The Racket

If a gun woke up
aimed at something it liked
or had no business killing
would it bow
to the desire of the shooter
or misfire

If a club woke up
mid-fall upon a skull
would it twist in the hand
to miss or glance off or
would it follow through

if all nooses woke up
and unraveled at once
in executioners’ hands
would the executioners
attempt to retie them
or simply turn
to old school manual methods
and do their jobs that way
having become certain
(as the nooses were not)
of the inevitability
if not the rightness
of their duties

what would the nooses do then

considering the racket
of the times
we are living through
it is hard to understand 
why everything
animate and inanimate alike
is not
wide awake
and unable
to get back to sleep

Upright In Bed After Getting Something Right

Originally posted 1/26/2013.

You sit up in bed,
startled by the sound
of furniture breathing.
Cowering under 
a bunched up comforter,
your pink nose sticking out 
into danger from safety
while you try to decide 
what’s suddenly up 
in this big bad world

or worrying that
like so much else, this
may always be happening
but is rarely noticed
until all other distractions
are put aside. 

What if
it’s all alive, even
the brick wall 
in the kitchen? 
The moonlight might be feeling 
some kinda way 
about you; the floor might be fed up
with being untidy. 

Should you be worried
about the potential for revolution
by the dust bunnies?  
Where exactly
does one hide 
when the world is all lung and 

Go back to sleep, 
little mouse; take comfort 
in knowing
you are dreaming
the right questions
at last.

Forest For The Trees

Say, for the sake of argument,
that one day it all slips into place
and works the way it used to work
or works the way the mythology
insists it works:

say that you and your longtime love
fall into joyful fucking like first time teenagers
but with the benefit of experience
and deep knowledge of each other
and every day after, you remain that way;

say you save money and retire well
and travel and become in late years
learned and wise about human kindness
and as you travel you become beloved
and every day after, you remain beloved;

say that you live suddenly in the place
of refined definitions where freedom
is a free thing and all have it and live it
and honor it and dance on it and in it
and every day after is a dance within a dance;

say it and say it and say it, someday
a myth and a story and a tale will unfold
exactly as they are supposed to
and the morals they bear will all be the same:
every day, there’s a chance for it all to go well

and what we say of why it doesn’t
is as much a myth giving shape to atoms 
and energy as any story of happily ever after
or triumph over pain and wrong; and every day
we choose the path from our words

to the next day’s words, and so 
the grove of happening is sown and grown,
the forest we will walk through without noting
any of the trees we planted ourselves
if we don’t agree to speak of them every damn day.


A mother gray whale
watches orcas savage
and slay her calf;

she lingers in the red sea
for a moment, then
continues on alone.

The calf’s carcass drifts toward
the bottom of the shallows
where it will serve its killers

as a meal to be consumed
at their leisure. I don’t cry —
not for that calf

who after all was simply in
the wrong place at the wrong time
or the right place if you believe

all things happen for a reason,
nor for that mother who lingers briefly
then moves on, nor for the orcas 

who need to feed and are only doing
what they are designed to do. I think
I’m going to cry for the documentarian

who watched these things happen
without being able to affect an outcome,
without wanting perhaps even to try —

I don’t know if that’s fair, or true; maybe
they began this work seeking that
and slipped away from it the way a corpse

dissolves to gray when it is finished
with living. In moments of such drift
perhaps they turn back towards themselves

and say there’s still hope it will change
something, awaken a viewer into action 
on behalf of those things which can be changed.

I say this on a night when video
of Laquan McDonald’s murder by cop
on a Chicago street pushes throngs

into action. No one stood
behind that camera. No one watching can see
anything there that had to happen.

No one could say that the cops were doing
what they had to, although it may be
what they were designed to do. 

No camera shows
a mother lingering
over his body. 

Nothing in any film yet made
suggests anyone is moving on;
no natural order

here, no sweet music
of the circle of life.
It’s not that kind of killing. It’s our kind —

unnecessary blood
on the street, on our hands,
on all the surfaces of earth and sea.

