities, caged kids,
dead kids, dead eyes
dotted with good flowers. 

Spell it with a burr.
Spell it with a brogue,
a lilt, a bang-up job of trying to deliver it
unaccented.

Spell it with bison flanks quivering. 
Spell it with pink dawn over gray streets
and a boat swift-rocking 
down a snow fed river. 

Spell American
with a cauldron. A melting pot
if you prefer. A bullet mold,
a fireproof suffrage, a vote
for steam over simmer, 
a last summer of drowsing bees.

It’s not like anyone ever knew
a right way to pronounce it.


I Wanna Be Your Dog

Revised from 2009.

She orders
seven hundred dollars worth of merchandise
for Christmas for her pets.

Yells at me when I can’t hear her
spell “Misty” and “Sparky”
for the matching personalized doggy PJs.

My headset is wonky
and drowning in static,
and the boss won’t give me another one.

I press my hands to the headphones
and take her abuse, apologizing, advising her
about sizes on merchandise I’ve never seen

as if I care about this, because
I do, I want her to be happy, want her to buy more
if only for the commission I’ll make if she does,

so I make it up and keep a gentle tone
even though I’m so ready to be done with her
and her cherished pets, Misty and Sparky

with their obvious names,
a couple of Black Labs,

probably sleek and shiny

and well fed without being overfat,
who will soon be getting
an extra run in everyday

on their new bridle leather harnesses,
sleeping in their new cedar framed
twill cushioned beds.

If you want to understand why I listen to punk,
barking and snarling along with the music
all the way to work and all the way home,

this should help.


Thanksgiving Eve

Revised. From 2008.

Yes, I know the first official Thanksgiving Day 
was ordered to celebrate 
the massacre of 700 Pequots 
in 1637.

Yes, I feel accountable
to those dead 
for joining the annual amnesiac rush
to hide behind the lie
of a feast 16 years earlier in Plymouth 
that is used these days 
to screen us from how we cruise 
upon an ocean of blood.

Yes, I annually balance 
that shame on the end of a fork.

Yes, yes, to holding tight to the memory
of death in the fields around villages
burning like candles on the shore
of Long Island Sound.

Yes, yes, to the horrid past alive
in every bite of every American dish
eaten every day.

Yes, yes, though,
to days off and family
and people unseen since last year;
to knowing some of these faces
will likely be not here next year,
perhaps not even 
my own.

Yes, yes, yes.
Yes to our own remaking.
Yes to surviving the remaking of others.

Yes to the remaking of myths
through truth applied more as lesson,
less as bludgeon.


Three Chords And

Massively revised from 2008, 2015.  Original title, “It’s The ‘Spangled’ That We Love About That Song.”

once you were a chucked salt berry
a fogerty full of sloppy chords
a skip to my lou reed

then you got all slippery
with your own clean sauce

tossed out your faded paper bag

of dark wanderings
bought your commercial anthem
from the fluorescent aisle

come back to your game desire
come slaphappy sharp
to the war against plastic

you used to have
a mouth full of splinters

honored dingbat and idiot

and all those
who broke the social charm
with a fart

you were gas monster
huffer of free roaches
smoker of the right goddamn herbs

who feared not death
when it came through charred fences
borne on tornado cellar blown open

you were the scent
of acorn porridge

delta mysterious

that devil in the crossroads
still valued
your willing ass

you used to not be such a freak for safety
you used to not be
such a doom escape

children
hate you more
now that you’re safer

not a scrap
of care left
for your tradition

we love some of you still
even with your
crystal fraud hippie faking

and your
wall street loving
gutterpunk

bite me
or better yet 
infect yourself

be the sick fuck we loved to love
no matter how bad
you made us feel


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


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


Traitors

Revised version of “My Body The Traitor”

Ahead of me I see my body,
moving faster and faster.
I’m one clumsy step behind,
maybe two or three steps;

we’re slowing as we move tandem
toward an inevitable destination.
It makes no sense
to see myself as not being 

my body, people say.
I say they don’t know.
They can’t see how far I am
from being in there, how

my whole intention is stymied
by the distance between
what the Self wants and needs to do
and what the Body will allow.

This betrayal tears at me,
rips me, pushes me sobbing
into my pillow. I don’t want to go
where the Body is going,

don’t want to put
head and heart
into that mess. Don’t want
to die on the Body’s terms.

