CDC

A well-schooled 
experience of poisonous
double talk would suggest that
if one controls 
the language, one then
controls the thought.
Science-based, evidence-
based conclusion: if not true
then why do we believe in the 
rarity of diamonds? why 
advertising, sloganeering, 
marketing, speechwriting?
We are as vulnerable as
our ancestors, curled
into word-coated wombs of
belief as tightly as any fetus,
stuffing our entitlement
into spaces too small
for us to feel comfortable
holding our tongues for long.
Let them try to chain down
this diversity of song. Let them 
forbid “transgender” or any other:
we will spring out in a birth
of allowance, saying all the 
words at once: revolt, ignore,
engage, detach, disrupt,
resist.

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Any Decision Has Consequences

In a strong moment
I burn an old bridge

but find myself on the side
of that from which

I was trying to get free
and now the only choice

is to leap from a bluff
and fall into a cold river

at the bottom of a chasm
If all that doesn’t kill me

then I’ll have to get across
and climb what seems like

miles to the side
when I might be free

unless that which I’m escaping
surrounds me and already

has gotten there and 
escape was always an illusion

so in fact I have two choices
or rather one choice and a

modification
I could die in the fall 

and be free that way
or if Magick exists

I could without warning
fly up and over and land

wherever I please
and in fact never land again

until I starve and fall 
dead to the hard earth

Whichever I choose
it will start with a leap

I toss my torch into the gorge
ahead of me

bend my knees
and look up


In Between

Not for me the beautiful as
defined by the finders
of heart-shapes in
their daily bread, or

the peaceful as defined
by the beach-bound, the 
ocean-drunk,
the rainbow-struck.

For me the rim of night
at the end of
the lit driveway, out beyond
the circle of streetlight,

is the essence worth
my celebration, a boundary
between the acceptable
and the frightful; whatever

there is to be said about
the liminal, the soft lines
of division, I must be the 
one to say it: the one to call it

beautiful. Something 
has moved into that realm
between, and it seems
to be beckoning — it seems

to know me, or perhaps
it is me. I am reaching
for it, as I always have.
Neither for me the brightside,

nor do I embrace its 
opposite. I stand between
and hold out my hand to
this being crouching there:

I offer it peace. It lies down
to await my touch ahead of
my desire to name and know
this being in between.


Bad Air

It doesn’t feel as good as it used to
to breathe in this country.  

I used to fill myself with good air
in the mountains now and then

and head for the ocean on other days
to draw in as much as I could.

I’m so busy running now from morning
to morning, through mourning and grief

and rage, that my memory of the air
comes only when I stop, briefly, short

of breath.  I chop out little gusts of the past
and take in sick gulps of the moment.

I’ve got friends who will say: the mountains
are still there, and they will cure this, and others

who say there’s an ocean and a sky above it
not far away and you can suckle all you want

of the atmosphere there and you will be healed;
but when I go to the mountains or the ocean

it’s one long drag, one long inflation
before I fall back wailing.  This is

no clean world anymore.
I cannot escape into 

amnesia, somehow. I feel every razor,
every bullet.  Every burning tree, every

cloud of coal smoke or flame from 
a funeral pyre. I choke on how close

and how far it’s all come to settle in me.
The world in my lungs like glass

shards in the agonized air;
joy, shredded, bubbling

as it strangles
on blood.


Deep White Cold

Looking into 
deep white cold
as a man in shorts
walks, bent forward
at the waist, uphill
into wind’s mouth.

I’m staying in.

I’m not
that man, apparently
comfortable with
how the wind
is blowing. With
lack of heat, 
with danger of
hypothermia. 

Staring into 
deep white cold,
knowing 
I will have to
go out into it

sometime
just as everyone
does.

Knowing
I’m in it even when
I’m snuggled down,
even when I sit back
and worry,
even when 
I pull
the blankets tighter.

Even this act — this
scribble of fear —

laying these threads of dark
in the middle of 
deep white. Trying
to convince myself I am
dark and hot, not
white and cold,

and deeper
than these lines
on the screen.


