The Rest Of The Way

Remind me of how
a Toblerone tastes —
it’s been so long since I
was able to have one.

Remind me what silk feels
like when drawn across the hand,
how feeling that elevates the mind
in blessed ways.

Remind me of my memory,
of senses long denied
expression and stimulation.
Is our best world still out there?

Somehow I’ve felt locked away
from it all. I feel nothing much
other than that. Those pleasures
I once held have slipped from me

and I’d love to gather them to me
again so: remind me. Remind me
of luxury and indulgence. Get me halfway
back to myself. 
Let’s see

if memory, once roused,
can open its arms enough
to carry me 
the rest of the way.

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Relentless

On a mission to take down
the pain in my leg
took a pill and a drink and one more pill
and sat my ass down
to take off the weight

On a mission to maybe
relax for a moment 
took a drag and a sip and a drag and a sip
and dozed right off
for a whole ten minutes

Tried to wake up for good
with remote in hand
flipped around checked for movies thought about finding
a music channel
but that didn’t last

When I woke up again
a little bit later 
stretched my neck and my shoulder and damned if the leg
wasn’t still a little tender
after all I’d done

On a mission of comfort
for pain and fatigue
Pain of body and soul and fatigue from fighting them both
it’s a daily routine
and it’s Friday again

so it’s been a whole week
of pills and sipping
smoking and sitting and running the word “relentless”
over my tongue and teeth
till it’s all I can taste


Tough

Your second hand rugs,
worn thin where someone paced
before you got them.

You windows that get washed
once a year. Your car in need,
always, of something out of reach.

Clothes that never
measure up to how
they were pictured before purchase

because they were pictured
as solutions or answered prayers,
when they were in fact just clothes.

The few things of substance
you cling to: an heirloom cup or two,
one sturdy chair, good pots and pans

collected piecemeal
at Goodwill, at the Sally store,
at the perpetual yard sale

two blocks over, every Sunday
morning; the same place you bought
your warmest overcoat.

You do your best though
every bill feels like
a wound and lately

blood has been seeping through
what you’ve dressed them with.
You stay home, away from friends,

from your past life,
as much from fear
of being seen this way

as because you can’t afford
to step too far off the path
you need to walk just

to stay here, to keep
the little bit of an address
you’ve got. Instead you tell yourself

those rugs aren’t going 
to wear themselves transparent.
You’ve got all night and all day,

all of tomorrow and next week. You’re tough.
Plenty to keep you busy. Plenty
left to be ground down.


No Religion, No Scripture, No Prophet

1.
How is it that so many of us
can stare into the same abyss
and see different things?  

There’s nothing there
when I look into it. One sees
the authority of star charts

while someone else sees
a bloodstained cross of gold
and another, a rune hanging

in the sky above a gigantic tree.
It seems the abyss is a master
of sleight of hand. Magic

runs deep in there, as deep
as the pit itself perhaps. That’s 
why we have mystics, I suppose:

there are always people
who will try to explain
how the trick was done.  

2.
If I am to be honest
I don’t really see nothing
when I stand before it.

There’s something there,
certainly.  I just can’t tell
what it is and I’m too old

to waste any more time
on being certain before
leaping in.  If it’s a raven,

I’ll find out when I strike it
as I fall.  If it’s a coyote
let it take me in its jaws.

If it’s something I can’t name
I’ll fall into it or fly by it
and that will be that.

3.
When I peer into the abyss
the one thing I can say for sure
is that it’s not me in there.

Whatever is there
is not staring back
at all. Not so far.

It seems unconcerned
that I’m even here.
It seems to go about being

the abyss regardless
of anyone’s gaze. No use
wringing your hands about this,

it seems to be saying.
It’s not yours. Maybe 
you’ll understand someday,

but don’t give up your sense
one day sooner than you need to
thinking it will help:

no one 
has ever
gotten it right.


Patreon news

Thought I would take a second to update you all on the Patreon site I use to help support my work.

I’ve had a couple of patrons drop from the site in the last couple of months due to other financial obligations. Completely understandable, and no shame attached.

That said…just wanted to say that even if you can’t become a patron for an artist’s work, letting other people know about it through social media sharing and word of mouth can be a big help.

