Category Archives: uncategorized

Self-Care

Not summer yet
not for another month
yet too hot already for

all the pets
panting in the house so 
I replace their water constantly
and add ice to their bowls
and now and then check on
the new kitten for her tolerance
to this high temperature

She seems fine
so all I need is to watch her
and join her play and try to avoid
her minuscule claws and teeth 
as she learns her limits
as I have learned mine 

The other animals around me
have learned theirs more or less
with the big kitty sprawled near a window
and the ferrets in their cage sound asleep

As for my limits
I’m staring into a famous suicide 
while thinking of slow-motion genocide
and a billionaire imploding dangerously
from the weight of his wealth and utter Whiteness
and his ego and his sleep-starved outbursts

none of which trouble the kitten
or the cat or the ferrets
at all 
for them it’s all about the heat
and me being simply present at the right time

while I’ve got to sit here worrying
that I am not fighting hard enough
in the slow roll of this clumsy war
by writing and raging and staring
into famous suicide

that feels like a possibility except

the kitten wants to play and 
who am I to say no
to such a hopeful thing
as her face staring up at me
while she waits for the future


A Performance Note: the Rip-Up Reading

About 17 years ago (as near as I can recall — sometime in late 1999 or early 2000) I did a reading in Worcester, MA that started as a kind of artistic challenge and turned into something much larger, at least for me.

The concept: do a feature that consisted of a set of poems that would only be read once and never again. Seemed simple enough at first, But as I worked on the set for that first feature, I began to learn something about the nature of what we do as poets and the idea began to expand.

It became something I call a “rip up reading.” After it was done, I didn’t think I’d ever do it again.
 
In 2009, I did it again in Manchester, NH.
 
Last night I did it for what I am pretty sure will be the last time ever in Portland, ME, for a gathering of storytellers.

 
The Format:

1.
Keep the nature of the show secret. Don’t share the poems with anyone, or the nature of the show itself with anyone but the host prior to the show. Nothing online, no workshopping — nothing. 

2.
Write the set. This takes a while, because if you’re going to do this, you need to have poems that you have a significant amount of blood and investment in — they have to be at least good, and hopefully it’s the best work you’re capable of. In all three cases, it was a set of eight or nine poems. Already, I don’t recall for sure. Age has made the porosity of my memory worse than ever; usually a curse, in this case a blessing.

3.
Before the feature, print one copy of the set, then wipe out the file for it on the computer, so there’s only one copy of the poems in existence.
 
4.
At the start of the show, ask for everyone in attendance to shut off anything they can use to make a record of the performance. Cameras, cell phones, video, etc. Gotta keep up with the technology. There was some sketching last night, but I let that slide; no good reason, just felt somehow OK.

5.
Ask for an audience member to volunteer to help you during the set. Don’t explain why, but assure them they don’t have to do anything on stage; they just need to sit up front.

6.
Explain what you’re doing (I’ll explain the rationale below in more detail) — that you’ll be reading a set of poems that no one’s ever seen or heard before, or will again. The set last night addressed the political moment — but more in a sense of the spiritual aspects of the moment. I’ll not say more than that about it.
 
 
In all three cases, I opened and closed the set with poems that didn’t fit the bill, as a way of ritually easing in and out of the actual rip-up set. Last night I opened with the poem “Our Dragon” that appears in the “Trumped” anthology, and closed with “Radioactive Artist,” an oldie that just seemed to fit (and felt timely as it references the Hanford Reservation, site of the recent nuclear waste accident).
 
7.
Explain the volunteer’s role — that as each poem is completed, the volunteer rips the copy of the poem into tiny pieces and puts them into some receptacle — a bag or an envelope (last night, a Ziploc bag) . At the end of the night, the host gets the ripped up copies to do anything with that they want — as long as they don’t reassemble the poems.
 
8. 
Explain, very briefly, the rationale as given below. I use an Ani Difranco quote to help make the point, from “Fuel:” “People / used to make records / as in the record / of an event / The event / of people / making music /in a room.” It’s a way of introducing the idea that the event is precious, the moment is precious. I don’t go into huge detail.

9.
Do the feature.

10.
Last night, we actually did a Q & A with the audience afterward. Never did that before. Most of what we discussed is covered below.

