Nuggets

Originally posted 1/7/2006.

1.
i was 15
a man grabbed me from behind
i turned and cut him
did not stop to see what happened
ran as fast as i could back to the party

two friends helped me
scrub off the blood
someone else
lent me a shirt

i went home that night
my parents never knew
i have watched the news for years
still don’t know what happened

why nothing has ever happened

2.
she was really pretty and
if i could have recalled her name
i would have called her

i am still trying 

3.
at 17 i stole a book of robert bly’s poetry
and later had him sign it
this was wrong in so many ways

i still have the book

4.
i should have called her
i should have called her
i should have called her
who was she

who am i that i thought i could call her

5.
i should have hit him
i should not have hit him
i’m glad i hit him

i should never have pulled my knife
i am glad i pulled my knife

years later i saw the one
i should not have pulled the knife on 
in a club

he backed away from me
both hands raised

it felt good

you’re the indian, right
he said

it felt good

something like that
i said

i like indians, he said

i stepped toward him
he fled
it felt good

5.
there is only so much of yourself you can handle
before you have to start dividing and conquering

i will own this
but i will not own that

but i am this because
i was that
and was not that

you don’t really know me
and you never will

i know me
but not all of me
and not all at once


Ein Jeder Engel Ist Schrecklich

Originally posted 5/17/2009.

Ein Jeder Engel Ist Schrecklich (Every angel is terrifying). — Rilke

Close a door, open a door,
write a letter, burn a letter:
endings are as easy as beginnings
when there’s little potency attached.
What makes it hard to end or begin
is the Angel of Possibility who hovers
on the margin of each decision. 

I know much of her scarred wings 
and fruit-toned breath. Each time
I have flown with her
I have been scared of the height
from which I might fall;

tonight she floats 
at the edge of vision,
near the door, beckoning to me
as I pray for my feet
to remain on the ground — 

yet she is an Angel,
after all, and I begin
to rise, attended by
all the terror
I can bear.


Political Art

Old poem.  Reposted tonight just because it felt right, in this moment, to think again about the limits of political art — dates back at least to 1999, 2000?  Appears here in the “Poems From The Slam Years” page. Has also appeared in various anthologies over the years, and various journals as well.

 

a print of “Guernica” hangs on the foyer wall
above the drink table
here are the famous horse and the upraised human face
they’re screaming as the hors d’oeuvres are passed

and on the facing wall
behind the buffet
hang two photographs
carefully chosen for tonight

in this one is a girl we have seen before
running and burning on a road in Vietnam years and years ago
back then she was trying to fly to safety
on the innocent strength rising along her fiery arms

in this one is a man we’ve also seen before
and despite his death in 1890 he also keeps trying
but he’s frozen awkward and insolent in his attempt
to rise from the snow at Wounded Knee

we are making small talk tonight
clicking our tongues at all these pictures
making crestfallen small talk
because we know we should

handing over money
to save Afghani statues from the guns of rapists
handing over fistfuls of green guilt
for the anesthetic of aesthetics

buying permission to posture unflinching
before those who have fallen
permission to shelter in these picturesque memorials
in the hope of receiving from them some kind of prophylactic grace

as we stare at the burning girl
as we sadly regret Wounded Knee and genocide
as we admire the abstraction of that burning Spanish town
we will click our tongues

while marking the skill of the artist at having those faces
seem so stark in their angled black and white
seem so shot through and through
with an undertone of subconscious red

it’s from this we’ve learned how to watch the news
the news that gives us each day our daily dread
a new crop of victims to be cropped and photoshopped
and we know just what to do when we see the faces

we observe
we regret
we remark
we move on

tonight there’s a gallery fundraiser
tomorrow there will be another
we’ll see the burning girl and the rising corpse again
and we’ll make another print of “Guernica”

why
do we need to keep making
all these prints
of “Guernica”?

someday we’ll see
that if we had been changed by all this art
at the first hint of genocide we would smash our cameras
hang our paintbrushes back on the wall

stick our checkbooks back in our pockets
lift the paintings from their frames
and carry them through the streets
to the places of power calling why

why

if the people inside our work could speak
they would tell us that if witness alone could change the world
the world would be changed by now
and we would have no need to keep learning

that this picture
of that girl
is not
beautiful


Pursuit Of

The sun’s hot.  Too hot.
The water’s wet but it’s getting scarce
and the dirt’s becoming precious around our feet.
We look at our kids and say,
don’t get cocky about the pursuit of happiness
being easy.  Get a job and keep looking.
Pass a test and get a job and keep looking.  Kick a ball
and pass a test and keep looking.  Do it all —
go to school kick a ball pass a test get a job
kick a tire
and a man

and a woman
and a queer hide

and a brown hide
and don’t forget that Jesus, he kicked a lot of ass,
so I’ve heard, so we’ve all been told.
Keep looking, kick something that’s already down
and it’ll almost feel 
like you stumbled over happiness
in the dry weeds 
that are taking back our lawns.
Keep at it. 
It has to be here. Someone must have it and
it’s ours, damn it. We’ve got the paper
that says so. We’ve got the muscle. Dislocated
as the bones may be under our good skin,
we’ve still got the muscle and the guns. Rubble
piling up? That’s just good cover
for a sniper. Don’t get comfortable, kid.
You want it 
you have to hunt it.
You’re going to have to take aim

at the fucks who stole it.
Go get ’em, kid.
Go get ’em.


