Tag Archives: poems about poetry

If I Could Explain

If I could explain
why I listen to gospel services
on Sunday morning radio
though I am no Christian or even
much in sympathy with Christianity,
paying nearly the same attention 
to its content

as I do to a stray episode
of “Law And Order” on a barroom television,
though I am not at all a cop, neither
am I at all a lawyer, and am
slightly less criminal than many;

and slightly less attention
to either of those than I do 
to distant salsa tunes from two floors up,
though I am no dancer or singer
in Spanish or anything else,

then perhaps I could explain to you, 
and to myself as well, 
how I became a poet. 

Maybe I could explain why Jesus
and Lenny Briscoe and
Marc Anthony rotate through
my firmament on some 
indecipherable yet certain timing;

or I might be able to explain
why I feel like life barely grazes me
most of the time, 
though I feel all of it 
at least lightly;

I could even maybe explain 
how when I am nicked by living 
I bleed out everything 
I’ve ever felt
and call that art 
once I’ve run my fingers
through the flood
and tried to make patterns

in what lands and dries 
in front of me, although
it never does the job
quite well enough;

so I go back to cursory church and 
peripheral crime and loving music 
I can’t understand
just for the sake of listening

while waiting for the next barrage
to brush me, the next wound to open me, 
the next opportunity
to play in my red.


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?

Fossil Poems

In anger, we say, “Fuck it.”

That’s a kind of poem. One kind of poem, the memory of a moment of utter disgust digested, compressed into a singular phrase. Cliches are fossil poems; pat phrases are living, wriggling fragments of attempted poems — and who among us doesn’t have a pat, pet phrase…?

These are attempted poems.

All around us a murder of attempted poems, their wings barely raising them from the ground.

All of us are poets.  All of us are suspect to the art police. — daring us, goading us to say something at once superfluous and necessary.  

When we say “Fuck it,” we decide how the scale tips.

Three Hundred And Fifty Failures

I’ve tried fifty-eight times
to explain the modern world as
a game show,

started and crumpled sixty-two drafts
about sexual love as
an orchard,

and made two hundred
and thirty attempts at an epic
on the sonic characteristics of each
key on a piano as compared to
the landscapes of nations
along the Mediterranean coasts.

All I have to show for all that work is

one sad brain, garish as a TV soundstage;

self-loathing slumped under an apple tree
that’s been split from age and rot;

a postcard from Tunisia that reads,
“having a decent time, wish you were here;”

this song of three hundred
and fifty failures
that I might yet turn into something
of worth if

I can stop chewing on it long enough
to give myself time to search 
every inch of it
for meat to live on.


I wanted to give up
on poetry

but I kept falling 
into it and sometimes

I was wet with it
when I got up

and sometimes
I drew my finger

through the wetness
and sometimes it was 

dew and sometimes it
was blood and 

sometimes you could see it
after I was done and 

sometimes it said something
or looked reasonably 

presentable and sometimes
I presented it and 

people sometimes said
it meant something to them

and sometimes it meant 
to them what it meant to me

and so sometimes I still 
call myself a poet and say

I haven’t given
up quite yet.

The Lake

After a lifetime
lived under the water
of a deep cold lake called

the art of 
finding new ways
to say old things
and sometimes even
of finding new things
to say

sometimes by
using old ways and
sometimes by
creating new ways

I have risen to
the surface
in daylight
and searched
and shouted

and realized that

up here where
the people
who allegedly 
wanted me to say
were alleged to be
dying for my news
of old and new

the shores are empty
as they are all
living perfectly well

I tread water
in panic
certain to return
to my breathless depths
but whether I shall go
by diving 

or sinking

I do not yet know

For The Sound

You think of this work I do
(when you think of it at all)
as the opening 
of petals, or veins.

No matter how many times
I tell you otherwise.
No matter how many years
I’ve been at it.

If it were the opening
of petals, 
I’d have long ago
turned to fruit,
fallen to the ground,
rooted as seed, 

If it were the opening
of veins? How red 
would your hands be if
every time you touched one
of these you then
chose to just wait 
for the next one?

This isn’t as easy
as simply blooming
or bleeding —

it’s opening, sure,
but more like cracking
a safe or picking 
a lock and then pulling 
a door until it swings wide.

maybe flowers, maybe
buckets of brimful red;

you can have those
as I live

for the cracking, the picking;

for the sound (my God, the sound!)
of moving doors.

Trying All The Keys In All The Locks

Hard to believe now, 
but when I was a child
I spoke more
of my mom’s Italian 
than English, knew 
all the Russian she knew,
and could mix it with 
my dad’s sprinkling
of Korean, Chinese, 
German, and Apache 
as needed.

I lost them all
in elementary school
where they made me
an English-only exclusive
and it worked so well that
when I got to high school,
as hard as I worked,
I could not get past Mr. Albert
and junior year French.
Never made it out of 
the replacement Spanish class,
either.  What little 
of each language I can recall 
still tangle in my mouth
when I try to use them
just to pronounce names 
of people and places.

I’m as monolingual
(and thus as all-American) 
as all get out,
one ossified adult
turned to stone
in the coils of

a colonizer’s words,
sentenced to
their sentences, 

wondering who the hell
that kid was
who once moved
so well
among his given languages
that he felt at home
in the fullness of the world,

wondering if all the poems
he’s read and written
and spoken since
were just keys stolen
from the warden 
to be tried in every lock 
until he and his tongue
once again
got free.

For Sound


They tell us

to be at peace,

silence matters most.

That’s what they tell us


with their mouths,

say it out loud, praise 

silence with 

their voices though


language brought us here,


carried along the whorls

of our ears, through the labyrinth

concealed within.

What we are now


is what the last sentences

we heard made us.