Wherever the next camera will be,
the next killing will be —

right place,
wrong place, right time,
wrong time —

are you going to want to see
the documentary
someone’s going to make

about what you did
when a murder happened 
right in front of you?

In The Bull

Originally posted 8/13/2011.

Once inside,
I become
the bully bull, 
somehow having grown
horns for eyes — 
I gore what I observe — 
my friends
turn aside.
Alone now,
I watch my own 
steaming breath.

I did not want
to be inside 
the animal’s hide
completely — only
to wear a bit for show.
Now I’m stuck and
all the world’s 
an apocryphal red flag,
a cape in a killing hand — 
when I see it
I am compelled;
I charge.


I hope
to carry always
an air of
disrepute —

not to sport the stale
bad boy label,
not to dress myself
in an outfit stitched
from assumptions
and bad cultural

not to paint my face
in dark primaries
then go out at night
in good black
and sad spots of silver
shiny enough

that even when I creep
the shadows, I’m sure
to be noticed and noted;

no, what I seek is

just enough
gnarl and twist
in my carriage and form
that from one glance
a stranger might say,

“Well…from the look of him
it’s hard to tell what’s what.

It might be
danger, it might be wisdom,
it might be hard roads or
soft boundaries.

Whatever it is,
I wouldn’t have voluntarily gone
where I suspect he’s gone, but

I’m glad someone did.”

The Unimagined Country

Originally posted 4/29/2013.

Yet-to-be-fully-imagined country
we all want to live in,

miles of plains, mountains,
peace groves 
full of lemon trees, country

where we let
our own blood

into the garden soil
to feed it,

where we all sing 
in our own tongues in front yards, 

kneel silently in back yards
under the open sky seeking guidance

or a little rain; country yet-to-be founded,
someday-to-be rich and storied;

abandoned, rediscovered,
abandoned again;

country, not nation, not state;
homeland, not seat of empire;

country yet-to-be ours, country
we’ll have to define, we’ll want to defend

against the poisons of borders,
flags, anthems, suspicions;

on the day we come into that country
we’ll look into each other’s eyes

and know what to name it 
without hearing a single campaign speech,

know how to run it
without a single task force,

know how to love it
without a single weapon;

we’ll know we’ve truly settled there
when we can look into each other’s eyes

and see a neighbor, a cousin,
or a self, no matter what else we see.

What Should Not Be So

Sad on behalf of that which is blue
and is not supposed to blue ever;
sad today for blue lips cooling, blue skin
under reddened eyes, weightless blue words
doing little to heal or correct a broken moment.

Angry on behalf of that which is red
which should only be red now and then; angry today
for blood on faces, blood rising in faces, faces soaked
from inside in blood until the dragon stain
of red carries through to words and breath itself.

Scared on behalf of that which is white,
even that which has become so under pain of death;
scared today of ghosts, surrenders, pale knights on pale horses — 
all the panoply of what terrifies; most of all, afraid
of white faces; it shouldn’t be so, but it is so.

A Kind Of Poverty

what you love
you claim
what you despise
claims you
what you know
and remain indifferent to 
explains you
what you do not know
and others do
reframes you

thus I
learn like mad
have opinions
avoid hating many
and love few

all in an effort to 
surrender little
of myself

stories you tell
of what you see
become what people see
of you

stories you tell
of how you see what
you see become
your angle on what
you are

when pushed to speak
I over-explain
and therefore negate
how little I surrender
of myself so
I am learning
silence and
how to tolerate
the growing lack
of self-delusion
that naturally follows

people who are
indifferent to me
are killing me
by millimeters

I am learning
indifference to them
each lesson a bullet
fired in self-defense

this resultant loneliness
is an expression of
a kind of poverty
much like how after a war
a country
is often in ruins
its people walking dazed
by what was once familiar
having become indifferent
to its former self

