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The Sight Of Blood I Drew

Revised.  Older poem — from 1999 or so?

Right after I turned eleven
Joe Frazier’s left hooks
were constantly on my mind
so, although I was a natural righty,
I threw one unprovoked
at Jeff Maxwell’s jaw
while we were goofing around
in the middle school gym
and laid him out
flat and crying.

I admit it felt OK
to see him there, sliding
on his ass away from me as I tried
to explain it was all in fun
to Mr. Tornello
as he shook me and dragged me to
his sweat-soaked office to await
my parents.

I learned something that day.

Right jabs and Muhammad Ali
were on my mind a few years later
when Henry Gifford
got dropped, this time in anger,
on the shores of Thompson’s Pond
for cussing me out over my being angry
because he’d broken my switchblade.
This time there was blood on his mouth
and I admit it felt OK
to see it shining moonlit black
on his face and I was shaking glad
that I hadn’t had the knife in hand
at the time.

I learned another thing that day.

Kung-fu movies and Bruce Lee
were much on my mind a few years after that
when it felt OK to deliver
a straight-arm open palm blow to the side
of Joe Peron’s nose in a work dispute,
and there was blood again
and the gentle snap of his bridge breaking,
and he knelt holding his nose in his hands,
and that felt even better than OK for a minute;
because we were men
we just shook it off
and told no one of the fight,
but Joe steered clear of me after that,

and I felt fine,
and I kept learning.

How good it felt then,
and how good it would feel again
if the opponents I have now
could be dispatched that easily.

I stand in despair
of unpunchable bills,
bloodless banks, ravening for me;
I’m helpless before
the creeping sense
of having no enemy now
I could beat. 

I can’t fight
what I am today:
old and body-broken,
weak and endgame poor;
obsessed with overthinking 
how much harder
I could hit today
if I could still hit,
now that I know
how it feels to be hit.

I stand in the kitchen
thrashing the kitchen air –
cross, jab, hook, uppercut,
palm strike, temple strike,
slash and stab, icepick grip,
sword grip, kick a support
off a rickety chair.

I was such a bully once.
I had such narrow eyes,
fixed always upon the easily defeated.

I’m learning.

I once again narrow my eyes.
The urge to admire again
the sight of blood I drew
is almost more than I can bear.
I don’t know
how much longer
I will want to hold on.

A New Color

Originally posted on 10/28/12.

How to explain a new color?
How to define it beyond calling it
a crisp, refractive purple
only visible behind my eyes?

I sit in my driveway 
thinking of two women
panhandling in the rain at the end of our street
at the start of a hurricane, 

and of how
to explain this color 
I know I have
never seen before.

I asked them 
if they had a place to go.
One smiled and the other said,
“Thank you, bless you sir.”

I’m sitting in my driveway
looking at a color
with closed eyes, 
resting my head on the steering wheel.

Looking at a color I’ve never seen,
a clear and crisp refractive purple
in the crazed, urgent, irregular form
of a paper flower or a crumbling gem.

This is the color
of a blessing or a mercy,
the color of driving back down the hill
to take them to a shelter,

the color of shame when they refuse
to get in my car,
the color of understanding
why they refuse;

the color of a subsequent prayer
for them, the color of feeling
that I have not given enough,
to them, or maybe to anyone.

If (Mother Of Moons)

revised, original post 2016. revised 2023 prior to setting to music.

If a window opens in a wall
where there has never been a window
and you are standing there at that moment
and watch it open;

if you cannot afterward
describe how it happened, since no bricks
appear to have been displaced
by the appearance of the window;

if no sound accompanied
the appearance of the window, yet
you showed neither amazement nor fear
upon the opening of the new window;

if the opening of the new window seems as normal to you
as the breathing of your newborn;
if you hold your newborn up to the window
to let them see the moon

as if you are holding the moon itself
up to let it shine;
if you look out the window
and observe a maze of walls, windows, light from other moons;

if you recognize that none of the walls and windows
look anything like your own and
the light from the other moons
then changes you;

if you then begin to call yourself
Mother of Moons, knowing at once
you have always been this
yet are naming this for the first time;

if you go out
to seek other windowless walls and
stand in front of them
until they change

then every examined wall shall grow a window,
shall become an entire window,
and the walls will fall as all the windows
spring open at once.

