Tag Archives: revisions

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.


In America

Originally written late 1996, early 1997.

In America there are drive through liquor stores
and cream corn wrestling pit strip joints
I am a child of the modern vacuum
and I am eager to be American
so I listen to television news
describing huge American pistol
throwing lead into a 14 year old

his ten year old companion screaming –

we didn’t know anyone lived here
we were getting wood for a fort

his ten year old companion screaming –

I don’t want to die

into 911

The dispatcher telling him –

Sweetie, you won’t

and him replying –

I might

and the whole time
the 76 year old killer saying

I gotta right they were stealing
they were on my property

In America there are Elvis churches
and spy shops full of surreptitious cigarettes
I am hearing our property come to life
I am hearing the country die

They say

that the Electric chair in America doesn’t work too well
They say the mask blew up into flame and
solid citizens got to see the head of Pedro Medina burn
I bet someone somewhere said it served him right
and someone else started a drive to switch from Old Sparky to
more humane and less confrontational lethal injection
so much easier on the witnesses
in America

In America there are head shops
peddling pseudo-Rastafarian hokum
and flea markets of Congressional loyalty
and it’s better to have the innocent die
or better that we become beasts to the beastly
than to let ourselves be fooled
by the modern ghosts of evil

(you can see evil in their eyes
but I’m confused: is it supposed to be all grey in there?
or should it look like Miami Beach
full of fun and pastel?
or does it look like the Everglades
full of gators and rare birds?
or does it look like me looking out?)

In America there are bridges
that flake until they fall
and rhyming monsters beneath them
waiting to invade the nurseries

I am a child of the modern vacuum
eager to become American

Ponce de Leon came ashore in Florida
hundreds of years ago
looking for
a Fountain of Youth
but what he really wanted was

Hooters
manatee blood
bison hide
passenger pigeon extinction
bales of weed wasted on the shore
drunken gropings resolving into violence
rootless numbers adrift on crazed ozone wind
immigrant massacres in the dark

flames leaping from the head of Pedro Medina
old man gunfiring into childhood forts
cream corn wrestling pit strip joints
drive through liquor stores
and a horizon as flat as a mouth

The center was empty
when Ponce got there

the Fountain of Youth was a booby prize

and today the center is still empty
but the vacuum is filling rapidly
with mystery boxes
full of cheap ripoffs of

Voudoun
Santeria
Wicca
Krishna Consciousness
Holy Rolling
Lutheran
Catholic
Buddhism

all swarming in ecumenical floods
around our true faith

Evangelical Consumerism

all molded by Television
into a spectacle of death
through satiation

I am a child of the vacuum
I am an eager American
In the absence of anything solid
I will believe whatever you tell me


Cobbler

Originally posted 2001.  Revised.

words do not come independently
to me
looking for equations to solve
or causes to exalt

instead words
work for me
like ants
in service

to something underground and distant
whose existence
is inferred
from the way the words

draw attention away from themselves
and in tandem
draw attention
toward a common end

so that
only upon reflection upon the many
do first the pattern and then the path
become clear

my trade:
make
language
over

so that to speak is
to stitch words together
and shoe meaning
with them

so that meaning and I
may walk in steady pace
across
rough ground

so when I get to where
I am bound
I can set language
aside

and set meaning free
to dip itself in cool spring water
wriggle in the grass
and be itself

this is the nature
of the way I work with words
it is not the job of a poet
it is cobbler’s work

I’ve been apprenticed to a hard master
seated at the bench each day
I must be simple before the need
and sing as I work

at each day’s end I can feel the welts raised
on my callused hands
from building these verses
I make my bed at night

knowing I have come far
knowing that
tomorrow
I will rise and set to work again

to make
language
over is
to work

as if meaning
is enough
as if work
is enough


Ghost

Originally written circa 2005.

Ghost, you call me. Not a ghost, not the ghost, but
Ghost, making that my proper name, not (of course)
my Christian name, but the older kind:
the one that means something 
and tells something about you
that remains true. There’s nothing new

about me being Ghost, only that I’m called
by that name now, and I’m finally
comfortable with it. Back when I was just a guy,
long before I leaped off that bridge to get here, 
I used to daydream about flying
and walking through walls. I used to wish for the power

to blow through a window so everyone knows you’re there
and you don’t even have to show up.
I never had impact, and didn’t want risk,
so my fantasy became impact without risk: 
that would be the life, I thought. A good joke:
I’ve got the life I wanted, now that I don’t have a life.

