Tag Archives: revisions

Everything I’ve Learned

Originally posted 2010.  A Duende Project staple from the duo days. Probably something we should look at for the full band…?

This is everything I have learned:

that I am nothing.

That as nothing, I am exalted
to be nothing. Deliciously
inconsequential, a part of the Machine
of Stars/Necklace on
the Throat of Creation.

That I
mean so little, anything is free
to hold me.

That I am peer
of leopard and dysentery,
of coconut palm and stray wrapper.

That the pattern of rejection/containment
is the warp of my woof. 
Woolly headed 
and slubby
as a pilled cardigan 
on a grandfather’s back. 
Only here 
for the warmth.

That I am song
under shower breath.

That I will be forgotten,
and this gladdens the non-ego
that fights my stick-wielding
caveman heart.

That love and robbery holler equally
in the alley of my elbows as I grasp
the always coming always receding days
I bore through in anger and dread and joy.

That joy itself
is a movie written by another
but I imagine myself
as grip and gaffer at once
upon its set.

That the skin I’ve stretched
and the blood I’ve pressurized
will look awful when I go,
my bowels a roaring ghost 
of past indiscretion,
my face a sagged charlie horse
in the leg of a loved
one long after my burial,
putting a hitch in their walk.

That every barking tree limb
in a forest 
laden with ice
knows its place better than I do,
and I am happy to listen and learn.

That a man’s
no more human than a tin can on a heap of worms
and that the whine of a bomb is a natural song
of the city of God.

That I am happy
and I am nothing, and
all is nothing,
and since all is nothing
and everything at once

it must be so
that nothing is important and
nothing stands out,
importance itself is nothing,
is the Ganges of my fierce greed
where I will burn myself to ash and crackle
in the consummation of The Wheel

as the last thing I say to another
is swallowed in the Great River
and I am lost to the sun and the voice,

and the Necklace that hangs
upon the neck of Creation
will be my shade against
the long night 
of what comes after
this life, 
this night of knowing
how small I was
and how much I offered to Completion

by simply being what I was:
a petty, magnificent animal.


Four Scenes From A Weekend

Revised from its initial publication in 2014.

Originally, this was three separate poems written over the years 1976-1980.  Found in my ancient archives from that period.

I was a kid then, a teenager, and my reach was often far greater than my grasp.  I had an essay and a whole theory about what I was trying to do with poetry that when I read it now (of COURSE I kept it!) makes me giggle and blush.  But I was aiming at something, something larger than the individual Poem, even back then.  

Didn’t have the life experience or the skill back then to make it work.  Not sure I do now either, of course, but I am far more clear on my small abilities and my large ambitions than I once was, so…let’s say I think it’s worth a try.


Overheard from a dusk-dimmed driveway:

“Basketball’s simple — 
you take the ball,
you dribble it,
then you 

Father, uncle or big brother speaking.
There was no second voice.
After that, the flat notes,
rhythm of rubber on asphalt.

Two worn men on the sidewalk ahead of me.

One says, “Every time I get my check
I try to hold on to the money.
They rob me at the bank
so I keep it all at home
but they rob me at home
but now I got them all fooled — 
I give all my money 
to the man behind the counter
at the liquor store.” 

His companion howls 
and slaps him
on his age-sloped back.

On the bus
another old man, taller than I
by a head and a half, lighter than I 
by a body and a half,

again and again,
“…had a big 
fat fat 
fat fat 
fat fat 
wife, seven kids, forty years, 
I’d know her face now I think
but not her name…”

By myself, in bed alone,
diving into sleep, into a prayer

that I never forget
the innumerable ways 
to get from one end of the court 
to the other;

that I never 
scorn a journey
for where it ends.


Revised.  Originally posted 6/10/2012.

Hair, sifted full of gray.
Cut, less than good.
The scalp’s not flaking
with the new shampoo.

starting to furrow, starting to line,
starting to bag and sag.
Fuller than it was, much rounder.

Beard, uneven,
post-trendy, stubbornly
present for thirty years in this form —
the only thing the same from when I was,
arguably, at my peak of flavor.

Neck, undistinguished.

In fact, let us from this point on
use that word
as a frequent descriptor.
Let us say that as a whole,
the body is undistiguished
except where noted otherwise.

Shoulders, undistinguished.

Here and there skin tags
which some claim
are proof of heart disease
though they are not.

Chest, furry. 
Bigger tits than I’d like. 

I have some great and knifing pains
in my right upper chest, strong enough
to take my breath, pains that slice
from front to back, from nipple to blade.
Right side argues against heart attack;
I go instead with pulled muscle, or strain
from sleeping wrong; part of me
hopes I’m wrong as it will add to the value
of this poem in my Body Of Work
if I die after writing this,
wouldn’t you agree?

Arms, undistinguished. Hands
weirdly lined, a palmist’s dream or nightmare;
joints stiff as dry sticks every morning.

My eyes barely catch light.
My ears do my best work.
My ears support my hands in whatever they do
writing, playing music, meddling
in others’ opinions and business.

I don’t know how it happened,
but I have a voice that to the ears of others
is far better
than undistinguished.

