Monthly Archives: April 2017

After A Defeat

after losing a thick-armed struggle
with others gleefully unlike me

I am overthrown and then
as I am laid out by blows

upon dirt and scrub lawn
I stare up at sky of bruise-hue

in early dusk and imagine
I will rise at first slit of sun

on horizon 
this view is called hope and

is a bane of those
with whom I struggle 

their thick arms no match
for that sliver of sun

which prompted a belief
of potential resurgence

in a beaten skull
and soul


A Theological Debate

You manage to wring
a mystical message
out of mishearing 
the lyrics of a Kid Rock song
and then expect me
to nod in agreement when
you present the mistake
as evidence of God’s finger
in all things. I point out
that all it shows is that somehow
we make things work 
even when they don’t because
we long for there to be an Order
to this mess so we cobble one up
from any weak leather and scrap nails
we are given.  “Isn’t that
the same thing, really?” you ask,
and while it’s hard, perhaps
impossible, to entirely reject
your defense of such 
accidental revelations? Dude.
In the name of all
that’s potentially holy,
try to remember:

we’re talking about Kid Rock.


How To Be An Aging Poet

This voice is getting old
as are the lungs that drive it.

I want it to come alive with roses
firing from my tongue and 
seem to spit nothing
but autumn leaves. 

Do you feel any softness
or new growth 
in anything I say?
In fact, I’m likely reaching a point

of speaking nothing but stone talk.
I don’t know yet
if these will be sling stones shaped
to fly at Goliath, or gravestones seeking
a hole to mark, newly-turned earth
in which to settle.

I’m resigned to how little
those who follow
may be able to do with what
I am beginning to say. Not like
I’ll be offering obvious
building blocks,

nothing shaped like
a foundation. I feel already

they’ll sit there in front of you
and look like obstacles or
late-life mistakes.

Maybe that’s all I’ll be 
soon: 

object lesson on overstaying
time. Ossified while longing
to still be fluid. 

Monumental.

Waiting to crumble.


About those other projects…

Hi, Dark Matter readers!

I’ve been quite busy of late on a variety of writing projects as well as some things related to my band, The Duende Project.  The most recent post on the Website for that side of what I do gives out a whole bunch of info, including some recent publications and other musical activities of the band.

You can see that post at:

https://theduendeproject.com/

I hope you might take a moment to check it out.  Thanks!

Onward, 
Tony


How To Live

Trying to forget
all those homemade
white crosses
by roadsides,
in deserts,
pounded into loose soil
piled up against concrete
bridge abutments;
 
trying not to see
corners and parks laden
with heaps of browning flowers,
glass-cupped candles,
rain-rotted posters
for mercy, for justice,
for explanation;
 
turning away from
those names cut
in granite and marble,
raised hooves on statues
of cavalry horse and rider,
incised mottos of fervor
for cause and country.
 
Trying to give my back to
all this evidence
of all these deaths: those
observed by some,
exalted by others,
ignored as landscape,
as background,
by almost everyone else;
trying to figure out how,
 
in a society built around
this constant, foundational
presence of
our dead,
 
one lives a life
of life.

Four Facts To Use In An Obituary

1.
He was never as fond of ocean
as he was of desert, perhaps because
he was born near the former
and didn’t see the latter until
he’d already learned what it meant
to long for escape. After that, 
he imagined joy as a dry place
that bloomed seldom but riotously.

2.
He frequently had a certain look — 
a barely downturned face, 
sharply raised eyes and brows,
neutralized mouth — a look that said
he was judging you; not necessarily
in a moral way; more like assessing
the level of concern
he should allow for you
should your contact continue.

3.
When he loved someone
as fiercely as he could, 
he could not love himself 
equally fiercely
at the same time.
He did not love many that way
but neither did his self-love
ever rise to such a level
that he loved himself much 
at all in the times
between those strong loves.

4.
Upon his death, 
a white bird rose from 
the peak of his roof and
flew to the nearest ocean
to apologize. A brown bird
rose from a bush in the backyard
and flew to the closest desert
to apologize. A red bird 
rose from pavement outside
and flew to each lover in turn 
to apologize. A black bird
landed on an oak in the front yard,
turned its head down, raised its eyes,
and began the hard judging 
of the life that had just ended.


For The Sound

You think of this work I do
(when you think of it at all)
as the opening 
of petals, or veins.

