Another Gun Control debate

Nature Debates Gun Control

The trees don’t shoot, because the trees are unarmed,
their thin, spiny-limbed fingers foolish and flayed,
fail to form fists and succeed only in fractal whispers
of wind blown through bent and boughed bodies.
The trees are not concerned with mental health,
though victims themselves of axe and flame and saw.

The rivers don’t shoot, because the rivers are unarmed,
their beds worn smooth as glass, leaking dirt like blood
into currents ceaseless as breath from children
sleeping sound in rooms waiting for alarms,
waiting for parents to serve them breakfast
and hand them backpacks like life preservers

as if each new day is a potential drowning
in these rivers, these roads that carry them
away and then carry them back home.
The river is not insane, it has no control
over the bodies it carries, or if these vessels can float.

The oceans don’t shoot because the oceans are unarmed.
These great swallowers of reflection and light,
transparent and yet opaque,
junkyards and toxic waste dumps,
holders of secrets until the end,
the oceans have the power to make us well again
but they won’t.

The mountains don’t shoot, because the mountains
are unarmed, just arrowheads sharp and blunt
shaped from push and pull of Earth,
a force well beyond that of any trigger
with repercussions felt for millennia,
the mountain itself an atom bomb
times ten thousand, a pressure building
to eventual extinction, rendering all these debates
much like all these pistols, rifles, and grenades,
obsolete.

Another mass shooting in America

Prayer to the cosmos

Should every morning carry the weight of survival instinct,
the backpacks being shouldered now
possible body armor, pens and pencils
now mere instruments of self-defense,
the cell phone a witnessing device
and possible conveyor of last words
to loved ones in times of inevitable crisis?

School buses have become potential hearses,
an ambulance but a carrier of bodies
from one panic attack to the next,
a diploma more like a participation trophy
in the obstacle course of a shooting gallery,
as we wring our hands and offer the wind
from our mouths as succor for blue light.

Hear the requiem organ moaning the soundtrack
of another day accompanied by the timpani
that echoes as gunshots down a concrete hallway
and these shrieks like anniversaries
that become monotonous as birthday songs
sung over candles that refuse to blow out,
another wreath on a door, another flag flown half-staff.

Valentine’s Day 1990, the Voyager telescope
looked back and glimpsed a pale blue dot
caught in a ring of stardust and starlight,
a reminder of insignificance and smallness,
like a wedding band in a Holocaust Museum
or a permanent shadow cast on Hiroshima’s wall,
and yet we pray, we pray to infinite space
that the person we love returns home safe.

unremarkable

An unremarkable truth

For the poem, I’d put my teeth in the page,
pretend I’m an apple
with worms in its core
best fed to the hogs
who would eat their own shit to survive.

For the poem, I’ll lay down my cinder block soul
on the bed of crucifixion nails
and wait for my weight
to silence the blood in my ears
always asking for apologies.

For the poem, I’d abandon my friends
to find myself in the valley
where steam rises in the dusk
like mirrored reflections giving up their ghosts
from a lake of icy depths
incapable of holding such fiery extinctions.

For the poem, I will lie to myself
about my own integrity,
it’s the only way to prevent my suicide,
the shadow of the noose
is a shackle, an eclipse, a doorway
closing around my throat.

For the poem, I’d sacrifice so many lives,
so many splintered paths
tree roots, the veins of bodies
each feeding different versions of the self
in a future I’ll never see,
cut off from my footsteps
with every choice of line break and verse.

For the poem, I will suffer anonymity,
just another voice unheard,
another unremarkable infant
birthed into a population of unremarkable infants,
each one told
they are more important than the rest.

deforestation

Death knell

Logging crews turn forests into graveyards
of tree stump tombstones, their markers
nameless and imperfect, tilted and broken
among the barren and brown landscape
dozer tread-tracked earth and splintered
discarded limbs left to gray and decay
like scattered remains of bombing victims
in a war-zone they once called their home.

So much for the soft serenity found in footsteps
among the shed and yellowed pine needles,
so much for intermittent shadows
and the disorienting pleasures of an upward gaze
through many-fingered flora filtering light
like so many interwoven DNA strands
building their ladders to the sun.

