#300

The previous poem, “Thanks Due,”  marks the 300th new poem published here on Dark Matter in 2016.  

Just wanted to alert regular readers that I’ll be taking a break from posting new poems for a few days at least as there are some other pressing things that need my attention.  

In addition, the current political situation in the US has got me and more than a few other folks fairly stressed out; I’m sure that regular readers have noticed that my work’s been pretty focused on that lately, and I feel like I need a bit of a break to get ready for the harder road ahead.  

If you’re new to the blog, please take some time to look through the back catalog over the next few days.  I won’t be gone long, I promise.  It’s hard to shut me up in good times, and these ain’t good times.  

Be well, and thanks for reading.

— T


Thanks Due

to the co-worker
who got into my face
thirty five years ago
and called me selfish 
for having no children
and planning to have none;

to the dentist who looked over
my prescription listing, saw
Lithium and Seroquel,
then asked me if I lived 
in a group home
as he picked at potential cavities
in my blood filled mouth;

to the supposed buddy
who suggested, none too gently,
that I was too “addicted to 
recreational arguing”
when I pushed back with passion upon
her dismissal of my rising fears;

to the manager who chided me
for not being a leader, 
for being too moody,
for wearing my sorrow too openly,
for exuberance beyond measure
in strange moments, for in general
not fitting the mold;

to all the friends who set me aside
for my toxicity and disturbances
of our social fabric, to all the friends
who stepped away and turned away
because I was difficult, to all the friends
who laughed it off and said I needed
Jesus or sleep or exercise or smudging
or less of one food and more of another,
less of one drug and more of another,
less of my headspace and more of theirs;

to the therapists who didn’t listen
or did and misheard 
or did and heard right but
cared only for the text book answers
and the end of the fifty minutes
couldn’t come fast enough
until there I was, standing outside
yet another door.

Thanks due to all
for those rides along this road
that got me here 
on this December night — broke 
and broken, old and
in the way, terrified of 
real demons afoot in the land
and not just in my head.
Because of them

I know how to bite a bullet
and not chamber it.
I know how to
look pity
in its jaundiced eye
and spit
the same way I spit
into clueless
dismissals and clumsy attempts
at comfort.

I may be 
all messed up,
but damned if I don’t suspect
that I’m better equipped 
for what this messed up country
is about to do
than some of my 
well-adjusted 
friends and acquaintances
will ever be.


Tired, Awkward, Stretched Thin

We’re tired, we’re awkward,
we’re stretched
as thin as can be,
and there’s still so far to go.

We don’t know yet
how far there is to go.
Outside of these safe enclaves
filling now with misery and fear

are smug men waiting
to chop us up and eat us
and we don’t know yet 
when they will pounce.

Outside of the bubbles
we live in
are knives and needles
and white, white anger

infused with glee, 
and we don’t know when
they will pierce through
to us

the way they’ve always 
pierced through to 
others not as fortunate
as we have been. In fact,

we’re stretched thin and
awkward and tired
at least in part
because of how weak

we’ve become. Other folks
have lived this way
for a long time.  These are just
the latest set of knives 

to them, maybe a little swifter
and sharper, maybe a little more
openly wielded, but these are 
the same old edges and points

they have always faced
when only rarely were we
standing alongside them
on the barricades — so, know this:

memories around here
are long, sharp,
tired, and awkward;
mercy 
is stretched thin,

and we look too much
like past accommodation, future
complacency, and current enemy
to expect a full embrace.


Our Place

In this over-arching argument
no one can agree on 
definitions.

One side’s survival
is another’s 
unearned special treatment.

One side’s prosperity
is another’s 
starvation and bleak winter.

One side’s comfort 
is another’s 
incarceration.

Our language
is our worst enemy
these days. 

That sounds heretical from a poet?
It is a heresy, so —
yes. It sounds blasphemous?

No. No because
I say it in fear and reverence
for our tongues: our language

is against us, and to say that
is not to blaspheme
but to lament 

how far we may have to go
to gain ground upon it, reclaim it,
to hold it close once again.