No matter how many times
I tell you otherwise.
No matter how many years
I’ve been at it.

If it were the opening
of petals, 
I’d have long ago
turned to fruit,
fallen to the ground,
rooted as seed, 
regrown.

If it were the opening
of veins? How red 
would your hands be if
every time you touched one
of these you then
chose to just wait 
for the next one?

This isn’t as easy
as simply blooming
or bleeding —

it’s opening, sure,
but more like cracking
a safe or picking 
a lock and then pulling 
a door until it swings wide.
Inside,

maybe flowers, maybe
buckets of brimful red;

you can have those
as I live

for the cracking, the picking;

for the sound (my God, the sound!)
of moving doors.


Surviving

I’m supposed to be
among these massacre bones:
that’s where I was born,
after all, nestled
in a bleached nest of 
what was once alive, and though
I got up and moved on,
I was not whole.  Part of me
stayed back, remained
with these dead
who’d unwittingly cradled me
and lent me a certain air
of loss that I can always feel
even if others cannot tell. 
I measure every day
against that sense. Sometimes
it surges within
and I can’t take a breath
without the scent of old bones
filling me, choking me.  Other times
I can get by with only a whiff
or two here and there.  Either way
those dead held me when young
and still hold
all the essence I grew from:
the knowledge that I live always
among those who, if they’d seen me
in another day, would have laid
a sword against my infant neck,
a rifle’s barrel against my child’s skull,
and not held back.  I live 
always knowing how little it takes
to unleash that urge,
how easily they could send me
back into that massacre pile
if given permission and 
a flimsy rationale. Every day
I do not run screaming
to lock myself away
is a marvel; understand as well
that every day I convince myself
from dawn to dark
that you only look like them
and are not like them
is a miracle — not one 
of trust, but of magical thinking
and provisional hope. I make
no apology for that. You should
expect none. You
should do more
than wring your hands
when there are 
so many of these bones
still to be laid to rest.


There Is A Light

There is a light
in a glass of whisky
that never goes out
as it travels 
to dark places.
As it goes
on its way it is
its own torch
and what sights
it sees in 
there, in those 
normally unlit 
crevices — things
in some cases
not seen for years,
unexamined for 
decades. Take,
for example, stories
of an absent father
who disappeared seeking
those same items 
the same way years before —
there those stories are,
tucked into a cranny 
above the acid fields
of the deep belly. Or
the memory of
first taste at twelve,
chased by 
the memory of
that grapefruit soda
chugged after to cool
the flame that burned
again all the way back up
to the light and out again
leaving you heaving,
swearing never again,
no way, never, no way 
never no more; that’s
all there in the same
shadow as the others
and all the light there is down there
is in the first, second, third, fourth
glasses of gold, dense 
shine barking briefly
in the tongue, its hazy
illumination upon those
secret places counterbalanced
by how it sweeps fact up
into emotion and then,
after a while, the light,
ever a lie, indeed 
goes out while leaving more
dank remnants behind
inside to soon be sought again
with the breaking of the next
wax seal, the next crack of
the cheap tin on the cap
of the next bottle of flame.


Green Street

Bodies on fire on Green Street:
once leafy and pleasant, it
now has become
a scourging field.

You smell this smoke
and are initiated into
an intimacy with those
whose bodies are burned

as well as with those
who burn them.
It is now
a relationship,

a greasy coupling among
actors and those
acted upon. If you think
you can leave Green Street

in horror to regain
some level of innocence,
think again: sniff, breathe,
cough it out, vomit, it matters

not at all. You cannot detach
from it, just as every lover
leaves a mark within. Even if
the trees recover, even if 

a canopy of life
returns here,
you will be a partner
in these deaths

forever and
will never pass 
this corner again
without holding your breath.


Trying All The Keys In All The Locks

Hard to believe now, 
but when I was a child
I spoke more
of my mom’s Italian 
than English, knew 
all the Russian she knew,
and could mix it with 
my dad’s sprinkling
of Korean, Chinese, 
German, and Apache 
as needed.

I lost them all
in elementary school
where they made me
an English-only exclusive
and it worked so well that
when I got to high school,
as hard as I worked,
I could not get past Mr. Albert
and junior year French.
Never made it out of 
the replacement Spanish class,
either.  What little 
of each language I can recall 
still tangle in my mouth
when I try to use them
just to pronounce names 
of people and places.

