Category Archives: poetry

A Broken Arrow

Originally posted August 2017.  Revised.
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Used to shoot
my father’s bow
in the backyard.

Knew the right grip, the 
two finger pull without
the thumb.

Prided myself
on form almost more
than accuracy. 

Had a sheaf of 
arrows, yellow shafted,
target heads like sharp bullets.

Had one white shafted one
chased with red, my favorite.
Saved it 
for last every time. 

One day I hit something
to the side of the target
and shattered that magic bolt.

Panicked and stared
at the splinters 
for a few minutes.

Tossed it into the woodpile
to be burned 
in winter, then still
some months off.

Pushed aside the judgement
until later, I thought, but my father
never said a word.

I am not sure he valued that arrow 
much at all. It was
everything about archery

to me: fantasy 
arrow, the Ultimate.

I always tried
to be immaculate with it
when I shot

my father’s bow
in my father’s backyard.
Tried to hit the target dead on,

tried to make myself
perfect in a skill
I’d never need, a skill

from a past time,
a past existence, 
a fantasy I’d made of myself.


Two Doors

If you go through that door
you will enter a room

already full
to the ceiling

that somehow
never stops filling, 

a mouth
that won’t spit, that only swallows.

That other door
in the far wall

opens
on an empty room.

I have seen people
going in there all day,

no one has come out.
The room is small and 

there’s no question about it:
it is empty. I wouldn’t

go in there. You
will not come out.

I don’t know
where those people went

and neither do you.
Do you want to risk 

vanishing? Perhaps
it’s better on the far side

of Whatever.
As for me — I stand

between these rooms.
I get to choose,

to comment, to advise;
my advice

does no good to others
as far as I can tell

and for myself
I will not choose. Why?

Go into the stuffed room
and try to breathe. Go into

the empty room and 
try to exist, or at least be seen,

then tell me why
I need to decide. 

While you stammer
I’ll try and come up

with a satisfactory name
for the room we’re in,

or maybe I will do
no such thing. Maybe

I’ll just keep its name
to myself.  Keep it safe

from everyone who insists
on choosing one door or the other.


Peace

Peace is a glimpse
of my partner
lying zig-zag and still
under our sheets, seen
in dim light as I rise
and tend to our insistent cats
at dawn,

reassuring me 
that once this is done
I can return to her side
and fall back to sleep
in as good a place as I can find
in this brightening,
frightening world. 

That there is still at least
one safe harbor 
is enough to let me
remain awake for now
and face the light
that comes now to reveal
what has lately come to power
during the night
from the dark.


My Dance, My Bad, My Deep

Originally posted 2013.  Many revisions later…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My dance, my bad, my deep.
Gave a sorrow opening,
loosed it on the gap within, and now:

ornery. Tantrum. Layabout and cry. 
Going to victim the whole long day;  go pick me
some kudzu, funeral bouquet for a grief show.

Still, I still have rocker hips, roller hips, jazz
groin and lips and hips. Joy ends up somewhere
when pushed from head and heart…thus,

I’ve ended up one sad grinder.  End up bad.
Bad, sinking in deep but still, there’s
one way to set it off and hold it back,

so I’m off to music while still in the hole.
It gives my bad and my deep a resistance.
Gives them rhythm, digging in under the roots;

rubbles my dark village, 
quake cracking, flipping dirt
into the light.  

When I, frightened, shake, 
I still gotta dance my dance, 
my bad, my deep; 

dance even if 
I dance sad. 
It’s my gotta happen.


Each Other

Thinking of
the current
ragtag state of
us:

our ramshackle bodies,
crude hovels staggered below
hillside mansions.

As always, our pains
are best explained
in our own idiolects,

so we try to listen
to each other,
to hold on to each other.

It’s not been easy,
this long approach to the 
Abyss. 

To bolster us
as we attempt to bridge it,
or prepare to fall, what we have

is memory, each other, 
attention, connection, 
each other once again;

shared anger, shared compassion;
hope and its near-companion,
each other.

It’s darker than we thought.
Our ramshackle bodies
whisper to each other

in our own tongues
and strive to understand.
Some do, some don’t,

some find it easier not to listen. Not
to even hear. So much shouting,
shooting, fire, gas,

gaslighting that illuminates
nothing but its source. 
Each other, we say. We

reach for each other.
All we have. Our ramshackle,
ransacked lives. 

Our connections. Our hope
that we will find each other
among slow-building piles of ruin.