Best to keep driving until the madness subsides
and the silence returns its dopamine rush,
the rarity of a woodland left mostly untouched
where you can spend an hour
collecting images for a poem here or there,
crouched beside a creek bed
listening to water trickle down stair step stones
and through root-channeled harpsichord hands
playing the songs of calming quiet.

I’m here among the foot-trampled paths,
the over-grown fanning ferns
and the hidden heartbeats that scamper
before they can be seen
through the underbrush,
but I am also there
in the graveyard, my fingertips tracing
the concentric rings of the fallen,
asking forgiveness and permission
for a fate that takes
the same toll in all things,
its pace quickening.

Ode to a factory town

Longview

In the industrial towns you’ll drive past
rivers green as moss
creeping up the crevices
of every manmade thing,
every stone-jutted hillside
and tree so laden with that lush verdant carpet
its limbs droop down with weight
like alien fingers probing
scientifically for proof
of their own existence.

The paper mills chew their sawed trunks
into pulp that steams
in the chill damp dark,
and emits a stench
most akin to boiled cabbage
when it rains
and traps the scent
closer to the earth.

Some days it’s difficult to tell
where the rising smoke
from the slate gray chimneys
comes to its end, and where the clouds
begin, so many swollen vessels
competing for space
on the ever shifting skyline,
it’d be beautiful if not so obscene.

These testaments of human progress,
factories, plants, wonders
of the mechanical age,
they light up like spaceships
from some Spielbergian dream
where strange visitors
make friends with troubled kids
then leave them awestruck
and staring after stars
just as the music’s crescendo
begins its inevitable fade.

night rider

night rider

white water falling from black jagged rocks,
trickles into thin rivulets
like pale fingers
stroking a consensual body
and these trees lean over, observant.

I look at my hands and feel detached
from the sensation of touch,
my mind unable to flex a fist
and these appendages moving
independent of my thoughts.

shadows criss-cross every road
in conjunction and relative
to location of the sun,
winking between the branches
becoming silhouettes, inverse lightning.

at night, the frogs are awake
and cacophonous, white noise,
an engine left to idle
where the air rests like a damp cloth
on my forehead to calm my nerves.

there’s the moon oblivious to its phases,
to its many faces,
dropping its white halo
into the mist and fog,
creeping parade of ghostly caravans.

my mind is free again
to observe the minutiae
of light’s give and take
among the pine needles
and foamy splashes along river’s edge.

I’ll purchases hiking boots
and a new guitar
like a premonition
of life’s continuance
that the mountain refuses to notice.

On Charles Manson’s death

When it is wrong to mourn the dead
~after Charles Manson’s death

Even forgiveness has its limits,
ask the mothers, ask the fathers,
ask the brothers and sisters
of the dead, the voices stilled
in the throats of the young,
the beautiful faces laid to rest
before their smiles drew lines
around happy mouths.

Tonight, there are monsters
crawling into heaven
with knives between their teeth.
There are madmen convincing angels
to carve X’s into their flesh.
There are wild-eyed demagogues
telling children they worship false gods,
and to burn is to live free
like vibrating cells exposed
to catalytic chemicals.

What is a cult, except the pinnacle of belief?
To smell the blood-soaked carpet
and feel unafraid of ghosts
though those ghosts carry chains
linked to the rusty cage of rage?
This martyrdom is not self-aware.
It’s a false flag, an insect
made tyrant, made giant
under the magnified lens
of historical inaccuracy.

I do not take joy or pleasure
from the texture of soot and ash
rubbed between the fingers
of an ambivalent universe,
just more smoke in my eyes
as these senseless candles scorch
and smolder their wicks,
leaving only that fragrant filament
of death, and a black cloud
billowing like a distant forest fire
waiting for the wind to bring it closer,
close enough to feel the heat
of that hungry thing that waits
for all of us in time.

Poem for gun lovers

Nothing that could be done

I remember my first paper cut,

when I was just four years old,

I went to the school nurse

for some kind of care, maybe just a band-aid

or the warm reassuring smile

of an adult who understood the world,

but instead she said, with her face so grim,

there’s just nothing to be done.

