Monthly Archives: February 2016

Earworm

As you serenade me
with your inconsistencies,
railing against
your own fluid
nature, your failures
and poor choices,
ask yourself
as you wail: aren’t you 
at least half in love
with this song
you’re making
from your
contradictions?
It seems so obvious
that you’ve
written your life
as rock opera,
grand bombast
with one eye
upon the charts,
that I can’t fully believe you
when you wish out loud
for a simpler tune
to dance to. All 
you’ve ever done
is make this music
and call attention to 
this music and tour
endlessly behind this 
music and now you claim
it’s all been against
your own desires. It’s not
pity I feel exactly, although
I can imagine your pain
if it’s true; it’s not anger
or insult I’m feeling, as I love
you too much in my way
to fail entirely to see how
you do indeed believe this
on some level; it’s more 
a fatigue with the soundtrack
of the tale, a sense that
it’s been overplayed, a dawning
irritation or even boredom
with the sing-song chorus, the
repetitive verses,
and that confounded bridge 
like an earworm that keeps me
only half-aware of how badly
you need someone, anyone,
to listen.

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The Rock Star For All Time

The rock star for all time
stepped onto her stage 
just as it broke and disappeared
from underfoot. Falling
toward death she began
composing a final song
to tell at last her full tale
of how having talent and will
and luck got her here —  
it opened with grand chords,
shifted into slim-fingered picking
in the bridge, had of course
a singalong chorus, a fist in the air, 
cadence building to catharsis —
it had everything
and she wrote it in her head
in the two seconds before she died,
probably for the best as it sounded
like all her others — all that drama
and urgency as she fell translated
into her being there anyway,
sprawled in the ultimate cliche,
her last song utterly ordinary
and thankfully unheard — making it
a song just like the one
we all sing upon telling ourselves
for the last time:
this time, finally, I’ll get it right.


American Darkness

No darkness like
American darkness:

scalp in one fist, treaty in the other; it wears a stolen feather.

 

No darkness like American darkness.

We all know what’s under the bed; it wears a white hood.

No darkness like
American darkness:

it stinks of plastic
instead of ancient woods;

wears menace like a tumbling skyscraper,
not like a sacred mountain.

No darkness like
American darkness:

it doesn’t wear black,
but green;

it doesn’t even care
if you can see it.


Prophecy

Seed to stem, stem to school, school
to work, work to bone, bone to hand, 

hand to mouth, paycheck 
to paycheck, worry to more worry,

desperate to despair, despair to prepare,
prepare to ruin, ruin to rash, rash to reckless, 

reckless to reckoning, reckoning to armament,
armament to carry, carry to itch, itch to shake, 

shaking guns drawn to sudden discharge,
steady guns drawn to clearly aimed executions,

bodies to fall, fall to faint, faint to disbelieve, 
disbelief to convictions, convictions to whisper campaigns, 

whispers to scream, scream to chant, chant to 
march, march to war, war to end all war, 

end to end and head to head laid in lines
border wall to wailing wall, silent sea to shining sea,

stem to stern, stern to solemn cry, cry to cradle,
cradle to cold and lasting grave.


In Mysterious Tones

Recently spoke
in mysterious tones to
a dog on the sidewalk,

not expecting a response,
and I got none; the point
of doing so was to exercise

a sense I had not used 
in years — the ability to sense
God in a dark brown inhuman

eye, to recall that divinity may be
a muted answer to a clumsy
question asked in an absurd way

to an impossible
respondent.  When there was
no answer at all, I did not despair

of God’s existence,
instead choosing
to believe I was rusty

and out of practice
and with more time
would get it right. 

I swear now to practice,
to ask every creature
and plant I see

similar cryptic questions,
and to then think
on whether any further lack 

of obvious answers
from them speaks more
about my inability to understand,

about an actual nonexistence
of God, or about how language
is so often just inadequate

for important things. I will figure it out
and in the meantime try
to simply enjoy

the silence,
fooling myself that
is all the answer I seek.


