Neighborhood Bar

They pour a good beer there.
They have a good whisky.

They have low lights and highlights,
a big screen, 
small talk, regard for their patrons.

People go to the neighborhood bar
to plot revolution in the back booth.

They go to the neighborhood bar
to scheme for sex or connection.

They go to the neighborhood bar
to see themselves reflected.

They go to the neighborhood bar
to seek a knight or heroine.

They go to the neighborhood bar
to be with their people.

They go to the neighborhood bar
to avoid the other people.

They go to the neighborhood bar
to drink alone, to drink in pairs, to drink.

They go to the neighborhood bar
to wonder why they go to the neighborhood bar.

Nothing happens there that hasn’t happened
the night before the night before the night before.

So people go to the neighborhood bar
to hope for a different night or the same night

to happen for the first time or the last time
or this time once only or every time

at the neighborhood bar — a safe world
behind the neon sign and the butt bucket

full of sand and spit and remnants
outside the dark, kick-scarred door.

They pour a good beer there.
They have good whisky, clean glasses,

and nobody bothers you if you want to sit
and drink until closing, come back when it opens,

live there more or less until you don’t,
and when someone asks where you are

there’s a shrug and maybe soon enough
a memorial plaque, THIS STOOL RESERVED

FOR “YOUR NAME HERE” 
goes on the bar rail

and after a week no one notices,
it gets busy, new people need a place —

go ahead and sit, 
it’s a neighborhood bar,

people come and go.
Get you something. What you having. 


Obsidian

Originally posted 3/6/2013.

A man who has never been rejected
is watching women on Highland Street
as if they were ruins in the Yucatan.

As if in the ruins of a Mayan city
these women were exhibits to be viewed.
As if they were souvenirs.

A man who has never been rejected
is shopping for a souvenir among the women
of Highland Street

while imagining
he is a prince of a lost realm
he learned about in school

or perhaps in books from his father’s library
that displayed women as souvenirs
for the taking by princes of the realm.

He is imagining
a backdrop
of old roads and palaces.

Ruins and palaces
and temples for men
who have never been rejected.

Never rejected,
ever,
at all,

because they’ve never asked permission
when they take a woman
as a souvenir of the realm.

A man watches women on Highland Street.
Imagines himself as center
of a useful myth.

Imagines himself glistening,
a souvenir himself,
carved in obsidian.


A Rain-Fed Spring

All day yesterday
words flowed and then a spring
rose from below me —
not from within me.  I was
a pipe, a pump,
a pool as clear as light.

Today, there’s nothing.
Dry well, rusted works,
old lines so worn out
they leak dust. I’m a mistake,
a fraud, a blown well,
a drowned lamp.

Tonight I’ll pray for rain.
Whether it comes tomorrow
or the day after that
it will soak into my ground.
What may come bubbling
then is unknown,

but it will come
someday, even if
I myself die before it does.
You cannot stop a rising spring —
neither the water itself nor the words
that draw the water from the earth.


Crossroads

Buddy Guy watches Jonny Lang
play a traditional constipated blues face solo.

Buddy Guy watches Ronnie Wood sliding, slinging,
posing wide armed at the end of his bars.

Buddy Guy praises them both
as he steps to the microphone:

“I don’t know how you feel
but I feel like I’m in Heaven.”

As for me, I feel like I’m seventeen again,
the age I was the first time I saw Buddy Guy

with Junior Wells: Junior all menace
and black leather, briefcase full of harps

not meant for Heaven; Buddy a benevolent
living example of why not everyone

needed a meeting at the crossroads
to tap into the Source. Still got it, too: that smile,

soft as a backwater in August. Those hands,
coaxing out a steady rain. I feel like

I’m in Heaven after having been mistreated
as he lays me to rest.


Intro To Modern Mythology: Film Edition

Originally posted 10/19/2010.

1.
Billions of people in the world.
Your soul mate will be right next door.

2.
War, horrible in the macro,
brings forth the delicate emotions from men.

3.
The addict, once aware of her problem,
will cry as she swallows the pills.

4.
Loved ones with cancer
ennoble all those around them.

5.
Nature exists
strictly as a foil for hubris.

6.
Things from beyond this world
conform to strict rules.

7.
When love finds you,
you will be unready for it.

8.
Animals are smarter than us
in all the important ways.

9.
The force of a bullet or a bomb
can bestow the power of flight.

10.
The rich are rarely as happy
as the poor, but you will certainly be an exception.

11.
A neat ending is to be expected,
as is a lesson. Things don’t simply happen.


Wreckage

1.
Shattered whelk shell on the shore,
brick rounded from waves alongside,
wood from ship or dock long destroyed;
algae clinging to them all says
that origin doesn’t matter anymore —
all that counts is here and now:
here, in the wreckage; now,
in the moment of wreckage.

