Monthly Archives: July 2017

100 Words About Where It Happened

I’ve seen stains
on the road where 
it happened.  I’ve seen
ambulance lights
heading away from 
where it happened.
I’ve heard weeping
and screaming, 
tortured explanations
of torture and death,
condescension turned to
terrorism, eventual drift
from truth to shrug, and
blue, blue winds blowing
any remaining truth like
so many dandelion seeds away
from where it happened;

if you want me 
to testify about where 
it happened, where
exactly it happened, 

we’ll be here a while
as I point and say
there and
there and
there
and there and
there

is where it happened.
Everywhere
is where it happened.

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Would-Be Suicide Seeks Spiritual Guidance

Originally posted 3-23-2012.

Into the heat of the night to chase Lazarus.
I have something to learn from him:
how he got over his anger at his friend
for pulling him back into the struggle. 

I want to ask him how long he held the grudge
and if he led with it whenever he and Jesus talked,
if indeed they ever spoke again after that day,
which seems likely though it’s unrecorded.

How do you have that conversation
about him not just saving your life, but pulling it
all the way back from bankruptcy and liquidation
to deposit it right back where it had been

as if nothing had happened at all and anything 
that soul had seen while it was gone could be forgotten?
I know it can’t.  Know it for a fact.
And I need to know how to speak to a friend

who brought me back like that, though 
in my case I really wanted to go.  I want to know
how I’m supposed to be his friend again.
I want to know if it’s even right to try.  If anyone

should know, it’s Lazarus. How did he and Jesus
get past it, if they did at all?  
They never tell that story in the Gospels.  
They never made a sermon out of that.


Taking Stock

My body,
deceiving me
in some new way
daily.

My main diseases?
Sugar sludge blood, 
moods lurching
from death sludge 
to joy stomp, sleep
a series of strangulations;
each of these a wee bomb
waiting to rend me.

My brain,
pummeling me
as it always has.  

My approach to life,
a recalibration loop
barely held together 
at a weak seam.

My upbringing,
gentle horror show 
wrapped in
soft white bread.

My heritage?
Half worlds away from here
in two opposed directions,
the vacuum in my core strong enough
to suck at them, too weak to bring them
smashing together into a good
cold weld. 

My understanding 
of that history?
Half book learning,
half frantic triage, all 
of it guesswork when 
push comes to shove
on the edge of the void.

My homeland?
An experiment in something.
Steal a medium and grow
a culture on it. Pretend
we don’t know 
what it feeds on.

My future here?

I’m not alone in the game,
in the approach to it,
thank all the small stones
in the earth and sky
for that; thanks for
a hand to hold while I wait;
thanks for the hope that
I make it easier for them
in my own way;

but I know I will have to
run it in alone, diving down
a slip and slide built with
rust-fouled water and 
undercover stones;

I know
I’m coming in too fast,
too hard, and in no shape
for the finish,

but I’m coming in. It’s
something to do, the only thing
to do; confusion and conviction
in action;

here I come
smashing in.


In The Wind

To the people who stopped dancing
after the Twist, after the Frug, after
the Robot, after the Dougie: pick up
what’s left of yourself from the doorman
and leave the club. Why are you here

when there are so many people waiting
to dance? You’ve crowded the floor, 
taken up a lot of space.
No one can move unless they do
a shuffle like yours. So many have

so much wildness to unleash
that this is killing them.
You might have known that feeling once
and you might want to know it again, but
what you’re doing right now doesn’t come close

to the free shake they long to do. Maybe
that’s why you want this. Maybe them dying 
without a leg to dance on is part of some plan
you’ve hatched to get your own rhythm back
but it’s nothing that will stand. So: get off the floor

if that’s all you’ve got. Get out, get
out the door without looking back.
There’s a new crowd waiting.  Stay
if you are ready to move again. If not,
there’s a wind outside. Go be in it.


Tattoo Dwellers

Whenever they buy a country
they have their names tattooed
all over every open patch.

We lived here before they got here
or got here after the inking up but
our names don’t look like theirs, so 

we have to hide in the spaces 
in the letters, the gap of the upper
“A”, the narrow rooms afforded

inside “D” and “O.” It helps your chances
if you are comfortable

living under a thin sheen of blood.


Poem To Be Read At A Press Conference

Hearing of your latest
spurt of hell, I wonder
who will ask the question
that will close your throat
at last.

