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Las Lloronas

A very old poem, a popular Duende Project piece, and one for Bastille Day and all of us who suspect we might need to protect ourselves against predators very, very soon.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 years of watching

 nature shows

 and I still can’t answer this question:

 

 given the opportunity

 will a predator

 kill two at once?

 

 imagine: somewhere

 in central america

 a jaguar is striving for a personal best

 

 and prays (in whatever way

 that big cats pray) that the kinkajous

 fooling about on the forest floor

 

 will stay still long enough

 for him to take both with one

 velvet razor swipe

 

 but he is thwarted when

 one sees him waiting and lets out

 a quavering cry

 

 (this is why they call the kinkajou

 la llorona

 the weeping woman)

 

 and when the two

 scratch their way up a tree

 leaving the jaguar behind to curse

 

 (in whatever way jaguars curse)

 they weep with joy and perhaps

 snicker at the loser below

 

 imagine at night that las lloronas

 the weeping women

 honey bears of the canopy

 

 tell stories to each other

 of all the death they’ve avoided

 at the jaws and paws of would-be overachievers

 

 pausing now and then to whisper

 of the ones who fell alone

 and unwarned

 

 there is strength in numbers

 they tell each other

 the jaguars can only kill us when we forget that

 

 so can a predator

 kill more than one at one time?

 las lloronas say si

 

 but only

 when we
 let it happen 

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

Link to a Duende Project recording of the piece with Steven Lanning-Cafaro on guitar: Las Lloronas   


Barnwood

originally posted 2/19/2019.  revised.

Wouldn’t you love the look of barnwood
in your home?

Wide boards dented
from hooves and heavy boots, or (more likely)
from chains dragged and slammed upon them
in industrial furniture mills until they meet
a mythic standard for anything made to look
as if it once had harder, honest use. 

Wouldnt you love the smell of incense
in your home?

Sandalwood
in the nostrils
of your pampered guests
in your barnwood home

instead of perfuming the temples
in praise of Lakshmi and Shiva,
rising from soft flame. 

Wouldn’t you love a dreamcatcher
in your home?

The Assiniboine net
framed perfectly on the charcoal wall
over the bookcase; centered, empty of ghosts
as far as you know; 
merely there to let folks know
you appreciate authenticity,
found some on that last trip out West,

and brought it into your perfumed,
barnwood home.

Wouldn’t you love sleeping 
in your home?

Lying at night on the cotton sheets, on the
bamboo pillow.
Your partner
a shadow on the other side,
more memory 
than solid figure in the dark.

Wishing they’d wake up
and touch you.
You wish on invisible stars
for that to happen.

You cannot wait 
for the day to begin
and fill the barnwood house with light
so you can dismiss bad dreams
in a puff of smoke

while looking
at the pretty things
you truly own.


Morning Departure

Old poem, heavily revised.  Late 90s, perhaps?

Dew burdening a distant lawn.
Sudden crow drops from grey sky.
Chilly air gooses our flesh.

Last hardy songbird on the wire.
An old dog on point.
Yellow grain waving.

The city is so far away 
we have forgotten
it exists.

She turns left,
away from the sunrise.
Autumn does this –

turns a body
to face the cold
as astringent,

as protection,
to build immunity
for what’s coming;

she says, “I know it’s early
but we ought to think about
heading back.”

I swallow hard, disbelieving.
The rhythm of this day
slows down, swaps

waltz time for
funeral march.
I can’t think of what to say.

We will have to be
on the road
for hours. She is

right in that way, 
but I can’t imagine
leaving this place

that’s glowing
beneath a halo of almost icy
dew.

Looking across the fields
for a tree with fruit that,
once eaten, 

will let me hold my knowledge of her
after we’ve left
this perfect place –

but she knows that story,
gets a jump
on its ending:

“You can always come back,”
she says, brushing something
from her eyes.

“You.” Not “We.”

She is wrong. I’ll never be back:
I know what a sword
looks like

and there’s one now,
burning its way up
over the horizon.


Forensic Love Song

Originally posted, 2008. Revised.

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

“the answer is always in the body”
— heard in passing; a line from a TV crime show

1.
licked and prodded,
it still refuses to express
a secret

2.
in the dark, lit blue,
misted with laden rain,
our signatures revealed:
clouds on our still skin

3.
the mottled shapes
of shared blood can be read
as a novel: here the plot
is thick, here thicker;

here is a second theme;
here, the pooling, the co-mingling,
so confusing to the outsider

though we understand
what has happened here

4.
cooling happens
at a predictable rate
once all factors are accounted for

something unknown to science
must be holding all this heat

5.
the answers
are always in the body

the body is always
asking


Getting On My Nerves

Originally posted 2016. Revised.

Longing this morning
to trade back my boots
for the soft soles
I surrendered to get them.

I can’t feel the ground
when I walk in these.
Doctors try to tell me it’s
neuropathy from my diabetes.

