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.


Killing the Hero

If I could somehow split
my head in parts
and allow multitudes inside
to comfort and cleanse 
what they found there, 
I would.

Open my face
like a vault door.
Let in anyone 
who offered to help.
I would.

Asking for help
is not my thing
because in the past when I
was far less what I am now,
too often the helpers
acted more like vandals
or thieves; it is hard
to open my head now
knowing what’s been 
stripped or taken.

If I could open my present
as I have opened my past
I might find a future.

Saying that is so easy
it must be false.

Saying that is so easy
and I am not. 

Saying I will open the vault doors
of my eyes, shut the alarm
of my mouth, and then let anyone in
who offers?

Saying it like that
is like ending a story
too early. Like

killing off the hero
before they even start
the journey.


The band in action…

For those of you unfamiliar with my band, The Duende Project:  we are a quartet (Chris O’Donnell on drums, Chris Lawton on guitar, Steven Lanning-Cafaro on bass, guitar, and keyboards, and yours truly on vocals/poetry and guitar) who play eclectic jazz, funk, rock, blues, and more to back up my poems.  

This is a link to a video of an entire set at AS220 in Providence, RI, USA on May 29th of this year.  

Hope you enjoy it…

The Duende Project in action!


Poem Or Trigger

I’ve done many things
already today

but what I cannot apparently
do today

is pull a poem.

Once I could do that
as easily as I could once
pull a trigger. 
It might not be good —

I have been admonished
more than once
for abruptness, for

doing it too fast,
for not taking time

to breathe or aim 
as I should —

but I could do it easily
and most of the time

strike where I aimed.

Today though.
Not today.

A poem is
beyond me — 

ah, but the trigger
is simpler and more
to the point and while
it has been a long time

even scared and unsure, 
even possibly at the risk
of making things worse,

I think I have no choice.

That’s how it always is
with a poem
as well.  Right down to the 
potential for 
death resulting, but

in the face
of such a day as this,
who am I not to do
what I can.


Thought Experiment

I am sorry, so sorry
that now we have come
to the point at which
the thought experiment 
in which one tries to decide
what they would have done
in the path of tyranny
has become so obviously
no longer theoretical.

I am sorry, so sorry
that we did not do 
what we should have done
when we somewhat knew,
almost were certain, had
a chance to keep us from
ever knowing the reality
of the thought experiment.

I am sorry, so sorry
that there are those
we failed and failed 
on the way
from the thought experiment
to the moment when
the thought became
a recognition and the recognition
became a horror and 
the horror became 
routine.


New eBook on the Patreon site

Just finished uploading a new eBook, “Pushpins And Thumbtacks,” to my Patreon site as an exclusive for my patrons. It’s a short collection of 10 poems on icons and cliches of American culture revisited, mostly recent and some developed as a result of prompts from patrons themselves.

While all of the poems appear here on the blog, I find that pulling together collections of them helps to focus and increase their impact.  

All it takes to be part of the Work and support what I do at the Patreon site is a measly $1/month for many rewards; larger pledged amounts get access to more. I sincerely appreciate the support I receive and try to give back as much I can.

It has been difficult lately, but I hope to get back in the full swing of the Work shortly.

Onward, 
T

The Patreon site is here.


A Social Construct

“Race is
a social construct,”

he said,

and I jabbed him gently
in the face. My fist

was real. When 
real police
showed up waving
real guns and badges,
I indicated
that as whatever we all did next
in response
was a social construct —

whether or not I went
easily, whether or not
they took me down, whether
I lived or died or they lived
or died in the attempt — 

none of it was real
and all of it
could be easily ignored.

They did not ignore a thing.

Went to trial,
a social construct.
Was judged guilty,
a social construct.
Did small time
in a real jail.
Came out marked and
civically blighted,
a social construct.

Race is a social construct.
It works better for me
than for many. That’s

real. Money is 
a social construct
that works better some days
than others for me,
better overall for some folks,
much worse overall
for others. That’s 
real. 

What’s real 
is a social construct

unless it’s a mountain
or a desert or a robin
or a lion or the skin
you’re in, the hair you
grow or do not grow,
the strength of your pulse

and how quickly it stirs
at the sobbing of a child,
the sight of blood on a cracked street,
the jerk it makes as it slows and stops
in response to a bullet entering.

On the page, on the screen,
I’m a social construct
wishing this
was all I needed to be

to make real things,
to make things real.


Family Can Really Hang You Up The Most

Ever rumble
with your ghosts
by your side against
real live foes? Have you
ever reached into
your pocket for 
something to use as 
a weapon and found
a family history, once sharp
but now dull along the edge?
When you pulled it out
were you surprised by
how light it felt in your
hand and when you looked
at your hand were you shocked
that all you could see was 
your bones clutching
the dear dirty book?  Did you think
you were really going to get away
from all of them? They’re
your family, dead and never
gone, and they stick by you;
sometimes 
you fear them
and sometimes
you hate them
and sometimes 
they are all you have
to wield 
in battle. They can really
hang you up
the most, they can really
piss you off, they can really
look you in the eye.


Fold Your Head

You can’t keep going
forever. At some point
you fall over and wail
from your new place 
on the ground.  

At some point 
it becomes too much,
this aging. This failure
of parts, this damage
regime taking over.

