What Democracy Looks Like

New poem.

there are people in the streets.
some are dead. some are deadly.
some are on their feet for the first time,
awakening in a time of mirror shards
to revolution in a time of plastic, 
a war in the time of ukulele music — 

this is what democracy looks like.

there are people lighting candles
and forming circles. there are people
lighting candles the size of buildings
and cars. vigils and ciphers and running
from murk to dawn, turning back
to face the murk and stand and never crack –

this is what democracy looks like.

there are people rising and people falling
and some of the people rising don’t yet know
they rise, just as some of those falling
won’t know it till they hit the hard hard floor.
some who rise will rise from sight. some who fall
will shatter to dust and sift away on the wind — 

this is what democracy looks like.

there are people voicing what was once voiceless,
building safety for those once unsafe, draping justice
like a bulletproof cloak on the shoulders of those
who have been judged unjustly
and serving justice to those unjust who have never tasted it,
making it new and now and near — 

this is what democracy looks like.

there are people who say it is best to make it plain:
hands up, don’t shoot. black lives matter.
someone stands with a megaphone in a circle of fire,
asks: what do we do now? and the circle says,
we march. we go. we do what needs doing
and when that’s done, we do more — 

this is what democracy looks like.


Gentrification

Originally posted 7/12/2010.  Original title, “Gentrifying Worcester.”

Where I live
they’re opening cute bars for the cute,
sprucing up streets ahead of the cute,
renaming old squares for the cute.

This city was never built for cute.
We’re the city that either
swallowed cute whole or spit it out.
Now our throats 

are so clogged with glitter
we can’t breathe,
yet we squabble over 
how to swallow even more.  

Downtown frets 
over how to paint itself more cute
while up here on the hills 
we’re hoping cute washes off

before we can’t recognize ourselves
in what’s left of our sturdy old mirrors — 
hell, this city is my sturdy old mirror.
There I am in its empty red-brick

monuments to old machines, 
its neighborhood dives,
its warehouse squats, its 
half-eaten streets, its good dirty diners.

This was the town where we used to depend
on the knowledge that cute always fades
like a Saturday night drunk
propped in the corner of a diner booth;

it kept us from envying cute too much.
We’ve forgotten that too often, when cute sobers up
it either runs out on the check or leaves a bad tip
and anyone left has to figure out how to get by.

Underneath this city is a river
no one alive has ever seen. Downtown
they’re talking about cutting it open 
and making it cute. Cut it open,

I say. Cut it open –
see what’s collected in the dark,
but don’t count on finding cute down there.
Don’t count on finding water flowing there;

we’ve sweated, bled and cried here for years.
All of that has to have gone somewhere;
if you listen, you can hear it still bubbling
and it doesn’t sound cute to me.


Left Left Right

Originally posted 3/1/2010.

Left at the top of the stairs.
Another left, then a right.
Here’s the blue room I lived in for years,
the room I drywalled and painted for myself
with my father’s help.
It’s still small.
It’s still blue.
I chose the color 
and the embarrassing blue shag carpet.
I helped to lay the oak floors that underlie that –
beautiful wood I covered with blue shag carpet.
Hours fitting new grooves to the just laid tongues,

nailing through the new tongues at the right angle.
I used to smoke dope out the window
with a pipe I made from a radiator valve
listening to my first FM radio,
freeform programming, late 60s,
Mickey and Sylvia after Rashaan Roland Kirk.
I stopped thinking the world was rigid and orderly.
No one’s vacuumed since I left.
I found a cannabis seed in the blue shag carpet.
One time I dropped acid here 
and decided to stare at myself in the mirror 
for too long. I took a piece of notebook paper
and wrote a whole story 
that sounded pretty much like this one.
If I lived here now 
I’d tear up this rug
and see how the oak planks have held up
and if it they were still good 
I’d stain them and polish them
and that would be the floor.
I’d paint the walls a different blue
and when I was done I’d play the radio 
and smoke a big joint
in plain view of the windows
while thinking about Rashaan Roland Kirk
who owned the blues and one working arm and no sight,
I’d follow up by singing
“Love Will Make You Fail In School”
like I haven’t in years.
It’s still true, I can vouch for that;
I wrote about it once,
long ago, with a blue pen
on a piece of blue lined notebook paper
while the carpet wiggled and writhed.
My eyes wouldn’t stay in my head.
They might wander off again right now, my eyes might.
Take a left, left.  Take a right, right.
I could be blind on a cold oak floor
if it meant I could feel free again.


The History Of History

Originally posted 11/4/2010.

They’re coming for us. 

Again, the sound of death-bees in the air. 

Again, batons and the hiss of tear gas. 

Right back
to the bright red world of vigilance
we should have been shed of
dozens of, hundreds of,
thousands of years ago.

Hunters are coming
with traps and guns and laws. 
Our ears are to the ground,
listening for the tumbling of their wheels.
There be giants coming for us — 
god-henchmen, blue hungry curs;
every one wolf-eyed,
expert and patient.
They’re coming in new hides,
new weapons, new uniforms,
but they have the same old saber teeth,
they’re the same old giant bears
who thought we were made
for their survival needs, they think
we’re the same old prey that got away,
and they’re thinking, “Not this time.”

