Not All Homicides Are Crimes

“To begin with, not all
homicides are crimes.” That’s 
the first sentence I find
when I look up the word
in a legal reference source. “Not all
homicides are crimes.”  Legally

if a person dies at the hand
of another, that’s a homicide and
then a decision must be made
by some lawyer somewhere
about what to do next —

they look
at the body and begin:
this one’s a victim,
this one’s not a victim,
this one deserved it,
this one did not,
this one’s a murder, 
this one’s a manslaughter,
this one, this one, this one…

plucking petals
from bouquets of daisies
laid upon a coffin.

Even if they land 
on there having been a crime,

hoops must then be jumped through
to get to what is called justice:
the hoops are sometimes huge
and hung low
and easy to step through
and the lawyers practically skip on through
and the killer or killers are dragged on through
and there’s a trial
and some one pays, or doesn’t.  

Sometimes, though,

the hoops are small, 
are hung high in the air,
are greasy with lighter fluid  — and swiftly
the flames rise from them
and no one dares to jump through
the hoops or the flames;

the killer or killers
turn from victimizer to victim
and the victim turns
from victim to slug or thug 
and everyone involved bemoans
unfortunate presence in wrong place at wrong time
and sometimes they even call the killer
dutiful servant
or hero.

“Not all homicides are crimes.”
It all depends 
on who hangs the hoops 
and who has to jump through them.

Meanwhile, the petals
that were counted to decide
whether and how the hoops
would be hung 
remain where they fall
on the graves until the wind

pickes them up. They collect
in odd corners in towns named
Ferguson and Baltimore and Baton Rouge
and Winslow and Worcester and 
New York and Oakland
and oh, pretty much

everywhere.  They collect
and decay.  They’ve become sticky
and we are slipping upon them. There are so
many underfoot we can’t help but fall soon,

and if we crack open upon landing,
if we die, will that be
homicide
or accident
or perhaps act of God —

who will count
the petals from our
funeral bouquet, who will decide

where the hoops for that death
will be hung?


Peace In The Shrug

Peace in the shrug
as you pull the first two red tomatoes
from your garden only to notice
they’ve been consumed
by bottom rot, the chagrin
you feel at not catching that
earlier, the casual toss into
the base of the fence,
the sudden awareness
of the nearly ripe cucumber 
hanging on that fence.

Peace in the shrug
at choices made, choices
that failed to pan out, choices
that went south or north or
every direction not on the compass
without an ounce of malice from anyone
involved, people living their lives
that did or did not intersect with 
your own, and the failure
of will, the utter failure of
all your will, then one day
the twenty dollar bill on the ground
at the foot of the pay phone where
you just spent your last dime, and that
was thirty years ago,
and how you remember it, and how
it pays you even today.

Peace in the shrug
at the end of the world, the end
of order and justice, the shambling
walk of the long-awaited Beast,
the pseudo-shambolic walk of the
Giant No, the edible flesh of 
Harmony, the smacking of 
thin jaws around the bones of
All You’ve Held Dear, and now
at the very close of the last snap
of those jaws the silence
of the sunset, and the dawn
beyond your own experience
that will come, that will surely
come even without you.

Peace in the shrug
as you pass, with your last thought
forming around how the seeds
from the tomatoes you tossed
will grow there in the dirt along the fence 
as long as rain falls and sun shines
next season, with or without you
there to moan, or wail,
or shrug such miracles off
as too little, too late, 
when they were never meant 
to feed you.


Bad Reception

You come to a door, 
are just outside, 
hand on the knob;

you can hear singing
and it seems
the verses clearly
and strongly say

step up,
you broken dogs, you
stolen lambs, you
marked and burned darlings
of those who long ago
gave up hope of seeing you 
whole again;

step up
and tell every detail
of where you’ve been and how
it felt to get here
and we will take those tales
and make them part of our own tale; 

step up,
and someday those you left behind
will hear your stories in ours 
and they will come for you
and take you into
their long-vacant embraces
and on this soil,
all will be well for all;

step up, 
step and over the threshold
and come in and 
sing.

You step up and
over the threshold —

all that noise was coming out of
a tiny radio from the last century.
The singing, the outstretched hands,
the promise? All coming from
a torn speaker.  How did
such bad reception
sound so good
from out there, back beyond

the door you just came through
that is
no longer there?


