Tag Archives: revisions

America For Dummies

Originally posted in 2010.

Shut up 
you finger pointing bastards
who try to to teach us who we are
and how stupid we are to be who we are
We know ourselves pretty well

This is the USA after all
A whole culture based in constant apology
“Sorry we don’t live up to what we claim to be”
It’s the most human thing we are
except that we work it harder than most

You think us
unaware of our dangerous contradictions
How we’ve got love for the kiss of gangsta hand
Yet sleep uneasy thinking of it against our cheeks
We’ve got mad love for the wrong side of town
As long it’s only a quick stroll to safety
We’re uneasy with what we love
but we just want to live without thinking sometimes
We’re big block dummies who love a straight road
and rowdy pipes in full cry from underneath the ride 
and out of its crank windows
With the black exhaust we leave behind its own explanation
With cock rock blaring and explaining
Country music simplifying and explaining
Dumb pop flashing gold and skin to explain
and Las Vegas winning for the best explanation of all

You finger pointing bastards
You agenda manacled studs of opinion
You scolds and scourges and professional sobbing consciences
You don’t understand us at all

From the left we’ve got smug
From the right we’ve got stern
We’re in the middle with the TV on
Plugged up ears and screwed up muddled hearts
Do you think we don’t know how screwed we are
with chatter and smoke obscuring the exits
and thick chains that have been set on the doors
but we’ve still got windows high in the walls to entice us
into believing the sun is still out there
though that light might just be another fire

Give us some credit

We know the powerful hold on to power
because that’s what we would do

We know the money makes life easier
because we don’t have enough ourselves

We know the earth is dying from a case of us
because we live here and can hear it cough

We know that wealth can be either poison or manna
because we plan to be rich one day and will have to choose

Right now we’ve got sick hearts
sick kids sick houses and cars
Not enough work and we’re numb from it
The wrong kind of work and we’re dumb from it
Give us liberty or give us convenience
Either way we’ll likely be here still
Give us social degradation or give us peace
Give us the comfort of our skin or give us death
We’ll likely be here still

Some point left to the door they think we should take
Others point right to the door they think we should take

We know in our guts 
that the only way out
is to break the wall down 
that holds both your doors

but we’re scared for the kids
the house
the car
and who will be standing on the other side 
when it goes

So we stay where we are
and pray to stay where we are
We stare at the TV and 
wring our hands and say

we’re not who we are
that isn’t who we are 
we aren’t who they are
stop pointing at us


You Have Three Minutes To Answer

Originally posted 1/14/2013.

Actual question from a test designed to assess creativity:  “Just suppose we had the power to transport ourselves anywhere in the world in the blink of an eye.  What would some benefits, problems, etc. of this power be?  You have three minutes to answer.”

First

I would move
six inches away
and rewrite my entire body of work
as if I had always been
six inches away from it.

Next

I would move back to where I had been
and rewrite everything again
so all of it would be so unlike
how it began
that it would be like starting over.

Then

I’d move
six inches
in a different direction
to see how it looked from there.

I’d end up
moving swiftly
around the house
without ceasing:

desk
to bed
to kitchen
to shitter
to shower
to desk
to bed.

Then

I might burn all my poems.
Go buy some expensive paper in Venice.
Write them all again
even shorter,
one word per pricey page.

So

six inches away from the desk.
Back at the desk.
Six inches away from the desk.
Back at the desk.
Somewhere else far away.
Back at the desk.
Somewhere else again.
Back at the desk.

I’m

not really sure
how different
it would be.  

Not really certain
there would be powers
or benefits.

Not really certain
how much of a problem
it might be

except for the wear and tear
on my body
and 
the slippery possibility
of ever living
a grounded life.

Not sure it would be
that different.  Not sure
at all that this has not
already happened,

is not still happening

every three minutes

for three minutes at a time.


Fear Of A Brown Planet

Originally posted 5/26/2010.  Revised again, 9/28/2014. Third revision, 8/11/2017.

