Tag Archives: revisions

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.


Requirements

Revised.  Originally posted March, 2018.

Start picturing
a starving eagle in tears,
exhausted to the point that
it cannot feed
after all those years
of having to hang there:

wings up,
talons full.

Start wondering
what’s under 
your Uncle Sam’s 
hat and why he
looks so pissed 
as he points at you:
you thought you
were tight. After all
you’re family, or
so you were told.

Start thinking about dollar bills
in your pocket, your hand,
against your bare skin.
Imagine who paid for what
with them before they came to you.

Start seeing 
that flag
as a door
anytime you see it,

a locked door
with a code
to enter. 

Start imagining how hard 
you will have to kick to take down that door.

Think about what might be on
the other side.

Keep at it until your foot spites your fear
and twitches without you willing it.


Land That I Love

Revised.  Originally posted February 2019.

Open air salt mine surrounded by trees,
broken skin broken heart redwood dog pen,
blistered, bruised vending machine jail
overrun with self-guarding inmates,
I sing you my hidden prayer:

burn clean as you burn;
flood red when you flood; 
may you thus be wiped free of old stains.

If you be hell bound, may you hellhound loud;
if you speak ironbound words,
may they scar you dark and long
and thread you with traces of forgotten railroads.

Oil pan, catch basin, heart butcher to the world;
split window fastback hearse;
mistaken, glorious,

I offer you this finback wish:

may somehow you go leaping 
through hardening seas
toward the last places left with soft water;

may you somehow turn
to ice 
and jungle
and gulp replacement air;

may you somehow find safety,
dive deep, stay submerged, 
and learn to thrive in the absence of light.


A Social Construct

Originally posted 6-19-2018.  Revised.

“Race doesn’t exist,
you know.
It’s just
a social construct,”

he said.

I jabbed him gently
in the face
with my real fist.

When
real men
showed up waving
real guns
and real badges, 

I indicated
that whatever
we all did next

in response
was in fact a social construct —

whether or not I went
easily, whether or not
they took me down, whether
I lived or died or they lived or died — 

none of it was real
and all of it
should be easily ignored,

but for some reason
they did not ignore a thing.

Was arrested, a social construct.
Made bail, a social construct.
Went to trial, 
a social construct.
Pled out, a social construct.

Got probation, a social construct.
Came out marked
and
civically blighted,

a social construct.

Race is
a social construct

that works better for me than for many.

That’s real.

Money is
a social construct

that works better some days
than others for me,
better overall for some folks,
much worse overall
for others.

That’s real. 

What’s real
is a social construct

unless it’s
a mountain

or a desert
or a robin
or a lion

or the skin
you’re in,
the hair you

grow or do not grow,
the strength of
your pulse or
the jerk it makes
as it slows and stops
in response to a bullet
entering your body.

How quickly it stirs
at the screaming
of a child not your own, or at
the sight of
someone else’s blood
on a cracked street?

That’s a social construct.

On page or screen
I’m a social construct.

I wish sophistry
wasn’t so damn real.


Riddle

Originally posted 9-15-2016.

Here is a riddle

A clerk at a butcher shop
stands five feet ten inches tall
and wears size 13 sneakers

What does he weigh?

Meat
He weighs meat  

Ha ha
good one
we’re supposed to say and
it’s true as far as it goes but

it doesn’t take into account 
the possibility 
that the butcher might also sell
various deli items

and the clerk
might weigh out piles of slices 
of provolone into 
white waxed paper 
sealed with brown tape labels 
with name and price handwritten 
in black grease pencil
or that said clerk might also weigh
heaps of potato salad
into plastic tubs
from a white enamel case 
with huge sliding doors

the way Michael Morelli did
when I was a kid
on my family’s Saturday morning trips
to his dad’s market in Milford
I remember his old man 
would hand slices of cheese
over the counter to me with a wink
when my mom wasn’t looking

The riddle also
doesn’t take into account
that the same clerk might also 
at some point 
have to weigh
a decision set before him

whether to maintain 
this family business
or sell the building to a barber
upon his father’s death
so he might go on 
and do other things

It skips entirely
the possibility
that the clerk might also 
continue to weigh
the consequences of that decision
every time he passes
the now empty and decrepit
storefront that long ago
went from being
a butcher shop
to a barber shop
to an antique shop
to a computer repair shop
to an empty shop
to a broken hole 
on a broken block 
in a broken downtown

The clerk goes home
Weighs himself
Sighs
Stares into his bathroom mirror
Ssits in the dark
in his clean modern kitchen
at the butcher block island

Ha ha
Good one
he says

This riddle is endlessly retold
for new audiences

more and more of whom
have never seen
a butcher shop
white paper
brown tape
grease pencil

have never smelled
mingled sawdust and blood

never felt the cold blast of air
from the walk-in
where full quarters of beef
hang behind glass
behind the counter

So now
here’s a new riddle

A writer on a couch with a laptop
five foot eight when standing
wears a size ten shoe
at 59 is shocked to realize
he can still remember
the name of a butcher
and his son
who once owned a shop
that’s been gone
for most of his lifetime
and at how much 
this memory weighs

When does this all get funny

 


Unboxing

Revised.  Originally posted 11/22/2017.