Maybe it’s time to 
surrender metaphor.
Maybe it’s time

to be silent
before our foe and
act, not speak.

Not that it will stop
us, of course, from
wrestling words

as we always do — that would be
like asking us to
not breathe — not that

there’s no precedent
for that in any history
of similar battles — stop 

breathing, poet
has been a war cry

so often on so many fronts —

so perhaps 
we have a place
now, an urgent mission

to be heretical
without blasphemy
and make language over,

to show up
in this battle
with every word we can.


Ahead Of Jericho

No music is up to the task
of shifting my loneliness tonight;
no painting or poem will soften
my walls. No dance, no stagework,

no acting, no more to be done
to change any of this.
I will sit instead on the couch
and think about slayings

and oil and erasure. 
I will not cry as it will make a sound
and that might become a melody
and that might be an invitation 

to community and I
can’t take community tonight.
I am alone tonight; we all
are, in the last analysis, and this

is indeed the last analysis. Millions of us
sitting on couches in silence,
as solitary as once-holy stones
standing in old fields, stones

not making any sound.  

Tomorrow we may wake 
to wind in the stones, 
whistling a new song.  We may 
choose to dance, we may choose

a pantomime love play
to perform among them, 
then march to the palaces
and tear them down while singing

Jericho-loud songs; but tonight
we all sit solo with silence and grief —
and at least for me, alone in my room,
it is exactly what I need

to prepare — a tight evening
of nothing doing.  A tight night
of lying in wait. A predawn
full of silent longing. A sunrise leap

out of dreams into our new world.


Ungovernable

Your name?  Forget it —
scrub it off. Call yourself instead
Father Time, Mother Element,
Baby Bear Jesus Rattlesnake-face,
and ask for more paper
whenever you are asked
to sign on the dotted line.  

Load your wallet 
with banana peels, use them
to try and pay for more bananas,
call it an investment strategy. When
someone suggests that banana peels
are not legal tender, toss a few to the floor
while screaming, “I bet if you slip on those
your ASS will be tender!” as you run
to the door.

Do you know how to change
your face? Teach a class in 
rebel cosmetics or plastic
insurgency — there are many
who will be eager to learn, many
who will be desperate to learn.

Prepare a feast for all,
invite all the long-forgotten dead 
to sit with the living, 
insist that the corpses must offer us grace
before anyone alive begins to gorge themselves.
Enforce this with a willow switch
to the lips of the greedy
and impatient.

At sporting events,
tell everyone around you
that the national anthem’s being replaced
by “The Nearness of You” and
sing it out, loud and clear,
plenty of flourishes, plenty of 
vibrato; drop to your knees
at the end and kiss the bleachers 
for holding you so tenderly so many times…

You look at me as if I’m joking…
I’m not, unless you think
revolution should be a joke,
in which case I’m joking —

or maybe you are appalled?
Why? Do you think,
seriously or otherwise,
that we’re currently
making sense? 


Praise Poem For Opening

Praise our open moments

whether we opened ourselves or were opened,
whether we see light or dark beyond, 
whether we are terrified by what we see through that opening
or are comforted, whether or not we then relocate
and step though into the Next Place, whether or not
we stay there —

praise them as necessary keys,
praise them as pain and ecstasy hinged upon each other —

whether or not we move through, 
whether or not we reseal and turn away,

praise them as we would any birth —

praise what change comes from them
as we are not unchanged,
are never unchanged afterward.


100 Blue Words

My tongue’s thick as 
a vintage guitar neck.
Speech scented with whisky,
the Devil’s sweat. Give me any topic
and my opinion comes out
with bent notes. My whole world view
is a flatted fourth string,
a little bit of matchbook in its nut-slot
to keep it from buzzing against the frets;
pawn shop tickets in the cheap case
tell a story of loss and gain. Put plain:
I’m a man of blue words and I don’t think
a thing has gone wrong in my life
that twelve bars and a crossed road
couldn’t fix or at least make pretty.


