It's all shades of black and white out there
snowing diagonally at dusk, and
the people from the church stand on the
sidewalk where they always do weekends
dishing out warm food and hot soup
to anyone who steps up - the poor -
you might call them.
This scene never seems to change, but the givers seem
warm and joyful, and their church is down the street
so they don't look like they're out doing good works,
they look just like everyone else here doing what they do,
wearing hoods, waiting for buses, walking on slippery sidewalks,
some of them with such quick and searching eyes.
A few blocks later, it's coming down at a greater rate
in bigger flakes and everything is now white
except the cars and the buildings and the people under hoods.
A car goes by on the left headed in the other direction
and I glimpse a broken bicycle somehow attached to its back door,
while to my right a black hooded form lies in the snow white street
on its side, small hands pressed together in between its knees.
Someone on a cell phone stands over the form
from under his hood a human face shows
an earnest plea for emergency services,
and on the sidewalk stand small children, also hooded,
watching, not knowing where to look, trying not to be
swallowed up by the snow coming now horizontally.
I want to say - I love you, but it's really turning to
New England's winter version of shit out here fast,
maybe the best thing to do for all concerned is
watch where I'm going and get the hell off the streets.
It's one of those cold clear nights
good and holy, quiet and still
featuring plenty of moonlight and stars
walking under it for a moment
after the trials and festivities of the day
I remember her asking me
if I even like Christmas
because after fifteen or more spent
together, she never thought I did.
The moon is silent, cold and beautiful
and this moment here, stopping now,
has something to do with what your heart is
and why no one else can see what you mean.
Anxiety doesn't take holidays
everything's overdrawn, unmaintained,
too spread out, and it has now fallen dark
on Christmas Eve, and there are many
things I have to be that seem to give
Joy more than it can handle.
Broken glasses, a meltdown, an aborted, highly anticipated Christmas
Concert - Don't freak out, that's the only rule - and you tell him Don't worry
It takes a life time to master, meanwhile she (Number 1) thinks ghostly fingers
Are changing the settings on her clock radio in the night and the other one
Says slyly that no, he might not see me Saturday, not if the world ends
So you quiz him on his vocabulary and he does pretty well then falls
Asleep listening to Harry Potter tapes for about the five hundredth time
And then the two of you compare notes on the Christmas shopping and plan
The weekend then you drive an hour home, Burt Bacharach is asking you now What do you get when you fall in love?
You're listening into silence half sick with thoughts
of all the things you cannot protect your children from
it's not advisable to go down this path, but there's no alternative,
it's chatter more than thinking really, and your crossed fingers
and clenched jaws, they are really prayer directed to who knows
what or who knows where, but you feel you must direct it on the off chance
it'll be heard and responded to. Let's not forget to celebrate.
Silent and black tonight with everything encased in ice
Remember when winter meant snow?
There's no wind, a blessing keeping the trees from cracking while
Today the funerals for those first graders and their teachers began and
We are arguing about gun laws, mental illness and what do do about it, or
Talking about football as though it matters, but I am remembering
Old friends, thinking that I didn't keep very much of their hearts at all.
It's winter now
sometime before the scheduled
end of the world
and the moon shines
so brightly I cannot
help but love it tonight
and there is a star shining
just above it
a planet more likely which
I cannot name
ignorant but reverent
I stand and see.
Sitting in the dark with heartburn
wondering about dopamine
an open bottle of wine couched in
a running shoe
I'm trying not to think about
the children of Gaza
their silent recriminations
a scolding line of brown and crimson
soft rubber bodies, faces smudged obscene
What must they be thinking?
those with brains still in their heads
staring up at the moon ,
those with eyes remaining ,
a slim and perfect crescent
ground to two sharp points
over watching the streaking F-16s
and the rocket rain
Why do you hate us?
Today something happened
that made me remember
a portion of last night's dream
They are sitting in a van
waiting to converge upon me
and I sense it
I remember why I didn't
want to let her
go to the mall
in the first place
Nightmares continue with eyes open
although there is really no cause for such things,
I mean relatively speaking.
