Off The Blade

When I look at the television
and say out loud, “you’re a 
fucking moron,” I don’t mean it
literally.

There’s no one here,
for one thing.  Just the flat screen
and the flat face of the flat-out
fucking moron, as I’ve labeled him.

I know labeling is wrong but somehow
I need this. I need to stare into 
that reddish bloat and call him 
something or other, just to keep myself
off the blade. 

I don’t know his actual IQ
of course, for another thing — he’s not
smart, I suspect, more cunning, more
versed in sneaky, better at bulling his way
through the day than at figuring things out. 

And to disgrace the perfectly good word
“fucking” by using it in tandem
with my other words, by intensifying
my disdain for his cretin soul
through the colloquial use
of that beautiful, hothouse, slick-making
word –bah. 

I choose instead to
stare into the screen
while muttering nonsense syllables. 

I’m a person with better things to do
and better uses for my voice. I shall keep silent,
sharpen all the knives in the house,
dig trenches, stock up on books
soon to be banned, call every vulnerable
soul I know and invite them to build a fortress,
learn the rules of dirty pool, develop codes, 
fight as needed, take it to the enemy,
become as valiant as drama majors
on an empty stage waiting for the house lights
to go down and the stage lights to come up —

that’s how I play the game in my head,
and how I shame the game with the incantation,
once again.  “You’re a fucking moron.”
Staring into the screen, wishing I believed
in magic words, keeping myself
off the blade tonight.

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Diabetes

No vicious handful of pain,
no breakbeat shatter of nerves when I step,
no cautious calculation of what I’ve eaten, in fact
no need to calculate at all beyond 
deciding whether or not I’m full:

I imagine life before diabetes
was something else,
if only I could remember.

It’s like recalling life
before I was born.
I know it happened
but I was different then.
Another form. Another body.

I’m doing fine in most ways
but every time I cringe 
and twinge, each time
I blast the naked nerves of my feet,
every time I cannot feel
a bottle cap, every clumsy second 
when I manage to turn a knob by pushing through 

the unnatural numbness in the fingers,

I realize I cannot imagine anymore
the time when none of these acts 
would have registered
as momentous. 


The Blessing I Once Called Home

Some say a city is a sin
and a farm is a blessing.

I know more these days
of city and sin, although 

I grew up near such graces,
spent little time there, knew them

only in passing from car windows
and bike rides. 

In my home town we had dairy farms
that grew corn to feed the cows, 

with farm stands built of scrap wood
selling vegetables on the edges of gravel lots

full of dusted cars and families
selecting just the right tomatoes and such.

Some of those stands worked 
by the honor system — leave your money

in the box, take what you need;
they weren’t robbed often, if you can believe it.

I promise you they were there, and they may still be there. 
They may still feed 
the people of my hometown 

and the small towns around it.  
I have friends who say they’re still there,

and I believe them no matter how far away
they seem to me now here where produce

is found only upon misting shelves in cold aisles,
or an urban farmer’s market once a week 

in a gravel lot full of people
from all over this city:

a blessing in the center of sin,
if sin it is. I will not call it a sin

although the dream of a farm
is powerful salvation when the asphalt

is steaming after a rain that falls
on ground that cannot grow a pure thing

if if can grown anything at all; maybe
a city is a sin and all the God there is

is only found out there in the smell
of fresh-turned soil. I don’t know.

What I do know is that when I hold earth
in my hand I feel something

I do not feel often here,
and when I do, I want to cry out

that I have missed this
for a long, long time now

and holding this
takes me somewhere 
close

to the blessing
I once called home.


Tzitzicaztenanco

I’ve stopped looking at certain magazine articles
about travel to places I’ve been 
because I will not likely go to any
of those places again: Los Angeles, 
Columbus, Atlanta, Miami, Fargo.

There’s no point in looking at travel brochures
for places I never went to
because I will not likely go there now:
Tenerife, Juneau, Kingston, Omaha,
Tzitzicaztenanco, Lagos, Cheyenne, Rome.

