For Okla Elliott

Elegy for the poems lost
~for Okla Elliott

I did not know you and I never will.
Why must breath whittle itself
from the bark of broken dreams
into a quiet fist, holding nothing?

Is this what it means to be tiny,
temporary as a ribbon of light
fluttering across the water?
In the fiber optic ether, they whisper

untruths and vindications,
a eulogy for unfinished works
and the cruel, callous benevolence
of a universe robbing the night,

silencing heartbeats, silencing songs,
drumbeats, the metrical enunciations
of tongues flicking against teeth,
a guitar pick placed perfectly

through three stings in the neck
of a guitar never to be played again,
its cherry-scented case unlatched
at auction, and then museum,

beneath glass and filtered light,
they’ll come from miles
to wonder at the source of magic
and words like timpani behind their eyes,

it’s the common music of lustful love,
threaded and stitched
through every palm, every throat
crying to be heard and held,

held until morning
removes all misconception
about permanence of the dark,
something the insomniacs will never learn.

Inaugural poem for Donald J. Trump

For the America that could have been
~inaugural poem for Donald J. Trump

When I piss in the shower,
I piss for America,
for a world without water
and a body nearly too tired to stand.

Somewhere an entire city boils,
spooning their showers
from a hissing toilet tank.

When I jerk off at work,
I jerk off for America,
watching my semen like hot snot
slide its way into the mouth
of a white porcelain sink.

This is true happiness,
job security like a throbbing hard-on
begging to be stroked
while the homeless shoplift
bottles of mouthwash
to chug themselves into the hospital.

I order my cheeseburger medium well.
I order my cheeseburger for America,
an America of FDA-approved cancer,
and reality TV politicians,
movie star presidents,
where you can add “gate” to the end of anything.

I welcome my labored breath,
the coming numbness
of hemispherical lightning,
being fed through a tube.

I welcome the odor of the hoarders
and their living room of pungent chaotic comforts
that will become my life of isolationism
and hermit crab-like skittishness.

I will become a nicotine patch.
I will become my favorite NFL logo.
I will become the half-eaten doughnut
left in the box at the AA meeting.
I will become the opposite of content,
wrapped in a trauma blanket,
rustling like a pile of leaves
with something hidden underneath.

America, when I shriek, I shriek for thee.

Poem written on Christmas Eve

Hope is a bird reborn
~for Maggie Smith

Fitting that the sky stays muted today
that shade of tombstone gray
where the light seems to strike and die
like a bird against the glass
of a window it thought was just more sky

I’m at that window
searching the scenery for clues
that the world isn’t ending
I’m at that window
wishing I was anything else
maybe the squirrel hunched on my deck railing
scratching a frantic itch
in its ribs
like that is all that matters
and if I opened the door
and shouted “we are all going to die!”
it would just bolt through the crisp leaves
and find another place
to scratch its itch in peace

Somehow things continue
outside the realm of Twitter
and FBI conspiracies
reciting the word “emails”
ad infinitum

Somehow the small magics
of flight and song and solstice
continue to work their physics
oblivious to protests
and the promise
of a new nuclear arms race

Somehow people are still sharing
Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones”
like passing a heart
grown in a petri dish
from hand to trembling hand
and remembering
the ones that beat inside them

I stumbled across her other-worldly eyes today
and drew a sharp breath
that such a shade of blue
could still blaze a path
out of the hopeless ether of winter
and find me
stop me in my tracks
make me believe in poetry again
and its prophets
put here like fire
to warm our hands by
on the coldest days
of seasonal affective disorders
and losing democracy
like a bird of broken bones
twitching in the brittle grass

Do you remember what it felt like
the first time you buried something
the way the light seemed to illuminate
all the wrong things
and odors were all mismatched

a coat smelled like a fireplace
a book held notes of copper and wet dog
your hands were reminders of rock and dry dirt
the powder of gravel rising up like steam
from a passing car
carried the scent of a lake turning
a cricket kept and crushed in the palm
a jar opened to expose
the dried husks of once vibrant beauties

Everything is wrong
except the notion
of reincarnation
in the phases of the moon
that even as men with flat-black stares
line up groups of people before their barrels
where the earth breaks away
like a mouth ready to swallow
there remains something unending
and unknowable
beyond our eyelids
every time they close
and right now a bird’s beak
is just cracking its way
free of its speckled shell

Another Standing Rock poem, reposted

Dakota

How beautiful must the world be
to make me stop and notice
I am a narcissist?
I’m so far away from the plains,
the rolling weeds and sagebrush,
dirt-dry plateaus cracked like ancient faces.
I’m so far away from open fields
stretched equidistant to every inch
of the empty and aubergine horizon;
the sky seems endless as a child’s imagination,
white puffy clouds like floating castles
turning purple and gray along the dust bowl rim,
with rain shaft ropes tethering those
mountainous zeppelins to the Earth.

