Thought Experiment

I am sorry, so sorry
that now we have come
to the point at which
the thought experiment 
in which one tries to decide
what they would have done
in the path of tyranny
has become so obviously
no longer theoretical.

I am sorry, so sorry
that we did not do 
what we should have done
when we somewhat knew,
almost were certain, had
a chance to keep us from
ever knowing the reality
of the thought experiment.

I am sorry, so sorry
that there are those
we failed and failed 
on the way
from the thought experiment
to the moment when
the thought became
a recognition and the recognition
became a horror and 
the horror became 


New eBook on the Patreon site

Just finished uploading a new eBook, “Pushpins And Thumbtacks,” to my Patreon site as an exclusive for my patrons. It’s a short collection of 10 poems on icons and cliches of American culture revisited, mostly recent and some developed as a result of prompts from patrons themselves.

While all of the poems appear here on the blog, I find that pulling together collections of them helps to focus and increase their impact.  

All it takes to be part of the Work and support what I do at the Patreon site is a measly $1/month for many rewards; larger pledged amounts get access to more. I sincerely appreciate the support I receive and try to give back as much I can.

It has been difficult lately, but I hope to get back in the full swing of the Work shortly.


The Patreon site is here.

A Social Construct

“Race is
a social construct,”

he said,

and I jabbed him gently
in the face. My fist

was real. When 
real police
showed up waving
real guns and badges,
I indicated
that as whatever we all did next
in response
was a social construct —

whether or not I went
easily, whether or not
they took me down, whether
I lived or died or they lived
or died in the attempt — 

none of it was real
and all of it
could be easily ignored.

They did not ignore a thing.

Went to trial,
a social construct.
Was judged guilty,
a social construct.
Did small time
in a real jail.
Came out marked and
civically blighted,
a social construct.

Race is a social construct.
It works better for me
than for many. That’s

real. Money is 
a social construct
that works better some days
than others for me,
better overall for some folks,
much worse overall
for others. That’s 

What’s real 
is a social construct

unless it’s a mountain
or a desert or a robin
or a lion or the skin
you’re in, the hair you
grow or do not grow,
the strength of your pulse

and how quickly it stirs
at the sobbing of a child,
the sight of blood on a cracked street,
the jerk it makes as it slows and stops
in response to a bullet entering.

On the page, on the screen,
I’m a social construct
wishing this
was all I needed to be

to make real things,
to make things real.

Family Can Really Hang You Up The Most

Ever rumble
with your ghosts
by your side against
real live foes? Have you
ever reached into
your pocket for 
something to use as 
a weapon and found
a family history, once sharp
but now dull along the edge?
When you pulled it out
were you surprised by
how light it felt in your
hand and when you looked
at your hand were you shocked
that all you could see was 
your bones clutching
the dear dirty book?  Did you think
you were really going to get away
from all of them? They’re
your family, dead and never
gone, and they stick by you;
you fear them
and sometimes
you hate them
and sometimes 
they are all you have
to wield 
in battle. They can really
hang you up
the most, they can really
piss you off, they can really
look you in the eye.

Fold Your Head

You can’t keep going
forever. At some point
you fall over and wail
from your new place 
on the ground.  

At some point 
it becomes too much,
this aging. This failure
of parts, this damage
regime taking over.

You stare at a picture
of your parents. You understand
how it was for them, how it
is if they are still here.
You fold your head down

to your knees and do
whatever it is you do
to invoke something
to stop it: prayer,
positive thought, 

a hearty scream into your 
ailing skin. You swore
you’d be different,
you’re the same; maybe
that’s the worst part.

Under The Red, White, And Blue

Lying awake, the night sky 
on your mind,
a violet shelf of trophies 
you will never quite grasp.

Working dark seams 
until they give up scant fuel;
playing hard games
until the least prize falls 
into your hands.

You say
hey, it’s a living.
You say that
as often as you can.

Lying awake under
a dream sky you thought was 
just beyond your fingertips.
They told you that
so many times
that more than once
you thought
you’d brushed against it
more than once.

It felt like either heaven
or cobwebs. Hard
to say at the time,

but now you know.

Lying there
under that sky
you can’t reach
that will never redden for dawn 
or turn white for full day
and the stars you longed for
are like needles in your eyes
and the deep blue looks like 
shrouds and you know
none of it 
was ever really for you.