I made a box
in which I keep the work
of my whole life:

how to be this divided
self, how to speak of it,
how to stay alive.

In the box I keep my races,
my bad brain, the sticky moods
that won’t wash off;

stars and scars,
every ink-bitten mistake, 
each triumph over a mistake.

Sometimes I have to
crush what I put in 
to make it fit,

but it’s all in there, 
I promise. All of that;
all of me, except that now

someone has kicked it
and a side has split.
Someone has kicked it

and it’s not holding.
It’s all out there now.
I’m in danger of spilling out.

That which has been
crushed down and down and
compacted for long years is 

now visible. In this light
some of those triumphs
look now like mistakes,

have been so pressed into
one another for so long that 
they might ignite when exposed.

I can’t tell you what
is about to happen, 
other than that 

what’s spilling out
is possibly ugly and 
if it burns it may burn

toxic and if the box
goes too we’ll all
see me for real at last.

I stare onto the world
through the now-fractured corner.
It looks like a slot canyon, a space

between walls or bars.
It looks straight
and narrow. Surely

it’s better in here
than it is
out there

but I’m about to see
if that holds true
and for how long.


The End Of Dominion

First posted in May of 2018. Revised.

Ten thousand years from today
there will still be equinoxes and
ocean currents. Most mountains
will look identical from a distance —

less snow on the peaks, perhaps;
certainly the glaciers will be gone,

but the jagged horizon will be the same
and that which is highest will still be highest.

There will still be beaches. They will still look 
like beaches, although they’ll be in different places
and it may not be pleasant 
to stare too deeply
into what makes up the sand.

Trees, yes; flowers, yes.  Creeper bushes
and stinging nettles, yes; creeping insects
and stinging beetles, yes.  From the dunes
beings will be seen leaping 
in the ocean

near shore. They may no longer bear any name
we would know. Language itself 
may or may not last,
even if people do. 
If people have survived,
they will have to have changed.

Instead of naming what they see, they will instead
have listened 
and learned what other beings
call themselves. To survive,
they will have had to learn that — 

and as for the God they imagined
gave them the power, the glory,
the dominion: who knows where He
will be, if anywhere at all. Instead

of Him there may be Her. Instead
of Her there may be Them. Instead
of Them there may be None, or
if Something Of All Of That is left

it may be shrunken, cowering
among the rotted rocks of obsolete
foundations, pleading for someone
to empower it again 
in a voice none will hear.


Peace In The Shrug

Revision.  From 2016.

Peace in the shrug
as you pull the first two red tomatoes
from your garden only to notice

they’ve been consumed
by bottom rot, at the chagrin
you feel at not catching that

earlier, the casual toss into
the base of the fence, 
the sudden awareness

of the nearly ripe 
cucumber 
hanging 
on that fence.

Peace in the shrug
at choices made, choices
that failed to pan out, choices

that went south or north or
every direction not on the compass
without an ounce of malice from anyone

involved, at people living lives
that did or did not intersect with 
your own, at the failure 

of will, the utter failure of
all your will — at the memory
of 
the twenty dollar bill on the ground

at the foot of the pay phone where
you’d just spent your last dime, and that
was thirty years ago; 

you remember it, 
it still pays you 
today.

Peace in the shrug
at the end of this world, end
of order and justice, at the plodding

of the long-awaited Beast,
the pseudo-shambolic walk of the
Giant No, the edible flesh of 

Harmony, the smacking of 
thin jaws around the bones of
All You’ve Held Dear, and now

at the very close of the last snap
of those jaws the silence
of the sunset, and the dawn

beyond your own experience
that will come, that will surely
come even without you.

Peace in the shrug
as you pass, at your last thought
forming around how the seeds 

from the tomatoes you tossed
will grow there in the dirt along the fence 
as long as rain falls and sun shines

next season, with or without you
there to moan, or wail,
or shrug such miracles off

as too little, too late 
when they were never meant 
to feed you.


Case Studies In Management

From 1989…?

1.

At the pre-shift meeting,
our ops manager
talks down
to the crew boss.

He repeats himself often,

speaks loudly,
pronounces Namthavone’s name wrong twice
and in two different ways.

He explains to me later
that he understands these people,
thanks to two tours he did in country.

