Sunday, December 28, 2014

Brian Gilmore's billy bathgate (for Chico)

I have just recently gotten familiar with Brian Gilmore's poetry. Brian's poetry abandons nothing, brings everything with him as he goes. Brian's DC childhood is a big part of where he came from, and, as he moves on with his life, a big part of who he still is. This poem is a new favorite of mine. And it reminds me of Marge Piercy's "Joy Road and Livernois." In that poem, Piercy also brings everyone with her.

It is the first poem in his new book, We Didn't Know Any Gangsters

billy bathgate (for chico)

            all I’ve got is this picture.

it could have been van der zee
gordon parks,
oggi ogburn fresh from
a chancellor Williams

we are capable boys;

up some small mountain
in summertime
from that swamp of a city.

we couldn’t juggle balls
didn’t know any gangsters,

all we had was ice cold michelob
and red juicy melon
holy like water.

we didn’t know about rattlesnakes
that i’ve now been told are
all over that mountain.

all i’ve got is this picture.

i could call up the crew,

though some of them are
gone away now
like wisps of smoke.
others are here,

just floating on skyline
like kite
without string.

we were capable boys,
looking into the future as if we
would live like frederick douglass
or c.l.r. james.

did I mention the michelob?
red juicy melon
holy like water?

and how about those rattlesnakes?
all around us, now that we know
they are there.

all I’ve got is this picture.
unbreakable smiles.
lean frames.
polo shirts gripping young boys,
soon to be walking tightropes
without poles.

            it’s there, all of it.

            ice cold michelob
            melon holy like water.


            we couldn’t juggle balls.

didn’t know any gangsters.

            we were capable boys,

            all i’ve got is this picture.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Courage All Around

When Marrianne and Brendan and I first got to Washington, I'd go a couple of times a year to Bus Boys and Poets open-mic night. It was always very exciting. Most of the poets who made it to the mic were rappers. They were driven by rhymes and rhythms and an apparent need to get up on the stage and say who they were and what they cared about.

And every once in a while I'd get up and try to rumble a few lines, injecting a little blank verse, substituting assonance or alliteration for rhyme and, quite obviously, an occasional longer word when a shorter one might have done. The audience was always patient, but usually hungry for the next rapper. 

In the upshot, I learned far more from them than they learned from me. And, watching the risks they took, I learned that I needed to take more risks, too, and put more heart into speaking my poems. I wrote "The Courage All Around" for them:

Late-night honest
with myself
My boy shames me
The courage he shows
drumming at the Metro
Spare change pours in
Folded bills drifting like
snow covering his lap

Ten years old, first
sharing a buck
with a woman who asks,
then shooing her away
when she won’t stop
asking for more

He goes about his business,
a lionheart tending his
pride of intentions,
while I flinch at the work
before me, at stepping up
before you, at speaking my piece

But where he’s heading,
where heart and skill
and the company of others,
the company of you,
colleagues with an instinct
to be movement and reach

we can believe in,
that place, that thought, swells
my heart The world you will build
beckons and beguiles
and because the heart is
a complicated thing
I feel no shame here
I feel the courage all around 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

I Am Your Journeyman

I am no poet of the
   interior voyage.
But I am a journeyman,
   giving good effort
for wages or food.

I know the paths
    through caves and forests.
I know the edible fruit
    along the way.
I’ll show you the shallow fords
   across the river of tears.

Follow me
    picking the way through the woods
on black days. Heed this moonlight
    exalting the heart even through
this night of fear.

Caution now,
    there may be need for stealth.
Keep pace.
Keep close.
Keep faith.
Savor this good bread,
    considering without regret
the choices you have made.

We’ll arrive safely soon enough,
    resting on Thursday,
moving on, refreshed, on Friday.
    Along the way,
we’ll learn more trust,
   celebrating dews and frosts and thunder.