they starve eventually
or leave

Ism Schism Game

With acknowledgments and respect to Bob Marley, whose words inspired this piece…

tell you what authority demands
of words

to do work
on behalf of Authority

Never do they mention 
when primary meaning is 
in dispute

or when primary meaning
is a cornerstone
of prison or when

that cornerstone
rests firmly on negated
backs and necks

If they do tell you a meaning
came from a definition
written repeatedly in blood

with pens
made from bones
plucked from slain infants

they wink it off with
a bandage label such as
“colloquial” or “obsolete” —

trying to chase
unquiet ghosts of struggle into 
forgotten fields of rubble

left over from 
construction of
their order

While they own these dictionaries right now
their dictionaries have no words
to sing of those 

having come up from under boulders
having come up free of rejections and crush
having come up from understanding

to overstanding
this ism schism game
sing new words 

of how stones refused
by builders become soon enough
cornerstones and

keystones of
aqueducts to carry fresh water
to those who still thirst

and of how they do so
by any definition

Godwin Speaks

Hard not to hear 
that red muttering
underneath too many

ancient, violent criminals 
breaking out
from inside so many 
hard-sealed heads,
first in dribbles
and then in packs,
comfortable again as they
mutter and wreck
as if 
it is finally the season
for such muttering to grow
in volume, grow
toward becoming the cry
of a banshee army turning out
to storm across all and sweep
all ahead of it.

Make no mistake:

not one word of
that murmur

should be mistaken
for old German,
and thus dismissed.
Admit it, at least
to yourself: 
can understand 

every word. 

Take It And Run

How hard is it to be
this, to be me?
Very easy on days
when there’s enough
lemon sunlight
or clean-scented rain
to keep things fresh
and moving; other days,
it’s a chore moving one lung,
let alone two,
let alone keeping up
with my cardiac rhythm,
and when it is like that
weather has no bearing
on how long I lie in bed
after waking up
only to have my head
convince the rest of me
I have not slept at all.
Take this morning, 
for example — I haven’t looked
out the window to see
what is going on and
I likely won’t — so take this morning

and run. Take the whole day —
I won’t miss it.

The Imaginary Fable Of The One-Legged Flamingo

Originally posted 12/30/2014.

Pretend there’s a fable
about a flamingo born
with one and only one leg.

Pretend this bird somehow survives
the vagaries of indifferent
and unrelenting nature
and becomes an adult.

Pretend few ever get close enough
to offer solace or support —
after all, from a distance
no one would be able to tell
the bird was born missing a leg.

Pretend a one-legged flamingo,
unable by definition to switch
to its other leg when
it grows tired of standing still,
must fly more often 
than its counterparts.

Pretend it’s not at all farfetched
such a bird could truly survive. 

Pretend the fable has a moral:

to those from whom much is taken
much is also given,

unending fatigue in living may draw out
an urge and capacity to soar,

perspective and vision may come to one
as compensation for grievous wounds.

Pretend that it matters which words are used. 

Pretend like mad
that the chosen moral
is strong enough to keep
the flamingo from drowning
when one night it finally
is so exhausted from the cycle
of unsteady standing
and desperate flight

that it descends

though there are no
shallows in which to land.

Reserved For Those Who Remain Neutral…

The hottest places? No.
Even Dante knew better —
he never said this.  

The cold places — the ones
where a candle
in the crisis wind freezes
into a red icicle of pointless pose —
that’s where they belong. Can’t you
hear them sniffling about,
wriggling on the fence?

Those of us
who cannot cease raging
and roaring —

we may be wrong,
may ultimately burn in the fiery levels
for what we believe or rise 
toward the glorious sun — in fact
we may not believe
in heaven or hell but
we believe in heat; maybe
because we were born to it,
maybe because we were
schooled in it, maybe because
it found us and we survived —

however it happened,

is all we know.


was grown in an oven

they named me 
ash for short

once swept out of their hearth
was tossed
left traces on everything

was born again in a dustbin

emptied into 
a heap on the curb
blew around a lot

they called me mistake and
though I answered to neither saying

ash, ash I am 

holding a little heat but not to
like a resentment

would prefer
to warm a garden
blend into fertile soil



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