A Country Of Sick Men

Originally posted 8/28/2013.

The men of that country 
must be sick
for how else can one explain
comb-overs, wars,
long nosed cars, 
long reach guns, 
filibusters,
a weaponized God, hangings,
unfortunate colognes, blood feasts,
the casual seizing
of women,
of children,
of other men,
the willed ignorance 
of lack of consent, 
the leveraged buyouts,
the wolf pelts,
the blessing of
radioactive oceans,
the balls of old oil
in the bellies of seals,
the blank-eyed drooling
in rooms full of
vintage guitars
and game balls,
the blackout drunks,
and the hard-engine bikes,
except as symptoms? This is 
a country of sick men
burning their surroundings
whenever they open their mouths.
There are women there
about whom little has been written
by the sick men. It’s likely
they have stories to tell
that could clean that fouled air.
If they did,
that would be
a different country.

 


Lion Trilogy

Originally three separate poems posted between 2010 and 2013.

1.
Once there was a lion in love with a breeze –
neither jet stream nor hurricane, 
just a humble riffle of air —  
but on that breeze the lion soared.  

The lion must surely have been
transformed into some other being, as lions
cannot fly. Yet the lion flew.
There’s not more to be said of that, I think, 

unless you are one who must find meaning
in all things, one who must sip rainwater
from a china cup, one who holds a book to their face
to understand sunrise and thus misses the sight

of a lion making a transit across the face of the sun.
If it happened to you, you would no doubt
seek a parachute; you’d be so unworthy 
of the love of a good breeze.

2.
There was a lion once
seated in my supermarket
near the cereal. 

I had been shopping
and turned the corner:
there was a lion, not raging,
not sleeping, just sitting.

I thought at first
it was some cardboard promotion, 
then realized
only I could see it.   
It seemed mostly eyes
and of course teeth.

But color of mane, of fur, of claws –
I remember
nothing of these.

What is this lion to me 
now?  A reminder
of how we all hunted once
and were hunted.
Speaker for the wild not found
in the supermarket. Disturbance
in the daily, torn fabric in the mask.

Memory of eyes, mostly. Of teeth.  

My present emotion?
Mostly still fear, 
but now it is less 
a fear of the lion
than a fear 
of forgetting there was a lion.

3.
Still – good to be Lion. 
Sleep between blood feasts.
Be called noble strictly on looks.

Better to be Lioness.
Work the kill.
Stand over it and let the babies feed.

Better to be Gazelle.
Lie there after heart busting run.
Be part of the chain.

Better to be Vulture.
Watch, float down, eat, survive.
Hang away from the others in a pack.

Best, of course, to be Bones.
Best as well to be Leavings.
No guilt except that of unwanted peace.

And as Bones, as Leavings,
best of all to know you’ll be the Same
as Lion, Lioness, Gazelle, Vulture eventually.

 


The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra

Originally posted 7/21/2010.

A klezmer band purchases a sheepdog to act as band mascot.  They change the name of the band to the Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra.

The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra begin to travel widely and soon achieve a degree of acclaim.  Everywhere they go, they bring the sheepdog (known to the audiences only as The Sheepdog) with them.  He lies on stage during their sets, perking up for the dances, then dropping his sad head to the floor for the vocal lamentations and slow songs, peering out at the audience through his fringe of fur, looking right and left.

The Sheepdog is in private life named David. The band keep his real name to themselves, as they keep their own names private from the audiences they play for, using stage names — Aaron Out Front, Judith Judith, Ronaldo Star, Jonathan Regretful, Felix the Cat, Sam The Fiddler.

Sam The Fiddler, in particular, loves The Sheepdog and is David’s closest companion in the band, walking him during breaks, petting him for long hours in the privacy of hotel room, brushing his thick coat until it shines before every gig.

In their hometown south of Detroit, the Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra plays weddings so often that the sound of a clarinet in the street would lead to proposals and engagements.

I only have ever seen them play once, as I am not a fanatic for klezmer music in general.  But at a wedding of close friends from college, The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra played for hours, and I danced and wept as much as the families did for their offspring, and I have not forgotten.

Tonight on the radio, in the early dark of pre-dawn, I heard a recording of The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra and thought of you again:

how your hair fell before your eyes so often
that I was always brushing it back
to see them more clearly;

how I used to dance and weep with you
and called both things
a celebration of us;

how it seemed that a band was playing
whenever we spoke or loved together;

the air itself blurred into song.

This is not to say that remembering you reminds me of a sheepdog, or of The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra, or of weddings or dancing.  

This is to say that when I think of joy and sadness mixed, and of the caring that demands the constant brushing of hair from soft eyes, of hours of travel and the rewards of keeping private what is most your own,

those moments
have a soundtrack

in which you still sing to me

like a clarinet,  like Gershwin;
like klezmorim singing the music of names
used gently and only in confidence.