(This poem was included in Wild Once and Captured)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Monday, September 1, 2014

to the stars to the stars

He is who he is
He is who he is
with a buzz on

He is who he is
cicada vibrato
singing blood singing bones

He is who he is
slipped by in the dark
rushing to mark the sliding away

One last son striding by
speaking slang of the streets,
scratching and shouting survival
He is who he is

and so are we all
chanting and drumming,
twisting and reaching,
We are who we are

the nightfall on us,
on our deep dreaming breaths,
driving ourselves as if we could climb
from the depths of our well
to the stars to the stars

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Begins and Ends with Amina

What does the world
look like?
Like baby Amina,
who holds the phone
in one hand and slaps a place
between her forehead and ear with the other
and listens to me talk and talk
and makes a sense of it
that actively escapes me,
and she includes me anyway.

What does the world
look like?
The way you paint a picture
of the Van Gogh-smeared women
at the beach, your husband dying comfortably,
head in your lap to remind you of the love
that includes you anyway.

What does the world
look like?
Like the boy who is so much a man
that you know now he will leave
exactly as he should, and long before
you have forgotten his weight in your arms.
Leaves sooner than you wish,
but he takes your measure anyway.

What does the world
look like?
The way it did the day we built the fence
around the home of the woman
wishing to stay safe,
around the woman who we together
briefly loved and laid to an extra day
without despair and a longer moment
that includes us anyway.

Whatever does the world look like?
Like the green street that is my home
and the tall trees shading neighbors
and helping them to cross the shifting line
that separates them from me
until the moment of my need,
when they include me anyway.

Whatever does the world look like?
The way our heroes give what they have got,
and call on us for more
to make the point that heroes
come in groups of us
whenever we are willing,
including all the unincluded.

Whatever does the world look like?
Like the winding path you go,
bare and beautiful legs propelling,
your work ahead, the inhuman size
and shape of it, and all the coaxing and caressing
 to include the unincluded.

Whatever does the world look like?
The rest stop on the peaceful stretch of moral arc,
where we can dip our brushes
in the deepening hues of struggle and of conflict,
the message to include all of the excluded.

What does the world
look like to the baby
who has flung a kiss
so hard and far that we will spend
a lifetime happily trying to catch up?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

And So I Say


Suspicion pulses from those gathered here for trial
My companion believes I’m fair, she thinks I will be good
She has been wrong before—she will be so, again
These others know all that for truth

I say make your judgment, if you will
I freely offer all my sins and pleasures
I do not know what you will do, yet I think that I can bear it

But if the verdict should somehow be that I am not so cruel as charged,
Let the record show you did your best and I did mine


What I have to say will have to do
for now,
for this,
for you.

This place is rich
and full of evening dark, and vast
and makes a cozy home
for transient souls,

which is to say
it is a nameless place
for nameless things
from where I wrote to you

before I became the bit that prowled your skin
and kissed so light and tender
you felt no sudden thrill or lasting heat;
just the little boost that comes with the sweet ripening of fruit.


What the children endure
is unendurable
They transcend
what cannot be survived.

And we know from knowing them
that were they not tough as turtles,
nor fleet as flying things,
nor comfortable as Friday fish,
nor relentless as wind,
nor guileless as tomorrow’s dreams
of tomorrow,

we could not have gone to there and back,
nor made so much of time.


The earth around us warms.
Our trembling cells
echo in waves
and wrinkle the land.

Soon we will slip our way
to the hot and wet and sweet place of reimagining
and emerge again to repopulate the evening dark.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Rubber side down

This morning, the voices were killing me. But they’ve always been there and often no problem, at all. I’m grateful.

But this morning, the voices were cutting me up. That doesn’t show on the map of my face, but the wounds are wet and throbbing, and who it is speaking is often not clear.

But this morning, the voices were massing with pitchforks, like for some Transylvanian hoedown. What were you thinking, asks one, and then they’re coming so fast,

so hostile the questions—
Did you mean to be so cruel?
To whom did you think you were speaking?
What is the statement that lurks in your question?
What did you think would happen?
How dirty will you get if you do it that way?
Who did this, was it you?
How did you get what you do not deserve?
Will you confess?
When will that happen?