Let it bleed, she told me,

these things heal themselves.

And I looked at the red drops

like breadcrumbs shining

my way back to class,

stark constellations so bold and dark

against the sterile white tile,

and I believed her.


Again, in middle school, I fell,

my hands still stinking of rust and steel

from gripping swing set chains so tight

the links left white indentations

in my palms that flamed red upon release,

and the sound of my wrist snapping

was that of a dried twig

under the foot of a careless hunter

spooking away his prey.

My mother took me to the doctor

where they didn’t even bother with an X-ray,

just again with their go-to phrase,

Nothing to be done, broken bones mend

with time and the soothing song of the wind,

so the rest of my life I lived

with a crooked arm I could not use

except as a crude tool for propping up my face,

but my belief in medicine remained unchanged.


I sat at my mother’s bedside

and listened to the way her lungs

struggled like refugee swimmers

whose life vests were made

to absorb the ocean instead of float,

and I pleaded to the specialists,

I pleaded to the surgeons

with their walls full of degrees,

their photo albums full

of pristine family portraits

with every grin warm as a sun

meant to go on for endless days,

their manicured hands perfect

and poised as if penmanship

were their own secret language

of prayer, as if it were a privilege

to hold a clipboard and scribble fates

so different from their own,

and they said it again and again

like the mantra of the damned,

I’m sorry son, cancer is just a gun,

and I’m afraid there’s simply nothing,

nothing to be done. 

My feminism

My feminism

You didn’t ask for these words,

but neither did I. 

My brain is tattooed with memories

even a laser could not remove.

My mother dragged from my room.

My sister put back in her bed,

his belt buckle still open

and clinking like a monster’s teeth,

a monster made of hairpins and bottle caps.


Here is his fist. Here is the bruise.

Here are the bruises you cannot see,

living inside me like incessant ocean waves.


I feel like my face lives behind your face,

a face you’ve carved out of shadows and malice,

a face you created with your fingertips

in your blindness, searching for your father

or your rapist, or your college boyfriend

who let you drink too much

on a Thursday so you wouldn’t remember

where you left your panties.


I am not that face. I am the face of my eight year old self,

boiling with rage after a stranger

smacked my sister on the school bus,

the stranger who wore a black eye for weeks after

only because I was too young

to break his bones, and a grownup

rushed from her trailer to pull us apart before I could

make his mouth fill with blood.


I’m the boy chased from the playground

day after day, tripping over my own feet,

and being kicked by the rough boot heels

of those with a ferocity outpacing their growth spurts.


I’m the man becoming a boy becoming a man,

standing at the edge of personhood

and wondering where to step,

which way leads to the abyss

and which way leads to the light

that might illuminate these futures

and show my face to the world. 

Someday I’ll love Jay Sizemore

Someday I will love Jay Sizemore

Forty years goes by before you are ready
and then you’re married with two cats and a dog,
a mortgage and two car payments
and two spare bedrooms to park the boxes
and the books and the guitars and the poster tubes
filled with old drawings from those days
before arthritis and an elbow like a rusty trap.

Your mother spent the night in the ER
coughing up blood
and didn’t tell you until later in the week
like a birthday card filled with
someone else’s handwriting
arriving a month late, because it went to
the wrong address in another state,
as if to say, these will never reach you in time
where you are going, and while you are away
the people you love will become
doppelgangers of the people you loved.

But isn’t this the age of video chat
and the era of the private prison
where our lives have become slaves
to the technology of interconnectivity?
Isn’t this the right time to live stream
your every emotional breakdown?
It’s like reinventing something
as sacrosanct as the rain.

For as long as I can remember
I’ve been in some kind of pain,
painting pictures with words
about the reasons a person can never
feel whole and wholly themselves,
a scent of decay creeping into
every new thing, and did you know
old books collect tiny insects
to create that odor you love so much?

I’m finding my way like a duckling
dropped down a drain
must discover that instinctual drive
to navigate north until it hears the cries
of those lost and familiar voices
that have been calling him home
since before he knew
what the voices of his family
sounded like on the wind.