We thought to outrun the past,
but it got faster.
We’ve got to get smart
the way we got smart 
the last time this happened. 
We learned fire and song then,
learned to shout directions to each other
on the run,
learned when to turn
and make a stand.

Time to pick our hands up
off the hoods of our cars.

Time to talk to the neighbors,
talk to each other,
talk ourselves to the battle.

They’re coming,
but it’s nothing new
and nothing we haven’t defeated
a thousand times
a thousand times.
Inside every last soft one of us
is still the Hard One
who long ago
got up off all fours,
looked the Hunters
in the eyes and made
the first ever Political Statement:

“No.
Not this time.”


New demo track available on Soundcloud

Carve on Soundcloud

Above, you’ll find a link to a demo recording of my poem “Carve” — something I laid down tonight as a demo for the Duende Project.  If you like it, it’s available as a free download.  Thanks!

T


How The West Was Won

Originally posted on 3/3/2010.  My 50th birthday, by the way.

 

Watching “The Real Old West” on
the History Channel:
blued barrels
hanging off leather belts
as always; but it seems
that the rotgut was mixed with fruit juice,
if this is to be believed
over the mythology 
of bad gin and whiskey
shot from dirty glasses,

burning neat all the way down.

I trust this.
It’s more like

who we are,

telling ourselves
we’re tough old cowboys
but too scared of pain
to dare to toss
our poisons back
straight,
no chaser.

 

Hagiography

Originally posted 11/12/2011.

St. Teflon, patron saint
of bullet dodgers; St. Tango,

source of comfort against
unwanted outcomes; St. Bullhorn,

defender against the wealthy; St. Lifter,
guardian of the doomed.

St. Angelcake strokes
the heads of the robbed.
St. Watchfob picks fruit
and cleans the poisons from the flesh. 

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

The old saints are retired and disinclined to help.  
“Not our world,”
says Michael. 
“Not our Gospel,” 
says Francis. 
“Not our problem,”
says St. Gabriel. 

For this you want
The Blessed Version, 
The Sherman On The Mount,
The Irascible Conception, a new Bible written
by scribes drunk on the manic milk
of modern circumstance.  
For this, you need

St. Rattler of the found quarter,
St. Lobster of the century reboot,
St. Jack (whose feast day is the Festival of Unicorn Meat).
Depend on The Long Shot Testament 
and take a number. 

There will be a saint for you
someday. Maybe
it’ll even be in time.


Chastisement

Originally posted 3/31/2011.

talk about walnuts dammit
speak of bananas or plywood
maybe there’s a door to consider
or typewriters so sexy and willing
to be closely observed

talk about bricks dammit
spend an hour staring at one
until you live and breathe red dust and pitting
until the brick’s soaked up into you
and you’re ready to be wrung out

there’s the pavement — kiss it
here’s the cobweb — swallow it
there’s a key — stuff it up your nose
remember that brass
smells of dirty fingers and ozone

tell the story of how you know

first time you noticed it was when your mother died
the keys were in your hand
you bunched them up to your face

you could smell and taste them mingled
with tears and dust and polish from the oak table 
where you had laid your head to weep

talk about something real
conceptual rage has no flavor
neither does slogan-born love

but bodies do
and objects do
and so does your blood
say what you know of those
if you must speak of rage and love


A Blue Disk In A Metamorphic Sky

Originally posted 3/30/2013.

I was a kid
All I knew
was what imagination offered

A blue disk in a blue sky
a spider bridge resonating
a concert hall in sections rising
a myth as good as a country in resolve
a story about where I lived
noble rot on a hoped for harvest

So I reached for

that blue disk in a white sky
like a heartless monkey of change
Set a blank slate falling
Donned the most savvy rocktosser outfit ever
It was not me and that was the best thing ever

but not for long as I could sense
how amusing the change was becoming
so I called out again

this time for
a blue disk in a red sky
a meteor shift
a clown nose on a garbage can
a tease and a poke and a hand on my bum
the right drug on the wrong night
fell hopelessly in love with throwing up 
was glad I was no one
was no one
but that drug
swallowed a blue disk from that blue sky

What did I know
I was a kid when it all happened

a blue disk wrecked in a desert
picked over
a myth after all to most

I have had to live this
remembering

that I once belonged
was discarded
fallen
from
high

into this now unlit manhood


Fedora

The fedora on your head is called by some a monstrosity of nostalgia played out in felted wool.
To you it speaks of who you used to want to be and still admire. 
Some say it really measures your insecurity at size seven and one quarter.
They say it is a message of desperation.
It’s a fat and bearded set of same-faced judges who laugh and laugh at your hat.
The judges call the fedora the “bro-crown.”
The kings of sameness with their self-verified expert credentials call the fedora the “bro-crown.”
They call it out over video games and obscure bands no one knows except the members of other obscure bands.

Not one of those musicians wears a fedora to the stage.