Tiger

Originally posted 2/19/2010.

There are believed to be no tigers
in Worcester at the moment. 
Our lone animal park 
holds cougars and polar bears. 
If anyone here owns a surreptitious tiger,
they’ve been keeping it well-concealed, 
but this evening
I swear I saw a tiger
in the shadows by the back fence.

It’s been said that if a tiger
once tastes human flesh,
it will remain a maneater forever. 
This one clearly saw me,
but made no move in my direction.

It may have already eaten. 
It may not have known how sweet I am.
Perhaps that maneater label is just a legend.  
Perhaps the dream tiger, real or unreal, 
tried a man and found it wanting,
was seeking goat or sheep
or some game creature instead.

The tiger (and I know, I know,  it was unreal
but I could not take my eyes from it)
stopped by the oak tree.
It looked up  — perhaps at unfamiliar bark,
or a scent it had not had to identify before. 

Perhaps it was listening for voices it knew.
I called it, using a name I haven’t spoken in years.
It turned and tensed, fangs and stripes
bared but transparent, 

and suddenly I saw through its body, 
saw it as menacing as I had not before,
as if there was an overlay of pain rippling there
I had not noticed, as if I was seeing it
through a terror veil, and I longed
for it to rush me — I called to it:

mystery cat,
tiger in the mind,
be more real
than I can conjure.

Come and tear me up, 
leave my true blood on the ground.

I am tired of my fear of ghosts,
wish to fight something solid,
want to die by the act
something real.


Dreaming Of Powerball

Originally posted 5/14/2008.

I dreamed of winning Powerball.
Overnight a heap
of one hundred and seventeen million dollars
stuffed itself into my head
and wedged itself there,
trapped by the nose of an Aston Martin
left running in my ear canal.

I woke up inside the fantasy
of imminent wealth.
I cleared out a room in there
in which to squirrel away 
these cares about how to pay my bills
and how to cook simple dinners.
I can no longer be bothered
with such things.

There are smart folks
who call the lottery
“a tax on the poor.” Bull.
I don’t feel poor 
as much as exiled. When I play
I’m just taking my shot
at winning my way home — 

like now, for instance;  though I’ve only got
five dollars to my name till Friday
that mocking bill is burning a hole
in my ratty pocket
so I am off to buy The Ticket — 
that Aston Martin dream
is a roaring in my head
that won’t quit.


First Things Last

Originally posted 7/22/2007.

do not pretend
you haven’t grown up to be
one of those boys
who sits on the grass
at the highway rest area
counting thongs
and nudging your friends, because

I’m watching you do it.

do not gloss over your snickering
when you are called on it.
do not play that game.

stop with the defensive rationale 
for using the word “bitchslap,” 
for wearing the “mustache ride” T-shirt.

here comes the predictable comeback:
it’s a free country,
you’ve got freedom of expression
all over your smooth little ticked off face
and you’re not afraid to use it. it’s just
talk, you say. you don’t mean it, really, really,
not like that, never hit a woman, just a joke,
fuck you, fuck you, you PC sumbitch, fuck you.

well, I was never expecting much to come of this
so one favor only I ask of you:

stop pretending
you aren’t the kind of guy who does this.
do not play the whistle past the rape camp
game. do not tell me you never
saw a roofie in a friend’s hand
and said nothing. do not tell me
you wouldn’t do it again.

do not tell me you aren’t the kind of guy
who flips off a confrontation over this shit
and laughs with his buddies all the way to the car
and does it again as soon as you reach
the next place you mingle with the rest of the world.

just tell me you’ll remember this moment
if ever you hold your own son
as he asks you to explain the way things are.

just tell me you understand that
first things last.

tell me something surprising. tell me
it’s gonna end someday.


This Packing Crate, Also A Home, Cradles A Vision

Originally posted 12/10/2013.

Let me introduce myself: 
cigarette jump pulse back digger,
game pack smoke rider,
riding my warp plane; you can
call me Knife Wheel Gyroscope.
This packing crate, also my home,
cradles my vision
while I’m stretched on
my musical daybed,
on my hard head spin journey,

flash memoried
with past and potential mates,
crystal mythology partners; 
I am a priest of the church
of the hole 
in the pocket,
an elder of the problematic filth;
to you, of course,
I’m something else: reminder, 
caution, guardian bad faithless stinker,
your nearly forgotten uncle –
yes, I’m something, all right — 

a something 
you wish was elsewhere.