An Actor Prepares

Originally posted 12/16/2009.

No one photographs him
more than once
after they realize

that the only pictures
that show him happy
show him onstage.

All other images
make him look like
a pillar of salt.

What’s his motivation?
He gave up everything
to gain a spotlight.

That smile you see up there
is genuine, if fleeting.
Stick with that.

Next time, use no flash.
Catch him standing there
in his natural setting:

darkness all around
as he pretends like mad
that he is the sun.


Last posted on 6/25/2012, Original posting 4/7/2010.

Dog them early
while the scent of sulfur builds.
Maze their rules
until loopholes become jaws.

Stack them till your God
approves of the height of the pile.
Open their prison doors
and pour in hot oil and lingering fame.

Approve their paroles in a voice of long chains.
Denounce them at the whiff
of impure thought.
Relegate their romances to the dustbin of hysteria.

Imagine them as moldy bread.
Bite mincing mouthfuls from them
till they spit back.
Reject their responses to infractions.

Blow them rat kisses.
Darken their doorsteps.
Assume their pleasures for your own.
Assume their pleasures are your own.

Burn their books.
Starve them.
Own them.
Remove them from their lands.

Speak of universal love
only when they aren’t there to hear.
Steal their women
for a cabaret of night monkey wars.

Splay their men’s genitals
upon a flea market blanket.
Drown their children in salt.
Rend their garments as you bruise their heels.

Revise their gods.
Bivouac where they pray.
Infiltrate them when they attempt
to remake their own worlds.

Give them names
to conceal the names
with which
they were born.

Carry a sponge to sop
their servant blood from your white loins.
Blacken their teeth until yours
are moonlike in comparison.

Honor them with caricatures
while you shred their portraits.
Play their music in your nurseries.
Wear their feathered robes.

Drop their bastardized secrets
on the tiles of your temple.
Cut off their water.
Tell them the righteous can live on dew alone.

Suck their grass
Watch their tongues
get crisp.

and only then,
let your mercy rain down upon them
as a mighty river.


Call up the old saints.
You’ll find them retired and disinclined to help.

Call instead for The Blessed Version,
The Sherman On The Mount, The Irascible Conception;

read from a new Bible written by scribes
drunk on the manic milk of modern circumstance: speak of

St. Teflon, patron saint of bullet dodgers.
St. Tango, source of comfort against divergent storms;

St. Bullwhip, defender of the wealthy.
St. Lifter, overseer of the doomed.

St. Angelcake, who strokes the heads of the raped.
St. Watchfob, who picks fruit and cleans poisons from the flesh.

St. Linger, warrior with no hard weapons.
St. Rollie Of The Bones, bringer of square deals and luck.

St. Rattler of the found quarter.
St. Lobster of the century reboot.

St. Jack of the feast
upon unicorn meat.

Open that long shot gospel,
hang on a little while

till they make a saint just for you,
maybe even in time to save you.

Gravedancers’ Ball

Revised from 2011.

We all visualize 
certain graves
in our fantasies 

and imagine ourselves
tarantellas there

Polarity’s fashionable 
to bemoan
but honestly? 

We all long to sin 
the light fantastic
above some hated corpse

We can’t sit still
Itching to start stomping
Red, right, blue, left

Love that happy dance
How soft the ground
How haughty our heels

How good it feels 
to be swinging
our arms

as we prance upon them
and they can’t do
a thing about it

We sing
the beautiful American word revenge 
in a toe dance of righteousness

Everyone’s tapping
Some on top right now
Some waiting their turn

Every bastard one of us
wants to dance
that dance somewhere

Copy And Paste

Revised from 2017.

