My wife is sick. I've dug a moat around our house.
Wolves are coming and wolves can jump. Viruses are coming
on wingéd feet. My eyes are full of slivers. My brain
is a fist of mud. I watch her sleeping and hang
on the hook of every wheeze. What if the boomerang
of her breath doesn't come back? What if angels
haven't done enough pushups? Without her
I'm my nipples—useless. Are there fairy tales
of men nursing stars? Is it too late for me
to be God? Lord, I'll live as a tree
if you make each second
a Russian nesting doll,
if each time she looks at me
opens into smaller versions
of the never ending bending of light
around her face. Everything
is all I ask. Take my hair, testicles,
seventy seven percent of the bones
that puzzle me upright, take me
first: I don't want to sit at a table
and explain to our spoons that she is gone.
They'll gouge my eyes out and I'll thank them
and break their backs. Ruin hides here
no matter what. The question is
lava or flame throwers. I say both.
There are living silences and dead silences
and I'll cut my ears off and burn them
and bury the ashes along with my hands
if I'm made to listen to the absence
of her warmth. My weakness is my oath.
There's nothing to me except the luck of her
lifting the five blankets on her body
again and again. To her very last atom, I beg heave.
Proof of life
Eleven people like my wife have been killed
in Pittsburgh and three hundred people
like my wife have gathered in a temple
in Roanoke to pass the vibrations
of the old words through their bodies.
So many Jews
they hurt the fire code's feelings. So many Jews
they were a sea wearing shoes. So many Jews
the warmth of pressing shoulders and thighs
loosened the wires around their mouths
and opened the doors of their faces.
Singing off key or on, crying silently
or like pots and pans
thrown down the stairs,
bringing their inadequacies
to a room full of befuddlements,
they turned fear
into resting their hearts
against gun barrels.
The work of being a good person
is easier around others who also
aren't sure how to be a good person
or even if it's good to be a person.
So many Jews
breathing like everyone else
and breathing differently
from everyone else, breathing thoughtlessly
as a river and breathing intentionally
as a nation and breathing in the sweat lodge
of the unconscious and breathing as proof
that not giving up minus eleven
equals not giving up
minus a number I'm thinking of
from the past, from the world's
Love love me do
My wife's such a good person
she'd be an excellent dolphin
or whale. She eats kale, wears
Doc Martins, is smart enough
not to come out of the rain,
how else explain how green
her thumb and mind and smile
are, not that I need to
do more than exceed
to my desire to surround her
with the sound of me saying,
"Is that an apple pie
in my pocket or am I lucky
I flunked suicide
at nineteen and zombied
my way to meeting you
eleven years later?"
That's a long sentence,
thirty years to life
if I hadn't happened
upon what is still, all sags
aside, the face
with the most upside
whenever I happen
to see her as if
I never have before, you know
how that is: you look up
from washing yellow eggs
off a red plate and being
sure your life's over
when there's your lover
or husband or wife
watching you with eyes
that could melt a cat, not
that you'd want to do that,
and you're what:
into confetti and reborn.
How's that for sticking
a thumb in the eye
Song of climate change: on the rocks
I hate ice in whiskey, on my car, my nipples.
Ice is water that's too good to look me in the eyes.
Ice leads to hockey and hockey leads to Canadians
with gap-toothed smiles. What do we say of the dead:
cold as ice. But ice doesn't deserve to be killed.
First of all, it's fairly reclusive, mostly hangs out
at the poles. Without ice there'd be no polar bears,
arctic terns, penguins. Watching penguins swim
and not get eaten by orcas makes me happy.
Watching orcas eat penguins makes me believe the world
is a self-regulating system and I should mind my own business.
Was a self-regulating system and we did not mind
our own business. What is our business? What do we add
to the endeavor? Don't say cathedrals, Beethoven,
two-for-one sales on diapers and Colt 45s. Do say carbon dioxide,
heat, ignorance of our affect on whales, monarchs, winter.
What if the world is a grape and we are a bruise?
What if we're being given what we want most of all,
we who are the memory singers, nostalgia machines:
what if elegy is our calling and we need death
to feed our desire to lament how good things were
before cars, Jiffy Pop, fake tits, Miracle-Gro,
us? We tell one story: Eden. Once upon a time
things were better. Once upon a time
our minds were simple and we were happy. Once upon a time
human nature wasn't what it really is and that's all it took
to live at ease in the garden: to not be us. If your nature's
your danger, your gist a fist, your essence a pestilence,
what do you do to not be you? Kill yourself or evolve. Sorry:
I meant to write an ode, a ditty about something wild
and pretty. That's how it is with us—we almost always
mean well: to give strangers a ride, eat more vegetables,
vacuum the house, not break the world. To be kind
and that fabled, mythic thing—wise.
