Perfect World

Originally posted 11/25/2003.

The news speaks of Siegfried and Roy,
of terrible news that a beloved tiger
has turned upon them; also, I see
we are still
at war.

I am not Roy.
I am not Siegfried.
I cannot make any of this
disappear.
Therefore, I will give up. 

I will turn toward the headlines
that call out war and other savagery
and surrender my own head to that tiger.
Into his jaws, the ivory ridged tabernacle,
I shall commend my spirit.

I shall learn to speak in sitcom
and imagine in high definition 
what it’s like to be at war –
if my left eye opens,

I will wash it
in a pool of agreement
and dry it
with a flag.

Somebody teach me
the chords to a country song.

Somebody
pardon me for being slow
to resign myself
to the new reality:
this was supposed to be 
our century, 
our time to shine
with the glazed and handsome
Coca Cola sheen
of the skin on a roasted hog.

Everybody dies
for something these days.
Somebody, anybody,
give me something simple to hold
and I’ll pretend that I like dying for it,

even as I wonder why Roy wasn’t faster,
swinging the mike at the tiger’s head
and leaping back in time to laugh and laugh
at how those handsome teeth closed on air.

Why were our free will 
and his gleaming magic 
not enough to stop the blood?

Why isn’t history dead? 

Why are we still at war?


Narrative

Originally posted 6/13/2005.

jargon
rorschach
manacle
throttle

poorhouse
monument
bluebells
bottle

revenant
supplicant

slingshot
fader

sandman
tearstain
silhouette

crater

failure
faceplant
dirtfeast
tower

endgame
closure
shutdown
over


Three-Way Mirror With Shadow

Originally posted 11/17/2009; originally titled “Three Men And A Shadow.”

I can see the kid I used to hate,
his arrogance, his secret shame
in lying about something
he’d done or not done,
thinking of girls,
of pills stolen
from the medicine drawer
and choked down
as he sweated grades,
expectations, failure;

it only takes
a head turn
to see the young husband
I used to scorn,
shuffling off ill-dressed to jobs
he thought beneath him,
finding ways
to smile at people
he thought neglected
his genius, avoiding evidence
of his own lazy thought.
I remember him
pacing off long nights
as the house piled higher
with things, things, things…

then face on, direct now,
to see the fat man:
gray and bloated,
reeking of smoke and disappointment,
imagining that what has worked in the past
will work again (even though
it never worked at all),
pretending all his choices
were the right ones;
staring at small screens
hoping the magic of certainty
will return, light up his fingers,
and illuminate the slowly dimming remainder
he knows is lessening

as he stares ahead,
stuck in his backstory.

Behind the mirror,
behind them all,
a shadow I always called
the Real Me:

a perfect fanatic,
holding fast
to the game of words
as his sole treasure
and source meaning.

Was it worth it
to go that route,
I wonder,

to turn away
and focus on
a vision

of a body of work
to be left behind
in the space I perhaps
should have been?

I should have
taken better care of these three.
The shadow I thought was the real me
would have been a better man
if I’d been better
to the men I pretended
I never was.

I can’t speak ill of
any of them.
Stroke their heads,
let them go,
think about what I am now:

a net loss,
bankrupt 
at the general business of living.
Regardless of what
I have claimed to be,
I have always been

a shadow
of my self.


Feeding Columbus

Originally posted on 11/29/2010; original title, “Squirrel.”

Columbus, fat and matted cat,
half-feral neighborhood terror,
is killing a squirrel on my front lawn
and I have come outside to stop the noise.

I chase Columbus off.
He does not go far,
sits and watches
from the sidewalk.

I bend over the small screaming body.
The squirrel gets up
and tries to climb the maple three times,
getting no farther than four or five feet up

before there’s a clumsy tumble
and now he is squirming on the ground,
panting, squeaking softly
like a balloon losing air.

I am glad my knife is sharp.
I lean in and set the point
on the ground near the neck,
then draw it firmly across the leaking wound.

I wipe the blade on the rough grass
next to the curb. I step away from the body.
Columbus is still there,
waiting to see what has happened.

Once back inside I wash the blade
for ten minutes
under the hottest water I can stand,
then do the same with my hands.

I can’t stop shaking
though I know I have done
the right thing. Console myself saying
that this is sometimes what it takes; then

I put “cat food” on the grocery list
and find a small bowl I can spare
for the back step, for I have just now resolved
to feed Columbus in the dark starting tonight.


Recording for your consideration…

Today would have been the 81st birthday of the great master of the cuatro, Yomo Toro. Yomo Toro’s mastery introduced me to an instrument I love — and which I don’t think I will ever be much good at, at least not in the traditional sense. Which is kind of the point of this tribute to “Torito.” 

My band Duende Project plays this live now and then, but have somehow never gotten around to recording it. So I sat down this morning and cut this. It’s a live track — me playing as I read the poem; the quality is not spectacular, but again…that kind of fits in its own way. 

Just offering this as a way of honoring the day and as an offering to those who knew his music and the man himself. I wish I had known him; I’m honored to have made the acquaintance of his family as a result of this poem, and hope they in particular like this. Thanks.