I apologize. Is that better?
I’m the problem, yes indeed.  Is that better?
I’m Knife Wheel Gyroscope
and I approved this message 
of mess and presage.  
Is that better?
Are you better?
Fear and dislike this poor something
if you must.
I’m not moving on.
I’m Knife Wheel Gyroscope
and this packing crate is home 
and home is here, not elsewhere;

if you thought of me, ever,
ever as something other than
“make that something go elsewhere,”
you’d know I belong here as you
belong here, dear pup;

you’d offer me your compassion
if I were enough on your mind to organize
a solution for, that is, if only like you

I had a wallet thicker than a hippo tongue with a hyperthyroid bankroll;

if I were not a me, 
not a dirty him
or trash heap her,

an I with calm eyes;
if I were only not
Knife Wheel Gyroscope
and if this packing crate, also a home,
did not cradle this vision, I’m certain

it would be easier being you right now.


Beat The Ghost

Originally posted 2/7/2010.  Very loosely inspired by a true story.

Sam beat the hell
out of a ghost last night.
His fists grew tangled with cobwebs
and soft blood.

He beat a man
he saw as the vessel
in which resided
his hated father’s soul.

When the body
hit the ground Sam did not stop
but kicked it and broke it
until the bouncers pulled him off.

Then the poor vessel got up
and shoved a knife into Sam
before anyone could stop him.
Sam didn’t die, though –

not right away.  It happened
in the ambulance
on the way to Milford
and Sam got a sour laugh

when his dad
was waiting for him
when he made the leap
into that space.  He

would have leaped
at him if he’d still 
had solid arms,
but instead he just

hovered and snarled
with no material way
to resume the fight
right then.

Fortunately, both Sam
and the guy who killed him
have brothers,
so no worries.

In a day or two Sam Ghost will seize control
of his little brother’s body
and force him to square off with the brother
of the man who killed him.

He will move his brother’s arms
to smash at the face
of his demise and it will be
the face he always sees.

He’ll hear his father speaking
through the other guy’s broken mouth.

Shut up and fight me, his father will say
in the other guy’s voice;

fight like a ghost
in a man’s body,
the way I taught you
to fight.

 

Diaspora

Never before posted.  From hard copy files — maybe 1993, 1994?  I’d stopped obsessively dating every poem I wrote some years before that.  In terms of page numbers it’s roughly from the same time as poems from my first chapbook, “In The Place Of Definitions,” which was printed in 1994.

Pretty heavily revised.  The original kinda sucked.  Trust me.  This might too, of course.

they burst thru
my door
my body door and
my body opened into 
a vacant store

you stood in the torn way
and held the rain back
wiped the rain back from
the shaken wood and 
didn’t speak until

you said
together let’s forget 
a closure
that won’t come
let’s forget a false home

where we’d hang our misfortune over
the body door as a bad blessing
a wrong message a sad scroll
a temporary prompt
for an unsafe locale

violations were made
they are made whole again
when we
don’t rehang the broken door
instead we together make

a new
door and
until the next break
may we now call
this shelter home


When The Girl In The Famine Photograph Grew Up And Sought Us Out

Originally posted 2/20/2012.

We did not at first believe
how not slight and not brittle
she had turned out to be

We’d thought her so broken
it broke our language
to speak of her so we stopped

and then stayed mostly away from her
(to let her heal herself
is what we said)

When she found out
we were the world
and she was the children

she got angry
and lo and behold
by then was strong enough

to show us how brittle
we’d become
our smooth tongues notwithstanding 

We could not explain
to her satisfaction
why we’d left her alone for so long

We splintered
a little more
each day as we saw

her strength and also 
what scabbed 
and hardened creatures 
we were

Horrible comrades
who lied
and turned away

not even
close
to being

of much assistance
in any guise –
not even

as the condescending parents
we had first appeared to be
and which she’d never wanted anyway


Rules Of Thumb

Originally posted 9/11/2010.

When it comes to popular proverbs,
laws of physics, rules of thumb, common knowledge,
sensible notions, and given assumptions,
exceptions are becoming more and more the norm.  

Geometry is shifting.
Angles, never before provably trisected,
now regularly fall into neat triplet piles. 

Shelter is losing its place in the hierarchy of needs.
Soon, it will be forgotten entirely. 

It appears to knowledgeable observers
that knowledgeable observation is becoming a lost art
akin to alchemy and divination by gut of pigeon and pig. 

If there are ghosts, they wear visors
and lean deep into ledgers
with our very dimensionality at their calculating mercy. 

Nymphs, fauns, and revenant Pan himself establish Websites
and collect scores of followers
who fondle tokens of their avatars while staring at doorknobs,
thinking of the potential for rattling entries in the dark.

There are suspected reserves of container ships laden with butterflies
who are waiting to change the world’s climate.  

