Seafoam Green

ANCIENT poem, probably from 1998 or so; appears in an early chapbook.  First time posted online, I think.

All I have is 
residual calluses and
bright memories of
the cool musty leaf funk 
of an October garage,
of my seafoam green
knockoff guitar —
double cutaway
six in line tuners,
triple toaster pickups, 
a cheese-whiz whammy bar–
memories of my first band
and of Janie watching me —
Janie, first girl I ever loved;
and I knew I had it all 
with her there — 
even when Jay 
sang in all the wrong keys,
even when the kick drum
fell off the pallet and sheetrock riser,
even when Tommy put down the bass
mid-song to grab a Coke,
even when my amp clipped 
and broke up in the wrong places
I knew, I knew, I knew
she was watching me,
me and my sea foam green guitar,
my chemical plant dream green guitar,
my Hendrix would have gone for the lighter early
if he’d seen the green of that guitar —

we were
the only band in history to fuck up “Wild Thing”
and I was still sure she was watching me
as we fucked up “Wild Thing,” 

and then it was over.

Janie went her way
and like a poet I cried epics for her,
like a prog rocker I cried concept albums,
and I put that guitar away until one night
a few years later, late night college radio,
my old guitar felt like a talisman reborn
and “Wild Thing” felt like a tamed thing reborn — 
and now
I wanted to play it
the way Billy Zoom would play it,
the way Joe Strummer would play it, shit,
I’d even play it the way Patti Smith would play it —
figured any hot guitar hung low
and played high and hot
made anyone more


But all these years later,
all these bright memories later,
it feels like that dream is changing —

my daughter’s drawn
a lipstick challenge on her belly.
Talks about Sleater-Kinney
the way I talk about Clapton.
Daydreams the lyrics
of Bikini Kill and Cheesecake
and lies on her bed in headphones
with that old guitar of mine; meanwhile
the milder man in me
stares at old Martins instead;
studies Kottke
when I should be sleeping
and daydreams
my fingers into full bloom
while my wife lies dreaming 
of…dreaming of…

Watching my daughter
with the feel
of her clench
on the neck

of my ancient knock off guitar,

I’m beginning to think
that a seafoam green
knock off guitar
has little to do with love,
a little more to do with lust, 
everything to do with freedom…

and I’m beginning to think differently 
of all my bright memories,

and beginning to think
that maybe, just maybe,

Shatter Season

I am the fragile man again.  

I thought
I had changed,
clothed myself
in thick, real confidence
and genuine certainty

but all it took
was one small choice —
I opened a door, found a dim corridor,
walked its length and emerged
into a courtyard of thorns
where I stopped, afraid to move
for all the possible pain.
I turned to go back
to the last place, the good place; no,
that door and hallway
were nowhere to be seen

but there were
my worn bed and my sad desk
covered in endless pages
of vague directions,
my dried flower dust catchers,
my wrong-facing windows
as unchanged and dirty
as the last time I’d seen them,
I could hear the rain of stones
not far away and

coming nearer.

I slumped down at the desk,
the fragile man again;
again unsheltered, waiting for 
another shatter season
to begin.

Baggage Claim

I see certain faces
and think at once of long slogs
dragging broken-wheeled luggage
through vast airports.

I hear certain voices
and think of bad air in tight cabins,
drooling men snoring
on each of my middle seat shoulders.

Tonight feels like a routine room
in a routine hotel. I’m routinely eating
something routine, coating it in routine ketchup
from a routine little bottle.

I’ll write an ecstatic letter and read it to you 
when I get home, words packed 

with the same joy a lost bag feels
upon arriving at last where it belongs.

A Little Cup Of Coffee

Originally posted April, 2010.

A little cup of coffee now —
hot, black and unadorned,
not sweetened at all.
I like it bitter. I like the heat.
I like the way it stains my teeth
so my smile’s not so bright;
I like how it opens my eyes
to the day as it has been made.
God’s gonna trouble the waters yet,
I’ll have to wade them;
that little cup of coffee
will help me not to drown.
A little cup of coffee now,
another later, and another —
depending on how deep
and swift the water goes.

