Shark

New poem.

to simply survive today
is to accept paradox,
is to accept without question
how chewed up
one must become
in order to be untroubled
by our world 
from birth
to death.

to begin to do more than that 
is to open a shark’s mouth
and peer inside  
at those teeth, that
stench, all
those mesmerizing details
that will try to seize
and hold you fast
long before 
those jaws
finally close upon you.

to awaken
and be fully alive
is to slash and thrash
against tooth and claw and 
seizure and capture
with all you have,
refusing to surrender
to such an appetite
until, bloody and wounded
but ready to heal,
you are free.


To Love My War

Originally posted 12/12/2011.

War
can make my blood
sing a little.

I know myself
and the animal somewhere
within.

If I pet it the right rough way
now and then,
it stays quiet  — mostly.

I’m at peace with my bloodsong.
I do not deem it necessary
to pretend I cannot hear it,

and I do not deny
that war is a part of me.
It has settled on my hands

as tightly as skin,
snuggled cozily
in my mouth,

and my blood
bursts scarlet from my wounds
as if it were the chorus of a grand opera,

glorying as much 
in being shed as I do
in my potential to shed it.

Revile me for that
as you will — I will be 
your paradox: at peace

with not becoming
the hypocrite who turns away
from the sludge he carries inside.


Limousine

Originally posted 4/25/2010.

According to my doctor
I’ve become
a limousine — 

I carry passengers,
and not necessarily
ones I’d choose on my own.

When first I heard I begged the doctor
for a uniform
or a very special hat.

“I’m afraid not,” he said.
“You aren’t the limousine driver,
you are the limousine.”

It was hard to accept at first
that I was no longer a vehicle
for my own journey

but I’ve gotten used to it.
It’s still a life
most of the time.

When the noise in the back
gets to be too much,
I raise the glass and forget it.

Once in a while
a voice will catch me right
and I’ll listen longer than usual,

maybe repeat
what it says
to myself when I’m alone.

These riders don’t care about me
as long as they get where they’re going
and the ride has some style all the way to the end.

I’m a limousine today but I don’t know 
what I’ll call myself

after I’ve worn out at last — 

a box, a rustbucket,
a shadow parked for good
in an unlit space.


Conversation

Originally posted 6/20/2009.

From the street,
the dense chunk 
of a slammed car door.

A hard, confident summons:

“Hey pendejo –“

Two men speaking.
I can’t hear the words.

Then,
the first big voice again –

“You never know.
When it comes,
it comes.”

After that,
nothing more –

no car door,
no house door,
no words.

I turn off my lights, 
climb into bed,
waiting for something
that never happens.

Whenever it comes,
it seems
it won’t be
tonight.


You!

Originally posted 10/18/2011.

You! You
tower of smart dirt, 
intelligent water,
column of excited minerals, whirling
storm of atoms, chattering prophecy
of the pure light
hidden in the darkest crevices — 
how is it possible
that all you want to talk about
is stopping the end of the world?

Get serious, you.
This world is not going to end.
Our species may shuffle off at some point,
other species will fall with us,
there will be suffering, it’s all a big mess — 
all true, all of
no consequence.

Your atoms are going to keep talking.
In a thousand years
they will come upon better truth
than you ever conceived,
or on to the same truth
you won’t acknowledge now:
we’re an extension of
the pure thoughts of stones.
Nothing’s ever going to stop them
from thinking, no matter how hard
we try to deny them the pleasure.

You! Get serious — 
yes, ease suffering,
redistribute wealth,
play fair,
establish guidelines, even
salvage as much of the planet
as there is in our remaining time
as you can
but d
o it because

it is in our shared calling
to do it
even though there is in fact
nothing ever lost
and therefore 
nothing to save.


Permission

Originally posted 5/31/2011.

Face up in bed,
wide awake,

waiting again to be impaled
like a bug on a pin
upon the memory

of the time I mercy-killed the squirrel
on the front lawn after its mauling
by the neighborhood stray
we all hated.

