A Walk in the Dark

Life is a familiar stranger

Coming over an almost endless field

But getting closer.

The trickiest part of saying “I love you”

Isn’t necessarily saying it.

Nor even adding an adverb like “Sincerely”

Which at the end of the day can be like throwing a pair of pants

Over a statement that has no balls.

Purpose lurks behind the pretension

Of well-read syntax

In the sacred syllable of a stutter

In the flicker of two eyes

In failure

And the rush of self-sacrifice in the name of no-name.

There are things that we miss when we’re not afraid to die.

Like an otter raising his silky head

Not breaking the water but fortifying it

Becoming it like one becomes a fashionable hat.

When the car is in the shop we must walk through the forest of darkness

With demons feasting on all sides until old bones remain

Yellow and weathered and withered. 

But the sunset is sumptuous because of the dark

Offering the kind of light that evades the net of a camera lens

Because this is a one-time thing.

When it begins to rain

It runs in dark streams on the asphalt

And I run in wet jeans 

And wet shoes

And wring my shirt out at the door.

And memories surface like otters raising their heads

Like two-dimensional mirrors that remain of gemstones

Like the mica I picked up off the driveway when I was younger and wondered at.

These kinds of gems consumed themselves in their crystallization

Like the flare of carbonizing fire

Or the flair of calcified butterflies.

But the mica memories remain like the afterimage of light

Like the gift of a short journey which ends out of breath

With a sodden shirt in hand.

The slam of the door beats my heart to the punch

And the thought of you makes a spark

Before I’ve had time to strike the flint.

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

The kind of love I’m talking about,

You don’t try to kill people.

The kind of love I’m talking about,

You don’t try.

The kind of love I’m talking about,

You — The kind of love I’m talking about is a steely Luger in a 60’s action flick.

The kind of love I’m talking about looks slick, and dangerous, and maybe a little vicious.

The kind of love I’m talking about has careful tolerances worked out on long sheets of paper.

The kind of love I’m talking about is painstakingly built to fit the bullet,

To slip it undisguised into its chamber.

And then the trigger is pulled, with a flicking eye,

And the you that’s doing the trying

Goes where the name for cordite goes,

When the cordite cracks the shell and shoulders the bullet forward

And becomes something other than cordite,

And something other than smoke.

The kind of love I’m talking about,

Anything can happen.

To Not Have

I would like to make beautiful things like a real Renaissance man,

But my flying machines have all crashed and burned.

I would like to make something and have it belong to me,

Like a soundbite manifesto I can sell for my own worth,

But the steel that swords are forged from belongs not to the smith nor the singed sinner,

Not to earth nor the third-eyed miner,

Nor to the rust that kisses it in forgotten places, nor even to itself.

And these words that I type and this paper I write on surely are not mine,

Nor these fingers I write with, the rippling tendons, dust before too long and before

Just bundles of circles and cells. Still, there’s sacredness in the letters,

The straight-edged glance delivered by a glass eye and sometimes silver tongue.

And whether these thoughts are mine, ephemeral like the singularity of snowflakes, doesn’t matter,

As something peeks from atop the great dung heap like a little green sprout in springtime,

Wondrous in nature, that belongs to nothing and is nothing and has nothing

To do with all this but is here nonetheless, in the sunshine it found

In its opening. And this I offer,

The awe of a warm night and moths around the dirty light at the back door,

The cyclical tumbling of swallows and the world-arcs of Canada geese who,

Ceasing their pointed charge, rest for a time in the yard,

Yours to not have.

Point

My poem cross stitches on the flag of surrender

What I am trying to make comes before me

The emptiness of a wide open page

A talon cracking the shell of itself

I fire a needle point

And leave it

Blank

[Motorcycle] Parts for a Better Ride

The airbrushed advertisement on the glossy back page

Is both scantily clad and iron hided,

Pixel-shaded eyes a bastion against which I dare not delve for fear

Of losing my gilded monocle,

But it still gets my attention after two-hundred millennia. The caption

Reads: ‘Some things in life are not so hard to get,’ and here I’ve proved it right.

I could stop right there and call myself a beast, which I have and which I am for sure,

But the sunlight prods me as I walk on unsteady feet:

I spit my maladjusted pupils on it, it is the same yet unfamiliar,

And I think surely animals don’t take such issue with their existence. They do what they tell themselves,

And we are what we call ourselves.

My light-emitting-diodes and videos of people sweating did little to prepare me for this

Life. Your free eyes made my mirage waver

As you passed.

When I can waive my thirst in exchange for seeing that dunes are as pretty as an oasis,

And I stop caring about where to step and happily slip on the sand before you, my grubby paws

And proud claws dissolving into morning mist in the honesty: well then

My act

That I wanted so badly to have together

Will have long since fallen and spilled itself over the ground.

In Sanity

Madness is a lack of mooring,

And one side of a coin. There’s a store in

An old dry town up north, where sanity sells

Like cheap television. And the bell

In the rundown church upwind still booms

With songs of concentrated earth, swoons

And submerges planes of reason

Beneath the doomy silent sea it leaves in

Its wake. It sings Wake Up: for tintinnabulation

Is a pretty word for neatly folded situations,

But this sound goes beyond slick dances

On polished surfaces—it’s the messy branches

Of real-world meaning woven together

Like the cracks in limestone beneath the heather,

The old bones that it hides.

