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.

The apology you’ve wanted

The white apology

I’m sorry that you need to hear it,
sorry that history favored
the first to wield the sword
the first to encase black powder
in shiny brass and steel,
but this was not my doing.
I wasn’t there on the ships,
in the moorings, on the fields
of swaying grass and gut,
or surely I would have died
shitting my pants with fear.

I’m sorry that history allowed it,
allowed the oil tycoons and soft-palmed
narcissists to trade metal and paper
for all the world and all persons within it,
to layer scar tissue on the backs and the wrists
and the inner thighs of objects
they saw as objects instead of lives.

I’m sorry Jesus was invented
Mohammed was enshrined
Joseph Smith was batshit insane,
and I’m sorry so many believed.
I’m sorry for the laws
written on the faces of such belief.
I’m sorry superstitions still carry
so much currency
like buckets drawn up from wells
filled with blood instead of water,
and I’m sorry those wells
seem to have no bottom.

In low-lit bedrooms since the beginning of time
when a bedroom was nothing but smoke
caked into bedrock,
I’m sorry men of all colors and creeds
could get what they wanted without a fight,
before aluminum canned beer
was poured into Solo cups,
before fathers and Fathers
waited for the mothers to be out of town,
before grades and jobs and debts
became levers and scissors
on clothing and legs
pried so easily apart.

I wasn’t there, but yes it was me,
me too, me too, me too,
for not being there to stop it,
to raise my voice and do my part
to end the cycle of complicity
in the carousel of consent and discontent.
I’m guilty and I shoulder the blame
of an entire history I had no place in
other than sharing this similar skin,
this generic face, this entitled life
of accepting my body for what it is.

I’ve said the word nigger with no remorse.
I’ve called you cunt and fantasized
about fucking you like a receptacle
for lust instead of love
like so many starlets on display online.
I’ve said the word faggot and dike
as if it were a punchline
in a joke everyone already knew.
I’ve been a child in a world
made in my image
and I grew to hate myself anyway
as I grew to see past these shells.
Forgive me, I know not what I do,
and though I never hurt you
as a straight white man,
I hope it gives you some comfort
to hear someone admit their fault
for all the pain they know you’ve felt.
Forgive me. Please, forgive me,
then let me burn in hell.

Editors are not your friends

The editor was never your friend

Once, twice, published by Rattle,
not even the magazine,
just the Poets Respond blog,
still paid one hundred bucks,
and I considered this
my greatest literary achievement
having persisted for several years
until Timothy Green said he loved
something I had written.

But Timothy Green was never my friend,
though I defended him from accusations
of racism, of misogyny, of being an asshole,
Timothy Green was never my friend.

He denies global warming,
so why should I care?
He probably voted for Trump,
so why should I care?
Maybe he is indeed everything
people accuse him of being,
how should I know?
I was just defending someone
I considered to be a friend,
but when the chips came down
I should not have expected the same.

His favorite poet was a woman
he probably wanted to fuck,
so he sent her chapbook
to every subscriber.
When I had an argument with her
and she called me misogynist,
for not falling in love
on the internet,
he dropped me like a bag of rocks
into the river of the accused
where he fished regularly
for more drama-tinged poets
to drive the dialogue and currency
of more subscription clicks.

Timothy Green was never my friend,
and that is fine with me,
but people still hold that over my head
like a piano ready to drop,
just as they hold it over his head
like the billy club engraved
with jealous names.

Hello, Jesus. Hello, Peter.
Hello, Binders Full of Women.
Hello, Rachel. Hello, Leza.
Hello, Heather. Hello, long list
of bitches who wish
to stand on each others backs
for the sunlit warmth
of attention on your faces.

I have not murdered anyone.
I have not raped anyone.
I have not even held a grudge
for longer than a week.
Perhaps if I had, I could have
won the Rattle Chapbook Prize,
or at least made it into print
to become one of the few
the editor used as proof
of his egalitarian tastes,
while the idiots clamored
to stab themselves in their throats
with the razor
they fashioned from my very name.

Traveling poem

Migration

I drove across the United States
with my dog in the backseat
sometimes putting his nose
out the window I rolled down
so he could smell the intricacies
of each landscape we passed
like a customer wafting perfume cards
in some ephemeral beauty salon.

Here is a highway covered with soot
and tire-blackened snow along its edges.
Here is a cleft shorn and blasted
through this mountain to make way for our
future ambivalence to its rocky cliffs
and its hanging curtains of fanged and frozen teeth.
Here is a desolate moonscape
of flat tilled earth stretched to every horizon
broken only by the gray boards
of a dilapidated barn storing god-knows-what
in the middle of so much nothing.

Everywhere electrical wires
spanning pole to crooked pole
linking years upon years
of forgotten voices and tragedies yet to be,
linking travelers like pushpins
in a map of destinations connected with strings.
This road once used by serial killers
and hitchhikers and preachers and pioneers.
This road once used by carnivals of nomads
by the broken and the hopeful
by the faithful and the damned.
This road littered with beer cans
and dead dogs and empty shopping bags.

Once we passed a dump truck
hoisting up a deer carcass
with a pulley and steel cables,
its bed already full of twisted and rotting bodies,
brown and white fur matted with splotches
of that bright red liquid life
we all take for granted
for staying
trapped beneath our skin.