Bankruptcy

I’m done with being
at all creative

It doesn’t pay in any way
even with the obvious
lack of financial incentive
known to all

But the emotional
and spiritual payoffs
that have been ascribed to it
are in truth nonexistent and

in this forest where the leaves
are nearly wealth and 
nearly perfect there is no exchange
as what is theirs remains theirs

and here I am with poems and 
sketches and of course
the odd guitar riff
Once again there is nothing
to be taken from this work

It is all about what you give
and what you pretend to receive

So while I do not object to giving
I must confess I’ve given much
and must conserve my remainder

because I’m certainly old enough 
to understand how little
I’m likely to truly receive


I Have Had Worse Days

I have certainly had worse days 
and some of them felt 
like this one,
like the world was sneering 
at me
and my feeble attempts at competence

while also crushing every good moment
for others as well in a tempo of
damage increasing worldwide.

Here I am thinking I’m mired
in yet another catastrophe
that 
in the long run will be minimal
compared to what will be true misery
for so many others.

I should be thankful instead
for such small problems as these
that feel like knives now,
like scalpels cleaving into me.

I pull it together.
When this is done,
what will I have left?

Gratitude, resolve,
relief; 
I hope as well 
that if I am worthy

I can rest in the knowledge 
that I did my part 

to brush aside my own pain
and do what I could
to pull those less fortunate

from the teeth
of this sneering world.


My Face Is Historical Fiction

Revised from 2016.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Post pictures of three fictional characters to describe yourself.
— Facebook meme

I’m asked in this meme to post 
three pictures to describe me,
pictures lifted from fiction.

My face is itself
already
historical fiction:

average white
superimposed upon
brown churning within.

I already look like my Mom
at first glance 
with traces
of my Dad underlying that.

Together they create this face
I get to call my Own.
A more-or-less real face,

one mild pile 
of presumed melting pot,

one well-assimilated mask.

One face
two made from scratch 
a long time ago.

Now I am being asked
to find three more fictions
to reveal myself, to name this

half-and-half 
all-American mistake of history.
So many to choose from —  

Lone Ranger, Tonto. Don Corleone, 
Apache Chief. Mario from Donkey Kong, 
Injun Joe from Tom Sawyer.

What do I choose for that third picture?
That’s the choice that keeps me up 
at night, keeps me sickly awake.

Calm down, you say?  It’s just for fun?
It doesn’t mean anything,
just a little something to pass the time?

Friend, when your face
is historical fiction
and it feels like

there are only
twenty pages left,
you’ll try anything. 

It’s only natural
to try and find
a more perfect mask

when the two
you’re used to
keep slipping.

It might make
for a dramatic turn
in the story. 

I’ve been dying
to see 
how it ends.


Waking Up Wrong

Again upon rising I do the simple math
of how many steps I will need today
to get by and through without
drawing the wrong attention
from the right people.

I don’t care about them much as individuals
but I allow their gaze potency,
even when I can only imagine 
what of me it brings to their minds.

It was a good sleep, a good dreamless night,
then I woke to this fear as I often do.
I woke to the notion that I am a mistake,

and that this day will pile on
affirmations of that fact

until I fall again into the dark
and manage to forget
who I think I am.


One Of Those Days

Not even six AM
and it already feels like
one of those days.

One of those days
you will look back upon
a few days later
and shake your head
and say it right out loud:

man, that was
one of those days.

And of course you
will know what you mean,

but someone listening
will misinterpret it certainly
and think it was an angering day
or a saddening day

when all you will be trying to say
is that the day felt stale and familiar
from the beginning, yet another day
like all of them had been lately,
and it was neither
a good day nor a bad day,

just one of those nondescript days
where you could have tossed it from a window
into a dirty pile of similar days in your back alley
and ten minutes later you’d be unable
to distinguish it from the others
despite the fact
that it had just happened
and it ought to be fresh enough to stand out.

If you tried to explain all that to that listener
they would be bored and walk away muttering.

If you tried to explain it to yourself —

how you came to have
such a monstrous pile of boring days
piled up out of sight of everyone 
behind the facade where you live —

I think you’d stop talking,
choke on words, eventually scream.
You would scream into a pillow,
into a closet, into a glass or a mirror,

thus completing
yet another one of those days.