Poem For Yomo Toro


Godzilla, Or Something Like Godzilla, Dead Ahead

Originally posted 2/21/2012; originally titled “Political Poem For Monster Movie Fans.”

That’s one bad reptile
standing between us
and the way out.

We’re going to have to walk
under his belly
to escape.
We’re going to have do it
consumed by fear
of him dropping lazily down
to crush us
or deciding to wheel down and about
and lap us into his mouth.

It’s going to smell.
It’s going to be dark.
We’re going to have to walk,
not run, for fear of him feeling us
galloping through.  

He’s so big, so swollen,
might even be venomous though 
he doesn’t need poison to take us;
our biggest threat may be
that he won’t even know we’re there
and our demise will be accidental,
a side effect of him
shifting his bulk. We’ll be 

a clutch of pointless, unremarked deaths.
When the case is laid out like this
the possibility
of us getting through
shrinks to not a prayer in this hell –

but then,
this is Hell,
already.  And 

Hell has never
stopped us from acting
on our desperate prayers — hell,

when has Hell
ever stopped anyone
who has nothing to lose?

 


Publication news…

My poem, “Exam Questions For The Next World” appears today in the online journal “Truck.” Very pleased about that.

TRUCK


Commandment

Originally posted 7/6/2013.

I salute the Earth
this morning,
every morning,

longing to do it
as it should be done –
in community, with others,
with tamboura,
horns, drums, finger cymbals,
and flutes;

knowing it should be done
with dancing, with
heels never touching,
a toe-tip reel grounded
but striving upward;
it deserves no less.

But I am alone,
have no instruments,
and cannot move
as I once did, so
I can only do it
with nerve and
a celebratory shiver
in my stiffening limbs.
I can only do it
with hard-found words
sung poorly
in the one language
I manage to speak.

Not to salute the earth
feels to me as though
I am breaking
a commandment
that was somehow left out:

“Salute this earth
with whatever you have.
Keep it holy through all the days
as if each day were a Sabbath.”

Thus, I salute the earth
in the morning
every morning
and am still waiting to see
what if anything
our customary God
will do about it –
so far, nothing,
but this sunrise suggests
there is no displeasure
on high.


Parentheticals

Originally posted 7/29/2008.

People have lately
developed a bad habit
of walking into churches
to kill other people,
which (I suppose)
is the natural evolution
of several thousand years
of people walking out of churches
to kill other people.

Killing for any reason is so common
that no special wringing of hands
is strictly necessary, although
(as is true of the killing)
we’ll do it anyway, even though
we get into that “us vs. them” thing
when we do, with our sad fingers
pointing outward while our trigger fingers
itch in sympathy, if not
(at least to our hopeful minds)
solidarity.

You have to wonder (or at least I do)
if the problem is really
in the churches 
or in us
when people
(not all people, of course,
it’s never “all people” when we talk of this)
put so much faith in the ability of
the God of the gun to bring peace
that the God of the hymns is relegated to
providing the soundtrack to the crusade.

In one of those violated churches
they have a song that goes,
“come down peace, come down peace,
let peace come down and surround us.”
On the news this morning a man,
survivor of the latest killing,
wipes his eyes and says, “It’s gonna be hard
to sing that now.”

Of course it’s always been hard
to sing that, to wish for Something
to come down and bring a blanket to smother
our fire as it consumes us.
(I know, I know how hard it is myself,
for I have wanted more times than I should count
to bring my own pain
upon those who bring me pain.)
It’s harder now to sing it
as people (not our people, we know
it’s never our people) are reloading,
adding fuel to pyres,
blaming people (other people,
not our people, it’s always other people)
for bringing the fire upon themselves
in the first place because God (our God,
or perhaps some other God, we can never quite
put our fingers on that God) isn’t in the church
where the fire came down in place of the desired peace.

When the fire came down this time people were singing,
“the sun will come out tomorrow, tomorrow…”
and maybe it will, we hope it will; a sun
to cover all of us (all people, all people
who walk beneath that sun) in something that
resembles peace.

Until it does we’ve got
just three things to remind us
of what we claim to want:

we’ve got churches,
we’ve got people,
we’ve got a God who may not live
in any church
(if the death toll that comes from churches is any
indication, although I’m sure God stops in there
from time to time just as we do),
a God who sometimes appears deaf and blind, who
may not know much of peace at all
(if we are the measure of peace),
who holds the blanket high above us
(perhaps to block the view of all this)
and waits for us to call for it
before letting it fall.

We are so hoarse from shouting at people
(other people, all the other people)
who seem to feel
that the road through death
is the only path we truly share
that when we sing
(why must we sing so hard?
why is it so hard for us to just sing?)
we don’t believe it’s singing (but it is).
Let peace
come down and surround us.
Tomorrow,
tomorrow
(if not today).


Big Things Never Seem To Get Done

Originally posted 7/13/2006; original title “Spiritus Mundi.”  
The thrust of this piece has changed pretty dramatically in the revision process.

This is the desk
where I claim to work
but it’s so cluttered
nothing big can happen here,

so I work on the porch instead
where there’s an ashtray
large enough to dump
only once every couple of days
next to a pair of chairs
set up knee to knee
where the laptop can sit 
and the notebook can sit
while I sit pretending
to type as I smoke,
pretending the work goes on. 