Spiritual disquiet keeps me awake.
I have lived a pointless life. I think this
to my closed eyes and the ceiling
of the dark. On the couch and in bed.
With the TV on and off. With the TV on,
my spiritual disquiet goes to Mars
or arrests a man for raping an eleven year old.
My emptiness feels moral and productive.
The man goes to prison and people return
from a cold and distant place.
We don't think of men having periods
but there are cycles in me, swoons and dips
I have studied long enough
to throw up my hands. Tonight
I will know I am nothing and tomorrow
have a single egg and piece of toast
for breakfast, there will be birds
where birds belong and I will be
on the upswing toward happiness
as it has come to me, rarely unaccompanied
by the memory of wanting to die.
A chapter in the story of a mind
He read a long article about people
still wondering if consciousness is real
about an hour after thinking of someone
pulling fish out of the air and eating them,
giving him new ideas of what it means to be air,
a fish, a man.
Though he had never had the fish thought before,
he has often wondered what kind of object a thought is,
given that he doesn't exactly see or hear
or feel his thoughts so much as encounter them
in a space roughly coexistent with what he calls
The thought that thoughts are quantum
in nature, appearing out of nowhere and going back
to the ghost rooms and tunnels they come from
when he turns his head at or into a window,
just appeared out of nowhere and could an angel
for all he knows, could be god reaching out
not to be alone.
The thing is, as his thoughts have come and gone,
none have left an exact record of their being,
and will disappear with him, making his single death
multiple and rippled and pinning sadness
deep within his brain.
Is melancholy the only word I know
that turns holy at the end, he asks with no intention
of looking for others, happy to leave that a list
Teach a man to make a meal of loss
and he will live forever, he thinks, pretty sure
it is a round thought, a good thought, a thought the sun
would touch and warm and cast no shadow beneath
if it could.
A lament, pep talk, and challenge walk into a bar
I put a piano in my office. Tuba. Piccolo. Drum kit.
Banjo. Zither. Carnegie Hall. The Four Tops and Seasons.
Greek chorus. Music of the spheres and triangles
and dodecahedrons. The Kinks. The Mozarts
and Fats Wallers and Puentes. The Butthole Surfers.
My office is bigger and more flexible than my heart
and this is a weird way to critique my affections
but so be it: the intervention is underway. Do you feel
small? I feel tiny lately. Like a good person
would remove the doors of his house and give the poor
a controlling interest in JP Morgan and storm congress
with onesies and pillows and hold that flotilla of egos
hostage in a sleepover until the Decency Act is passed
unanimously and do unto others goes from words
dropped in the suggestion box to law. Why aspire
to the part of a thimble when galaxies
are shinier role models? I should be putting meals
on wheels or moving Miami to a higher elevation
or helping strangers with their calculus homework.
I speak shovel, yammer hammer, have drills and bits,
wrenches and jigs, elbows and frontal lobes, and have noticed
when I throw up my hands in frustration
they come back, they take their responsibilities
to hold and carry seriously and so should I
be a ladle or hammock, spoon or cradle, a yodel
or other reaching across the distance
to the factions and splinter groups of the tribe
or clan of woman and man. It's no accident I began
this meandering with music: no two species could come
from more distant planets than a Steinway and sax,
yet listen to how well they get along
when they put their mouths where our fears are,
when they lend us our better tuned selves. My ears
were raised by Ray Charles and Johnny Cash, so I hum
and flow and stumble, rasp and trance and moan
between two sets of certainties, that we are angelic
junkies, fallen and blind, and that we can rise
and see. The deepest soundtrack of my being
is a black man and The Man in Black breathing into me
the one and only commandment: don't just have
but be a soul
Lunar eclipse. The moon's an orange
and it's really cold: my wife
has cut me open, pulled out my stuff
and climbed inside to save herself.
I think I'm not kidding.
I think I crave being so terrified of the Earth
coming between the moon and the sun
that I turn into a cave painter
in Kroger: do you like my elk,
my caribou; a bison is a symbol
of my 4Runner's lack of magnificence.
