Labor Day

Originally posted 9/5/2011.

The rude elements

have dressed your dirt-blessed hand.
Do not apologize for that.
Make the rich ones, the clean ones,

shake it.  Make them look at your face
and see you: 

balding, fat,
forearms threaded and popping
with the result of work.
Force them

to see your clothes, how thin the fabric
on your jeans, the patches, the tears.  

Give them a moment
to take it all in
before you smack them

with how you’ve built them
and their multifaceted estates

and holdings.  

Seize their throats
and gently push upon them
the everlasting schedule
of your simplified days –

how each day you rise, sup,
work, sup, work, sup, and sleep;

a routine broken only by the time you steal
to make children, make a home, or
bounce the baby on your greasy knee.
Dammit, none of the dirt you carry

makes you their sort of unclean!
You deserve a moment of anger

as you count pennies, consider famine,
make do.  You’re more glue
for this shiny cracked country
than any glitter-fed celebrity

or squinting dollar-breeding usurer,
so make it known.

Grab them one and all by their hands
and make them shake, show them
the honest tan under your grime.
If fear is the likely result,

it may be the wedge 
to open the door

they’ve kept barred for so long –
and who better than you
to open it?  
It’s only your shoulder,

so long pressed to the wheel,
that can possibly burst that lock.


Angel Food

Originally posted 3/14/2008.

the random blast
one block away
is just a backfire for once

and the neighbor’s reggaeton
ripping a hole in saturday afternoon
seems less loud

when there’s angel food cake
on the coffee table
for yolanda’s birthday

daddy’s home for once
instead of serving someone else’s chicken
to someone else’s guests

mama’s not looking as tired
as she usually does
after a week on the fast food register

the whole family’s here
bearing hot dishes and foil pans
full of what they’ve made for each other

someone drops some mac and cheese
in a corner
the dog gets to work on the pile

while everyone laughs and yolanda claps
her smile’s more delicious than usual
with that smidge of frosting on her chin

yolanda has a love for angels
and seven years worth of joy bubbles up today
for all these angels bearing heaping trays

of cookies and wings and old recipes
they just call “grandma’s favorite”
there’s white bread and stewed tomatoes

but yolanda’s got no business with that
when there’s sweet sugar frosting
clinging to the white crumbs on her plate

outside this room
there may be people addicted to devil’s food
and the darkness on their lips may be rich enough

but in here yolanda’s having a birthday
with her yellow dress sweetened by more
than the smear of angel food that her mother

rushes to clean away before that dog
starts licking it off her
(even though

yolanda
would probably
beat him to it if she let her)

when she’s done
she turns to her sister
and says

something sweet
and a little sad
but a little more full of hope

the words are lost
in the sound
of the beating of wings


City Story

Originally posted 10/13/2009.

– after Gunter Grass;  for Italo Calvino

There is a city, and
there is a man in the city
who is alone.
One hundred eighty thousand people there
but he is alone,
so for his purposes he can say
there is no city.

A man
who is alone in the space
called a city by others
is happy there,
alone and happy.
For his purposes
the space is solitude,
not loneliness.

There is a city, and a man,
and if he sees another man
the man becomes a part of his solitude.
The city now begins to exist for him,
and when the second man is gone
he and the city become memory,
so for his purposes and ours
we must now remember a time
when a city existed,
for that time is not now
as there is solitude in its former place.

The city may now exist somewhere else
and there is likely a man in that city
for whom there is no city, and for whom
only solitude exists, solitude and happiness
at the sight of another whom he sees as
an extension of his solitude.

Here is a city,
here is a man who lives in the city,
moving among memories 
while choosing tomatoes and beer, 
paying rent to an imaginary landlord
who lives elsewhere in the city
that is in fact
a comfortable nest
woven from comfortable fiction.


An Actor Prepares

Originally posted 12/16/2009.

No one photographs him
more than once
after they realize
that the only pictures
that show him happy
show him onstage.
All other images
make him look like
a pillar of salt.
Apparently, to fake
confidence in the future
he requires an audience.

What’s his motivation?
He gave up everything
to gain a spotlight.  But

that smile you see up there
is genuine, if fleeting.
Stick with that.
Next time, use no flash.
Catch him standing there

in his natural setting:
darkness all around,
pretending like mad
that light is the Sun.


UFO

Originally posted 12/26/2009.

They’re scared because they have seen
a delta shaped object
outlined with lights
over their suburban heads

They say
“I don’t know what it was”
but they lie
to themselves

Neither the future
nor the extraterrestrial world

brought these triangles of dread
to the space above their heads

No aliens up there — just
a grand and terrible ghost
come to haunt them
in the shape of the Mississippi Delta

bearing dead history
forgotten languages

rapes and suppression
negation and killing

The slaving
and pillage
of many generations
do not simply disappear

but rise into the common ether
and hover
often unseen
but always there

legacies in the night
making selected random viewers
think of genocide 
send their children inside to hide

They shiver in the air
outside their handsome 
stolen homes
and living standards

and so in partial reparation
for history’s 
extravagant misuse
of darker beings

comes a raising
of fear in the bellies
of those who have not paid it
enough heed


The Kaboodle

Originally posted 3/7/2011.

Sometimes I plods until I stops
like I’m made of gods. I’m walk till drops;

I lose a little ground and then
fall, impounded, anywhen.

See the bloods? Mine, I thinks.
I’m stone that floats until I sinks.

I’m not that mad, just split kaboodle
without a kit.  My bad; I’m doodle

on a napkin all grease and stain.
It’s where I wrap a little brain.