Besides,

The flipside of the coin isn’t soundness, which is just loud

But wisdom, which is madness with its silver head bowed,

Willing to ride

On the side

Of the waterfall carrying its ghost-ship.

Silence is a graceful place to skinny-dip,

And weathered admirals don’t lose sleep

Looking for the place to moor their fleet.

The stowaway sage opens his eyes wide,

dips his toes in the water, and enjoys the ride.

Madness Between Friends

The three musketeers of a good argument are

Logos, Pathos, and Ethos

The tactician, devious and cool; the beast, brave and a fool; the character, charming and dandy

Pick and mix and throw them into the sky

Pin d’Artagnan with a stray paper-clip

Untie, with silver tongue, the endless knot that binds honor round his belly

We have no time for swashbuckling, we modern-day Dorian Grays; our picture hangs

Not in the attic but flits between screens like a butterfly in a jar, or a moth with spots of rouge

On its cheeks; these days it’s easy enough to dress up for truth if one has the cheekbones

The stomach or the pocket lining for it. Caviar sums it up—Fish eggs: we eat life with wine, and why

Here’s a funny story—King Tut told the devil ‘you will not break me’ and disintegrated

On his own, to prove it, into a gold-leaf cubicle

He has red chewed fingernails, the devil, his cuticles jaundiced by tobacco

A nicotine patch on either eye

A three-eyed dog—or was it three heads

Once in a while we play hide-and-seek amid a herd of painted sheep

Because he’s sad these days and lonely, too, smoking like a chimney out of wood

And he usually lives in his cell at the bottom of a broken spiral

Because the ground’s too soft for cloven hooves—pressure, you see

Internal stresses make us hard and brittle, like heat-treated steel

The white knight in shining armor feeling spurned turns bitter

Like burnt coffee, bypasses the heart and goes straight to disembowelment

Try it, break a mug over your mug and see if it wakes you up any

Shoot yourself in the foot with adrenaline junk and act surprised

When nothing happens, punk. This is a cheap rerun of a more convincing story

I’d write a proper political piece if I thought anyone would read it

Pretty and pallid like a Gallo-Roman column, for me to hide behind

Obscurity, my only ally, does its best to keep me honest

Amid the falling marble. I just hope that

Madness, catching up like a gallows gunman on a crippled horse

Gives me enough of a lead to hang myself with—my self

From the cliff facing the brink

Perhaps I’ll need a push and in that case I’ll call the ocean up from the seashell I found

Behind the floorboards of my living room

To sweep me past the edge like the line of dirt on the floor

Which defies a dustpan like cocaine to a broken nose

Scattered out the door. Still

Sacredness cuts through like diamond-facet-sharpened light

No, that’s not quite right, it’s not a knife; I’m not being facetious, I would like to make beautiful things

Like you but it’s so. damn. hard. because this paper is a white mirror

Turned black when I looked, like stale dark roast. I tried

Sugar-coating my bile-full brain by throwing a duvet over a rock but it did nothing to soften

The blow. By and by, and back to sacredness or beauty or whatever you call your reason for living

Call it the Great Mutation—wine from water

Blood from wine, life from blood and the golden dust falling over Dorian’s chlorine eyes

Ignited through the crooked pane in his attic window. Rich folks are so concerned

With keeping the devil in his dungeon, but light isn’t partial, it’ll go anywhere, even black holes

They’re just too dense to let it show, like us

Minds: mine’s a salt-caked Ford careening through space

With Schrodinger’s catalytic converter, and I’ll chug on

Because I know that this

THIS in faded spray-paint stenciled on a hundred dusty boxcars

Is the kind of sooty engine-blackened death-cooled coal that burns itself to ash. Therefore

I will feed the wolf sitting on my chest growling at my throat; I’ll feed that savage bastard till he’s fat

And fit to burst, and then I’ll fix his big broken heart with a pat on the head to prove

That you can teach an old dog new tricks

Like fetching tossed-up honor; you should try it

Tyr, the old world soldier, gave a hand; Odin an eye and me, we’ll see

It’s a tricky thing that people like to talk about without getting

Like Love but not so On The Nose—honor

Hits you in the nuts and knocks the baritone bravado

Out your gut like beauty in blue eyes shining through your peacock plumage poetry slam sham

See there, the horse is limping and I’m trying to hold the water despite everything I write

You ask why: I can only say that

A man’s a man for all that, and we’re all cursed for the taste of caviar. One for all and all for one

And we must take the salt as it comes with the tide, though perhaps it’s time to kiss the sturgeon

And find something else to die for

Like the dancer in the spotlight liberating the gloomy room with her frozen pose

For instance, and the accompanied instant

Slapping the merciful moment like a raw steak to our third black eye

And the stalactites shattering when we see something beyond our concavity

And the smoke drifting from an empty smooth-bore like winter’s breath

Rising above the frosted tree-tops and kissing the edge of a mountain as

An earnest lover waxes eloquent over the slopes of life and death, and so it goes

But maybe I’m wrong about it all, or just this bit, or this and if so

By God what gives, since there’s glory in good humor without frivolity—even brashness has value

If it’s graceful; like poor vainglorious Porthos laughing at the face of fate

And love too, in sharing in laughter and beer and courage and fear; it’s all the same

Because one thing of which I’m certain is this place that we forget sometimes, up where

The brown bear sways his mighty titan bulk onto the river, noble

To earn his fish eggs

And I’m not sure I can ever explain why we should care except that we must

For these things we weave from sound and little black threads

To describe our own hopeless smoldering majesty

Are precious efforts

And pretty self-explanatory.

