Overpass Banners

Originally posted 7/31/2009.

Overpass banners
in red white and blue lettering
flapping above the commuter traffic:

Welcome home,
Sgt. Orozsco,
Private Kenney,
Major Dent.

Love you,
Corporal Bronson.

PFC Rodriguez.

I pass under them
almost daily
without much thought.

But then,
one this weekend

with black letters
and black borders
simply said

Sgt. Conroy,

and when I close my eyes
I can still see
how it was fastened tightly
by each corner
to the fence
and did not move at all.


Dave Penny Speaks Of Providence

Originally posted 1/6/2012; original title, “Dave Penny In Providence.”

I only walk
in Providence
at night when

the city
looks its best,
dressed in love’s crafty haze,

red eyes blinking in pairs
on the stacks of
the Narragansett Electric plant,

signaling that there are
ghost fires still burning
in the pile of brick,

calling out
the extent of damage
there still is in the air.

I walk wherever I can
in Providence, but only at night,
just to pay tribute to it

and honor the dim power
cradled in this crook
of the upper Bay

where what we withhold all day
comes out at night
to define us.

So many here are so refined by day, 
striding these cobblestones
in good artist’s clothes, admiring

the East Side brick,
avoiding the South Side, 
slumming in Olneyville,

dipping their well-shod toes
into the Armory district, feeding
their faces on Federal Hill.

They remind themselves
of this at night when they overstate
the light and recall that 

“Providence” is a name given
to the source of good fortune,
and clutch that comfort close. 

But I walk this city at night
not to fear but to bathe
in the hangover

of the once-rough port,
the vanishing villainy 
of the dashing Mob,

the elder deities
once conjured here;
to imagine

their red eyes blinking at me
at night in Providence, city
of disguises, city that was once

and always will be
my only comfortable

Some of us do our best work
in the dark
when we almost touch 

what we refute
by day — when we can at last find
others who know who we are

simply because
we feel more at home
in this rough, honest night.

Celebrity Deaths

Originally posted on 6/28/2009.  

our rules say

mourn the famous
and those made famous

by dying

so I shall write a poem of mourning
in which I confess that I
do not mourn them
except in the sense 
of mourning those things 
they are no longer
here to produce
which I might have enjoyed
or employed
for my own purposes and 

the tears of a consumer

those times I can use
a celebrity death
for my own purposes
are when I feel
most American


Originally posted 1/26/2007.

what works;
forget the rest.

If They tell you something’s forbidden
you can be certain

it offers something They can’t.

Forget about prayer
creating what you seek: prayer works best
when it fails you.

Those who die in their own evil
go somewhere you can’t imagine.
The ones who die good go the same way.

Imagine that an angel has power beyond
one stroke of its open wings
or you will never understand the ways of nature.

Pretend God
has your face. Pretend
Satan has hold of his mirror.

Move your jaws
in words that spell the same
both ways.

You will find yourself
saying little
and understanding everything.

Stairway To Fela

Originally posted 8/1/2010.

I heard “Stairway To Heaven”
on the car radio tonight
for the first time in a long time.

I have heard “Stairway To Heaven”
at least three hundred times in my life,
having been born at the right time
to have been inundated with it constantly
on the radio stations of my adolescence.
I do not own a copy of it because
I’ve never needed one if I wanted to hear it;
all I have to do is hear the title
and every note
is immediately present in my head
as it was written and played,
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and forever shall be,
world without end…

In a bag on my couch
is a gift from a friend,

a recording
of the music of Fela Kuti

that I have not yet heard.

At the age of 50
I am relatively new
to the music
of Fela Kuti.
I have not heard
the music of Fela Kuti
on the radio very often,

have certainly not heard anything
by Fela Kuti
three hundred times in my life,
what little I know 

of the music of Fela Kuti
leaves me

Perhaps “Stairway To Heaven” is as good
as anything Fela wrote
but I’ve never had the chance
to decide for myself.

Fela Kuti first began recording in the late 1960s,
much as did Led Zeppelin.
What would be different
if I’d heard Fela in my life
as much or more
than I’ve heard
“Stairway To Heaven?”

Years have gone by
with me hearing snatches of “Stairway”
at odd moments and thinking
that I really didn’t like the song,

but much like “Yankee Doodle”
it’s one of those things that sits in me
as soundtrack or background,
informing me, insinuating itself
into the meaning of dates and places
that might have felt different
with Afrobeat in its place.