I pulled a strong knife
and slashed 
once, then twice,
over its tooth-mashed throat;
saw the spurt, saw it relax at once.
Then I reached for a stone
and nailed that dog in the ribs.

and it took off howling with me howling
after it, running it off, its shallow flanks
pumping ahead of me too fast
to catch.

I do not fear the memory for its horror,
but for its delights –

its promise of deus ex machina,
its flavor of massacres, camps,
and gallows blessed by others — 

its tang of permission.


On The Nature Of Masks

New poem.

The “I”
who writes this
is the “I” who is sitting with coffee
and a cat,

the “I” mildly sick,
the “I” a little irritated with being sick,
the “I” more than a little irritated
at politics,

the “I” angry
at the betrayals
of some friends
by other friends,

the “I” who is old
and tired although he
just rose for the day, tired
at the bone, tired of being this “I.”

This “I” will choose to write
some words to be spoken
by another person. The name
of that person will be “I”

as well.  You should not
confuse them with each other,
but neither should you forget
that the first “I” 

authored the second “I”
and there can be no second “I”
that does not extend from
the first

for it is in the nature of masks
to reveal
what they seek
to conceal. 

The mask
is not the face,
but the face
breathes through it. 

I set down my coffee.
I pet the cat.
I put a finger
on the keyboard — 

here is a mask
to delight you.  
Here is a mask
to frighten you.  

Here’s another mask
and another and another
and this last one that has
something stuck to the back — 

sorry, that happens sometimes
when the art
is separated too strongly
from the artist.

Oh, I put
a finger
on something
there.

I
bury my
face
in it.


Living It

New poem.

Thick paper.
A pencil. 
A pinpoint pen.
Keys and
a white screen.

Weak control over impulse.

Dysfunction or
ecstatic whirlwind 
in hand, taken as
a capsule waiting
to be swallowed and 
absorbed in pursuit
of a healthier next moment.

Willingness to recover
from such inspiration
in favor of following a path
cut by mistakes.

A vision,
a sound,
a word.

A move.

A first, a second,
a next,
a next.

A stop.

Rest.

Dissatisfaction.

Again,
again,
again;

never
a last.

Ever.


The Long-Sought Room

New poem.

Coming into this long-sought room
I find

small stones sealed
in a hollowed gourd.

Skin stretched
over a hollowed log.

Holes drilled
into a hollow stick.

Strings plucked
and vibrating over
a hollow box.

A sheet of
blank paper,
a trimmed quill
with a hollow tip,
an old well filled
with new ink.

All here is dependent upon
hollows, upon
vessels that have been
emptied,
refilled, and thus
redefined.

I have come into
this room

wrongly brimful with
unnecessary things.

I bow,
then step out
to lighten my self and
reenter
only when I can say

here I am, room —
present,
holding nothing,

ready.


A Beautiful Saturday Night

Originally posted 10/4/2013.

A beautiful Saturday night in the city:

a punk fan
spits up on a classic rock fan
in front of a disco
and a country fan turns up her nose
at the hard, hard house music
her date seems to prefer.

A jazz fan hurries past everyone
because no one likes a jazz fan
except for the reggae fans — they
love everyone, mostly.  Mostly –

except for that guy
with “Tosca” leaking
from his earbuds.  

Meanwhile on the corner
two surprising kids
are committing a bluegrass murder,
hoping for spare change in the hat.

There’s a hint of bhangra in the air
and a hint of merengue in the air
and a hint of calypso and soca and mento
and someone’s got a ska torch lit too;

it’s a beautiful Saturday night
in the clamoring city,
making you wish
you could play everything
whenever you close your eyes.


Ghost Dance

Originally posted 7/19/2012.

Urged by some
to believe that history
is not destiny so 
we should just forget it –

never believe what those liars say;
millions of ghosts
inside us
beg to differ.