Talking To My Children

Originally published in 2002 in my chapbook, “In Here Is Out There.”
Original title, “Talking To My Son About The Night.”

I have been thinking: 
what do I tell my children 
about Evil? Something wicked
in these days stirs,
and I cannot lie to them
and say shh, be still,
all is well and safe.

What shall I say to them of Evil?

I shall say:
it is a young man 
holding a knife to a lamp.
He adores how it separates 
skin from flesh, 
sinew from bone. 
He knows that when it is sharp enough
he can see the body’s coherence 
fleeing before its edge.

I shall say:
it is a woman 
leaning out of her window
on her elbows.
She sees something she does not favor. 
She slips out the back door
to carry her gossip to the slaughterhouse.
Someone there will take the news to the mechanics
who will set the wheels 
of the juggernaut
for maximum kill.

On her way home
she will wipe her face with a stolen liver.
Behind her she will leave a trail
of rumors and cartilage.

I shall say
it is a gaggle of children 
trapped in a dream
where they are made to suckle straws 
filled with their own blood.
They purse their pale lips, 
draw the red up, columns red rising,
red cresting in their mouths, 
falling red into their stomachs, 
such sharp nourishment, 
such a simple lesson:
living through this 
requires such a meal, 
a simple meal for a simple terror.
They have learned 
to devour themselves.

I shall say:
it is in and on all of us.  
We stink of rich meats, phobias, fires,
restless pride, secrecy. 
We inhabit our stereotypes, 
are slowed to the speed of custom, 
our houses crawl with indignation,
our ferocity is unbridled by logic, 
we create atomic proverbs to live by.

A man decides to force himself 
on the next random passer-by;
a boy slits an ancestor’s throat; 
we shake our heads, we cry out
for safety, we wait for it
and it never comes; instead comes 
the Evil: violent, clean cut, simple, fast;
and then, somehow,
we tell ourselves
that we can live forever 
this way.

And after that?
After that, what can I possibly say 
to them?

I will say to them:
children, it is slander 
to speak of this life
and only note the Evil.

I will say to them:
children, my children, 
look at the stars.

I will say to them:
children, my children,
whenever you despair
of this world, take comfort in the night:
go out, lie back, and look at the stars.

I will say yes, there is always horror afoot
by day and by night,
but always, always, we have the stars,

and if ever you despair,  
look up at those hints 
of the hoped-for forever
and tell yourself:

I am a star, 
and I do not
shine alone.


Unveiling

You laugh at me, say it’s not 
the apocalypse, say it’s not good 
that I should be this worried.

I know it’s not the apocalypse. 
That’s your word. I have my own word 
for this. I call it the Unveiling —

which is, by the way, what your word
originally meant. You’ve turned the thought
of secrets revealed into the end of the world

and I think that’s right for you, but not for me,
and not for so many of us who see this world
the way we always have, though now

your secrets are out in the open and 
that might indeed be the end of your world
and the beginning of ours. It’s going 

to hurt like childbirth. It’s going to be
soaked in blood.  It might take a long time
but we know that your future is in apocalypse

as ours is in unveiling. Revealed:
in coming years you will be in eclipse
and we will be in ascent. Revealed:

that you are bold today means little
to those who have always known
what you hid from yourself. Revealed:

what’s coming at us today
is a hard kick from a frantic leg
on a dying beast.  Revealed:

we know you better
than you have allowed yourself
to know. Revealed, unveiled, exposed:

your backlash is just the same old violence
it ever was, only grown more savage because
it knows how short its time truly is. 


A Stopped Clock

Like a stopped clock,
I’m correct only at intervals.

If I were pressed to say when, I’d say
I stopped at 41 and a few months.

Old enough to claim full rights 
to grown-up, young enough

to pass for less than that
at select moments,

at least in my head.
Now, years later, I’m old enough

to claim old, young enough
to be dismayed that most everyone

agrees with me, not quite old enough
to be past all care for others’ perceptions.