Ad nauseum, ad nauseum, ad nauseum, ad mortem—
jumping in the car a better idea. Traffic’s Empty Pages the theme, but I do got something to show, and I’m carefully keeping the first commandment of motoring—
rubber side down. And the voices grow still.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Revolution Is Coming: Opening Remarks

Welcome, friends and comradely types.
Here is the list of organizations sending delegations.
As you listen to the names,
as your hearts swell with pride
in the difference we have made,
please imagine the faces of the people
who make these groups synonymous
with justice and sustainability peacefully earned.

Welcome to the delegations from
DC’s GazaBera Shirt Conspiracy,
and from Dayton,
the Obituary for Capitalism Writers’ Workshop;
from Chicago, the Sweet Voices of Reason
and Radical Change;

from just outside of Pittsburgh,
the Beating Heart of Committees
In and Out of Correspondence.
Welcome to the representatives
from North Carolina’s
Action Today, Action Tomorrow, Action Forever,

and welcome to our sisters and brothers from California,
the Rudder and Compass
of the Roundtable of Growers and Smokers.
Welcome to the delegation
from the Bi-coastal Dreamers of Salmon
and Clams and Eating Them, Too.

From damn near everywhere,
Catholics for Real Life
and Joyful Love Along the Way.
We welcome the representatives
from the Moveable Seder
of Jews Who Remember When We Were Slaves in Egypt
and, without irony, Palestinians in Solidarity
with the People of New Jerusalem.

Welcome, also, to the delegation from Michigan,
constantly morphing and growing like Topsy,
the Association of Women and Girls and Men and Boys
and All the Genders Between and Around
and the Workers Against Itty-Bitty Wages
and the Prisoners Solidarity Committee.

Give yourselves a hand.
Thank you.
Please take a moment now
to remember comrades who have passed,
the spiritual delegation of Presente!
aka, All the Friends We’ve Ever Known Who,
with Grace and Courage, Spoke the Truth
and Set Our Hearts and Minds on Fire.

Moving on, now,
we note a proposal
from Laity Naturally Concerned with Everything,
advocating outreach to the Granfalloon
of Drudgery, Cynicism and Bitter Despair,
an organization whose members include
immigrant bashers and homophobes
and a good number of redeemable haters.

This has been moved to the front of our agenda
by the acting convention chair
from We Want Less, We Got This.

To begin, we await only
the delegations from
This Millennium We Are Going To Get It Right
and from the Moral Arc of the Universe Bending.

While we wait, let’s turn to the person beside us
and give them a big, sloppy kiss,
or a whispered message about good times ahead.
Remember our lives together
depend on solidarity and action and, also and inevitably,
shameless exchanges of bodily fluids.
And now, I turn the gavel over to our chair
who will lead us in our efforts during the week ahead.

Thank you, friend.
I’m going to declare a brief recess
while we wait for straggling comrades.
We do have some hard work ahead,
so please take advantage of the moment
for a caffeine refueling or, perhaps, to share a doobie.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


the tree’s the thing of things—

All around are more,
but this has greener leaves,
somehow filters darker sky.

A humid promise hanging there,
brewed by a full and super moon.
A golden sap, gushing sweet,
pumped to ground inversely
beneath the tree on which I snatch a seat

for long enough to bathe my feet,
to sip the air that rises redolent;
a vapor in, a vapor out,
a lingering caress,
like a plea to sit, to stay,
to drift away.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Stores of sweet, a sip of rich desire

In the middle dark
the passages stand open,
and the choice of when to go
and where
is unencumbered.

The slumbering horde
in groans and sighs lays whispering,
breath erupts in sudden gasps and nods,
and the sleepless few
move with silent, careful steps.

This is when I think of you
and all you’ve meant to me.
For now we do our separate dance,
face risks alone, advancing as we do,
wrestling beasts and wresting joy.

You, small warrior,
with the silk-draped hip and breast,
turn to me and wrap yourself
around my nakedness,
as though to wish me on my way
with stores of sweet, a sip of rich desire,
to carry on to where I dream of next.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I wait for you to rise for me

I am your silk and satin offering,
but you must win me with your sword.
I will not come this night to you—
I wait for you to rise for me.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Spooking Call and the Plunging Dark

I have never been
alone in the North
at night and so far
from everything and everyone
that I could not hear the hum
of voices in my head
or the clang and whistle
of the iron way.