Myoclonic Jerk

A little while ago—I think I was six—I burnt my finger on the woodstove for the first time.

I had a moment to observe myself before I remembered to cry. Didn’t learn much. Later,

A girl fell before me on the playground, and I saw a tearless truth reflected in her eyes

Before the habit caught up, with its matronly strident reminder to suffer.

One night, I fell into bed from the bottommost edge of the sky. There was a second there

Where I cut through the dream like it was the red wax encasing a block of cheese,

And I was nowhere. I was Dead, even—it was like sour cream with a hard taper piercing

Through the palette protecting my brain. Or maybe it was the rusty taste of blood; I must remember

Not to mix my metaphors, but it’s too much fun and easy, too.

I’m beginning to think that Art is just a term for the study of how to die well,

And how to live well; if I’m lucky, perhaps

I’m beginning to understand that the two are the same. Back and forth. These days,

I wonder where Sadness goes to once it dries up, like the cycle of water. That’s the newest

Plastic castle in the think tank. I’m told that these tears could be dinosaur piss.

Would that make them worth more? To me they’re already priceless,

To you, a penny’s worth. Einstein would have called that relativity,

But I think love is more quantum in nature, as one particle

Affects another in another space; becomes it, even, singling out

Like a tender index pressing its singed print against a mirror. Even if I’m wrong,

The truth remains past the glaze: a young taste lingering on the edge of a knife, there

For him willing to cut his tongue. Time passes, and my callous grows back.

Next fall I’ll wear it off stacking wood,

And wonder again at the freshness of the pain, before I notice the splinter.

Concave

Let’s be friends

Until we run out of things to say.

 

Counting things to be afraid of on my fingers,

My hand turned into a palm frond full of hornets.

 

Reading between the lines on your compound eyes,

I understood

That this is where we are to make our stand.

 

This is where we’ll hold them,

‘Them’ being the shadows at the back of the mirror,

Or whatever you like. That’s not the point.

 

The point was rapier-sharp,

Poking holes in the gossamer of my wing.

When I fall, it will not leave a crater.

There’s the razor on my throat.

 

The eyes behind the glass seemed blue,

But they’re quick silver, spinning widdershins

In my left brain.

 

My thought swept through Thermopylae

Like the ghost of a rat fleeing a sunken ship.

When I asked for it back,

You said ‘Molon Labe,’ and fell on your sword.

 

I found your cooling crater in an empty atrium

With butane in the air

And torches on the walls.

 

It was here I found the shout,

Like a Christmas card hidden in a stack of coupons,

That made the river Styx burst its banks

and flood hell to its fly’s-eye disco ball.

 

With the fires put out, it looked like any other cave.

Losing It

A good prayer is a lost one.

 

                Circled by fire, the warrior sees godhead in the hilt of his broken sword.

                Sharks incoming, the fisherman feels windhorse in the gale whipping his face.

                Sitting alone, I hear love echo in the recess of my emptiness.

 

It goes ‘neigh.’ In extreme circumstances, horses will run until they drop.

 

                His body dying, Beowulf takes another stab at the dragon.

                There is no catch; the old man lifts the oar out of the oarlock.

                Heartbreak is an occupational hazard.

 

This kind of horse-power comes from a busted battery.

               

                Pissing himself, Wiglaf stays by his doomed king’s side while the brave men flee.

                Despite his father, the little boy still visits the old man with bad luck.

                Prometheus bleeds sulfuric acid and the eagle burns its tongue.

 

A good poem is…

Shit I lost it.

Comfort Food

I took cheese and crackers when I

Went to sit down to bleed. I wasn’t happy standing with my nose in the corner,

Even with the fancy trim. I see tigers in the knots of polished wood,

And then they’re gone.

 

I have waited

A long time for you to come to poke me in the back of the neck.

The thought is there. Its riptide pulls me in to a pit of consumption.

Indulgence drips over the edges

 

But there’s a snake in the rug; there you are!

Cold water strikes the base of my skull and keeps going,

Warm by the time it touches my heart. Cobwebs

Are turned into silk.

 

 

Padfoot

In the dark,

The sound of padding feet brushes the clink of pints and barroom laughter from his ears.

Beside the ancient church, old stones remember the faith

And mossy bones whisper from their beds

‘The time is near,’

As it was four hundred years ago;

There’s the bustle of rabbits in the underbrush consummating their existence,

The glitter of the creek running through town past the memory of an ancient mill.

Through the crack in his bedroom door,

There’s the peering of a childish nightmare; moonlight on a boulder rolling still,

and through that,

Feet padding nearer, a tangible fear; the hackled beast

That glints its pearly canines in the darkening of the witching hour.

 

Many leashes have been cast around the matted mane; names

Like Bargeist, Shriker, Black Shuck, and the Galleytrot.