I used to cringe when they told scary stories at camp.
I remember that later
I laughed at horror films, pretending bravery.
But once you’re here, you find
it’s nothing like those. It’s all so – routine.
You show up at regular times, whistle a little in a dark hallway,

provide a moment of clarity
to someone who’s used to being safe and warm.
You become a lesson no one believes in until it’s learned.
It’s not all bad. It’s a beautiful world 
when you can’t really feel it.
It takes your breath away sometimes to see the way it moves.

I spend years just standing
in front of odd, mundane things:
not sunsets, not rainbows,
but garbage trucks and fires and drive-by victims.
It’s all so beautiful, the way
disposal has become an art form. (It was my art, after all.)

Ghost is what you call me now, 
and I’ll take it the way
I have always taken it: with a bowed head.
Before, I would always
come when called because I had no place to be
other than the place I was called to.

Nothing’s really changed:
I blow through, bother you, maybe I’ll be remembered
in your children’s 
stories. Maybe we’ll see each other
one night on the landing, where
you might call me Ghost, or you might
call me imaginary. 
No matter.

I’ve always answered to either one.


The Peonies

Originally written in 1999.

In the year I turned thirty nine
the peonies did not die
quite the same way
as the peonies always had before 

In the year I was thirty-eight
the fragile man I was then
looked at the peonies
in the backyard

The progress of the year 
seemed so fast 
I thought about how quickly
those pink and white heads

would droop and drop their petals
fade and decay
I feared that if the year of thirty-eight 
continued this pace into

my years of forty forty-one forty-two and beyond
every thing I had learned
by putting myself together 
would come undone

But then in the year
I was thirty nine
I learned that in remembering
the scent of peony

the heat of their pink
the regal ice of their white
in all these memories
there was enough of youth to make

my mortality irrelevant
I learned that thirty nine was an opening and not
an end and I realized the sweetness
of the peony was the product of youth spent lavishly

secure in the knowledge that not only
would the dark strength of the leaves and roots last
the cool shade below the leaves would last and refresh
and their roots that hold so lightly to the earth

would leave their legacy anyway after the year’s efforts
were spent and dried and gone
In the year I was thirty-nine
the peonies died but did not die as they had before

and I rejoiced at how
once the blooms and the leaves were gone
and the grey strong winter had buried their bones
the actual plants in the fullness of their beings

always rose again
from the poor soil
along the garage
It was the year that I opened my eyes

my nose and my throat to the world
the year I passed through fear
to let my seams bulge and stretch
the year my senses saved me from falling apart


Vespers

Originally written 1999.

One, two, three,
five, seven, nine, eleven
dark brothers at sunset:
wet-suited surfers
off the beach at Del Mar,
while the bell for Vespers tolls
from the sea-cliff mission
and two
parallel acolytes
in F-14 Tomcats
arc south toward
San Diego. 

What is it about
the brotherhoods
that men form
that makes me watch them
for hours and hours?
I pose that question

to Angela, houseless plain-talker
from the Encinitas streets,
while we sit in a booth
and mull over her fabulous life
in this bar called
“The Saloon”.

Two hours pass 
and I’m no closer
to my answer

but I have heard
all of hers
about men and their missions.

She’s told me that once
she was a clerk typist
and then she was an engineer
but the boys at the Atlas-Titan plant
made it so hard for her
to hold a job
that she walked away
(it’s been a while
so she doubts  the job is still there)
so now instead of gliding toward the stars with the boys
she lives with a man who’s a hundred years old
and tonight she’ll be damned if she’s going home again
because he is so
damned
angry
all the time.

In the booth across the aisle
two women are kissing.
Angela flashes a smile
full of surprisingly white
wild woman teeth
at the bartender, who is watching them
and squirming.

“It’s right,” she says.
“It’s right. Leave them alone.
Couples in love ought to kiss.
Everyone here is just fine. 
Everyone ought to do just
what they like.”

I get up to leave and ask her if I
can take her somewhere.
She thanks me but says she never
gets into a car with a strange man.

Back in Rancho Santa Fe, in my
expense account movie star’s
hotel room, I open the window to let
the night breeze bring me
the scent of camellias.

Downstairs,
other businessmen are
drinking Scotch
and pounding veranda tables
for emphasis.
Somewhere
an angry old man 
waits for dinner.
Pilots’ cheeks flatten 
in the force of the turn
and monks fall off 
to profane dreams
while engineers stew 
before flatscreen blue fire —

as elsewhere,
ecstatic Angela
builds a new world
around our ears,
challenging nervous bartenders
and refusing to be with anyone.
In starry dark she walks the beach
just as she likes, learning to be free
of strange men.


Elegy (1996)

Originally written in 1996.

These days they build
new doors out of balsa,
nearly out of butter, hollowcored, empty;
we are losing the thrill of opening doors.