Mixed

Sometimes, 
I am ashamed
of my face,

of what it does not look like.
I am ashamed of
the way this particular light

bends across it and how
it glows less bronze
than it might have shone
if certain twists of gene and fate
had gone another way. I hear

some saying, “you’re lucky
you’re like this, like this, how
can you not like this?”  They speak

of privileges and passing and 
presentation — how easy, they say,
how much easier;
some say the presentation
is all that counts.

All the while I am beyond mere
sadness, beyond shame.
It’s not those things
I’m feeling — I can’t tell you
what I’m feeling.  I can’t say

the words because this nation
and this era disallow those words.  
I can’t say I am different
and feel different and 
am not allowed to say
how this is different;

instead I am said to be
and told to feel
lucky or false
or lucky and false;
what I truly want
is a face with which
to face the issues.
My issues. 
A face to match the face 
I daily face inside,
a face I can turn to
and ask about

why I feel so ashamed.


362 Miles

Woke up to sun
and no smoke.
Birds prattling on,
two daffodils finally up and shining
from our front walk mulch.
Nice place, this.  Nice place.

No smoke
for miles around.  No fire

not currently under control.
This is not to say that
there’s nothing smoldering here,
or that we’re not so far from Baltimore
that we know nothing of burning

or why things burn.  
It’s just that right now

this is a nice place,
and if we do smell smoke
it’s got to be from 362 miles away,
carried on a strong wind
from a place where

birds bloom
and flowers chirp, where everything’s

a little backwards. 
If we do smell smoke here —
do we smell smoke here?  
No, can’t be. We keep sniffing,

must just be
power of suggestion; well, maybe
a little something there, a little

something on that wind.


Shadow

Beneath

this longing
for good old
familiar
Order

runs an ancient spring of

Shadow

that is now
seeping up
into our homes and
streets

Is becoming Flood
Is drowning Order

Someday it will become
sweet water again
in full sunlight
Will drench and nourish
something New

but only after this 
when it sinks back into 
its own heart-bed

Till then
expect this match of

Order against Shadow

to pull some down
wash much away
kill and kill and kill

as Order struggles
to hold
its crumbling ground
before it 
flails and falls away

at last


Scrolling Down

Originally posted 6/27/2009.

A bird with three wings
has been found in Suffolk. 

Infants are born singing 
in Sao Paulo.  

A ghost, seen by thousands
who identify as that of a long dead rock star,
hovers just above the rush hour traffic
on the ring road around Atlanta.

In broad daylight, in Singapore,
a figure walks the streets laughing
and strumming a lute.

In Baltimore, green turns overnight 
to red.

The severed arm of a Jamaican wrestler
miraculously regenerates. 

A Swiss man lost for five days underwater
is found alive and breathing through a straw.

Slingshots have replaced cell phones
as the new status symbol for Japanese youth.

A Karachi flower market reopens for business with a new look
after a car previously pollinated with C-4 bears fruit.

In Kentucky, authorities report
a young boy has killed his entire family
because they were demons.

The death 
of a middle aged shepherd in Andorra
is linked to
a traditional curse of the Roma. 
Paris is now the world capital of sleeping sickness.
The news takes the world by surprise.

Connecting dots
on screens filled
with nothing but dots
becomes a worldwide craze
and competitive sport.

Winners will be chosen at a date to be announced.


When They Did Not Break Us

Originally posted 7/29/2013; originally titled “When He Broke Us.”

when they first came 
they called us
both resource and nuisance
land and labor bank
in the way
ultimately good for nothing

said it was high time to break us

they set to it
our mystery belonging broke
our fluency in stone’s tongue broke
our river dreaming broke
our river beds opened
and drained themselves down
to now mute bones

we ended almost
when we couldn’t speak to each other

our children were taken from us
they returned much later looking more like Him
and had no tongue to use with us

who were we then without them?

we searched
scrapped and fought
found our old words
or made new ones
mined old life from new seams

now they’ve begun to crack
shame lines crazing faces

tried to wear our clothes
they fell off
tried to steal our names
we called them back to us

we put them back on
somewhat the worse for wear
but unbroken

when we spoke those names out loud
for the first time in a long time
in long songs full of drum and tears
the stones cried welcome back
and welcome home
and welcome once again


