When He Broke Us

Originally posted 7/28/2013.

When He nearly broke us
on a knee and a treaty
our mystery belonging broke

Our knowledge of stone’s tongue broke

Our river dreaming broke

The river bed opened
and drained itself down
to bones

When He nearly broke us
on a promise and a prayer

we ended  — almost
Couldn’t speak to each other
After war came famine and
our children were taken
They returned much later looking more
like Him
Had no tongue to use with us
Who were we then
without them 

but when He cracked us

He did not finish it

We found glue among little stones
We found our old words there
We saw old life in new seams

When He cracked us

we saw his self capitalization at last
for what it was
and gently took it from his hands

When he cracked us
he cracked himself

He tried to wear our clothes
They fell from him

He tried to steal our names
We called them back to us

His children learned to see him
as unnaturally starved
despite leaning toward obese

They say they feel bad about when he broke us
Little breakers feeling sad in fancy hats
they don’t see as stolen property

They keep banging at us and calling it a tribute
Their hammers ring just as loud 
as when their fathers first cracked us
as when we first stood up to it
as when we first became unbreakable

and the singers
and the dancers
and the drums
our drums
drown their hammering 
in the renewed flood 
of our river dreaming


What You Call Me In Daylight I Call Myself In The Dark

Originally posted 2/24/2012.
Original title, “The Names You Call Us.”

Whatever you decide about how we should look
is how we look to you.

Whatever you decide you can somewhat pronounce
is what we are supposed to call ourselves.

You pick a petal and call it a flower
as if calling out a part conjured the whole,

as if naming a peak
described the range — 

Pike’s Peak for the Rockies.
Mount Rushmore for the Black Hills.

(Of course, those
aren’t their real names, either.)

What should I be called?
Should I let you buy me a collar

with “half-breed”
or “wanna-be” on a tag?

Should I shelve
everything I have lived through

so I can sit in your easy box and beam up at you
with your pink bow on my head?

Should I stop cursing you under my breath
when you aren’t listening?

Perhaps I should speak up knowing
none of it will matter much to you

as I seem to fit in this world
without really trying — no surprise,

I was taught how to try
from the day I was born.

In the dark I echo you,
calling myself lost, traitor, hypocrite,

but not for the same reasons you give.
I do it because I know I have had to give up

one half of all my contradictions
every time I have tried to fit in.

Call me the wrong name, call me
the wrong kind, call me wrong simply for being;

all of the names you call me in the dark,
or when my back is turned,

are names I have called myself.
Y
ou needn’t keep trying to kill me

with your words. I have already
done so much of the job

that I don’t know my real name,
what it means,

or how it might have kept me alive 
in a different time.


Play Guitar In Five Easy Steps!

Originally posted 12/11/2012.

“he didn’t leave much to ma and me just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze”   — s. silverstein

if you thought it was written by Johnny Cash
you are forgiven a little

if you thought he was telling the truth 
you are forgiven a little more

if you hate your name too and all you have to fight it with
is your missing bad ass dad’s old guitar

you are not only forgiven everything
you are blessed

and you should forgive me
for everything I am about to say

“they’re dead wrong I know they are cause I can play this here guitar”  — weill, mann, lieber & stoller

marvel at how it took four people
to write one line

about a truth every 16 year old
with a death grip on a maple neck

learns by osmosis
from the first chord

“well I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk”  — b. springsteen

interrogate your guitar till it owns up
to things you have never done

“the bitter comes out better on a stolen guitar”  — d. bowie

you tell me: if you’ve not yet stolen a guitar
have we even seen your bitter

“your guitar it sounds so sweet and clear but you’re not really here it’s just the radio”  l. russell

dream yourself into being a ghost superstar
by dint of broadcast ominpresence

but even the superstars will tell you
that in fact

in truth and real life
we end up most often alone

in a small room with wood and wire 
pen paper bone pain and joy

this is
what that thing does to you

welcome and
don’t say you weren’t warned


Squat Seduction

Originally posted 1/19/2013.

On a physical search for God, angel,
devil, or some other entity
good or bad for us;

looking for transcendence
in an abandoned liquor store
behind the wasp-ruled chest cooler.  

Sitting behind it,
not caring for stings one bit, sucking
a pipe full of our last kind bud; 

searching for some guide
just as smooth and stony
as the pipeful.  

Seek and ye shall find —
was that the Bible or
our school librarian who said that?

We spark up another one. Need it 
to look for something deep
and certain in these ruins.

If TV alien hunters
are remotely not crazy

or greedhead hucksters 

when they
do the same 

among mounds and pyramids,

who would say
there’s no similar chance

of tracing the tracks

of extraordinary beings
here in the half-emptied rubble
of Sully’s Cash And Carry?

Maybe
these wasps are little
demigods.  

Maybe there’s a snake
in the cracked walk-in
the way there was in Eden,

the way there was in the vacant house
we hid out in last winter, the one
on Gutter Road.

