There Is A Light

There is a light
in a glass of whisky
that never goes out
as it travels 
to dark places.
As it goes
on its way it is
its own torch
and what sights
it sees in 
there, in those 
normally unlit 
crevices — things
in some cases
not seen for years,
unexamined for 
decades. Take,
for example, stories
of an absent father
who disappeared seeking
those same items 
the same way years before —
there those stories are,
tucked into a cranny 
above the acid fields
of the deep belly. Or
the memory of
first taste at twelve,
chased by 
the memory of
that grapefruit soda
chugged after to cool
the flame that burned
again all the way back up
to the light and out again
leaving you heaving,
swearing never again,
no way, never, no way 
never no more; that’s
all there in the same
shadow as the others
and all the light there is down there
is in the first, second, third, fourth
glasses of gold, dense 
shine barking briefly
in the tongue, its hazy
illumination upon those
secret places counterbalanced
by how it sweeps fact up
into emotion and then,
after a while, the light,
ever a lie, indeed 
goes out while leaving more
dank remnants behind
inside to soon be sought again
with the breaking of the next
wax seal, the next crack of
the cheap tin on the cap
of the next bottle of flame.


Green Street

Bodies on fire on Green Street:
once leafy and pleasant, it
now has become
a scourging field.

You smell this smoke
and are initiated into
an intimacy with those
whose bodies are burned

as well as with those
who burn them.
It is now
a relationship,

a greasy coupling among
actors and those
acted upon. If you think
you can leave Green Street

in horror to regain
some level of innocence,
think again: sniff, breathe,
cough it out, vomit, it matters

not at all. You cannot detach
from it, just as every lover
leaves a mark within. Even if
the trees recover, even if 

a canopy of life
returns here,
you will be a partner
in these deaths

forever and
will never pass 
this corner again
without holding your breath.


Trying All The Keys In All The Locks

Hard to believe now, 
but when I was a child
I spoke more
of my mom’s Italian 
than English, knew 
all the Russian she knew,
and could mix it with 
my dad’s sprinkling
of Korean, Chinese, 
German, and Apache 
as needed.

I lost them all
in elementary school
where they made me
an English-only exclusive
and it worked so well that
when I got to high school,
as hard as I worked,
I could not get past Mr. Albert
and junior year French.
Never made it out of 
the replacement Spanish class,
either.  What little 
of each language I can recall 
still tangle in my mouth
when I try to use them
just to pronounce names 
of people and places.

I’m as monolingual
(and thus as all-American) 
as all get out,
one ossified adult
turned to stone
in the coils of

a colonizer’s words,
sentenced to
their sentences, 

wondering who the hell
that kid was
who once moved
so well
among his given languages
that he felt at home
in the fullness of the world,

wondering if all the poems
he’s read and written
and spoken since
were just keys stolen
from the warden 
to be tried in every lock 
until he and his tongue
once again
got free.


Tired Angry

When “tired”
means there’s nothing
to give.

When “tired”
means your lungs
whistle dirges.

There are trees
bent more by the weight 
of life than you are,

trees that grow
anyway, but you
are no tree. 

So tired,
stunted,
stalled —

lonely too, or
alone at least,
even among friends, 

lovers, family.
Tired, alone,
shortened, stuffed

down from full height
and wasted, too wasted
to rise again. Or so at first

you believe,
forgetting how 
“tired” can easily become

“angry,”
shifting
in one breath.

When “tired”
becomes “angry, ” those dirges
turn martial, go loud.

When “tired”
becomes “angry” you
straighten like 

a full tree, even if
a storm’s coming 
full of lightning

and doom. When
angry, you grow.
You see who else

is angry alongside you and
realize the lightning can’t
take all of you. So

get angry, not tired.
Be what is needed.
Rise, grow, sing war.

It’s too early to fall asleep.


Please Come

Please come,
said something.

This voice was soft
and unfamiliar yet
had managed to get 
so close to my sleeping ear
that I could feel it stir the air
as it spoke.

Please come,
it said again, there is
urgent need here, there is
a great famine, a profound 
drought, a bitter war,
a rage covering us all here.

Please come, it said again,
and I rolled over to change
which ear was exposed as
I try keep some of my hearing
to myself and not let just anyone
in that way, but it got into
the pillow itself and denied me
sleep, clearly saying again 
and again:

please come, we
are vanishing, we are being
snuffed out the way breath
takes a candle flame
and just as the smoke
from that small extinguishing
lingers for a short time and
ribbons back and forth until
it’s gone, this whispering
can only reach you for a moment
until it too wisps away. Please
come, please, 

until I could take no more
and talked back to it
and drowned it 
and snuffed it
and blew on it until
it cooled into silence
and left me in darkness
to sleep and 
keep to myself — 

but I found
I could not.