I find myself longing to betray the Body.
Let the Self decide the route
and the speed limit.
Drag the Body kicking to the end

to fall apart when the Self is done.
Not before, not one day
or second before. Let the Self rejoin
the Body, then leave the Body behind;

betrayed, but at peace or at least
no longer in pain, no longer
in failing, no longer in free fall
to the hard face of the road.


Song For Shootings

Originally posted in 2004. Revised many times since.

Do you recall
Maggie Apple lying in the street
with her eggshell nails 
and her skinny legs with the calves that looked
as if they’d been attached to her bones
as an afterthought?

Do you recall old Ronald Wrong
whose house smelled of wine but
looked like a glove full of bees,
so when they banged down the door
and a host of trouble
flew out of its ramshackle fingers

they shot him as if he were
a queen, a danger queen?

Do you recall
any of those salty throated boys and girls
who put their breath in just the wrong place
at the wrong time so that magic stopped working,
and they died like the rest of the pack?

Tonight the same lights flashing,
the same crowd gathering: the names
must be changed to protect the names alone
because the innocent are never saved.

One could say
such things
just happen; or
one could say
that the way
the boy is crumpled
leaking onto the floor of
the stairwell is irrelevant, or that
the cop’s statement
that he thought he saw
a gun was relevant.

If one could find the CD
the boy was said to be holding
when he was shot, one could see
if the subject matter of said CD
included guns or shooting
and thus was relevant.

If one could be objective about this
one could make up a simple song
to commemorate the event.
It would have a short verse and
the chorus would be over
in a heartbeat.

He was alive,
now he is gone;
smart kid who did
nothing wrong.

That’s not enough.
Fell down the stairs.
Bullet inside him.
Everyone stares.

Gun or wallet.
CD or knife.
Wrong place and time.
So much for life.

You say
if he had only known what was going to happen,
he would never have gone up to the roof at all?

You say
they post those doors for a reason, and what 
was he doing there in the first place?

When the people who live there say, 
going to the roof? Everyone does that.
It’s a quick route to the next building, 
you say,
well, that’s not supposed to happen…

Do you recall Maggie Apple, 
red sand bag
in the street?

Do you recall Ronald Wrong 
stung by bullets,
tumbling off his porch?

Did you forget all those kids?
Forget about 
phone, wallet,
skin, voice,
hat, hood,
place, time;

did you forget
how they leaked out on TV
in front of you sitting there
calmly chewing…

do you pretend
not to see that
something must depend
on this happening
or it would not happen
so often?

You wring your hands,
hum a little shame song;

then, you swallow.


Wisteria

Originally posted, 2010; revised, 2014; revised again 2019.

i called her wisteria.
wisteria,
in its short bloom.

thought of her as warm days
and cold nights 
in mud season
when grass blades 

start their rise from the soil.

she was remarkable.

she left me, i was lost,
though it was a night

and a day and a night again
before i could cry

for her, a long numb sweep
of hours in succession.

i wept in the privacy of the bedroom
that was newly empty.

i emptied myself.

i cried more as the walls inside me melted
and i sweated them out.
i was paper thin afterward.

light passed through me
and from within i was lit.

this is grief, i said, and it is a cold wind. 
this is unseasonable weather.  
the flowers on the early vines shriveling.  
this is her doing, i told myself.  

i said, i have been illuminated by her.
because of her, i shine.  

she was much more than my purpose.
so much more than i had ever thought to say of her,
sun of a distant unglimpsed sky over a world i hadn’t explored.

not only wisteria, 
but forsythia; violets;
thistles, oaks, redwoods, fig vines.

she was the very bones of spring and beyond.
cut her down with my small interpretation.

she was a sun i will not see again.

here in a twilight of weeping 
i indulge the urge
to endlessly recreate the moment 
when i lost my chance
to stop and listen to her
and let her expand within me 
as i should have. 

what a fool. 

the moment of loss is deep weather, 
a season of interruption
when the simplest answers go unnoticed.  

i should have been motionless
and perhaps
i could have held her here,

or perhaps not. perhaps

it was because i thought of her as
wisteria, delicate and frail,
that when she heard me
she was gone.

i still shine with her still within me
but try as i might
i still light nothing beyond me.