Noah invited no insects onto the ark, but they came anyway;
flies, roaches, gnats, and ants covering every square cubit
in a confident carpet of stubborn, resilient brown.

American bison, once endangered, have grown numerous,
leaving Yosemite to roam their old prairies, leading to calls
to thin them out, gun down some stubborn, resilient brown.

In the Gulf, scared men drop chemicals, lower booms onto
oil surging from a breached torrent they thought to own,
stare in despair at the mass of stubborn, resilient brown.

In Phoenix, water pours from sprinklers into dry soil,
desert held at bay by golf courses and lawns of green.
Let the effort lapse a bit, see the return of resilient brown.

South of here, along a man made line, patrols 
stare south into a shimmering oven, guarding against
a surge moving north — people of stubborn, resilient brown.

In tidy homes the fearful see everything as a threat
but are ashamed to say that what they fear most is 
the pastel walls of their world being restored

to surging, resilient brown.


Would-Be Suicide Seeks Spiritual Guidance

Originally posted 3-23-2012.

Into the heat of the night to chase Lazarus.
I have something to learn from him:
how he got over his anger at his friend
for pulling him back into the struggle. 

I want to ask him how long he held the grudge
and if he led with it whenever he and Jesus talked,
if indeed they ever spoke again after that day,
which seems likely though it’s unrecorded.

How do you have that conversation
about him not just saving your life, but pulling it
all the way back from bankruptcy and liquidation
to deposit it right back where it had been

as if nothing had happened at all and anything 
that soul had seen while it was gone could be forgotten?
I know it can’t.  Know it for a fact.
And I need to know how to speak to a friend

who brought me back like that, though 
in my case I really wanted to go.  I want to know
how I’m supposed to be his friend again.
I want to know if it’s even right to try.  If anyone

should know, it’s Lazarus. How did he and Jesus
get past it, if they did at all?  
They never tell that story in the Gospels.  
They never made a sermon out of that.


Revisionist History

(Originally posted 3/20/2012.)

In the full history of governments
it has never mattered how they start;
they’ve always ended the same way.

The venal game their way to power
and stay there regardless
of the label they choose to wear.

In the full history of nations 
it has never mattered how you love them;
they’ve only liked you back, only at certain times.

In the full history of history
what happens has never mattered;
all that ever matters is what is said

about what happened
or did not happen, or is said
to have not happened.

I tell you these things
not to make you despair
or get you angry.

I tell you this not to make you
shrug away the urge to justice
or fall into dumb acceptance;

nor do I do it 
to delight in your 
earnest helplessness.

I tell you this to say
battles are never won; instead
they become games to be replayed.

You will lose, and you will win;
some will die playing,
killed by others who are also playing.

There are no nations but two: 
the strugglers and the lords. 
Both are everywhere, speak all languages.

If you want to pursue happiness,
chase it
but recall

history 
and nation 
and government

pursue happiness too — 
they do it, always,
by hunting you.

In the history of humans
there’s dancing and loving,
making of art and music,

good sweat, 
grand tears,
and lots of laughter.

Those lift us into being human,
keep us hoping,
make us happy

beyond the vagaries of
what the lords desire.
It’s our story

to hold, not theirs to hand us.
Do not forget that
when you tell it to your children.


Diet

Originally posted 11/1/2013.

To fall in love is to
gulp uncertainty
as if it were

fresh pineapple juice,
even if you
have never liked 
pineapple juice,  
even if you are 
allergic — to fall in love
is to fear deliciously as you
fall into wondering 
what will happen next.

To fall in love

is to burn the roast,
oversalt the potatoes,
boil the green beans
to mush, break 
the good china, then

as you sit there
in the ruins of 
a traditional family feast,
having watched all your relations
storm out to seek a meal
elsewhere,

you pick up
one green bean,

stuff it in your mouth,
and ask yourself how
one green bean could have
escaped the carnage to be
perfect, and enough, 
how this one green bean became
sustenance enough
on its own;

to fall in love
is to swell with joy
and disbelief

at how
your questions
have been answered.


