NaPoWriMo Poem 4: Small Town Hope

Death in a small town

Past the river, past the bridge
past the flaking green paint
pockmarked with rust,
past the sign that says
past the graffitied overpass
spray painted with names
and illegible gangbanger tags,
past smokestacks billowing
pillars of dissipating gray vapor dust,
past the homeless hitchhiker,
his shouldered bag of all that he owns,
his dirt-streaked thumb a prayer
to a weather vane, to a long-necked bottle,
to a cushion between his body
and the concrete beneath his body,
past the used car lot selling years
scrawled in white chalk
across windshields
like promises of life-expectancy
to a world occupied by ghosts,
past the lines of railway cars
loaded with wood pulp and tar,
past the flowering trees of white and pink,
past the skeleton hands of petrified bark,
past the dog park empty of dogs
and the flickering light
of the fast food marquees,
past the boarded windows
of the last remaining video store,
past the woman alone in the street
with a rainbow umbrella
and a stainless steel cane,
past the potholed side roads
and the dim alleyways caked with grit,
past the parking lots crowded
with loose paper and decrepit RV’s
and black birds hopping fearless
between sets of shuffling feet,
see, they’re still lamps buzzing to life
in the bluing calm of dusk,
still light amongst the shadows
not swallowed up, still estranged companions
finding comfort
in the simplicity of a hug.

Half a life NaPoWriMo #2

On turning 40

Half my life spent in a retail box,
the other half searching for a way out.

Half my life spent praying to nothing,
the other half disbelieving myself.

I carry this collection of failures
like a Fibonacci snail shell,

a haunted home for past voices
most of them my own,

a drowning whisper of ocean
in this isolation chamber mind.

So much time spent rebuilding
that which doesn’t exist,

this idea of the human heart
like a fragile tinderbox

where the secrets are kept.
What am I but I leaking vessel?

What is this but an education
without end? It’s never in sight

though I convince myself otherwise,
feel the pendulum shift

as I step over the fulcrum
of this metaphysical seesaw.

I’m moving easier now,
picking up speed,

with this weight on my shoulders
carrying me faster forward.

Ode to a shoplifter

Ode to a shoplifter

You give yourself away,
swivel-necked and mercurial,
a body that vibrates
like an animated scribble
just outside the coloring lines.

Even when at practiced ease,
there is a sense of paranoia,
a stench of marijuana smoke
clinging to a camouflage coat,
or something wilder underneath.

You’re trying too hard
to relax, to be just another wallet
folded and stored away
in the pocket of a passerby
looking for the easiest possible path.

The aura of desperation
glows like iridium on your skin,
it’s a sheen of unclean dew,
an irritant caught in your shoe
that will never be found.

Still, you’re a dancer with shadows,
moving between the aisles
like a marked card
in the deck of a magician,
pulled from the bottom again and again.

It’s a kind of music
that wants to be touched,
this cat and mouse game with luck,
it’s worth it for the adrenaline rush,
emerging through those automated doors

unwatched and for just a moment


Funeral for a firearm

We’ve had a funeral for facts,
an unceremonious good-bye
to ways of measured truth
like lives held in teaspoons.

We’ve had a funeral for children,
a self-fulfilling prophecy
of profits killing kids over and over again
and politicians cashing the checks.

We’ve had funerals for friends
from work, from class, from church,
from the naval yard, from everywhere USA
where people carry death like spare change.

We’ve had a funeral for democracy,
electing stars of reality TV to play their roles
in high-back leather chairs
while leaving bloody fingerprints on every door.

We’ve had a funeral for decency,
choosing comfort food over truth
to keep a small, singular orbit
of revolving warmth inside such fragile cells.

We’ve had funerals for our selves,
sleeping with enemies under our pillows,
sleeping with enemies under our skins,
choosing to exist inside a currency of sins.

These illusions are self-evident,
to those with eyes open wide,
we’ve spent less time mourning these lives
than worshiping the source of the crimes.

Always time for hating yourself

Lunar phase

so the moon is a sliver
against the turquoise and mango-tinged dusk
mountain ranges gone purple and gold
where the light hits the snow,
the black orb of the illusion,
what’s hidden in shadow can still be seen
just before the sky goes black.

in twilight, I find the darkness
before the darkness can find me,
and pry its skeletal fingers
into my skin like knives
digging around for buckshot
or bullets shaped like my mother’s face.

I want to sing the stars a love song
about the rapture of yoga pants
and summer clothes
but in this age I’d be called sexist
or worse, for daring to admire
women without their consent,
for objectifying shapely buttocks
held in spandex or stretched cotton,
for peeling the thin veil of apple flesh
from the core of my wicked thoughts.

I am an animal surrounded by animals
tying themselves to fenceposts
and then struggling against the ropes
to gnash and spit
inches from each others faces.

just say what you have to say
before time robs your words of their power
and leaves you fingering another dead flower
left in its vase for too long,
the water in the bell end
turned a fetid brown, rancid with decay,
there’s always someone picking fresh bouquets
just as there’s always time
for feeling sorry for yourself.

Among nature again

The truth of a waiting world

Is that another snow-capped peak
rising in the distance
or just cumulus clouds stacked beyond reason,
impossible to discern the difference
looking through a hillside of evergreens.

