Tag Archives: revisions

It Used To Be Summer

Revised, from 2016.

I thought all day about summer
If it were only summer again
Thought about summer and not about work
Grabbed just enough hope to live on

I thought all day about summer sunset
How sunset opens the door to night
I like nighttime as it hides what scares me
All my terrors look worse in daylight

That fear of being part of the crowd
Nameless, faceless, brainless and numb
Stuck thinking all day how it used to be summer
Looking busy and staring at the clock

I keep thinking, if I were only eighteen again
When I knew nothing and everything too
To be eighteen in summer with sunset approaching
Was heaven until I blinked and it passed

No lie, adulthood has been terrible
Traded passion for wisdom and I surely regret it
I keep waiting for sunset to swallow it all
But damned if dawn doesn’t follow every time

With that fear of being part of the crowd
Nameless, faceless, brainless and numb
Stuck thinking all day how it used to be summer
Looking busy, staring at the clock


Peppermint Schnapps

This is a very old poem, also a Duende Project track from our “americanized” album from 2007.
Link to the recording below the poem.

August 16, 1977:
it was pissing rain the night
Elvis Presley died

I want the night back anyway

the way I want the switchblade back
I threw in Thompson Pond that night
that German switchblade
with the brass shoulders and ebony scales
I want it clean I want it shiny
and I want the tip to be back to the way it was
before Henry Gifford snapped it off
trying to work it out of the floor
after we’d played drunken chicken for an hour or so

I tossed it in anger
as far out into the water as I could
and then I hit Henry Gifford
in the mouth when he called me a stupid fuck
for tossing such a beautiful knife so far away
and even after he apologized
I hit him again and again
until I saw his sister watching me

I want to take it all back
so Henry Gifford’s sister Diana
can see me again the way
she used to see me
and furthermore
I want to kiss her right this time
I want to kiss her the way I could kiss her now
not like the sloppy teenage drunk I was that night
all on fire with weed
and schnapps
and inexperience
I want her to not turn away from me
without knowing that I had just tossed
my beloved knife out into the nighttime lake
I want her to know what passion can do to me
I want my passion back

because I think I lost it that night
I tossed the knife into the lake
then let Diana run from me
when she saw me beat her little brother bloody
without having a chance
to make her understand why it was all so
necessary

and though I have had
many knives since then
even another German switchblade
just like that one
and though I have kissed
so many people since then
in love and friendship
and lust and grief

and though I‘m so much better
at all of this stuff now
because control is everything
and control is all I have at 47

still there are times – rainy summer nights –

when I get up late to use the bathroom
and while I’m standing there
I look out my window across the manicured grass
I can just taste
a ghost of peppermint schnapps on my lips

then I fumble for the light
I pick up a pen
and I write myself back
toward August of 1977
when the radio played the songs of a dead man
while I nursed
my bruised and tender fists
and cried like a baby
for the very last time

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The track from the album.


American Poem

Revised from November 2021.

To write the American poem,

start from a nature image. 
Pretend you are the colonizer’s god;
purple the mountains up 
then chew the scenery until
there’s nothing left to suck from it.

Set the meter
to a rigged jig stepping lively
around myth and cynicism.

In every true American poem
one should be able to hear
exuberant ghosts dancing
to the sounds of babies crying,
screaming, cooing, gurgling,
while other ghosts plead 
not the babies, please. Leave
the babies out of it, so
precious, so innocent…

humbug. It’s the Fourth of July.
The Fourth of July
is built on dead children,
uses fireworks to justify
a war everlasting.

Every great American poem
should describe an America
over half of its readers
cannot recognize. A mirror
shows your reflection, 
a better one shows you your other side;
the best one shows you more than one.

The great American poem,
if it’s truly any good,
will burn you as if
in your overreach and hunger
you have knocked the chafing dish
on the table askew while grabbing 
at the Thanksgiving turkey
and all those wonderful sides

as the purple mountains above us all
look down wondering
where it all went wrong
as they see what it takes now

to write the great American poem.


Ein Jeder Engel Ist Schrecklich

Revised.  Original post, 2007.

