Damselflies

Originally posted on 7/24/2013.

My favorite loving to watch
is that of damselflies:

him arcing back, 
her looping forward;

lighting on the edge of marsh grass,
then breaking free of the spell

to fly off separately, not to meet again,
all having been fulfilled.

I could look up formal names, describe this in 
minute words, kill it as biology lesson

or treatise on the aerodynamics of mating,
write an essay on metaphorical 
imagery, but honestly

I’d much rather lie here in sunlight
with you, practicing 
such poses,

delighting in
the sensation of flight.


Sales

Selling you the dream car
that all the kids love,
that makes you big and potent,
that opens all the warm garage doors,
that sniffs out the best parking spots,
that finds the unexpired and broken meters,
that speeds without consequence,
that stops with each front wheel centered on a bison-headed nickel,
that eats nothing but air and good intentions;

selling you the best house
in the best neighborhood,
in the right zip code,
in a grove of window-shading trees,
in a street of charm and comfort,
in a color mixed from eagle’s tears,
in a weather pattern best described as personalized,
in a storm of good and distant thunder,
in a rainbow promise of yours forever;

selling you the joyous reincarnation
of your grandparents’ hard and fast belief in a just world, 
of their stubborn faces bent over task and faith,
of their bank-backed presence as good citizens,
of their trust in the handshake,
of their unshakable duty to the flag-donning boys of summer,
of their simple vision of resting under a willow at the close of day;

selling you on it 
as a mythology, a set of stories
that gives shaded meaning
though a different one is glaring;

as a cover up for the human-selling
that made it all happen;
as a screen before the bloody grounds
of human villages burned;
as a way to sate a gnawing truth
before it wakes you up starving
in the night: 

that what’s being sold 
is stolen property and labor

from the back of a rickety truck
in the dark, 

and the whole thing’s
built on a slim prayer
that we will never stop buying.


Tom Sawyer On The Fence

You ask me
what I would write in a message
to be placed in a bottle
and sent to sea: what would I say,
to whom would I want it said?

I say to you:
content here
will be governed by
process.  To answer that
I must know

the bottle’s color, heft,
its material,
its origin.
I must know how it will be
stoppered against filling

and sinking,
its message
dissolving into the ocean
long before reaching 
its addressee.  I must know

on what kind of paper
I am to write,
with what I am to write —
and where am I to be
when I toss the bottle to sea

in an act
of desperation
or hope or pure
ridiculous artistry, which 
can be all of the above

if need be.  Tell me enough
to go on if you can’t say it all
or if you don’t know it all and I
will write it all down, every word of it

for as long as it takes to tell.
I’ll sit here with the pen and the paper.
I’ll fold and roll the pages when done.
I’ll answer your question then, hand you the 
pages, hold the bottle

as it dawns on you what has just happened.
Will you laugh or will you cry? I don’t care.
Content is determined by process,
after all, and process is my job, my only job.  
I think sometimes it is the only job there is.


Seagulls

When the seagull
grew bored with my
randomly tossed French fires
it went back to the trusted surf
and walked figure eights
in the incoming tide,
head darting into the water
and coming up
with something
almost every time.  

Now and then
it would look at me
as if to say,

here’s another way,

but I then would toss
a French fry
and another gull would dive
and take it.

I don’t know
that there’s a moral here
except that once I was out of fries
all the birds took to the surf
and left me to listen to their calls,
straining to hear
one note of regret there
about the fact,
sad to me and apparently me alone,
that I was no longer relevant to them.


Worse

they burn down
your ancestral dances
and languages

or worse,

call you
by their own names for you
and then ask you
to teach them those dances
so they may dance them badly 
in a movie

or worse,

get rich-busy with
your ceremonies,
put them out on the street
half-assed to pull
some commercial duty

or worse, 

take it all away
only to flush back upon you
mostly dead pieces
of what you once had and tell you
to make a home there

so you do,

and there are moments of
drum-happy and meth-sad, time’s as mixed 
as the dogs who cur and mutt
your dirt streets and you say
it could be better

or worse:

you could choke in that miasma
between their better and your worse,
you could disappear

or worse,

you could forget all of it
and burn your dances down yourself
in a moment 
of surrender

or worse, 

you could let them choose your definition,
let them 
give you their blood banner to follow,
let them claim they’re your ultra,
let them stifle 
your last whimper,
let them take your children because
it’s all for the better — 

and worse,

you could realize that where they are,
where they want you to be,
there’s no better at all
for the likes of you and yours — 

and worse even than that,

you could realize
you have no choice but
to be there anyway.


