These Tattoos

This one’s 
a hometown.  
It’s the place I’m from
and no place
you would know,

unless you were from there yourself.
It was quiet and peaceful and 
the local papers called it
quaint and 

picturesque.  
Some of those things

were true back then,
but not all of them,
and none

remain so;
still, it’s important

to know where you’re from
and so I have this on me
as it is 
inside me.

This one’s 
a name.  
She was 
too young,
very beautiful, 

yes, of course she was.  
It was long ago:

a car, a tree, 
a short, accidental flight ago,
an early passing ago. 
The pain’s 
gone away, at least as far
as it will ever go, and so
I keep her name on me
as it is inside me.

As for this one —
that was something 
I saw in myself once 
when I still thought
I would someday
have a backstory
that would need an end — as in,
once upon a time 
I was from a town named this.
Someone with this name lived there.
I left after she died
and turned myself into this,
found another,
lived happily, etc., etc.
It never happened,
I never became that,
never found another
name to wear,
and this last tattoo now proclaims
a loss inside me
for everyone to see.


Drunk Upon Speaking Truth To Power, He Continues

when you defined my problematic tongue
as a vineyard of mistake and false fortitude
I was (in my amused distress at your anger) 
mildly heartened to realize that to be drunk on such things
is the perfect toil for such a bland and poisoned night

to be a source of such diamond intoxication
is to stand on a small hill amid empty fields
around a stingy town and then demand 
that the smug townsfolk provide me with meals
fit to accompany such wine as I may pour

there are worse things in this strained and damaged world
than the hangover of such inebriation as may accompany
the sensation of speaking free and easy truth
as strong as any liquor
you may choose to name


How To Paint A Masterpiece

In the hand place a walnut.  Call it now 
the walnut hand.  A brain-shell in the hand.
Refer to it in the background, somewhere.
Give it a line to

a recognizable tree, a clear leaf,
stone-hard bark.

Answer that clock ticking
in your own walnut shell,
your brain shell.

Answer that clock that says
no time but now
and not much of that.

In the face, place your last thought
of your first love and your last kiss
with your second love and the unknown
first kiss with your last love. Also,
in the cheek’s blush a touch
of the walnut shell, the 
brain shell, and how little time
you have.

Should there be an allusion
to God or a mythology of similar
bent? What should be bent
to service a cause or thought or
patron? Is there any reason to be doing this
that is not in service to
the stain on the walnut and
how it rides in the open hand?

A masterpiece, you know, is 
a question or two or
a hoard of them.  A horde
of them bearing down upon you
from across

all the historical and ahistorical
and myth-drenched plains. 

In the last stroke, the walnut
should hold unseen all 
but the name of your 
final grace

which will be revealed
next.


What We Take

Originally posted on 3/26/2010.

We take
our coffee without cream

We take
our lunch when they let us
Ham on rye
yellow mustard
maybe cheese
maybe lettuce
chips and pickle on the side

We take it on faith
that we might lose these jobs

We take
our money home
Keep it close enough to hear it squeak

We take
our clothing simple and plain and sturdy

Once in a while
we’ll take on something
with a touch more style
as long as it toes a certain line

We take
our evenings as they come

We take
our friends as warty and hard as we are  
We talk
the way we learned to talk
at the knees of those like us

We change the conversation 
only a little at a time
unless we’re shoved along a path
we didn’t plan to take

We do what we can
to hold on to what we used to say
adding new words only where they fit

We take
the daily news with a heap of salt
Even when it makes
some kind of sense
we don’t pay much attention
unless we recognize a name or a face

We work too hard
to care too much
about which suits are running a game
we know we’re going to lose

We take
our champions as they are
and our warriors
as we find them

We take them to heart
if they sound like us
because that’s how we know they’re real

We take on
the battles they want to fight
because that’s how we learn to hope

We take out the garbage
first thing in the morning
to keep it safe from the raccoons and skunks
and the neighbor’s dog that rips the bags for snacks

We swear we’ll mess that dog up one of these days
for messing us up and making it hard
to keep order on the streets where we live