On my site, even a minimum pledge of a dollar a month gets you weekly patron-only posts about the work, and right now I’ve even made an exclusive eBook available for download for ALL patrons — a “Best of” collection of poems from 2017. It’s right there waiting for everyone and anyone who pledges.

Thanks again to everyone, patron or not, for any and all of your support.


Food’s Just Fuel

Food’s just fuel. For me, at least. 
Little pleasure there
beyond that of having
no more hole in the gut.

Taste’s something, sure,
in the moment but 
I don’t savor memory
of what’s good over

what’s good enough.
I know how freakish
that might seem to the 
artisanal masses. I know

you may think I’m exaggerating 
or that I am somehow compromised
or stunted because of this,
and perhaps that’s right, but

you’ve never felt how large
the hole yawns in me or how
it sucks the flavor away
from anything I might use to fill it.


Cold Stars

In cold weather
there is less twinkle in the stars
and if cloudless
the night will be colder
and offer even more stars
to burn almost as steadily
as the planets, and if
you stand outside
and look up, you 
will be more aware than usual
of each breath.

Each light will feel
sharp, and each will clean you 
from the nose all the way 
down into the lungs. If starlight
was oxygen you might be able
to feel how much was contained
in a given breath,
feel it long enough
to recognize what was being 
scoured out of you
as you inhaled and exhaled.

In their places in space,
in their true fiery forms
far above the posturing
and wonder of humans,
the stars burn far above
our symbolism

and meaning,

but until then, you and I
and everyone else
will stand out here
with our heads back
watching them burn,
feeling it as pure cold
with every breath 

while hoping
that this one time
something we can feel
being pulled out from us

will be replaced
by something better.


To Sit At Home Alone

To sit at home alone
and wish you were at home but
in a different home that looks
much the same as this one
but which feels instead like the starry center
of the spiritual life
of a distant world

is to open your mouth and speak
a dead language few people ever understood
and which has long been considered extinct
though it captured dreams and nuances 
not recalled since, things known then only to adepts 
and native speakers and 
now considered to be myths.

To sit at home alone and imagine
that you are not alone at all
and that the home instead is cozy
with others and the laughter and warmth
of bodies and souls are a fire
of fusion like a small sun
over a fertile land

is to fall upon a bed of salted snow
under a dim moon and pray 
for it to turn to sand and a full bright night
on an island no one comes upon
without a blessing from some deity
known to all, unnamed by anyone.

To sit at home alone
and create a song of that same home
growing full to the walls, the ceiling,
the roof and above with a sacred hum
of joy and satisfaction and all the angels
of a commonality not yet in evidence

is to wait for someone, anyone
to come to your home and make it
a home of dreams 
you’ve been dreaming, dreams
no one knows of except you,
dreams no one can translate except you,
dreams no one can enter except you.


An Open Letter To Blank

Dear Blank,

I’m starting this letter without knowing exactly who it is addressed to, figuring and hoping that your identity will become clear by the time I get to closure.  In the meantime, I hope you don’t mind me calling you “Blank,” do you?  

While in the past this may have been strange behavior, I feel that with the current pervasiveness of social media and the resultant increasingly public nature of formerly private communication, this feels like so much of what we see and hear today — a need to express oneself with little regard as to who the actual, tangible, physical audience for the letter will ultimately be.

So…without knowing who you are, Blank, let me get down to the business at hand.  I’m trying to parse out the nature of fear in 2018, and I feel like the only way to do it is through an intimate dialogue with someone as terrified as I am on both social and personal levels, because that is where fear lives for me these days.

I’m terrified for society, my unknown friend or friends; terrified because while I’m not naive enough to believe that the current national and world situations are new, or unprecedented, or even all that unexpected, I’m experienced enough to see as well that something evil has become commonplace enough in our dialogue that the overall level of it is rising as we focus on the greatest, most visible expressions of it.

For example, the current rise of Fascism world wide is stunning in its banality; as we think of the gaudy-greedy, gold-stained, over-eager hands of Trump meddling in, well, everything, we can’t help but focus on his taste and lack of finesse as the infrastructure of government thins dangerously beneath him and the judiciary becomes a imperialist rubber stamp.  It’s like a giant game of Jenga, with the players having no long term intention of trying to keep the structure upright at all.  

