Monthly Archives: March 2016

Listening To Young Poets

Listening to 
young poets

whose work
does not itself hold my interest

but whose joy in the work nonetheless
raises in me

my near dead longing
to be 

transported again
by words

first by the words of others
renewing enchantment

and then by my own
finally reminding me

that indeed I still 
have within me the spells

I once cast 
with ease 

releasing from my chest
hurricanes and after

soaking downpours
followed by sun

Listening to young poets
whose work does not itself hold me

yet I honor and thank them
and those who honor and nurture them

for being water and sun
in these parched days

reminding me
that I may still live and grow

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grime on my bumper, and so what.  
it’s not like it hides a beautiful body.  

enough rust and holes
to make next inspection a worry.

enough grunts and clicks and creaks
to make driving anywhere a symphony.

it still runs well enough
to make me mostly unafraid to go anywhere.

it’s got lots of room and red sass to spare.
above all it’s got a banging sound system.

sometimes I joke and say I’m going out 
to drive the stereo around my city.

it’s no joke to do it the way I do it, though.
they hear me coming long before they see me.

in dead of winter I crack a window
to let the big noise out for passers-by.

in height of summer I open it all up
and let it rip for everyone to hear.

there’s an occasional strange glance
from a car or a walker when I pass.

it’s not pretty, and neither am I.
gray on my head, grime on my bumper,

holes where no holes should be;
two hundred and forty thousand miles

of rattle, squeak, bomb-bay bass and 
shouting along to blood passion songs.

it’s not like I can hide in a beautiful body
so I might as well turn up and show up,

for as long as I can, for as long
as the rust holds together.


Six PM

Six PM.
Darkness not far off.
A neighbor’s cat
loafing on the front wall.
Doing the afternoon thing —
TV, a glass of water,
a wish for enough ambition
to practice the guitar,
a self-loathing raised
from the soil of knowing
how much I could be doing.
It’s a lost day, again, one that goes
by the formal name of
Monday through Sunday.

I’m jealous of that cat
for such willing public laziness.  
I’m jealous 
of the dead
for never having
to move,
for never being expected

to move.

Six PM
and you shouldn’t look at me.
If you look at me, 

don’t be jealous of a damn thing
about me. Move along.
Do something I won’t or can’t do —

look alive.


Cashing Out

Originally posted 12/22/2008.

Each of us is a vault of moments,
a bank for remembered scenes.
Poets eventually spend all that they save,
and I am one — or rather, have been one, 

for from this moment on
I refuse to pass my mysteries out 
like so many stray pennies.
Let it now be someone else’s turn.

Yes, there are times
when it comforts me to think again
of the way her hair felt
the first time I touched it;

times when it seems important to recall
what it feels like to press
the point of a hunting knife into my chest, 
adding a quarter pound of pressure with every breath;

I could still make them real
for anyone who asked, 
but could anything I got back 
make giving that away worth my while?

So much that I saved from youth to now
has ended up on stages,  was spent
for others’ amusement, was traded for glad hands. 
What has it ever gained me?

Just grant me now, at last,  
my hoard to hold for me alone.
Let me count my terrors and my ecstasies
in my own time, sitting up late at night with them.

Lord, how I wish I had been 
less profligate with these 
when it would have been wiser
to keep them close.

If I can learn
to be tighter 
with a memory now,
I might yet be happy. 

I could get a job where no one will ever ask me
about who I was, where I’d been,
how I view the search for meaning, 
how I got here. 

It’s none of your business,
I will say if they ask me. 
Write your own goddamn poems, 
that’s what I’ll say. 


Natural

we are natural
as we are

natural as plague
as fire ants

skyscrapers and letter bombs
animal products

ash wind blowing over burnt land
animal flavor

natural as rat packs
as ticks in spring

toxic bloom brownfields
a natural spoor of animals

stripped rights of devoured bodies
a natural prey of animals

natural as locusts
as red tide

slander and disgust with others
a natural call of animals

genocidal anthem barking
a natural mating behavior of animals

natural as whales beaching
as fish kills

to say we are not 
to say all things human are not natural

is natural

to use our surroundings till they no longer surround us
to then lament how evilly we shall starve 

is natural

to starve 
to become extinct

will be as natural as anything else we’ve been and done
has ever been


Afternoon Practice

a pipe filled with a black herb.
a series of effects pedals.
a loud amplifier.