You Coming Home

I come home, sit
by the window
at nightfall after the close
of a hard day,
hard month, 
hard year.

I wish there were
softer tidings
in the air.

I sit by the window,
imagine you
as the dawn
of softer days,
months, years;

sit straining to hear
whispers of
you coming home.


Patriarchy Apologizes

Dear Baby Baby,
I’m going to shut up now
after saying I’m sorry;

you must know I lament how
this world is all so very
violent. The sky is violent,
the sea is violent, I am
violent, ashamed of this,
don’t care who
knows it, but I am sorry
and that is peace, isn’t it?
I dare anyone to say it isn’t,

dear Honey Honey, dearest
Sugar Sugar. I am sorry
that when I close my empty hands
they become fists — what is man
except a tree of fists, swinging
like figs on his arms? I dare anyone
to say these fruit aren’t natural and
I’m sorry, sorry I grew this way, but

dear Sweetcheeks, Sweetcheeks,
dearly beloved Ladyfriend, most treasured
Helpmeet, I’m sorry, sorry
you’ve taken all I am the way you have.
Dear Bloom In My Garden, Loveflower
Of My Eye, I’m as natural
as you are, limited, constrained, 
a square of edge and mass in a round world
that contrasts and conflicts and isn’t that
what the good God intended, what
Nature and Nurture intended for us both?

Dearest, you flee me and I’m sorry 
but I’m angry and some words come hard
to the angry and when I call you “Dearest”
I’m sorry it comes out like a war cry but
I am forced to become the Violence I claim to see
in the world and when I call you “Beloved”
you are meant to come as you are and I’m sorry
if it’s not as you’d most desire but I am
sorry, Love, sorry you see me as such a 
disaster but I am at least a natural disaster —

when you say I can learn, Sweetness,
when you say I can change, Dearest,
I’m sorry but I don’t see how
or why.


Resignation

 

I am relieved to
think about this, to say
out loud

that killing myself
trying to survive
while doing the work

might be the greatest service
I could offer the world, and while
I have thought it before

with a hint of self-pity
and bizarre hope of help
from others who somehow

understood me better than 
I knew myself without my saying
a word, tonight I say it

feeling the shortness of time
in this dimming world, the urgency
of the need to push myself 

by wish and will into danger
and depth — and if only the 
work survives the plunge,

so be it. Let there be
an end to me in service
to seeking the good 

and drawing it to the surface
from the cold wrong
we are drowning in today.

Let me sink away if what rises
from where I sink floats,
high and bright, above the tides.


Iron Eyes

1.
If you are above
a certain age, you no doubt recall
the commercial: him striding
in full regalia through garbage
to overlook a highway
smothered in smog and teeming
with cars, turning at the end
to the camera
and breaking his native
and noble stoicism
with a single tear
down his cheek. 

2.
I got a call
from someone wanting me to speak
about ” the Native American view of the world
of slam poetry.”  I told her she needed
to speak to someone closer
to the action these days

and shunted her off to
someone I barely knew with the excuse
that I was some years
out of that scene,

but when I think about that call now
I wonder if I should have taken it
with the caveat that what I was,
what I am, was nothing relevant
to the discussion she was looking for.

3.
It has taken me a long time
to forgive myself for my longing
to be obvious, to dress the part,
to be able to pull off some kind of
faux-Lakota drag, some expected
semblance of the Mescalero
I knew inside me.
After all, I said back then,

it is not like I look as good in that as
Iron Eyes Cody.

4.
Iron Eyes Cody was
Siciilan and Neapolitan, born in
Louisiana, y’all. As Italian as
they come. Played Indian in
over 200 movies and TV shows.
He denied who he really was 
his entire life. Died old
and died happy enough,
I suspect.

5.
I’ll take that call now.
You might not understand what 
I have to say if you can
be moved by a single tear
on a wannabe’s cheek; you might not
pick up what I’ll be putting down.