Quick note

I know there’s been little new stuff here lately — a combination of being really busy with my business and being somewhat under the weather with a nasty cold/respiratory thing.  I’m healing, but will likely take the next week or so off to catch up on some other things and be back up to speed on July 6th.  Please feel free to peruse and read back archives till then, and be well.  Thanks for reading.


Exiles

A wild guitar sings
from a dark corner
of a deep porch.

A defiant song shifts gears,
gathers voices, challenges
for primacy

as my neighborhood
offers a show
of slow rebellion.

To stay alive for long here
is to be in full revolt
simply by existing.

To stay alive here
is to have hard, hard work 
always in progress.

The ones who do live here?
I don’t know if they would say
they are thriving, though

in the midst of despair, 
they do not despair. They 
don’t know how to despair.

A wild guitar sings of this,
ringing from a dark corner
of a deep, crowded porch — 

I don’t know the song.


Without Reins

Originally posted 11/8/2013.

Abandon and joy
have pulled the bit
from your mouth;
you’ve begun to dream without reins.

The broken bell of your body chimes.
Sing to us of the failing ring of its last note
and of the ear cupped to catch it
before it’s gone forever.

Then sing the return, the rebirth,
the orbit swinging ’round.
Sing the bloom gone to seed,
the seed gone to fire.

Sing us a blue-throated love song,
a dense jewel  in full sun glinting;
a dark-tattooed work song, gospel
of opening, echo of pure belonging.

Sing the emblem 
of circularity, the zero;

sing its completion
of the eternal round.

Your mouth is free of its bit.
Your song is free of your knotted tongue.
Sing.  Sing of horses running,
manes and tails, summer’s winds.


The Cold

My raw throat converts
breath to fire: no, not with poems —
I’m sick tonight and

it burns to inhale.
Every third breath
draws a cough

that carves me
up. I’m not ready to
die from a cold, of course, 

but at my age
every illness feels like
a flag for a caution lap;

you can’t shake off
what you used to. Slow down, take
as many laps as needed

before coming back
to the line at full speed.
Where’s that green flag

when you want it? No, not for
poems, not tonight.  I’ll settle
for sleeping then waking up tomorrow

and then we’ll see about changing
the fire in my throat
from breath to words.

 


Meanwhile (In America)

In America

In America

In America we get
mud wrestling and drive through liquor stores
In America we don’t get
many reasons not to leer or drink

In America we get
bales of weed washing up everywhere
In America we don’t get
enough drugs to kill all the people we put on Death Row

(I’m sure we’ll figure it out)

In America we get
a good feeling about this next scratch ticket
In America we don’t get
enough cash for water or even enough water to buy

Meanwhile, I’m thinking…

In America

In America

In America we know
exactly how much our dream costs
In America we don’t know
exactly where to find that dream 

In America we know
how many malls it takes to bury all the dead Indians
In America we don’t know
how to talk about a live Indian or even where to find one

In America we know
every mass shooting is inexplicable
In America we don’t know
how many shootings it will take before we figure it out

In America

In America

In America there’s

enough hate
to fill one million boxcars
Enough weight in them
to break one hundred thousand crumbling bridges 
Enough broken bridges 
to fail under ten thousand marches for cause
Enough causes 
to spark a thousand arguments
Enough arguments 
to sunder one hundred dreams
Enough dreamers
to dream up maybe ten full nights of safety in a year
Enough years…
have there been enough years
to look at it all and say
this year will be the last year?

In America 

In America

In America we do
whatever we need in order to buy
In America we don’t
agree on what our best words mean

In America we do
the worst to the least and call it the most
In America we don’t
hear the least say the worst or ignore it at most

In America we do 
what we want and say it’s borne upon God’s breath
In America we don’t 
admit that the one true religion
our own true religion
our loss leader religion is

evangelical
ecumenical
fundamentalist
capitalism

There’s fire on the altar
Fire on the altar
Fire in the church
Bullets in the church
Bullets

in America

In America

and meanwhile, I’m still thinking…


This Moment

this moment, whether seized or released, 
is all that matters.

the sun on the shore, the sun silvering surf,
the sun on your skin, the sun on your mind;

that bouquet, that kick of fruit and wine

mingled with dark smoke;

this one brief pause

in a long climb toward a summit; the

pleasure snatched
from pain’s arms. 

this moment is yours. this moment is you,
is all there is:

a moment of quickened light

where you get to choose

to either forego regret
or let it inform your next breath 

and all the ones 
after that; 

this moment knows you,

knows your answer 

before you can

breathe a word.