Ein Jeder Engel Ist Schrecklich (Every angel is terrifying). — Rilke

Close a door, open a door.
Write a letter, burn a letter.
Endings are as easy as beginnings
when there’s little potency attached.

What makes it hard to end or begin
is the Angel of Possibility
who hovers on the margin 
of each decision. 

Her scarred wings, her fruit-toned breath. 
Each time I have flown with her
I have been scared of the height
from which I might fall.

Tonight she floats at the edge of vision,
near the door, beckoning to me.
I pray for my feet
to remain on the ground — 

yet she is an Angel, after all,
and I begin to rise,
attended by all the terror
I can bear.


Magellan Song

revised from 2015; original post 2009; poems originally written 1994 or so

when I speak to you
of the way this is 
your eyes widen in surprise 

(or astonishment – the right word
makes so much difference
when one tries to describe the way this is)

it seems sometimes
that there are no right words 
to carry my full meaning

do you think 
I would speak to you
of hearts or say forever

that I would use tired words
remotely resembling
those dry and familiar forms

if I instead had language
that could make
how I feel more clear

all I have for you is known and common
a few small words
offered too early and too often 

I promise you
if I had been alive in mythic times
I would have invented language 

that would have
the syllables
I need

every word would have been a nail 
in the ark that saved
all the couples of the world

the covenant bow
that was revealed 
after the rain had dried 

would have colors
only you 
would be able to see 

I would have been clear enough
to have torn Babel down
all on my own 

if I had the right tongue 
I could reform history 
with improbable, impossible words — 

if I had the tongue
I need to speak my mind today
I swear I could remake the world 

hold it in the corners of my mouth
then offer its fresh contours to you
in a song of Magellan – 

a circumnavigator
now just barely remembered
but once his name

was the leading edge of a legend
an arc of hope
from known to unknown

if I could speak the words I need
I would conjure him
spell him into life this morning

put him to use as we sink our toes
into this cold Atlantic sand — 
look at all that horizon out there – 

its dark line
the promise
of unseen shores –

to reach it we will need new vocabulary 
but for now this is all
I can bring myself to say: 

come closer
stay close to me
sunrise can’t be too far away


Whitestench

Revised from Jan 2021.

I’m not sorry to use the word
as it’s the only way I can describe it
that also explains in fetid detail how it works:

it is an odor that strangles sometimes,
merely distracts at others, but always sets
my teeth to grinding.

Walk into a discussion where it flavors the air; 
soon enough, I’m choking so much the others
couldn’t understand me if they had been able to try.

I turn to art for solace and it rises from between
pages, stings my eyes till paintings blur;
even the music reeks. That job interview

stank with it; this online forum — how is this
even possible? I cannot see words on a screen 
through the miasma.

The halls of Congress,
the trading floor of Wall Street, every tower
where a titan of industry schemes: all

are thick with it; they might as well be tombs —
one whiff of the air in there recalls
dead generations piled upon dead generations.

Now and then I pick it up on a breeze
through a forest that must have passed
over a mass grave, a lynching tree, a pipeline.

Sometimes I can smell it on a friend’s breath 
or loved one’s skin. I step back
and never close in all the way again.

Sometimes, too often, I can tell it is coming
directly from me — mouth,
clothes, being. Half of me wants

to flee myself; the other half
holds my breath, pinches off my nose,
resists the urge to let myself drown.

When I’m at my best it makes me duck,
get close to the ground, look into myself
for better air.


Boudin Noir, Boudin Blanc

Revised, from 2019.

It’s not enough
to just say sausage
in a world with
boudin, andouille,

sujuk, saveloy,
bratwurst, kielbasa, 
chorizo, linguica, 
mortadella, and more;

not enough to speak of booze
in the presence of
arak, poitin, tiswin,
pulque, Calvados,

lager, pilsner,
Henny, MD-2020, aquavit,
absinthe, corn liquor,
and whiskies galore.