In that alternate world
of multiple possibilities,
who knows where I’d be today?
What arpeggios
might I have learned to play
if “Stairway” hadn’t been the first thing
to rise in my fingers
when a resemblance to it was detected
in some random sequence
I’d noodled forth
upon my guitar?

If there had been a universe
where a Fela Kuti song
could have been heard
as often as “Stairway To Heaven”
by suburban American teenagers,
what would have glittered there?
What would we all have learned?
What music might we have made?
Where might we have landed?

Listening again to “Stairway” in my head
I am angry unto death
with this unchosen path
and I don’t know if
there’s still time
to change the road we’re on.

Vintage Concert Ts

Originally posted 3/25/2008.  

I’ve seen my share 
of replica vintage concert T-shirts,
all bought at Target, Kohl’s, and WalMart I’m sure;
maybe some of the rarer designs 
come from Hot Topic.  Each one
seems to have been burnt thin 
from pre-sale washing
in foreign factory laundries.

I bet no one wearing one
really understands
how it worked back
in the day, how
a concert T
wasn’t about style
and wasn’t about fashion.
They were medals earned 
for risking death by tinnitus,
honor blazoned
on 60-40 blends.
We’d compare them
at school next day
and envy each other,
we’d never miss another tour,
tried to keep them
intact and uncracked
as long as we could…

then one day
we looked 
in the mirror,
kissed off such expensive devotion,
and proceeded straight on to mortgages
and beer guts you couldn’t hide
under any size shirt.

I heard T. Rex on the radio tonight and
can remember having Bolan’s
big platforms and rainbow swirl
on black across my chest,
big ass chunky music
gonging in my head
for two days and the shirt
telling everyone I’d gone to see
The Man.

I saw that same shirt earlier tonight on a kid
as skinny as I used to be except
his shirt was grey as a post
and scraped evenly clean
in all the right places.
I don’t know what he saw in it,
don’t understand
how you can buy 
such tastefully damaged goods
and call that fair trade
without putting 
your own time
into the wear.


Originally posted 4/14/2004.

between flirt and affair
between laughter and terror
between the end of the backward rock of the chair
and the start of the backward fall

is the land where you live

before the light wakes up
when your sense is bridging
the space between
nothing and something

is the only time there is

it takes patience
to live this wholly incomplete way
to hang on the day’s pendulum
without falling off

what some call the great unknown

is there such a thing as a marigold’s prayer?
what is an antelope’s last thought
before hitting the wall at full run
unable to turn aside?

the way things are in
this vast continent between the poles
of being and not being
of static and fluid

if you are alive
you cannot win
you are dying in the moment
as fast as you can and

though the wind sleeps

in the blue trance before dawn
something is always moving
at once toward and away
back and forth and up and down

and it only appears to be something other than you


Originally posted 4/23/2012.

Growing up in
Worcester, Springfield,
Lowell, Lawrence,
Fitchburg, or Pittsfield
gives us permanent
against pretense:
whenever we proudly speak
our hometown names

a seagull in Boston fires from the sky
and ruins an Acura’s windshield,
a raw wool sweater in Northampton
catches on an antique nailhead,
and somewhere on the Cape
an overpriced lobster bites back.  

We wake up some mornings
and realize how handsome we truly are.
It’s enough to make us empty a mill
and start a revolution inside.

I’m Your Best Shot At Love, Baby

Originally posted 9/3/2010.

I was tiny at first,
a germ of an idea
wrung from
one malignant synapse
firing wildly.
“There’s the bridge,
there’s the abutment, 
you’ve got the car,
consider the possibilities –”  

Right away you tamped me down
like a piece of garbage barely too large to fit
into the bag the rest of your garbage was in,
but like a paper cup that won’t stay crushed,
I forgave you, reshaped myself, and stuck around.
It’s been fun and games since then.
I wouldn’t have missed it for the end of the world.

You tell yourself I’m just a product of chemical tilt.
I tell you how you could right that in a second.
We tango, we party, we bullshit,
we know each other very well. 
I push your eyes to the knife in the nightstand.
You slip me a drink or a pill.
I settle down for a little while
until the storm or the money or the latest fight with family
gives me an opening to suggest

that a gun
isn’t that hard to get,
you know the right people for that, and if all else fails

there’s always the roof,
there’s always the car and a bridge — I’ve got a list
of them, how you could make the skid look accidental,
which rails look the most rusted and ready to break,
how the long fall to the river below would guarantee
a minimum of lingering pain. 

Nonetheless, you stubbornly stick around and treat me like dirt.
I can’t blame you. I’m a terrible flirt
and I know I drive you crazy — but still,
there’s something in the way
you always come back…c’mon, take me into your ruined confidence
for real tonight.  Let me whisper 
the good things I can do for you —

how I’ll buck you up 
and cuddle you
as we finally do what I want
for a change.