I look forward to one more moment
of complete synchronization

when this stopped clock will one more time
tell it like it is, and then

most likely will be discarded,
or with any luck be shunted into a dusty box

of broken things with sentimental value,
things no one can quite bring themselves to toss.


The Ghost Caressing My Face

Startled by
a ghost caressing
my face when

I do not believe in
ghosts, so I’m not sure
how to explain this

to my senses beyond this:
I saw a wavering film in the room,
and it had a hand upon my cheek

before it disappeared,
so I will call it a ghost until 
I think of a better phrase

for the phenomenon,
just as I do not believe
in fate or luck but still

cross my fingers
and close my eyes 
when I’m watching 

a baseball game or
the television news. 
After all, it may be

that I’ve got it all wrong
and the stars do influence
human events, maybe

the stone I carry
in my medicine bag
means more than just tradition,

maybe prophecies come true
all over the place and I
have gone too far away

from the place where wonder
and awe work true spells,
and sacred magic 

is more than a trick or two
to keep a terrified mind
from screaming — 

so come on, ghost,
caress my face,

calm me, I don’t care tonight

if you are demon or angel
or something utterly else
we haven’t yet 
correctly named

for it felt good
to be cared for
by something 
in this universe

that lately seems so intent
on crushing the last spark
out of our spirits.


Catskills

Chasing a memory tonight

of driving in the Catskills
among thousands of trees
and thousands of whitetail deer
under the infinite cloud of stars
called the Milky Way

Top speed on the narrow roads
was reduced to
as slow as possible

Over half the houses were empty
Many abandoned and neglected
Others shuttered but well kept

and the Milky Way
as bright as it should always be
out there
so far from the city 

broadly strung horizon to horizon
thick and visible enough to reinforce
how empty the woods were
of everything but trees and deer

who did not move 
when headlights hit them
their numbers giving them
the certainty and the confidence
to stand their ground

Counted 40 while I was stopped
by just one road-clogging herd

Creeping through close enough
to open a window
and (perhaps) touch one then
finding 15 around the next bend
and the next until
before I could reach my destination
I simply stopped counting 
in the low hundreds

I learned the next day from a local resident
that this was all dairy country once

Hundreds of farms in its heyday
now down to 35 in all of the county
Most of the rest were simply abandoned
and those pastures gone wild
were perfect habitat
for the whitetails
who had become so numerous
that there were fears
of a die-off coming soon
on the way to regaining 
balance

I am thinking of this tonight

while sitting here
dreading the morning news
because I have to try as well 
to recall a time when I saw
what it might be like if America
abandoned the land it liked to think of 
as its tamed birthright

and let that land re-invent itself
healing into a new balance
under a free and inviolate sky


Watching The River Flow

Patriotism,
that great river fed
by whatever can be dammed
and made to flow its way,
is a drowning flood.
No one can count
all the bodies it holds
in its depths, how many dead
it grinds along its bed
with its implacable current.
Choosing to be oblivious to that
you dip yourself into it, then

climb out and dry yourself 
with an ever-convenient flag,
end up sitting on the bank
reveling in its apparent beauty,
choosing to forget
how it has been fed,
how it was turned to
its current course, 
how many less fortunate than you
could not climb out
once it had taken them. 
Instead, you hum
a Bob Dylan song
about sitting on a bank of sand
with people disagreeing all around.
It’s pleasant to remember 
old songs,
sentimental favorites,
at such moments 
as the bank of sand
begins, unnoticed,
to crumble out from
under you.


Pushcart nominations…

Every year, journals in the US nominate work they’ve published for potential inclusion in annual collections of the best of the small press called the Pushcart Prize anthologies.  

I’ve been nominated twice this year: for “2001 CR-V,”  published in Drunk In A Midnight Choir; AND for “Song Fragments From The Brokenhearted Chorus,” a composite poem to which I was thrilled to contribute, published in Radius. (Go there to look at the impressive list of names who were involved in that stunning poem.)  

These mark my fifth and sixth nominations, although I’ve never won.  Fingers crossed for this year…

Thanks to the editorial staff of those fine journals.