I wonder if you
will be at a podium 
in the middle of some
hateful, stupid sentence
full of self-referential, self-
serving pablum for you that
will deal terror to so many others
when someone blurts out
the right spell, the right curse
in the form of an inquiry
you can’t deflect, or

will it come from a half-trusted aide
on a golf course
somewhere, mid-swing,
while you’re trying to forget
everyone else and focus on
your own perfection that’s always
just beyond your grasp, or

will it come from one of your children,
checking in on you  
long after midnight as you stare daggers
into the screen light between 
your soft little hands, or

will it come, most improbably,
from yourself as perhaps
a chunk of clot hits your brain
in the right spot to release you
from this unrelenting lust for 
the reverence and squat obedience
of all others. What question will it be

that takes you down, pours you
into a puddle of gray flesh on 
a public floor, terrified as always
but with a fading awareness
that this is what you always wished
for so many others, what you dealt
with so many of your labored breaths,
and now you may meet them face to face?

No one’s certain,
but rest assured,
we’ll keep asking
until we see you fall.


The Public

They are realizing at last, if only dimly,
what they’ve bought and what’s been
sold out from under them.

Sitting there slack, slumped against hubris, mouths
opening and closing, sounds coming out:
no sense to be had there. You would think

they’d get up and move, either 
trying to escape or beating a path
toward something better to come after

such an awful time; but not now, or not 
yet at least, in spite of the scent of urgency
in the air. Instead they hold harder to 

the prejudices and suspicions 
they’ve always been chained to, 
as if such things could save them

in a storm that’s only now begun 
to rise to full scream. They sit there
and scream along, they do not move;

as they are engulfed, they seek
a scapegoat and avert their eyes
from what they’ve bought, from

what’s been sold
from under them
with their clueless, ecstatic consent.


My Left Hand Soaked In Oil

My left hand 
soaked in oil:

those are the first words
I heard this morning,
if you can call 
how they came to me
“hearing.”

It’s not
a true descriptor, but
as close as I can get 
to how the words come
so I call that hearing 
and hearing it is,

much as my left hand
feels dry with no apparent
oil upon it yet I trust
what I’ve heard about this,
I don’t argue when I hear
words this way: clearly,

my left hand’s soaked
in oil.  Up to me

to figure out if perhaps
it is magic oil
I can’t see or feel
that shines in darkness,  
or maybe a social oil that
gets on me from others
and later ignites
when I try to reach out,
or in some way a deep soul oil
that seeps out of me and
covers me wrist to fingertips
and it’s only on my left hand
to reveal to me once again
what I forget and forget:
how hard it is to hold fast
to what is closest to my heart.

My left hand soaked in oil,
shining at dawn. Perhaps
all it means is that oil

is a decoration, a highlight
reminding me to celebrate
my weakest parts, even as
I write this all down 
with my right hand.

If you are a bear for truth
and have read this far, tell me 
what you think it means 

for it seems that all I know
has become slippery,
falling again and again
out of my grasp

no matter how many times
and how tenderly
I listen to the words
I hear upon waking,

no matter how faithful I am
to the words.


Three Ways Of Looking At It

1.
In these sullen days
a half smile has become
a badge of subversion.
In these enraged times
any peaceful face has become
enraging.

In the white fingered
company of the ones
who dance confidently,
well-gloved
and bespoke-booted,
at their self-congratulatory
banquets, to be barefoot
and casual 
invites punishment
and raises alarm.
Being at odds kills you
here.

Taking a side 
kills you too but
you’ll have company 
when you die,

while those
left out of all sides might die but
might be left standing as
either proof of or contradiction
of dialectic,
but they will be
as alone afterward
as they were 
beforehand. 

2.
Today I am
in a process of dying
no matter how
you look at me:
dressed down,
worn down, well over
halfway along, staring at
this side of the long hill
I’ve crested,
looking down,
picking up speed.

3.
Ah well, I tell myself
as I start to roll,
I prefer not dancing.
I prefer not wearing
such damned clothing.
Soon I’ll feel such a wind on
my poverty skin, in my
blood-sugared hair, that
I might forget that I never
figured out
who I was or where
I belonged. 


Warm Salt Water

Spent this life sipping
warm salt water
in drops, only

warm salt water
and only in drips and
drops,

yet am expected
to taste sweetness
easily and reject

the only taste 
I’ve ever known
at once, with no thought

as to how all those
dribs and drabs of salt
may have burned

my ability to taste
anything else.  You do 
not understand how

oceanic it is in here,
how such trickling
pleasantry and joy

disappear into
that sea with no 
trace; meanwhile

warm salt comes
relentlessly, in bits and
blips, filling, spilling.

Spend a life sipping
those and see
what happens when

another flavor offers itself
to your tongue. See how
it feels to understand that

what you are meant to love
cannot touch you now.
See how you cry then:

it won’t even
feel like a loss as you
sip the drops,

as you shrug off
the suggestion
that there could be 

anything else for you
but the sip and the 
slipping away.


Tony Stops

Tony stops, just like that.