How beautiful must the world be
to make me care about the future
my children will live to see?
Some hold onto hope like eagle feathers
in their hands, have seen the stars
through a portal of smoke
cloaked in a buffalo’s hide.
They have stood for centuries
at the edge of a graveyard,
watching the white man dig more holes.

How beautiful must the world be
to make me want to live here
inside its nebular womb?
With every breath, the timeline of existence
shrinks backward one step.
In my heart, I could wear a headdress,
I could smell the burnt leaves
wafting like spirits around my skull,
like voices turned to ashes
swirling and sticking to my tongue.
I could sing songs around the fire
in a language I never learned.

How beautiful must the world be
that I shut off these engines of dinosaur teeth,
that I throw my hardhat to the ground
and climb down from my mechanical cage,
that I brush the crushed grit from my jeans
and embrace the joyful tears
streaming down my face
with so many arms around me,
welcoming me home like a long lost son,
turning to stand in line
against something as intangible as time?

How beautiful must the world be
that I admit I’ve always been wrong
about everything I’ve ever believed?
This world must be beautiful,
with its birds, its light-flickered murmurations,
its ponds with surfaces kissed
by hungry fish mouths catching flies.
It’s a beauty that never asks to be observed,
and that is just what makes it
so irreplaceable.

Thanks to New Verse News and James Penha for originally publishing this poem. You can find it here.

Joe Biden Memes as a Poem

Joe Biden, My Hero

I wish Joe Biden would kick Donald Trump’s ass.
You know he wants to.
One haymaker to the jaw and the Ole Orange Fraud
would fold himself like a slinky
made of elbows and knees and fish guts.

Violence isn’t the answer? No!
It’s a crowded stadium rising to its feet
as the referee counts to ten,
each finger a bell going off in your heart,
some primal release, catcalling
to the echoes of thumping bass strings
you once called arteries and veins.

Go ahead and replace “In God We Trust”
with “Joe is the Man” on our currency.
Knock Mt. Rushmore down
and build a castle from the rubble
to house his sacred remains,
the Joesoleum we’ll call it.
America needs a pyramid!

Here he comes, with his aviators on,
Trans-Am engine squealing
like a god of thunder
barely contained
under a waxed black hood,
spewing dust clouds a mile wide
into the sky to signal his arrival
at Standing Rock, where he asks the police
to pull his finger
and then gives them the bird
while screaming
“Happy Thanksgiving, Motherfuckers!”

Smiling like a lunatic,
he hands out bowls of Rocky Road
to the Natives and says,
“Let us eat ice cream and forgive our enemies.”

Joe Biden could do this.
He could tie eagles to his shoes
and fly overseas
to Aleppo, rebuild the city
with nothing but sweat and bare-knuckled braun,
he could talk the warheads into changing
their life’s work,
ask the machine gun to become a seed spreader
and the jihadi to accept peace
over a poker game.
He’d have the Middle East baking each other pies
in less than a week,
come back with a box of expensive cigars.

The homeless crisis? Solved.
He would simply let them live in his garage.
Global Warming? Not a problem.
Joe would lend the sun his shades,
cross his arms,
and wait for Barack
to pat him on the back.

 

 

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For the Standing Rock protesters #NoDAPL

Water Protectors

~to those at Standing Rock, ND

For water, I freeze.
For water, I bleed.
Under this veil of riot shield
and blind eyes turning
away
from history repeating.

For water, I suffer
concussion grenades
For water, my jaw—
bruised and broken,
rubber bullets and graphite batons
barricade and barrage
the flesh
of those willing to stand
where they say do not stand.

Water, bringer of life
how can you belong to anyone?
Water, source of all growth,
my body belongs to you.

See this moment.
See this moment,
and let it change you.

As money cannot be eaten,
oil is not for drinking,
so why is your smile
shiny and black
with that crude
caked and congealing
between your teeth?

For water, I render
my face to the gnashing
of a dog’s barking bite.
For water, I accept
this martyrdom
of a body that history may rewrite
but the Earth knows all secrets
in its silent witnessing.

Remembering Leonard Cohen

Darker
~for Leonard Cohen

You want it darker, let the volcanoes erupt,
darkness is what happens when the stars turn up.
Darkness is what happens when your breath gives up.
America, I write your name
in the fog on the glass,
and watch it turn to tears.

Treaty with the Devil and your food tastes like smoke,
there’s Jesus snapping his fingers
waiting for the punchline in the joke,
but I never said I was funny,
and it’s dangerous to assume things
from people you don’t know.

