Category Archives: poetry

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?


Quantum Superpositions

Whatever the fuck
I am, 
I’m not Italian
pretty much ever
except when I am;
whatever. 
Whatever 
the fuck
it is that I am,

it is not White
except when it is,
when I am, whatever.
Whatever the fuck
I am, it is not Mescalero
pretty much ever
except when I am,
when it is, whatever.
Whatever I am, 
I’m not Indian, not Native,
not Indigenous — I am

whatever is in the box before
you look or name me —

(BTW,
did you know
Schroedinger’s experiment 
was designed to show how 
ridiculous the concept of
existing simultaneously
in multiple states was?)

whatever,
I exist
according to this world
only in collapse
of my totality. And 

when it collapses
whatever is left is what
I’m supposed to 
live: 

the role
of the fucking whatever.

No lines,
no blocking,
no motivation —

just an act, a 
character until 

it’s time, and then
back in the box

to sit
in quantum superposition
until my crushed being
can again
be fucking peeped
by whoever for 
whatever.


Bellwether

There: a being visible
in the edge of the forest,

barely solid in the dusk;
silver mist, cloak with no face within.

Unwilling to find it supernatural
until other options are exhausted,

you call to it using names
of living people it might be,

ending with “Hello? Hello?
when there is no response

and there is still no response
with those greetings. Day dims

and that being, now firm
and opaque, moves into clear sight

in the backyard.  You still can’t be certain
of what it is, but it seems honest

and ominous, not trying to hide
as it moves toward you. 

You’ve heard of such things 
lurking in other lands, poorer lands;

bellwethers, harbingers, 
avatars. Perhaps divinity,

perhaps depravity, perhaps
something not defined well

by your limited experience. It seems
all news in recent days suggests

such beings have been among us
at all times, are more numerous 

than ever now.  You stare at it
approaching across land

you thought was safe,
thought was your own.

It’s stopped now, stands
in your sightline. Takes

the measure of your regard.
Waits for you to name it, then

to move toward it or flee;
waits to name you as well,

since it sees you as a silver mist,
a cloak with no face within.

None of us have names now
or faces. All of us clouds of fear

looming in each other’s woods
on the outskirts of safety.


How We Keep Time At This Age

There are moments common to all of us
when we wake from sleep and do not know
the time or even the day, moments 
when we decide not to find out right away.

I know that just as I do, you lie there disconnected
and think of all your firsts:  first pet, crush, love, cigarette, 
drink, blood, kiss, sex, death. All your recents:
current pet, crush, love, cigarette, drink, blood, kiss, sex. 

You consider death separately, right before 
the moment (common to all) when you choose
to look at the clock and remind yourself
what day of what week we are in. You consider

death separately as it means something different now
to contemplate the idea of the most recent death
in your world. You have to count on your fingers
and then get to know the calendar again, asking

if it was Todd or Joan or Aiden or Mike that was
the most recent. This is how we keep time now, how we
pull ourselves out of the blur. We fumble for glasses and phone,
asking: are we still here, still in recorded time?


Underneath This Fire

This is how
I hope it will be
from here:

underneath this fire,
as required,
ash that when

I cool down
you may take
and scatter.

It is not cremation,
not accidental, not
visible flame I speak of

but a steady life of immolation
only seen upon
its dying away and 

revelation of what
is left behind. I will not
glow as I burn, there will be

no smoke. Life
will continue as normal
and when it is over

there will be ash to whiten
bare ground that will
turn green next year

with savory herbs and
when you feed you will
remember me. 


Crowned Demon

When I was your crowned demon
I lived better. I slept better
and dined easily with no
shredding pain in my belly
after. I was kingly in my affect
yet had no subjects to fawn
for me, scrape for me, die
for me. I fought you like 
any threatened being and 
wore both winning and losing so well
you ground your teeth at night
with the nagging cancer of 
victor’s envy.

Now that I’ve become
your logo, your clowned
honoree, your advertised 
history, I can’t stop bleeding
inside. I see what you’ve made
on posters, hats, cigarette packs
to help you lay your claim
to what you think I was, to help you
twist me into believing
that all I am is memory and 
template and rogue wave. 
You name me ancestor without
a crumb of shame, name me 
friend without a hand to offer,
name me chic without a care.

When I was your crowned demon,
your merciless savage, I was still
a better human than you.
When you named my children
nits, called me lice, I was 
still a better human than you.
When I was your obstacle,
your plague, your big “in the way,”
I was still a better human than you.
When you beat me into pale imitation
and cut me free of my tongue, 
I was still a better human than you,

and if I am now to be your mascot,
you had better learn how to sleep
with one eye on me, because 
I recall what it meant to be
your crowned demon and as such
I am still

a better human
than you
.


Channel G

What a true
religious experience
it would be 
were we to learn that
some known star,
some common
twinkle, some blip
whose true influence
has long been hidden from us behind
astrologers’ misunderstanding
for millennia,

was in fact what we call God
and has been sentient 
and laughing out there
in space, thinking of
what it has done
for us and to us,
and all the time we thought
it was all because
of Sirius or Betelgeuse
or some epic cluster
we’d configured
into an image of grand myth
or metaphor when in fact
it was a small yellow sun 
not terribly far away 
that had taken on the role
of our celestial deus ex machina
without us even knowing 

and done it all for fun, on whims
and fancies, just to watch
what was happening here
for entertainment; imagine us learning
that it has invited other stars
to watch as well, that we are considered
interstellar appointment watching,
longest running show in this sector,

although it must be said that
the plots are getting
a little stale and whispers
are growing about
what, if anything, can be done
to erase the slide.