Give me something elemental, not carbon
or iridium but my brain in my hand
and chucking it at the sky. An orange.
A withered orange. I think I'm talking
about my spirit.
I'm sure I'm begging fire
to be the only mirror
I can see myself clearly in.
Meditation on a bris of sorts
worth of ice, minus rats, restaurants, and Central Parks,
broke off from Antarctica the other day.
The stock market didn't notice.
Congress argued about sweat socks
or people marrying people
with the same junk
when only opposite junk
should be "I doed,"
was the thinking of the senator
from 1947. My question
all through college was: can humans
Can seventeen hundred people
gather in a convention hall and talk
about shoelaces or war until walking
and breathing are safer, less trippy
or bullety experiences? Or upon raising
the temperature of the room, by which I mean
Indiana, by which I mean the Earth,
will your average citizen, think tank, president,
rodeo clown, bulldozer manufacturer, realize
Too much is enough and suggest we turn
the thermostat down? When I've asked
the oracle of the Magic Eight Ball, Is wisdom an idea
ahead of its time?, in nine
out of eight instances, the answer that floated up
through the blue, inky waters
of its mind: Signs Point To Yes.
Signs point to fire, flood, and drought.
To suffering on a scale
scientists refer to as "holy fuck."
I don't mean to suggest
we're missing the boat. I mean to shout
the boat is on fire, the life jackets
turned out to be sweater vests,
the escape plan is useless
when there's no there to get to
that isn't here. But I'm sorry,
I interrupted you: You were talking about the threat
of cock sucking, I think, or the death
of Christmas, or the dearth of good strip clubs
or mining or malls in Nome. I have trouble
remembering if circumcision
removes the foreskin or foresight.
It's all downhill until it's flat or uphill
You're probably wondering
why I took up skateboarding at fifty eight
and not skeet shooting, bank robbing, teleporting.
So many gerunds: this is a very active poem.
It's almost sweating.
I took up skateboarding due to all the death
my wife and I have to come: her parents and mine.
I'm not very good. I fell and broke
a tulip yesterday. The day before, I got a ticket
for not acting my age. I don't know
any of the jargon, who the great skateboarders
of the Renaissance were, but the gear's cool
and motion distracts entropy
from my sagging flesh, which is to say,
a little bit of zoom
and the future doesn't exist. It's like being
the best watch in the world
made of bones and bits of rivers
and fear that I don't really love anyone,
but since watches have no then to them, only now,
I'm off the hook for all the guitar smashing
that goes on in my brain.
Is any of this true?
Probably not. Probably all of it. Probably
you don't like this commentary and I don't care
for purists or Puritans or sitting still
when I can be out there
testing my balance and perfecting a move
I call Muddling Through.
And there's this. Mom and dad—thank you.
I know you're worried
no one will visit your graves.
I am both no one who will
and no one who won't. And sometimes when I do
I'll let the weeds grow toward the sun,
and sometimes when I don't, the weeds will die
of their own accord. The mess it will be
is the surprise it has always been. Life.
This breathing of stars.
For love of the game
Early in the first quarter,
after an incomplete pass, we gathered
in the huddle and called Stephen Hawking
to ask, In an entropic system, what's the value
of ritualized violence? He thought
it was the huddle itself, that men pretended
for a moment a circle could hold them,
then tried to kill each other, then returned
to the circle, which is the moon, the womb,
a symbol of perfection as well as our desire
to achieve it. I tried to tell the cornerback
covering me how noble life is, but he thought
A Brief History of Time went on too long
and wasn't about to be distracted by my idea
that in failing to be perfect, we embody
the slight disruptions in DNA or alterations
in an environment that make evolution
possible. He felt every play
was a little version of The Big Bang,
an explosion into barely ordered disarray,
followed by collapse, and wished we'd go back
to talking about women or Greek Mythology
like in the old days, when football
was football and men cried only
when shot or their dogs died
or they realized that war
was their most memorable achievement.
I was so moved by his wisdom
that I could have kissed this guy
but facemasks make that impossible.
Fear of the homoerotic is why the facemask
exists, Susan Sontag explained
to the Green Bay Packers
when they called her on fourth and one
not long before she died
and they couldn't decide what men
are more afraid of, death or love? She said
fear of death is fear of love,
and to go for it, you Nancy boys.
