The City

From ten miles out of town to here
I pass a half-dozen donut shops,
two smoke shops, one
liquor store. You get what
you pay for and clearly
there are those ready to pay for
some form of altered state
just to enter this town,
never mind to stay here,
to live here.  

As for me? My mind is clear.
I do not need a cloud 
of sugar or fat,
of smoke or drink,
to be here. 

I admit to stopping
at one or more of those
stores, but only now and then
is it anything more than
a small enhancement 
that I chase,

for here’s a view from my porch
of nothing but more porches,
a view from my back door
of nothing but more back doors.

There are times when I long to see
tree or stream with no one near them,
or hear surf, the smash of sea
on shore or rock — of course,
I’m human, there are moments
like that when I want to climb
back through the past to 
primacy.

But the view from here
is people and more people
and all the variety sings to me
and all the street sound is symphony
and I cannot want to blunt that
when so much worth knowing
is there within my reach.

Keep the donuts, the vapes
and pipes, the sips and nips
and bottles in need of draining.
Drunk and stoned
and stuffed on the city,
I am at peace.

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The All-American Halloween Poem

It’s like we’ve been having 
a forced Halloween forever
in this country,

what with all 
the villain masquerades
and stolen 

identities, what with all the handouts
we have grimly provided 
to unnamed shadows.

Ordinary folks sit at home
with the lights on 
afraid of the vague threat

of “tricks” as defined by men costumed
in camo, in blue, worst of all
in gray or navy pinstriped

suits. We give all we have to them,
and when we turn the lights out
for the night we still sit there waiting

for late, ominous knocking, for our doors
to be kicked in. The beloved dead
do not return to us,

ever; the ancestors
vanish in a haze of 
genetics and whitewash.

It’s All-American Halloween,
disguised as always
as the Fourth of July.

Though the dawn
is red, it does signal
that it’s almost over. 

Time to ask: Halloween America,
we know what your real face
looks like.  What mask do you think

will save you? What face
will you be able to hide behind

once our after party begins?


Crumbs

Aren’t you tired
of living on crumbs?
Aren’t you tired
of fighting for crumbs?

Of waking up 
after three hours’ sleep
and lying awake 
until morning?
Of rising and aiming
your heart at a job
that takes all you’ve got
then returns a few scraps from
some folks at a table 
you won’t ever see
that hangs above you
like a solid cloud —

aren’t you tired
of waiting for crumbs?
Aren’t you tired of 
living on crumbs?

Of hearing three words of praise
for your being and doing
for every four hundred 
you hear in rebuke?
Of seeing the horizon
as some kind of carrot
to keep you running 
with the stick right behind?
Of becoming the person 
you dreaded you’d be
when you thought the horizon
was a sweet dance away?

Aren’t you tired 
of scratching for crumbs?
Aren’t you tired
of living on crumbs?

Here comes day
and then night
and then day
and then night
and every hour
falls into gray
till you can’t tell the difference
anymore

Here comes something
falling from the table
One atom of sleep or
one atom of comfort or
one atom of peace or
one atom of how to get by

And just as you catch it
It melts into memory
Then it grows in your memory
That’s how you survive
By turning those bits
into magnified moments
Turning those moments
into amplified stories
Fantasies of joy
you claim to believe
and try to believe
and want to believe — 

A whole culture feeds that
even while it bleeds you
Makes it hard to get past it
and realize that
it’s the dark of the day
and the dark of the night
at the same exact moment
and it is every moment…

you know you are starving
though you can’t admit it — 

and aren’t you tired
of living on crumbs?

Aren’t you tired?


Against The Angels

Your upbringing has you convinced
that when angels come at last to visit you,
they will be immense and will dominate
all your senses and being. It’s hype —

they’re tiny,
house pet scaled nuisances,
unnerving 
at their worst.

This morning
I woke to one perched
on the bedside table
and at first, I thought it was one of the cats.

Once I knew better, recognized it by its gray wings and
solemn demeanor, I said: how come, angel,
your resemble a cheap gargoyle from a garden shop? How come
you aren’t robed in storm, an elemental force?

I’m only mildly put out to see you here.
You picked the wrong bed to sit by. Get out.
Go scare a sick kid or comfort an old man, take
your burst of petulance at my lack of fear

and put it where it matters. Take
your European constraint, your
European deity feather-bound by committee,
and go. Go tell those that want me

to send tornado hearted eyeless giants, send 
thunderbird riders, send the deep green-red sky itself
to hover over me if they must; something
I can bow my head before and rise into 

with honor and agreement. Angel,
archangel, seraph: go. You’re not
worthy. I smell that book on you.
I read it once. I don’t care to read it again

and I’m not leaving till the earth itself
deems me ready to go and holds
all the continents and oceans up, 
like a robe, to wrap me in as I go.