11.
Collapse internally if you’ve done it right.

The Rationale:

The rationale behind the rip up reading is two fold.
 
First and foremost, it is to create a heightened, ritualized sense of the fundamentally ephemeral nature of a live performance. (Hence, the secrecy beforehand and the volunteer, the no recording, etc. It’s a ritual process and requires ritual boundaries to work.) To emphasize that these moments between poet and audience are irreproducible, and that no amount of chapbook reading, video viewing, or listening to a recording can truly recapture what happens in the moment of the night, and that we need to seize the moment and give it our attention — and that goes for performer and audience.

Second, it’s to illustrate the importance of being willing to bring it all out there and then leave it all onstage — both for poet and audience. By its very nature, if you want to do this right, you have to deliver a set of work that has blood in it — personal, revealing work that stretches your own boundaries as writer and as performer. If you’re going to do this, you can’t bring weak shit up there to be destroyed. It has to hurt you to see it go, or letting it go means nothing at all. The audience needs to recognize that hurt in you without pitying you — a fine line to walk.

Why did I include poems that weren’t destined to be ripped up in both cases? To create an entrance out of and an exit back into the “real world” outside the ritualized space of the night. To give people something to hang onto in a more tangible way than just in their heads. Touchstones. Beyond that…let’s just say it seemed like the right way to do it. Not everything is subject to rational thought.
 
Reactions:

The introduction and explanation garnered gasps and shock.

You could hear a pin drop in the room as each poem began. No chatter during the poems. Total attention to the moment.

Afterwards…gratitude. That was the big one. Anger, too…in some cases. Not a bad anger, just a “oh, God, don’t rip that one up!!!!” now and again. But it wasn’t a deep anger, more a frustration at having the pieces disappear into the ether.

A audience of storytellers, versus poets, lent a different flavor to it (part of why I did it there). Less anger, more appreciation. Hard to explain. (Also, a much older audience than ever before — average age was probably closer to 60; the other two readings were the usual, younger poetry crowd.)

And then it was done. And now, we all move on…

Thanks to all who participated in this.

I am deeply, deeply grateful to the Maine Organization Of Storytelling Enthusiasts (MOOSE) for asking me into their space to do this.


Your Alien Head

You woke up
this morning
blurting:

what if the head
on my shoulders

isn’t my own?

You only began
to suspect this yesterday
when a crude bias 
fell off your tongue
out into the air
where all could see

and you stuttered out
what “the aliens” 
told you to say:

oh, my God,
there is no way; 

that is so unlike me,
I’m so embarrassed,
you people know me,
you know 
I’m not like that;

sorry, sorry, sorry.

Today you finally decide
it’s not your head.
It wasn’t you talking at all.

That’s the only explanation.
It wasn’t you.

When you think about it,
you can’t recall growing your head

from a stub into
the glorious but troubling orb
it is today, can you? 
It might just be 
foreign to you. It might be
alien country. 

Maybe your thoughts are
an invasion flock,
a many-tongued
horde behind your face,
and you’ve grown up never having
a clue about its origin…

it would explain so much,
excuse so much…

and after all,
it’s what’s in your heart
that counts.


A note from the poet

I’ve said this before, but I will say it again.

Over the years, I’ve been very open about having bipolar disorder (bipolar II, for you detail-oriented folks). I’ve been treated, had therapy for years, been on meds, spent a little time in-patient, etc.  I’ve had suicidal ideation since I was a kid, and have made a few attempts. I’m open about it, and I do on occasion deal with the subject in my poetry.  It’s a chronic condition that has played a large part in defining the parameters of my life and my world view.

However, taking any poem I write as a sign that I am at that moment in some kind of distress is really, really not conducive to understanding how I work, and is in fact pretty reductive of my work as an artist.  Something you can be sure of is that if I’m writing, I’m NOT suicidal, and I’m likely not at that moment in any self-destructive mood at all.  

I can’t write when I’m ill.  I may write about illness, but it’s ALWAYS in retrospect, or to illuminate something I may have thought about when I was in the middle of an episode.  I try to be upfront about how scary that sometimes is, and I hope that now and then someone in a similar state looks at my work and sees someone who “gets it,” but I do not write as therapy for myself.  I don’t write when I’m that disordered.