(I think the Big Guys are terrified themselves, of course.  Not for a moment do I think they are unaware of climate change and resource exhaustion as a looming apocalypse, whatever their public pronouncements. I think they are cashing out, taking what they can before the whole structure collapses…but that’s a story for another day…)

At the same time, I’m terrified on a personal level as a person with multiple chronic illnesses, a precarious income, and a support circle drawn largely from people much like me.  I’m terrified because if as we so often and so glibly say the personal is political, then I clearly have a vested interest in fighting back about what’s going on out there — except that my resources for doing so are fairly compromised at the moment in some ways by the stuff that’s going on out there.

I see my friends and family of color, my poor family and friends, my LGBTQ family and friends, my non-binary friends and family, my fellow artists…I see all of us being pressed these days in unprecedented ways, accelerated ways.  Ways not unlike those of the past, but aided and abetted and enhanced by the very ease with which every adversary from the government to their allied media to the private citizens who’ve become fellow travelers on the path of oppression may stick it to us on FB and Twitter, may compromise our very finances and privacy and identities with a little bit of work from the comfort and safety of their own anonymous homes.  

Part of how we got here is that we’re fed on falsehood from an early age these days.  We’re exposed to so much bad information, so much distortion, and so little practice in critical thinking that we often can’t tell Fascism from its opposite…but that’s beyond where I wanted to go with this, at least at the moment…because how we got here, dear Blank, is a long story, and I want to make this letter briefer than that. 

I want to say that right now, after history, after the past, we’re in a place of Fear that I think is indeed different than it was in past crises. I think we’re approaching a terminal moment that may last a few years, a decade or two, or a bit longer, but which will ultimately bring formerly unimaginable consequences to all.  And while it  may indeed lead to a collapse of capitalism, patriarchy, heterosexism, and all that as the most utopian among us believe, the world we inherit after will be unlike what we have now in terms of resources and infrastructure, and we will have such a long moment of suffering to follow as we rebuild.

Thing is, Blank, I won’t be here to see it.  I’m aging and somewhat unwell as I alluded to earlier; while I continue to do what I can to resist the worst of the depredations of the Fascists (after all, not everyone who sits anonymously at home, working in the darkness online, is one of their supporters), my reach is limited and specific.  My art and writing and music are tools and weapons as well, but I can only do so much. 

Blank, I thought at first I didn’t know who you were.  Halfway through, I thought I’d figured it out; I thought you might be my conscience and that this might be my guilt reaching out to you for my own purposes.

I was wrong.  

Blank, I still don’t know who you are, exactly.  I’m not even sure you’ve been born yet, if you can read English, or ever will.  But I know this: you will come along one day and you feel this same fear and know this discussion as if you’d written the letter yourself.  You and I will be in dialogue across space, possibly even across time.  Maybe you’ll be deep in the midst of the upheaval yet to come as I’ve pictured it.

All I want you to know is this:  you aren’t alone.  You’ve never been alone, as I am not.  We all do our parts and even if we never meet, somehow we must be comforted by the knowledge that we are not alone in the struggle.  We do what we can, we do what we must, and as long as we do what we can, even if “They” win in the largest sense, “They” will forever know that the victory will never be absolute as long as we can name and address and fight and sneer at the Fear that is their greatest weapon.

Don’t fear, Blank.  Not in the deep sense, not in the ultimate existential sense of ultimate despair.  Don’t give them the satisfaction of your fear.

Thanks for listening to this, however you do eventually hear it.  I have no doubt you will, and that you will understand. 

Love always,
T

 


A Perfect Ache

A perfect ache:
the recognition of 
the possibility that
you’ve just celebrated
the last New Year’s Eve
you’ll ever have.

It’s not maudlin
or self-pitying to do so.
You’re just applying simple math
to the question of

how many more full years
you are likely to have left
when compared to how many
you’ve had so far; 

you ache a little at the result
but are thrilled a little too
that at least this one was
peaceful and decent and 
done early and well if it’s to be
the last.

You stack silly borrowed hats and noisemakers
on the barroom table before you leave.
Someone can use them next year.
You might even be back.  Who knows?
Not you, of course. The odds
suggest otherwise but you place
your bets before leaving 
when you are so careful with 
such simple, disposable items as these.