But I have been at the spot
where the sound of the whistling beast,
the steel and the weight of it,
was the spooking call,
the sound of the plunging dark;

where the honey-scented mortal thing
weaving through the sweet thorns,
beneath the clouded light of stars,
waved along by the wet-grass fairies,
is certain to arrive in the spying dawn
that whispers hints and rumors
and promises to fill
the heart’s desire
to be forever lost.

I have been there.
I have been there.
And I will go again.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

What Evolution Has Wrought

Narcissism and Poetry:
Two Peas in a Human Pod

Whenever I find that I have forgotten
something I wanted to remember,
forgotten something I wanted to do,
I must first decide—
without knowing in the present moment
exactly what it is I have forgotten—
how important it might be to remember
whatever it is that has gotten away from me,
and if I decide that the thing I can’t remember
merits remembering, then I must think back
to the moment I became aware
that I had forgotten whatever it is I wished
to remember or do, and continue to explore
each moment preceding that moment
until I arrive at the point and the place
when I was last aware of whatever
it was that I do not remember now.

I hope that having arrived there
the recovered memory
will turn out to be worth the effort.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Different Place to Stand

Like an oracle
draped in fine cloth,
she spoke.

Always and only
find the small way through.
Always and only
seek the hidden path.
Always and only
stand when standing will count.

In that moment
she walked away.

Remembering the good times,
he shook himself.
He watched her go.
Then, just as she had done,
he walked away himself,
seeking the small way,
seeking the surprises he might find
waiting on the hidden path,
and a different place to stand.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Between paradise and fear

...and further on.

I posted this a while ago on In and Out, but it's about poetry--other people's poetry, by and large--and ought to be here on Outdoor Poetry Season.

I noticed it got a fair number of views recently and in trying unsuccessfully to puzzle out why, I found out that Kim-An Lieberman, who wrote one of the poems featured in this piece, died last year. She was only 37.

Kim-An was a mother of three, a wife and an already accomplished poet. My heart sinks at the thought of her death, but I know she will continue to live in the vivid memory of others. I believe that is no small thing and recently wrote about how life and memory sometimes seem to be nearly the same thing.

I don't love all of "The Creation Story" by Joy Harjo, but I really do love these three stanzas:

"It's not easy to say this
or anything when my entrails
dangle between paradise
and fear.

"I am ashamed
I never had the words
to carry a friend from her death
to the stars

"Or the words to keep
my people safe
from drought
or gunshot."

Like Harjo, I've discovered I didn't (and don't and won't) "have the words" countless times, including the words to carry a friend to the stars, but here Harjo finds the words to name the shortfall. And when she rues her inability to keep her "people safe from drought or gunshot," she has named both herself and her people. Good words.

In his poem "Three Women," Donald Hall has come into possession of a few words that do get the job done. They will not carry him or anyone else to the stars, but they work for capturing the richness of some experiences and the loss that sometimes follows. In fact, they work so well that Hall uses the same words exactly in three consecutive stanzas, making up the whole of his poem:

"When you like a woman,
you talk and talk.
One night you kiss.
Another night you fuck.
You're both content,
maybe more than content.
Then she goes away."

The poem is included in Hall's last book of poetry, The Back Chamber, described on the book jacket as "full of the life-affirming energy" of the poet. But I see it full of a rich, inescapable melancholy.

Kim-An Lieberman won a poetry prize from the Dayton Voice in 1995 or '96 (I suppose I could look it up, sort through the bound copies of the paper we have in our possession, but one thing at a time here). A decade later, her book, Breaking the Map, was published and she sent an autographed copy to Marrianne and I. Her book ended up being part of the motivation for publishing Wild, Once and Captured, a book of my own poetry. Sampling Kim-An's poetry I come to "Grandmother Song," and am struck by the fact that she has found a way to lift her grandmother to the stars.

