New Duende Project track…

Thought you folks might like to hear the latest track from my poetry and music group, The Duende Project.  On this cut you’re hearing the guitar work of Steven Lanning-Cafaro, who founded the project with me nine years ago.  Hope you enjoy it!

Trinity Tango

This is part of a larger project we’re very excited about.  I’ll share more about it as I can over the next couple of weeks.

Here’s the text:

Trinity Tango

I have a black dog
who once was well fed;
I have a black dog 
who used to be fat.

Now he’s meatless, he’s weightless,
a hard-beaten skin drum,
heavy only with snarls 
and with dark eye-shine.  

He jumps from the rug
where he sleeps while I’m sleeping
and lands in my bed, 
looking to chew me; 

I hate him, I love him,
I own him, I fear him;
I sing him a lullaby 
to get him to heel —

c’est tout, c’est tout
is French for that’s all;
basta, basta,
Italian for enough.
I can’t give you my heart,
for my heart is too tough;
c’est tout, basta, 
that’s all, that’s enough.

The mother, the father,
the lovers, the brothers;
the liars and smilers 
who’ve drained all the colors;

whose once-red appetites
are still salt on the wounds
from the end of a cutlass 
one could scarcely imagine;

they come to my bedside,
push me to the floor;
I speak to their shadows, 
cast my one good spell —

c’est tout, c’est tout
is French for that’s all;
basta, basta,
Italian for enough.
I won’t give you my soul,
for my soul is too rough;
c’est tout, basta, 
that’s all, that’s enough.

Ho mai creduto che sarebbe stato facile ?
Ho mai creduto che potesse essere ignorato? 
Ho mai creduto 
che potesse divenire polvere
o vento o racconto di fantasmi
o fiaba …

o essere dimenticato ?


Did I ever believe it would be easy?
Did I ever believe it could be wished away?
Did I ever believe it could become dust
or wind or ghost story
or fable…

or forgotten?

I wake in the morning
or even the evening.
There’s breakfast or supper. 
There’s something to do.

I stand up, I move. 
I don’t see the dog.
If there’s a question to be answered here
I know what to say —

c’est tout, c’est tout
is French for that’s all;
basta, basta,
Italian for enough.
I can’t give up my heart,
my heart is too tough;
c’est tout, basta, 
that’s all, that’s enough.


Washed in blood,
crusted over,
shivering, sleeping,
torn by adversarial wind,
breaking down
in salty weather…
I like this so much.
I like it too much, sing
an exaggerated song

of ennobling agony,

offering it as passport
into your circle — giving you

a chance to offer
a comforting word,
to dip into
your cache of care and try

to ease me.  Try to ease me
long enough to gloat about

how my pain disappeared under
your good hands and words. I live
for that. I live for how
distant I can get from you
even as you think I’ll have to stay,

will need to stay.  You forget

what I am, what I’ve been,
how a longing for storm
has gotten me this far,

how much I liked it out there,
how it made me


before I ever knew you.


on bad days he hates waking up

to another round of
attempting to find peace
in each day’s casual violence.

in his sleep he can be

no longer sunken in otherness.
he reimagines himself as just
one of the guys,

or better than that, he becomes

a welcome part of a world
he makes, one he longs for,
one that lasts past dawn.

he hates waking up

most days. there are some days,
though, where hope intrudes
into his mild and hellish routine

for a few hours, sometimes;

long enough for him to think of otherness
as a gift again, the way he
has always wanted it to be seen

by those he calls others.


when beginning 
do not start with “I”

even if this is about you

hesitate to start with “He” or “She”
as you don’t know enough to stand behind
the choice

you could start with “They”
but wouldn’t that be presumptuous
speaking for them
with no confidence that this
will speak for them

you could look away from human experience

and boldly
open with the voice of

a horse
a flatworm or fish
a rose ready to begin its petal-molt

no one will question you
as no one can question any of those
to ask if it’s indeed their truth

you could always just start and see where it goes
take a risk and do something
new and othered

such impudence on your part

best to remain seated
on your block of marble

ready to begin
swearing you will
as soon as it’s safe to do so

Crying Out

By the banks of a flood
we sat and wept — by the

rivers of
Babylon, by the shores of the mighty 
Mississippi. From the rooftops
of a drowned city. Near the edge
of a rising tide.  