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there is liberation
in your handful 
of herbal license

but you don’t seem 
to want to let go
and let us in on it

did you forget how 
to empty your hands
among friends

did you forget how
to share
with others 

did you just stutter
while offering us
a welcome 

upon dismounting
from your high horse
will you admit a mistake

will you
remember your etiquette
and pass it

will you get back
to where
you once belonged

not asking
for everything
just something

hands emptied in
gesture of a generous friend — 
a good giveaway

Max Roach, Greg Corso, And Me

Originally posted 4/6/2013.

Used to tell myself

stop listening to Max Roach,
stop reading Greg Corso;
you’ll never

have Max’s singing rhythm, 
never match Corso’s mad flow.

Today I say shut up,
stop yourself, self.

The joy of Max’s silky beat,
Corso’s rough banging, tongue hanging words —

good enough for me
without looking for more now,

for now I know who I am —

I write like a plowhorse plodding.
I never could figure 
one end of a drum stick from another.
Already in the “where are they now’ file.
Already deep in the winding down — 

I know who I am.

Hearing Max Roach without envy,
reading Greg Corso with no lust to best him?

All the ambition and strain has fallen
completely at last away. 

I’m not rattled
or on fire anymore.
I can 
finally hear
and be at peace.

The God Of Stones

You lay a walnut sized stone
in a near broken sling
made mostly of hope

Praying you get
a chance to launch it 
into the eye of
the Brute Approaching

(who in this case is cousin
Blood is thick between you
There has been 
so much of it)

Pray by taking aim
Pray by letting fly

He falls
You pray again
Exalt the well-answered prayer
of your well-flung missile

Burn his corpse where it lies
Weep the small obligation over family shame
Plant a nut tree in his barren outline
Savor the brain-meats grown there for decades after
Resolve to pray more 
Make a stronger sling with which
to offer future hosanna and hallelujah 
to the God Of Stones

All I’ve Been

Tasted a red berry,
felt red.  
Smelled a bluebell,
felt blue.  
Put on a wool suit,
went out feeling
woolly and wild

till I saw you.

When I could not
become you,
I swore to be
close to you until 
our ashes
could be mingled

once we were
no longer.

After all
I’ve been
and felt,

what I am now
is grateful, 
what I am now is 
what I am now
is all I need
to be: to be
still with you.

More Than Boards And Nails

Originally posted June 10, 2015.  Revised, 9/30/2015.

More than boards and nails
will be needed 
when the ashes cool
and it’s time to start over.

I must not relent
from my dutiful masonry,
the bricking of word
upon word.

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,
to remind us all 
of fragrances
that preceded
smoke and ruin:

of roses,
clean earth,
unpoisoned rain,
infant hair,
a lover’s neck;

of what we had once,
what we’re again
building toward — 

the stuff of poetry.

A Thief Of Rest

I once,
as a boy, 
owned a cane 

with the ball
from the top of a femur.  

Grew sick inside,
once I was grown,
to learn it was human;

from its age and provenance
was likely taken from
a Native grave 

or perhaps sheared fresh
from one fallen in battle,
massacre, or misadventure, then

turned into a trophy like a necklace 
of dried ears or a tobacco pouch
sewn from a tanned scrotum.

When the cane was stolen 
not long after, I was at first
relieved, then soon enough

unsettled, thinking of how
heads and scalps were stolen
and traded and monetized

in those days of first conquest.
I imagined it in an ignorant hand — 
or worse, in the hand of one

who knew exactly what it was
and traded it for crisp bills 
to another who knew it too.

There are nights I wake
with my hand outstretched
seeking — absolution? redemption?

a chance to bury it
in the earth where it belongs? No.
I fear sometimes

that if it were
to return to me
I would hold it and claim

it had come back to me
because I am the unique
and rightful keeper

of such things,
though I know
in my own bones 

such a thing
to be horrid
and untrue.