"...Underneath is a ruby of blood.
The needles and tubes are webbed like milliner's lace.
Last the jade necklace, leaking the milk of her heart."

Perhaps, the words come to Lieberman because she so clearly hears and sees and feels her grandmother at the end of her life.

"...She gestures
faintly upward from the bed; I bring my ear
to the rasp of her laboring breath. I watch her draw
pin by pin from the loose chignon
...I roll the soiled gown..."

Hunting more details, I found an interview with Kim-An where she observes that "journalism and poetry, in particular, both share a language of ear-catching 'sound bites' as well as an urge to make a permanent record of fleeting events and observations." This seems an apt description of how Ernesto Cardenal goes about writing a poetry that finds the words to make permanent a record of "fleeting events." His book, Zero Hour, is a collection of what Cardenal calls "documentary poems."

"In Mr. Spencer's gold mines they X-ray
each miner twice a year
to see if he shows symptoms of TB.
If there's a shadow, he's paid off
at once. In due course he spits blood, and tries
to claim: ...
... and so he dies on a Managua sidewalk."

Cardenal, is a poet and a Catholic priest and the Nicaraguan Minister of Culture after the overthrow of Somoza. His poetry is the work of a man who hears music in his head, but feels the urgent need to change the acoustics of the world around him so that others may hear their own music. Cardenal makes poetry relevant as Lawrence Ferlinghetti insisted it should be when he wrote:

“I am signaling you through the flames.
The North Pole is not where it used to be.
Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest.
Civilization self-destructs. Nemesis is knocking at the door.
What are poets for in such an age?
What is the use of poetry?”

And Cardenal is one of the poets I was thinking about when I wrote "Wild Dogs of Poets:" 

The wild dogs of poets
speak sharps and blunts,
wish the streets
to the back alleys

of emerald cities;
some singing separately
and, alive for now,
glow in the dusky, dreaming sky.

Some scratch for pennies
wherever there are no such
generosities. Some kill time
as though they are flush,

And some few,
the chosen,
die on the barricades,
hopeful and ready.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

What we would do, if we could

Stranger gone by,
alone in his head,
lone wolf set dreaming,
dreaming dark places,

and vast, teeming praries,
a leaping of blood
overflowing old channels,
snarling and snapping

and making the sky.
Stranger gone stalking
and sniffing
and the air sniffing back,

ruffling and dancing and drinking
the dream
of the wolf on the land,
the wolf of the forest,

wolf of the prarie.
The air becomes wind
flowing with news
of the stranger behind,

whispering places
and planning the way
to stay ahead of the sun,
keeping the secrets

of strangers and wolves
and where the blood races,
forever leaps forward
and makes its new way.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Boys and Men

Sinewy dreams,
blinding lights,
boys flexing, pulsing,
bragging, ambitious with life.
Men seeking shares of day,
shares of night.
Dreams of boys and men
carry me through dip and lift
to lands where
boys like men like me
bound and soar on good days,
and on bad days struggle
to stand straight
and still.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Zeroes, eights and the lively wet

I've revised this poem substantially. I think the new version is much better. It can be found here.

Gazing out from the porch,
wind and leaves making low sounds,
scents and sights spilling down slope and up,
mountain spruce casually swaying,

he sits, chisel in his right hand,
a beer ready to his left,
a sharpening stone sits flat
on his blue-jeaned thigh.

The round stone lies,
lightly oiled, awaits the chisel’s beveled edge.
In a big hour,
or a short two,

the sun will set,
if it stays true,
maybe while he’s still lightly
tracing eights and zeroes

on the oiled stone, the
chisel edge angled just so.
He presses a thumb to the tip,
could be sharper, sips his beer,

back to the stone,
zeroes and eights,
circling slow,
a rolling wave of oil and grit

pushed here, there by the big hand
ruling this tiny universe.
Zero here, eight there, sip here,
another thumb test for sharp,

sharp, could be sharper,
soon to bite the door jamb easy,
watches a cloud scud across blue sky,
flatters singing birds with compliments,

sips, watches, heeds the sentinel pines,
tests for sharp, sun on his face,
zeroes and eights,
fallen into a rhythm

that will not break,
until the tip of his chisel,
covered with his peaceful blood,
calls him back with its lively wet.