Sharp, isn’t I?  I scissor though
and maybe shed a scrap down low.

Bursty me, shell of once upon.
I’m never dim enough to not be on.

Sometimes I plods and then I stops.
Leave a trail of gloomy plops.

Let this be the Big Reply:
Smile, then weave a bit of die.


The Plywood Poem

Originally posted 10/20/2008, titled “Of Plywood And Poetry.”  For Bill Macmillan.

The other day
I ripped a plywood plank in half
with a jigsaw to make a shelf
to hold books, and that was good.

To deny that there was a pleasure
in the vibration from the tool,
to deny that
there was suffering when the splinters
flew into me 
from the cut,
to deny that the books on the shelf are better
and more present for me because
I can tell you of the work I put into
keeping them safe?  This would be lying.

Smug judges tell me to keep
the poems about writing poetry
to myself. I say
kill the judging and dig
that I can’t speak of God
without speaking now and then
of church

and everything
is an act of poetry,

even
the writing of a poem,
even the building 
of a shelf to hold
the poem.


Syntax

Originally posted 2/8/2013.

Side by side
is how we say it now

that we have been 
assimilated but when we were kids

side by each
is how they said it

in Woonsocket, in Fall River,
in New Bedford.

Here, we park the cars side by each.
You pass over my house, you stop on me, eh?

Does anyone still
throw the baby downstairs a cookie? 

That’s how they used to say it.
Our immigrant grandparents learned English

as a substitution code.
We called them Meme, Pepe, 

Ava, Avo, 
Nonni, Nunna.

Never Grammy, 
never Gramps.

Long gone is the syntax
we once mocked

and now wistfully repeat to incredulous offspring 
and outsider friends

even as nostalgia, that mind killer,
comes to us muttering hate about 

abuela, abuelo on the streets
in Social Coin now,

about the butchering of the airwaves
in Faurive and New Beige.


Wordplay

Originally posted 3/1/2010.

You create a new word
right after dinner
and send it out to play.

It begins with a “C” and starts out strong
but soon trips over its own round foot
and falls down the stairs. . 

You bend to pick it up
and cradle it to your bosom,
rocking it while it weeps.

You change it into something
that begins with “E.”
And at once it’s all better.

Isn’t this fun? Creating new words
that mean nothing, do nothing
until you give them voice?

You can’t even pronounce these things.
Still, they’re alive because you breathed them.

It’s a nice power to have.

You can do this as well, you know,
with those you claim to love –
say their names as if you were in charge,

re-spell everything that has hurt them,
change the names themselves
if they carry too much weight.


If the only safety you can offer
is to give them new names

in a language you don’t know 

you learn that tongue as fast as you can,
practicing the words
when no one can hear you.

Love is always a language

invented in secret and held there
until you have strength to speak.


On The Muse As Sadist

Originally posted on 9/10/2006.

I was sleeping,
joyfully dumb and numb,
when you insisted
I get up and talk to you. 
I’ve turned on the laptop.

What now? 

Offer me something — a hint,

a sign, even a direct question –
and I’ll snap to it. 

Give it to me quickly if you can
and if you can’t
let me get back to sleep.

I’ll do everything I must tomorrow –
earn a living, 
make friends, 
save myself — 
and after that, I promise
I’ll come back to you 
and take down
everything you tell me. 

I’ll be all yours

tomorrow night
if tonight you will let me sleep –
there are things
more important than poetry, 
in case you haven’t heard.

But of course,
you haven’t heard.
There’s nothing else to be done, so
I give up.

My hands are on the keys.

I’m as angry with you 
as I am breathless 
to find out what it is 
that you want.


Wider

Originally posted 2/26/2011.  

Most experiences make you deeper.  This one makes you wider.  — from the original liner notes of “Are You Experienced?”

The world broke
into songs
of falling pieces

played loud, tuned
to fragmentation
and eventual reassembly.

“This one makes
you wider,”
said the liner notes.

There still hasn’t been
enough Hendrix
in the air.

We still
lie on our floors,
listening,

certain the next time 
it’ll happen.
This isn’t nostalgia

but re-creation, a second chance
at getting it right
the first time.

Maybe only his world
expanded?  We’re going
to have to listen again

to his boundaries
and our memories
to decide if maybe

we can hear there
a new dawn
rising.

 


Sitting Around

Originally posted 12/13/2012.

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,
before the first lamb was tamed.

It started to fail with the first surveyor
who confidently said
“this plot’s yours, and 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, step outside, yawn, stretch…
oh, hello, God.  
Turn another direction, there’s another God.  
Say hi to that one, too.  
That’s how we kept them small enough to manage.

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.   

No one wants to admit
that it all began to slide
the first time someone paid someone else
to keep Others off their property
and slung one of the names of their God around
as a good excuse for all that spilled blood. 

There are people I know who are activists.   
They think they’re doing something.  They think
they can stop it from coming.
I like them because they keep moving 
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 we practice.  

When it comes, it won’t be much different than it is now —
miles of abandoned houses,
a lot of rootless people
who left home when their wallets betrayed them.
They’ll leave looking for work.
They’ll leave looking for food and water.

The lawns they leave behind
will remember themselves
and swallow the houses,
making jungly noises as they do.

Soon enough the only thing left will be
a handful of concrete walls
adorned with strange paint
that our distant descendants
will finally have the sense
to adore.

We ought to be moving now
because it is coming,
though it won’t come as tsunami or war,
not at first…no.

It will be as it is now. 


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.

Thanks, 
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
home.  

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 
satisfactions

behold
the tears of a consumer

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


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