2.
Vines are growing through
the stripped, twisted frame
of your car in the junkyard.

3.
The solstice sun strikes the stone
it is designed to strike
every year.

Or perhaps the earth
has shifted,
the megaliths have moved,
and it’s hitting 
the same unintended stone 
every year in the same spot.

4.
That sound from the beach?
My low wailing at the end
of the longest day of the year.

I’d hoped you’d be in the waves,
in what the waves bring to shore,
but I haven’t found you yet

though I’ve seized on small things
that seemed to offer hope until
I saw them in the right light.


The Promise Of Risotto

Originally posted 4/30/2011.

I lean in to suck hissing gas
from the unlit burner,
just to see what that’s like.

I’ve got good food to cook,
good enough for a last meal
in fact.  And if I get past that,

there’s decent dessert too.  So
I stop. I will not put myself
so close just yet. It’s the little things

that always, always
do the trick.  The cat
hovering nearby with sacred fur.

The promise of risotto.
The desire not to leave a mess
for loved ones.  

I take what I can get
from the bag of small miracles,
treat them as talismans.  

Anticipation of dark chocolate, 
pear cider,
cool night air
on open skin. 

My hand filled
with whatever makes it hard 
to grip a razor.


How To Be A Guided Missile

Let’s discard the easy ways
used by too many: no hijacking,
sniping, spraying of bullets,
or strapping on of explosives
required for this.  First step instead

is to be unapologetic: as it is,
you are deadly enough as you are
to some. Your body is a terror
already to someone: look around,
see how hard they work to disarm

its sights, its smells, its presence.
See how they fight your natural being?
You can simply be that and do the job
well enough. To take it a step farther,
find an ally or two: a partner, a lover,

a friend — anyone who’ll step to the target
with you. We’ll say that no one needs to get hurt,
although no one believes that, really; someone
likely will. It may be you, it may be them,
maybe everyone will get hurt so don’t go there alone —

although it’s hard not to feel alone when racing toward
impact, it will be better when you know
there’s someone beside you, even if
all you have to reach for is an ancestor or a hero.
Take heart in knowing who carries your armor.

Lastly: it’s not hard to pick a target as they
present themselves so often, so casually, that 
it’s nearly impossible not to strike one daily, hourly,
second to second. You will barely be able
to stand after some of those cratering moments, slowed by

visible pain, invisible wounds, yet-unknown
long term effects. It’s not my place to tell you
to stand tall and take it; you will do what you do.
All I’m saying is that you will be a warhead 
without ever trying to be so it may be worth doing well.

Be whatever you were meant to be: sleek or stout,
dark or light, strangely obvious or as normal
and nondescript as a sheet of paper. Know 
your trajectory. Be ready to fly — and when you fly
you will land somewhere, so level it.


Ally

Easily the greatest ending in history
was the one where you took my side
even though I was losing badly. Maybe

you did it for that reason, thought
you could save me, turn the tide —
I don’t know, but I do know

that when it became clear
that there was no way out of it for me,
you stayed when you could have gone,

and that is a comfort, although I am sorry
that it cost you so much, that they hounded you
into the dark and kept after you until

you probably perished out there
far from home and joy and safety.
You likely can’t hear this, won’t see it

ever.  It’s written on the same wind
that lifted and scattered my own
defeated bones. It’s all we two have

of that moment of furious and futile
strife and hope. I just needed it said:
you were an ally, you were a friend.

Even if we are forgotten, 
something of that loyalty
will endure; if it’s too much 

to hope for it to triumph
in the long term, it will still
have been worth the doing.


A Daring Adventure Or

If I tell you that I was surprised to see
one ferret out of her cage
when I got home from shopping,
to find her strolling into the kitchen
to greet me, shoulder to shoulder
with the usually disdainful cat,
all because I’d left her cage partially open
by accident after filling her food bowl
an hour before, I will also have to tell you

of my complete lack of surprise when,
upon catching her and returning her
to the cage and latching it more securely,
I discovered her cage mate still sound asleep
in her hammock, apparently unaware 
both of her botched chance of an adventure
and of her sister’s wild hour on the loose
with the cat who, when all was done,
simply returned to her usual spot 
on top of the fridge and also
went to sleep. 

Somewhere in here is a metaphor 
and a moral and a meaning
that I should tease into a big statement
but I’m ready for a nap myself even though
I should work harder to escape
that kind of captivity, that sloth that holds me back
from deeper thought.  I ought not to be satisfied
with such a bald reporting of simple facts
but it’s all I’ve got for you — one ferret got free, 
one didn’t, the cat took it all in stride,
everyone’s asleep, all is forgotten,

and I’m fighting to stay awake,
to do my job — to keep killing myself
trying to make my life bigger
than it actually is.