Only one grandmother was lost in the filming of this poem
Extending a tightrope from my forehead
to your heart is a practical matter
of eyebolts and tension, says the engineer
The hula-hooper in me says round things
make the best toys, such as balls
and the wheel of life.
The undertaker in me can't stop staring
at the woman who asked, the day before she died,
if she were alive.
Imagine you're asked this question
by your ninety six year old grandmother
with your three year old son
at your side, who later, in the car
with your soft crying, crying
you're trying to bury
on the inside of your face, asks
the same thing: Mommy, am I alive?
The philosopher in me says it was genius
for her to stop in a little park
with breaking down picnic tables
and rusty swings and chase her son
in circles and figure eights, not knowing
her grandmother died while she was holding him
by his feet and swinging him
in a circle, while the priest in me
thought it holy that she let him go,
let him fly a few feet
into the sandbox that caught him
and gently gave him back, giggling
and all questions answered.
Though I am not her stethoscope,
she sanctions the wanderings of my ears
across her body, my listening
to the light sanding of wood
that is her breathing, to her closed eye
still warm from touching the moon.
And down there, where she turns into a Y,
it's fun to whisper into her cave
and listen for the echo coming back
changed. As when I said, My shadow
is a critique of my heart,
her vagina replied, You try too hard
to prove you exist, the best game of telephone
I've ever played, with any woman,
let alone a woman named
for the first woman
to run and run
until she realized
she could never be lost
because maps didn't exist.
And even if they had, she'd have made them.
And if she had made them,
they'd have been maps of water, to water,
by water and for water to use
to find its way back
to where water began, every one of them
left out in the rain.
Half past not yet
The cedars go up faster than the mountain
comes down. They're clocks
of a different feather. How much of the time
I spend thinking about time I'm wearing
a red shirt I can't say, not like why
the idea of bald Jesus
is funny: bald Jesus mocks our desperation
for eternity. If nothing lasts forever, absence
at least is something we can build our love
of the clarinet upon, a long note played out
like a rope behind a ship bound for the anywhere
of our mapless sleep. That's a sound that sounds
like it's trying to fill the very hole
it makes, just like everyone I care for is dying
not to die any more than they have to
at the end, when it'll turn out Orpheus was right
to turn around and look back at the past,
for to turn around and look back at the future
is to miss what hasn't happened yet, and every face
I adore is here now, fitting softly
between my rough hands.
Lights on, lights off
I know I couldn't pet our cat's paws
when she was young, but can now
after thirteen years together. I know wood smoke
makes the air smell warmer. I know I become elated
ten minutes after a first drink, melancholy
half an hour after a second. I know I've wasted
most of my life on consciousness, on counting
and tic-tac-toe. I know if you're going to stare
at a prostitute in a window in Amsterdam,
you should be naked too. And yes, I know
the sword of Damocles is stuck in my head. And no,
I don't know how it got there, when the thread
of happiness broke. And yes, it has complicated
my relationship with hats. And no, it doesn't hurt
except when I stand on my head. I like that we share
these epistemological interludes. Now, though,
I want to return to the dark, to waiting
for morning to touch everything in this room
and bring it all back to life
simultaneously, a resurrection
only the sun is capable of, having more fingers
than all the people now or ever alive. And yet,
despite this intimacy, what do I really know
about the sun, I mean personally?