Exile

It does not happen
overnight, but

one day your neighborhood
reveals itself to be

your enemy. You realize
the streets long to cradle

your crushed face. All the familiar
walls are reaching out,

first to hug your back 
and then to hold bullets

that ache to pierce you 
through and through. Soon

it becomes a daily race
to go from stoop to work

and back to stoop 
while menaced

the whole time by place.
You spend every night

huddled in a room
you are not sure

you should trust. This
is where you’ve always lived;

you know you should belong in
your town, your place. But

what you know
and what you feel

are different. What you do 
and what you should do

are different. This place
as it is and as it should be

are different and
suddenly it appears that

exile is no longer a function
of where you live.


Instruments

On my rack,
a guitar the size
of New Mexico.
Tone drawn from
scraped concrete
and morning traffic.
Neck slim as
a racist’s excuse,
strung up tight and bright
to breakpoint. When I need
to write a song about white fire
rising from the caved chest
of a corpse, this flies
from its wall to my hands.

There also is
a small guitar there,
tucked behind the left ear
in a Victorian portrait
of an unnamed
woman, a guitar so small
I could swallow it and 
I do — not often and not
without choking.
It comes
without my asking
to my sleep, where
my long throat tunes it
to an open chord
when my need is for
a song that lights its own
flame. I find it warming me
upon waking; I come to slowly,
wondering at this sound within.

I cannot tell you all the names
of all the instruments that live near me;
some are ancient, some are new.
Some plant blasts,
some stick giggles
all over everything.  

Their only commonality
is that if another took them
and tried to play, I do believe
they would fall to dust in their hands
and blow away, perhaps to become
mingled with the dunes in White Sands
or piled upon the paired graves
of centuries-old lovers;
never to be played again

unless somehow 
they were to find me, bereft 
and songless, lingering here
long past my time
in dire need of

a dirge, an elegy, a tune
to bear me away.


Blood, Broken, World, Dream, Moment

Certain words — blood, broken,
world, dream — pretend to offer
surplus truth when I use them lately.

It’s my curse of the moment.
(Moment is another currently
resonant breath that promises more

than it delivers.) I’ve seized on these
particular little bombs and deploy them
too often. It’s as if they are

stuck to my tongue and won’t let go.
Each day’s the same: I wake up,
shudder at the morning news,

bow my head to work and mourn 
and out they come, stale prayer:
blood, broken, world, dream, moment.

They shuffle, rearrange themselves and me:
broken world, blood dream moment;
broken moment, blood world dream;

dream blood, world moment broken.
I am supposed to be better at this, 

I tell myself.  I am supposed to be

in control of words and that is now
in doubt. Even if the world moment
is a blood dream, I’m not supposed to be

broken when I face it. I’m called to be
better than this broken chant, to offer
better than a tired dream to this world

obsessed with blood at this moment.
I’m supposed to watch the news and 
snatch a more profound vocabulary

with which to speak of it — yet here
we are and here I am staring into this,
a deep crack filled with echoes: blood,

blood, blood; broken, broken,
broken; world, world; moment,
moment; dream, dream, dream.


Go

Go.
Live a sunlit life.
Leave shadow to me
and my team.

Go.
Turn off the news, 
enjoy the silence.
Leave the dealing 
and terror to me
and my team.

Go.
Live in constant 
yes to the feel of sun
upon your face. 
Leave the moon 
and all its gentle maybe
to me

and my team.

Go.
Get with your 
folks. Get safe
and get comfy.
Leave the spikes
and road rash, the
holes and fractures,
the dinging of the fight bell,
the complexity of how much itch
you can take before screaming,
to me and my team.

We are out here
already.  Born here, 
in fact. It’s nothing new
to us.

Go.
Do the nothing new for you.
Leave the rest.
We got this.
We do.


Green And Gold And Spring

It’s such a good
spring day here —

good birds calling,
good shoots

of green, good sights
of people 
on foot,
lightly dressed and smiling

as they see the good gold sun — 

that it becomes
hard to believe

that it’s also spring in places
where the calling
is the sirens

of ambulances,
the people are

heavily dressed in blood,
and the sun

is somewhere behind
the smoke
from a bomb. 

The sky negates
what the air whispers:
that this
could happen anywhere

and everywhere
soon.

In spite of that

I go outside
and plant a seed.