Hope: A Film Noir

Hope unfortunately
gets in the way of Truth
a lot of the time, he smirks.  

If he still smoked
he’d take a long drag now then
side-mouth the exhale, squinting

like Bogart or how he thinks
Bogey would squint. Too young
to have seen it, only having seen

generations-past watering down
that squint, now it’s
part of the language

of failed romantics everywhere
and he’s fluent in that. 
Somebody, get that man 

the right hat. Hope 
is a mistake a lot of the time.
It only gets used

for the wrong stuff. You gotta
go on faith for the important 
things. Hope is a tool

to make it happen but don’t
expect much from it.
We’re doomed. He says that last thing

in the voice of a cartoon donkey
he never saw. We’re Doomed. Hope says
he’s a fool, a kid, a poser; says 

he’ll outgrow this one day, have a kid
of his own, pass the past down
to that one. But you can’t rely

on Hope for everything.  
Maybe this one
means it, maybe every one of these kids

means it.  Maybe we’re doomed
after all. Maybe Hope was just the stuff
Dreams were made of.


Deserter

Everywhere there’s
a war, anywhere
there’s an enemy 
there’s war so therefore
anywhere, everywhere
is war.

Find your front
and stand. Find your flank
and stay wary. Find your 
rear guard and stay flexible
so that doesn’t become
a second front, the enemy 
is everywhere, anywhere. 

You’re so tired. It’s all
tired. Nothing is
keeping you here
except fear and fatigue
and the knowledge that
there’s nowhere to go where
you won’t be surrounded
by enemies including
past comrades as tired
and as ready for an end
as you are. Everywhere’s a war,
anywhere there’s an enemy
there’s a war so everywhere
there’s a war — everywhere but here

on your path, under your feet,
wherever you lay your body down
after walking away. 
It’s a hard choice —

they’ll hate you for making it —
it’s all you have left to you —
choosing where you’ll be buried and
not letting someone else
choose your boneyard. 

So, in the middle of the battle,
you go, you’re gone, 
but you were gone long ago,
truth be told. Most of this war
was epilogue, truth be told.

Most of this life, truth be told,
was about wanting to walk away
from a war.


The Joyful Denial

some are in
joyful denial,
saying there can be

no more space for metaphor.
no more mystery play in the words.
that we must say it all plain,
not in riddle 
or picture
or otherwise carried

on a sensate back —
that we must
stay 
in the head
when we talk heart,
live by the slogan

and the obvious. it is

a joyful denial

of what it once meant
to do this — to be this;

a joyful denial

that there is a music 
to be made along with the
a meaning to find, that one
can do the latter better
through the former.

the joyful denial is

a stone in my shoe
as I walk this walk
of talk, forcing me
to worry and wonder:
am I

an extant mistake
or a 
cooling discarded body?

then the most
joyful denial:

that any of this

is worth doing. is worth
living. that regardless of

how, why
matters. so —

blade of grass
in mouth, pen

near my hand.

a different joy.


Death

I wonder what it’s going
to be like.  

Will there be a path like a 
trail over a mountain pass?

Is there a darkness
that will be lifted, or

one that will fall?
How will I know 

it’s happened,
how do I know

it has not already
happened once, twice,

a million times
in a million years? 

I want to know
but am scared to learn

although I expect that
when I do learn, it will be

as if nothing has happened
and I’ll shrug it off, say

I wonder if I’ll know
when the next thing happens

after this one, or will I 
remain as always

in this state,
this bewildered push

through the mist around
Truth and Understanding

until the Wheel stops
and I stop as well

and stand there, quietly
waiting for Someone 

who may never come
to explain it at last?


It Went Wrong

It went wrong from the start, part
of a white batch should have been 
brown batch, could have been honorable
but slipped into shadowed intent, would have been
mistake but instead was evil deliberate
and thoughtful, long hours working out
how to be wrong, devotion to the mess-up
as mask for the getaway plan, give up 
the fess-up in favor of the caught neck deep
in an excuse: it went wrong from the start
and once that goes on for a long time, a lifetime, 
the trip out of the wilderness where it ends up
is long and thirsty work, lonely work
with no comrades to buck up the pace,
work best done alone and even when done
it will be at best only a sloppy poultice
on a gash where blood may drain away
but still there will be hideous visuals for all
who care to see; it went wrong from the start
and the bones of the error are exposed
for all to see and stare upon or shrug at
as dismissal and shunning and forgetfulness
cover the Mistake, the white batch
that should have been brown, as if 
that would have prevented any of this
from happening.


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