Immobility (Ludacris Remix)

Originally posted several times, in different versions, under the title of “Stationary.”  Major revision.

When I move, you move…just like that.

Remember sticking a thumb in the air?

When I move, you move…just like that.

Remember turning a key in the ignition?

Remember the last minute ticket,
the just going,
the just getting out there?

Hell yeah, hey DJ, bring that back.

Tell yourself

we all used to travel without a lot of thought.
We all used to travel without a lot of anything.
We all used to trust one another.

Try to forget

it was instead
a flag-wrapped dreamtime,
a selective American walkabout,
a stack of ad copy woven into a myth of a collective self.  

When I move, you move.
Just like that.

When I move, you move.
Just like that.

Tell yourself this is all new.
Tell yourself it’s a shame.

No one picks up hitchers anymore.
No one buys a ticket last minute
and gets on a plane without running a gauntlet.  
No one rides a train.
We fear the buses will smother us
in other people’s germs.
We fear that the ship will sink.
We don’t drive at all
without a screen to tell us
where we’re going.
We don’t move at all
without a plan for what to do 
when we get to where we’re going.

Tell yourself :

There are reasons;
things are different now.

Tell yourself:

It’s a necessary change;
things are different now. 

Tell yourself:

Back in the day
cops gently patted every traveler down
exactly the same soft way;
things are different now.

Tell yourself:

Back in the day
they’d let all the folks
go easily on their way;
things are different now.

Tell yourself:

the bullets peeping from the cylinders
of those old police revolvers
were only there for show;
things are different now.

Tell yourself:
 
standing still
is all the safety you need
and you aren’t going to move
even as everyone else
blurs by you
because things are different now.

Insist upon ludicrous fantasy,
insist it has to go back
to some way it never was
for anyone but you — 

when I move, you move. Just like that.

even as the world
turns its back upon you
and moves on.


The Blood I Can Draw

Originally posted, 7/15/2010.

Joe Frazier’s left hooks
were the only thing
on my mind.

I had just turned eleven,
had just listened
to the Fight Of The Century
on a scratchy AM radio
a few nights before.

Although I was a righty
I threw what I felt was 
a mighty left hook
at Jeff Maxwell’s jaw
in the middle school gym
and (though we were just playing)
I laid him out
flat and crying,
and I admit

it felt pretty OK to see him there, sliding
on his ass away from me as I tried
to explain it was all in fun to Mr. Tornello
as he shook me and dragged me to
his sweat-soaked office
to await

my parents.

Right jabs and Muhammad Ali
were on my mind
a few years later when Henry Gifford
got dropped, this time in anger,
on the shores of Thompson Pond
for cussing me out
when I cussed him out
for breaking my switchblade,
and this time

there was blood on his mouth
and I confess
it felt OK
to see it moonlit and shining
on his face and I am glad now
that I hadn’t had
the knife in hand
at the time.

Kung-fu movies and Bruce Lee
were on my mind a few years after that
when it felt OK to deliver
a straight-arm open palm blow to the side
of Joe Peron’s nose during a work dispute
in a warehouse,
and heard the gentle snap
of his bridge breaking.

He knelt there
holding his nose. His hands
soaked and dripped blood,

and that felt better than OK
for a minute,

and because we were men
we just shook it off

and told no one of the fight.

It’s all on my mind again,
childhood and adulthood,
fights and

fighter heroes
of ring and screen,
and I can’t shake off

being old and heavy,
and thoughtful
about how much harder
I could hit today
because I know so much more
about how much better it feels
to hit than
to be hit.

How good it felt then,
and how good
it would feel again
if the opponents I have now could be
dispatched that easily,

but now I face
unpunchable bills,
bloodless banks,
rapacious creditors,
my own rotten body, and

the creeping fear

that these are enemies
I will never beat.

I stand thrashing in the kitchen
past midnight: cross, jab,
hook, uppercut,
palm strike, temple strike,
slash, stab,
icepick grip, sword grip.