I’m as monolingual
(and thus as all-American) 
as all get out,
one ossified adult
turned to stone
in the coils of

a colonizer’s words,
sentenced to
their sentences, 

wondering who the hell
that kid was
who once moved
so well
among his given languages
that he felt at home
in the fullness of the world,

wondering if all the poems
he’s read and written
and spoken since
were just keys stolen
from the warden 
to be tried in every lock 
until he and his tongue
once again
got free.


Tired Angry

When “tired”
means there’s nothing
to give.

When “tired”
means your lungs
whistle dirges.

There are trees
bent more by the weight 
of life than you are,

trees that grow
anyway, but you
are no tree. 

So tired,
stunted,
stalled —

lonely too, or
alone at least,
even among friends, 

lovers, family.
Tired, alone,
shortened, stuffed

down from full height
and wasted, too wasted
to rise again. Or so at first

you believe,
forgetting how 
“tired” can easily become

“angry,”
shifting
in one breath.

When “tired”
becomes “angry, ” those dirges
turn martial, go loud.

When “tired”
becomes “angry” you
straighten like 

a full tree, even if
a storm’s coming 
full of lightning

and doom. When
angry, you grow.
You see who else

is angry alongside you and
realize the lightning can’t
take all of you. So

get angry, not tired.
Be what is needed.
Rise, grow, sing war.

It’s too early to fall asleep.


Please Come

Please come,
said something.

This voice was soft
and unfamiliar yet
had managed to get 
so close to my sleeping ear
that I could feel it stir the air
as it spoke.

Please come,
it said again, there is
urgent need here, there is
a great famine, a profound 
drought, a bitter war,
a rage covering us all here.

Please come, it said again,
and I rolled over to change
which ear was exposed as
I try keep some of my hearing
to myself and not let just anyone
in that way, but it got into
the pillow itself and denied me
sleep, clearly saying again 
and again:

please come, we
are vanishing, we are being
snuffed out the way breath
takes a candle flame
and just as the smoke
from that small extinguishing
lingers for a short time and
ribbons back and forth until
it’s gone, this whispering
can only reach you for a moment
until it too wisps away. Please
come, please, 

until I could take no more
and talked back to it
and drowned it 
and snuffed it
and blew on it until
it cooled into silence
and left me in darkness
to sleep and 
keep to myself — 

but I found
I could not.


Exile

It does not happen
overnight, but

one day your neighborhood
reveals itself to be

your enemy. You realize
the streets long to cradle

your crushed face. All the familiar
walls are reaching out,

first to hug your back 
and then to hold bullets

that ache to pierce you 
through and through. Soon

it becomes a daily race
to go from stoop to work

and back to stoop 
while menaced

the whole time by place.
You spend every night

huddled in a room
you are not sure

you should trust. This
is where you’ve always lived;

you know you should belong in
your town, your place. But

what you know
and what you feel

are different. What you do 
and what you should do

are different. This place
as it is and as it should be

are different and
suddenly it appears that

exile is no longer a function
of where you live.


Instruments

On my rack,
a guitar the size
of New Mexico.
Tone drawn from
scraped concrete
and morning traffic.
Neck slim as
a racist’s excuse,
strung up tight and bright
to breakpoint. When I need
to write a song about white fire
rising from the caved chest
of a corpse, this flies
from its wall to my hands.

There also is
a small guitar there,
tucked behind the left ear
in a Victorian portrait
of an unnamed
woman, a guitar so small
I could swallow it and 
I do — not often and not
without choking.
It comes
without my asking
to my sleep, where
my long throat tunes it
to an open chord
when my need is for
a song that lights its own
flame. I find it warming me
upon waking; I come to slowly,
wondering at this sound within.

I cannot tell you all the names
of all the instruments that live near me;
some are ancient, some are new.
Some plant blasts,
some stick giggles
all over everything.  

Their only commonality
is that if another took them
and tried to play, I do believe
they would fall to dust in their hands
and blow away, perhaps to become
mingled with the dunes in White Sands
or piled upon the paired graves
of centuries-old lovers;
never to be played again

unless somehow 
they were to find me, bereft 
and songless, lingering here
long past my time
in dire need of

a dirge, an elegy, a tune
to bear me away.