We take
a moment to look one way then the other
before crossing the street
and climbing into our cars

in our same old solid clothes
clutching steaming travel cups
and brown bags
that hold the same sandwiches
they held yesterday
and the day before

We take it
and take it 
and take it
and take it
and take it

until we stop
until we die


It’s The “Spangled” We Love Best About That Song

Originally posted 10/3/2008.

once you were chucked salt berry
fogerty full of sloppy chords
skip to my lou reed

you got all slippery with your own clean sauce
tossed out your faded paper bag of dark wanderings
bought your commercial anthem from the fluorescent aisle

come back to your game desire
come be slaphappy sharp
come to the war against plastic

you used to have a mouth full of splinters
honored the dingbat and the idiot
those who broke the social charm with a fart

you were gas monster
huffer of free roaches
smoker of the right goddamn herbs

you feared not death
when it came through charred fences
borne on tornado cellar blown open

you were the scent of acorn porridge
you were delta mysterious
and that devil in the crossroads still valued your willing ass

you used to not be such a freak for safety
you used to not be such a doom escape
you used to stick your cane in the bike spokes

and watch the cards fly
into the dead end street
you knew the cut was coming

your children
hate you more
now that you’re safer

we’ve got nothing
riding on the bet against your death
we’ve got nothing in the skin we ripped open for you

you big poor land
you’ve gotten so big you’ve shrunken
under your own weight

you’re better than this
you know you are
you love the tawdry scent of your former scandalous past

you’re all about descent
and not a scrap of care left
for your tradition

bite me or better yet
infect yourself
be the sick fuck we loved to love

no matter how bad you made us feel
we loved your all jazz
cotton ball friendly face

we love some of you still
down underneath your crystal fraud hippie faking
wall street loving gutterpunk

surrender oprah
we’ve still got hot dogs
and we’re not afraid to say they’re the bomb


Stagger Lee

Originally posted 12/17/2010.

From the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Dec. 26th, 1895:

William Lyons, 25, a levee hand, was shot in the abdomen yesterday evening at 10 o’clock in the saloon of Bill Curtis, at Eleventh and Morgan Streets, by Lee Sheldon, a carriage driver.

“Lyons and Sheldon were friends and were talking together. Both parties, it seems, had been drinking and were feeling in exuberant spirits. The discussion drifted to politics, and an argument was started, the conclusion of which was that Lyons snatched Sheldon’s hat from his head. The latter indignantly demanded its return.

“Lyons refused, and Sheldon withdrew his revolver and shot Lyons in the abdomen. When his victim fell to the floor Sheldon took his hat from the hand of the wounded man and coolly walked away….

“Lee Sheldon is also known as ‘Stag’ Lee.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

1.

My childhood neighbor
was a fine painter
who painted nothing
but landscapes and barrooms.
In every landscape there was a stream,
in every barroom there was a hat,
in every painting there was a figure
with its back turned,
facing a corner
or a hanging tree.

One night he got drunk,
started screaming about the President,
and shot all his canvases
with a 12-gauge.

Somehow,
no cop gunned him down, 
and he was singing “Stagger Lee”
when they shoved him hard 
into the cruiser.

2.

On Christmas Night, 1895, in a St. Louis bar,
Billy Lyons and Stag Lee
were arguing over politics.
Billy fell gut shot by Stag,
eventually died, and
they put themselves on the hit parade
forever.

There was rumor back then that Stag
was a sheriff’s bastard son
and no one dared touch him.
It was a fact that he was a Black man
but a myth that he got away with murder –

he went to jail
but didn’t swing,
didn’t die for it before arrest,
or before a judge could have his say.

3.

The moon was yellow,
the leaves came tumbling down.

I remember hearing
my neighbor call out,
Sheriff,
you son of a bitch,
keep your hands off
my damn hat,”

and thought I saw
a lean ghost in the shadows
making sure
the man was safe before

he coolly walked away
humming that sacred song.

 


Half, Awake

Originally posted on 7/19/2009.

A man with long hair and memory
is trying to break into my house
to rob or smudge me
while I am sleeping.