No longer do we wish or try to push hard.
The clunk of brass latches falling into place is fading from memory.
We are forgetting the comfort that bubbled within us
once resistance was overcome.

We have disembodied ourselves.
Already unable to remain entranced
with the sounds of our lovers for long,
the day may be coming when each of us

will fail to recognize a brother, a sister;
soon, we may no longer know
anything our senses tell us.
The question rings out:

how can we sleep knowing
in the soles of our feet,
in the ledges of our ears,
that we are feeling less each day?

How can we sleep knowing
that all what of we move through daily
without giving it  attention
is becoming irrelevant?

How can we sleep knowing
that the ocean is rising,
that the waves at our feet
will take us regardless of

our ignorance of them? We will all find salt water inside us,
eventually; but how can we sleep knowing
that while it may not taste of bitter and blood,
it will still smother?

How can one sleep
without wanting to open
everything available
right up to that final moment?


Salt And Fire

Originally posted June 2017.

There are places on Earth
so soaked in hate that
the only moral thing to do

(after finding new places 
for people to live)
is to burn every scrap of wood

from furniture
to framing, fill in every
foundation, break up

all the roads that lead 
into and out of town, then
salt the ground sterile.

Every day you hear
of places so poisoned
they should live on only

as a shocked memory
of a country of horror stories
and nightmares.

I do not say this lightly.
Every town is someone’s home and
has at least a modicum

of love clinging to it. I do not
know how to make hate disappear,
and perhaps I have become hate

when I think these things —
perhaps I should
burn myself, 

have a friend
roll my smoking corpse in salt
and bury me in barren ground.

Look around. Something 
has to be done 

and it is hard to believe 

that it will not
require fire
and salt.


Next Steps

Revised. First published, March 2018. Original title, “Requirements.” 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Start by reimagining 
the American flag
as a door anytime 
you see it.

See it as a locked door
with a complex code
you’ll need
if you want to enter. 

Then picture an eagle in tears,
starving, exhausted; 
the eagle on the Seal,
the one that has not been able to feed

with its wings up
and its talons full
for all these years.
Start wondering

what’s under 
your Uncle Sam’s 
hat, 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 wondering where that dollar bill
has been, where
they’ve all been. Start
thinking about them

in your pocket, your hand,
resting across your bare skin;
who paid for what with them
before they came to you.

Start imagining how hard 
you will have to kick
to take down that door.
Think about what might be on

the other side.  Soon,
your foot will start twitching,
longing to act 
even before you start willing it.


101

From October 2017.  Revised.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In the works of
Quentin Tarantino
revenge and retribution
are frequent themes.

I think they reveal 
the fullness of 
recent American 
dreams.

This explains so much of
how we got here,
where we’re going,
why we can’t turn aside.

We’re in Tarantino’s world.
Think of all the casual
evil accepted within
his concepts high and low.

Think of how
he excuses
the worst language,
the worst behavior,

through a complex math
that adds injustice and
revenge and gets
a cleansing zero.

Think of how 
with winks and smiles
he comforts, then authorizes
a stab, a shot, a blow.

Think most of all
of the one where 
an actor demands
his men bring him

one hundred scalps —
usually enough
to make me turn it off
and turn away;

too long a history
for me and mine
to fantasize in comfort
over scalping once done to us

for bounties 
much like this one. Still,
late nights or early mornings
when I sit and see the news,

when I watch 
and wring my hands, sometimes
I whisper when I know 
no one will hear

a phrase that tells me
I am part of his world now,
although I hate it: “One hundred?
Not enough. Let’s make it 101.”


A Broken Arrow

Originally posted August 2017.  Revised.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Used to shoot
my father’s bow
in the backyard.

Knew the right grip, the 
two finger pull without
the thumb.

Prided myself
on form almost more
than accuracy. 

Had a sheaf of 
arrows, yellow shafted,
target heads like sharp bullets.

Had one white shafted one
chased with red, my favorite.
Saved it 
for last every time. 

One day I hit something
to the side of the target
and shattered that magic bolt.

Panicked and stared
at the splinters 
for a few minutes.

Tossed it into the woodpile
to be burned 
in winter, then still
some months off.

Pushed aside the judgement
until later, I thought, but my father
never said a word.

I am not sure he valued that arrow 
much at all. It was
everything about archery

to me: fantasy 
arrow, the Ultimate.

I always tried
to be immaculate with it
when I shot

my father’s bow
in my father’s backyard.
Tried to hit the target dead on,

tried to make myself
perfect in a skill
I’d never need, a skill

from a past time,
a past existence, 
a fantasy I’d made of myself.