An interpretation of what I hear in bird chatter
An extended group of interested parties—
me, Eve, Bryan, Eva, Jerry, Hamza,
the west branch of the Roanoke River,
the one monarch butterfly I've seen
in five years, this cloud and that cloud
and every cloud above your head
or in your heart, Tom, Janell, Susanna,
Buddha if he were here to let us kiss
and rub his silly belly, our orange cat Wee,
the strawberries killed last night
by frost, everyone in New York last week
speaking Spanish and Hindi, speaking the lean
of their bodies, speaking hunger and fear
and lust, all the poets banging their pots
and all the guitarists strumming their spines
and all the plumbers bringing streams
straight to our mouths and faces—
would like to know if that seat is taken,
if that bed is available, if a cab
has been called, if coyotes want to sing
with the band, and how much to tip
the deity, the chance that tumbled down
to all of this and everything that's coming,
to the floating
of a world so heavy with the rock
of itself, with all this life
and the bones of all former living,
through whatever space and time
turn out to be, beside
each other, and us
I'm a man, so this must be a manifesto
When we stand shoulder to shoulder
along the border and form a wall
of bear-hugging greeters and donors of single
red carnations and readers of the sixteenth part
of Song of Myself and kissers of dirt and sweat
on lips and foreheads and translators
of the cheeseburger and freeway, and ATM, APB
and QVC explainers and ask what your new country
can do for your new you and spill the beans
on a lake trying to be an ocean
in Chicago, on where to go
to be alone in Manhattan, and accept fear
in the eye as ID, and perform this rigorous
and righteous citizenship test:
where does your appetite go
when you sleep?,
and whether they say Idaho or I don't know or I've heard
there's no end to your sky or just shrug
in a language you don't speak, if you let them in,
I'd recognize you
under every possible disguise, hipster stash
or cowboy chaps or priestly collar
or maximally mini
made of hundred dollar bills,
whether your piercings have tats
or your tats are TVS or you've got skin
pure as the driven night or you're a mutt
born of unbordered fuckings
like most of us, born of the rivering rush
of flesh to get willy nilly and tumble down
and smiling if possible
from A to Z, you're American
and I'd hold your hand through any hurricane
or disruption in the force of our love
for an idea that can't be blabbed
but only lived, what the hell is democracy anyway
if not the rumble, the ramble, the scrum, the suck,
the bite, the reach, the retch, the scream, the song,
the falling, the rising, the coming and coming and coming
home of everyone
Float with me awhile
On my chest before surgery I wrote
I WANT MY SOUL BACK
on my knee
NOT THIS PLIÉ
on my head
THERE BE DRAGONS
and that was that: they inserted a sextant
in my thigh: I came out
better located, more alive.
I know how I'm going to die:
a train will hit a friend,
she'll speak Russian
at the end, my ear
her last chance
to think of home,
and I won't cry. Not then.
Not for seven years.
Until crossing a rope bridge
over a gorge in Brazil, all the not-crying
will break out, I'll convulse,
lose my balance, and fly, landing fine.
I'll die when no one believes
my flying is true,
after years of telling friends
Grief can make a body
light, not unlike a leaf
taped to a paper airplane
stapled to a wing, I think: research
Just as I wonder what it says
that I couldn't sketch
my wife's face to save her life.
Even with a gun to my head,
my heart's hand
would draw a blank.
And is it better to wish
on candles or stars? Candles
live on cake, whereas stars
are in the dark. Of this alone
I have no doubt:
some soon October, leaves
will stay where they are
so trees can fall. I am tired
of being tired.
I am a teapot, short and stout,
sometimes I whisper, too often shout
Two or three times a week
I feel such revulsion for the voice
in the air imitating the voice in my head
that I try to run or pogo-stick
away from myself, hoping to see a peaceful
and fun loving bonobo on Main Street
or bump into the cat who owes me sixty bucks
so I can hear the sound of three twenties
slipping home into my wallet. I mean
a real cat, not a man I'm calling a cat.
The terms of the loan are I pet the cat
behind the left ear and get scratched
from time to time so she can remind herself
civilization's a theory, not a fact.
I think it's that I hear myself
needing to be right, believing
I know how anything works, the dishwasher
or democracy or being
a human being and my voice
gets kind of fighty and needy
like rusted barbed wire
playing a flute. Bonobos
roll and giggle a ton
and I don't care if cat
ever pays me back, I consider
my sixty bucks an investment
in vomiting and scratching trees,
and no, I don't love myself, I tolerate
that I'm not dead yet and look forward
to tolerating my breath
as long as the candle in my heart's
into wax and then I want
to be happy for all of eternity
that I need not ever again express an opinion
on Proposition Six or feel dirty
because I couldn't resist
telling you that skirt
and that flame thrower clash.