I wish I could be a pacifist
in soul and action,

but I am not;

this urge to admire again
the blood I know I can draw,
to know the joy of winning
simply and quickly,

is almost more than I can bear.


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
unheard.

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? 


Country Of Sick Men

Originally posted 8/28/2013.

The men of that country are sick.

We don’t know why they are sick
or how long they’ve been sick.

Call it a country of sick men
erupting everywhere
there’s a crack to spurt from,
burning their surroundings
when they open their mouths.

The sick men appear mostly mindless 
from their sickness. How else to explain

comb-overs,
wars,
long nosed cars, 
long reach guns, 
filibusters,
weaponized God,
hangings,
unfortunate colognes,
blood feasts,
the casual seizing of women and children,
of other men,
willed ignorance
of lack of consent, 
leveraged buyouts,
wolf pelts,
blessing of radioactive oceans,
balls of old oil
in the bellies of seals,
blank-eyed drooling over vintage guitars and game balls,
blackout drunks,
hard-engine bikes:

all their exquisite arts of suicide and genocide? 

The men of that country are sick.
I was born there, live there mostly,
certainly will die there.

There are women in that country too.
Some of them are sick 
but mostly, I think,
they are sick of the sick men.
They have stories to tell.

If you want to hear those don’t ask me to tell them.
My tongue’s a man’s tongue and I’ve got a touch 
of the sickness myself.

Get away from me,
go to them, 
and listen.

It will seem 
like a different country.


Goya’s Rabbit

Originally written when I was in high school in the early 1970s — roughly 1974, if the notebook it resides in is to be believed.
Revised and first posted online, 2010.

Goya drew a rabbit
that began digging 
through walls of sand
to get to you.

It longed for blood,
perhaps because he drew
the incisors
that way.

Great art comes alive,
goes to new places,
ravenous for
the unexpected.

When it comes for you
don’t assume
what you’ve always offered
will be enough to feed it.

That rabbit
became a carnivore
because Goya
allowed for it, understanding

that in spite of what
we’ve been told, the work of
Creation didn’t stop
at the end of a week —

it was merely
turned over
to new
sets of hands.


Our Dragon

Originally posted as “Crisis” in 2009.  

We claimed
we didn’t know anything
about how this would be
right up to the day
the dragon we had been
feeding for ages,
whose back had been
humping up 
the earth
like a monstrous gopher
for as long as we could recall,
the one whose eyes like star sapphires
had dazzled us into long inaction;
until the day the dragon rose into
full view demanding our firstborn,
our second-born, 
demanding to be
slaked and satisfied 
with our legacies;
demanding everything and nothing explicit
because his sheer sudden command
of the common sky 
told us all
we needed to know then and evermore;
and then we ran about like cinders jerking crazily
in the general cloud of destruction, becoming
sparks that vanished even as we flew
lost in the heat of a moment
we’d known was coming for years
and yet had denied as easily as any other god
we’d ever taken on casual terms.
Of course, since we had made this one
ourselves, 
we still believed
we could remake it
right up to the second
that we fell, consumed,
back to the black ground
to enrich the soil for
whatever folly 
would follow us.


Talking To My Children

Originally published in 2002 in my chapbook, “In Here Is Out There.”
Original title, “Talking To My Son About The Night.”

I have been thinking: 
what do I tell my children 
about Evil? Something wicked
in these days stirs,
and I cannot lie to them
and say shh, be still,
all is well and safe.

What shall I say to them of Evil?

I shall say:
it is a young man 
holding a knife to a lamp.
He adores how it separates 
skin from flesh, 
sinew from bone. 
He knows that when it is sharp enough
he can see the body’s coherence 
fleeing before its edge.

I shall say:
it is a woman 
leaning out of her window
on her elbows.
She sees something she does not favor. 
She slips out the back door
to carry her gossip to the slaughterhouse.
Someone there will take the news to the mechanics
who will set the wheels 
of the juggernaut
for maximum kill.

On her way home
she will wipe her face with a stolen liver.
Behind her she will leave a trail
of rumors and cartilage.