When they praise our silence,

urge us to be silent, sit

with nothing in our mouths,

say nothing,

they are saying


shut up, 

we have no need

to be further built.


Write it down instead, they say.

Write it down,


we’ll read it in silence,

sound it out for ourselves…


they never stop talking about

how we should sit in stillness.


This is what they think 

of us — two ears, one mouth, 

they say. This is the balance,

they say:

more listening, less talk —


forgetting lungs, larynx, tongue,

lips, resonance from sinus, sonorities

built into our bones; we’re made 

to have voices;

clearly there is something 

to be said — so we


talk. They don’t like it. We

chant. They don’t like it. We

yell. They don’t 

like it. They don’t like it —


shhhh, they say. Shhhh,


to people built from sound,

built for sound.

How To Survive A Poetry Slam

Originally posted 8/13/2011.  


How can you deal 
with it all being so loud?

Recall the times
you went unheard.

It seems, sometimes,
that the words form
a powerful flood.
What is there to do
when you’re drowning in it?

Recall how the air
you pull into your chest
when you break surface
is cleaner and fresher
for having been riled.

But they use so many words!
How are you supposed to hear them all?

Recall your toys
and how they all got time
from you in turns.
Move yourself among the words
the same loving way.

It seems, sometimes,
that the passion overpowers
the poetry.  How then
do you worship the craft?

Recall the difference
between rock and roll
and jazz, how each
trips a different trigger.  
One does not do
as the other does.
Each suits its time.

But it seems sometimes
that it’s been said before,
sometimes right before.
How do you 
tell the difference?

Recall the story
of Cain and Abel,
how hearing it once
did not stop fratricide.

Are you saying it’s all
a matter of memory?

It is all a matter of memory.

Recall the campfires,
the hunt and the grief of 
how new we were once
to simply having tongues
that could do this —

every time,
it is new to a new listener;
every time,
memory lodges in one ear,
even as it goes out another.

But even after all that,
it seems so 
overwhelming, so unnecessary.

Recall the first thing
I told you,
that you should recall
what it was to be

What part of being human
is so lost to you
that you should feel
so uncomfortable
in the presence
of a need
such as this? 


The best words in the right order.
The perfect ghosts to animate them. 
A rhythm, and the struggle to understand
how words slide over the crests
of those waves. Sound upside
of downbeat, and the opposite
as well. A trumpet in it,
a drum, a monster’s sharp and plaintive cry
as it realizes it’s the last of its kind.
A child’s scalp tingling — you can measure
the height of that raised hair in 
dactyls. You can explain the creation 
of the world in the precision of 
enjambements. Justice
made metrical, pain
made sibilant, war
made alliterative: slice of sword
and swoosh of bullet bringing back 
pull of projectile into purpled flesh.
Best words in best order and
a world fashioned in its enunciation:
and now what?  What spell
are you under?  What
happens now as a result of 
such a thing? How are the ghosts
faring now that it’s ended?

Hungry For Light

Hunched before my keyboard, trying.

This is how I live: waking up
hungry for light after swimming
all night through healing dark,
then trying to explain to you 
how that hunger keeps me alive.

When I say “trying to explain
to you…” I am not speaking to “you”
of course, but to a “you” beyond
any of us. You are welcome
to the conversation, but it is not
meant for you specifically…so…

unless I have erred, and you were
there in the dark stream of my night
without my knowing? If it is you
the work is meant for, speak up:
I will raise my eyes from this work
and look to you directly as you
know my core and the words
will likely just obscure it. 

We who wake up hungry for light
understand this: that the words,
the long strings of words we troll out
from our lonely rooms, are just
invitations to a table
that is set for a feast.

Punchlines And Metaphors

It’s working.
They have won,
at least with me:

I consume news
only to nourish
jokes and start
poems since it’s all
punchlines and 

Once it did seem
that there was
more to it, possibly
because there was
less of it and 

authority and 
authorship were
clearer. Or perhaps
there never was much good
or true to begin with and
at last I know better?

Either way —
all I can do
before this flood
is bow my head.
It’s working.

They’ve won for now
at least and 
I’ve got poems and 
jokes for days,
years even.

It’s all 
punchlines and
guffaws and tears

hardening upon contact
with air.  Hard enough
to hold

an edge, once sharpened.
Hard enough
to pierce through,

if I can just get it right.



the main thing on my mind
when i started taking my poetry

was that i might
from it

(loved or laid or noticed)

later i thought i might


even if i didn’t know
what i’d change it into

i admit to
having had 

it all was a laughfest
or tragedy
depending on

the day and 

the most recent poem

in the end
what i got 
from poetry

was this sublime
and magnificent


grand emptiness
at the core of 

into which i may dissolve
all that came before

in preparation for


i have yet to imagine

to which
i will do my best
not to aspire

Our Place

In this over-arching argument
no one can agree on 

One side’s survival
is another’s 
unearned special treatment.

One side’s prosperity
is another’s 
starvation and bleak winter.

One side’s comfort 
is another’s 

Our language
is our worst enemy
these days. 

That sounds heretical from a poet?
It is a heresy, so —
yes. It sounds blasphemous?

No. No because
I say it in fear and reverence
for our tongues: our language

is against us, and to say that
is not to blaspheme
but to lament 

how far we may have to go
to gain ground upon it, reclaim it,
to hold it close once again.

Maybe it’s time to 
surrender metaphor.
Maybe it’s time

to be silent
before our foe and
act, not speak.

Not that it will stop
us, of course, from
wrestling words

as we always do — that would be
like asking us to
not breathe — not that

there’s no precedent
for that in any history
of similar battles — stop 

breathing, poet
has been a war cry

so often on so many fronts —

so perhaps 
we have a place
now, an urgent mission

to be heretical
without blasphemy
and make language over,

to show up
in this battle
with every word we can.