An Explanation

This one-note-struck
of all my recent talk
about my rage and sorrow
at how humans suborn
all the machinations of Evil
and take each other for pawns
to be moved at will
in games huge and tiny
can be grating, I know.
It grates on me as well.
I wake up raw most days
and on the other days it’s not long
before I am drawn to picking at
the new scabs and nearly-healed scars
of my previous wounds.  
I have them always on my mind.
I feel them festering and itching on my skin.
I taste them, dark and sour, in my mouth.

You don’t know how much I would prefer
to speak only of my garden 
filled with midsummer close-to-ripeness,
or of hours of simplicity watching my cat,
or of the peace in lying with my love
long hours in a just-enough-room bed.
I speak of these things often in my head;
I feel them often in my skin;
I long for them to be all that’s in my mouth.

But all that daily joy
quickly fails and swiftly pales 
when I move from acknowledging it
in the moment I feel it to using it
to hide from what looms Beyond.
I have a voice, not for me,
but for others. I was not born
to talk to myself. It falls to me
to speak, even if it is poor speech,
even if it is faltering, even when it’s
Wrong —  a bad tack taken
in a run toward Right — how will I know
unless I take it and hear it and choose
the correction?  So I speak and speak
on all that roiling cloud of Evil out there,
over the hill, coming toward me,
toward us all. I speak of those 
it has already taken, of those 
fighting not to be swallowed.
I speak of it always in my head.
I feel it raising the hair on my skin.
I long to one day put its taste out of my mouth.


The Manifest Destiny Game

Get up and get dressed,
leave the house,

set out for the next town,
the next state,

the next country, the next
civilized world.

You’re sick of the games
they play here and

it’s time to go.

The game being played here
is called “Button your lip
until we tap you to speak.”

The game you want to play is called
“Leave me alone for a while until
I’m ready to join in.”

You don’t know
where they play it
but you’ll kill to get there,
kill to stay there,
kill to win that game.

If you end up somewhere
where no one’s playing it
you’ll start it yourself.
Everybody there already
better play or else.  

Or else what,
says one of the natives
of the place you do end up.

Button your lip
until I tell you to speak,
you tell him. And you

button it for him when 
he won’t.  

You groan it out loud
and you don’t care who hears:

Goddamn savages, 
primitives, beasts blocking
the playing field.
Why are you still here? I’m ready
to join in, and it’s

not your game anymore. It’s
not your play. It’s not
yours.


How I See You

Secure enough
in your person 
to fall comfortably asleep
trusting you’ll
awaken refreshed;

comfortable enough
in your home
that you do not fear 
steps in the night,
flashing lights, the sound of
official insistence upon
your yielding,
having to put all your hope
into a skin-saving
bow and scrape;

settled enough
with the Accepted Backstory
being correct
that you stop listening to 
urgent offers and pleas
for changes in the narrative;

empty enough
of empathy
to get by
all the time, all
the livelong day,
with the news 
being no more
than a buzz, a fly
you can brush aside,
a petty interruption;

easy enough
for your head to be always
shaking off
the daily showers of blood
as if they were nothing
but warm spring rain.


On First Glance

Originally posted 1/7/2010.

First thing to catch my eye
when I sit down to write this morning
is the plastic Halloween glass
with its images
of skeletal girls in pigtails,
shaking Jack-O-Lantern maracas
as they dance.
Two weeks after Christmas,
not the least bit out of place.

When the Tasmanian wolf appears
(said to be extinct but there it certainly is)
by the door,
I’m not at all
fearful.  The animal
must have spun in here by chance
as the earth passed through
its current dimension.
Spider legs, stripes, 

jaws like a car crusher:
in this salvage yard of an apartment
its presence make sense on first glance
since my place is full of discards,
second hands, re-purposed items
finding new lives. I usually can do something
with anything I get my hands on;
maybe that appeals to it.

I decide to name the beast Johnny.
It looks up when I call it,
comes to me as confident
in its power
as any other myth
would be.

There’s still some water
in the Halloween glass
so I offer the wolf a drink.
It begins to lap, the long pale tongue
flickering,
not caring that the water comes
from an off-season source
or that it’s going to become 
a metaphor for something
as soon as it blinks back 
into its usual state
of not being here. 
It seems to sense safety
in this room I’ve dedicated
to taking something
that looks wrong
on first glance
and making it right.


Scrolling

Scrolling from cute dog pics
to Sandra Bland
to Donald Trump
to Pluto portraits
to recipes
to horrible jokes
to music videos
to requests for crowdfunding
to the next thing
and the next thing
and the next.

The world
an unending demand for action.
The action
a drop in the stormy blood ocean.

See myself in the dust swirling in the room where I sit and stare and stare and stare.

To rub my eyes and feel helpless.
To lose my shit.
To lose. 
To fail my friends and loved ones.
To fail as a person entirely.