On the level, I’m not lying when I say it’s bad.
On the level, someone stole what little dignity we had.
Before things get worse, they have to get bad.
Let’s not pretend we’re in control anymore.

Leaving the table with my food still warm,
my stomach has turned
itself into a cigarette burn,
a wound inside me
becoming an invisible scar,
for the rest of my life
I’ll eat nothing but paper.

If I didn’t have your love,
I’d be counting the days
between my mouth
and the barrel of a gun.
I’ve never given Death a kiss,
but soon I’ll suck him off.

Traveling light hits us from every side,
children still ask
for the door to be cracked,
and I’ll always concede
to my child’s palliative panic attacks.

It seemed the better way,
to turn each heart into a fire of protest,
to shoot bottle rockets
into each other’s eyes,
and still hope to catch
the falling sparks from the fuses.

Steer your way clear of the cliff
if you can,
but I’m afraid
half the world is gone
like the moth in your dream
you woke trying to catch.

String reprise / treaty while it’s good
and it’s there for you to sign,
soon enough all that’s left of this life
will be the ash
of the poetry we burned.

cohen

A poem about the end of the world

I wanted to protect you

I wanted to protect you from death
and so I lied
about the boy in the casket
who was anything but sleeping.
I wanted to protect you from violence
and so I bought a gun
to keep beneath my mattress.

To protect you from heartache
I said your Yorkie ran away
after I washed the dirt
from his grave down the drain.
To protect you from adulthood
I hid your gifts in the attic
until Christmas morning,
and took a million photos
of your joyful face
to keep you the same age.

I wanted to protect you from the elements,
the heat, the cold, the rain,
and so, come summer, our AC would run nonstop,
while the winter would fill our lungs with woodsmoke
and my hands with the callused work of cutting.

I wanted to protect you from apathy,
so I nurtured your every whim,
speaking with invisible friends,
naming the grasshoppers you caught in the lawn,
hanging your crude drawings of houses
under magnets on the fridge.

I wanted to protect you from disease,
and so you’re now afraid of needles,
despite my promises of ice cream.
I wanted to protect you from fear
so I said, “Of course, monsters aren’t real.”

I wanted you to be safe,
to know love like a blanket
fresh from the wash,
to know each living thing
as a tooth on a cog, amid the wheels
and gears of a grand machine we’ll never see.

But I was wrong
to try and protect you from this world,
to think you’d never know the itch
and swell of its sting,
something as simple as flesh
serving the purpose of food
for the microcosm beneath.

Poem responding to Colin Kaepernick controversy:

Star-spangled sinner
~for C.K.

O, say can you see the bodies in the streets?
Red planets rising through draped white sheets.
Sold out stadiums still stand and applaud,
still hold hands over pride-swole hearts,
while the homeless hunt half-eat hotdogs
from dumpsters
and beg for change in parking lots.

Is this too preachy for you?
America the beautiful bowl of bloody piss?
America the drone strike bomber of the innocent?
America, where a busted tail light
is a cancer gone undiagnosed.
Where they watch hundreds drown
in capsized boats just off the Turkish coast
and do nothing except turn up their nose.
America, the Christ-like Nation of narcissists.

When were we ever great?
When we split the backs of the blacks we owned?
When we drove the Natives from their homes,
into cages, whiskey bottles and worthless fields?
When we were the first to drop the Bomb?
When we told women they couldn’t decide
if part of themselves should live or die,
who could buy land, who could vote?
When we poisoned our own water supplies
and left the destitute in their slums?

If you want me to stand and sing your song,
give me something to sing for!
The redwoods are burning, soon to be gone.
The tundras are thawing, soon to be gone.
A state of emergency is more than a flood.
America is dying.
Are you still in love?

colin k

Elegy for Gene Wilder on the day of his death

For Gene

Say goodbye to childhood,
Goodbye imagination.
Say goodbye to whimsy
Goodbye, gold ticket sun.

Purple velvet, curly cue grin
mania embodied wide blue eyes
shining like wet silk,
Jack without his candle stick.

Technicolor or black and white,
scenes spilled over with vibrant life,
a dance, a soliloquy, a turn of the cheek,
laughter rushing forward like flooded creek.

Want to change the world?
It’s as easy as lighting a fuse
or a lantern in an unlit room,
as easy as closing your eyes
to the hammers of doom.

For Gilda, for the faces awash in light,
for the ether that swims betwixt our lives,
for the river of silver streaked bone dust chimes
filling our veins with ticking time.

For the children, for the never born,
for the geezers struggling to hold their form,
for the quiet, for the obscene, the uncertain
and the lost, for the dreamers dreaming again.

Say goodbye to childhood,
Goodbye imagination.
Say goodbye to whimsy,
Goodbye gold ticket sun.

gene