Election

They are clearly at the point
of casual denigration, of shameless
spitting upon us as they cannibalize our children,

apparently near the point 
of openly tossing all their copies 
of their own law books into their cross fires;

they are closing the distance to the point 
of admitting they simply adore
the warm ruddy rush from our open wounds,

and are long past the point
of shrugging off every last breath
drawn from among us by their guns.

At what point do we accept
that no vote will stop them
because they have made sure

that they are the ground
upon which the vote rests,
and up or down and yes or no 

are now pointless?


Old School

old school
talks about all
those things everyone
used to hate and longed to
change or escape from
old school 
old school
means
muscle memory
of what used to hurt
hurting then is how
it knows what it now
knows
old school
old school
old school doesn’t know
how to teach a lesson
how to school without
hurting a fool or anyone
it thinks a fool
old school
old school a bland ploy 
no change no room to exchange
and play ball with new school
old school
old school told and got told on
old school
tell what you’ll tell then
tell then
tell what you told
new school damn bored enough with
old school yet
new school damned if it doesn’t shout out
old school for being old school
pain and bad marks
disdain and sad barks like
packs of whipped dogs
old school get behind
old school get out of sight and mind
old school
old school just
OLD and that’s
just about all


A Foxy Kind Of Stand

A snippet on a neighbor’s radio, 
old Bowie cut,
the singer taking a “foxy kind of stand.”

“When you rock and roll with me,”
title lyric,  
that one time scandalous phrase now tea cozy quaint.

My neighbor whose radio is rocking
this bit of antiquity
is no more than thirty.  The song

is, as of today, forty-two.  I’m in
my mid fifties, out
in the sun, a lizard in the heat.

“When you rock and roll with me:” I’m not 
old enough
to recall that line first spelling sex to everyone,

but I know about it, and about sex of course,
how often
the one once led to the other, and can recall how Bowie

scared so many and made it a little
dangerous again
to rock and roll with him, to rock and roll

like him. “I’m in tears again.” The neighbor looks
at me funny as I
turn away.  I don’t know what he knows about

any of this — Bowie, rocking, rolling, sex,
nostalgia — but he must know 
enough because he changes the station

and lowers the volume. 


A Small Remnant, A Small Revision, A Reclamation

on my driveway
a small cloud of flies above
a small drift of feathers
in blue and gray.  

a small remnant
and a small 
revision.
a reclamation

of what is always left over.

flies are sometimes
the sole reason I feel
hope — 
a small buzz of hope only
as i am unsurprisingly 
somewhat reserved
in my enthusiasm 
for any hope
found that way
because of what
must precede it.

the flies
live and breed
where death is.
they follow death
and rise from it.

i must take my hope,
however sticky,
however distasteful, 
where I find it.


The Shell Game

On the day I will likely die
I will not likely be heroic,
falling for a cause in a leaden rain,
protecting others with torn flesh.

It’s not at all clear today
how I’ll die on that day, of course,
but it likely won’t happen during
some last stand for my beliefs,
some war for my soul,
some battle I choose
or one that comes to me 
against my will
only to be grimly faced
by me as warrior,
me as fighter,
me as memorial in waiting.

I will likely not be mourned
by those who never knew me
but who may choose to honor me
based 
solely on what symbolic message
my death will send.  I will likely not
show up on an historic death list
afterward, commemorated yearly
by ceremonies, bowed heads
in a classroom or office,
a pretty average song
written by a pretty average songwriter
played on a pretty average radio station.

No.

When I go, I’ll likely be bedridden,
poor in dollars and cents and sense, 
shitting and pissing myself,
wispy under stiff yellowed sheets
in a stiff, puke-green room;

or just as likely
I’ll be in whatever passes for my own home
doing all those same things unattended;

or just as likely
I’ll pass in a crap car wrecked in some crap fashion
by my own mistake or deliberate hand.

When it’s done they’ll truck me off 
from wherever I happen to fall
as hazardous waste to be handled
with due care and precaution
until I’m disposed of. 

Fine, then.  Anyway it happens,
it will be fine.

It’s always a shell game at closing time;
you end up under some shifting cover
while someone tries to call out
the one that holds you, 

seeking a win from your presence
or your absence.

However that plays out on that day

what I was will be gone
in any one of a number
of likely or unlikely ways
that won’t matter to me.
I would like it to matter to someone.
I do what I can to make that so
but when that final shell
is at last raised,

what’s underneath
won’t be up to me.