I pray it takes root
and that I live
to see it full grown,

that I live to share
its fruit someday
with someone yet
unknown to me.
On that day

may we sit and speak
of good, of green and gold,
of spring

and how it never fails.


Neuropathy

My left thumb,
numb; left big toe,
numb; the rest of both feet
perpetually burning
after first daily contact
with the floor; lately
both hands are beginning
to tingle as well.
They all still work but
are starting to cost so much
in comfort and ease 
that I’m beginning 
to avoid using them,
some days 
doing next to nothing:

staring at screens
large and small instead;
plotting dark points on 
black graphs in my head;
making this agony so mythic
that it keeps me in my bed;
holding a grudge against myself
that pushes me closer to dead.

Still, there are those moments
when the window works,
the breeze works,
the sunlight works
to remind me
that I still have senses 
that can be trusted
to offer joy as needed; still,

in spite of the long needles
in my soles,
the pricks and flames
that rise in my skin
at the slightest brush,
most days

I get up and see
how much balance
I can salvage
as I rock between those
extremes from
fearful waking to
exhausted, relieved
sleep.


Current Events, April 2017

All day,
out of boredom
and patience,
I stare at the news.

Red flags
to the horizon:
carpet for
a nation-sized room.

Too much red
for me.
Too many
stabs:

death of a thousand 
cuts, and I’m
not even
their true target.

How selfish
of me to think
I matter
in all this.

How like me
to make it about me.
How like me 
to know that,

yet be unable
to stop myself 
from centering
on my own pain.


Immobility (Ludacris Remix)

Originally posted several times, in different versions, under the title of “Stationary.”  Major revision.

When I move, you move…just like that.

Remember sticking a thumb in the air?

When I move, you move…just like that.

Remember turning a key in the ignition?

Remember the last minute ticket,
the just going,
the just getting out there?

Hell yeah, hey DJ, bring that back.

Tell yourself

we all used to travel without a lot of thought.
We all used to travel without a lot of anything.
We all used to trust one another.

Try to forget

it was instead
a flag-wrapped dreamtime,
a selective American walkabout,
a stack of ad copy woven into a myth of a collective self.  

When I move, you move.
Just like that.

When I move, you move.
Just like that.

Tell yourself this is all new.
Tell yourself it’s a shame.

No one picks up hitchers anymore.
No one buys a ticket last minute
and gets on a plane without running a gauntlet.  
No one rides a train.
We fear the buses will smother us
in other people’s germs.
We fear that the ship will sink.
We don’t drive at all
without a screen to tell us
where we’re going.
We don’t move at all
without a plan for what to do 
when we get to where we’re going.

Tell yourself :

There are reasons;
things are different now.

Tell yourself:

It’s a necessary change;
things are different now. 

Tell yourself:

Back in the day
cops gently patted every traveler down
exactly the same soft way;
things are different now.

Tell yourself:

Back in the day
they’d let all the folks
go easily on their way;
things are different now.

Tell yourself:

the bullets peeping from the cylinders
of those old police revolvers
were only there for show;
things are different now.

Tell yourself:
 
standing still
is all the safety you need
and you aren’t going to move
even as everyone else
blurs by you
because things are different now.

Insist upon ludicrous fantasy,
insist it has to go back
to some way it never was
for anyone but you — 

when I move, you move. Just like that.

even as the world
turns its back upon you
and moves on.


The Truth

the truth:

it’s exhausting being alive.
it’s not fun much of the time.
we only choose it
because the alternative is coming any way
and most of us aren’t early adopters.

the truth:

I’m glad there are people 
who like to mentor the young
because it needs doing but
I’m neither good at 
nor willing to do it.
if it happens inadvertently
as a result of my work, cool;
if not, ah, well…

the truth:

I’m pretty certain that 
even given all our best efforts otherwise
what we have here 
is a society based on 
everyone but the elite
having a bad case of 
failure to thrive
and you can’t run forever that way;
it’s failing 
by design.
we better learn 
to mine the rubble.

the truth:

I’m too old to matter
to 90% of the people
I wish I mattered to
and 90% more stupid
than I think I am anyway.

the truth:

I am beginning to forget
my power

and I suspect that’s a defense mechanism.

the truth:

I never mattered much to begin with
and 

that is a comfort.


Gone Is Gone

an apparent tragedy
is visible here
above these caved sockets

whether a lost battle
or a won war
created this cloven skull

is unimportant
as this is
the end product

what is present:
bone
what is gone:

all memory
of any color
once found here

any life
any love
both long gone

so no matter
how this fatal wound
came to be

whether in victory
or defeat
gone is gone

and
dead
is dead