Lincoln Drive (Teddy)

Teddy Pendergrass tonight — 
man oh man, Teddy on the radio, singing
“The Love I Lost.” Singing
“Wake Up Everybody.” Years ago

I used to drive right by
the spot where he crashed on
Lincoln Drive.  Liked to take that
deadly road through the park

on my fastest and most
reckless wheels.  It was
that kind of road I used to love
best — the kind that could

kill you with
joyous curves and narrowing
surprise lanes, assassin 
trees, radio roaring over

the hurricane of blacktop noise
and the occasional tire squeal
when you cut it too close
and had to back down from the rush.

I could use some more Teddy tonight,
but only in a fast car.  I’m awake and
longing and hearing it in the quiet house,
lying here so still listening, isn’t

cutting it quite the way I’d like;
not wanting to suffer what he suffered,
though, I’ll just dream of the road
as you might expect.  If you don’t 

know me by now, I should tell you
that I’m just the right age to talk big about
former ecstasy and do nothing 
to reclaim it — nothing, that is,

except listen to Teddy.

 


My Face Is Historical Fiction

Post pictures of three fictional characters to describe yourself.
— Facebook meme

If I were to post 
three pictures to describe me,
pictures lifted from fiction,

I’d have to reckon with
the fact that my face
already is itself historical fiction,

average white
superimposed upon
brown churning within — 

by which I mean that I already
look like Mom at first glance
with traces of Dad underlying that,

together creating this face
that I get to call My Own,
this more-or-less real face,

one mild pile of melting pot,
assimilated mask. This face
was already made from scratch

a long time ago, and now
I am being asked to find
three more fictions to name this — 

this half-and-half
all-American mistake of history.
So many to choose from —  

Lone Ranger, Tonto; Don Corleone,
Apache Chief; Mario from Donkey Kong,
Tom Sawyer’s Injun Joe — 

but what of that third picture?
That’s the choice that keeps me up 
at night, that keeps me sickly awake really late.

Calm down, you say.  It’s just for fun.
It doesn’t mean anything. It’s 
just a little something to pass the time —

but when your face
is historical fiction

and it feels like

there are only
twenty pages left,
you’ll try anything. 

It’s only natural.
I’m dying
to see how it ends.


Cut Bone

This artifact
dates to 1493,
seems to be

a response to some
discovery
or something.

A message
cut into
a bone

by steel, a sword
or pike
perhaps.

It almost 
took the bone
apart but

somehow
it’s held up
a long time.

We assume
this was
a killing blow

by lack of new bone
on the edges, and
considering

the angle of the cut
there was likely
a flood of blood.

Still,
the bone remains
in conversation

with discovery
and subsequent
conquest.

Does it
speak as Taino,
Arawak, Carib? 

In life, did it perhaps
speak Yoruban, Spanish,
Portuguese for a time?

It doesn’t matter
that much now. 
All you need to translate

is that huge remnant
of that unkind cut
and the sheer stubbornness

of the bone 
for not having dissolved
or crumbled. 


The Work

The best sound you can find
while playing your guitar:

your slide finally
after brief teasing
landing in the sweet spot,
coaxing forth the note
you want. That resolution

puts a small damper upon
anxiety you sometimes feel
when playing, even when
playing by yourself in 
a lonely house: the fear

not so much of being wrong,
but of not doing justice
to the Work.

The best sound you can find
when playing your guitar:

that one note
that tells the entire story
of the Work, includes
every Worker to that point,
assurance that this is
the Work they did too —

and then, the sound disappearing
back into the Work itself,
its last message

catch me if you can,

so you begin again.


Pistachios

Pistachios? Those
I once ate in great
amounts but only ever the
type with shells, and never
the ones with red paint all over.
I’d look at a bag of them and say,
there’s work to be done.  I’d fill a bowl
and have at it, dumping the shells
right back into the same bowl
so toward the end it became a chore
to find the last one left unopened.
There may have been
some masochism involved.
There may have been
some ersatz hunter-gatherer
behavior there — a rationalization
that the work excused the gluttony.
I haven’t had one in a while now;
I don’t know if I could go back to that.
Not that they were bad for me or anything
beyond the modicum of salt and the quantity
and the time I’d put into it
when I should have been — oh, it’s not like
I had anywhere to be or anything to do
back then.  I just sat on the couch
cracking open those shells.  Breaking
my nails on the edges that wouldn’t give
so easily.  Telling myself there was virtue
all around me in that sad dirty living room.
That one day, I would write about this
from a better living room and it would all be
worth it. Boy, was I wrong.