Older And In Costume

Older and in costume
I parade up and down because I know
this will make a difference

in how I feel about
how I am seen from here on in.
It’s possible that no one

will see me anyway
no matter how I am 
dressed or arrayed

but as a slowly vanishing
man, I must take
all the chance I can to be 

visible. Even if no one
notices, I notice. Even
if I am ridiculous,

I shall vibrate inside
knowing I chose such
silliness. Even if I 

were to in fact 
disappear from here
leaving the costume 

empty in the aisle
before all present,
I will go knowing

I took this chance to
feel alive, saturated
with nonsense, joyful

as a true clown,
unafraid, saying to all:
This.  I am this

as much as I am anything
else you know of me and
it’s as much a part of me

as what you’ve always 
known, even if you have not
seen it till now. I am this

and that too. While I do not 
and have never contained
multitudes, I was more

than you knew and even
more than I knew. Older and in 
costume, I can see that now.


Telecaster Grimoire

That open D turnaround

we’ve all heard forty thousand times,
the Chuck-riffs done to death,
the pentatonic lockbox…
did you forget all were designed
as magic spells? Don’t blame

the weak impact
they have upon you
on anything but weak magicians
weakly casting them.  

Last night I heard a master
play everything right out of
the text book of how you are
supposed to do it,

and it wrung me out like a rag
sopping sweat from some ancestor’s 
forehead between sets;

I long now to stay home
and sit over my Telecaster grimoire 
through as many midnights as I have left
in the hope 
of getting beyond
just getting it right

once in my life.


Overwhelmed

As if every melody
is being played at once
and you have to sing along
unerringly to one from that 
swarm of sound and if you don’t
you lose, you fail, you die.

As if every movie
must be watched at the same time
and you must answer questions
about the credits for all of them
and get all of them correct 
or you die, you lose, you fail.

As if you were clutching  
a lifetime’s worth of photographs 
of you family, friends, lovers, haters
and told you must reduce the pile
to the one picture that holds all for you,
you have an hour to choose that one
and memorize the rest as best you can
or you fail, you lose, you die.

As if for a decade or more
you’d woken up and stretched
and reached for the phone at the bedside,
dreading the blinking light that says
you have mail and news and messages 
and you were about to be inundated
with urgency and insistence and importance
and no matter how you stand against it
you must fail to stay upright,
you shall lose your footing,
to stop it from hurting you must die.


Getting Past It

Three fractured heads 
in the crotch of a tree.

Dog-torn infant arms
strewn in a ditch.

On a dirt road, 
dark wet sand.

New genocide and massacre
glimpsed on a screen.

You can’t look away
even as you say

“it can’t happen here.”
It has happened here.

Here is here because
it has happened here.

You didn’t do it. You had
nothing to do with it.

But you are here, in part,
because it has happened here.

This is why 
you can’t look away

even as you say
“it can’t happen here.”

You want to know
what it looks like,

want to toughen up.
It can’t happen here

but who knows where
it will happen tomorrow

and if you are there
by chance or design

your today could be gone
when your tomorrow gets here.

You keep an eye
on the screen

and make plans and promises
about what you will

and will not do 
if it happens

where you are:
how you will stay upright

if the road runs slippery
with blood, how you will avoid

tripping over flesh
on your walkway, how you will

get past it. How you
will thrive in the aftermath,

how you will raise a family
there.


We Ought To

You don’t have to 
say anything, really.

Stand there as yourself.

We ought to know
that it is likely, probable, that
the chances are better than even
that it’s happened to you

simply because
we ought to know
this place 
operates now as
a carry-on from 
all kinds of horrible
places, and 

we ought to know
that whether or not you tell a story
of how it has been for you,

currents and channels
carrying polluted water
dirty every person standing
in them, and
it’s likely, probable, 
the chances are better than even
that you’ve been soaked
in certain poisons

for as long as you’ve stood
in the flood and we ought to know

who needs to get upstream
and dam the river
and clean it up and 
we ought to do that
without jabbering on and on

about not me and not all
of us and not now and not
true and not that dirty.

It is, and it is, and it is,
and it is, and it is, and it is.

Shame on us. We ought to
hang our heads. 

More to the point,
we ought to

get to work.


The Season Of Beginning

In most overheard remarks
on this first frost
is a sense
of saudade — a sweet sorrow —
for an ending

when one could instead look forward
to the dying off of weeds that have been
strangling the yard and air
with gnarled vines and snarling
pollen,

or to the cooler, cleaner
air and light pouring through
branches now clear
of leaf clutter so one can see
what can no longer hide
as easily. It’s true that soon

shrouds of snow will follow, but for
a few weeks this naked clarity will 
offer more opportunity
than was available in the dank 
and overgrown summer;
do not forget that this year
there is war
and this is the season

when enemy and ally alike 
come into open view,
when battle lines
are drawn,
when the fight
truly begins.