The ghost in the kitchen
never comes out here, the ghost
that is audible from every other
place in the apartment, the ghost
that won’t leave me alone
unless I’m out here
trying to work.  When I’m not
the ghost rattles the pans
and runs across the linoleum,
tattling on someone unknown 
who ended a long time ago.
The doors swing open and shut 
without anyone touching them. 

My neighbors come and go as well,
swinging doors open and shut 
without anyone touching them
or me touching them either,
or so it seems from the porch
where the ghost never comes, 
where the things that ought to get done 
never get done, where the smoking
is good and the sitting is easy. 

I have no fear of the ghost. In fact,
if I could I’d let the ghost
open and shut my notebook at will.
I’d let that ghost
write it all for me.
I’d let the ghost make sense 
of the miscues

and odd placements, let it
take over my life; I would 
put it in better hands,
hands that can pass though walls
to get big things done

in this place

where I’ve come to rest,
where the desk is so cluttered
and the porch and I
are both so empty
that the big things
never seem
to get done.


Django Reinhardt And The Hot Club Of France

Originally posted 4/22/2012; original title “Django, 2:48 AM.”

Predawn.  Nothing is happening here.
My wild-haired silhouette hulks
in the corner mirror.

Django’s improbably on the radio; he and
Stephane are tearing it up
happy hot-club style.

I have no role to play in this
as no one knows I am listening
and all the players are long since dead.

The song ends. Django, if he were alive,
would have called a break now, lit a cigarette,
probably one pulled from a hardshell case.

Me?  I’m (of course) out of cigarettes.
My left-hand ring and pinky fingers
suddenly ache.  There’s no way

I could ever get my hair
to behave like his, and my full,
average hands mock me, reminding me

that I have no role to play here beyond the one
where I collapse with envy and wonder back into sleep
before the radio taunts me again.


I Will Be Content

Originally posted on 7/5/2005, without a title, as a section of a larger essay.

I ride this world as if Ganesh himself
had plucked me up and placed me upon his back.
I am grateful, but did not seek this. Eventually
I will surely fall just as I have risen.
I will be content.

If I were nothing again,
the nothing before something,
just my parent’s desire, strong enough 
to come forth, too weak to do more; if I were
that nothing, I would still be content.

Some of you understand how a tree falls
when the elephant straightens. A leaf falls,
and the tree lifts itself higher.  
What will happen if I fall? Nothing at all.
I would be content.


Exam Questions For The Next World

Originally posted 7/12/2013.  

Section One:

Explain intersectionality
as it relates to
systemic oppression.
Include in your essay
the following terms:

blood dugout. 
pitted bone.
rape shop.
sharpened stone.


Section Two:

If you are assigned 
the role of scapegoat,
how will you survive
your turn in the wilderness?

Show your work.


Section Three:

What five words
ought to be erased or respelled
in order to lift their magic?  
Defend your choices

without attacking others.


Section Four:

Define a process
for removing
the history
in your own eye.


Section Five:

Will there be any room for any mercy
in the next world
that has not already been shown
in the present one?

Discuss.  

 


On Privilege

Originally posted 7/25/2010.

Definition: an oil,
a thin clear oil,
that gets on everything.
When it clumps in dark corners
it is obvious
if you put a light on it,
but
when spread around
it becomes invisible,
intangible
until you try to grip something.

If you’re born coated with it
the ones who came before you
teach you how
to work with it,
how to forget about it
as you make it stick
where you want it to stick.

No wonder you’re insulted
when people
calls you “slick”
as they try
to make you see how
it shines so evenly on your skin
while on their own
it’s just a mess of smears and blotches.
No wonder that when you try to touch
those exposed patches,
it comes between you.  

The wells that pump it
are deep.  Pulling up the pipes
is not like pulling teeth.
More like pulling roots,
long roots, nearly infinite roots
that cross lawns, 
that have spread under roads;

pull them and the world splits above them.

The depth of their reservoirs is like unto

the Hell you’ve heard so much about:
there is fire, there is ice, there is
the Adversary who rules it

and oh, he says he loves you, his slick

bastard.  How could you hurt him so
by rejecting his slippery gifts?

If in spite of that
you start scrubbing and pulling
because that is what Hope requires of us,
you should know the truth:
no one really knows what a dry world
would be like, but at least
we would be able to touch and not slide apart,

and could hold on to each other as we are learning.

 

Prayer For A Sound Sleep

Originally posted 1/11/2010.

Please, no earthquakes
or supervolcanoes tonight.

If the world is going to end in my lifetime
I want to be awake when it happens.

There will be something to see
in those last seconds

before the curtain tumbles around us
laden with stone and flame

and I’ll surely be one of those 
compelled to capture it

and cram what little sense
can be made of it

into words 
no one will read.

I would like a good night’s sleep 
before I face that, a good night

thinking of good things
to do in my good future.

So please, no asteroid collision,
no planetary conflagration tonight.

It’s not much to ask,
I think,

to want to be awake and at my best
when the worst happens.


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