Brain?  Can’t we just
let the soup and stew up there
do for themselves? Perhaps that can be
left for another day?  It’s not a chemistry to admire,
to emulate or strive for.  It’s not like
I haven’t got enough documentation already on that;

look at the bottom shelf, all those
yet unpublished books I’ve written, all those
piles of poetry, all those lines.
There must be formulas somewhere.

Gut, prodigious, not at all
undistinguished but in fact
a salient and unmistakable feature;
all in all, these days the most memorable
feature.  Bullet hole scars all over it
from surgeries, not injuries.  I have not
been well, not at all, not for a while.

I have a partial set, a half empty
glass.  I will explain the next time
I’m drunk, if I remember, if
I’m in the mood, if you earn
the right to hear it,
and if I want to. For now enough to know
that what’s here works,
somewhat surprisingly.

Ass?  Undistinguished.

Thighs and knees and shins? Chickenesque.
Feet?  Cracked and horned and rimmed with callus;
they are undistinguished
if craggy.

All in all, not horror show,
not Chippendale’s. Not at all the worst ever,
not at all the best; mostly indistinguishable
from tens of millions of fat older men.

Asking me how I feel ought to be

I hope you are listening.

I feel exalted.
Think of a slice of heaven
as you would like heaven to be.
I’m that.

For me, it is a dark bliss bubbling over, a pot
of warm molasses, a scrap on the stove
I forgot to clean or put away.

This body may soon be forgotten
by those too pleased
with being young to understand
how an older body makes richer music.

They may think it plays a poorer score
no.  Every mad note of it, scoffers,
every mad note is still remarkable, 

and I am a Goddamn hallelujah chorus
because I am holy and wholly
who I am.


I Wake Up In Despair

Revision.  Posted originally in April, 2016.

I wake up in despair most mornings.
Each day slants uphill.
It takes everything I have to climb it.

I wake up in despair most mornings
but find comfort in knowing 
things that no Pharaoh can know;

how, for instance, to pick myself up
without an entourage to help me; how in fact
to get by with no entourage, neither in celebration

nor in sorrow; how to fall down back-broken
and get back up again next day for another round
with nothing but what’s in me to pull me up.

I wake in despair most mornings. Each day
bores me: sometimes with a dull drill, sometimes
with a chisel of same and same and same again.

I wake in despair most mornings 
but find comfort in knowing
things that a boss can’t know, or has forgotten;

how to do the dirtiest bits of a dozen jobs, for example;
how to take the next step when it’s time, how to 
fix the broken piece, how not to fail

from seven AM to lunch, how to stay awake
from lunch to three PM and longer
if three PM becomes 5 PM or later.

I wake in despair most mornings knowing
how little of my life is open to me, based on
how much time I have to spend recovering from the rest of it.

I wake in despair most mornings
but I can almost get to glee in knowing
what a king does not, what they may never know;

how to run riot in the streets to spite all my aches and pains,
how to run riot in the streets with all the others aching and pained,
how to run riot in the streets knowing how little time I likely have.

I wake and run riot knowing that ahead of me, somewhere
cowering, somewhere hiding behind mere walls, 
a king, a boss, and a Pharaoh are themselves in despair,

filled with the knowledge
of their lack of knowledge
about anything that needs to be done,

and in spite of the odds and the guns
and the war any of them could muster,
I no longer share their despair.

Maestro, Virtuoso, Aficionado

Revised from 2011.

In the hands of a virtuoso 
even a decayed instrument, 
ignored for years, attic-bound,
can make a music strong enough 
to bend walls.

my maestro
play on 

I don’t claim the title for myself 
but my age being its own reward
and punishment at once,
I live toward the words 
maestro and virtuoso 
as if they were mine to use.

I am aficionado

I am waiting 

What do I call myself now when,
with my instrument all but played out,
I cannot help but seek a clarity
in the use of a single string?

I am obsessed with the hunt

I am forsaken

I’ve been told that nothing made on the single string
is performable,
but here I find myself facing an audience
who expect performance.

I am the impression of you only

In command of the single note
and — of course, now I see!  
In command of the silence
around it, 

I am aficionado
I cannot stop this
Am no virtuoso

Can one perform silence?  
On stage, perfected, I do nothing.
The audience expects something —  

but how to replace this?


Revised. Originally posted 12-19-2016.

I want to stroll right now
through my own stopped life
and look back upon it
as if it were a museum of itself.

All my lost relations and friends are in there
and I want to stop before each
and think about them 
as they stand
absolutely still but still alive.

Do not think for one second
that I consider myself exempt
from such examination.
I want to stare at me

seated there in my diorama on a couch
or in bed where I can ask every
grand question I can think of without
my squirming away.

I have been living
near death for a long time and 
it has never denied me anything,
but living so near has 
always required

a fast ramble with no time
to look at anything for 
very long.
The time to shift has come.
What I want is 
suspended animation,

as it is in movies where time stops,
everyone stops. everything stops,
even me for once, Death hanging over my shoulder
as I examine what I am, how I became

what I am, who was around me for good
and ill, who stayed and who has gone before me
into dust.  I want a museum life
though I’m in fact living in a newsreel,

in crisis seeking stasis. I want, I want,
I want a marker stuck in the ground
I can hang onto. A label on a case with me inside
that fixes me in one place forever 
so I can rest.

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.”


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


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.


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:

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


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


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.


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
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

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.


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

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

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?