Listening To “Deportee” Being Sung At A Rally

How deftly she moved
through the changes — her fingers
on the strings, her face 
in moving shadow — her voice
a deep incantation, first
sweet as cool dawn,
shifting toward the sound
of a stream in full flood still
just within its banks, ending in a spill
of soft clarity —

all this before
the police dragged her
from the sidewalk
and hurled her brick-hard into 
the side of the cruiser, calling her
officiously a Commie, a terrorist,
a mistake, an insult — building
that dam against all she’d 
set to flowing
just seconds before —

one of the cops
snatched her guitar
(almost gently)
from her hands as they did this
as if he believed that it
could not be blamed
for what was happening here
and did not deserve the treatment
they were meting out —

handed it
(to the surprise of all)
to another in the crowd — 

as the police
took her away
another set of fingers
began to work
those bereft strings
and other voices took up
that same song

 

Link to a video of Judy Collins’ version of this song here.


A Friendly Reminder

Sign a check
you never expect
to be cashed;
take a stand 
somewhere your face
can’t be seen.
It’s alright. It’s
safe there, warm
and dark.

You’re nothing like like the ones on the line.

They’d 
rather be safe themselves
and feeling the same,
but safety’s not for everyone,
even if it should be.

If you
are one of those
inclined to hide, 
you should hide,
even if it’s 
behind them.

Just hide 
far behind them,
not so close
to their backs
that they
have to worry

about you —
they wouldn’t want
to mistake you
for what’s in front of them —

and you wouldn’t want that either —

they got this

without you, without
you back there
safe and sound,
breathing down
their necks.


USA, July 2016

It’s still early.

Still only beginning to be
unpleasantly hot here.

Still looks to be a bad one for the garden
and the people. 

I have a hose with a problem
called a drought.
I have a political lawn sign
with a problem called
a small matter of 
a war in the streets.

I had a little love for many.
I have turned that into
a lot of love for a few
and the rest can shrivel
or burn or both. I don’t have
time for them — there’s
a small matter of a war and
also a drought.  

I had a bet down on getting out of here
before it got too hot
but I’m a loser and a sore one
at that

so now I have a problem
with a drought and a 
problem with a war
and a political sign and a hose
won’t do me much good — can’t
fly out of here on a sign,
can’t keep a battle off my lawn
with a hose, not anymore.

And it’s still early,
or at least it’s still early in this dry heat
of a summer, early in the skirmishes,
early in this last late show about 
problems with drought 
and war and lost wagers
that it wouldn’t come to this,

and not a drop of cooling in sight.


Tough Going

Originally posted 11/4/2013.

To wake before dawn
is to wrestle
a fat, angry angel
every morning, one
who would prefer 
I stay asleep indefinitely.

We struggle until I put that angel 
into brief submission, then go about
this life where the easy stuff
takes forever to do
and the impossible presents itself
as regularly as church.

Weight and difficulty
are what I know best.
Some of us, it seems,
are born to be
ground underfoot,
born to wear out.

I trust the universe
to get it right,

and when the last of me crumbles,

my remains will serve some purpose,
I’m certain, for that fat and angry angel
who will crush me 
and then lift me
tenderly
from where I’ve mingled with dust.


Storm Ahead

Doomsday tongues 
in broken faces
sing their longing for rain
in this rainless season.

No words or songs alone
can cool this heat, but 
songs come anyway.

In the near distance,
darkness and silence.

Beyond that?


Cold Call

All I ask
is for them to be happy
to hear my voice
when I call, even if

I can do
nothing for them
at that moment.
To have my

familiar
but somewhat
unexpected words
charm them,

curl up and nest
in their ears
for a moment
or more. But

it’s a cold call more often
than not now,
a disinvitation by tone
and rushed goodbye.

I am certainly not asking
to be the sole center 
of their life, but
I do want to know

how I became
so much of a nuisance,
how I fell so far
from their grace,

that even the echo
of my voice
from the bottom of 
this hole

is enough
to make them
shy away and leave me
there. 


Reserved For Those Who Remain Neutral…

Originally posted 11/19/2015.

The hottest places? No.
Dante knew better. 
The cold places — the ones
where a candle in the crisis wind
freezes 
into a red icicle of pointless pose —
that’s where the neutral ones belong.
Hear them sniffling,
wriggling as they hang stiffly
on the fence.

Those of us on either side of a question 
who cannot cease raging and roaring 
may be wrong, may be right,
may burn in hell
for what we believe
or perhaps shall rise 
toward
the glorious sun.

We may believe
in neither heaven nor hell,
but we do believe
in heat.

 


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