They’re half right, I suspect;
certainly some shiny whiteness
is to blame and whether it’s the sugar
or the culture, it’s killing me

from the feeling parts up
to the thinking parts.
If I still had ancestors to ask about it
I would but they’re gone and they 

never knew me anyway. Maybe
it’s for the best that I’m numb
and becoming more numb the older
I get. Fewer things terrify me now.

I didn’t belong to those earlier times.
I don’t feel I belong in the ones we’re in now.
If I am afraid of anything anymore
it’s of finding a place where I truly fit in.

I still want to trade these hard boots
for the moccasins I had as a kid,
the moccasins people used to say
I should trade for the boots I wear now —

good tall boots made to hold you
separate from and untouched by earth,
the way it is these days;
even when you are put into that earth

they put you in a box
and that box goes into another box.
How is it right that even when I’m dead
I’ll have to lie forever in that tiny space?

Colonized in death as in life,
forbidden the right to return
to my own soil. It’s why I long
to trade my boots for moccasins

and walk away to find my own resting place
somewhere; if my feet burn
the whole way there, at least
that pain will be of my choosing.

Even if the grave I choose
turns out to have been dug from lies,
at least it will be mine. Any debate
over whether I belong there

will not be mine to argue.
I’ll decay and disappear 
like moccasins and boots do.
I’ll be as much of a myth one day

as I always knew I would be.
That’s the truth. I walk toward it
deliberately, my feet on fire
in boots not made for walking

or for feeling. I still feel
for now, if not as much
as I once did, which I guess 
is a bit of a blessing, anyway.


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.

No.

It will be as it is now. 


Polytheism

Originally posted 2014. Revised.

This God the atheists
do not believe in

is nothing like the Ones I know
who have always been

as numerous as leaves,
slippery as free mercury,

devoid of faces, disinclined
to interfere even when implored

as they are yoked to larger purposes
than we can know — purposes

they serve as surely 
as we do our own. 

Omnipotence, they laugh,
is a child’s dream — 

what God of Sound Mind
would desire that

considering how much
needs doing in the universe?

Having spoken they turn back
to their 
appointed tasks,

not caring much at all
whether or not we follow.


Venice

Originally posted 2012. Revised.

There are facts
which are known to be facts
through deep apprehension of their truth

long before they come true. For instance,
there’s no evidence yet
for the truth of my conviction

that I shall never return to Venice;
that how it vanished, slowly,
as I stared back at it

from the stern of the motoscafi 
that took me to the airport for the trip home
will be my permanent last memory of the city.

It’s not yet a fact
that I will never see Venice again,
but I know it to be true as solidly

as I know anything.
It’s as true as the scar in my foot
from the time I stepped

on broken Murano glass.  As true
as the view of Ezra Pound’s grave
and the smell of the nearby crematorium

on San Michele.  As true
as the Albanian refugees
begging wordlessly on bridges. 

Someday you will be able to say
that I visited Venice
just once in my life,

that it left a scar upon me
I can feel
whenever I walk.  

Every step I’ve taken since I left
has carried me farther
away from Venice. 

This won’t be a fact for years yet,
only blooming fully as such
on the day I die.

But I know a fact
when I conceal one,
and daily I do my best

to conceal from myself
this thing I know to be
unalterably true:

that I will not return 
to Venice, not in this life,
not in this body, not in this form.


Not With Gold

Originally posted 4/10/2013. Revised.

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

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

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

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

They let you think
you can get some too — 

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

Those allowed to rise do,
and those allowed to rise

learn that to keep 
the little they’re allowed

to keep, they must keep
their mouths shut.

Your job leaves you
jealous and striving;

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

when you come home
to cradle that son or daughter,

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

but it likely will not be.
All that gold

will blind them as swiftly
as it blinded you.

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

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

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

Some of you still think love
will make it better.

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

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

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

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

But love has never been enough
to conquer this.

What’s always been needed
is a terrifying justice

and Gaia is preparing
a terrifying justice:

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

who cannot rouse themselves
to fly.

You want a golden age?
Get rid of the gold

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

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

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

but do not expect it
to grow in this soil

so full of gold,
blood, and lies — 

not without
a cleansing fire.


Death By Metaphor

Originally posted April 2010.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am too 

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

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

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

and you’ll be correct.

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

though in fact it isn’t.


The Man Without Qualities

Originally posted 2013.  Revised.

There is a man
who has 1500 friends
on Facebook.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is being absorbed.
It shall be absorbed.

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

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

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

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

Reference: The Man Without Qualities


Love Song For The New Year

Originally posted 12/31/2011.

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

Regret one day
for one day,

let celebration
of the next begin.

All I need for
any year or day: 

one with whom
to celebrate,

one with whom
to commiserate,
one with whom to share

the New Year of every single day.

Just one with whom to straighten
up after the labor,

one with whom to soothe
and be soothed;

one with whom
to start anew

each daily
New Year’s Day.


How To Spell American

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I Wanna Be Your Dog

Revised from 2009.

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

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

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

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

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

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

with their obvious names,
a couple of Black Labs,

probably sleek and shiny

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

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

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

this should help.


Thanksgiving Eve

Revised. From 2008.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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