But this is the thing that kills Allfathers; the chains that bind it

Cost an arm and a leg.

 

In a new world,

The old watchdog is forgotten in the paleness of airport terminals and DMV’s,

and a fleeting snow states its seniority, holding time at bay

over the glistening of frozen water.

Kneeling in a graveyard, the wind freezes his fingers as he looks for something lost,

The feeble flashlight on his phone stirring faded words into his life.

In the dark,

Footprints testify, and old-eyed stars keep watch. And the swooning shadow prowls,

And howls its emptiness onto the wind. All around,

He hears the sound of padding feet.

This is the Place

This is the place where we congregate to shoot at hummingbirds.

Nearby, a man had his throat cut to spare us the discomfort of his cries.

Nearby, a child died on an empty belly, and his mother blamed changelings.

This is the place where first world problems take precedent,

where beasts of their own burden fake hatred and call it daylight.

Nearby, a woman was vandalized by a man with cataracts over his heart.

Nearby, a bomb drawn up by pimply kids in lab coats built another crater,

stirring up dust that doesn’t settle.

This is the place where Wall Street syndromes draw numbers with their magic markers

on the window overlooking the graveyard.

Nearby, a tomcat with a wack ear argued with sewer-rats over

which long dead Jazz man would win in a fight:

Armstrong? He put more life into one breath than was

spent on that soft-core porn story we lost our love to.

This is the place where people say: Work smart, not hard,

where we’d cut a coconut tree to get at its milk, rather than climb it,

where the quickest way from A to B is a straight line

and to stop and smell the roses is a waste of time.

Utility is our watchword. Well,

nearby, the flowers round gods’ necks turned into ash, and

nearby, a reckoning came for the old boys who never learned to be men, and

nearby, I heard the rustle of tiger-tanks waiting in the reeds outside my room.

This is the place; vultures flew over the walls, the endless barbed-wire fence, and

our drawn-on eyebrows melted in an oily hurricane.

Nearby, a baby smiled, and brutes blinked in the tenderness.

This is the place.

…Like Rabbits

Pain. a flat name. a hip-flask, again

aching to be sipped. a man

sitting in the corner with a hat over his eyes.

a knife thrown in the dark, at the sun.

a battle won and lost, dead strewn all over.

plague wagons laden heavy. done—

a rose thrown onto a closed coffin-lid. at dawn,

rain patters down like tears. footsteps walking away.

glimmers through the clouds. life peeking through the hole in her eye.

smoke drifting through the cracks in leafless trees. fog moving on the cold.

dogs sniffing at the scraps. maybe they’ll wag their tail, if I bend down to pet them.

maybe they’ll bite me. I retreat, but I’ll be back.

I know it’s worth getting scared about. I know

there’s something special in the weed poking its head above the debris.

I know so much. Let me tell you about the Rabbit in the Moon,

who jumped into the fire, offered all his downy smallness, overjoyed

that he could ease the pain in a stranger’s belly.

his halo now caressed in a puddle

I almost drowned in.

On Edge

Outside is cold.

It’s true what they say, about the wind going through you, up here.

But it doesn’t go clean through. This wind’s kind of like a rusty razor

dragging over the edges. It cuts you down to size, tugs at your lapels,

blows away your boutonniere and other words we have for pretty things.

A ragged t-shirt mounts a half-hearted defense and gets blown to hell.

Old leather boots and unwashed jeans won’t stop toes from freezing, even if they look cool.

Even kings are knocked down from their highness, by nothing but a breeze;

gods are laid low, and the cynics snort with a sort of hopeless triumph:

Look, look how the mighty have fallen; why,

we’re nothing but animals at the end of the day.

But wait a second, because the day’s not over yet.

I can’t feel my toes, and my nose is running and my ears are red. My eyes

are tearing up—I

can see old death just over the bleary blue horizon, but snow hangs there too,

like an empty blank canvas that doesn’t need to be filled.

Frost traceries on the window are winter’s imitation of living spiders’ webs,

or did the spiders mimic winter? Not that it matters;

the mirrors are everywhere, in the puddles on the ground that froze overnight

and show me, if I look, how the world really is—who knew dirty water could be so beautiful?

I did. But it took the merciful frigid nip at my heels saying wake up, wake up.

I see birds that haven’t fled just yet, who stuck around to see the first snow,

to see the show; crows sitting on the side of the road,

laughing as cars rush past.

I see you; you, such a very important person, chasing your tail with a smile on your face,

melting the air with your foggy breath.

You could save me from the cold, I know.

But death will wait; I’ll stay out here as long as I can.

Here in the dead-pan sky, a little lonely. A little longer.

Cold Dogs

It’s hard to think of love beneath a wrecking ball,

but when the ball is dropped that’s all that’s left.

Telling the truth is like pulling burrs out of a dog’s fur;

If you shave the dog, the problem becomes the end of a circle—solved as it occurs.

The Pied Piper gets a bad rap, but I’d rather take a leap

than play a game of tag where everyone is IT.

Playing the part of a cruel clown is tiring;

at least mimes know the box they’re in is of their own conception.

How long can we play capture-the-flag in heaven,

vying for the other team’s white standard?

children too short to see where the world ends,

scared of falling in a dream, scared of losing in a game.