Map In The Tar

I burst through a door
and climb stairs to
a friend’s apartment.

Did I leave my cell phone here,
I ask? You’ve never been here
before, they respond. And I realize
they’re right.

So I go back down the stairs and
out the door and start running,
face aimed down, scoping
for the phone along a route
I may not have run at all
for two miles back to my house,

till I realize there’s a phone
on my hip in a clip, nothing 
I recall, and this is not my phone.
No idea who it belongs to. No idea
who these people in the contact list are.

I keep running back to my house
hoping it’s still my house. Along the way
I stare at the ground, wondering why
I’m in such good shape that I can run
like this, memorizing the moonlit
asphalt as if I were going to be
tested on the location of each speck
of sparkle when I’m finally at rest.

I make it home, hit the doorbell
as I have no keys with me, scramble
to the front window to scream 
my partner’s name, relieved 
to recognize the reflected face
as my own, glad that she seems
relieved to see me, to hold me
as I go through the front door.

I am typing this on my cell phone
which was where I left it by the bed side.
I am typing this on my cell phone
as I try to get up from bed
on my stone heavy legs, with my lungs
torn and wet from something.

This may have all been 
a dream, it all may have been a 
projection, a mistake
in my perception,

but I bet I could be blindfolded
and brought 
to any spot on the route right now
and I think I could tell you,
once the blindfold came off,

where I was and 
what I was thinking
at the time I bent to look there,

how far I’d come
and how far was left to go,

and all of that would come rushing forth from me
the second I saw the map

of mica in the black tar.


We’ve spent our entire lives
looking at scenes that will someday disappear
and yet we are happy much of the time,
centered on the illusion of permanence.

Every house, every church, every factory
or office we’ve ever been thrilled or angry
or bored in is going to fall to pieces eventually.
Maybe we’ll live to see it, maybe we will be

the ones to do it by fire or dynamite,
with sledgehammers or through simple neglect,
but it’s going to happen with or without us
and until it does, we will pretend it will never happen.

More than once I’ve had the joy of shifting
a public view — I put hammer and crowbar 
into play, slamming down old boards and pulling up
rotted floors, changing what was once a fact

into a memory of fact. Life went on without
the shed and the garage. I can see them if I squint
at the spaces where they were, but there are people
who never knew they were there and for them things

are just fine as they are now. 
Things were just fine as they once were, too.
Nothing is permanent, and every thing is fine that way.
Things change. We change. Things don’t matter much.

What matters is us changing ourselves
to fit into the changing nature of things.
We move into impermanence while clinging to things.
We pretend about things, and hem and haw and fight and weep over things;

things that will inevitably disappear just as we will inevitably
disappear from the sight of others, through fire or dynamite,
by our own neglect or choice, by the sheer force of time
if by nothing else; yet somehow we are content

to pretend otherwise much of the time
as we look at scenes from which we will 
someday disappear, scenes that will someday
disappear: the central illusion of permanence.


This ain’t no poem,
no protest song —

this is a meathook
with a long memory.

This is a bomb
with a meter. It explains

how things get done
with a ballistic microphone

and then runs
to fight another day

or gets caught and is choked to death
on its own verses

or vanishes in a hard flash
and a puff of voice.

This ain’t no poem
but a manual for locking

shackles tight as end rhyme,
ghazals full of righteous gallows.

This is not a protest song,
but melodic explosions

aimed at a target.
This meathook

has blood on it, 
has been whetted,

has been thirsty 
for a while now,

and recalls how it proclaimed
the roll of honor

the last time
it was trotted out

not just for
some academic show,

but in a renewal
of raw street joy.


Red stroke by the window.
A cardinal is here.
Occasional visitor
who’s been around
in short bursts
for most of the day.

Under the feeders, also
present from first light,
a mourning dove.
Can’t recall the last time
one came and stayed
like this, although
we hear them often 
from overhead.

The cardinal holds court
from the shepherd’s crook
that holds the suet cage.
The dove holds the humble ground

Red stroke by the window again.

The cardinal is gone — stayed long enough 
for cardinal purposes, although
gone too fast, left too soon for us;

the mourning dove remains — 
cooing, soothing,
peace in its voice

along with tears
and a promise of return.