“I had a lot of fun there,” he tells me.
I say nothing to this.

I am remembering
that Namthavone
once told a story in ESOL class
about his tattoos –

the script that runs
around his body,
up and down the arms,
up through his hairline at the back of his neck.

He said they date back to
when he fought in the Highlands
for the CIA against the Communists.

He said they were charms against bullets, knives;
incantations
to avoid being seen
by those who would do him
harm.

2.

At dinner,
Larry explains
how Spanish women
are passive by nature.

Again I say nothing,
recalling Lourdes and Santa
after second shift last Thursday,
standing toe to toe with boxcutters
on the median strip just off the factory property,
mad eyes hidden
in third-shift darkness.

Lourdes had just told Santa
that she was sleeping
with her man Ruben.

Santa replied
that must be where
he’d caught the drip.

I see them raise their arms
as the first cruisers arrive
and scatter the watchers.

It took three cops to tear
Santa from Lourdes,

four to hold Lourdes back
once that was done.

From where I sit tonight,
I can see the women seated
on either side of Ruben,

still bandaged, not speaking,

forcing alternate bites
of their cooking on him,

re-drawing the rules of engagement.

3.

Daniel Opong walks into work
and announces that he entered this country
under a false name
but now has established legal residency

and after ten years working here as
Daniel Opong,
wishes to be called
by his real name, Anthony Otoo.

“Who do they think they are?”
says Pauline, our personnel manager.
“That’s the third one this month. How dare they?”

I am told to fire him for falsifying his application.
I refuse. I suggest that she would do the same thing
if she were facing whatever
Daniel faced back home.

I lose. I am reprimanded.
He is fired anyway, nods when I tell him
about the personnel office’s decision,
then shakes my hand.

I apologize.

“You do not have to be sorry,
because I’m not sorry”,
he tells me
as he leaves.
“I would do it again.”

I am hoping I would.

4.

Araminta tells me
that she used to hate
having me for a boss,
but now she thinks I’m ok.

I don’t know what I’m doing differently these days,
and I tell her that.
She doesn’t know either,
but she’s sure she’s right.

I tell her
I’m not sure I agree with her,
I think I keep quiet a lot more often
than I should.

She looks at me
for a long minute,
saying nothing.

5.

The management team always leaves after everyone else is gone.
On a Friday night, we usually head to McGuire’s for a beer,
McGuire’s because we’re sure not to see
any of our employees there.

When I drive home from the bar later that night,
the apartments that line the road to the factory
are still lit and raucous.
There’s a party going on somewhere.

I recognize a few of the cars outside from the factory lot.

I don’t know who lives here.

Sometimes I think
none of us knows
anyone who lives here.


Man Without Qualities

Originally posted 2013.  Revised.

There is a man
who has 1500 friends
on Facebook.

When he counts his friends
he has to use

everyone’s hands to do it.

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
and more intimate 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 in meatspace,
200 he’s connected with,

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

He no longer sees friendship
as a solid object. No rock upon which
to build. No seawall against which

the ocean can pound. He stares
at screens where all he can see
is a storm on the way.

One day he 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 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 in meatspace,
200 he’s connected with,

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

If he desires to hold on to those 15 friends
he will have to learn a new word with which
to draw them forth from the hurricane.

 

In Despair

Revision.  Posted originally in April, 2016. Original title, “I Wake Up In Despair.”

I wake up in despair most mornings
that the day will again slant uphill
and it will take everything I have to climb it.

I wake up in despair most mornings
but find comfort in doing things
no Pharaoh could ever do:

for instance, picking myself up
without an entourage to help me;
getting by with no entourage in celebration

or sorrow; falling down back-broken
and getting back up again next day for another round
with nothing but what’s in me to pull me up.

I wake in despair most mornings.
Each day bores me: sometimes a dull drill,
sometimes a chisel striking same and same and same again.

I wake in despair most mornings 
but find comfort in knowing
things a boss can’t know or has forgotten:

how to do the dirtiest bits of a dozen jobs;
how to take the next step when it’s time, how to 
fix the broken piece, how not to fail

from seven AM to lunch, how to stay awake
from lunch to three PM and longer
if three PM becomes 5 PM or later.

I wake in despair most mornings knowing 
how little of my life is good for me, based on 
the time I have to spend recovering from the rest of it.

I wake in despair most mornings
but almost get to glee knowing
what a king does not, what they may never know:

how to run riot in the streets to spite my aches and pains;
how to run riot in the streets with all the others aching and pained;
how to run riot in the streets knowing how little time I likely have.

I run riot knowing that ahead of me, somewhere
cowering, somewhere hiding behind their walls, 
a king, a boss, and a Pharaoh are themselves in despair,

filled with the knowledge
of their lack of knowledge
about anything that needs to be done.

