Tag Archives: poems

Sleep Deprivation

Four hours of sleep,
five days in a row.

Five minutes to think
between fatigued stupidities,
and still they spill 
out of my mouth
as if carried on 
a swift stream that cuts
through without stopping;

such a splash each one makes.

Three hours of sleep,
ten days in a row, and

I don’t even know 
the current name of the country
I live in.  Trying
to put my finger on how else
it has changed, I drop
another clumsy chunk
off my lips into water
everyone has to drink. 

I’m trying to figure it out
even as I make it worse.

Apologize and then say no,
it’s not that, no,
it’s not that, no,
it’s not that.  

I am not afraid of
offending, only of offending 
by not being clear.  

Two hours of sleep,
ten weeks in a row;
two hours of sleep
ten months, ten years,
for a few decades now;

this place I’ve always called
America, to be honest,
is only comfortable now

for those who get 
all the sleep they are allowed

with no alarms to wake them
and no lumps in the bed 
and no noises to rouse them
into night terrors.

As for me?
One rotten hour a night
hundreds and hundreds
of years in a row;

I can’t tell you 
who I am.


The Nugget

I’m told that once
I was a nugget,
hard, small, and spare.

Hard to say if I’d been
made that way
or ground down
from a larger stone.

I had no surface area.
I had no depth. If I’d 
been hammered open, I bet
I would have looked the same
all the way through. 

At least,
that’s what they tell me;

I can say for certain that
however I was first made, later on
I was indeed hammered open,
tossed into forge
level heat, plucked and 
tossed into a quench
that shaped me, charged me,
changed me into 

this, or so I tell myself: this

multi-hued, burned-in
iridescence; these fractures
smooth and gritty; these 
materials as tough and complex
as I once was simple.

Or so I say when asked

to avoid thinking
that after all,

all I am is still
a nugget that’s been
hammered open. 

Maybe all I am
is a broken nugget
and not one of great interest, but
instead just a smaller piece
of something as ordinary as dirt.


The First Strike

the twin flags 
on your car — 
flag of Confederacy,
flag of Union; seeing that

you’re heading into
the same bar
I’m going to; letting

my hands brush
my pockets —
clipped-on knife,
cell phone; checking for
pepper gel snapped to
belt loop;

whether — and when —
first strike will make
more sense;

choosing to recall
that there’s no accounting 
for The Dumb who fly
the flags of 
betrayer and betrayed
with equal pride;

choosing to recall 
that both flags
are red, white, and blue;

returning to calculating
when the first strike
will be required of me —
perhaps not today

but soon.

Pale Sweet Path

I’m trying to cast a dark
and savory poem, a spell
aimed at diverting the path
of a pale sweet future.

It’s not art as much
as barricade, as much as
turn signal flashing red.
A left turn after coming

to a full stop. I’m trying
to write the full stop into
being, or at least trying
to build on what others

have done, trying
to make it strong and tall.
Had quite enough of
the long, pale, sweet path, 

of those who need me to be 
pale, sweet, happily
built for passage on that path.
I was made for dark

and savory words. I was made 
for shadow, not sun.
Made to be harbinger both of 
what conceals and is concealed.

I put the poem and put myself
in the middle of the pale sweet path.
I am the wall, the poem is the wall;
I am trying to find a longer way around.


My uncle,
who long ago handed over to me
his ancient Hohner Chromonica,
with whom I talked jazz
as a kid, with whom
I often spoke at length
the Marine knife from 
WWII with his initials 
on the sheath that now
sits in a cubby
next to my bed,

is now in twilight
after a brain bleed.

I look through a box of CDs
they’ve put in the hospital room
next to a small boombox labeled
“Compassionate Care.”  

Into the player 
goes Dinah Washington;
into the room goes
the voice.

Everyone here is 
old — all of us, all
my family gathered round, 
all of us in some way
damaged by age —

in the air,

“What a Difference
A Day Makes,” 

as each of us thinks
about tomorrow.

Self-Care, Self Care

People keep saying
self-care, self-care,

then back to the front,
back to the struggle.

What do you do if
self-care is the site

of the struggle? When
the struggle is about

the medications being
too dear, the therapy being

uncovered. When the struggle 
is about the job being

too scant, the money
no longer elastic enough.

When the struggle is
about your face betraying 

the nations within you.
When you ache hard

to get back to the war
you’ve always known

was yours to fight, but 
other aches pin you

to the couch. When you long
to rise on fire for those you love

but they instead stroke your hair
and pity you with their honest eyes

as fear wells up in your own,
bubbling up from former depths

that silted up long ago, 
that have never been dredged. Self-care,

self-care, then back to the front,
back to the struggle. That’s what

is said.  But self-care, self-care,
your eyes always on you,

is how you got here,
and now

you look up into the honest eyes
of those who pity you and say:

how is the battle that I am
worth fighting? And back to the front

you go, struggling
to answer that question.