 


Revisionist History

(Originally posted 3/20/2012.)

In the full history of governments
it has never mattered how they start;
they’ve always ended the same way.

The venal game their way to power
and stay there regardless
of the label they choose to wear.

In the full history of nations 
it has never mattered how you love them;
they’ve only liked you back, only at certain times.

In the full history of history
what happens has never mattered;
all that ever matters is what is said

about what happened
or did not happen, or is said
to have not happened.

I tell you these things
not to make you despair
or get you angry.

I tell you this not to make you
shrug away the urge to justice
or fall into dumb acceptance;

nor do I do it 
to delight in your 
earnest helplessness.

I tell you this to say
battles are never won; instead
they become games to be replayed.

You will lose, and you will win;
some will die playing,
killed by others who are also playing.

There are no nations but two: 
the strugglers and the lords. 
Both are everywhere, speak all languages.

If you want to pursue happiness,
chase it
but recall

history 
and nation 
and government

pursue happiness too — 
they do it, always,
by hunting you.

In the history of humans
there’s dancing and loving,
making of art and music,

good sweat, 
grand tears,
and lots of laughter.

Those lift us into being human,
keep us hoping,
make us happy

beyond the vagaries of
what the lords desire.
It’s our story

to hold, not theirs to hand us.
Do not forget that
when you tell it to your children.


Superheroes

Seems sometimes
I am surrounded by
armies of superhero
fans poring through
canon and alternate
canon and non-canon
for secrets
and larger truth

and here am I
impervious, because

so often in my youth
my heroes were
your villains and
your heroes’ canons
sketched and cut my heroes
into fodder
and nothing more

To resist such obsessions now
seems to be

my lonely path

to sanity


Mon Dieu, J’Accuse

Did you mean
to drop

your entire meaning
for us before us

in our
quiet moments

as if they were held
in a holy sphinx

carved
from hard sugar

into such clear water
that we could not help

seeing it dissolve
so swiftly

that we ended up
with a permanent ghost

unsettled
in our memory

as if we’d seen 
your face in that pale shadow

of deity and from that
understood

how all things 
work in tandem

and now we 
have forgotten

all but the fact 
that we once knew

and sit bitter in
the aftermath

of that lost, melted
truth

because if you did it
knowing how we

would fail
and despair

it becomes hard for me
at least

to credit any effort
toward art or

relationship or
society at all if it you

are to be
part of it


The Mysterious Hanging Boulder

There is a difference
between knowing
the Mysterious Hanging Boulder

is safe and feeling it is safe.
You stand under it, smiling.
I take a picture.  

The sign
that says it’s balanced
on three points of pressure

and weighs tens of thousands 
of pounds is visible
just over your shoulder. 

In my head I get
how these things work and 
we both laugh and move on,

but I’m not in my head much 
these days. In my body
I’m terrified. What part of

balance suggests it lasts
forever? I’m nowhere near
strong enough to hold up

the rock, to lift it if it falls,
to do anything more than
document and scream.

The Mysterious Hanging Boulder
is going to be there a long while,
longer than we will, I think. But

I don’t think much these days.
I feel more than think and I feel
like I want to put an arm around you

and get us away from here, no matter
how stupid that seems, no matter
what the words on the sign

seem to promise about
stability and balance
and permanence.


Orange Crush

In a New Hampshire
tourist trap cave, confused
in mid-step
about which way to turn

by the dim light,
my hammering chest,

and the sudden rubber
in my knees.

I’m not getting
any younger, of course. No
one is, even the kid behind me
who settles against the wall
with obvious impatience, 
waiting for me
to move again.

I take another second
and grunt myself through
the crevice someone long ago
joyfully named 
“Orange Crush.”
I think of 
soft drinks and R.E.M.
and the Denver Broncos and

what if I have a heart attack here?
Don’t know what that kid would do
if I did. I doubt “Orange Crush” 
means the same to him
as it does to me but I’m sure
its meaning would change
forever for him then, becoming
“fat old man expiring before my eyes.”

Fat old man expiring before my eyes,
none of us getting younger, militia flags
on the trucks in the parking lot,
“Blue Lives Matter” T-shirt on the kid,
the Orange Crush in constant redefinition. 

Someone once said, “the personal
is political.” Someone once said to me,
“Not everything is political, y’know.” Someone
once said “isn’t it nicer not to talk politics
and just be happy?” 

I make it out of the cave into 
the light, the view across the valley
into the White Mountains. Someone
named them that, someone who came here
and called them White.

That Someone has sure said a lot of things.

Me? I’m just saying,
I’m suddenly sorry

that was the last cave on the trail.

It was cool in there, and dark, it smelled
as it’s likely smelled since the last Ice Age,
and I didn’t feel like I had
anything to worry about

except dying.