Scared the wrecking ball will break our back,

when a real spine would turn it into fairy dust.

I’ll meet you in the field;

the one beneath our feet, past the horizon;

the one covered in fallen snow.

Knit your dog a coat, and let’s go for a walk.

Fall

Painted leaves

Movement, like a fish out of the water

Blue sky, reflected. No sun

Teeth on the surface

Clouds. Rain, sometimes

Cold hands, warm feet

Squirrels getting bold and fat,

paintbrush tails stirring the air

Lonely scarecrows. Crows that aren’t scared

Hawks on wrists. Hounds at heels

Sleepy groundhogs

Souls stockpiling lard in the cellar

Poets blinking in the grey daylight

Deer beyond the headlights, disappearing into evergreens

Wood on the fire

Fallen leaves lying on borrowed asphalt

Dry air

Slipping on ice in the driveway

Fear of falling

The world, right in front of your red nose

The air feels clearer, afterwards

Cool in your lungs, like water.

In Defense of Saving a Worm On the Sidewalk

Outside, it was raining

The drops rolled off the air, not like beating scourges

More like a whispering veil, that caresses with cool, dangerous tenderness

I leapt over cattails to get to the sidewalk and got my feet wet

Worms squirmed among the pale maple leaves

and willow branches that lay on the wet asphalt

I picked up a big fat red one and threw him to the grass beside the road

I didn’t have a reason for it, except that I knew that when the sun came up the next day

he would die and his slimy, writhing-ness would shrivel up into another dead stick

That was the only really pointless thing I did that day

There’s an assumption at work in our minds that excludes the little things

the ones that aren’t so pretty, the expendable ones

There is a ration of compassion that our cynicism allows

That well doesn’t dry up unless you poison it

When my sister was a kid, she kissed slugs because she loved them

and she’s still around

The soothing clearness of a single raindrop on my cheek

There is a beautiful uselessness to sympathy that should not be ignored

I enjoyed the rain, as it gave me an excuse to be disheveled

The worms didn’t mind that I smiled at nothing. I took my time walking home

You can’t cure the world with one poem, and you shouldn’t want to

The best I can try for is to point a finger at the truth

Take the spotlight off the cobwebs in the corner of the stage, for a moment.

Schrodinger’s Catfish

I went fishing the other day.

Sat on a rock covered in the faded remains of duck shit,

and cast my line into lily-padded water.

Far away, trucks droned over the highway.

Politicians screamed in horror. Pompeii burned,

and all the dinosaurs dropped dead.

An asteroid’s shockwave from sixty million years ago rippled my pond;

the geese resting on the far side flapped their wings

and formed ranks to fly south,

their shadows on the water scattering a school of minnows.

Nearby, a blue heron perched on one leg and pondered his reflection.

I got a bite, and wrestled with a catfish for a millennium,

but when I hauled in my hook I found nothing but weeds.

So I sat back down and watched the sunset for a while.

A little kingfisher donned his steepled crown and jousted with a sunfish,

crowing victory among the reeds like Caesar in Gaul.

Dusk fell, and the heron rose,

silhouetted.

The shadow of primeval glory in his crooked neck.

The flutter of a world’s heartbeat in his enduring wings.

The air was full with falling leaves, and rain.

It smelled like gratitude.

Where Four People Died

There’s a sign that says:

Four people died here. A cascade of water tumbles over rocks into a pool. On the edges,

it’s clear; you can see silt at the shallow bottom. The pool, though, is dark.

It leads to a cavern hidden beneath the surface,

undercurrents dragging the water there and holding it.

Pink Styrofoam insulation is trapped at the sidelines, broken up.

Caramel colored foam stirs on the surface like a macchiato

and the swift smell of wet rocks caffeinates the air.

A gorge rises up on either side of the death-pool, a hundred feet at least.

There’s suicide net around the suspension bridge up top

to stop drunk college kids from dying, but the line is clear. The line between walking and falling,

standing and drowning.

Living and dying is as clear as the air; it’s easy to see in a place like this,

where four people died.

The sign says: Trespassers subject to arrest.

Getting perilously close to the falls for a photograph;

the water, a living varnish for the stones,

makes them beautiful, just as the treacherous trench of the pool, the dizzying depth of the gorge,

makes this place special.

Yellow-billed ducks bob on the surface. Mallards, a couple of males have those green heads they’re so proud of.

They were sitting on some rocks when we got here, and hopped into the water in their politely wary way,

leaving shit behind for me to sit in.

They float over the dark pool where four people died. They’re funny to look at,

and so perfectly wonderful

that I can’t help smiling.

The Armada

Man is a ship.

A slick sloop, a quick clipper, a callous galley,

or a surly Man o’ War; it makes no difference.

At port, he yearns for what he’s built for.

Then at sea the storm hits,

and the thunder and lightning are loneliness and fear.

Calm descends on long days, and a blueness stretches flat over an empty, endless plain.

We are two ships, you and I.

Tied together, we crash as the swells roll beneath us—

they don’t even have to be big—

our masts creak, our tangled jibs flapping;

our pretty paint cracking, our ropes in disarray, our sails in tatters.

We’re dandy vessels, aren’t we?