Israel Dances Into The Corner Store

Israel dances a half-stumble 
to Jimmy’s Corner Store for cigarettes,
banging through the narrow doorway, 
all of his body-music colliding with 
door jambs and point of sale displays
until Jimmy 

(whose real name is unknown
but is certainly not Jimmy,
Jimmy having been
the original owner of the store,
Jimmy having been gone
for fifteen years at least)

shouts at him for raising a ruckus
and insists he buy something or get out,
and after he buys
his pack of Mustangs

Israel drum-bangs his way
back to the street,
Israel strum-dings his way
back to the street,
Israel smoke-songs his way
back to the street where Israel
is lord of the dance and his name
is exalted, though it isn’t his
real name either, not the name
he was born with in his homeland.
That name is long gone

into this city’s alleys 
and distances
that instead named him Israel 
for no reason other than he looked 
like another guy named Israel
who walked these streets before him,
who bought his cigarettes from original Jimmy,
who had his own halting music to dance to,
who is himself long forgotten
having been easily replaced
through the city’s greed
for colorful characters
to people its own delusion 
that it is in fact
a promised land.

So Israel dances out,
lights up,
butt-chunks
his path, spring-strings
himself along.
So Jimmy shakes his head,
watches him go,
turns back to the counter
and the sweeping up.
So I begin to forget that I
play my part too: the bemused
observer who makes it all possible
is necessary to the play; without me
to make it into a myth,
what would it be except
just another hard town
pretending
to be a home.


Saving Tomorrow

to save tomorrow
we will have to
extend ourselves
beyond our skins

sabotage the tracks
we always ride upon
dance damage
in whirls of foul steam

breathe uncanny fumes 
from the mouth of hell
claim it for our cologne
waft it back at their sentinels

explain and explain
to ourselves
how we are the best church
we can belong to

how much self mastery
we shall need in the face
of the storms of laughter
from the throats of evil

coupled with abandonment
of our trivial principles of form
and substance just long enough
to shut that howling down

if we want to save tomorrow


Lights

in me all
either red or green

no yellow 

don’t know why you need colors
inside anyway

no yellow

moving past the speed of 
entrance into the speed of explore

no yellow

dead ahead is all the rage
stopping short is so last year

from now on only green
or red
full on charge or
sudden crash
headlong dash or
unplanned stop

no yellow

if I ever see yellow
I will shoot out its lens
cut short its cable
end myself before I will answer to it


Bed

When my left hand
goes completely numb

I fall into my bed
and lie there between sleep
and pain,

aware of 
a third in the bed with us

whose name is Fear.
Is this a stroke,
is this the end
of something, or the beginning

of the end? Fear
chatters on and on. 

I lie there among
states of being,
tingling and fretting,
and i
t’s not hope

that gets me back up later
but the discomfort
of how crowded

that bed’s become,

how noisy it is in here.


Final

1.
A train leaves New York City

traveling west to Chicago

Another train leaves Chicago
traveling east to New York City
at the same time

Two trains leave Dallas
one for Chicago and one for New York
at the same time those other trains
leave their cities of origin

One person on each train is fleeing
someone else’s fists

At some point
each will look out a window and
exhale

Given identical average speeds for each train
how long will it take each of those four people
to transition into the feeling that they
have gone far enough

to call themselves
completely safe

2.
One Johnny
steals three apples
A different Johnny doesn’t

The police pull over Johnny the Latter
for looking (to them) enough like Johnny the Former
for government work

Someone gets hurt

Given the mental picture
you’ve made based on those facts
who are you

3.
If one demagogue 
defines a subset
how does the addition of a second demagogue

change the equation

You protest
Say that’s nothing we studied

You say you didn’t know any of these things
would be on the test

For bonus points
prove it

4.
No pilot 
bombs a village
but the village is bombed anyway

Taking into account all the variables
plot the arc of blame
Show your work

You say this isn’t fair

For bonus points
fix it

5.
If a train leaves New York City half empty

and travels away from there
at an average speed of 50 mph
stopping every 200 miles or so
to drop off and pick up passengers
but there is no net gain or loss
so the train remains half empty

and casual conversations barely arise among strangers
as everyone’s 
staring
at their phones or 
out the windows
alternately marveling 
and mumbling about the sights

and a second train does the same
and a third and a fourth

until there are one hundred trains 
all engaged in the same shuttle and shuffle
of mysterious Americans

back and forth across this landscape
and all the passengers have grown weary
of these terrible American mathematics 

Given all that 
at what point will it stop being flight
and become fight

At what point do you call it 
no longer an adventure
but a job

You say you’ll never use any of this in real life and
dammit
this won’t help you get by

I’m sorry
No extra credit is available on this question


The Kick We Last Used In The Womb

Originally posted 2/10/2012.