Blue Cow

When the first plane took off,
began its approach, 
I was a blue cow. 

When it struck the tower,
I was still a blue cow as
I felt my tongue seize
around my cud and then
I fixed my big liquid eyes
upon it happening,

but I was still a blue cow
all the way through the vision
of how some people became
bad birds flying down the sides
of the buildings, and then

I was a red ember wolf and then
a scarlet flame wolf and then I saddened
into gray all over.  I don’t have a name

for the animal I became then,
other than it was an animal that
felt all the others it had been
and longed to go back to being
an absurd blue cow,

and all the days since have been
a play in which a gray being, scaly
and remote, has stared at an audience
who believe with all their hearts
that they are seeing a blue cow
when they stare back.

We Were Told There Would Be No Math

Something has occurred to me.
I don’t like that. I thought I was done
with that. I’m 73% of the way
to average life expectancy and it’s
an imposition to be pushed too hard

to revive critical thought and 
discernment. Really want mostly
to slip through the remaining 27%
I’ve likely got left and settle into bed
one last time — oh, a hug would be

good too, and less pain, and less
concern about the hardness of living —
but here I am and here’s this new thought
about what I’m supposed to be doing,
and I don’t like it. In fact I’m terrified

of it. I feel like it’s going to rob me
of at least 75% of the 27% of time
I had left and take up 93% of my energy
and that will leave me less than I need
for hugs and slipping into bed and 

ending up comfortable when I’m done
breathing. Ideas and passions notwithstanding
I thought I was done and now the times
put ideas into my heads that someone 
ought to be making real, but why 

it has to be me I don’t know. I don’t
think it’s a God thing — I gave that up.
And I don’t think it’s a sense of obligation
to people in general — have you met them
in all their wasted splendor and sick clinging

to maintaining life as they know it? Somehow
it seems to have fallen to me and maybe
ten or fifteen million others to act upon
this thought that’s occurred to us, and 95%
of us are likely sitting in bed or at a bar

or at a kitchen table tonight while the family sleeps
and asking themselves why they’re 99% certain
that this new idea about what’s to be done,
this song of mayhem and disruption, needs us
to sing it, and how do we start, and isn’t there someone

or some cohort of someones
who know better than us how to do it
with 86% more efficiency and less injury
to themselves than we would incur, and 
why is it that these ideas always occur

to people like us who can look at what’s being asked
and understand what would be required of us
and understand the ridicule to come and the depth
of violence and pain to come from being
the ones with the ideas and the calling 

to follow through? All we want is to get through
the 57% or 35% or 68% of life expectancy we’ve got left
with as little fuss as possible and here it comes:
all the fuss, all the weight, all the dread and all
the obvious fear. We sit up in bed or at the table

or at the bar and say: we were told there would be
no math and look, there’s math.  There’s math about
calculated risks and divisions and separations and
the number of minutes we could stand to be tortured,
and the arithmetic processes of how to time a revolution

perfectly. I’m a long way from happy about this. I never
wanted this hugless, bloody, spitfire examination
that I will likely fail. I’m not prepared. I didn’t study.
I’m neither smart enough nor strong enough. I’m 
73% of the way to death without it and here it is

presenting a word problem: if a world view
gains power with 400% more hunger
than it showed before — it’s always been hungry
but now it seems fatally famished — and zero
concern for others,

and another world view starves
as the first feeds, how many of us
will it take to choke the first one dead,
and how long do you think it will take us
to get enough hands around its gargantuan throat?


The earth in the front yard’s 
worm-broken as always
after the rain.

So many castings on the surface,
thick red threads squirming
on the sidewalk.

I still don’t understand 
how anything lives here,
myself least of all,

but I do, and they do.
They seem in fact
to thrive somehow.

I don’t, not at all.
I’d go so far as to say
I’m bad at living; 

worse at it than
these worms are,

It’s odd
how it happens
that one can end up

envying worms. I hope
some nice ones eat me
when I die. I know 

it’s not worms like these
I should be counting on
for that. These worms

aren’t the right type.
These worms look like
survivors, like they’d know

that you are what you eat.
That’s a good enough reason
for them to avoid me.

It’s raining, I’m waiting to die,
worms have come up from the wet
all over the yard, and I’m watching 

them from the window. If you need
anything beyond this
to understand me, be like the worms:

steer clear.




I said I shouldn’t have to prove
my exceptional nature and skills
to be valued, that I am human

should be enough to make you want 
to care about me and not think of me as
a heap of dirt to be danced on 
like some grave. 

Then I looked around:
when has being human 
ever been enough?

I said that everyone came here
from somewhere except for those of us
whose folks were here already.