If you typically read poems thinking of them as autobiography, as impassioned outbursts of a tortured or ecstatic soul, I’m asking you to suspend that mindset when you read mine.  I’m a professional creative writer who’s been at this for close to 50 years now. I don’t write when inspiration hits or when I need to “let it out.”  

Last point:  I am not a Christian.  I don’t share the source of my personal spiritual belief system with the public; maybe you can discern something of it here and there in the poems, but I don’t make my personal practices and beliefs explicit. 

While I appreciate and accept with genuine humility your blessings and prayers when they are offered — gifts are gifts and always welcome — I am uncomfortable with the occasional bit of specifically Christian proselytizing and Bible-based advice that I sometimes receive, especially when people perceive me to be in some distress.  (I’d be similarly uncomfortable with anything from the big monotheistic religions, to be honest, but I only ever see this done by Christians, for some reason).  Just needed to let you know.

Thanks for listening.

Tony


quick note to subscribers, regular readers, etc.

I’ll be checking in only sporadically over the next week or so as I’m working on a number of time-intensive projects, both for my creative work (a couple of new band recordings) and for my consulting business.  

I deliberately completed and posted a lot of poems this month already — 31 to be exact — to get ahead of the curve, so to speak…

Please go check out any of the approximately 3500 poems on the site while you’re waiting for new content.  I may post one or two more in the short term and will be back soon enough.

Thanks,
T


Wishes

Not to assume anything
but if you are alone
at the moment you read this
with no one hovering at your side or back
and it’s a time of welcome solitude
stolen from your usual crowded
life, then I wish for you
to find here a set of wings
to raise you from the throng
into this happiness
whenever you want.

Still making no assumptions
but if you are alone when you read this
and it is a longer moment of alone
leaning into or full-on stuck inside 
a life-poverty of loneliness, then
I wish for you to find here a set of wings
that may take you far and wide seeking
and finding others to enrich you.

I set now my last assumption aside
and say that if you are not alone 
when you read this, if by choice or chance
or great good fate you are with those
who make you happy or at least 
allow you to be fully yourself, then
I wish for you to find here a set of wings
long and strong enough to raise
all those you love to be with 
to whatever height seems best
for all of you.


#300

The previous poem, “Thanks Due,”  marks the 300th new poem published here on Dark Matter in 2016.  

Just wanted to alert regular readers that I’ll be taking a break from posting new poems for a few days at least as there are some other pressing things that need my attention.  

In addition, the current political situation in the US has got me and more than a few other folks fairly stressed out; I’m sure that regular readers have noticed that my work’s been pretty focused on that lately, and I feel like I need a bit of a break to get ready for the harder road ahead.  

If you’re new to the blog, please take some time to look through the back catalog over the next few days.  I won’t be gone long, I promise.  It’s hard to shut me up in good times, and these ain’t good times.  

Be well, and thanks for reading.

— T


Tired, Awkward, Stretched Thin

We’re tired, we’re awkward,
we’re stretched
as thin as can be,
and there’s still so far to go.

We don’t know yet
how far there is to go.
Outside of these safe enclaves
filling now with misery and fear

are smug men waiting
to chop us up and eat us
and we don’t know yet 
when they will pounce.

Outside of the bubbles
we live in
are knives and needles
and white, white anger

infused with glee, 
and we don’t know when
they will pierce through
to us

the way they’ve always 
pierced through to 
others not as fortunate
as we have been. In fact,

we’re stretched thin and
awkward and tired
at least in part
because of how weak

we’ve become. Other folks
have lived this way
for a long time.  These are just
the latest set of knives 

to them, maybe a little swifter
and sharper, maybe a little more
openly wielded, but these are 
the same old edges and points

they have always faced
when only rarely were we
standing alongside them
on the barricades — so, know this:

memories around here
are long, sharp,
tired, and awkward;
mercy 
is stretched thin,

and we look too much
like past accommodation, future
complacency, and current enemy
to expect a full embrace.