Scenes From Videos

A thin man takes off a diamond-paved mask.
Another releases a white horse in an empty palace.

A man slumps against a lit, street-level window.
He goes on to levitate above a roof ledge, then settles back to safety.

Ah — there’s a woman in this one, behind the wheel of a muscle car.
A painting of the same woman, blindfolded and bound, is resting on an easel.

You see the oddest, fanciest people at an Old West wedding.
You see them again at a funeral on the day after the wedding.

A downcast man sits on a roof ledge with another downcast man.
A woman strokes another man’s hair; someone here might be an angel.

Those shoes, that hair, that coat, that long walk in a desert without dust.
That hatchet, that payphone, that Jeep, that briefcase paved in diamonds, full of water balloons.

And now more Jeeps, more muscle cars, more deserts and angelic nights and grand clothes.
There is an obvious way to end the endless but I’m afraid of what world I’ll find if I turn this off. 

Nothing Pretty

I really don’t have
anything pretty
to say. This
is a problem.

I’m supposed to drag
the good words out
almost on demand, 
certainly at my own command.

I don’t put much stock
in the idea of a Muse.
I don’t channel
anything, am no conduit.

Still, right now
the moments that get me in gear
to pull a stunner out
are just not happening.

I will not blame
anything or anyone for this.
I will not blame the President
or dark weather.

Instead, I will melt down
the rough lead I’ve been pouring
into molds for bullets and sinkers
and make from it instead

a dull gray god. An idol
for a religion of beauty
I used to follow, but cannot
put current faith in. 

Once cast I will set it up
and pray to it. I’ll ask it
to make my hand strong
and show me how to forge ahead.

I will wrestle up a vision
unlike past visions. It will not
be beautiful, but it will be 
true. I do not care what Emily said:

they are not always the same
but it’s possible
that they know each other
and that they talk;

I hope they do and when they do,
I hope they discover
that they both know
my name.

Green And Gold And Good And Spring

Originally posted 4-17-2018.  Revised.

It’s a good
spring day here —

good birds, good buds,
good sight of people on foot,
lightly dressed and smiling
as they see the good golden sun.

Hard to believe 
that it’s also spring in places
where the songs
come from ambulances,
the people 
are heavily dressed in blood,
and the sun is somewhere behind
the smoke from a bomb. 

My sky negates what their air whispers:

this could happen
and everywhere 

My response?
I go outside 
and plant a seed.


For The Sound

Originally posted 4/25/17.  Revised.
You think of this work I do
(when you think of it at all)
as the opening 
of petals, or of veins,

no matter how many times
I tell you otherwise,
no matter that you know
how many years I’ve been at it.

If it were the opening of petals, 
I’d have long ago turned to fruit,
fallen to the ground, 
rooted as seed, regrown.

If it were the opening of veins?
How red would your hands be
every time you touched
one of my poems? Would you feel guilt

waiting to read
the next one?
Would you wash
your hands first?

This isn’t as easy
as simply blooming or bleeding.
It is indeed an opening
but one more like cracking a safe

or picking a lock
and then pulling 
a door
until it swings wide. 
Inside, maybe,
will be flowers, maybe 
buckets of brimful red.

You can have those.
I live for the cracking, the picking;
for the sound — my God, for the sound —
of those moving doors.


Colonial Works Of Art

In the first chapter
bad decisions set
all the rest of the disasters
that run from there to the end
into motion.

The characters are born flawed
and devolve from there
into petty monsters who harass 
and slay others both like
and unlike them.

They call it the righteous path
and the great experiment. 

There is no second chapter.

The songbook
is full of theft
and hubris.

Now and then
someone breaks through with
generosity and we notice,

then steal from that and
brag about it.  Authenticity
makes a good mask

if you
are planning
to rob someone.

The painters
and sculptors 
know how to glorify.

The architects
know how to use
paintings and sculptures.

There is a museum
on every bloody corner
full of shell casings

in frames captioned:
this is what we made
along our way to the top.

Did they dance
before they got here?
If they did, they’ve
forgotten how.

Some of them
are quick learners,
more or less. Usually
less. Usually 
they don’t
dance much;

too busy acquiring
dance floors, bandstands;
buying up whole towns
full of us 

In terms of fashion?

We’re left
with no pockets
to pick.