We sat and wept
and then cried out:
we were promised
dry land; where is it now? We were 
promised safety, where is it now?

We were promised lives 
and now are being told this is not feasible,
we only ever asked for lives
and now are being told these are not
practical, were promised 
that promises made were to be kept
and now we find that all the air
was fouled from the moment it left
their mouths and then,

then to see you

sitting by these same banks
with your own feet swamped in the filth
of the flood, see you

with the drowning so close to you as well, see

you with your eyes
raised over our heads

to something we can’t see,
see you and hear you

asking us why we broke the dams
and let this happen when all we did
was point at the dams and say
look at the seams, the leaks, the cracks,
look, look, can’t you see 
we are drowning?

Can’t you see that
you are soon to be drowning as well?

You ask us why we cry out
with our arms raised and flailing.

We stare back at you, we ask:

how can you not?

Gravedancers’ Ball

Originally posted 2/26/2011.

we all
have a deep longing
to dance on someone’s grave

we all love to sin
that light fantastic
we can’t seem to sit still

red or blue
left or right
we love that happy dance

how soft and yielding
that refilled ground
how haughty our heels upon it

how good it feels to be swinging
above those
who can no longer do a thing to us

every bastard one of us
longing to abandon the better self and dance
spinning in delight for a moment anyway

dancing to the beautiful American word
stomping a toe dance of righteousness

everyone’s tapping their feet
some on top now
some waiting their turn at the top

forgetting that
it makes no difference to the dead 
which graves we choose to tarantelle upon

The Womb

after the first rejection
the first acceptance came immediately

when your lungs filled with air
upon birth.

feeling the former 
more than the latter,

you cried out in confusion
at once.

that’s how we knew
you were alive.

you kept your eyes closed
so you could pretend it wasn’t true.

that’s how we knew
you were human.

you’re still alive, still unsatisfied, 
still squalling, still longing for the womb.

that’s how we know
you’re American.


we seek symbolism
in the high wind

and the decrepit walnut tree.

what’s coming
seems obvious.

we’re braced for
breakage and fall —

and then, it stands!

the question now is
what’s the right miracle
for us to emulate here:

the wind relenting,
or the tree unyielding?


Asking, for a friend, for there to be a fast end.
Asking for a beloved to lower those crepe-paper lids.
Asking for a mere handful of tears, barely enough to water a seed.
Asking for the door to the dying-room to close firmly behind with barely a sound.

Asking for the body to be washed clean and gently smudged with herb-smoke.
Asking that it be dressed in its customary work clothes, so that it is familiar to those who saw it daily.

Asking for a swift service, a musical show, a feast, a dance.
Asking for there to be no long and loud mourning unless it changes into laughter and back again.
Asking for there to be no burial on land.
Asking for it to be raised on a rough platform and left in the open air.
Asking for the bones to be picked and gnawed.
Asking for the remains to be bleached and powdered in the gold-white sun.

Asking that whatever is left be placed into a river near its delta.
Asking that we spare those bones the tumbling from source to the sea.
Asking for enough time to let them dissolve before swimming there again.
Asking that the name be slowly forgotten.

Asking for someone to open the dying room someday.
Asking, for a friend, that this only should be done

so a baby may be born there.


Fence Post Sorrow

You call, thinking
you’d heard nothing
for so long,

you must have done
something wrong and
the fence must need mending.

When you learn that they died
a while back, long before
you had noticed their absence,

you think about how a fence post
leaves a hole when it’s gone,
an absence that never quite fills,

a depression
you notice
without noticing.