He examines the thumb,
with its parallel grooves,
leaking blood,
carved by his fine chisel.

Sharp enough, he thinks,
sips his beer, shuts his eyes,
listens, catching up on what
he may have missed.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Braver dreams, stronger songs, gifts that others give

It’s a soft horn
wails no comfort,
no comfort.

It’s a slow beat
moving slow feet,
slow feet.

It’s a big string bass
plucked in a dark,
dark place.

Drumming comes,
an unroused rhythm
stirring no blood,

and the voice cries next,
a sound like searching,
as if words might ignite,

burning the dead soul underbrush,
torching the tangled discontents,
opening the tender heart’s way

to braver dreams, maybe,
and stronger songs
and gifts that others give.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Single Star Will Show Itself

Rumored or written somewhere,
the way, the path,
to touching uncoerced,
to flowing swiftly,
channels twinned,
to babbling on and silky,

involves the growling, guttural talk
of tigers,
or a passionate taste
of dark and chocolate,
or the silver leap of fish

or, yes,
to hope or, yes,
to lifting us
on swaying limbs of flowering trees,
full pink and showering
the bay below,

you wrapped in my arms,
me snuggled up in yours.
Rumored or written somewhere,
or handmade
to suit myself,

and sung to you
that were we to wait that way
for the new moon’s rising sliver,
a single star will show itself
and light our dreaming way.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Do What We Do, Do What We Must

In all of the stories,
heroism, struggle,
and buried beneath,
the code words, the secrets;

we all are to die,
the tired old lesson;
the passionate words
sometimes read to a drone,
but words to read over
and over and over

hear, children, the whispers,
you and you, one and two,
many and now,
and now that you’re here,
the meaning, the hope
buried, yet rising

and again,
the message,
a life lived in struggle,
oftentimes muddled,
occasionally clear,
always the goal,

listen at first
to the sounding of blows,
the bugles retreating,
the loss and defeat,

so many heroes,
lamentable deaths,
so many prisoners
and exile hordes,
eloquent obits,
men dreaming disturbed,
women bowed by their burdens;

stories sounding like heritage,
sounding like fate--
a blend of our courage,
seasoned by loss,
as though wounds and dashed dreams
are all of our story--

but here it is you
come to hear it all clear,
no defeat is forever;

yes, Espada’s jailhouse suffocation for barbed wire jumpers,
yes, Lorde’s children of war are aging and quiet,
yes, Lorca’s gypsies flee cities of musk and of sorrow,
yes, Hughes' poor boy weary, wishin’ to never be born,
yes, Ginsberg’s factories croaking in fog;
yes, yes, Forche’s Anna exhorting our silence,
our young ears to hear

the fight in the heart
of Crazy Horse felled,
the dream on the lips of Allende--
a leader may fall, but never the people;
harmonies of convicts chained in the sun,
safe houses for women,
healing and moving,

and the singing of blood,
of men dragged behind trucks,
hanging from trees,
the blood singing

here is the seed,
plant a new forest
that children to come
will find and explore
over and over and over

Monday, March 31, 2014

There Will Be A Chorus

Refugees crying songs off-key,
spent birds in unhinged swarms;
some can hear,
few can grasp,
one or two or three, maybe,
amplified sound
a show of faith
that soon there will be a chorus
and a tune to which we might dance.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Bent, brooding and begging

In a shrouded long ago,
I asked a preacher, a Methodist,
if he really believed
in god. The question meant no outrage
and met none.

I did not say
fervently though you believe,
I do not understand your fervor.

Feverishly though you pray,
I do not understand your fever.

I do not understand this god of yours,
neither the shape of the thing,
nor its gender.

Neither do I understand its aspiration
for you or for us all.

I have no grip or grasp
on the universe in which it dwells,
nor why it lives there,
nor why it lives, at all.