You stare at a picture
of your parents. You understand
how it was for them, how it
is if they are still here.
You fold your head down

to your knees and do
whatever it is you do
to invoke something
to stop it: prayer,
positive thought, 

a hearty scream into your 
ailing skin. You swore
you’d be different,
you’re the same; maybe
that’s the worst part.


Under The Red, White, And Blue

Lying awake, the night sky 
on your mind,
a violet shelf of trophies 
you will never quite grasp.

Working dark seams 
until they give up scant fuel;
playing hard games
until the least prize falls 
into your hands.

You say
hey, it’s a living.
You say that
as often as you can.

Lying awake under
a dream sky you thought was 
just beyond your fingertips.
They told you that
so many times
that more than once
you thought
you’d brushed against it
more than once.

It felt like either heaven
or cobwebs. Hard
to say at the time,

but now you know.

Lying there
under that sky
you can’t reach
that will never redden for dawn 
or turn white for full day
and the stars you longed for
are like needles in your eyes
and the deep blue looks like 
shrouds and you know
none of it 
was ever really for you.


Map In The Tar

I burst through a door
and climb stairs to
a friend’s apartment.

Did I leave my cell phone here,
I ask? You’ve never been here
before, they respond. And I realize
they’re right.

So I go back down the stairs and
out the door and start running,
face aimed down, scoping
for the phone along a route
I may not have run at all
for two miles back to my house,

till I realize there’s a phone
on my hip in a clip, nothing 
I recall, and this is not my phone.
No idea who it belongs to. No idea
who these people in the contact list are.

I keep running back to my house
hoping it’s still my house. Along the way
I stare at the ground, wondering why
I’m in such good shape that I can run
like this, memorizing the moonlit
asphalt as if I were going to be
tested on the location of each speck
of sparkle when I’m finally at rest.

I make it home, hit the doorbell
as I have no keys with me, scramble
to the front window to scream 
my partner’s name, relieved 
to recognize the reflected face
as my own, glad that she seems
relieved to see me, to hold me
as I go through the front door.

I am typing this on my cell phone
which was where I left it by the bed side.
I am typing this on my cell phone
as I try to get up from bed
on my stone heavy legs, with my lungs
torn and wet from something.

This may have all been 
a dream, it all may have been a 
projection, a mistake
in my perception,

but I bet I could be blindfolded
and brought 
to any spot on the route right now
and I think I could tell you,
once the blindfold came off,

where I was and 
what I was thinking
at the time I bent to look there,

how far I’d come
and how far was left to go,

and all of that would come rushing forth from me
the second I saw the map

of mica in the black tar.


Permanence

We’ve spent our entire lives
looking at scenes that will someday disappear
and yet we are happy much of the time,
centered on the illusion of permanence.

Every house, every church, every factory
or office we’ve ever been thrilled or angry
or bored in is going to fall to pieces eventually.
Maybe we’ll live to see it, maybe we will be

the ones to do it by fire or dynamite,
with sledgehammers or through simple neglect,
but it’s going to happen with or without us
and until it does, we will pretend it will never happen.

More than once I’ve had the joy of shifting
a public view — I put hammer and crowbar 
into play, slamming down old boards and pulling up
rotted floors, changing what was once a fact

into a memory of fact. Life went on without
the shed and the garage. I can see them if I squint
at the spaces where they were, but there are people
who never knew they were there and for them things

are just fine as they are now. 
Things were just fine as they once were, too.
Nothing is permanent, and every thing is fine that way.
Things change. We change. Things don’t matter much.

What matters is us changing ourselves
to fit into the changing nature of things.
We move into impermanence while clinging to things.
We pretend about things, and hem and haw and fight and weep over things;

things that will inevitably disappear just as we will inevitably
disappear from the sight of others, through fire or dynamite,
by our own neglect or choice, by the sheer force of time
if by nothing else; yet somehow we are content

to pretend otherwise much of the time
as we look at scenes from which we will 
someday disappear, scenes that will someday
disappear: the central illusion of permanence.


Meathook

This ain’t no poem,
no protest song —

this is a meathook
with a long memory.

This is a bomb
with a meter. It explains

how things get done
with a ballistic microphone

and then runs
to fight another day

or gets caught and is choked to death
on its own verses

or vanishes in a hard flash
and a puff of voice.

This ain’t no poem
but a manual for locking

shackles tight as end rhyme,
ghazals full of righteous gallows.

This is not a protest song,
but melodic explosions

aimed at a target.
This meathook

has blood on it, 
has been whetted,

has been thirsty 
for a while now,

and recalls how it proclaimed
the roll of honor

the last time
it was trotted out

not just for
some academic show,

but in a renewal
of raw street joy.


Cardinal

Red stroke by the window.
A cardinal is here.
Occasional visitor
who’s been around
in short bursts
for most of the day.

Under the feeders, also
present from first light,
a mourning dove.
Can’t recall the last time
one came and stayed
like this, although
we hear them often 
from overhead.

The cardinal holds court
from the shepherd’s crook
that holds the suet cage.
The dove holds the humble ground
below.

Red stroke by the window again.

The cardinal is gone — stayed long enough 
for cardinal purposes, although
gone too fast, left too soon for us;

the mourning dove remains — 
cooing, soothing,
peace in its voice

along with tears
and a promise of return.