The Centaur

The centaur,
fully aware of his 
fictional status, 
nevertheless
did not hesitate to enter
the food court at
the mall to stand before
the rotating trays of
desiccated cheese slices
and turn singing to the crowd
with arms upraised
while clopping a martial rhythm;

said crowd whispering
their delight (mixed with 
a little fear of this thing
which they’d only heard of
in story prior to this moment)

turned then to each other
and saying, he fills a hole
we hate among us, he tells us
the hole can only be filled
by him and so we should
ignore the steam rising 
from the piles all around him
and elect him, acclaim him,
by God let’s bring him to life.


Fire

Hearing that another Black boy’s
been killed by police fire — 

seeing pictures of police taken from a distance,
body cameras having failed to fire

in this never ending death season where crowds of people stare flames
into a kneeling quarterback who somehow is not yet on fire

despite the wash of kerosene poured upon him
for daring to suggest that police need not always fire,

while elsewhere dogs on the Great Plains
lunge from brutal hands, their kill-trained eyes on fire

for the ancient taste of Native flesh again — ooh, 
it’s been too long — someone give the Guard the order to fire

and bleach the earth free of this human tide
hugging the millions of acres yet to set on fire — 

and if you think this one is not the same as the others
look at the match that starts the fire,

see who holds the unburnt end
after the passing of the fire,

check your hands
to see if they stink of fire.


Riddle

A clerk at a butcher shop stands five feet ten inches tall and wears size 13 sneakers.
What does he weigh?

The riddle says
Meat

He weighs meat  

Ha ha
good one

we’re supposed to say and
it’s true as far as it goes but

it doesn’t take into account 
the possibility
that the butcher might also sell
various deli items and the clerk
might weigh out piles of slices
of provolone into
white waxed paper
sealed with brown tape labels
with name and price handwritten
in black grease pencil

or that the clerk might also weigh
heaps of
potato salad
into plastic tubs
from a white enamel case
with huge sliding doors

(the way Michael Morelli did
when I was a kid
on my family’s Saturday morning trips
to his dad’s market in Milford

handing me slices of cheese
over the counter
with a wink
when my mom
and his dad weren’t looking)

It doesn’t take into account
that the same clerk might also
at some point
have to weigh
the decision set before him
about whether to maintain
this family business
or go on and do other things
and sell the building to a barber
upon his father’s death

It skips entirely
the possibility
that the clerk might also
continue to weigh
the consequences of that decision
every time he passes
the now empty and decrepit
storefront that long ago
went from being
a butcher shop
to a barber shop
to an antique shop
to a computer repair shop
to an empty shop
to a broken hole
on a broken block
in a broken downtown

The clerk goes home
Weighs himself and sighs
Stares into his bathroom mirror
Goes and sits in the dark
in his clean modern kitchen
at the butcher block island

Ha ha
Good one
he says

Elsewhere
the riddle is endlessly retold
for new audiences
more and more of whom
have never seen
a butcher shop
white paper
brown tape
grease pencil
have never smelled
the mingling of sawdust and blood
or felt the cold blast of air
from the walk-in
with the full quarters of beef
hanging behind glass
behind the counter

A writer on a couch with a laptop
stands five foot eight (when he’s standing)
and wears a size ten shoe
At 56 he is shocked to realize
he can still remember
the name of the butcher’s assistant
from a market
that’s been gone
for most of his lifetime

Is shocked to realize
how much that still weighs


Carburetor

I hear people call themselves
empaths
Read a story about
empathy
Someone said
we need a world with more
empathy

I don’t understand that word
at all

I don’t much care for
too many people
I mean
I like people well enough
but they are largely
a mystery to me
because I no longer feel much
beyond myself

I don’t know how
or when exactly
that happened
I seem to recall 
a time before 
it happened
I seem to recall
such feelings