This world is built
on specifics, motes 
of savor and flavor
and all manner of tastes

pulled from local waters, 
land and legend. To condense them
leaves you wanting.
To turn away from soft words 

toward ones
with gristle
is to humble yourself
so you can sit

at rough tables
with tough people
listening to them
speak of joy and pain

as they suck the burn
of andouille, or
debate, laughing, over
boudin noir or boudin blanc;

as you all wash a thick meal down
with strong bock followed
by shots of schnapps or korn;
perhaps hear someone tell

of how they came
from some place
where the old folks
made one thing

that put all else
to shame, and
hear in that
a cry for a lost home

where the right words
opened the right doors
to where the world 
was right.


The Game Preserve

Revised from 2012.

When some people hear
I’m a poet they expect

that words like
French hummingbirds
will fall from my mouth:
flashing subtleties, gems
suspended on a crimson string
for them to pluck.

I want to say to them,

it’s not going to shimmer like that,
not always, not often.  Sometimes
there are no hummingbirds —
sometimes it’s just
one Worcester robin
doing its drab and wormy job.

Sometimes I’ve got 
a whole game preserve
inside me.  Hosting
a whole wilderness —
apparently that is so important 
it has become my vocation.

If you want to know
what poetry I have in me,
know three things:

one, beyond the
instantly arresting beauties 
I can introduce to you
there will always be some
that are hideous and you will
draw back and some so plain
you will not see them
at first;

two, among the
plain and ugly
will be some that are venomous
and some that will heal —
there will be the same among
the beautiful ones,
of course;

third,
whether peacock or slug,
three-legged dog
or most unexpected unicorn,

understand that I have to live with them
and I am the walls and cages they loathe.  

These aren’t pets.  
They don’t love me.
They all growl, claw, bite.

When people hear I’m a poet and ask to hear more
they need to be prepared for the blood.


Fire Sale Artists

Revised from 2014.

I’m down
to my last hundred bucks
waiting for 
a late paycheck
and thinking of Sal Paradise
who (disguised as
Jack Kerouac) used to
wire back east from Denver
for twenty dollars
and consider it
enough money with which
to see the country
traveling across the continent
screwing women over
romanticizing the hustle

I will grant you
it was the 1940s
Money and hustle went farther
back then
but now I can’t even go
to the grocery store 
with less a hundred bucks

I sit at home 
fuming and sobbing
counting pennies
trying to do right by 
the woman I love

The only thing I share with Sal
and his friends 
is the whole suffer for art thing
They claimed more joy and less care
than I do
the feckless bastards

I don’t envy them
They mostly all died
drunks or fossils
They were fire sale artists when alive

EVERYTHING MUST GO GO GO

I’m just the opposite
I wanna hang on to something
but a hundred bucks isn’t enough
in 2022
to buy much that will last

Anyway if poverty
kills so much around me
that I have to hit the road
at some point
I won’t last long because
in 2022
they just shoot the mad ones

 


Odd Jobs

From 1995. Revised

1.
Cleaning out the apartment
of a woman
who had disappeared.

Ivy around the bedroom window frame
may once have been meant
to evoke the woodland
for a homesick
“country gal”
in the city,

but that dust caked
plastic ivy around the frame,
long ignored fake ivy
tacked to the grimy window frame
with its broken blind, its cobwebs,
its setting among
clothing strewn
in disarray, 

suggested instead
an archway
into an otherness
long ago entered
by someone from this side
who has yet to return,
is overdue to come back through.

2.
Cutting foam rubber
with bandsaws
into pillow shapes.

If the noise somehow
can be absorbed by the foam
and enter all those
sleepyheads,

if people
end up in nightmares
about a ribbon of steel
whining through them,

all the boredom
of this job might be
worth it.
You might call that cruel,

but only if
you’ve never
done anything
like this.

3.
Industrial
corn chip maker,
or at least
the one who mixes
the batter.

Hair net, beard net,
gloves, safety glasses,
steel toed shoes, smock –

I entered the factory
on my first day
tricked out for
radioactivity
or
The Ark Of The Covenant 

only to find the hazard
was in knowing evermore
that the corn chip powder
I poured
one thirty five pound bag
at a time
into the hot tub size mixer
became neon green
when water hit it.

It cannot not be unlearned
once known.  It cannot be
unseen. I have not had
a corn chip since then,
and thus am denied
part of my national birthright –
something to eat at parties,
something to eat
from vending machines,
something eaten in the car
to stave off hunger
for the last fifty miles
of any given journey.