6.
At the end of that ancient commercial
a dark, rough voice intones, “People 
start pollution.  People
can stop it.”  

7.
I’m more of what you think of 

when you see Iron Eyes Cody
than you know. Hollywood
made me as much as
my parents made me — sometimes
because I believed and sometimes
because I did not and sometimes
because I rejected and was 
rejected.  

8.
His birth name was 
Espera Oscar de Corti.  
Mine is Anthony William Brown.

He was all Italian.
I am not. 
He played an Indian on the screen.
I play the half-hand I was dealt.

In the world of slam poetry,
some folks take stage names.
I never did.

What more
do you want to know?


The Palace, Burning

1.
I came to the Palace.

One of the force
who run the Palace
stepped to me, asked me
to halt.

One of the lackeys 
who haunt the Palace
stepped to me, asked me
to dance.

One of the underlings
who manage the Palace
stepped to me, asked me
to cuddle.

One of the bureaucrats
who finance the Palace
stepped to me, asked me
to pay.

One of the royals
who decorate the Palace
stepped to me, asked me
my name.

The monarch
for whom they built the Palace
stepped to me, asked me
for a light,

then tossed the match into
the debris on the floor of the Palace,
stepped away from the instant blaze, asked me
to cheer as it burned.

2.
I am in flames, as is the Palace, each of us
burning unremarked like a stick
being held in a campfire
by a child who doesn’t know 
the potential disasters hidden
under the red cherry of its flaming tip.

I am here, I cry out, I am here
and burning and the Palace 
roars in time with me as it burns;
no one’s coming, we look up
to the sky-God we’ve both believed in
to drown the heat and are left wanting.

3.
In the flames I think I see the Palace
struggle to rise to its full height
from its knees.

4.
Does this Palace truly labor to breathe,
as my hope and eyes labor to convince me,
or is that slothful thinking?
Is the Palace human at heart or 
merely a structure of human heart
that keeps moving 
merely to battle inertia
or in fact does it not move at all
and all the hope I have
for it rising from its ashes
is misplaced?

5.
Someone who helped to build the Palace
steps to me and asks me
to stand aside
as it burns.

Someone whose land was taken for the Palace
steps to me and asks me 
to stand aside
as it burns.

Someone who was never allowed into the Palace
steps to me and asks me
to stand outside

and let it burn.

6.
In the distance,
the Palace is burning.
Those of us
who burned with it once
but escaped
sit in the dark

and watch it go.

It was just a thing we built once
upon a time.

Let it burn.
Let us burn as well if we must.
We can always build another thing,

or our children can
if we find we can never stop
smoldering.


Plymouth

Worked close to the ocean
all week, but had
not one glimpse of it —

my days spent a scant few miles 
from where the Pilgrims 
staggered ashore,
yet I caught not one whiff
of who they were and
what they brought with them — 

or so I thought until I saw
the blasted, early winter land,
the new office buildings
built next to the sand and gravel pits
that seemed out of place and
mistaken, felt how cold it was here
with the East Wind coming in
from unseen water

and pulled my long black coat
tighter around me.


Crisis

Revised. Originally posted 12-19-2016.

I want to stroll right now
through my own stopped life
and look back upon it
as if it were a museum of itself.

All my lost relations and friends are in there
and I want to stop before each
and think about them 
as they stand
absolutely still but still alive.

Do not think for one second
that I consider myself exempt
from such examination.
I want to stare at me

seated there in my diorama on a couch
or in bed where I can ask every
grand question I can think of without
my squirming away.

I have been living
near death for a long time and 
it has never denied me anything,
but living so near has 
always required

a fast ramble with no time
to look at anything for 
very long.
The time to shift has come.
What I want is 
suspended animation,

as it is in movies where time stops,
everyone stops. everything stops,
even me for once, Death hanging over my shoulder
as I examine what I am, how I became

what I am, who was around me for good
and ill, who stayed and who has gone before me
into dust.  I want a museum life
though I’m in fact living in a newsreel,

in crisis seeking stasis. I want, I want,
I want a marker stuck in the ground
I can hang onto. A label on a case with me inside
that fixes me in one place forever 
so I can rest.