a scrappy, crappy electric guitar.
a series of effects pedals reversed from the earlier sequence.
a reduced number of effects pedals. no pedals. no amplifier. 

an acoustic guitar.
a change of voice as nothing said or sung before needed to be distinctly heard.
a change of herb.

a pipe isn’t necessary except to loosen vowels when they are too tight.
a pedal moves a bit of air more easily than a puff on a pipe.
a fair guitar smokes itself, amplified or not.

a single chord may do the trick.
a single chord may change a player or the world.
a single chord may change nothing at all.

a single chord may heal or kill or have no effect
except to be satisfied with itself from strum to decay.
a truth that needs telling is that you can’t even do that.

a truth that needs telling is that you will nonetheless keep trying.


Mud Season

Rain has stopped
after all night dropping
on us and ground and roof,
falling into gutters, clattering down
to puddle the sunken end of the driveway.
It’s going to madly green out there
once it warms two more daily degrees
or so.  We call this Spring —

or, more often, “mud season,” 
the season when we notice

how filthy our cars are.

Spring here is a half-minute of breathing room 
between ways to suffer,
a half-second 
to knock crap off your boots
and your life — 
a half inch deep 
undrinkable lake 
in the scant soil 
of the backyard.

Season of slop — 
our city’s not pretty,
not clean, not bright.
Our roads are holy and pitted
like the path to Heaven, even as
we’ve been dreaming
of Hell’s heat

all cold season long,

and now it’s coming.  

It’s coming
in faster bloom than last year.
It’s coming
in smaller snow piles than ever before.

It’s coming
in our unease at how easy
winter was, how little mud
there is to mud season
this year.

It’s coming
as we get around to washing off
toxic grime from our wheel wells,

scrubbing at caked,
kicked up road salt
that’s tearing
hell
out of metal. 

A warmer world
is coming,
perhaps the warmest one ever;

it’s coming, and
no one’s ready for the heat;

though we all say,
as always,
that we can’t wait,
soon enough

we’ll be staring at that depression
in the backyard,
marveling at the memory of it
full of water, wondering
if  we will ever see mud season again.


Tomatoes

Originally posted here in September of 2015.
Dates to 2000 or so following the death of a close friend at Easter that year; the original is long lost.
This is an attempt to recreate it, knowing I’m no longer the person who wrote that original. 

RIP, Terry Warren.

I come home
craving tomatoes.
I go to my backyard bed

and pick whatever’s ripe
for my favorite summer meal: 
thick-sliced plum tomatoes,

Gorgonzola cheese, 
a few shreds of basil, 
balsamic vinegar, light on the olive oil.

You once questioned me:
why not the more traditional Mozzarella?
I said it’s because I feel that 

strong blues make flavors pop
and without strong flavors,
what’s the point?  

You tasted it, agreed, told me later 
you could no longer imagine 
not using a strong blue cheese

in a tomato salad, and I was as well pleased
as I could be 
that we’d fallen once again into 
the same place on something.

I remember this as I stare into
strong blues and bright reds in this bowl,
stare into oil bubbles,

 

a brown slick of vinegar, remember

you weren’t here to help me 
plant this year, to plant the beds with me

 

scant weeks after your passing;
weren’t here to help me weed
and toss and water and feed;

 

realize as if for the first time
that you aren’t here to help me savor 
the likely last summer salad of the year,

 

picked ahead 
of the inevitable 
killing frost.


Vindication

You drifted into this
as a boat unmoored
might drift:

predictably, 
based on past unmoored boats’
behavior
in an ocean with such well-known currents.

We suspect you’ll say now that
you were surprised
to end there of all places.
We have to call you out.

This was so obviously
going to happen. We shook
our heads about it
right in front of you.
We said it
right to your face
so often, we’re a little surprised
you didn’t dream about it
every night. It’s as if

you never heard us —
or maybe you did,
and then did everything you could
to be what you shouldn’t have been;

it’s almost as if you were determined
to end up there on that far shore
starving and broke and broken
with no way to come back, almost
as if you were determined to be
as far away from our good sense
as possible, and we’ll be damned

if we know how
or have the wherewithal
to rescue you now — look at you

sitting there, staring into the sun
as if you’d never been told
not to do that.