How To Be An All-American Adult

pinch enough
of your boss’s stash
to set yourself up as 
someone’s boss just so you

can guard against
a similar pinch
off your own meager hoard
while lying sweat-heavy in bed

worrying about
thieves like you.
you are that well-owned.
you have imprinted

strongly upon
the wings and claws
of those birds of prey
who tear you up only

to fan your open wounds
with their dirty feathers.
it feels like they care enough
to soothe the pain they caused.

it feels like rogue parenting.
a warm snuggly
smallpox blanket.
a red white and blue 

cartoon hero’s cape
stuffed into your mouth and nose
until you can’t breathe
from under all that love.

you’d better find someone
and do it to them quick because
the only way to get ahead here
is to step on one.


NOTE:  This is a radical rewrite of a very old poem not found online.  It’s different enough in meaning and execution that I’m calling it a new poem.

Sing a song of Salvatore,

who married
my grandmother Luisa
after my grandfather died.

After my grandfather died
she had to sell the candy store.
My mother turned six the day he died.

My mother turned six the day he died.
My grandmother tried to hold it together
for her, but it fell apart. She went for relief

to the Red Cross and they told her,
don’t let it fall apart.  Dress up pretty,
hit the street, keep it together.  Lots of women 

do it.  Desperate times, etc. She 
didn’t.  Married Salvatore instead,
her dead husband’s best friend, seemed like

he needed a maid or something with three
old boys of his own. My mother was lost
in that; she found a way out. Went

overseas, met my father, married, had me,
moved back to take care of Salvatore
and Luisa. I remember a rough man with just 

nine rough fingers, lost one young with a single stroke
of a mason’s hammer. Smoked rough cigars,
spoke rough Italian I couldn’t decipher

through his whiskey-soaked emphysema. When he died,
I didn’t much care.  When my grandmother died
I stopped caring altogether. 

Sing a song of Salvatore,

the scary nine-fingered drunk
I never understood or much cared for.
I wonder what might have happened

to his amputation, if the only place it lives on
is in those dreams where I find it
wriggling under my pillow, which happen often, which is 

no surprise as what’s missing 
from my history so often
shows up there.

Luisa wasn’t buried next to Salvatore.
She has her plot
next to Antonio,

my sixty-years dead blood grandfather,
instead. I don’t visit their graves
except like this, out loud, from a distance,

whenever I wonder 
what it must be like 

to miss someone for that long,

what her dreams
were like, what might have come to life
under her pillow, night after night.

Noted In Passing

Originally posted 8/5/2012.

I’m telling myself the truth
for a change.
I admit
that now and then

it would feel good
to swing a hand
and connect with a
hard yet crackable jaw.

I disregard the claims of
comfortable wisdom and note
that most criminals I’ve known
had mountain-high self esteem.

That war thing, the one
where we rush into it singing?
We’ve all tried for years to stop it,
yet it keeps coming up.

Anger, said the Dalai Lama,
is unnatural. Yet somehow
every baby I’ve ever seen
knew from birth how to make a fist.

Short Dialogue With The Ether Upon Waking

How are you today?
Broken, I say.

Are you ready to go?
I’m uncertain of every step,

so no. 
Can we help at all?

I don’t understand what “help”
you mean. Are you suggesting

you help me go? No,  
we mean to try and help you calm down,

steady your steps, get well.
I don’t know how that would feel.

Would I still be myself if I were not
this much fracture, this much moan?


Spirit Animal Husbandry

Originally posted 5/9/2013.

After a short quest
best described as 
mythopoetic channel surfing, 
I choose the Alligator.

At first, he refuses. 
He roars his displeasure

like a reptilian Foghorn Leghorn.

“Son, your bloodlines are desert on one side
and mountain on the other. 
Not a bayou in sight.

How the hell did I become
your idea of a spirit animal?”  

I reply,
“I know, I know.
Blame Television, man. 
It fucks up 
your locality, morality,
and spirituality.  

But consider this:
I’m ‘murrican,
born and bred
to bite and swallow
whatever’s offered.”

Tail thrash,
jaw clap. He turns away.

Grunts back over
his shoulder:

“C’mon, then…”


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