A whisky master says,
“I suck the tongue of truth
from the pit of every glass.”
A wine master says,
“This sweetness burning within
pushes my eye toward Heaven.”
A pothead prays
in riddles,
grinning at the answers.

Whatever we do to stone ourselves
revives within us the kick
we last used in the womb.

We fight toward
what’s out there,

though we have never seen it.

We reach for it.  We may not be
steady, we may not be
completely sane.

We may not even be right

when we clamor that it is
all we need — but still 

we go for it, kicking free
of our bindings, punching
toward rebirth.


Men I Know

Originally posted 9/28/2013.

A man I know
calls his preferred
prospective partners
“chicklettes.”
Because they’re young,
young and sweet,
he says.
Because of their fragile shells,
he says.
Because he spits them out
when the flavor’s gone,
he says.

This other man I know
has jokes up the wazoo
about women, about
“how they are.”
Because that’s just
letting off steam,
he says.
Because of the need for a break
in the battle between us,
he says.
Because it’s better than shooting them,
he says, 
and laughs.

This other man I know
likes to stick his elbow into me
whenever he pretends he’s down
for women where we work.
Because they think I mean it,
he says.
Because as men we know the score,
he says.
Because, anyway, where were we before they talked?
he says.

Other men I know lose track
of bedmate headcount.
Other men keep track,
notch something to brag about.

Other men I know have heard about “no”
but they say it’s just a lock to be picked apart.
Other men don’t care much for locks,
bust down the door, swear they heard a cry
for help in there.

I know many other men who I’d have sworn
are none of these,
but too often I learn of one or more who are
not the men I thought they were
and now when I say

this other man I know
or
these other men I know

I stop and wonder 
if other men are in fact knowable,
why I seem to know so many of these other men,
and why those other men 
seem so comfortable with me.


The Moment

I use this word
“moment” so often
that I may have
cheapened it, may have
obscured my reverence
for how many universes
may be found inside it

so let me correct this
by saying that “moment”
contains the entirety
of northern lights
and orgasm and stark
anger when faced with
a piercing incident of
hate and the gentleness
of a hand smoothing
a child’s hair and how breath
sucks away after a body blow.

Give me a moment
for “moment” being 
a snapped pole and
transformer explosion 
pocketed within a 
captured gaze and 
dawn through the window
of cheap motel after
a sleepless night of your
choice — despair, lovemaking,
anxiety, anticipation of 
family arrival after long absence,
the moment of loading the pistol,
settling out the pills, the moment
of sweeping them back in the bottle,
of putting the gun away.

A tender moment, a moment of
clarity, a momentary fear.

Give me
a moment, and then another,
and another. A gift of
presence in the present. Every moment
the last, and the first.

No better word
exists; the others all came to be
merely to hold onto that one.


FYI:

If you’re remotely interested in what I sound like when I read poetry, here’s my recent poem, “Neighborhood Bar,” as a demo recording I did for our band, The Duende Project — that’s me on guitar and vocal.  Wide open for feedback…

Neighborhood Bar


The Long Coda

No mistake — we
will end in Music.

Take the full journey
to how we got here

and whether we start
back at First Drum (maybe

when feet shook the earth
while running or maybe

when stick hit stick or log
or rock hit rock — or skull)

or at First Song (maybe
with first imitation of wind or bird

or maybe when prehistoric lovers’ voices
pleased each others’ ears and 

repetition led to connection) we ran it in Music
and we will end in Music.  

We will end in Music,
blood singing through us.

We will end in Music,
wind in our hair.

We will end in Music,
hearts stepping down.

We will end in Music,
our lyric closing as we close.

If we were anything, ever,
we were Music — there was always

melody within, harmony to be 
sought and struggled for, rhythm

to frame it all; and when we’re gone
our survivors shall sing us home.

We end in Music 
which itself never ends, and 

perhaps that has been the nature
of God all along: the continuing Song

going on and on. The coda
of Beginning. The last lingering Chord.