Watching The River Flow

Patriotism,
that great river fed
by whatever can be dammed
and made to flow its way,
is a drowning flood.
No one can count
all the bodies it holds
in its depths, how many dead
it grinds along its bed
with its implacable current.
Choosing to be oblivious to that
you dip yourself into it, then

climb out and dry yourself 
with an ever-convenient flag,
end up sitting on the bank
reveling in its apparent beauty,
choosing to forget
how it has been fed,
how it was turned to
its current course, 
how many less fortunate than you
could not climb out
once it had taken them. 
Instead, you hum
a Bob Dylan song
about sitting on a bank of sand
with people disagreeing all around.
It’s pleasant to remember 
old songs,
sentimental favorites,
at such moments 
as the bank of sand
begins, unnoticed,
to crumble out from
under you.


Sitting There

see that fault line across
your well-being

take a silver nail in one hand
a diamond hammer in the other

pound the former with the latter
and nail those parted sides together

pretend it’s all better because
no expense was spared

to make broken look whole — not
to make it whole but 

to simulate wholeness
to the casual observer

and what lovely tools and 
materials were used 

such a shine one might think
it would last but

one silver nail won’t hold back
earthquakes no matter

how hard the hammer
used to drive it — in other words

face down in the most 
expensive whisky

is still face down
even if you look distinguished

sitting there


Note to readers

For reasons I’d rather not get into here, I will likely be taking a break of more than a few days from posting new poems.

I’m fine.  Please don’t ask for more details than that.  

Please feel free to go back and read and comment on some older poems while you’re waiting for the new work. There are plenty to work with, going back over many years.

Thanks.

– T 


It’s Not The Heat

Humidity today 
is going to be
monstrous, says

the face on the early
weather report. 
She’s not to blame 
for that, although

she sounds a little 
guilty as she says it,
empathizing perhaps
with those of us
who are up
and watching her now,
giving the early warning
that it’s not going to get 
any better than this today,
or apparently for
the next few days; it’s like
she knows it’s going
to get to some of us 
more than others.

For example,

I’m broke as hell
right now
with a wonky car, 
waiting for cash so I can
fix it — so
I’m going to be
stuck in this apartment
during this swamp wave,
restricted to this hovel where
all the surfaces
in every room will soon be
sticky from the air;
I’ll be sticking myself to one room
running its inadequate AC
all day and night,
cranking up yet another bill
right when I can least afford it,
not that I can afford it
any better in the winter
when the gas bills go up
as high or higher than
the electric bills 
do in summer.

This is why
I like spring and fall:
the sense of relief they offer
when you’ve endured
those kinds of hardship

is as good as it gets
for some of us. Those are 
seasons not so much of hope
but of temporary satisfaction
at having ground out a victory
over something that has tried 
to break us and failed;

those few weeks of feeling 
like we dodged a monster
coming for us,
at least for a moment;

kept hold of roof and light,
managed hot and cold,
kept food on the table,
did it all for a few more months,
stuck around to see 

if the next forecast would be any kinder, 
to see if it would offer anything
we could cautiously call hope.


Ok…the new book is now available from the publisher…

“In The Embers” is now available for pre-order.  Proceeds to benefit suicide prevention efforts…

Here’s the link…Tired Hearts Press.

Thanks for your patience.


As If By Invisible Hands

I woke up today
face down
in a roasted chicken. 

The evidence around me
suggested that I may have
slaughtered, cleaned,
and cooked it here
in the backyard

while I slept,
as I did not
recall any
of this bloody
and brutal work.  

I wiped my face,
grabbed a leg and thigh
and went inside
to find

hides in various stages
of dressing and tanning, 
thin hint of blood,
buckets of guts and hair,
tools I did not know I owned
strewn on the kitchen table,

and again, recalled nothing
of this hard labor; didn’t ache
in strange places, was not
at all tired, could find not one speck
of gore upon me —

so I turned from all this
and sat down
upon my couch
and turned on the TV

for stories of slayer drones and 
the machinations of money men,
tales of police killings and 
poisoned water, go-slow language
for urgent issues — all else

that happened while I slept
and could not feel any pain
or fatigue for having done.

Well fed, clothed
as if by magic, 
as if by invisible hands,

I am still sitting here
with only a vague sense
that I should 
hurt.


Just a cross post…

I mention now and then work I’m doing with our poetry and music group, the Duende Project.  

Here’s a link to an entry at our Website this AM about some exciting developments.  It includes a sound file of our piece “Trinity,” which may or may not open depending on where you are in the world; not something I can do anything about, sadly.  

Trinity