Two Woodpeckers

I used to robe up before writing,
slapped on a wizard cap to make of myself
a mystic, kept a wand under
my clothes to wield when I needed
to drape clouds around my words.

Then one day I stood at my window
and watched two downy woodpeckers,
male and female, perched on opposite sides
of a suet feeder.  They fluttered

back from the cage and landed again,
having switched sides. Returned every day
for a season and repeated this swap
at least once per day. The world is already
a miracle and a mystery. Why overdecorate it?


Earworm

1.
Early afternoon
and I’m glad I’m unheard

tunelessly humming
a current popular song

as if I liked it or it had
meaning beyond

its currency on all
media when in fact

tomorrow afternoon 
it will be displaced

from the odd cranny 
where it has lodged itself

by the next hot tune
or turn of phrase that

offers a sense of immediate
connection among those

who hear and repeat it
(although in my case 

nothing could be less true
as I take its presence here

to be a sign of how I have failed
to resist the dicatorship

of the official soundtrack
of these days) even when

no one’s listening as
is happening now

2.
No one is listening
as I hum this ditty

which is likely for the best 
as I carry the shame

of knowing it
better than I carry the tune itself

3.
This unheard song
of mine is not mine at all

but was likely crafted by 
committee

across continents
via the Internet

with the sole aim of
ensuring that it would be hummed

in all quarters
by all people who hear it

whether they want to
or not

not in response
to an emotional need or

appropriate situation
which would bring it

obviously to mind
but instead

simply because 
repetition and songcraft

have stuck it into
so many places and 

so many ears that
to hum it or sing it

becomes involuntary
even if it is hated

by the one
humming it

4.
Imagine what else
a committee

capable of such
manufactured taste

could make you do
and you may understand

why I am tempted
to slit my own throat

when I realize that I
am humming a song

whose name I do not know
only because it has driven

all else from my head
and I don’t know what else

is in there
hiding behind it


The Always Wrong Forever Apology

You forget
I was born
and raised
as the always wrong
forever 
apology. It can’t
be helped that

I default a 
thousand
times a day
to regret and 
guilt. Not to say
shame because

with shame I might
correct the 
always wrong and
close the forever
apology but

this way I can 
boast of my unashamed
malfunctions. I can
be right by always 
being wrong. You

forget how potent
such contradictions
can be. The forever
apology as 

article of faith, the 
always wrong as 
myth or miracle, 
parable of the guilty
conscience for no
reason. You forget

how long I’ve lived
on this, what a religion
it has been. How large
its god looms. How difficult
apostasy can be to achieve —

how satisfying
the guilt involved in that 
might be.


101

In the works of
Quentin Tarantino
revenge and retribution
are frequent themes.

I think they reveal 
the fullness of 
recent American 
dreams.

This explains so much of
how we got here,
where we’re going,
why we can’t turn aside.

This is Tarantino’s world.
Think of all the casual
evil accepted within
his concepts high and low.

Think of how
with winks and smiles
they comfort and authorize
a stab, a shot, a blow.

Think most of all
of the one where 
an actor demands
his men bring him

one hundred scalps —
usually enough
to make me turn it off
and turn away.

Too long a history
for me and mine
to fantasize in comfort
over scalping once done to us

for bounties
much like this one. Still,
late nights or early mornings
when I sit and see the news,

when I watch
and wring my hands, sometimes
I whisper when I know
no one will hear

a phrase that tells me
I am part of his world now,
although I hate it: “One hundred?
Not enough. Let’s make it

one hundred and one.”


Make A Muscle

Make a muscle,
some uncle would say,
and you’d pop up an arm,
pump up a bicep for them
to squeeze.  Big boy, getting
stronger, they’d say.
You would be pleased and 
secretly you’d do this to yourself
whenever you could — cock that 
arm like Popeye and test the
rock under the skin.

There were times
where you’d work at getting huge
but then came all that pubescence and
things started happening in your head,
voices about how poorly your muscles
did in most things, urgings to stay
small before the bully radar,

and nothing happened with that
muscle plan.  You got thick and dull
and became more head-strong
and less body strong

and compensated with weapons
and wit for long decades to follow

and now you’re nearly sixty
and if you make a muscle in
your stroke arm, only you will know;
if you make a muscle
in your stronger arm, it would show
but not much. 

You’re nearly sixty
and if you make a muscle in public
someone 
may laugh at you,
perhaps with fondness,

perhaps not.  Big boy, you’re still
so strong, someone might say,
and it will remind you
that all your beloved uncles

are long underground.

In secret you roll up a sleeve.
You’re fourteen again but
there are no bullies left
except the mirror
so you make a muscle
and whisper see, see?
See how big I am getting?