Telecaster Grimoire

Within every rock cliche
is a fresh spring
waiting to be released —

that open D turnaround
we’ve all heard forty thousand times,
the Chuck-riffs done to death,
the pentatonic lockbox…
did you forget all were designed
as magic spells? Don’t blame

the weak impact
they have upon you
on anything but the weak magicians
who weakly cast them.  

Last night I heard a master
play everything right out of
the text book of how not to do it,
yet it wrung me out like a rag
sopping sweat from some ancestor’s 
forehead between sets, and now I long

to stay home from daily life
and sit over the grimoire 
of my Telecaster
through as many midnights
as I have left in the hope
of getting beyond
just getting it right

once in my life.



As if every melody
is being played at once
and you have to sing along
unerringly to one from that 
swarm of sound and if you don’t
you lose, you fail, you die.

As if every movie
must be watched at the same time
and you must answer questions
about the credits for all of them
and get all of them correct 
or you die, you lose, you fail.

As if you were clutching  
a lifetime’s worth of photographs 
of you family, friends, lovers, haters
and told you must reduce the pile
to the one picture that holds all for you,
you have an hour to choose that one
and memorize the rest as best you can
or you fail, you lose, you die.

As if for a decade or more
you’d woken up and stretched
and reached for the phone at the bedside,
dreading the blinking light that says
you have mail and news and messages 
and you were about to be inundated
with urgency and insistence and importance
and no matter how you stand against it
you must fail to stay upright,
you shall lose your footing,
to stop it from hurting you must die.

Getting Past It

Three fractured heads 
in the crotch of a tree.

Dog-torn infant arms
strewn in a ditch.

On a dirt road, 
dark wet sand.

New genocide and massacre
glimpsed on a screen.

You can’t look away
even as you say

“it can’t happen here.”
It has happened here.

Here is here because
it has happened here.

You didn’t do it. You had
nothing to do with it.

But you are here, in part,
because it has happened here.

This is why 
you can’t look away

even as you say
“it can’t happen here.”

You want to know
what it looks like,

want to toughen up.
It can’t happen here

but who knows where
it will happen tomorrow

and if you are there
by chance or design

your today could be gone
when your tomorrow gets here.

You keep an eye
on the screen

and make plans and promises
about what you will

and will not do 
if it happens

where you are:
how you will stay upright

if the road runs slippery
with blood, how you will avoid

tripping over flesh
on your walkway, how you will

get past it. How you
will thrive in the aftermath,

how you will raise a family

We Ought To

You don’t have to 
say anything, really.

Stand there as yourself.

We ought to know
that it is likely, probable, that
the chances are better than even
that it’s happened to you

simply because
we ought to know
this place 
operates now as
a carry-on from 
all kinds of horrible
places, and 

we ought to know
that whether or not you tell a story
of how it has been for you,

currents and channels
carrying polluted water
dirty every person standing
in them, and
it’s likely, probable, 
the chances are better than even
that you’ve been soaked
in certain poisons

for as long as you’ve stood
in the flood and we ought to know

who needs to get upstream
and dam the river
and clean it up and 
we ought to do that
without jabbering on and on

about not me and not all
of us and not now and not
true and not that dirty.

It is, and it is, and it is,
and it is, and it is, and it is.

Shame on us. We ought to
hang our heads. 

More to the point,
we ought to

get to work.

The Season Of Beginning

In most overheard remarks
on this first frost
is a sense
of saudade — a sweet sorrow —
for an ending

when one could instead look forward
to the dying off of weeds that have been
strangling the yard and air
with gnarled vines and snarling

or to the cooler, cleaner
air and light pouring through
branches now clear
of leaf clutter so one can see
what can no longer hide
as easily. It’s true that soon

shrouds of snow will follow, but for
a few weeks this naked clarity will 
offer more opportunity
than was available in the dank 
and overgrown summer;
do not forget that this year
there is war
and this is the season

when enemy and ally alike 
come into open view,
when battle lines
are drawn,
when the fight
truly begins.

Two Woodpeckers

I used to robe up before writing,
slapped on a wizard cap to make of myself
a mystic, kept a wand under
my clothes to wield when I needed
to drape clouds around my words.