I understand your faith has power
and stretches backward
a millennium, or more.

But I fear this is the weight
you drag behind and the cause that has you looking
to the day on which you finally will be weightless.

And he made no response to what
I did not say, but looked
the question do-you-know
of what or to whom you speak.

Ministers aside, consider,
the history of the rulers
and the ruled and why it matters now.

There are also the poems written
to draw nearer to you
and the ones rooted
in an inability to bridge
our mutual gap.

There is also the biography
of my solar-powered self
in every meaning of the term,

warm and heating up,
flaring and flaming,
sunning and indolent,
abiding the gloom,
outlasting the dark.

I am the rustle of the wind
and the sound of revolution,
the silence of defeat
and the rot at the heart of empire.
I am invention
and the means of installation.

I am the sun-dried husk,
the ruined dream,
the broken rampart,
the collapsing core,
the melancholy song,
the calloused, wracked and shackled,
the wicked wish,
the vengeful hand,
the dying.

I miss what I miss and whom.
Soon enough, I will be death
in every savage flake and pore.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Love to Babies

Nathan Night Rain,
you were an infant with
apple cheeks and patience.

Julie Anna,
you were a witch baby,
wise with foreknowledge.

And Brendan Isaac,
you were king baby
with windmill arms and bicycle legs,
wailing your loud strong music.

As Isaac brought joy
to Abraham and Sarah,
with a handful of weight,
with the heat of new beginning,
with the scent of everything to come,
so have you brought
gift after gift after gift

of Nate asleep on my heart,
warm weight waxing,
innocent of his fierce protector;

of Julie at midnight recalled,
fresh weight needing nothing
but that which was freely given;

of yourself,
urgent and new;

all of you, gift after gift after gift
to a father stirred and grateful
that the elements combined as you.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Walloped lifeside

In which the previously unimaginable 25-syllable (26?) Son-Ku is introduced:

Stupid with desire to be better,
desire to be higher.
Walloped lifeside.
This is good.

WARNING: Do not drive while using this rare poetic form. It may cause drowsiness.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

By This Pencil

Homage to W.S. Merwin

Even if it’s junk,
the pencil and the paper
make more of it than writing.

The fingertip feel, inside and out,
the face emerging, sketched and contoured,
the smiles and the guarded thoughts,

all the shaded expression, 
all the passion coming soon,
the forest canopy sprouted,

sudden and slightly scented,
wet as rain, warm as summer’s wind,
dark as night and here, by this pencil.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

On Gillian Conoley

Some Gangster Pain

So, I’ve owned this book, or a copy, anyway, Some Gangster Pain, for some time. Gillian Conoley, the poet, has introduced the entire collection with a quote from Pablo Neruda:

“Where bullets fly on the wind,
I am left in envy of the cowboys,
left admiring even the horses.”

and a line from the bible:

“…the glory of his nostrils is terrible.”

Job 39:20

This makes me wish that I could introduce my poem, Ecstasy, with the very same lines.

But it also makes me want to understand the poetry of Gillian Conoley better than I do. Conoley is a tough poet to crack. She uses words for every known purpose and, maybe, has invented a few new uses. She uses words for whispering. For intimating. For caressing. For hammering. For launching projectiles. Conoley uses words to excavate and to bury. Trying to stay on top of one of Conoley’s poems is like putting in a day riding broncs at a rodeo in Texas, the poet’s home state.

Some Gangster Pain starts off manageable, even for those new to rodeo. I can stay on “The Invention of Texas,” easy. It’s good poetry, clear as a bell, with a moral perspective that makes sense to me. But, compared to the rest of Conoley’s poetry, it’s like riding a pony. I don’t get bucked off, and I end the ride feeling like I just met a poem I can’t help liking and don’t mind liking.

But one poem later, I’m getting up on “Patsy Cline," and it’s suddenly obvious how much I have to learn about Conoley’s poetry and how hard I’m going to have to work to learn it.

The first three lines, I’m all there, all present; I’m up on this ride.

“When I’m alone, I like how my nylons
mesh, the rustle I get
just walking.”