My love, this world is slipping away into an immeasurable mystery.
Nothing we have known to be true is certain.
We should sleep with our eyes open now, scanning the dark for signals.
When we think we have seen enough, it will be up to us how we choose to live.
What we choose to measure.
What we count on.
How we refine and define the terms.

If a butterfly comes close, hold your breath.
If a god possesses you, count rapidly to one hundred seventeen.
If the door rattles in the night, we’ll cast a cold eye on it,
pass through the walls,
and escape carrying nothing with us –
not even the meaning of love, or of home.
We will come back for them later,
or make new ones
while holding up our thumbs to plead for rides to new places.

Our thumbs –
once the measure of punishment, as the story goes –
will become our transport.
We will have to depend on each other to carry each other.

Eventually, we’ll forget the evil source of the term and say:

a “rule of thumb”
measures the distance you were carried from your point of origin
before you decided you could live where and how you are living right now,
and is only fixed until the next departure.

And then we’ll say:
Love is the vector of human travel. 
We’ll say:
Home is the fare humans paid for the transport. 

And when we say human,
what we will see is aluminum pie plates — 

when full,
flaky and soft centered;
when empty,
easily flung into flight,

shining as they fly.


Gunstock

Originally posted 4/10/2008.

The word “gunstock”
sends the listener into a maze,
evoking as it does
everything

from the anticipation of a fast run 
down the New Hampshire mountain which bears that name, 
powder surging around the tips of your skis,

to the feel of oiled walnut against your shoulder.

There’s anticipation there too
of the sound coming a split second late,
the long whoosh of the bullet drawn out into the air 
just ahead of the punch of the blow to your shoulder.

You cannot know much of the reality of either of these things
until they have happened to you,
so if you have not skied or shot, 

the word “gunstock” is a theory at best.

It is a gate that may lead you to contradictory places,
or at least to places that bear little resemblance to each other
until you decide to cut through the walls of the maze 

and see that in truth,
“gunstock” always means
“rapid movement”
with a related meaning of
“potential death.”

That “joy” is also operative in each of those meanings
may not be apparent until you cut through the green walls
that define the maze established by the presence of the word.

Learning which of the meanings is operative
changes the nature of the maze.

Holding all of the meanings to be true in all situations
is a key to cutting the maze down.


From The Front

Originally posted 1/6/2014.

He looked nervy,
currents tripping 
up and down his bare arms,
sparks in his mouth.

He had a lot of nerve
to dare to come in here.
It was our home and we
scare easy. He must have known that.
He must have been cold and
not cared. 

We watched him settle into
the back of the cruiser.  The cops said
that during cold snaps
when sleeping outside is a suicide mission,
they get more than a few calls
about someone breaking into 
somewhere warmer to sleep.

“At least he’ll be warm in jail,”
I told the family.  Everyone
tells their family that.
We tell ourselves that
and whatever else works

when the truth is that seeing his cable arms
and their electrical sketchy twitch skin,
his gun-blue cheeks and his jaw set hard,
reminds us of how close to us the war rages.

We know it shames us 
to have to admit
we don’t care as much for him as we do
for how close he got to us,

and to admit that we wish
that however cold he was,
he’d just kept it to himself.


Spell For Poets (Let Words Small You)

Originally posted 9/23/2011.

Let words alone
small you,
then large you.  Let
such derangement
of language
fold and unfold you. Let wings
furl, legs curl,
let fetal charms
take hold, then let yourself
be reborn. Let yourself
emerge to serve 
not merely that new God
made in books —
instead, let yourself fall
into loose embrace
of that older One
who dwells
between possibility
and its enactment
in that place where all
is always ready to be born.
Let yourself
remain so liquid to the world
that you bend and surge,
large and small as needed
to be present in both the largest
and the smallest;
let words
adjust you, change you, pour you;
let the words
make you one
with them.


Thomas Behind The Wheel

Originally posted 11/29/2011.

Eyes burning from wind
through my open window
at eighty miles an hour
past the darkened power plant. 

Cars peel off behind me,
exiting until the highway’s
empty. No one
is going my way. 

The city
still forty miles ahead.
The sky painted orange
over deepest black.

Rumors of riot 
and fire all day.  
It’s the end of the world,
some say, but no one wants proof

except me. How can they
just curl into a ball and die
or hide in the boondocks
without seeing for themselves

that the world
is indeed ending?
In fact, how could anyone
flee such a thing when you consider

the world we’re in?  Maybe
that’s the best
of all possible pyres
up ahead.

I gun it.  I go.
I’ve always been
the one
who has to know.

Stuck my fingers
into wounds once
to prove to myself 
that the world wasn’t ending

after all. Why wouldn’t I
do this, considering
what happened
last time?

 


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