Then one day I stood at my window
and watched two downy woodpeckers,
male and female, perched on opposite sides
of a suet feeder.  They fluttered

back from the cage and landed again,
having switched sides. Returned every day
for a season and repeated this swap
at least once per day. The world is already
a miracle and a mystery. Why overdecorate it?


Early afternoon
and I’m glad I’m unheard

tunelessly humming
a current popular song

as if I liked it or it had
meaning beyond

its currency on all
media when in fact

tomorrow afternoon 
it will be displaced

from the odd cranny 
where it has lodged itself

by the next hot tune
or turn of phrase that

offers a sense of immediate
connection among those

who hear and repeat it
(although in my case 

nothing could be less true
as I take its presence here

to be a sign of how I have failed
to resist the dicatorship

of the official soundtrack
of these days) even when

no one’s listening as
is happening now

No one is listening
as I hum this ditty

which is likely for the best 
as I carry the shame

of knowing it
better than I carry the tune itself

This unheard song
of mine is not mine at all

but was likely crafted by 

across continents
via the Internet

with the sole aim of
ensuring that it would be hummed

in all quarters
by all people who hear it

whether they want to
or not

not in response
to an emotional need or

appropriate situation
which would bring it

obviously to mind
but instead

simply because 
repetition and songcraft

have stuck it into
so many places and 

so many ears that
to hum it or sing it

becomes involuntary
even if it is hated

by the one
humming it

Imagine what else
a committee

capable of such
manufactured taste

could make you do
and you may understand

why I am tempted
to slit my own throat

when I realize that I
am humming a song

whose name I do not know
only because it has driven

all else from my head
and I don’t know what else

is in there
hiding behind it

The Always Wrong Forever Apology

You forget
I was born
and raised
as the always wrong
apology. It can’t
be helped that

I default a 
times a day
to regret and 
guilt. Not to say
shame because

with shame I might
correct the 
always wrong and
close the forever
apology but

this way I can 
boast of my unashamed
malfunctions. I can
be right by always 
being wrong. You

forget how potent
such contradictions
can be. The forever
apology as 

article of faith, the 
always wrong as 
myth or miracle, 
parable of the guilty
conscience for no
reason. You forget

how long I’ve lived
on this, what a religion
it has been. How large
its god looms. How difficult
apostasy can be to achieve —

how satisfying
the guilt involved in that 
might be.


In the works of
Quentin Tarantino
revenge and retribution
are frequent themes.

I think they reveal 
the fullness of 
recent American 

This explains so much of
how we got here,
where we’re going,
why we can’t turn aside.

This is Tarantino’s world.
Think of all the casual
evil accepted within
his concepts high and low.

Think of how
with winks and smiles
they comfort and authorize
a stab, a shot, a blow.

Think most of all
of the one where 
an actor demands
his men bring him

one hundred scalps —
usually enough
to make me turn it off
and turn away.

Too long a history
for me and mine
to fantasize in comfort
over scalping once done to us

for bounties
much like this one. Still,
late nights or early mornings
when I sit and see the news,

when I watch
and wring my hands, sometimes
I whisper when I know
no one will hear

a phrase that tells me
I am part of his world now,
although I hate it: “One hundred?
Not enough. Let’s make it

one hundred and one.”

Make A Muscle

Make a muscle,
some uncle would say,
and you’d pop up an arm,
pump up a bicep for them
to squeeze.  Big boy, getting
stronger, they’d say.
You would be pleased and 
secretly you’d do this to yourself
whenever you could — cock that 
arm like Popeye and test the
rock under the skin.

There were times
where you’d work at getting huge
but then came all that pubescence and
things started happening in your head,
voices about how poorly your muscles
did in most things, urgings to stay
small before the bully radar,

and nothing happened with that
muscle plan.  You got thick and dull
and became more head-strong
and less body strong

and compensated with weapons
and wit for long decades to follow

and now you’re nearly sixty
and if you make a muscle in
your stroke arm, only you will know;
if you make a muscle
in your stronger arm, it would show
but not much. 

You’re nearly sixty
and if you make a muscle in public
may laugh at you,
perhaps with fondness,

perhaps not.  Big boy, you’re still
so strong, someone might say,
and it will remind you
that all your beloved uncles

are long underground.