My Dance, My Bad, My Deep

Originally posted 2013.  Many revisions later…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My dance, my bad, my deep.
Gave a sorrow opening,
loosed it on the gap within, and now:

ornery. Tantrum. Layabout and cry. 
Going to victim the whole long day;  go pick me
some kudzu, funeral bouquet for a grief show.

Still, I still have rocker hips, roller hips, jazz
groin and lips and hips. Joy ends up somewhere
when pushed from head and heart…thus,

I’ve ended up one sad grinder.  End up bad.
Bad, sinking in deep but still, there’s
one way to set it off and hold it back,

so I’m off to music while still in the hole.
It gives my bad and my deep a resistance.
Gives them rhythm, digging in under the roots;

rubbles my dark village, 
quake cracking, flipping dirt
into the light.  

When I, frightened, shake, 
I still gotta dance my dance, 
my bad, my deep; 

dance even if 
I dance sad. 
It’s my gotta happen.


Everything I’ve Learned

Originally posted 2010.  A Duende Project staple from the duo days. Probably something we should look at for the full band…?

This is everything I have learned:

that I am nothing.

That as nothing, I am exalted
to be nothing. Deliciously
inconsequential, a part of the Machine
of Stars/Necklace on
the Throat of Creation.

That I
mean so little, anything is free
to hold me.

That I am peer
of leopard and dysentery,
of coconut palm and stray wrapper.

That the pattern of rejection/containment
is the warp of my woof. 
Woolly headed 
and slubby
as a pilled cardigan 
on a grandfather’s back. 
Only here 
for the warmth.

That I am song
under shower breath.

That I will be forgotten,
and this gladdens the non-ego
that fights my stick-wielding
caveman heart.

That love and robbery holler equally
in the alley of my elbows as I grasp
the always coming always receding days
I bore through in anger and dread and joy.

That joy itself
is a movie written by another
but I imagine myself
as grip and gaffer at once
upon its set.

That the skin I’ve stretched
and the blood I’ve pressurized
will look awful when I go,
my bowels a roaring ghost 
of past indiscretion,
my face a sagged charlie horse
in the leg of a loved
one long after my burial,
putting a hitch in their walk.

That every barking tree limb
in a forest 
laden with ice
knows its place better than I do,
and I am happy to listen and learn.

That a man’s
no more human than a tin can on a heap of worms
and that the whine of a bomb is a natural song
of the city of God.

That I am happy
and I am nothing, and
all is nothing,
and since all is nothing
and everything at once

it must be so
that nothing is important and
nothing stands out,
importance itself is nothing,
my 
self-importance
is the Ganges of my fierce greed
where I will burn myself to ash and crackle
in the consummation of The Wheel

as the last thing I say to another
is swallowed in the Great River
and I am lost to the sun and the voice,

and the Necklace that hangs
upon the neck of Creation
will be my shade against
the long night 
of what comes after
this life, 
this night of knowing
how small I was
and how much I offered to Completion

by simply being what I was:
a petty, magnificent animal.


Four Scenes From A Weekend

Revised from its initial publication in 2014.

Originally, this was three separate poems written over the years 1976-1980.  Found in my ancient archives from that period.

I was a kid then, a teenager, and my reach was often far greater than my grasp.  I had an essay and a whole theory about what I was trying to do with poetry that when I read it now (of COURSE I kept it!) makes me giggle and blush.  But I was aiming at something, something larger than the individual Poem, even back then.  

Didn’t have the life experience or the skill back then to make it work.  Not sure I do now either, of course, but I am far more clear on my small abilities and my large ambitions than I once was, so…let’s say I think it’s worth a try.

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

1.
Overheard from a dusk-dimmed driveway:

“Basketball’s simple — 
you take the ball,
you dribble it,
then you 
shoot…”

Father, uncle or big brother speaking.
There was no second voice.
After that, the flat notes,
rhythm of rubber on asphalt.

2.
Two worn men on the sidewalk ahead of me.

One says, “Every time I get my check
I try to hold on to the money.
They rob me at the bank
so I keep it all at home
but they rob me at home
but now I got them all fooled — 
I give all my money 
to the man behind the counter
at the liquor store.” 

His companion howls 
and slaps him
on his age-sloped back.

3.
On the bus
another old man, taller than I
by a head and a half, lighter than I 
by a body and a half,

muttering
again and again,
“…had a big 
fat fat 
fat fat 
fat fat 
wife, seven kids, forty years, 
I’d know her face now I think
but not her name…”

4.
By myself, in bed alone,
 
diving into sleep, into a prayer

that I never forget
the innumerable ways 
to get from one end of the court 
to the other;

that I never 
scorn a journey
for where it ends.