Even here the hum of highway
persists among the solace of tree and stone,
plots of grass sit occupied by random strangers
and their dogs, intermittent laughter,
the chatter of conversation fragments,
the haggard breaths of joggers
travel like the echoes of bird song,
the cries of the red tail hawk,
the chirps of a chubby squirrel
foraging amid the leaves,
it’s peace, it’s warm sun
on the back of my neck,
interlocking puzzle pieces
of this moment in time,
each passerby a story
independent of my own.

The flowering trees are in full bloom,
bright plumes of pink, white, cornflower blue
popping like fireworks
over the tops of the houses
along the road’s edge,
explosions of color frozen in full spark,
jutting against the sky
like alien manifestations of joy.

I’ve climbed the hills of this dormant volcano
still budding with life, I’ve stared
across the reflections of its reservoirs
and looked out over the descending valleys
where human achievement diminishes
itself from a cityscape to an ant farm,
and I have felt anxiety slip away,
the only threat here the promise
that the universe will keep its secrets hidden,
that every beautiful and dangerous thing
will reach the same unknowable end
and then be unable to reveal its truth
back to the waiting world.

I’ve made my peace

Making peace

No one will read this poem,

but I have made my peace with this

anonymity, the poem does not speak

for me, I speak poems into being.

To the poem, I am god,

a god that expects no worship

for or from his creations.

Poetry has been my ruination,

a blissless martyrdom, a penance

of stigmata and unseen suicide scars.

Poetry has been my weapon

against the demons and dragons

crowding the thoughts out of my skull,

succubae that refuse to be slayed.

I do not expect to be forgiven

though I expose my cheek

and ask to be abused.

I do not expect to be accepted

though I am exhausted

within the reality of zeroes

competing with the ones.

The poems continue to manifest

within me like tumors

that spread malignantly

if not removed. So remove them,

find the silence of a volcanic mountainside

and paint me with your broadest brush,

each stroke obscuring your own reflection.

Give everyone a gun

Armed and conscientious

Give the teachers guns
loaded with gold stars,
give the students guns
loaded with confetti and noise.

Give the politicians guns
loaded with indisputable facts,
give the media guns
loaded with human hunger.

Give the religious guns
loaded with bread and wine,
give the atheists guns
loaded with zeroes and ones.

Give the racists guns
loaded with rainbow light,
give the terrorists guns
loaded with human rights.

Give the film stars guns
loaded with pine cones and water,
give the lonely guns
loaded with glitter and lube.

Give the destitute guns
loaded with thousand dollar bills,
give the corporations guns
loaded with human joy.

Give the military guns
loaded with whoopi cushion farts,
give the pacifists guns
loaded with music and laughter.

Give the children guns
loaded with unrealistic ambition,
give the parents guns
loaded with wet ammunition.

Universe in a nutshell poem for Stephen Hawking

~for Stephen Hawking

What if every life is just an unwinding,
an unraveling thread of spirals,
branching out by years and days and choices
in wider and wider arcs until too large
to be sustained, each person their own
universe, an expanding golden ratio
of Fibonacci arms reaching for other arms
of other universes like brain cells
illuminating electrical clouds of REM sleep.

First born, the spiral is tight and small,
an infant fist closing around a mother’s finger,
but as the child grows the universe unfurls
and something gets lost, old connections fade,
the stars at the center begin their inevitable collapse,
family and friendships become occasional phone calls,
intermittent trips home for funerals or birthdays
or weddings to strangers,
and so the cluster of brightness at everyone’s core
begins to dim, and this we call dying.

If only there was a way to share the light
without sacrifice, to keep every star burning
like a perpetual fission furnace of love,
to hold hot coals in palms without being burned,
to tell every person every day that they are oxygen
and each breath is a flame, each heart essential
to the beat of the next to be named,
perhaps this cycle of expansion unto retraction
could balance itself out, find an equilibrium
where instead of competing for space to grow,
we allow the other to overlap our own
and these entangled galaxies
to become one,
just one set of breathing lungs.

Poem on the day of Stephen Hawking’s death

An ordinary day

Slept until noon because the sun has never been enough
to get me out of my own head, to get me out of bed,
to get me past feeling the opposite of weightless,
and after two cups of coffee, I’m skipping the shower.

It’s overcast and raining just enough to make noise
like an old television left on past midnight
and then it’s opting not to starve to death
and walking the dog once the static fizzles out.

The streets still wet, potholes filled with gray water
or brown water along the unpaved edges,
we could see our breath but breathing felt ordinary
and so, not worth acknowledging more

than birds chattering somewhere overhead, unseen.
I lose myself in tasks I put off longer than I should,
I load the dishwasher, drill holes and hang shelves
twice because I measured wrong, like most things

I am careless when I’m confident. The dog barks
at the vacuum, at the neighbor’s goat, at me
until I feed him and there’s a cat on my chest.
Two beers, a glass of whiskey and I’m buzzy

playing my guitar until my fingers are sore
because I rarely play guitar any more,
so on goes the television for some company
and off go the shoes, into slipshod piles by the door,

Stephen Hawking died today
and I heard about it via text,
a momentary pause among these flourishes
of ordinary perception, refracting around grief

or its absence.