In secret you roll up a sleeve.
You’re fourteen again but
there are no bullies left
except the mirror
so you make a muscle
and whisper see, see?
See how big I am getting?  

Rule Of Three

The questions, 
as always, are these:
if you have a choice

among being target,
gun, or bullet, who
would choose target

over the other two?
And if you have rejected
becoming a target, 

do you prefer being
or agent?

These questions
are asked of you and
predicated upon

the fallacy that
you will have
a choice.  Choosing

far above our pay
grade in this

establishment —
but if we make
our own 

home on this 
range, we could be
either guns or bullets

as needed. We 
would automatically
become targets as well,

as we already are,
of course, but at least
we would not fall

without at least 
some notion of what
free will feels like.

Bedroom Story

resting easy in the embrace
of clear definitions, and isn’t it
lovely? lounging about on
a bed of words that make
perfect sense. knowing always
that you’ll never have to eat them
because they’re perfect. 

then someone says excuse me, no, 
wrong, incorrect. you roll off
the platform to fight them. maybe
they hate the stitching, or they
loathe you for your comfort?
no matter, you come up swinging.
they challenge you as if this was not your bed
to make, with the audacity of
wanting to lie in it too and you’d have
to give up some room for that.

after a fierce battle you cower
in a corner of the bed. you’re aware
of the cold stickiness of every little
spot of blood and every little scrap of bone
left in the bedsheets grinds into you
like a pea, a boulder, a whole continent 
you never used to notice. from the corner
where you are you notice others in bed
with you looking just as miserable as you
and maybe it’s time to change the bed
but the memory, the memory of how soft
the old definitions used to feel when you
snuggled into them keeps you immobile
as you glare back at those people over there.
you’re certain it’s better over there.

My Own Lane

Here I am in the morning
with a head full of ricochet
and fragments tearing through.
Or so I imagine because this morning

there was a gun in the news 
and all I can do after hearing that
is choose where on my head 
I’d put the muzzle if I had one. If tomorrow 

there’s a bomb, I’ll be thinking
of putting a bomb in my own belly; if
there’s a knife, I’ll be sticking
myself full of little cuts.  

Some people say: Stop watching,
do better. Stop putting yourself
into other people’s skin.
Let them have their own hides

and all that goes with them.
Leave them their space.
Do you, do only you.
Keep to your own lane.

My own lane is a mess
and when I watch the news I seem to end up
somewhere else 
that is somehow also my own lane

and I can’t turn off this road
even if I turn off the TV.
I can’t be more sorry
for feeling me and only me:

I only know
two ways to stop it.
One is by writing what you’re reading.
The other is to do what you’re reading about.

Stop making it 
about you.
Stop centering yourself
in the narrative —
believe me, I understand.

All I’m trying to do
is put enough into the center
to cut myself
out of the target for good.

Rescue Diver

I filled my pockets
with my hands
after wringing them
just a bit, then

tied a thought to one leg,
a prayer to the other, 
jumped into a flood, and
sank to the bottom.

Down there were thousands
who had sunk before me.
I cut the weights from my legs
and handed them out.

It was like the Sermon
on the Mount — I’m no 
savior but it seemed like
one thought and one prayer

went a long way
around that crowd.
As I rose back
to the bright air,

I started to think
about opening my heart and mind
to what I’d seen
but became afraid 

of taking on too much weight, 
drowning, suffocating like those
below.  Breaking surface
I swam ashore,

grabbed another thought,
another prayer, tied them on
as I stood on the bank, ready
to dive again, to do my part.


When people die
this way, taken 
from on high,
there will always
be someone who says,
do not speak

of how it happened
until we have wiped up
the blood and after
all the wounds are
bound and healed
or buried.

I confess,
I have been that person,
and in some ways I still am.
I cannot speak of
missile planes
and falling buildings
to this day.  I do not know
if I can be or ever will be
that person who can
argue or imply, 
speak truth or falsify,
dig snarling into another
over how and why —

but if you can, try.
If you can by such talk
somehow prevent
me and mine
and countless others
from standing
bloody and mute
among the dead, if you
can with all this chatter
open new doors and close
old ones, try.
I fail when I try.
I fail when I look
into a victim’s eyes — 

but out beyond the pain
of the moment, or perhaps
within the moment,

someone must try.