I shall say
it is a gaggle of children 
trapped in a dream
where they are made to suckle straws 
filled with their own blood.
They purse their pale lips, 
draw the red up, columns red rising,
red cresting in their mouths, 
falling red into their stomachs, 
such sharp nourishment, 
such a simple lesson:
living through this 
requires such a meal, 
a simple meal for a simple terror.
They have learned 
to devour themselves.

I shall say:
it is in and on all of us.  
We stink of rich meats, phobias, fires,
restless pride, secrecy. 
We inhabit our stereotypes, 
are slowed to the speed of custom, 
our houses crawl with indignation,
our ferocity is unbridled by logic, 
we create atomic proverbs to live by.

A man decides to force himself 
on the next random passer-by;
a boy slits an ancestor’s throat; 
we shake our heads, we cry out
for safety, we wait for it
and it never comes; instead comes 
the Evil: violent, clean cut, simple, fast;
and then, somehow,
we tell ourselves
that we can live forever 
this way.

And after that?
After that, what can I possibly say 
to them?

I will say to them:
children, it is slander 
to speak of this life
and only note the Evil.

I will say to them:
children, my children, 
look at the stars.

I will say to them:
children, my children,
whenever you despair
of this world, take comfort in the night:
go out, lie back, and look at the stars.

I will say yes, there is always horror afoot
by day and by night,
but always, always, we have the stars,

and if ever you despair,  
look up at those hints 
of the hoped-for forever
and tell yourself:

I am a star, 
and I do not
shine alone.


Targets

Originally posted 7/16/2016.

1.

At 5:45 AM
I took out the trash
and did not startle
when a neighbor spoke to me
while my back was turned
because I am not a target.

I watered the container garden
when we were done speaking
and then sat right down
on my own front wall
in the high humidity
and, in the name of
going back to bed
and getting more sleep,
took a few hits off half a joint
and wasn’t too worried
though it was full daylight
because I am not a target.

I could have been a target.
I could have been but almost
in spite of all my handsome
paternal ancestors,
I pass for White and always have
and thus regardless
of my own thoughts
and obsessions and internal
maladjustments to the way
my frame doesn’t fit my picture,
I am not a target.

I can love and rage
and live out loud
because I am not a target.
I can walk a street
with my eyes set straight upon
the eyes of others
because I am not a target.  

I can watch every video of targets,
and target practice, 
sit there staring,
crying out and raging up and falling out,
then turn them off or turn away
because I am not a target.

2.

No one and everyone
knows what’s coming.

No one and everyone
understands what will not stand;

no one knows how it will
fall. None but the targets understand

how that’s going to feel.
Everyone’s going to learn something —

at the very least, how
not to turn away;

at the very most, how little it will be,
has ever been, about them.

3.

I went back inside
and was ready to sleep
until one of my handsome
paternal ancestors

rose into view,
right through the floor;
she hovered there,
her regalia soaked in blood;

she shook her head,
she would not look me in the eye;
as hard as I wanted to be before her,
I could not be hard. I instead fell

to the same floor she transcended
so easily, and saw then
how difficult it was going to be
if I wanted to claim anything

of what I thought myself
to be; and when I looked up
she was gone, and the blazing eye
of a bull bison hung in her place

for a second only
before leaving me alone 
to choose.


Wisdom Path

Originally posted 11/3/2012.  

When apocalypse comes,
it will come slowly.
God will not have sent it.  

It won’t have been sent at all.
It will just come of its own accord
on its own wisdom path.  

If asked, it will say, “I came to be here
because this path that opened before me
brought me here.”

The mountains at the edge of town 
will nod,
almost too slowly to notice.

The long hair of meadows 
will wave in assent. The rest of earth
will agree with it at once.  

Then, as it serenely kills us,
we will be forced to accept
the expertise that pushed for this — 

Wisdom itself seems bent
on using catastrophe to instruct
as we seem unable to learn

that we are not
and have never been
at the end of that path.