I don’t know much 
about how I got here
or what I am now
except
I am broken
How broken
I am

but I am not sad or scared

for when I look at myself
it is like looking at
a carburetor
a nearly obsolete device
that no longer works
and I have forgotten
how to set it right

I try to do right by others
because of this
I try to do right by others
because I do not
trust myself
to understand how they
might feel
if I have done them
wrong

Tell me
how I’m doing
Explain to me
what I’m doing
right and
wrong
It’s a long way
from you to me
You might have to shout
to reach me
I will be straining to hear you
I will not likely do it well right away
from my broken stand
I will try as I am
always trying

to reach you
I promise
I swear
I vow
I am trying to reach 
you
to reach 
out
get the mix right
run right


Copper Mouthed Morning

staring up from bed with
no desire to rise

a copper mouth morning

feeling no joy
at that taste 

remembering instead
ancient flavors of mint
of good tea

old memories 
fading

it has been 
industrial within
for so long
can’t recall
such shades of green

when this
copper mouthed morning
has its own hue

color of statuary
of gutters and lurid puddles
under bad pipes

lying here
in ruins
with no longing to rise
into that kind of green

trying to recall
green tea

mint

promise


Being Lied To

A curtain pulled back
reveals the lie

that there is
an outside. I know

better.  All there is
is an inside — this view of

a “window”
is an extension of

that lie.  It suggests
an exit may be possible

when in fact all there is
is more of this cell.

Now a “door”
is being “opened.”

Even as I step through into
alleged downpour

or supposed
scalding sun, I am

being lied to: nothing
of the false outside

touches me here,
centered in cold stone

and lockdown.
This is

my weather, climate,
forecast. There is

no other — I’ve been
outside to see and

there is no outside.
None. You can

stop. Just stop —
I don’t like being lied to.

After all these years
I know:

there’s no window
and no door.


A Teachable Moment

Yes,
I considered it an insult
when you called me “White;”

not so much because
you knew my father and
my mother and knew otherwise,

not so much because
it was not the first time 
we had spoken of this,

not even because
of those times
when I see myself

and say to myself
“ah, there 
I go
being more White than not…”

and in those moments I see
my incomplete nature, recognize
that I am what

the genocide desired 
most of all, see myself
as the hated objective —

no. No,
I considered it an insult
because you so clearly

meant it
as
a compliment.


Note to readers

For reasons I’d rather not get into here, I will likely be taking a break of more than a few days from posting new poems.

I’m fine.  Please don’t ask for more details than that.  

Please feel free to go back and read and comment on some older poems while you’re waiting for the new work. There are plenty to work with, going back over many years.

Thanks.

– T 


Getting More Sleep

It’s too early,
the body says,
to be up
and considering
brain and soul work,
especially this current
irritating obsession with 
God-work.
The body says

it’s time
to fall
back to agnostic sleep,
to
worry
about all that

later; the body says,
“take care of me,” says

it’s time to roll over
and away from the stinging
hymn that’s trying to come out
of mouth or hands
into the growing daylight.

So I turn over and try
to fall back into sleep
though I know 

that the song
will be in there
with me, like a bad
mattress or pillow,
giving me pain
in the place where I keep
my definitions.

If I succeed
in getting more sleep
it’s going to hurt
as much as if
I stay awake wrestling
with it —

God, it all hurts 
all the time. It all
hurts from bruised hip
to cranked neck
and deep into the back
of my dearest names
for myself

but it’s too early 
to think about this;

I don’t want to think about
any of this
until I’m dead but the body
won’t stop saying

“not yet.”


Into The Rust

My body’s been
a good machine

to come this far
with such poor maintenance

Now that it needs a moment
at least or perhaps more

I can’t give it even one second
what with

my mind being 
such a bad driver

How it romanticizes
those shaky wheels

the burping jerk
of the transmission

the rattle portending
something coming loose

in the dark below the hood
or undercarriage

Driving the wheels off
till I settle with a hard thump

into a field somewhere
and disappear

seems to be all that’s left
so onward into the rust

With so much road yet to cover
but so much already passed

I can’t blame my driving mind
for wanting to press on

since it’s been a hell of a ride
and we still haven’t found

a heaven to call home
except for the journey itself