He sits for two hours
and forty five minutes
without moving.
His knife twitching like
a muse in his pocket. 
But he doesn’t reach,
he doesn’t

acknowledge.

He wishes he had a tail to show.
He’d show an angry snap of that thing
but

he’s stopped now, 

his winding’s run out.

If he’d been born animal
things could have been so different
but humans being what they are
it’s remarkable that Tony

can be so still when he’s always been
such a loud little twitch of a man

and so dumb, dumb
to how he was supposed to come
correct, dumb to how
he was meant for success

and nothing like this 
was ever supposed to happen

but don’t weep
whatever you do.

That shit’s contagious.
Tell folks he just stopped.
Tell them,
Tony stops like that from time to time.

Tony says so, it must be true.


Song From The Genocided (Ironweed Tea)

When you reach the point
where you trust nothing
except your gut
and your gun

and the finest music
you know is simple chaos
accompanied by
percussion

and every pow wow poster
makes you weep for 
your parents and 
your broken feet

and when the news comes on
the television you
hear chickens settling
into their roosts

to await the divine weasels
who will come for them
in the night and take them
for some yet-unseen purpose

When you write such things
that readers insist you must
roll your pen in flour to make it whiter
before the next workshop

that you invite them to 
go bobbing for your ass
in a hot vat of grease rendered
from the killing fields of Everywhere

and the music shifts to 
four on the floor and tosses
a cumbia over that until 
your fear is overcome by rage

or transforms to something akin
to a detachment from the future
and the present is all still past
and you clutch your gut and your gun

and shoot out the news on screen
and shove your pen into your eye
and you look the curious readers up and down
and ask for nothing from them at last

When you get there 
you give me a call and we
can sit together sipping tea
made from ironweed 

a yellow tea that will taste
like rust-burnt bridges and tonic sweat
and maybe then
we can call ourselves

worthy of our bloodlines
worthy of our tribes
worthy of all the dead who came before us
and worthy of being ancestors ourselves someday


Without A Blade To Raise

Asking yourself
who you are

when you wake up, 
any time you wake up,
every time you wake up,
gets old. It’s a habit
you want to break for good

so you take any hammer you can
to that habit. You take
a drink hammer, a smoke hammer,
a book hammer, a lot of book hammers
in fact. Maybe there’s a church hammer
that will work. Maybe someone comes by
and hands you a sword and it feels

better than a hammer. You swing it
at the habit of asking yourself
who you are

and marvel at how
its poor crystal bits shimmer
as they fly 
cuttingly
across all your horizons. 

It’s a good sword.

You hang your questions
about who you are 
on the same peg
you hang the sword on
while you sleep.

Once in a while you wake up
and ask yourself who you are
but it’s not a habit any more;
more like groping for a weapon
in the dark when you are startled
by a noise and wonder
if you are under attack.

At some point you may wake up
and ask yourself who you are
and reach for the weapon
while thinking about how
you never got an answer
in all those years of asking

and instead leave the bed
without your sword
to see if in fact
someone has broken in.

Starved frame of a figure
cornered by the stove,
away from windows and doors.
Thin rags covering all, it seems,
as far as you can tell in this light.
No face you recognize;
no face of any kind showing, 
in fact,
as it begins to move
toward you,

you standing there
without
a thing to throw,
a blade to raise.


Downtown Cookie

Cookie, one look at you tells us
you are fashion, you are
drugs, you are the art side
of a new canvas. It is not clear

if you are for sale or have been sold;
maybe you are self-possessed and 
not available except as display but
we all want as much of you

as we can get. That is how
downtown cookie crumbles:
do it for themselves, do it out of need
or for need-cobbled reasons; then

one of us grabs that unique skin, 
puts it on, wears it to cafe, cabaret, 
club, company store, the better end
of the street map, and that’s that.

Cookie, downtown cookie, we are know
you get left behind but you’ve done it before:
reinvent, come back as new fashion,
new drugs, 
newly living art.  Come back 

and see us sometime — or better yet,
we’ll come back downtown when it’s safer,
when we need an appropriately downtown skin
to perk us up; when downtown’s less you, and more us.


Pink Tinge

Flies covered the driveway, 
my car, the walls of the house.

A puddle on the ground 
in front of the car, and that was all:

no sign of anything else beyond
the 
buzzing and my instinct to pull away.

I waded into that cloud
and took the hose and washed

pavement, car, and house.
Noted a pink tinge to the water

as it ran down into the concrete apron
next to the foundation, and the flies 

rose and dispersed. What happened here?
Do I need to know, or is their departure

and the fact that they did not return
enough to allow me the comfort

of turning my back on the once-wet asphalt
and forgetting yet another small red mystery

that comes with living
in this small red city?