The Secret Name Of The World

There is a person somewhere
who lives and breathes only sunlit air
and views any storms that come
to soak or drown or bury them
in snow and ice and isolation
as fickle hiccups in the general
benevolence of our corner of the world. 

There is a person somewhere
who looks at love, justice, and connection,
sees the teeth in their smiles,
and sneers at how obvious the evil is
lurking behind any sweet impact
of the random benevolence
of our corner of the world.

There is a person somewhere
who thinks it all balances out, 
or will at the End. They would take 
the sunny one and the dark one and have them talk
as if it might work to smooth the crags
and spice up the bland plains of this
varied stage set of a world.

Neither joy nor despair seem worthwhile
to some. They grit their teeth and say
it’s a round ball and the only truth
of how it rolls is that it rolls and only luck
shifts its juggernaut beauty away
from crushing any one of us riding
this inconvenient marble of a world.

A fourth way, out there somewhere,
is found perhaps on a lover’s transient face,
the skin of a maple or palm, the fur
of a mouse or the cool of a stone in hand;
found when sinking into storm and sun as One;
found in watching as the complications of ecstasy
and sorrow spell the secret Name of the World.


Relaxation Technique

Here is a relaxation
exercise to keep you from
becoming way too intense
when faced with the dinosaur thump
of how to get through a day in America 
when nothing that opposes you
relents at any point:

first place both thumbs into 
the corners of your eyes and 
push out the balls until there’s room
to fill the sockets with blue soap 
that will foam when tears
fall into it as the eyeballs slide out
into the greasy air;

once that is complete
lean forward and let it all fall to the ground
where suds and tears will bloom
slick flowers from the cleansed pain and 
ask those nearby to describe them to you
while your eyes are settling back
into sight.

You will find yourself rising: no one
goes through this sort of thing
and remains close to the earth
for very long. Tensions that have been
your anchors will be unleashed and
so you will levitate and then soar, your eyes
still wet enough that all will be blurred
and dazzled with the new light.

You ask if the pain
and blindness are necessary?

Without them
you would find yourself
seeing things the same as ever.
You would not fly. 

You ask why you could not
simply meditate as they do
in other places
and as you’ve been taught?

This is America and
without the willingness
to lose all and see it all again
differently when you
come back to Earth, 

relaxation is just another word
for a huckster
to hang a dollar bill upon.


Postscript

One star.
Red spearpoint.
Lily, gladiolus.
Seaberry, yew.

You stitch
culture from 
whatever pieces 
you are given.

Make your world
under a star
you call a god.
Preach of it riding on 

your spear tip.
Lay flowers on 
warrior graves.
Drink acid from 

a berry,
build a bow
from a sacred tree.
Isn’t this easy?

Tell me
you can’t remake
a world given
these parts

and I will show you
a mirror and a 
smoked fish on a plate
and say: eat, coward,

grow strong on
fire, then I will show you
red and brown stone
sealed in white ice

nested in volcanic soil;
ancient seeds,
a ruptured flute,
an intact oud;

all those once enslaved, 
all those once displaced,
all those ripped from their thrones,
all those standing with fists

full of bloody skin. 
I will say: there.
There’s a new thing
to be made from these

while a song for planting
and release will be sung
by grateful millions.
You can bend to work

with them. You can 
tear your palaces apart
and offer your gems
to whatever star

you choose.  You can
bury those dead
who have longed for
comfort in good earth

knowing they have fed
new life. You can say:
here is my spear,
here is my bow,

then give them
to these now living among
lily and gladiolus,
seaberry and yew.

Lay your old tools down
under your 
demoted star’s light
and fall silent.

Those millions need not
build for you
as you did not
build for them.

Those millions
need not build
with you;
if you forget that

you become a piece
to be chosen or not
when they begin a new 
world under some

star or no star, with
your flowers
and tools,
or their own.