You must demonstrate
your devotion to The Struggle
through copying and pasting

You will bring down the State that way

Perhaps someone will be moved
Begin their own path forward
through your impassioned mashing of keys

There is a place for some of us there

I won’t deny that sometimes
I feel less timid after sharing
then seeing who liked it

and who shared it

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

Mine’s labeled naughty nice and dangerous

It has columns
and pivot tables
where I keep track of shares and likes

Sometimes I make a little mark

about those
who never
do anything

My spreadsheet tells me who to love

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

Demonstrate it or be suspect

Someone is always 
and listening

The Dream Of Order

Revised from 2010.

In this house
there is order

a cut above the order
in all other houses.

There is order in the hamper.
There is order in the drain trap,

order at the bottom
of the garbage disposal.

The compost heap
decays in step with a timer.

Even in the bowls of chaotic potpourri,
there’s order.

This is no place
you’d expect to find a junk drawer,

yet there it is right where
it always is in every other house:

in the kitchen, top drawer
below the most-used cabinets,

close to the most-used door;
there sits Martha Stewart’s junk drawer.

There are of course, the
old screwdrivers, twist ties,

an expired coupon for microwave popcorn
that in fact come with every junk drawer

straight from the manufacturer —
but they do not rest alone

in Martha Stewart’s junk drawer,
because it’s deep. Really, really deep.

In Martha Stewart’s junk drawer
there’s a red 1982 Ford Fiesta

with one black fender
and a donut on the driver’s front wheel.

Fifteen baby shoes.
A bootleg copy of “The Rocketeer.”

A tea-stained ticket stub
for a show in Branson, Missouri.

A purple thong, size M.
A blue hat made from a plastic bag.

A fibrous growth from a boar’s kidney.
A jammed .45 with a broken grip.

Hollow points loose in the bottom,
and a rust-caked cleaver.

A map to the stars’ homes.
A small address book bound in bonded leather,

blank except for the letter “K”
written on the page for “J” in orange crayon.

A broken rib she calls “Daddy.”
One old rose, 

and in the darkest corner,
something squirming

the approximate size of a human fist,
squeaking “I’m a good thing!

You touch it and
the wardrobe in the guest bedroom

begins to shake, the wildflowers
in the far meadow to tremble.

Martha’s far away, but somehow,
her stomach knows the danger

and she sits for a moment in fear,
twisting a paintbrush in her fresh aching hands.

When you shut the drawer,
everything falls back to sleep:

the house in perfect order,
the forks aligned in their trays,

the tissues in Martha’s body
nestling back into place, just so;

while in Martha Stewart’s junk drawer
the lovely chaos resumes its churning

and the house begins to dream 
of its brief sojourn as a home.

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.


It will be as it is now.

Dad’s Close Order Drill

Revised, from 2009.

The five purposes of close order drill are to:

1. Provide simple formation from which various combat formations could readily be assumed.

Look for their fear.
Slip your hand into it, make it
your puppet,
pull it close,
make it rigid,
make it dance.
The dinner table provides
the ideal setting for this, so

2. Move units from one place to another in a standard and orderly manner, while maintaining the best possible appearance.

speak to them
with great attention
to their faults. Do not fail
to hit the same notes again and again:
inadequacy, failure, shame at heritage
denied and betrayed…and ensure
that nothing of the conversation
will be heard outside that room.

3. Provide the troops an opportunity to handle individual weapons.

If you are focused
soon enough the words
will come from them,
tailored, well-pressed,

4. Instill discipline through precision and automatic response to orders.

and when they cringe
you won’t even have to watch
to know it’s happening.

5. Increase a leader’s confidence through the exercise of command by giving
proper commands and drilling troops.

Won’t you accept the salute,
the hands above their eyes,
shading themselves from the heat?
You have earned it.

* close order drill objectives, in boldface, taken from USMC Website

Three Chords And

REVISED from 10/19; originally from 2008 or so.

Once you were a chucked berry,
a fogerty full of sloppy chords,
a skip to my lou reed.

You got all slippery
with clean sauce. Turned down, tuned up, 
tossed out your faded paper bag

of dark wanderings. Bought into
commercial anthems that worked well
in the fluorescent aisles of big-box stores. 

Come back to your game desire.
Come back slaphappy, sharpened
for the war against plastic.