To age into my own obsolescence.

I only forget the things that are important.
Everything else?
Lint all over everything.
Spots before my eyes so thick
they catch my tears.  

They swell to pillows.
They swell to smother.
They swell as I shrink.

I’m a beyond hope.
A dead letter.
A smidgen asked to tower.
I have no shadow left to throw.


The Oarfish

An oarfish came
to the surface to die,
rising into daylight,
a nightmare-seed
twenty-three feet long.

It entered the shallows near where
a man was painting
an eye of Horus on each side
of the bow 
of his leaking boat,
hoping to keep it just a while longer,
perhaps one more trip,
perhaps with luck and one more season…

He looked down and saw the oarfish —
frilled, silvery,
slow going, taking forever to pass —

and thought of luck and fate.
He looked into the new flat eyes
of his old livelihood, considered
how long he’d been here, how long
he had worked, how long he’d
fished without ever seeing anything
like the oarfish in a net or on a line,

and bent his head.  Lord, he thought,
I am so tired, and my boat is so old;
there is so much left to learn, to see;
so little time to learn it in, but
learn it I must, learn it
I shall.

What the oarfish
thought of all this
is unknown for
b
y the eye of Horus,
by the eye of Ra,

there’s no telling
that tale of a life
spent in darkness
and ending in light
that would not have
too much of us in it
and not enough
of what the gods intended

when a poor man
was moved to change his own life
by watching
something he thought was fantastic 
die.


Flood

Originally posted 12/05/2008.  
Title poem from my Pudding House Publications chapbook (2009), now out of print.  
I rarely revise published work, but this seemed to ask for it.

i open every night with a prayer: 
sleep, come sooner than the flood.

then comes the flood
and the faces rising to the top:

julie’s blonde hair floating out.
paul robichaux’s rockabilly daring submerged in white.
grandmother’s dear severe wrinkles.
grandfather’s mean low brow.
eddie with his broken head still full of tar.
blue glaze of paul gentile holding a gun up to a temple.

my own head,
my own hands on my own ears.

palaces built of centipedes.
sharp stones set like crystals into 
the back of a baby.

in europe they have gargoyles for moments like this.
in bali there are chants for moments like this.
in new england we simply do not admit to moments like this.
when they come we keep them under our scalps.

still, the lifting faces.

george and jerry barone
rising from the shell of their Volkswagen.
wayne king never knew me
but i knew him.
he was everywhere after he died
and now he’s here again. 
that man died surprised
that he was the only one who did.

in the corner
my hands fling my head to the cement mouth first.
i spit a tooth out
and it lands and grows into the next piece of me to be terrified.

the myth of the hydra explains everything:
a horror killed begets more horror.

still, those lifting faces:

stricky the flying head,
veech the forlorn missile,
carole the rolling bag of bones,
jacob the ghost before he even passed,
martin the bisected prince of the railroad track.

all their sleep has lasted to this day,
and i am still awake.

those lifting faces. 
that’s me in the center,
my eyes shut, squeezed tight,
knowing what is coming.

some sounds will not go away:

a woman’s voice saying 
slink, dove, scrap, green face, sun on a gourd,
crumbs on a dragon, coupons, carver, slide, rumble, escapement,
clipping, stolen, pulse, penlight, painting, bands,
pickup, relate, lard,
gungrease, quillon,
medallion…

then, words appear that mean themselves and no other thing: 
unspecific twoolyala,
skevot,
abbredient briest..
.

it may be my job to translate them.

no word should be without meaning.
deny that and the clock stops.

when those faces float up to see me
i pretend to understand heaven and hell,
perhaps even purgatory.
buying my peace from my parent’s store.

they never quite break the surface.
they do not speak.

i sink myself in the shallows
of the clouded pool.

sleep, come sooner than the flood.


Time In The Garden

I don’t have an answer
to anything anymore,
not one.  

I can’t remember anything
new.  I can’t remember
what just happened,
though I know 
I once knew that.

I alternate between
ever refreshed rage
at the injustice
of each lost moment
and pained memories of 
what once was,
so far long gone ago,
or so I’m told.

My one present pleasure’s
the garden —

the scent of the tomato plants
when I’m weeding in close
to their thorn-fuzzed stems. The dill
on my hands, the rosemary
in my skin.  How I fret over 
when things will sprout,
grow, bloom, fruit! I participate
in the old this way
while being aware 
that there is a future
inherent in this work.
Gardening tells me
there can be happiness
even now, even as
all else
is slipping off
and falling away.