No Faces

Studies have shown that
we are swiftly evolving,
losing obsolete traits; soon,
perhaps, none of us will have
an easily identified face
or name as the great
mass of us has no need 
of such things in the larger
System. This may be why
we are fighting so hard for them
right now — the last grasp
of those things slipping away,
sinking into a hole called 
the species, the course of
history, the past. Imagine
that — living without
any of the markers
we’ve relied on
to decide what to say to
one another.
Imagine the freedom
of not having to live up
to your own name;
imagine the joy
of perpetual first encounters;
try to imagine whether or not 
we could even care
for such things then —
imagine

how the definitions of joy, love,
and care will have to evolve
in order to survive, if indeed
they survive at all.


Chastisement

Originally posted 3/31/2011.

talk about walnuts dammit
speak of bananas or plywood
maybe there’s a door to consider
or typewriters themselves
so sexy and so willing 
to be closely observed

talk about bricks dammit
spend an hour staring at one
until you have the red dust
and the surface pitting memorized
keep staring until
the brick’s all mopped up
and your awareness of it
is ready to be wrung out onto paper

see the pavement — kiss it
see the cobweb — swallow it
find a key — stuff it up your nose
learn how brass smells
of dirty fingers and ozone
then gimme an epic about that scent —

start maybe with

first time you noticed  that smell
was when your mother died

the keys were in the hand
you bunched up to your face

you could smell and taste them
mingled 
with tears and lemon polish

on the oak table where you laid your head
to weep when it happened

or anything else
any something or other
some incident
something or nothing at all
just talk about
something real

rage has no flavor
and neither does love
but bodies do
and so does your blood
so give us the taste of your iron
your salt, your sour meat 
we are hungry and thirsty
for you


No More Slogans

No more slogans, poet —
your great good words of theory
have no rhythm,
are no generator
to charge a rebel’s heart.

 

No more slogans, poet —
to change them make them feel
both bullet and healing,
scent of blood and of
lily on the casket.

 

No more slogans, poet —
your time is closing;
they may take you soon. What
do you think we need most now —
your flag, or your fist?


Cold And Crocus

season of cold and 
crocus — purple chalices set
against mud-specked white

lit in the backyard
by headlights upon
late homecoming after work

exhausted, hungry
for shower, supper,
undirected talk, good touch

later, before sleep,
the making of a to-do list
that starts with raking the yard

once (of course) the crocuses
are done with their blooming
and their season is done

then it will be our time
to see to our garden —
but until then

we shall leave it to
the crocuses
to remind us that winter

will come to an end
will be marked
and announced

regardless
of us
spring will come


jazz and whisky (for phife dawg)

on the night of phife dawg’s passing
I am drinking in a club
where there’s jazz on stage
a bowed bass singing

i don’t know enough tribe cuts
to call them all out here
but I think about him more often
than my own knowledge should suggest I might

we share the same disease
it’s killing me as it’s killed him
I’m dying here tonight with 
a whisky in my hand

I’m not an addict
I don’t crave sugar
I’m not in that sad kind of shape
but I know enough of those things to know

that tragedy gets hung on some people 
the way a shadow follows others
tacked to their heels like a comet trailing
so you go “damn that’s a sight to see”

even though you suspect
from the first time you see it
that it’s tied to a land mine or a bomb trigger
and the person trailing it ain’t long for the world

if I’m one of those
not long for the world

I hope I’m a comet
the way phife was a comet

it’s killing that he’s gone
a killing sort of moon in the sky tonight
a killing sort of breath I’m breathing tonight
I suck down a half dozen drinks

asking myself
in the only tribe line I know
if I can kick it and lying
that of course I can

I’m not worthy
of biting that line
not worthy
of anything more

than looking tonight
at grief and resignation
called up by a bowed bass
that somehow makes me cry

when an amateur chanteuse
sings “st. james infirmary”
sings “let him go god bless him”
and sitting with my whisky at the bar

I have no choice
but to cry
to ask for a blessing upon him
to let him go


A Relief

We don’t matter, 
you know.

As much as we’d like
to be important, 

that is how much
we are not.

Thank God for that
as God made us in

God’s self-important image
and that’s all we truly share:

the ego of Being as We Are
and no more.  According to

the Bible we were born to,
we named shit and then 

screwed up from there and now
we’re in the dark groping toward

a way back.  We’re a damn cliche
and are not even individuals within it —

there we are,
exemplars and not people — 

trying, desperately,
to make a mark amid

well-deserved skepticism:
we don’t matter, and isn’t it

a relief to not matter
in these times that might

give you a chance
to escape.