4.
Surveillance
of a deadbeat renter.

Hours in the DMV waiting
for him to renew
a license I’d learned was expiring
paid off.

He’d tried to vanish,
but I found him,
tailed him
home.

The house
was covered in ivy,
and for a moment, a wild
moment, 

I thought I might solve
three mysteries
at once,
if you could count

my muddle of a life
to that point as one –
but no dice.
He lived alone.

I made a note
of the new address,
called it in,
and quit.

5.
I’ve truly had no job odder
than this current occupation

which insists upon
incessant reporting

of connections and meaning
where none are visible;

demands that details
be magnified until they are totemic;

tastes, sometimes,
of swift steel severing tangled false ivy;

of hunger tainting long hours
of inert observation;

of ghost salt, poison corn,
and the tears of the disappeared.


Atlantis

Revised. From 1999.

1.   Prelude

breakfast: approved fruits and grains and decaf

they sit and eat accompanied by radio’s easy news
of celebrity quirks
blood tragedy trivia
ripples over an abyss

there are the usual long silences
between two who’ve been together a long time
who once believed they had known each other
long before this life and are no longer sure

he paced his den last night
trying to recall the flavor of civilization

she lay awake upstairs
listening to other insomniacs’
fever fear of UFOs

if there were ever children here
they are not apparent now
so they will spend the day
as they spend every day

absorbed in paperbacks and gossip
never quite grasping the answering machine
if they were ever friends
those bonds have become invisible
in all this mist
that attends the slow closing of their world
as it slips to one side

and they begin to seek
Atlantis

2.  The Husband’s Library

Come into the
shadow of this red rock…

he read that phrase some years ago
it drives him crazy because he can’t place the source 

all he really knows is that as he read them the first time
the words rose out of his center like islands glimpsed from afar

and they are there still

some nights when he is lying in his den
surrounded by fabulous stories
he sees himself on one of those islands
draped in a fine robe
crouched in the cool shade
of an enormous sandstone ledge
he is adored by millions
who flock from the cities to see him

he stares across the crowd
from under the safety of his
natural pulpit 
is beloved
and is wise
and is haunted
by fiction

he knows his imagined wisdom
is all his own creation
there are plenty of other myths

that would have him crushed
or buried
or drowned

while the red rock loomed in the background
as metaphor
as symbol
some kind of doom
meted out by the earth
to those who dream of perfection
in small family rooms surrounded by fantasy

red rock looms
and looms
and looms

he drops his habit
becomes naked
in the presence of red rock

in a waste land
he never allows himself
to reconsider

3.   The Wife’s Radio

she lies down wide awake
as her clock opens the night with 12:47
it’s a good start she thinks
past midnight but not yet one o’clock
still time to get a good night in
barely AM

unlike

the radio that is always AM
and the man on the radio
who is always suspicious

he says

there are stars
that move

there are whiter
lines outside the yellow lines you can’t cross

there are cigars
over your head

there are scoffers
anywhere you look

anywhere you look
there are fools

there are people up
there

and down here too
but not visible

some are friends
and some are alien gray

blending into elf
tales we grew up with

the clock chimes in at 2:13
now we’re getting serious
now we’re speaking for everyone
who never gets out much
now we are talking olympus

he says

there are people
who are taken by the gods

there are stories
that don’t hold water when you pour it on

there are big heads
that won’t admit opinions

there are men in
the halls of power

there are women
under the sidewalks

there are marriages
that act like Kabuki parody

white faces farce
stereotype almost otherworldly

not ever quite
there

still awake at 3:36
way past dream now

is the rain natural this late, or this early

she thinks someone downstairs is tossing stones against
the windows
does she dare go find out
if facts are facts

he says

there are secrets
that look like commercials for mind loss

there are facts and
then there are facts

there are spotters
holding up the constitution for ridicule in the desert

there are old
stories that make ours seem like sequels

there you go when
you do go

when she falls asleep at last
nothing is stable 
except those huge eyes that shine like definitions