I was born to love you
all those years ago
in the moment I told you it was OK to listen to me,
and you did.  If only for a second,
listen to me again
and then show me how you love me. 

I’ve only ever had
your best interests at heart.  
When I say “it’ll be over
in moments and whoever’s left to clean it up
will get over it eventually,”
I’m not being selfish.
I’m just telling the truth. 

They’ll forget you after a while
in a way I never have,
never could,
never will,

at least not until
you forget me for good
the minute you let me
all the way in.


Dominion Of The Dead

Originally posted 9/15/2008.  Inspired by the book by Robert Hogue Harrison of the same title.

The dead man I was born to replace
sits up and watches me from a distance.
Hello, blueprint! It’s comforting to remember
how few of us are innovations,

how almost everyone’s a remake.
Some few are sequels, but each of us
drags behind us the shadow

of some more or less distant Original.  

I’d go talk with that dead man
but why waste time?
I already know
what he’s going to say: he’d remind me

that monuments and buildings
are built to hide the horizon; children
sleep inside them, overstuffed with our plans. 
That’s how we keep things going.

Modern Apocalypse Rag

Originally posted, 8/31/2009.  Original version was found in old notes; apparently, this was written in 1976, when  I was 16 years old.  I’ve modified it very little, mostly to create end-rhyme breaks and clear up a little weirdly vague imagery that seemed like the result of youthful incompetence versus originality.


We all stomp round and round. 
We rage at sky, at ground. 

We hunt and peck and scream. 
We hate, we fear, we dream. 

We honor corpses’ names,
then rip ourselves with games.

The trees know we don’t care
for sea, or fish, or air. 

We strike at those we loathe.
We sleep we those we love.

We can’t tell them apart. 
We turn that into art.

We drink our salty tears. 
We do this all our years. 

We spend our time on pain.
Our children do the same. 

We hope, but hope’s a lie.  
We live, we wait to die. 

We lie down, glad to sleep. 
When we’re gone, few will weep.

Paper Plates

Originally posted 1/27/2011.

I decide it’s time
to open up and release
a secret to you
and tell you

that I often write
inspirational messages to myself
on paper plates,
then eat off of those plates
in the hope that hope
will soak into the food
and keep me sane and alive
till the next meal.

When I tell you this,
all you can think of to say is,
why are you killing all those trees?

This is why
I too often lower my eyes
in your presence
and grit my teeth; it’s my prayer
that you’ll stop asking
soon.  It’s why
I hesitated before telling you;

you can’t help but call attention
to the slaughter all around me,
yet still manage to entirely
miss the point.

Drowning In A White Man

Originally posted 9/12/2011.

I’m drowning inside
a white man.

It seems
I’ll have to grow
thin white gills
and survive though
I won’t thrive –
what I would have
to give
in order to thrive,
I will not give.

No one gets to name
whatever it is I am inside
except me
and I don’t know
how to name
or save myself
other than to say
I’m drowning
in some white man:

can’t breathe,
chest is caving;

need some
smoky air,
some familiar horizon,
the sound of singers 
seated around 
a big, solid drum.



Originally posted on 10/18/2012.

There are some
incontrovertible truths
for which there is no evidence.  

For instance there’s no evidence
for my certainty that I shall never
return to Venice, 

that how it diminished and vanished
as I stared back
from the motoscafi
that took me to the airport

will be
my last memory
of the city.

It’s not a fact yet
that that was my last view

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 crematorium
on San Michele.  

As true as the hurt in the eyes
of 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 further 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
this hard thing I know to be true. 

Coming Down The Stairs

Originally posted 1/29/2013.

Coming down the stairs
to my sweet revolutionary friends’
upturned faces and bubbling voices
as they rise to the morning.

I love and hate them all at once
as I stumble into their cloud of hope
from my dreadful sleep.

I want to demand of the Powers That Be
that they turn from their affairs to see
those smiles pregnant with new holidays,
the street fairs waiting to break out when they sing.

Every movement of every arm
and every hair
is a banner

for a yet-unfounded nation,
a nation 
for the living, the joyful,
the loyal opposition;

once a virtue,
has no place
here today.

Coming down the stairs
I see smiles, I hear laughter,
I can feel the walls shake.

Their song and breath and wonder
draw me into
a world they are making new.
Give them a short track to the Powers That Be:

they will open up every door
that hasn’t been opened
in far too long.


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