There’s a dance, an old dance
I’m willing to try,
something to turn the world
upside down;

I’ve got a shirt, an old shirt
I’m willing to wear –
something designed for the big dance
and the afterparty.

There’s a song, an old song
I’m ready to sing –
something written just for the occasion,
a keening joyful sound;

it has a chorus, a swelled chorus
millions and millions strong,
singing of history
as prelude to destiny.

Stop believing what those liars say.
It’s time. Join the singing
and the circle
and the dance –

history’s proven
our ghosts
are more honest
than theirs.


Aging Nude Before A Mirror

New poem.

inside this 
clothing
an average wrapper of
slightly sagging skin upon
an average man
who’s been eaten smaller
by his age

he undresses himself
before sleep

stands in front of
a former enemy
a mirror

sees
wisdom about
and love for
himself
revealed in how
his folded hands rest
upon his loose husk
of a belly

those things
were once

so hard
to see

now they stand out
against approaching
Dark

and offer him
surprising 
comfort
before Sleep


Revisionist History

Originally posted 3/20/2012.

In the history of government
there are a million examples 
of how they begin, but only one
of how they end: they end

with the venal
gaming their way to power
and staying there regardless
of the labels they choose to wear.

In the history of nations
it doesn’t matter how the people love them.
They only love you back 
a little, and only at certain times.

In the history of history
it doesn’t matter what happens,
only what is said about what happened
or did not happen, or is said
to have not happened;

in the history of history 
there are but two nations —
the strugglers and the lords.

In the history of humans
there’s dancing and loving
and the making of art and music;
there’s good sweat, grand tears,
and a lot of laughter,

but do not confuse that 
with the history of government and nation.

If you want to pursue happiness,
know that government and nation
pursue happiness too — 

and they do it, always,
by chasing and catching
you.


Breakdowns And Attempts

Originally posted on 3/5/2014.

Stop
calling
what I do 
therapy.

Stop calling therapy
what exists to spite disorder,
what persists after breakdowns and
attempts.

Stop calling therapy
what I would do more of
if I were less 
a mess.

Stop calling therapy
what I call breathing.
Stop calling therapy what I call 
my self, spread on paper.

Stop calling triggers on guns
material.  Stop calling
triggers on others’ lips
material. 

Stop calling too-blunt knives
and weak pills and slender ropes
and bed restraints and hours
of paying to talk around agony

“the dark timber of my art.”

Stop calling.  
Stop insisting,
stop speaking
of therapy.  

Stop in fact your fantasy of why
and what and how;
for me this is no pressure valve
and verse is not surgery.

I’ve written
hundreds of thousands
of words
or more;

if it worked,
if it was
as you say,
I’d be fine.


“My Spirit Animal”

Originally posted 10/5/2009.

It’s one of those stolen concepts
that makes for easy internet memes
and casual adoption by everyone
from hipster ironists to hippie holdouts.

They choose the glamour critters
for their comfort and aggrandizement.
It’s all Hawk and Eagle, Crow and Bison;
none of it fits, all of it feels good.  If I were to play along

I’d admit there’s not nearly enough Wolf in me. 
Not enough ferocity, not enough
pack loyalty, not enough startle response and care
in the face of the world’s savagery and bounty.

As for Coyote, the smaller cousin,
the Trickster dog of dream and myth –
no, I’ve searched, and no bone of mine
holds a scrap of that holy canine.

No, I know my “spirit animal”
(if indeed I have such a thing)
is a snail or slug, unsure of which. 
Cold slimer, afterthought drip from a Creator

who gave up
on pinning me
to mammal ways
and instead said:

This one will understand
how progress is inexorable but excruciating.
His trail will always be traceable
to its source.  

He will understand
the nature of small and unnoticed lives
and the damage that can be done in the dark,
as ravaging as any drama and howling attack.

There are thanks to be offered
for such knowledge
but tonight,
it overwhelms me.

I have
no mouth or throat
to scream
for change.

All I can do is crawl
and hope no weight from above
falls onto me before
I get to where I belong.


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