I hear him trying the locks and murmuring to himself.
It’s not a language I understand but I recognize it
as what I hear whenever I contemplate
nature versus nurture.

Louisville Slugger behind the door,
Bowie knife in the nightstand drawer.
One move, and I can pull that knife.

Two steps, and I can have that bat in my hand.

Two more and I can be
waiting behind the cabinet
where he won’t see me
as he enters,

but I’m still lying here
with choices hovering above me.
I can easily snatch the right one
out of the dawn at any time…

Grandfather, Stranger, whichever you are –
please come in. I’ve got coffee and tobacco
to scent the morning. For today, anyway,
we don’t need to bring the war into this.


A Bad Idea

Originally posted 8/8/2013.

A Bad Idea hugs my neck with icy meat paws,
smears me with an evil kiss
from a greasepaint devil’s face;

takes me out, gets me drunk 
and lets me slip, in disguise and unnoticed,
to the floor of a convenient dive.

If this wasn’t all mostly metaphor
I’d have handled it badly years ago
and wound up

without an eye, thumb, or testicle
but I’m intact enough that when he’s around
I forget all my years of sense.

Mr. Bad Idea, you think we’d be past this.  
You’d think we would be so intimately acquainted by now
that we’d be on more normal terms — 

I’d merely entertain you now and then
and hold you at bay the rest of the time — 
old wolverine, badger full of flammable cotton!  

How you do tear your way in
where you’re least wanted
when you’re most needed,

nestling into the dark crook
of my throat, giving me something
to talk about.

Everyone else, you’re on notice:
if you see me acting out, 
bloated with a Bad Idea,
be a friend: step aside and take notes

from a safe distance. No telling
what might be coming;
might be lots to tell
after it’s gone.


Ideation

Yesterday was one of those days: blue,
cold, regrettable through
and through, and I wanted 
to die.

The day before too: it smelled
awful and left a stain. There were
arguments and I wanted
to die.

Today’s better.  The sun
was high and I worked hard and well.
The wind didn’t hurt my face.
I wanted to die.

You think it’s ridiculous.
You think it means nothing,
that up and down living is normal.
For me, so is wanting to die.

Every day it comes to mind:
I want to die.  Every day good or bad
it comes to mind at some point,
unbidden, unbound to circumstance:

I want to die, I want to die, I want
to die.  I don’t; I keep living though
I want to die. It’s abstract and unreal
until it lands and digs claws in: 

I want to die.  Let me not admit
to the stumbling of my tongue as I say it — 
I am not stumbling with it, I am saying it clean
knowing it will discomfort you, knowing

you will not understand how it is, that I want
what I want and will nonetheless not bend to taking it
regardless of how strong the wanting becomes,
but I will not lie: every day I am struck by this urge

to die.  It keeps me limber, it keeps me 
on my toes, it makes me yearn and seek
a smile whenever it rises within, I have learned
to hold it off and push it aside and live — 

but sometimes,
sometimes, you know,
I am so,
so tired.


Sovereign Animals

A world full of 

sovereign animals
so tired of us
using them,

so tired of us
making them into symbols,
giving them our emotions,
making them into
shadow humans. They’re
so tired of us. Hell,
I’m

so tired of us,

tired of not being
my own sovereign animal,

so tired of the urge to paint
my meaning onto Others
without their permission.

I struggle with knowing
every avenue that begins within
and can be traveled
into the farthest distance
needs no hawk
soaring on ahead,
can be followed 
without my needing 
the soundtrack
of a lion’s heart.
I was so comfortable
on the mattress of metaphor
and now I have to wake up
and go alone,
companion-free,

into the freshly silent night.


Rime of The Ancient

Originally posted 3/7/2013.

My arm, darker
than candle tip,
cooling like
dead wick.

My arm,
stark twig,
holds nothing,
is just pointing.

My arm tells the story:
over there’s where
I was going, where I still
need to go,

but I’ve been standing here 
for a very long time now
and I do not think I am meant to be
triumphant in my return.