Rubble

The dialogue between those two

was hard to describe
except to say
there was a lot of noise
that carried just a little signal
both intended and unintended
in a bed where each of them
waited cordially, aggressively,
for the next opportunity
to make some noise.
It reminded me of how 

I once was in a house

with walls made
of broken glass
set in rough concrete
so light came through
from outdoors.
From inside it looked
like this conversation sounded:
gems from a distance,
trash close up. I could not
leave that house soon enough,
though I longed and chafed
to be gone, just as

I could not get away

from that conversation.
Prisoner of the moment, I had to 
stay and hear it all, wondering
how it could go on and on
without one saying to the other,

let’s get out of here.  

Let’s not talk for a while. Let’s agree
to take this somewhere else.
Let’s agree to shut up and step outside
into unstained full sunlight
and see what it looks like from there.

By the way,

when I finally escaped
from that house, I found
that from the outside
it just looked like rubble.


Profanity

in this place long ago
lived people who carved

nine thousand names
for their god
into this temple.
every seed they planted they saw
as a spark of green prayer
that would rise 
as it sprouted and grew,
perfuming the eyes of heaven
like sweet smoke.
they could hear and see
voices and vision in the earth itself
back then 

and now you’re trampling that,
tourist.

don’t claim it doesn’t matter
simply because those
who made this place

and worshipped here
are gone.
tell the truth about it:
if all were still thriving,
you still would not care because
you don’t care.

you don’t care about
what is sacred because
you think of
your god
like something from a comic book:
merely a possibility.  

you don’t care
because back home,
your god has no face
in your soil.


This Container

This container
full of chunks of rust
which may have been
tools once, artifacts of 
energy and striving
that have become indistinct
remnants, memorials
to former utility:

today, open.  
Emptying.

Sun on its interior now;
warm, still, 
empty. Maybe comfort
will come with time

but for now,

empty.

 


Advice: On Maintaining A Daily Writing Practice

Originally posted 4/17/2012.

your favorite writers

always tell you 
to write
to keep writing 

your favorite writers

are going to tell you to write all the time

because they claim they did and you

(following along in their wake

like sweet little sleep deprived interns

in the Hospital Of Broken Hearts)

ought to damn well do the same

 

your favorite writers

are going to tell you to write every day

tell you to churn thirty poems in thirty days

or a novel in a month

because that’s how it works

when the Fire is on them

 

that’s how they get to be favorite writers

the poor slobs

that’s how they get to be famous

one month of crazy at a time

maybe for a few months at a time

and voila

the New Hotness doth arrive

 

your favorite writers will tell you

all sorts of things

to disguise the fact that they don’t have a clue

as to how this works 

 

they agitate for cause and effect

because not to is to suggest

a case for werewolves vampires

ghosts and zombies

not as literary devices and archetypes

but as the horrid afterbirth 
of their own failed work

 

listen:

if your gut tells you the best thing for your writing

is to take a month off
square your taxes

screw your neighbor hugely for hours at a time

walk your mother in the park

watch a lot of television

and drink

 you owe it to yourself to try that

because when I look at my favorite writers

I see more of that 
than the cold and sober work they prescribe

for all the whippersnappers and upstarts

 

formulas are for chemists and physicists

writers suck at those things mostly

write when you want

how you want

where you want

 

and for God’s sake
take a shower
eat a sandwich 
and try to get some sleep

 


Falling Off A Chair

I was born
sitting at a table
I knew was not
my true place.

I learned to speak, then to
speak poems,
and the first time

I made a promise
to use all that
on behalf of One True Voice
I felt myself ascending
to the moment of balance

when you tip a chair back 
on two legs and it doesn’t quite
fall but you’re hanging there
waiting.  The first time 
I was able to deliver 
upon such a promise,
I felt myself falling

and though I knew
the end would cause pain

and blood would be shed
it was alright
because I also knew
it would not kill me
and after that 
I would never
have to sit at that table again.


Machismo

Whenever that type of wrong
can happen, it seems to happen.
Bombs or words or bodily
weaponry, whatever’s at hand

gets used when molecular,
falsified, ingrained pride
surges up and kills
any care within. Then

blooms a corpse-floral
fever, more often than 
occasionally, more obviously
than rarely, more normal

than exotic. It stinks
a cancered manhood song. It stinks
a dangled sadness and falling rage
that too often is used and then given

a pass to unpunished commonplace.
To draw it down is a job
and a calling.  To draw it down
is to slice it free of its tethered feeds

and let it sink wildly, flailing its power
at first, then slipping into something 
more feeble, then becoming still.
It is unknown yet what comes after that.


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