An acronym which by any other name is a sore
On the way to D.C., we drove by the NRA—
which stands for Nietzsche Read Aeschylus—
it's off 66 and glass box ugly, architecture
was killed or at least wounded by capitalism,
which is ironic, money being the primary reason
the NRA—which stands for Narcissistic
Rationalization Association—exists, I waved
and then it was gone and I didn't think
about the NRA—which stands for Nebulous Reality
Adaptations—until we visited Lincoln,
who was shot, you might recall, not far
from where he was turned to stone, though maybe
you don't recall, we Americans aren't big
on history, or vegemite sandwiches,
or gun laws, visited in the morning
when no one was there, before we'd begun
slipping in and out of the various Smithsonian's
for free, going from space travel to dinosaurs
to Degas, the Mall is democratic
in its seduction of our minds, and I thought
of Booth and how the NRA—which stands for Never
Reasonably Accountable—would say,
If only Mrs. Lincoln had been packing,
then got back to admiring the man in the chair,
and the sculptor who made him so big,
and Pickens County, Georgia, for producing
such lovely marble, and even the NRA,
for that matter—which stands for
National Ritual Absolution—is inspiring
the way a great white shark is, the NRA—
which stands for National Racial Attenuation—
is a great white shark, never sleeping,
always eating, always ready to defend
the right of certain people to die
November 8, 2016
Now I see the damage an earthquake does
to faces—something falls out—
whatever struts there are in our smiles
are knocked away—eyes pace
in the head—there's this taste of plaster
in everything I say and the crunch of bones
in everything said to me—but as much language
as we bring to ruins, a week in, it remains
a startled life of kindling—
I'm still putting an ear to the ground
to autopsy the rumble so I can hear it coming
retroactively and not be here at all,
if that makes sense and you too
are human—but at least I've begun
picking up old books and holding each one
ridiculously like a child in my arms—
begun saying goodbye to the crushed bed
and window and sock—to imagine rubble
as loam—as when someone
you love dies, and you dream them
twice as tall and eight times as often
bending to your ear and kissing
the tip of it like a leaf finding its way
to a stream—though there's the small gift
that mirrors are shattered, and the shock
to our self-regard forces us to look
for ourselves in each others' eyes—
and as much as we struggle
to inventory the harm, the only true list
of what we've lost is what we'll build
My super power is the thought, Eve should be in my arms
when she's afraid, and there she is, safe, full of bones
and blood and going nowhere if I have anything
to say about it. Vice versa applies when I'm afraid,
this is our pact, that we'll hold each other
before we hold a door or gun, feather or piece
of a star, if we're ever lucky enough to be walking along
and trip over a discarded chunk of heaven.
I can also make anything below eight thousand pounds
levitate, but in comparison, that power is whimsical
and irrelevant to my emotional makeup, I can take or leave
making things float and fly, but I can't leave Eve.
My whole life has been an argument with the saying,
You're born alone and you die alone, as I suspect
my mother was there, otherwise, why has she taken credit
for the melding of my spirit and flesh, if we go
with the old-school notion of human beings
as a combo pack of soul and guts. You're born
into a relay race of affection if you're lucky, handed
from cherishing to cherishing and likewise
carry others as far as you can, until they ask
to be set down or you get tired, and then,
after a long struggle or just a few seconds
of looking at a donkey in a field eating alfalfa,
you die. There are other sequences, of course—
I'm exhausted, not exhaustive—but I'm pretty sure
I've made my point or at least acted convincingly
like I have one, though I'm not sure of much.
Does this sound familiar: one day, I found myself
looking in a mirror and thinking, Well I guess I'm you,
after which I went at the list someone put in my hand,
crossing items off only to have them appear again,
suggesting that the people who say It's a process
aren't just annoying but smug and we should ask them
to leave the pool. With thrashing this deeply
at the core of the endeavor, clinging
and being clung to aren't just romantic,
they're what static has been telling us to do,
and I refuse to ignore the physical laws of the universe,
especially the one about the Conversation
of Matter—that everything is speaking to us
all the time, we're just too busy to listen.
You don't remember that one from school?
Maybe you were absent or absent minded that day,
or it was wrongly presented as the Conservation
of Matter, that misguided notion that energy
is neither created or destroyed. I've created
a shit-ton of energy with Eve, that's a British measure
equal to 2,300 pounds, and plan to keep on
making this stuff up as we go, the going
being the most important part of any journey
or think piece or life, this thing I find myself
in or of, needing or kneading or both, be it desire
or bread I'm after, the love of a good woman
or bad star, as long as there's light,
I'm going to stand here clinging to the feet
of my shadow, and in the dark, hold its place,
as I would for any stranger in any line.
Elections have consequences
and confetti on one side, not the other
Suddenly I'm surrounded by republicans.
The president. Congress. The senate.
Three quarters of the governors
and state legislatures are red.
I kissed my wife last night
and she tasted like Richard Nixon.
The country's more republican
than I am Bob. I'm all Bob
in one sense, but in another,
I'm half Virginia and half Hershel,
so the math checks out. So what becomes
of checks and balances now?