I look into each room I enter now
long and hard, because I will not likely know
which entrance will be my last entrance,
which entrance will not be followed by an exit;
not that my struggle to memorize the details of each

will matter, for if I do indeed pass in that very room
right then and there, no one will know what I saw
and noticed. I will take that work with me
to wherever is next, or it will fade with my own fading
from sight. I tell you this now so you will know

how much it matters to me now that I am present
wherever I am.  When I pass I will strive
to hold onto that moment as long as I can. 
If it vanishes with me then so be it.  It of course
will vanish for you then, and I am sorry for that.

Just know that I have already stopped thinking of
Paris and Tzitzicastenaco with regret
for never having been there. That I have no regrets
for never having returned to Atlanta or Chicago.
I got what I needed there and hope I gave 

as good as I got from each. Whatever room
I depart from now, I will try to grace it. I hope
someone turns from me slowly cooling there
with love for my having been there. I will work
to honor all the spaces where I have yet to be.


Alternative Facts

Once there was truth
and fact and evidence.

It was only once, though.
They did last a while

but then they were gone
and now everything is possible.

Right now, for example,
there are those who say the air

is full of blood-soaked cotton. It’s such
a threat. So many are cowering. 

People are wheezing
and choking, 

covered in crimson spray, angry at 
the atmosphere for staining them.

Prove them wrong. Just try. Prove that it’s not 
happening.  Point at spotless clothing,

unspeckled skin. It won’t matter. 
They’ll tell you you’re wrong 

and proclaim that they are going to drown
and insinuate, if not insist, that it’s your fault.

Prove me wrong. Try to prove them wrong.
Tell them it’s all in their heads — 

they’ll say it’s all in your lying books,
your false and fake churches, your own

mendacious skin.  And then in fulfillment
of prophecy they will flay you, club you,

pepper the earth around you with drops
of your own blood, then claim it’s not there

even as you stare through the haze,
your breath bubbling red as you die.


Seed

Inside the seed of this second
is the tree of the entire day.

It begins to grow
when you open your eyes.

It bends as you do,
breaks if you do.

As you fall asleep
it is cut down and made into

furniture in the house
you go to in dreams. 

It holds the dream clothes,
the dream pages of diaries,

dream plans upon dream plans scribbled 
on dream paper.

Tomorrow, you’ll awake
and all this forest will be lost

but inside the seed of that second
waits the tree of a new day.


No Like

Don’t care if you like me.
Poets don’t need to be liked.
Heard is enough, if you you want to help out,
but liked is more than we need.

As people, yes, we want to be liked.
But as much as we channel
people, people we are not,
sometimes being liked is extra, 
not critical as long as we are 
heard. Sometimes we don’t even 

channel people. We speak for stones
and bricks and guns and maybe now and then
a tree or two.  Maybe a bird, and we’re in this
for the evocative song or report from the barrel
and not for being liked.  It’s easier, you see,

if they think we’re angry or sad or messed up behind
their dislike of us when truth be told
we’re easily as happy as hell to be mentioned
or noticed instead of liked. We leave liking

to the politicians.  We leave it to those
we speak of: the wronged and saddened, 
the oppressed and dead and all the broken.
Like them if you want to like anyone
as we are the ones who should step beyond

the categories if we want to be true
to the calling.  For me at least
I don’t care it you like me. I don’t care
for your liking.  How shallow were my poems
if you even have an inkling of comfort from them?
How much did I miss
if you like me

for having written them?


The Mockingbird

A mockingbird just landed on the railing.
It stares through me as if I were not here.

I may not be here.
True, I may have passed through

and left a mark in the air
but that bird either sees it

and sees nothing worth imitating, 
nothing calling out for it to copy,

or it sees nothing at all.
We are three feet apart.

I am not moving. My body
will not move toward the light,

or perhaps light
will not fix itself upon me.