I think I am instead meant to be
the One Who Does Not Arrive,
the One who tells his story
to the traveler who has made it 
this far.  The old one 

without so much
as a symbol
to fall back on,
stock still in desolation

until his arm drops,
at last, in surrender.


Microaggressions

Street scene:

passing eyes unmet,
hands drifting
onto wallets, bags 
pulled in tight to
guarded bodies.

Office observed:

stumble, whisper,
awkward pause,
sudden stop,
change in subject,
question without thought,
thought without question.

Media, in media res:

what does a story say
about what a blog says
about what a blog says
about what was said
about what was said
about what was said
about how they died?

Surrounded.
Sundered.
Smothered.
Simmering.
Smoldering — 

no. Not here, I beg,
not with you too –
not you too; do you

understand that I am beyond ready
to burn my home? That
if I have to ignite
here and now,

I will?


Old Hippies

Originally posted on 10/31/2011.

Sparse-framed, reticent, particular;
the old hippies come into town
on odd weeks
for what they cannot grow
or raise.  

I hear they’ve got a sod roof on their house.
Life off the grid, under ground:
a few acres,
a 1978 Ford pickup.

A friend sneers at them,
calls them un-American.

Here on the grid we’ve got
fear, troubles,
the grinding grind.  We all 
talk too much, some 
in jeers:

Hey, hippie,
go hug a tree.  Go
bathe in the snow.
Get a job.  

Sparse,
quiet, 
don’t associate with us
unless they have to.
Un-American bastards.

Hey, hippies —

get in the trough with us
and bring some eggs
or weed when you come –
bring something else
to eat, something

we don’t have.


Punk Rock Song #2

Originally posted 9/30/2010.

someone on the cover of a showbiz magazine
saying really really stupid things she really really means
calls herself a grizzly bear and dresses like a queen

why are we so happy

abercrombie model into fratboy rapist shit
a head that’s barely bigger than a fucking cherry pit
his brain rolls round inside it and there’s lots of room to fit

why are we so happy

it seems that the dumber they come
the wider we grin
it seems that the louder they talk
the bigger the pain

senator ridiculous opens up his mouth
water turns to burning oil and rivers all dry out
put money in his pocket to buy a lot of clout

why are we so happy

it seems that the poison we take
keeps us amused
it seems that the poison we make
is never refused

abercrombie model and a frozen lizard queen
always keep us laughing we don’t question what it means
senator ridiculous ghost rides a limousine

why are we so happy

 


On A Killing: May 1, 2011

Originally posted 5/2/2011.

I’m not embarrassed to say
that I can acknowledge
the hyena in me and say
with only a little shame
that I’m glad he’s dead.

I’m not embarrassed to say
you embarrass me
by choosing from among
so few sides
when there are so many
to choose from
when looking at this.

I’m looking at you
with your flag and your beer
and your three-letter chant
and your brave,
brave sneer.

I’m looking at you
with your Truth fliers
and your semi-conscious racist
undertone:

no way those brown bastards could have done that to us.

I’m looking at you
reciting the ritual retelling
from the teleprompter
to make sure
we feel enough fear
to fall into joy
upon clinical description
of the wet work involved.

I’m looking at you
beat down by deceit
for so many years
you won’t believe a thing
till you can personally stick
your oft-betrayed fingers
in the bullet holes
and now you won’t get the chance
so you won’t believe anything, 
anything at all.

I look at myself in a long tall mirror,
wondering if I
look much as I did
ten years ago.  I can’t imagine
I do.  I have taken in all 
that’s being said, and
it feels like shrapnel
remodeling me.

And then, because I must,
I’m finally looking at him –
thinking of how it must have been;
surprised at first,
then not at all,
then blind and deaf and
dead.  See his skin 
scraped for samples,  
see the corpse
slipped into a body bag,
see it all slide into the sea,
his body breaking surface
and sinking into a singularity
that will suck us in
for a long time yet.

I don’t know if I can ever
disbelieve in karma,
but I try. Am I supposed
to forgive? They say it’s 
healthy and healing. I try to forgive,
but I don’t know how — 

it comes out every time
as the scream
of a hyena.


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