Imagine asking yourself,
Do you think my ideas are brilliant
or merely inspired?
Republicans will be able to drill
for oil in my bedroom if they want.
Who'll stop them—me? Marcel Marceau?
Buddha? That guy's too chubby
and fictitious. But now they've done it—
the poets are mad. This means
the painters are furious
at having to listen to the poets.
Soon people who sell art supplies
will be livid that the painters
spend so much time hiding from the poets
and not painting color field portraits
of nudes. But how do you paint
a color field portrait of a nude?
O look—I just got distracted
by my own poem. I begin to understand
why liberals are out of power.
Republicans don't wonder
how to paint color field portraits
of nudes. They recognize
a trick question when they are one.
They see the chance to tell women
what to do with their babies
and take it. They know it's finally time
to give the long-suffering rich
the hand-job of a tax break. But what
am I really saying?
I guess that I'm at a loss
for a rudder, as it requires
first and foremost a boat,
and I am what technically
is referred to as drowning. Or this
isn't over by any means necessary
measures will be taken as a whole
the center will not hold me closer
tiny dancer in the dark-
ness falls on those who don't
check their flashlight batteries
first, everyone check
your flashlight batteries first
and then repeat after me—
America is the greatest
and messiest country
because whoever wants to be
one of us gets to be
on the team. Did I just say
suck your left-leaning thumb
one more week and then
get back to work? No,
I did not. Two days, tops.
In 2032, I try to explain 2016
White men were scared.
The clerks selling them Slurpees
wore turbans or spoke Spanish. Having complained
for decades about moochers on food stamps,
many of them were moochers on food stamps.
A wave of foreclosures sent hundreds
of thousands of families
into apartments full of Chinese drywall
laced with formaldehyde. Beyoncé
was more famous than Faith Hill.
The most common job for a white guy
who didn't go to college
was driving something somewhere
for someone else to buy. Imagine
what the idea of driverless cars
did to that guy's sleep. The world was turning
more black and brown. More expensive
and black and brown and urban
and black and brown and complicated
with robots and cell phones and drones
and black and brown. Women were saying,
I can do that. I can lift that, write that,
invent that, cure that. Women
were pouring in over the transom
and through the clouds. White men
had been the stars of the show.
The ticket to the big dance
was being a white guy
and it was all slipping away.
So one last time, white men said,
This is ours. This land is ours.
They voted for a libido.
For a mouth.
They voted for bragging.
They saw narcissism and voted
for the bright shiny ego
on a hill.
Fortunately I used to play hockey
so I had automatic Canadian citizenship.
I moved to Montreal.
I opened a coffee shop
not far from Cirque du Soleil.
I learned French so I could be polite
in two languages.
Time passed. The more
black and brown people
became even more more
black and brown people
mixed with white people
mixed with everyone's love of salsa.
People started putting salsa
on everything. Pizza. X-ray results.
Communion hosts. So I moved back
and you were born in the united
United States. If you think of democracy
as the people getting their way, sometimes
that way is crazy: what you've read
is true—we elected a president
who bragged that he could touch
a woman's vagina without asking.
He even put that on official
White House stationary:
President Donald Trump:
Touching Your Daughter's Pussies
Whenever I Want For Over Thirty Years.
Don't let anyone tell you America
didn't invent him. We did.
And the next time people think
nothing like that could ever happen,
we'll do it again.
I like to think I have a wing
inside myself, and if a wing,
that I've swallowed Icarus whole,
wax and all, in the moment
before the sun treats him
as an equal. There's a poem about him
I love about a painting about him
I plan to stand before
before I die, flapping my arms
until the docent comes over
in his sturdy shoes and holds a mirror
so I can touch-up my lipstick
before kissing the splash Icarus made
in the ocean going home. I have
all these plans to make plans
and all these desires to be brave
about the fall awaiting us all,
but I never quite get there,
like a man trying to leap
out of his tracks in snow. When
he lands, the first person
to welcome him back to Earth
looks so much like the person
he tried to leave behind,
that he leaps again, and spends
half of the rest of his life
landing, half in the air.