How lovely it would be
to lie to the dead
and allow myself to think

I am any less 
a thief of their rest
than any other

who would take it, 
have it, hold it,
keep it as if it were their own.


New Flag

on field 
of the usual hues

silhouette of pistol butt

rocking an angle from narrow cowboy hip

bulge in outlaw jacket
black leather belt badge and cuffs
khaki or 
camo dusty holster

in the hands

of patriot or rebel
villain or 

glimpses of long guns in black hands in news photos 

feathers floating from barrels of rifles raised from horseback in western fable

shadows of men with guns feed America
feed America its young
feed this starved 

all those bullets
so little bread


Up the street, a white house
(not a metaphor
for the White House);

a hawk above it in the air
(not a metaphor for war, or ambition,
or foresight, or predation);

I’m having my daily
 morning oatmeal
(not in fact a metaphor
for suffering for my art, or for
the thick pain
of the morning news — 

I’m just not a fan
of dying sooner
rather than later and
it helps wipe sugar
from my blood).

Someone will not believe me
when I say

that everything spoken of here
is exactly what it seems:

thick man with his eyes open 
choking down thick gruel, a bird
circling a nondescript house
in a small city on the verge of 
cold season, yet I guarantee

that someone
will not believe me

when I say

this world
does not exist

solely to be
a revelation;

thinking that
means that too often
we miss what’s real

and in front of our eyes
while looking for
the Illuminati
in all things.


In libraries there are so many words
like so many feathers saved
from so many flights remembered, 

and so many still ready to fly; so many
drowsing wings barely fluttering
with impatience,

longing to be released
by librarians who wait like falconers
for you to approach

so they may unhood and loose those words
to seek you out, swoop upon you 
and settle, sink in and take hold. 

Soon enough
you find yourself raised
from your own sleep,

to the rustling of feathers.
You may drift back to sleep

to dream of flying,
dream of being
carried to freedom by free words,

and in your sleep
as you rise into some grand sky
you may catch a glimpse of a falconer

turning from you toward
the next earthbound traveler, ready
to help them soar just as you are soaring;

if you do, turn back. Circle
for a moment. Nod your head to the one
who helped bring you here; pay tribute 

to the tenders of saved feathers, 
liberators of wings given once again
a chance to fly.

The Cosmos Of Riddles

Blue green riot
beyond the bridge,
weeds and pond under
noon-strained light.
Farther on,
dark-bound trees;
farther still, of course,
ocean, desert,
blocky stone
and blinding ice.

Every vision the sum
of all its varied confusions.
Every confusion a union open
on all sides, itself
a new cluster of visions
and confusions.

Your feeling before
each vision:
consider a nest of eggs
about to hatch.
You don’t know your birds;
these stones contain birds.
Open your eyes
and your heart speeds into
something less beat
and more flutter,
a cymbal’s shimmer
and not a crash.

An understanding of this
isn’t for consumption
through sale, barter,
trade.  This isn’t meant for
the dank music of ease
and packaged wisdom —
not this glimpse
of the blue green riot,
the warring perceptions
telling the whole wrenching story
of this whole wrenching world, no;
you’re going to have to work
for this one.

No Apology

It used to sting my bones
when someone called me “selfish”
for not having had children,
and it has taken me years
to learn how to say
what I have always known.
Now that I am
this far from the beginning
and this close to the end,
I will say it and be at rest.

Wherever you are now,
you who were unborn to me, 

my unknown child or children, 
I say this:

you are blessed,

for our absent, never-was bond
would have been a mistake
made of lightning:
fire consuming all,
ever after.
No one
could have survived.  

Be glad forever, wherever you are,
that you are not my children, that I am no
father of yours; that my storms were not yours,
that my slow burn-down was not yours as well;
that whatever tenderness 
we may have felt for each other
was not wasted into ash. Be glad
that while I did not know how
to speak of it,

I understood it well enough
to keep it from happening again.


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