I can’t tell if your figurehead’s a mermaid, or a kraken.

There’s a hole in my bulkhead that I sealed with a dollop of tar, but I’m sinking nonetheless.

What were we built for, again?

You and I, we can do better. You and I,

we’ll turn our planks to water, and our ropes to salt;

our sails into the wind that draws its pictures on the waves,

and our tallow candles into the reflections of stars;

and when our masts have become driftwood,

and all our maps point to Here,

we will pour ourselves into the ocean,

and wreck no more.

No Man’s Land

Planes circle on stiff wings.

The airport is a charnel ground where emotions nip at one another’s heels.

Here, massive vultures peck out “I’s” with razor beaks

wolves rip “You’s” apart

and the mind rots itself to pieces

til the sickly-sweet smoke of delusion descends;

a sip from a paper cup, a bite from a plastic tray.

Comfort, lukewarm air conditioning, dim eyes.

 

I remember a mountain, and freedom;

a white horse on the mountainside

without a bridle or saddle,

an avalanche tearing down in a pale cloud

and a sound of thunder. I remember I’m a traveler; remember friends,

remember the mountain, immovable; remember tired legs. Then I come back.

 

This is an honest place.

Scuff marks on the tiled floor tell me all will fall with time.

Memories will fade into the rain,

my brain will melt into the soil;

my ego foiled, again.

 

There’s a dead man sitting across from me with a tangled beard and eyes like lightning.

I hear jackals barking through the air-vents,

and I remember them from the wind that whipped that mountaintop;

those time-tossed rocks, they were headstones for something,

just like these straight-backed benches.

How many times have I been to this graveyard?

 

I notice the rain, as it turns the runway to a mirror.

I notice the pain.

A tight truth sits in the back of my throat

like wine sipped from a skull cup. It isn’t bitter, and it isn’t sweet.

I almost shout, but the thought is drowned out

by a drumroll within my chest. There is a cremation.

I notice the people here, all going somewhere.

I want to look into their eyes.

I want to point it out to them.

 

 

At The Top

People skipped stones across the water;

a lake sitting

thirteen thousand feet above the sea,

surrounded by towering mountains.

 

The peaks gazed down, brazenly unconquered.

They are gods.

The old ones who walked here before us knew it—

that they are surmounted solely by those as bold as them, in

that moment when mind and mountain become one.

That climb is like two arrows

meeting in midair.

 

I found the recipe for victory in my breathless brain

when I saw the path through the pain in my legs:

bravado in awareness,

like a coca leaf steeped in hot water.

I heard The Hero’s death rattle

and he was laughing.

 

Ripples spread across the lake, green and blue and brown

like a Long Island iced tea in the Andes,

and I thought of you as I caught my breath.

 

Skipping stones are sacred too, but only if you mean it.

When I tell you that I do care, that I do love you—

that is sacred.

 

People dipped their toes into the water, and said that it was cold,

but maybe they’re the cold ones?

This lake’s a mirror for divinity.

They could be too, but they’re too busy thinking.

 

Love isn’t a thought.

It’s a lake, and a mountain, and a hike.

 

The Howl

Nature has a voice

and it goes creak,

like your closet door in the night.

You may well be afraid of it,

you with your grey suit and black-and-white mind,

your square house and picket fence.

This is the boogeyman they warned you about

back home.

The trees here are bigger than the hairs on the back of your neck,

but they stand up the same way-

static.

You thought, you really thought that you could knock them down?

No more.

As darkness falls the stars take their places,

and you see the judgement of their light

reaching down like marble pillars on a groundless sky;

you see the tops of the trees

crowning the full moon in its glory;

you see the circle that rules Here

turning on the surface of black water.

You see?

The boogeyman stares back, face blurred by ripples.

A Gnat in the Wind

all that I am

pitted against love is like

a gnat in the wind.

a stream meets the ocean,

makes love so to speak,

as tears make love to rain.

where am I now?

the letters of my name

fade into the vast emptiness of the page,

and Silence ruffles its feathers

America’s Paris

A fog of song surrounds us,

lyrics like liquid liquor-lights

licking crimson-tinged instants of time

off dazzling flashes of rhythm and symmetry

with flickering simplicity,

which flits across consciousness as a clock tick-tocks.

 

It all makes sense.

 

Then a roving whirlpool twirls and hurls us,

hurtling through crippling crumbling tunnels

and lame labyrinths of reason,

where desire, a red-winged snake-bird preys

and feral, frenzied specters pray

and festering spectators fixate and rain down

pain and shame with eyes like salt

too soon in wounds only forgotten by zombies

and other dead-hearted work-hardened work-pieces.

 

Silence falls louder in the mind than the ring of church bells.

 

Then confusion and delusion prowl in

and howl out prolific and tick-like streams of blood-

sucking what-if’s,

that cut the heart’s arteries like frigid bridge-blowers,

like rigid selfish cells starting wars to quell the tide of selflessness,

to let us lie our lives away just to survive.

 

They can’t drown out the sound, though:

the madman’s laugh left hanging in the aftermath of calculation

like a bowstring’s twang

or a dancer’s fluid hips slipping over the fringe of existence.

 

Awareness alights and dark eyes brighten.