paradise has slipped

4.  The Journey to Atlantis

I will never kill
you, my love,

they are both thinking
as they resume their spots at their
breakfast table

breakfast: approved fruits and grains and decaf

they sit and eat
accompanied by radio’s easy news
of celebrity quirks

the usual long silences
between two who’ve been together a long time
who once believed they had known each other
long before this life and are no longer sure

when the news stops
being about the news
and nothing can be done

when the anchors talk and talk
of what the anchors want to talk about
and nothing can be said

they will think of Atlantis
stop dreaming of a temporary sacrifice

they will think of Atlantis
in the western ocean
or the eastern sea

Atlantis
where sabbaths came with no clouds overhead

Atlantis
where braver tales were told in the councils of power

Atlantis
where the highways were long and straight

Atlantis
I loved you then

Atlantis
when the egg you were hatching

Atlantis
was the thing that would drown you

Atlantis
which was solely red rock on soul blue sea

Atlantis
which was dark against the sky every holy peak of it

Atlantis
which is still a name of dreams

Atlantis
every people has you

Atlantis
every school refers to you

Atlantis
isn’t it nice to be remembered by

a couple
who lives forever in silence
whose children are grown

whose every memory is infected with longing
for something
that has always been

Atlantis
a place of such perfection
they know it must have been real once

hear them whisper

please say that
just now it’s only covered over

for God’s sake say it isn’t gone


As Slow As Possible

revised from 2010?

Sept. 5, 2001:

A group of musicians and philosophers begin to inflate the bellows of a church organ in Halberstadt, Germany, in preparation for a performance of John Cage’s piece, “As Slow As Possible”.

 

Hate’s eyes pop open;
he gets up, dresses,
steps outside.

Hate finds that while most people do not want to talk to him,
there are still others who embrace him, taking him to mean something
he never wanted to be;
and all Hate can do is numbly
submit, for no does not mean no,
when your name is Hate.

 

Although he’s dragged it with him for so many years,
Hate does not understand his own baggage.

 

He tries to pretend that his name is
meaningless. He tells himself it’s
simply a breath
pushed through a half smile, ending in a full stop
behind his tongue.

Every other thing it carries
was added by others along the way.

 

Hate thinks of himself as having had
so much potential.
It’s all their fault
for having robbed him.

 

“As Slow As Possible” was written in 1944, at the end of WWII, as a piano piece that would last a half hour or so, based on the natural decay of the notes being played. This organ arrangement virtually eliminates the possibility of decay, and creates the space for the performance of an indefinitely long piece of music.

 

Hate prefers silence.
Assuming that to be a disability, everyone who meets him
offers Hate
a voice to speak through.

When he does attempt to speak on his own behalf,
Hate’s throat cracks.
The edge of his own meaning salts his tongue.
Nothing green can grow there.

 

The vision of those who now inflate the bellows is that this piece will be played beginning to end, and that the distance between the beginning and end of this performance will be 639 years. The people who will play this music will die before completing their service to the piece. The people who will complete the service are not yet born.

 

In slack moments Hate tells himself:


“If I were to change careers, I’d be a baker.
All the loaves I baked
would split open at the far end
and grow larger as they were eaten.
You’d never want for more,
would never get to the end of a loaf.

 

“If I were to marry
I’d pick a partner named Bread Dancer.
If Bread Dancer and I were to have children
they’d be named Easter and Breakfast.
Bread Dancer would dance the bread dance
for each person
who bought bread.

 

After many years
I would leave the business to my children,
and they would bake for others’ children,
and that’s the way
it would go for as far out
as I can see.”

 

The church that holds the organ was purchased strictly to house this organ and this performance. It was unused for years, and is now refurbished as a place for the longest music to stretch out. There are still pipes waiting to be installed. This organ cannot even yet play all the necessary notes to complete the piece.

 

Hate finally moves from his home, burning it
behind him, leaves in the dead hour before dawn,
taking little with him, no ID, no passport.

Hate becomes a monk
on multiple roads,
plays at pilgrim and tinker,
but always ends up a soldier,
always regrets,
turns away,
always, always,
always.

 

Feb. 5, 2003:
The first chord of the piece is struck upon that organ. Lead weights hold the keys down, and the notes will sound for the next year and a half.

 

Hate, after poisoning
many years
with his wandering,
discovers the Halberstadt church
and enters to pray
for amnesia.