I sit in the shade
and the bird sees nothing

or sees me and does not care.
I hold my breath

and hope to exist again, differently,
when the bird is gone, if I have existed at all;

I feel like a ghost
or spirit honored 

by this bird’s disregard, so often
have I been an object of fear;

if I resume presence
upon its departure

may I remain less terror than landscape,
less threat than fellow being to all.


Private Language

I am trying to explain the delicacy
of our private language
to a sparrow,

hoping the drab bird
will understand enough
to translate it

and let it pour 
across morning
outside our window.

I hope it will mean something.
I hope it will succeed 
in bringing what we say

into fuller being. 
I hope nature draws it in,
holds it close, passes it back.

I want to hear it in the rain.
I want you to hear it
in the rain and wind. 

I want what we whisper
to one another
to become a shout

everyone hears.
Make it a battle cry,
rally chant, holy song,

Love, you know:
what we say in secret 
to each other

could carry the world
if they could
understand it.


Pushpins And Thumbtacks

1.
Think of a map on a wall 
that shows where everything is and should be.

Thumbtacks hold it in place,
pushpins mark the important points on the map.

2.
Every Confederate statue is a pushpin.
Mount Rushmore is a pushpin.

One World Trade Center is a pushpin.
Every picture of the smoking towers is a pushpin.

The words “Wall Street” are a pushpin.
The words “Main Street” are a pushpin.

Barbie is a pushpin.
Ken is a pushpin.

Pushpins are pink,
Pushpins are blue,

hamburgers and hot dogs
are pushpins, too.

Donald Trump is a pushpin
who thinks he’s a thumbtack
surrounded by pushpins
he’s pressed into the map.
They almost act like thumbtacks,
there are so many of them,

but don’t let them fool you:
they’re still just pushpins.

3.
The military is a thumbtack.
The police are a thumbtack.
The justice system is a thumbtack.
The prison system is a thumbtack.
The labor of prisoners is a thumbtack.
The disenfranchisement of former prisoners is a thumbtack.

The educational system is a thumbtack.
The healthcare system is a thumbtack.
The food supply system is a thumbtack.
The deep decay of infrastructure is a thumbtack.

Pop culture is a series of brightly colored thumbtacks
placed in such a way that they look like pushpins.

Standing Rock is a thumbtack.
Flint is a thumbtack.
New Orleans and Puerto Rico are thumbtacks.
Michael Brown? Eric Garner? Sandra Bland?
Native women missing near the man camps of the oil fields?
All the people dead or missing for their bodies and souls
that did not fit the map?
Fresh blood on old stains that have been on the map so long,
we think they’re supposed to be there;

fresh blood in endless supply
seeping out from under the thumbtacks,
making it clear that they were pushed in to stay.

4.
You see the map anew and realize 

it’s not only wrong, but that it’s designed, in fact, 
to get and keep people lost 
and to conceal certain information and features 
that exist but which are not shown on the map.

You reach up to the wall 
and start pulling pushpins out of the places 
that are deemed important by whoever put up the map.

The places THEY want to highlight, 
the routes THEY want you to travel, etc.

You start tossing some aside, 
put others back in different spots.

If there is a color code to the pins, 
maybe you subvert it 
or discard certain colors, add new ones, etc., 
so that they no longer represent 
what the mapmakers wanted.

You stand back and look at your work…
and it’s troubling, isn’t it?

It’s still their map.

4.
You reach up and pull the pushpins out you just put in,
because they play a role in keeping the map
securely in place.

Then you start pulling the thumbtacks themselves, 
the ones that define the borders,
the ones that hold the map up.

You pull them one at a time at first
until you get enough slack to get a hand on a free corner 
and you rip the whole thing off the wall. 
You crumple it up and burn it in the fireplace.

And then you go outside:
bloody, singed, exhausted.

Maybe you are alone,
having lost everyone and everything,

but it’s been so long
since you saw the actual territory 

that you don’t know what’s actually out there, 
and it’s time to find out.