You used to have
a mouth full of splinters. Used to
honor dingbat and idiot,

all those
who broke the social charm
with a fart. Do you remember yourself?

Gas monster.
Blunt huffer.
Smoker of the right goddamn herbs.

You chased the scent
of acorn porridge, worked
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

and nearly devoid of a scrap
of care left
for your sulfur traditions.

We love some of you still,
even with your
crystal fraud hippie faking.

We love some of you still,
you wall street loving

It’s like watching
the fattest rats in the world
pretend they aren’t rabid.

Bite me.
Better yet?
Infect yourself.

Be the sick fuck we loved to love,
no matter how bad
you made us feel.


Revised from February 2022. 

I’ve been birch,
the definition of bent.
Look me up. See how weight
falls from me. It is how I am 
able to hold myself intact
within my pock-scarred,
inconvenient bark.

I’ve been oak,
stubborn unhollowed pillar.
Hear the rain of acorns denting what’s below me.
I am seen as somehow admirable 
until I fall and crush others,
or until someone else falls and is broken
while trying to pass over what I leave behind
year after year.

Now, I wish I had been sawgrass or perhaps
wild oats or purslane, enduring, closer to the soil;
or maybe some weed I cannot name now,
less obvious, more or less scarce or extinct;

but instead I’ve been
more than once
one of the trees we lean on
to provide us with metaphors
for falling and breaking,
ending and beginning again
in the breaking that follows a fall. 
Whoever can say it ends here
will free me from a cycle
built from splinters.

Praise Poem Against The Grain

Revised from 2009.

There are people who think we should all write more,
one poem a day, one thousand poems a day,
five hundred fifty five thousand poems a day,
one for every thought that slips along our nerves — 

excepting only poems about poetry.
The belly full of meaning poetry offers should be emptied.
The places it lives should be cut out of us.
We should never write of it or speak of it.

What nonsense — to go into church
denying that church is worth discussing in church. 
To refuse to cry ecstasy when ecstasy is upon us,
to refuse to explain what it’s like to those all around.

I’m ill informed tonight, and half asleep.
I haven’t watched the news for a week.
I’m alone with no one but the cat
curled next to me on a fleece blanket. 

A documentary on Crohn’s Disease
plays unwatched in the next room. 
I could get up, or I could stay here
until spring.

All the poetry I have tonight is the poetry of poetry itself — 
a right whale inside me, dangerous, endangered,
rising island within my body reminding me of marvels
that could slip away and never return.

There may be something else to write about someday
and the poem I write then may be fibrous, luminous,
may hold together on its own
and pass from me without pain.

Tonight I write one poem about poetry,
write it over and over again, 
one poem for the blessing of knowing
that poetry still exists in me,

even if
it’s hanging
by a thread. Even if
it hurts.

Coal Tar Blues

Revised, from June 2022.

As if to spite my being human, 
I’m rusting. 

Age, diabetes,
long lack of self-care —

I soak myself in coal tar
for flaking on the surface,

the scent filling every space
in all my rooms; then

take pills and talk for
my internal disrepair,

each breakdown with unlikely odds
for repair.

Nothing about any of this
is temporary or acute.

Chronic is my name,
now — we speak of conditions,

not illnesses; talk of status quo or
increase and not of progress.

Coal tar and skin creams —
odors of one failure

to treat myself
correctly, or so I tell myself.

Others say buck up, it’s not
a fault or a punishment, you

needn’t club yourself with that one,
no matter how good it feels

to feel that bad at times — 
and indeed, there is a sort of blessing

in the hours after
I step out of the shower

onto an apparent path
to normalcy;

but then I lose my way as I start
the day. I tell the others, 

you think so? Then come live in here
and tell me I’m not right

to feel such guilt for becoming hollowed.
I need something to come alive 

in my old center, to build
there as I fall apart.

Comes a point when everything done right
is still not enough, and hope

becomes not a right but
a privilege, just a way

of passing time before time laughs
and then kills; as the scent

of sulfur becomes so strong
you can’t tell

whether it is coming from inside, 
outside, or both.