 

Perception’s deception can’t hold a candle to the flash-flood

of a flash-banged habit blasting the blood-brain-dam to shambles,

splitting scripted lies in twain and breaking railroad ties

on which glide grease-stained trains of thought.

 

Here we are.

 

Between heart-beatings,

where narcissistic knots of neurosis dissolve

and monkey-fisted blunders somehow breach the bleak horizon,

where lightning sunders and thunder smites,

to find beauty in its futile brilliance,

and love—

The Deer

There was a deer

On the path in front of me.

Her light tread, so delicate,

brought her just ahead of thought.

Grace,

A silver sliver chiseled off of time

Chose to stand there, head bowed to the ground.

Behind her, the sun bounced off cars’ hoods in the parking lot.

Their paint jobs made good mirrors for perfection, though they weren’t machined for it;

They were only machined to be Good Enough.

What’s a deer machined for?

To stand there in the sunlight like an angel,

Of death and beauty all in one moment.

Seeing her, I dissolved into the blue sky

And my dark heart was enlightened

My heavy feet brought down to nothingness

To see the Thing that walked on the cracked pavement and made it beautiful

To see the pelt that held the low scent of pine needles and the humus they become

To see the Form that says that magic word of primordial uselessness, that lights the fire and makes the dewdrops gleam like diamonds in the grass.

I saw the circle

left over

When she bounded away.

Over the Rainbow

The only road is a lonely road.

Ruts, driven into the cracked asphalt by many wheels, beg the question:

How many have been here, and seen the fleeting second when sunlight

makes the grime on the windshield beautiful?

Capitalists didn’t care about the sunset until they realized they could own it—

Now they press it into glass like a dead butterfly and show it to the world,

Draining its integrity to fuel their character.

Both are long entombed by now, beneath a layer of fairy dust,

but wisdom dreams of waking when those illusory bars fall across their greedy eyes,

and maybe it will; poets are an endangered essence, but they live on

behind the grim glint of every selfish soul.

 

The lonely road is the only road

on which true value can be found;

the muddy puddles on the ground that once were pearly snowbanks

turn to gold, and time is torn apart,

woven back into a glorious moment when beauty shines over the hills

and through the clouds; when the heart cries that heaven,

heaven is a destination, not in space

but in time.

Smokes

The sky was grey. Wind moved through the soldiers crouched amongst tall grass, in a declivity ten or fifteen yards above a dirt road. Thirty yards away, the road curved out of sight, disappearing behind a steep hill. Drops of dew dotted the flora around the men. Dawn had passed, but the sun was not out and a blanket of fog still wove throughout the grass.

The men crouched still. Some moved from time to time, in a deliberate, self-conscious way, shifting their weight uncomfortably. Each man’s hands gripped a rifle, the metal barrels white with condensation. The men’s beige uniforms were dark at the knees with mud, and blended in with the grass in the overcast light.

One of the men was lying with his chest against the embankment, sighting down the long barrel of his rifle through the grass, his green, mushroom-shaped helmet askew. His gun was a bolt-action Springfield, with a black metal sight fixed to the top.

His knees were cold, sunk into the wet ground. With one hand, without taking his eye away from the sight, the man slid the bolt back and forward again deftly, locking it down into place with a click. He’d done this many times before. The other men watched him. He watched the road below, looking at the spot where it curved out of view.

A sound came from around the bend; a low droning that grew louder, accompanied by a crackling like firecrackers. A grey-green truck appeared, its tires crunching over gravel, making a popping sound and kicking up clouds of light brown dust that mixed with the grey sky. The crouching soldiers were still, but their fingers tightened on their guns, and their bent backs moved up and down with their breath. Some brought the butts of their rifles up to their shoulders, the tips of the barrels  rising, nudging the grass aside.

The sniper moved his barrel minutely. The sight was clouded over a bit with moisture, but through it he could still see the white face of the soldier driving the truck, and the men behind him, sitting side by side in their grey uniforms with their rifles propped upright between their knees. His finger brushed he trigger. He pulled it.

There was crack like a whip. The sniper raised his eye from the sight. The driver slouched, and the truck swerved. Men were standing up around the embankment, the barrels of their rifles flashing. There was noise. Guns jerked back. The truck rolled into a ditch beside the road and came to a halt, and men leaped out the back of it, raising their guns. More noise, and some of them fell. The sniper looked through his scope, bringing the barrel around and sighting at one of the men in the road. The sniper aimed at the man’s grey uniform; at his chest, between the black collar and thick belt. He pulled the trigger and saw the man stagger, saw his legs go out from under him.

There was a slapping sound, close beside. The sniper looked up as a man fell down next to him, rolling face-up. Red dyed the beige front of his uniform, spreading quickly. The man looked up with wide, scared eyes. The sniper dropped his gun and placed his hands over the red area, but it had spread too much to cover.

“George…” the man said. His words faltered, his jaw slackening, but his eyes still stared up, still wide. Still alive. His lower lip trembled, his face turning pale.

The sniper, George, didn’t say anything. William—that was his name; the dying man—had lent him a smoke once, when they first started out. George took his hands off the man’s chest. They were red now too, but he didn’t care. He was looking in the man’s eyes; blue eyes. He put a hand behind the man’s head, took off his helmet and held him, looking in his eyes. He knew there was nothing he could do. For a moment, the sounds of the battle were gone. Then the blue eyes slid away from George’s, away from everything, and William was dead.