The Origins Of Leveling Up

Level up
Build your brand
Get on your grind

Hustle and disrupt
Stay on your track

Never let anything
distract you from your goal

Get paid
Get paid at the highest level 
Get paid what you’re worth 
You are worth what you are paid
You are worth exactly what you get paid
You are obviously not leveling up
if you aren’t getting paid

To be rich is to level up
Heaven is riches
leveled up and up again

If you’re not rich you’re not worthy 
Every day is a new chance
to be worthy of your worth

You level up when you’re worthy
You are level and up and worthy
Worthy of a higher level
No one can make you feel unworthy
without your consent

You consent to be unworthy
You consent to be unleveled

Get back on the grind
and get on it

Get paid get level get lifted
Get worthy

Get paid or get got
Get paid or get out

They said it long ago
as they stepped off the boat
and granted themselves a continent

and that’s how we got
to where we are today


Education

The rush of understanding
exactly how parts come together
to grind out a solution 
to a problem — how much energy
surges inside 
with that recognition — even if

what you’re seeing
is how the machinery
made to crush you
was built, what was used
to construct your demise
or at least your oppression 
if your physical demise was not
the aim of the builders —

education, even on
such horrible topics,
carries some rewards —
you learn where the gears
mesh, how the pistons turn,

and ideas flare inside you,
lights going off like muzzle flashes,
phosphorus rounds in the intended darkness,
illuminations in your head
like the bare bulbs
in stern, filthy interrogation rooms —

this time, though, 
once you get at last
how it all works together,
you get to be

the one
behind the gun,
the one

interrogating a perpetrator. 


Addressing Mr. White

I note your objection
to my protest
and set it aside.

I acknowledge your expression
of your opinion
and do not consider it valid.

You rationalize with 
great precision why you are right
and it moves me not at all.

You proclaim 
universal truths
that look parochial from this angle.

I will not apologize
for not apologizing 
for your offended moment.

I will extend my vision 
over your potential for growth
but am not holding my breath.

When will you understand
how narrow you look from here?
It’s not a question of your longevity

or endurance.
It’s how damnably strong
your default position still is

at this edge of a century
where we’ve been in constant danger
of being 
obliterated

and how much anguish
we’ll all be in
if we have to support it any longer.


Arse Poetica

With one glee-drenched hand I push myself closer to the edge.
I’ve always liked to think I do better there.
No matter how wrong I am I keep pushing.
A little off balance has become my motto.
Teetering is my preferred exercise.  
A fall just confirms the risk I will take for small reward.
It makes me an artist indeed. 
A tightrope’s frayed end for a paintbrush.
A crumbling ledge a blank canvas.
A cracked pane of glass over a sixty story fall for an empty page.
I press my nose into the fractures and watch a spiderweb grow.
I stare into the rotten soil above the view of where I’ll drop.
I wriggle my toes over the unraveled line above the drooling crowd.
I reach back and put one sticky hand into the small of my own back,

bow,

and fall forward wondering if it will be at last enough
to make a masterpiece.


Rumble

in near distance, closing in,
a leaden rumble.

a blowhard’s camouflage 
keeps us guessing, makes us

want to throw hands, 
or cover our ears.

no matter. we still feel it
roughing up our guts and brains.

everything’s become
questionable and suspicious.

no mail again today.
is it connected to this?

was it swallowed up? store
out of trashbags again.

are they trying to bury us?
how potholed the roads, 

how empty the dialogue,
how happy the dagger tongues

stabbing at their perceived
enemies. all the time we bleed

and draw blood is time away
from attending to the sound

and preparing for what will come,
for scraping away the blowhard cover,

for sweeping into the teeth of the rumble
and breaking it as it deserves. 

you think you’ll be all right, I know.
you won’t. no matter how many

trashbags you hoard. no matter
how much mail you receive. 

you’re as done as anyone else,
no matter how hard

you press your hands
into the shells of your ears.

it will take you
even if you never hear it coming.