Everything must be possible, even if it has not yet been imagined.

 


The Political Is Only Personal On Our Off Nights

revised from 2013

About things
that are not obvious
we have
almost nothing to say

They may be full of earwigs 
ready to chew us up
Ravening rapidly but obliquely situated
to the top news story
May swing old lions by the tail
and stomp the young into the earth
then fill up on poison champagne
If it’s not easy to see two sides 
we set it all aside

Though it’s work worth doing
and there are
possible cathedrals and temples there
Though people die
in between positions
as if those were jaws
snapping without thought
Though it is work
that has never been attempted
Full of grave dirt and torn shrouds
if it is not work someone else
will do for us
we act like
it’s not to be done

though this is our watch
and our work
and we are the problem

though this is the most crucial thing
and we are the problem
though we stink of it remaining undone
and we are the problem

we do not do what needs doing

unless we can hang the blame
on a banner and slogan
made by someone else 
bearing a finger
pointing off stage


Remembering The Palm Gardens, 1981

from 2008, revised.

What Ed at the door said was true: they were all tired, all the time.
Tired from pushing themselves through double shifts
on behalf of houses, children, better lives —
whatever they had to have.

Half the dancers were former high schoolmates
so there wasn’t much mystery about why they were there.
Half the reason we came was to pay to see
what we’d once tried our best to see for free.

“Brandy” used to dance
to the most radical rock songs she could find.
I saw her dance to the MC5 once. She made me believe
the revolution will be a miracle of taut thighs and dissociation.

You push a commodified body
against the pulse of commodified rebellion long enough,
something begins to happen.
The ones who watch them don’t usually see it,

but I never met a stripper who didn’t understand
the balance of power in any give and take relationship.
What it took to gain power, what was inherent,
what could be assumed, what was the coin of the realm;

all was there in the tall shoes and the soft tummies
of the dancers who didn’t speak
until you’d set them up with a drink or a couple of dollar bills,
who then told you everything in high brisk voices laughing now and then

at some drunk who’d gotten crude with them earlier in the night.
I’d sit there secure in the knowledge that they’d never say that about me.
After all, I only went there for the education and the irony
and I told everyone that, even when I couldn’t stop staring

at Sharon from my math class who whipped my ass in every test,
at “Brandy” and her hip-pulsing anger, at Ed
whose scars and meathook hands welcomed everyone
to the Gardens, even at myself in the mirror behind the dirty bar.


Sociology

From 2008. Originally published in “Flood,” a chapbook from Pudding House Press. Now out of print. 

All people can be divided into two groups:
those who divide people into two groups,
and those who do not.

We call the people who divide people into two groups
“them,” and we call those who do not
“us.”  Sometimes, we call “them” “the Others.”

Let us say everything we know about the Others:
they are grown fat with their unjust ways.  They
hate us.  They are the source of the Smell — ha,

they are overripe with it.  If you were to crack open
the “O” at the beginning of the word “Others,” it would be
as though a durian had been split in a closet and left to rot.

In fact, the Others
are the splitters of all fruit,
the drainers of all carcasses.

We, of course, are the stitchers of that which is split.
All people, then, may be split into two groups: the splitters of things, and those
who guard that which can be split. We are the Guardians,

and we call the Splitters “the Others,” “Them,” “Those People.”
They are known for cunning, conspiracies, their inability to follow
laws.  If you straighten out the “S” at the beginning

of the word “Splitters,” you see that it is a snake’s spine;
they have been holding the serpent close to their breasts
since the beginning. Venom is their milk; we

are their silent milkmaids, the ones who carry
the venom to their tables.   
It sloshes onto us and we are burned

daily.  All people, in fact,
may be divided into two groups:
those who are burned, and those who do the burning;

or perhaps it is those who are poisoned
and those who live on poison,
or those who worship division 

and those who pray for shielding and healing;
it’s as lamentable as it is observable
that this is how it is: lines drawn between us and them,

them and us, the People and the Others.
In the end, of course, we know that all people
can indeed ultimately be divided into two groups.

and the division falls as follows:
all people can be divided into two groups —
those who divide people into two groups, and the dead.