If You Wake Up As A Bomb

If you wake up as a bomb one day

awakening outward from sleep
expanding from the bed in all directions

If you wake up ticking
but choose to deny it until it 
stops

If you wake up as a bomb one day 
and don’t know it until
you are standing next to your trigger
Don’t know it until 
the trigger is pulled and you
burst into one ruddy scream
followed by your own 
unfortunately 
fulfilled 
silence

If you wake up as a bomb one day
and explode

I swear on the future 
that I will recall
when you were not a bomb
and tell all around me
that you did not begin as a bomb
were not meant to be a bomb
did not ask to be a bomb

I will tell everyone
that like all of us
all you wanted
was quiet when the sun 
struck your face 
upon waking
and 
quiet when it came time
at last 
to sleep


Country Song

Dammit,
country —

I wanted to write a song, 
wanted to sing, to play, to love and dance —

and then there was one violation, 
then another and more, and I began

to see how many there were, how many
there are, how the waves of violations

sculpted and sculpt our shores, how the winds
of violations cut and have cut into our sands,

how the surges and ebbs of violations
have been the surges and ebbs of our 

flags, how we are the surges and ebbs and 
our eyes squint through the violations

as if we were free to sing, to play,
to love and dance with no restrictions, as if we 

were free —
and I have no idea how it will be

to be free, how we will ever be free
to sing and dance and play and yes,

to love as if the violations
were not there in the sand and the shore,

as if the eyes we were born with 
had never been violated, as if the flags

were not the whole story
of the violations…dammit, country,

how I wish you were truly mine
to love, to sing for, to dance with, to heal.


Hurricane And Tornado

Hurricane plodding on slowly,
snarling threats all the way
as stunned clouds open a lead
on it, race on ahead of it;

Tornado, that rabid dog
of a blowdown, breaking up
with sane weather
to fly along and bite all;

the weather gods
are not always
the gentlest of creatures
and they have ruled

longer than we have been 
challenging them
and longer than we have even
been ourselves.

I place my faith in them 
and them alone
for my understanding of
where we are going.


School For The Dead

When the bell rings
at close of day, none of them will go home. 

When the next morning bell 
rings, they’ll still be sitting there.

You don’t assign homework to the dead.
You don’t expect them to answer questions today

you posed the night before.
Every moment for the dead is the only moment 

and it’s a myth that they are eager
to talk to us anyway.

All you can really do is lecture them
as they sit, dulled

and neither willing nor unwilling
to hear you. No one has a clue

about what it takes to graduate.
Not the teachers, not the administration,

certainly not the dead themselves,
and they couldn’t care less.

If they were to move on it would amuse
and astonish them at least as much as it would us.

So: why take such a job?  Why teach 
at a school for the dead?  Because

though it’s a remote chance, a miracle 
might happen — but mostly because the dead

can’t die before your eyes from gunshots
or abuse or disease. Because the worst

that can happen there
is nothing at all.


Misbehaving

In summer late at night
from the next house I hear
soca played

just loud enough to be
too loud
for that time of night.

Soca singers
speak approvingly of
misbehavior.
They speak of 
bacchanal,
carnival,
wining,
jumping up.

Sometimes
the music’s just

the usual soundtrack
of the moment.

Then we hear
of people who

get wild,
go wild,
go crazy.
Roofs are raised and then burned
and sometimes blown off.
Faces melt, 
asses shake minds free,
someone’s turned
up and turned out and 

where are you tonight, love?

Not here, not in my
soft and resigned bed.
You’re elsewhere,
misbehaving, shaking,
crazy from the heat in the dark.
Happy.

I’m tossing Fats Waller
and his sweet jazz
off the radio
right now.  

Leaving the house to burn.  

I will come to you 
smoking
from the wreckage

and then, then,
singers and rockers
and rhymers of every stripe

are going to have to come up
with something new to say
about joy,
and rut, and 

abandon.  

New invitations
to party.  

New gasoline
for that oldest fire.


Ego, Shush

It is unimportant
that I am ripped within
by doubt.  All are.

It is unimportant
that these hands are not
what I once imagined.
That thought
is the same among us all.

It is unimportant that
I can see so many 
already farther along
than I am. They have
the same view as I, see
others even farther ahead.

What is important:
the music being made.
That there is music being made
at all.  That there are musicians
is unimportant except as music
comes from them as from one body —

one must hear all
to hear all of it
or else spend time
wasting away
for want of connection
to the Great Road
As Walked By All.

That I think this, and
that I think this is true,
are unimportant.

Shush, ego;
ego, shush;
listen, ego;
listen, be still.


Forecast

A pink mist puffs out
from the splash
of a bullet into 
the corporal’s gut;

a mutt tugs on 
a naked, swollen leg lying
on the shoulder
of the ragged, blasted
road, and 

all I seem
to be able
to think about is 
what it’s going to be like
to go home.

As for the way
the corporal fell, the way
the dog squealed and ran
when we spanked him with
a thrown rock —

I suspect I won’t recall those 
until I am home.

Then,
I suspect, 
they will be the only things
I can think of.  


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