Then someone reminded me
of the Bering Straits and someone else
pointed at carved heads and said Africa
and another one laughed
and said Irish monks and let us not forget
the sky people from Sirius or 
Alpha Centauri,

and I realized
how much people
love the colonial buffet.

I said something about
a living wage and
not having to fear that
a broken turn signal 
might get you beaten
or jailed or deported or
killed. I said something

about people who had no choice
about coming here, about people
born here with no voice to be heard
here, about people burning here
and drowning here.

Then it struck me
that no one could hear a thing I’d said
over the sound of locks being locked
and deadbolts being thrown, guns
being cocked and hands being clapped
over ears and eyes.

I stopped talking long enough
to consider the possibility
that perhaps they heard me just fine
and that was why they locked
and loaded and shut themselves away.

I stopped talking.
I looked up.

There was
dawn in the air. It was lonely
but it was new. It might not have lasted
long but it was clean. It might
still have been night
but that hint of sun

felt sacred.


Released from caring
for a moment about
the state of the world

through the act of cleaning
all the kitchen cabinets
and reorganizing pots

and pans and too many
coffee mugs and making
donation piles and nodding

in sadness at the need to 
simply deport some things to
the recycling bin as if they

could be something other
than what they are and have been
for their entire lives and then

collapsing into the couch
coated in sweat and my sugar’s
been stupid high of late and

I should go to the doctor but
the co-pay is beyond my means
and it feels like there’s a nuclear war

under my skin until I shower
with the water turned up high and hot
drowning me almost like a hurricane

but thankful that I left the TV off
and stayed strictly away from the news
and kept the personal separate

from the political

When You Are Done

When you are done
wringing your hands
over spilled blood and
split bones, perhaps

you should look down
and see that the same blood
has puddled around your shoes
where it fell from your own hands.

When you are done
weeping over the plight 
and the pain and the history
of some big bitter words, perhaps

you can check to see
if your face is as red
as your hands were
when you were wringing them out.

When you are done
commiserating and thanking
and shoulder-clutching over
how bad it is, perhaps

you might set that shoulder
to the juggernaut’s wheel
where it sits lodged in the mud
that’s so red and deep now

from your wringing and weeping;
then, despite getting sloppy,
despite being scared, perhaps
you might push on it and see if it moves,

even a little.

It Makes Sense

White dog sleeping
head down
in the front yard in the sun
under the hibiscus.

Cat in the window
who will not stop staring
at the downy woodpeckers
on the suet cage 
who will not stop eating
although the cat in the window
will not stop staring.

There might have been
a once common, now rare toad
under the hostas
just now. I don’t bother
to check; leave it be,
I tell myself, today

seems to be going just fine
without me.

It makes sense, I suppose,
to point out that dog and cat
and even birds

feed on what I provide
and I planted the row of hostas
where that possible toad
is sheltering but

I think everyone
would be just fine, maybe even
better than fine, if 
I stopped this
and opened doors and gates
and lay down on the bed and
closed my eyes and let it all

It makes sense, I suppose, 
to invoke survival of the fittest
and contemplate how dog and cat
and birds and toad might clash
and struggle and there’s always
winter and other 
concerns but

I think it might all work out
over time if I just closed my eyes
and said it can’t hurt and let myself
sink into memory and ruins
and archaeology and 

It makes sense, I think,
to pay attention to the lack of regard
these others have for me
precisely when they are
this relaxed and 

apparently happy. 

My Morning Thing

I woke up for once feeling 
pretty good and that meant
all the usual pain was barely
mentionable and I thought
I might have had one decent
dream to try and recreate

but none of that lasted long.

I did the morning thing: got up,
put out the trash, fed the pets,
tried not to wake up the house,
had fifty more thoughts about 

creating a better world, tried to
translate them from the language
my dream head speaks to 
English, failed and failed
and failed, dared to read

the news, read the comments,
became the comments, held back
from commenting and then 
the pain of this age rushed in 
like water through a breached levee,
flood in the form of questions: 

it’s really not going to be all right,
is it? I won’t see a better future or
world no matter what I do, will I?
It’s not personal, is it? It’s not about
me or anything at all to do with me, is it?

I took my worn drenched self back to bed.
I took a long time falling back to sleep
because that’s my morning thing: buying
into an illusion, 
working, sagging,
slipping, drowning — 

all before the first cup of coffee. 

Meeting The Teacher

Embodied light,
he called me,

said each of us
is an embodied light,
each of us born
illuminating our own steps
and then the steps of
those who would follow;

I reminded him, gently
but with certainty,
that behind them
would come long shadows
and they would be
embodied too;

he said,

we walk from dark toward light
and into dark and into light
and make the dark and make the light
as always
and it does not change 
who we are at heart
to know that,

even if sometimes
the light we are
goes out.