In spite of the odds and the guns
and the war any of them could muster,
I no longer share their despair.


23 And Me

Revised, from March 2018.  Original title, “23.”

Somebody give me two imaginary things:
a top hat dyed dark with noble blood
and a statue of me wearing the hat.

Then, call me
lord and ruler; a statue
of the imaginary me

is enough of a vessel
from which to sip
the red juice of privilege.

If you give me the bloody hat 
and the statue as well, perhaps
I shall be regal and in charge,

so go ahead and give me
the title as well. Something good,
something recorded on parchment,

for I want to choose who I am 
and discard what I was raised to be:  
that matters less, it seems,

than what a scrap of me
has to report. 
All that history

we used to wrestle 
once could exalt or damn a person, 
and now all we have to do

is check a box or stuff one
and we are what we claim.
Easy enough for everyone. 

I’m enjoying the sticky hat on my head.
I’m enjoying the hell
out of my pale marble face.

I’m dreaming of what it all must mean
although all it truly means
is that I’m dreaming. 


Copy And Paste

Revised.  Originally posted 11/1/2017.

Demonstrate 
your devotion to The Struggle
through copying and pasting

for I have a spreadsheet of justice 
shorter than Santa Claus’s

It has columns
and pivot tables

I keep track of shares and likes
and originators and sometimes

after seeing who liked this
and who shared it

I make a little mark about those
who never do anything

My spreadsheet of justice
tells me who I should love

Copy and paste this if you want
to end injustice 
or stop cancer

Someone is always
watching and 
listening

Perform
or be suspect


Desires

Originally written 1999.

I want to climb to you
as if you were living in a tree house
and from there look out at the world
from your level

Even though I’m afraid of heights
and would be paralyzed
and clinging like a rug to the floor up there
I would give up safety
to try and see things your way

Pinned down like that
I might have enough time
to learn you

If I could stick a pin into myself
and use it to hold my form intact until the final stitch
or set one pin in place to hold my bones tight
or use one to make holes in my skin
to receive ink for primal tattoos
that would last crudely forever and speak of things
that I will later wish were clearer and sharper
If I could feel the sharpness
of all the pins that could hold me in one place
and through these pains begin to feel things your way

I would

I would fall off a ladder
by slipping on a banana peel

I would open the door
on a cartoon cliff and stand abashed
for just a second
in a canyon of white space
like a temporary Coyote
watching your Roadrunner dust

I would even do impressions of myself
until last call at an empty comedy club —
stop me if you’ve heard this one before

What I want is for you to become a season
(I vote for late spring
so I can anticipate a full summer’s heat whenever you approach)

What I want is to open my eyes in the morning
and immediately adore what I see

(when what I see is you)

What I want is to see your own desire come toward me
and split open a fresh box of white candles
then set them all to burning

What I want has a name
(your name 
the only name)

Sometimes when I hear your name
I feel like I’m passing a church on Christmas Eve
and I want to be there
walking with a censer
among the faithful

chanting your name
the only name
your name


Bouquet

Originally written 2007.

1.

The brain
knows many things.
Some of them you know,
some you do not.

2.

If the brain
was a flower,
you would be
its scent.

3.

Perhaps the brain
is
flower, starving
for light, lunging out
through the eyes
for sustenance.

4.

If you plucked
your brain out
and held it to the light,
would you find a mind?

5.

The mind lives
in the brain and
hides in its petals.
The mind is the dark
among the riots of color.

6.

You sleep
and the brain corrals
the mind. They talk all night,
pretending they are
you. In the morning
you are nearly mad
from the echoes of their
conversation.

7.

Put your hands
around your mind
and know it’s not
part of the scheme
that you should understand
everything: there are things
shoring up the partners
that would terrify you
if you knew them.

8.

The brain blooms
long after you close your eyes.
The mind rises from its nooks and folds
to escape, moving past you,
playing in the meadows.

9.

The mind drifts back
in the hot late afternoon. Your head grows heavy
with pollen. You open your mouth
and bees fly in
to take their fill while the mind
avoids being stung
by the danger in the commerce.

10.

When you sleep
the mind and brain bear ideas.
You pretend they are your own fruit.
The brain laughs at you. The mind
strokes you softly, saying,
“There, there…”

11.

You are the scent.
Something plucks your brain
and you die slowly. Maybe
another brain and another mind
recall you for a while, but
you’ll certainly fade.

12.

Anything
fed long enough
on vision, scent, touch,
sound, taste will double back
on its own surety. The brain
makes you sleepy. The mind
makes you frightened. You
make yourself believe
there are reasons for everything.

13.

A night blooming flower
holds its beauty
until first light, collapsing
at the first touch of your hand,
staining your memory
with a scent you can never name.