— for Betsy, 6/17/2015

Click to hear a recording of this poem with music


A Noise Inside Me

A noise inside me seems
to be my natural tongue
struggling to be understood
through my fog of upbringing
and schooled-in language.

I don’t know what to think,
who to thank or blame. All I hear
when I try to tune in to it is
a nagging rattle. I can’t turn it off,
like hail on a tin roof

going on all day and night.
(Hail never lasts that long in real life,
though. It’s more like a storm
of lost marbles falling from charcoal clouds,
slowly wrecking my home.)

Exhausted from trying
first to understand it and then
to block it out, I seek the aid
of anyone who might speak this
natural tongue, translate it for me,

teach me how to respond.  Is it you,
is it you, is it you? I ask everyone
I let get close enough
to hear it echoing from within.
Most look at me

as if every word from my mouth
was hail on their own roofs,
or a storm
of lost marbles tearing 
their own safety down.

The few who stay
don’t understand it either, 
but they understand the nature
of shelter: how temporary any of it
really is, how much we need

to hold onto each other
when we find ourselves together
under those crumbling eaves.
We pull close and speculate
on what it all might mean.

It helps. Sometimes,
when I am not alone with it,
the noise inside me even begins
to sound like music. T
ogether we try,
raggedly, to sing.


Pockets

Your hate’s
come awake: such
an unreal charmer, such
a hot squirmer writhing
in a breast pocket
you forgot about;
a pocket you now fear
is thinned enough 
to be soon torn open.
If the hole happens,
you just know hate will 
stick in you, hanging
off your chest by its fangs,
sucking you out of your shell,
envenoming you, making you
up again in its image 
as a venal god blooding up
ahead of a long sporting night.

Your hate’s
come awake: a once-small,
once-secret character
in someone else’s fiction
of what’s normal,
squeaking damaged calls
to whatever passes
for your remaining 
morality.  It calls to
the hand, calls it 
to weaponize.  It calls to
the eyes to see through
red mist.  It calls to
the upper gut and the lower
gut and finally to
the genital center of 
your worst. Your hate’s
pretending
to be your lover tonight:
a seduction, a coarse driven
caress of sweat and fear.

Your hate’s come awake
like a rattlesnake wintering
under a hearthstone, roused
by unanticipated fire.
It happens, it does
happen, it will 
happen.

Meanwhile, love,
secure in another pocket,
has been awake this whole time — 
it tires, though not easily
or deeply enough to ever be
absent completely.
All you need do
is look its way
and it will come to you

to unfasten hate from its bite,
massage poison
from your limbs,
mend that torn pocket
and tuck hate back
where it belongs

before settling back in,
purring its peace,
closer to you 

than ever before.


Power Tools

The guns.  I want
the guns.
First the knives and then

the guns.
All the guns.

All of them,
and then the bombs.

The ships after that,
maybe the planes, and that

might be enough.
Knives for the close-by,

guns for the intermediate, bombs
for the absentee moments,
missiles and planes

and gunboats to project
what I cannot 

do with my own hands.
And thinking now

of what one can do
with computers

and with banks, I need
some of those too.
Knives, guns, bombs,

missiles, planes, ships,
computers, banks,

markets, stocks,
lies, half-truths,

statistics,
money, money, money,
myths of social constructs

and colorblind generations,
flags, elections,

eclectics, stories, art, music,
schools that bind hands
to the will of other hands.
I want all the guns
because the tears
haven’t helped, the words

and songs haven’t helped,
the simple reach of saying

this is wrong has never helped.
I want guns

to weight the lifelines
I need to throw

because that flood
of everything else
that’s arrayed against me
is rising  
and though I understand
what a gun does
far better than you do,
I want them anyway because

there seems to be
so little else
I do understand

about what it takes these days
to win and not lose,

to not starve or despair, 
to not drown,
not burn,

not die.


More Than Boards And Nails

I’m startled by smoke
arriving on a tripwire wind. 

It seems that I have missed 
the apparent ignition
of all things at once.

I open my eyes,
struggle to breathe,
awaken into urgency,
knowing at once
I must not relent
from my dutiful masonry,
the bricking of word
upon word, for
more than boards and nails
will be needed 
when the ashes cool
and it’s time to start over.

When we’re all weary
from the work of rebuilding,
people will call for something
preserved from the past 
to freshen the present
and speed the future,
something to remind us all 
of the fragrances
that preceded
smoke and ruin.

The scents
of roses,
clean earth,
unpoisoned rain,
infant hair,
a lover’s neck.

The flavors
of what we had once,
what we’re again
building toward.

The stuff
of poetry.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,484 other followers