God would so get
what we’re trying to do here.
I bet God’s a squatter too. In fact

I bet God and the Devil
both prefer ruins to churches
and sticky floors to clean holy beds.

Heaven is undervalued property and 
mostly abandoned, as is Hell; these days they mete out
paradise and punishment 
wherever they can.

I’m telling you, these days God’s likely
hiding in a pipe, and Satan
is probably hiding in a lighter

so let’s light up. Let’s seek them.
We’ll sit in the dust in the dark
and wait for the End Times 
to begin.

 


Terraforming Mars

Originally posted 12/31/2009.

Watching a show
on terraforming Mars
and can’t help but think
of Crazy Horse
when an astrobiologist says,

“To me, Mars is the lot next door.  
The lot is vacant,
so why not plant a garden?”

Crazy Horse,
if you’re listening,
please accept my apologies
for us all.

All that blank red dust, 
all the things we’ve learned,
yet we still think we know best.


Flight

Originally posted 7/12/2003.  The OLDEST poem on this blog, though not even remotely my oldest poem.

There’s a hole in me the size of a departing flight.
Something taxis up to my edge and takes off,
flying out of me toward a horizon.

Not that I can see that horizon;
that’s just what planes are supposed to fly into these days. 
It used to be the wild blue yonder that planes

flew into, but no one thinks planes are that wild anymore —
they seem to us more like stale buses
full of cranky people eating meals

that never fill them,
in precisely the same way
that nothing fills me now. 

Somehow I keep thinking 
even after my mind falls into this hole
and disappears.

I keep thinking that I’m going to rise
and follow that vapor trail into the blush,
catch up to the flight before the sun goes down.

You’d think I’d know better by now.
I ought to know better by now. I ought to be able
to figure this one out.  Some flights

are just lost. You can’t catch
a plane that has been lost, 
not by thinking.


Enabler

Originally posted 7/23/2003.  The second-oldest poem on this blog.

Call me black ice,
the patch on which you skid.

Call me your shadow’s lasting fragrance
for how our bad nights sting you raw for days.

Call me water on granite,
wearing you down over time.

Call me your sad sink — full for days, smelling of bones,
old salad leavings, greasy teacups.

No matter what you call me,
I will look back at you tenderly.

You shine more brightly
whenever I am the dark.

You seem more right
whenever I am your worst past mistake.

You seem more
whenever I seem less.


Portrait

Originally posted 4/2/2011; original title, “Exile: Portraits.”

I live alone in the far woods,
among good words
in this house — air conditioned,
well-heated, smelling
of mountain spring
in the dead of winter,
wrapped 
in

a perfect shade of rose.

I like it here.
I like living alone
among words.

I like the muscles in words, like
how they move, 
how it’s not even work
when they move. I like
how different work is
from that.

Sometimes I talk to myself.  
I say, out loud,
that I don’t want my hands 
or my corn anymore.
I’ve held too many things
and been too well-fed. I’m trying 

to be leaner, a good citizen of the world,
though I’ve not left this home soil
in fifty years, though I was born here
as were all my genes. Lucky 

for me that I like it here. I like
being alone, 
living with words — 
I like the work they do
without appearing to work at all.

The only time I ever left 
was when I was sent to kill. 
I came home certain
that all the creation stories 
my little nation ever taught me
were literally true.  A coyote

indeed brought us fire, the snakes
indeed were postal carriers to the gods,
I indeed was fashioned
to wear the word “warrior,” and
someday, all will indeed be restored. 
It has to be true: every brown person I killed
in every country where I killed them
told me the same story
in different words,

and I like words. I like 
the way they move, the way
their muscles shift, the work
they do without appearing to work,
I like how well-scrubbed

they can make me feel.


Elegance

New poem.

The most elegant part 
of being in a privileged body
is the ease and grace permitted to one
when avoiding difficulty.  This is not to say

one never feels pain or trauma; such a body
does not entirely prevent harsh moments
of injustice or regrettable instances
of sanction and unlawful control.  What it means

is that one can, with less fuss, slip on white gloves
and reveal to those who can offer redress
for such inconveniences the small dirt and flecks of blood
which have adhered to one as a result

of the aforementioned distresses, and 
(one would surmise) thus compel those redresses
along with appropriate apologies
from the offenders. One must see this privilege

as a deserved elegance, as fine as china
on the long table, as clean
as the drawn out whistling
of those bombs and bullets used to secure it,

or one risks it being taken away.
The price of having such elegance
in the air you breathe, in the water you drink,
in the ground below your well-shod feet

is to accept it even if you recognize
how others must bleed and die and fight and sob
for their losses in order for you 
to gain.  If you cannot or will not accept that, 

if you find yourself gnawed open
by this wisdom, know that the air
will still be there for you, perhaps colder
and more bracing; the water will still be there for you,

sweeter if scarcer; once you’ve given
the right to such privilege away, the ground below your feet
will still hold you no matter how clumsy you may become,
no matter if you fall while walking the new path.


Lost Years/Choices

Originally posted 8/11/2012.