There were no soldiers standing in the road anymore. Grey uniforms lay in the dirt, some moving, some still. The men walked down from the embankment, their fatigues stained with mud and grass and dew from lying there so long. They shot the ones still alive, and it was over.

George stood up and walked away from the dead man. Walked toward the road, pushing the tall grass aside, slipping slightly on the wet ground. The truck was sitting there, its front end dipped into the ditch on the far side. It wasn’t smoking, or anything. Just a big green truck in a ditch. The only damage to it was the clean hole in the windshield, away from which crawled thin, thin fractures in the glass, like spider-webs. The driver was still sitting there, slouched forward against the wheel, as if he was asleep. George couldn’t see his eyes, but he knew the man was dead. He walked back up to the embankment and picked up his rifle. He didn’t look at the body lying there. The gun was heavy in his hands as he walked back down to the road. There were grey bodies lying all around; face up, face down. None of them were moving anymore. He didn’t know which of them was the one he had shot, right before William had been hit. He didn’t want to know.

A corporal named Johnston walked over and clapped George on the shoulder. He had a smooth, round face. He wasn’t wearing a helmet.

“Nice shot on the driver, George,” the man said. “Got him right in the dome.” He laughed. He tapped a cigarette out into his hand from a battered paper box, and pulled a scratched brass lighter out of his breast pocket. “Want a smoke?”

“No.”

“Your loss.”

George watched the man light his cigarette. His hands were dirty, but there was no blood on them. The cigarette glowed bright red as he took a pull, expelling smoke into the damp, heavy air. The smoke’s stale smell mixed itself with the pinching odor of cordite left over from the guns.

Men were moving the German bodies, piling them in the ditch by the truck. There was a puddle in the middle of the road and George stood in front of it and looked down at his reflection, at his dirty grass-stained pants bunched up around the tops of his leather boots and his coat with all its pockets, cinched at the waist by a brown belt lined with extra magazines. At his hands by his sides, stained brownish red with William’s blood, and his long rifle. At his face, all dark and rough-hewn and unshaven, looking down at itself with shadowed eyes from under his helmet. He chewed his lip.

He thought about those eyes again that had been brighter than the grey sky, before they died. He remembered how the light had gone out of them, out of the very pupils, and how the blue irises lost their luster as if they’d turned to stone.

Suddenly he remembered another pair of blue eyes from another time, and days spent under clearer skies. Days without the smell of gunpowder, without bodies on the dirt, back when he didn’t smoke. He remembered lying awake at nights as a different man, thinking about love. He remembered a girl whose laughter was like sunlight; he couldn’t remember what she looked like anymore, just those blue eyes, and how they had made him feel like his heart was overflowing. How they had overflowed with tears, those eyes, one day so long ago.

 

That night, George sat upright on his cot with a lamp on and smoked, and thought about blue eyes, knocking ash from his cigarette into the little tin beside his bed. Then he took out a yellowed envelope and a piece of paper from his pack, and smoothed the paper flat against his knee, and took a pen, and sucked on the end of it for a while. Then he began to write.

When the tin was full of ash, he took it outside and emptied it, tapping it against the ground, his knuckles getting wet with dew. He walked a little ways and relieved himself, and looked up at the sky for a while; at the stars that were the only lights beside the lamp-lit tents around him. Then he went back to his cot, and sat there and wrote until long after he’d run out of smokes, until he’d run out of paper and the gentle light of dawn was beginning to edge out the stars.

The Sacred Sword

Voices drift into my square room. The keyboard click-clacks beneath my fingers.

A warrior waits for battle. His horse snorts and stomps the ground, restless as the wind that whispers in the tall, yellow grass.

He hears the voices of the enemy, and is still. The horse beneath him moves like the ocean, it’s eyes wild. It tosses its head, yellow mane flaring.

A poet raises his pen. It’s an old quill pen, of course. A drop of black ink coalesces on its nib, and falls.

A boy looks up from his desk and sees something fresh. A tree outside his window perhaps, or the rain that glistens like a mirror on the rough black asphalt.

If I break, it will be like that: my mind cracking sharply like a whip in cool, wet morning air.

The warrior stands with one hand in his pocket and looks up at a streetlamp, all alone in the dark. A warm breeze rushes through his back, filling his heart like a glass of wine. It flows out from his fingertips, coursing through his arm and into the blade he holds.

—A blade of grass, sharper in his hand than a katana. More powerful than an executioner’s ax. It cuts the night in two.

The past crumbles into dust; the future collapses like a sand-castle under the tide.

The warrior poet dwells in the gap that remains. The wind passes him by.

I walk outside and feel the air for the first time. The trees are dark against the turquoise sky, like drops of ink fallen accidentally on paper. Not placed there purposefully, but perfect.

The air is brisk and refreshing.

These useless moments are the most important.

I must remember that.

Muggy

Heat in the air.

Static breath heavy with the weight of waiting.

Entropy settles in. Even the leaves only move out of restlessness.

When each moment is an island, even a speck of dust is an insult.

Lightning flashes in the infinite sky, and it begins to rain.

Finally, I find that I am free to melt.