The Straight Razor

This deep into my life
I have begun shaving with
a straight razor

not so much for the trendiness
of the act among
certain smug sectors of the hip population

but from a lust for sustainability
born from a desire to stop 
disposing of so much good steel

Also in the spirit of this
historical moment
I need solid proof

that with care
I can enter danger daily
and come out clean

As I do not believe
danger will play fair
in the streets 

it is good to know
I can take it on my chosen turf
in at least one small way

I wet my face and lather up
Set the edge against my skin
Draw it at the proper angle

through the white mask I’ve donned
Think of my grandfathers
as I take care upon the jawline and chin

If I nick myself I do not stop
If I see red I do not flinch
but finish and administer stinging care

until I see the face I want before me
Then comes maintenance of tools
and cleansing of sink and mirror

It is a ritual and as such
things must be done well
and precisely from start to finish

One more thing
A straight razor
fits well in a boot if need be

and once you know
what you are doing with one
that is a fine place to keep it


My Dead

I find myself among my dead.
I look into their holy forms
and imagine how they would see me.

Once there I seek the truth of what I am
in comparisons between legacy and currency,
between what was expected of me and what I am.

I find myself in some ways continuous
and in others interrupted. In some ways
true to form, in others distorted, in yet others 

absent, in even more disrupted.
In fact I may say the truest discovery
is that I am in fact a disruption.

I find myself among my dead.
They ask why I am this and not that,
how did I get to be this and not that,

where I left this and where I found that.
I do not speak.  I turn a runway turn.
That is all I can offer: full self in rotation before them.  

I find myself while among my dead.
My people who came before are present with me
though I am only in part recognizable to them,

though I am able to answer few of their questions.
They ask if all is as they predicted. I say: pretty much
as predicted, except that my part in it is not yet set.

I find myself among my whispering dead
as they return to sleep.  They nod, say: come back to us
once you know. Once you’ve played it to the end.


Hardboiled Egg

Now and then love is a hardboiled egg
made at 11 PM for a sick old man.

Love peels with some resistance,
cuts easily, goes down well with salt.

In twilight, it glows
like the full moon. 

It’s a simple gift.
An orb of white and yellow,

something like clouds
around a pale sun,

handed to someone
with a rough stomach

who just wants
to get comfortable 
and sleep.


Three Broken Sonnets For A Broken Time (The Rowers)

1.
Sitting with elders, watching as they 
row softly toward the far shore, as they
relax into the final strokes
and glide into that last landing;

that’s been my life of late.
It comes to all of us, or should
come to all of us who last long enough
to see our elders fade from our reach.

Too many do not live to see this.
Too many never see a quiet passage.
Too many do not see the shore coming
from far away; too many reach it

violently, faster than they wanted,
faster than anyone wants.

2.
I’m not close to that shore myself
but I now and then catch a glimpse — 
a break in the clouds above the horizon,
a scent in the ocean I struggle against

that makes me think of shifting 
toward rest and letting go —
and then I shrug and put my back
into the oars again, 

sure that I’ll get there, of course,
as we all will but certain as well
of all the strain still ahead of me
before I can lay off the work and say

it’s time for me to relax, time to let the tide
pull me in to that far shore.

3.
These days it feels that we are all rowing,
harder than ever, toward a much rougher shore.
There are times I envy the elders
who are gliding to the light in some peace.

I sit and watch them go
and dream myself of such a passage.
I do not want to see the final days
we seem to be approaching — though I know

all finality is temporary, that beyond it
there is always a beginning, always
something to look for; hope is a survivor’s
oar, a sweet ache in a rower’s shoulder.

I sit by bedsides, watching elders fade from view.
I turn back to my own rowing. I weep, and then I hope.


In The Middle Distance

On the couch,
settling in. Cats
abound and I’ve got
stock car racing on the TV
while I read literature on
the death of capitalism,
the suicide of the USA.

My life’s 
almost over, I think.
Name an all-American
chronic illness
and I’m on the verge or
over the threshhold.

I’m ripe for the most common,
hypocrisy, as well;
it kills eventually, too,
but in the meantime

it forces me to assert
that I’m not dead yet;
the tension within is
frankly delicious and
I still have time
to achieve consistency,

even from here on the couch —
with the stock cars,
the cats, the thin herbal smoke
from the ashtray, the critique
of end stage capitalism
fresh on my mind;

while I’m glad I’m not dead
I’m not entirely sad to be able
to wave at my hole in the ground,
a dark freckle
in the middle distance

waiting for me, promising me
a place to square it all up
soon enough.