You decide to remove the hat.
Everyone suddenly loves you.
It’s a mission now to spread the love.

You decide to knock the hats off of everyone you see.
It’s your job to go farther than a sneer now that you’ve seen the light.
Everyone bare-headed, no one in a fedora, no one hidden from the world and wind.
You are shot and killed by someone resentful of the action.

You are mourned, considered, reviled, canonized, and eventually buried in your hat.
It’s how people knew you best.
It doesn’t matter that you changed near the end.
They chisel it like a historical accusation on your tombstone.

You lie in the grave spiteful in your fedora.
You understand now you can’t win in this life with or without the right hat.
You don’t win until the next life comes around when one day someone sees your crown on that stone.
Someone will take you then as a model.
Someone will buy a fedora in your name.

It’s the same hat but no longer a monstrosity of nostalgia, the same old kings will say.
The difference is that on the new someone they think it looks pretty good.
It looks best on stage.
It looks fresh as a baby.
It exudes and expresses confidence.
It crowns a chosen musician’s head pretty damn well.


Carve

Originally posted 10/19/2008.

this morning
we were

archerfish
and bluebird,
cat
and swallowtail, 
monument
and fountain,
abstract
and concrete.

we were

marble, clay, steel, flame,
building up
and carving away;
brancusi
and calder,
rounding off,
grounding, then
suspending
and floating.

making love is nothing
if it is not sculpture: 

surface is paramount,
a glimpse of
the potentials within
to lead us on.
our hands swerving
and smoothing, gliding
up over the ribs,
varying pressure,
thumbs teasing forth the nipples.

here is where we bend
back, here is where we
create the arch of the neck,
where we
mold the open mouth — 
there is so much time
needed for each lip — 
so much care needed
to give the hips their crests, 
to choose
the ridge for each cheek.

but we are not stone and bronze,
made to remain still –
we move –

plastic now, animated now,
stillness swiftly swept up in frenetic once again –
again, picking up the tools,
seeking new forms, next revelations;
this time

cat and bluebird,
swallowtail and archerfish,
nevelson and rodin,

or, better –
nameless before the possibilities.

there is animal in me:
let’s carve in to find it. 
there is goddess in you:
let’s carve.
let’s find it. 


The Philadelphia Story

Originally posted on 12/8/2011.

Overheard words
on a Germantown street

a toothless woman
a rusty gun 

have kept me quivering
for two full days

perhaps because
I fear that I myself am growing

toothless 
and rusty

Whatever put them there
the words have 
clutched my ear 

I want them to leave
They are having a hell of time doing it

I don’t know where they should go
I can’t send them home

So struck was I by how they captured me
I never even looked up

to see who in Philadelphia
was using them

Never even looked up
to see who truly owned them


Unfinished Work

Originally posted 10/30/2009.

I think of what I won’t finish
and break a little.

It’s a form
of grief I’m feeling,
akin perhaps
to imagining clouds
meant to bring rain

that will never even form.

This work would have been
the nearly perfected explanation
of me;
it might have even
engendered
some kind of forgiveness:

yes, it is a form of grief I am feeling.

Someone will do it
because it will need doing.
Because they’ll know the need for it.

Because my name is unimportant to the doing
as long as it’s done.

This is also a form of relief
I am feeling.


Venice

Originally posted 10/18/2012.

Venice vanished as I stared back toward her
from the stern of the motoscafi 
that took me to the airport

for the trip home.
That will be my 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 smell
of the ovens on San Michele.  As true 
as the Albanian refugees
begging wordlessly on bridges. 

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

Someday I 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.  

It 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
that I will never see Venice again;

I know this in some deep
lagoon within; I know this to be
unalterably true. 


The Bear King

Originally posted 5/9/2012.

A man approaches.
He has dirty arms.
I look closer.
No, 
his arms are inky-pictorial.
There are dirty pictures
but the arms themselves are clean.

He spreads his arms out.  
Wants to give me a hug maybe?
Big arms with dirty pictures and he wants a hug.
Wants a hug or wants to give one and get one back.
Oh, big armed men with art full of sex on their arms!

I have known another like this.
He also wanted hugs and arms full of body.
Wanted to rub his dirty pictures on me or anyone really.
Man, oh man,
he was a dirty man even after a shower.
Man had the grip of a roughneck.
Man, he had the arms of a bear.
Man, man, man —  
he had the appetites of a bear man,
bear art on the skin, the teeth of Ursa Major — 
constellation man.
Can’t be out at night without thinking of him.
He led me to the North Star without my looking up.
He had a tattoo of the Bear King tearing flesh.
That was the old man I knew with arms and dirty art.

I don’t know this new man.
He might be lovely.
He might prefer Ursa Minor.
He might be less of a bear.
Might not even know the Bear King.
Might not even know I knew the Bear King.

He was walking toward me just now.
He turned into the arms of another, must be a lover.
He’s not the same, even with dirty pictured arms.
I knew there were other Bear Kings out here.
I knew I had only to wait to see one again.
This one might not be one for me to savor

but there will be another.
There will be another.
There will be another.


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