Whatever Holiday

Someone’s in the street
with an uncased acoustic guitar
slung behind them on clothesline,
and a strap of sleigh bells tied
on their belt.

I see they also have
a mutty, cold dog
trailing behind.

The wind chill is below
hell’s lowest circles, and
it’s threatening to snow;
I think maybe the troubadour 
is in danger, the dog might
freeze, and I know damn well
this is no weather for
an uncased acoustic guitar
(I’m guessing the sleigh bells
will be fine),

yet the damn fool is whistling
the type of song
you won’t recognize until
spring, at which point you will slap
your forehead and say

oh, damn, now I get it.

Oh, damn, now I get it — 
it’s a song that works
like a heater inside them
even as the individual notes emerge
and chime as they freeze
and hit the ground. The dog
keeps up on its own, the guitar is
superfluous; today is 
as perfect as any beach day,

with the string of bells
ringing out 

for whatever holiday
this has just become.


335

Well, I have officially posted 335 new poems (including a few heavily revised oldies that were so altered I called them “new”) on the blog this year.

I think, based on the next few days’ schedule and a couple of projects I have to complete for my Patreon site patrons, that I will be calling it there for 2017.  No worries about being back in strength in 2018, though; plans and a couple of drafts are already afoot.  

Thank you all for reading my work this year and in years past, wherever you are. There are regular readers and followers here from all over the world, including large contingents from India and the Philippines, which always gratifies and astonishes me.  

I love hearing from you all, so don’t be shy — comment!  Let me know who you are  and what you’re thinking.

Again, many thanks and let’s look forward together to 2018.  

Onward,
Tony


December 2017

A year ago,
prayer for some,
drums for others,
glee in secret for some,
public fear
for others. 

Not so different today

as meanness walks the land
with a bared sword in a dirty hand.

Some words once whispered
are now shouted by those
raised up by fear and loathing
to seats of power.

Those opposed
barely know each other,
fight pessimism, share
sketchy rumors, grateful
for moments of agreement
while under suspicion
for our nods and smiles.

A year ago we didn’t know
how hard it would be to hope.
A year ago, we didn’t know
how vital it would be that we try,
how much it would cost us to try,

but a meanness
walks the land,

and we have no choice
but to try.


The Contrary’s Christmas Tale

Why do you think your savior 
came to you under cover
of the night, under sentence
of death? You will say he came

in darkness to show us
the Light. I will tell you in response
that he came to you in darkness
because he was most comfortable

there.  After all, he himself
was dark, his parents were
dark — the ones you could see
as well as the One you could not.

What we know of his life
is mostly nothing — think
of all those missing years:
dark rooms in which he matured.

He was at the end taken 
by soldiers in the dark
and on the day he died,
they say 
the sky itself

went black to welcome him.
All this talk 
of him
as light of the world
is misinformed:

he was dark embodied,
yet in the name of easy vision
you’ve made Dark Evil 
and Light, Good. You put his birthday

near to your shortest day
and claimed it was
to recognize the coming of light,
but what if he came at Solstice

to celebrate darkness and your longest night?
You’ve ridden for years against
the dark peoples of the world
claiming you were bringing them

Light, but we didn’t need more Light.
Before you came we mostly
had the balance right, yet you hanged us

like lanterns and set us ablaze

and called it salvation when we
fell to our knees and balled ourselves up
like black stones as protection against it all. 
You think your savior set this path

for you.  You think he’s out there
at the blinding white end of it.
No. If he’s anywhere,
he’s back here 
with us,

with living and dead
holding us tight to himself and each other
in the warm embrace
of the much maligned night. 


The Shapeless Dark Of Joy

— From a prompt by Thea Mann.

Whenever we reach for
peace in the night
and find it, 
whether in the reassurance
of the child still breathing
in the crib
or in the feel of a lover’s skin
still warm to our touch, even
if only when we place one foot
firmly on the floor
to prove to ourselves
that the horror of the dream
has ended, we understand
the shapeless dark of joy —
how it has no form, no
visible face, but instead
settles upon us like warmth
rekindled after a cold wind
has stopped blowing; how
it moves us from fear to comfort
without any apparent effort of its own.