In my lost year of seventeen,
I had my own blood on my hands.
Drugs heaved their song inside me
and I did as I pleased,
for I planned to die young.

In my lost year of twenty-one,
my hands cupped more blood.
Dead sex occurred to spite the loss of live love.
Anything was possible;
I was going away.

Lost years between twenty-four
and forty-four? I picked off the scaled, dried blood
and washed the flakes away. No itemized
seductions, untaxed by hope,
I just lived as a matter of fact.

Fifty-two and lost again, or found again, or just awake.
I sing with longing to feel blood in my hands again,
to revel in rage, sex, and passion, to roll myself in great drugs.
I sense again that I can either create my world
or destroy it; am energized by every choice being perhaps the worst.


Superheroes

Originally posted 12/19/2010.

SCORPIONS IN CAPES
are what I crave,
superheroes full of poison,
saving the city while unable
to save themselves;
stinging their supporters,
slaying their sidekicks,
shrugging mayhem off as
all just being their natural selves
as if those abilities are unalloyed miracles
while their tails proclaim otherwise.
The mighty carry their flaws within their strengths — 

which identity is the most secret?

SCORPIONS IN CAPES
are what I need, demigods
riding cobras, lion-voiced,
their stinking acrid presence in my dark bedroom,
looming at the foot of the bed,
demanding that I seize the baseball bat

before creeping to the living room
to see what that noise is;
arguing, pressing for murder as response to provocation
when there’s a perfectly good backdoor
not ten feet away and I could escape
if I thought before acting: 

which identities are the most secret,
which the strongest?

SCORPIONS IN CAPES
hold the balance I desire most,
their good as venomous as their evil
is sweet, yellow death on the rooftop
silhouetted against the sick sodium light
of the streets, in service to established
and ironclad rules that say vengeance
is righteous and destruction is excused
by rage against the destroyer, even if
the avenger and the predator
are one and the same — and

which identity do I most eagerly seize
when so many are available to choose from,
and they all look the same?


Big Joe Turner

Originally posted 6/13/2012.

Big Joe Turner could palm a jump blues
like an egg, could handle it rough
and never break it even as he smote the air
with the soft club of his voice
floating over and through.

I try it myself. I think I sound
good, as good as that.
The shell fragments on my hands
and the sticky yolk say no.
The heart of me says no too.

Big Joe Turner,
they are forgetting you
and your kiss curled imitators.
Big Joe Turner,
I’ll owe you forever 

for the mess on my hands
and the mark on my bones.

They won’t dry or heal,
no matter what others

do or do not do.


Iron Tang

New poem.

Cooks a hearty breakfast with privilege for fuel. Finds it
smoky and filling with a subtle iron tang under the cheesy
notes of the primary flavors.

Showers then for work under hot, hot water thanks to 
privilege burning in the basement furnace.  Then, warm clothes
to wear, thick carpets underfoot, fine shoes and doors

that open both ways, a solid car,
a road, a job, a team of coworkers, a good dinner out and
a drink later with that iron tang on the tongue

present the whole time, insistence
upon reminder upon demand.
It once was interesting, now is at once maddening

and integral. Comes up empty trying to name it. Thinks,
it’s not the privilege. It’s not. It’s not. Turns on the television,
then turns it off at the sight of streets of blood. Promises

to puzzle it out
tomorrow
on a full stomach.

 


Wake Up (Boss)

New poem. 

Someone near me says,
I did that like a boss.

I say to him, wake up. Don’t say that –
who wants to be the boss? He says,

fool, I do. I say, wake up. Who is our secret

enemy? Who is our tight lipped
antagonist? Who is our uneasy 
must-go-to? Who sits on the shoulder
of the road counting our steps
as we slog our heavy loads unwillingly
from one sad place to another?

He says, but not all bosses are bad. I say, yes,
not all bosses are bad but there’s a bad creature
alive in the center of that word.  
It likes the taste of obedience. It says,
please don’t be inconvenient. It says,
stay on the sidewalk with your heavy load,
stay out of the big wide road with your freedoms
and you will be allowed to exercise them
as much as you like. It was the creature
that lives in the center of the word “boss” 
who coined the phrases 
go along to get along,
not all men, and
all lives matter.

He turns his back on me
while shaking his head
and I say to myself,

wake up, fool,
talking like a boss to him — 
clearly you have some boss venom
in you and do you want the poison
of feeling and doing anything
like a boss? Wake up, I tell myself,
and say it: 

no, boss. No.
I’m shutting up. 
I’m sitting down,
I prefer not to.
I prefer not to.


Note to all subscribers

I’m sorry for the low number of posts lately.  I’ve been involved in the demonstrations and other work being done around the current situation in the US.  It has taken up a lot of time, my energy, and now my health to some extent.  I’ll be fine, but I will likely be somewhat detached from my work here for a bit.

Please, please, PLEASE look up some older poems here if you could.  I write them for more than the moment, y’know.

Thanks.

Tony


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