The point of life
is to go out and put my arms
around a horse. While it might appear
from the road I'm cheating
on my wife, I'm cheating
at not being sad that I'm a person
by holding the pulse of a horse
against my ear. I've also rested a cloud
against my ear at the top of a mountain,
and the bottom of a mountain
against my ear by laying down
and listening for the Earth
grinding its teeth. I usually
bring a carrot I pulled up myself
from where it was hiding in the ground,
the horse always eats the carrot
I usually bring, this is certainly
almost certainty in a world famous
for making up its mind every second
who lives and dies, who looks good
in plaid or in the back of a squad car,
crying. The owner of the horse
doesn't know I've stolen her dew
on my pants or kissed her horse's neck
while wind stirs the shadows of grass,
I don't know if I flew as a boy
on the horse outside the grocery store
my mother always let me ride,
she'd put a coin in and go shop
and the horse would try hard
to run away and set both of us free:
when it couldn't, I'd settle
for finding my mother a little later
holding a can of something
trying to keep us alive.
I'd like the woman who owns the horse
and my mother, who'll always
have dibs on me, to meet.
While they talk, the horse and I
will continue our thought experiment:
if a man only seems himself
clearly in the brown mirror
of a horse's eyes, is he reborn
every time she blinks?
The dichotomy lobotomy
In the old argument
over left versus right, nature
versus rapture, nurture
versus murmur, bullet
versus ballot, ballot
versus mallet, power
versus sharing, money
versus gimme gimme gimme, screaming
versus what did you say,
I try to listen to both sides
of the wind as I pedal my bike
up a mountain to see
what I can see. Which is trees,
mostly. Trees up close
and in the distance, trees.
Green here and green there
and green green green
between. All under a hat
of blue sky. Versus, hearses, curses:
nothing good rhymes
with versus. Nurses, I guess.
Nurses with purses.
I was wrong. Humility
versus humidity. Ears
versus jeers. Love
is to livid
as kissing is
to pissing on. Middle ground
versus middle finger.
Diode Editions Feature
5x5: Diode Poets in Conversation
On July 9th, the Houston Chronicle ran a story entitled, “In a violent week, Americans turns to Poetry.” It’s not just Americans who seek solace in poetry, of course, but the essence of the article resonated for me, and frankly gave me a way to approach this preface, something I’ve been struggling with. I can’t shake the feeling that writing about Diode’s new site design, or our book contests, seems vulgar when there’s so much else to say. The thing is I don’t have the ability to say anything at this moment. Perhaps you are struggling in the same way. I want to say something about violence, about racism, something clear. I want to say something disarming, compelling, beautiful. But I can’t. Not yet. Maybe never. Saying anything else feels frivolous. And this speaks to the heart of the Houston Chronicle piece. The article reported that Twitter users were sharing poetry in the wake of violence, and reprinted some of the poems that have been shared. When we are shocked mute, stunned into silence or incoherence, poetry can give voice to our outrage, our despair, our horror; it can speak our grief, our exhaustion, our heartbreak. It speaks to us and for us until we can add our own voices loudly, than louder still, to its overarching refrain: enough.
Enough. Enough. Enough.
I am grateful that we turn to poetry, and that poetry turns back to us. I am grateful that Diode allows us, me, Law Alsobrook and Jeff Lodge to share these poems with you. We hope you find solace in them. We hope they speak to you, and that they help you speak.
And finally, I leave this with you. This poem appeared in Diode 8.1. Thank you Bob Hicok for speaking to me, for me.
Woke to this on Google: another black man
cop-shot. He was already on the ground.
I didn’t read why because there’s always
a reason. He had a gun gun or a toy gun
or a hand that looked like it might have once
been or held a gun. He was on crack or PCP
or vitamins. He was too big, too powerful,
too feral for three cops, six cops, X cops
to control. It was dark and he was dark.
It was sunny and he was dark. Every time
a cop kills a black man—whether the cop
is brown or black or white—the killing
is white. I am killing these men and want me
to stop. If you’re listening to yourself
write this poem, know the world
knows who we are. I’ll spread my hand
across your heart, our heart, so you’ll feel
it’s a friend asking, How do you want to live?
But please—don’t keep looking like me
and saying this is justice. This is hunting.
E. Kristin Anderson
Lisa Marie Brodsky
Gerald L. Coleman
Darren C. Demaree
Jennifer Kwon Dobbs
Jeannine Hall Gailey
Ed Bok Lee
Sue Fagalde Lick
Amy & Doug McNamara
Diane K. Martin
Wendy C. Ortiz
Lee Ann Roripaugh
Terrell Jamal Terry
Ellen Doré Watson
Diode Interviews George Abraham