For a ‘50s fetishist like me, this is an open invitation. But just a few lines later:

“…Not like she did
in that yellow skirt,
strolling in
so everyone saw.”

Wait. Just wait. If “I” am Patsy Cline, then who is “she?” But if “I” am Gillian Conoley and “she” is Patsy Cline, then do I want you to know so much about me, Gillian.

I like the image: that yellow skirt swinging so that everyone could see (see what?). And it’s not like I have that many unanswered questions…but then you walk in and I know I don’t have any idea who you are or why there’s money falling out of your pants. Yes, there seems to be more than one voice here. I am barely holding on to this bronc, to this sexy, feisty poem

“But I still see
that bar, the lights
strung bare above every man’s back,
the sticky perfume,
her skirt a breeze you could carry.”

and I just plain forget to hold on. I’m flying skirts up, ass over elbows and I hear the next line (and I can hear it still):

“Once I got home…”

So, even though I have no idea who “I” is, I am so enjoying being “I” that I just may go back to the beginning and start reading the poem all over, again.

(And this, I did. Imagine, if you will, an interlude.
Be mindful that I am half way through the second poem in a book with about 40 poems.)

Ah. That was refreshing. Where were we?

There’s a lot more from the time “I” got home and the end of the poem, but let me jump here to that end. What comes next will in no way spoil the poem for you (I might already have done that). I’m betting, instead, that once you know how it ends, you’ll want to do the hard work of reading the poem yourself. It ends:

“I may be walking backwards onto this plane,
but you’re looking
like some rat-eyed pimp,
some hillside jack on a slide.”

Of course, it ends that way. I always knew there was a guy like you involved. I just didn’t know where in the poem the heel was going to show up, or that the heel would be you. Or, if you prefer, that you would be the heel.

So, without believing for a moment that I actually understand “Patsy Cline,” that’s what I’ve gotten so far out of reading it. If you could have that kind of experience, just for taking a harder look at 33 lines, why would you bother to read anything longer?

On the theory that other doors will open if I read Some Gangster Pain through to the end that’s what I’m going to do.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Remember All the Why

I know that when I go
I’m gone.

I know
all my twisting,
all my writhing,
all these undulations,
are no challenge to that truth.

I’ve reaped a whirlwind of rewards
and broken things
to which I am entitled,
but nothing here has changed.

I stay busy
making plans,
crafting signs,
wrapping little packages,
for you, for all of you behind.

They are explosively designed,
though some, for certain, will be duds.

But some will burst and shower down,
here or where you might have gone,
water to bathe with or to sip,
a bit, perhaps, of fairy dust,
a fleeting clarity or joy.

Remember that we loved
and remember all the why.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Write Whatever

When I sit to write whatever,
I am writing anywhere
but here.

Why not stand, instead,
and walk and run and jump
and get to anywhere that way?

Why not answer yes
when asked or pushed or pulled
or answer no, regardless?

Why not pray for peace and love
and a full-shelved
corner store?

Why not rip off all my clothes,
and softly wait
for anywhere
but here
to come?

Tell Each Other Verse by Verse

When I thought of you standing there,
posed in the doorway, watching the sunrise,
your tank top a window to the long, rolling muscles
of your back, your legs lean,
so astonishingly long
and brown,

I recalled then other places
and other times
that exercised great power over me.
But before I lost myself in memory,
I lingered one more moment,
wondering who would run her hand,
by your leave,
along your hip,

and how you would
tell each other
verse by verse.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Somewhere in the Night

Somewhere in the night
she died, he said.
They would look there
for her, but she wouldn’t want
to be found.

I remember hanging with her
and with others who loved
what she loved.
All the dancing and the doing,
all the more and all together.

But I wouldn’t be one
who went looking.
She wouldn’t want to be found,
having died somewhere
in the night.

She would share
what she saw
and all the others
would bend and whirl
to see what she heard.

When we saw
what she could hear,
we could feel the peace
she felt and the thrills
that ran through her.

I could take you there,
to the place where she died,
but she would wish
not to be found
somewhere in the night.