You think madness might offer release
a certain drunken sweetness, for just a moment,
staggering and completely spent
taking in the whirling panorama of everything
smashed, burned, upended
at last, addressed
but that moment,
it was necessary.
The low late afternoon sun
and the beginning of night
winter moving in quietly
under the cover of darkness
slowly, it's a bad time to have
to find a place to house your family
which I don't have to worry about
Don't feel too safe, it's inadvisable,
but know and appreciate it if you've got it, all in all,
it's rare down here
Today we vote, as a people,
but according to the reports,
most of us are getting of our asses
Trick or Treat is not something
he's been very into the last couple of years:
overstimulating, I guess -
it's a lot to process and
well, frankly, that kind of thing
bends reality a little bit, you know?
So we head out for the night
in a new town with a whole bunch of
people we don't know,
and he is the youngest among this
group of masked marauders
dressed as a wizard, close beside me,
holding my hand
...for a moment,
and then he's off and running
leading the group up
every darkened driveway
past skeletons and scarecrows
ghouls and graveyards,
and he never once looked back.
You, the Shit that shot that little girl in the head,
I would like to kill you tonight with my own hands
asking you through clenched teeth, spit and red rage
if your prophet really has no sense of humor or
if it's just your own unquenchable sense of inferiority
that makes you worship death and bully the small,
beating out of you the reason why your tyrant god
thirsts for the tears of innocents, the blood of children.
You holy warring shithead...
You are less than human:
that thought blossoms in my reptile brain
the seed deftly planted with the perverse calculus
of your vile action.
Watching a video clip of an accomplished writer
talking about writing and the life of a particular place
and it makes me yearn for the bubbling well-spring
of words and emotions and to be part of the life in that place.
At this time of year my choice is to
be a wind carried leaf, blown vivid in a momentary blaze,
or to stay, all gray and abandoned,
rushed over by clouds and such falling leaves.
I stopped running for a month and now death is close
swirling in the rain and the falling colored leaves
sounding like wind and strings and Andy Williams
the sounds of childhood and goosebumps
all the varieties of love you had yet to know
I stopped running for a month and can already feel
my abdomen slouching, hanging, my waist expanding
and don't think I missed the way that wild dog stared at me
outside of Starbucks this morning
I stopped running for a month and learned that sometimes
change is for keeps and that this work your doing,
friend your loving, child your cherishing, hand your holding
is not...for keeps, that is
call it luck, good fortune, a tease, or a loan
no matter how well intentioned
we can't stay.
Are you a quarter moon up there?
So brilliant and off kilter
drunk and brimming
with all you've seen below.
I know, you can't hold it,
and I don't expect you to.
The air is crisp tonight
and there is less peace
and more trouble than I can manage,
staring hard into the shadows, like you,
all these people carrying bags, wearing extra clothes,
thinking about killing you for your arms
while patiently waiting for
a book of baby names.
listening to her broken English through the wall,
she's talking on the phone
saying nothing of substance sweetly
to someone in a language not her own
she hopes for something, deliverance maybe
thirteen and a half hour work days
seven days a week
tonight, the wind
another Fall begins
the excitement and
swiftness of a
low grey sky
memory stirs, blurs
don't look directly at it
only at the motion, the colors,
just the feel of it and
the sound of very heavy rain
Twenty four straight hours of work
the last two half asleep on the floor,
bear witness to the circles we're caught in
the futility of saving one from himself
evaluating, questioning, confronting
mostly apathetic with stray moments of care
try to see who's in there, if anyone still is,
don't throw it all away
one is found on the dark highway
without papers or words, just a driver's license
issued by a state three thousand miles away
in coming to the hospital she learns
of a baby just two or three months away.
Like a band around my head
the pressures of the day
you're the hot head, the angry one
today's another example of you
losing your cool
while the rest of them keep their mouths shut
but start complaining and talking behind the scenes
the minute the meeting is over
low grade politicians
a study in mediocrity and serving time
woe unto you who wants
to do something
other than sleepwalk.
Sam is my oldest boy. He, of the three, looks the most like me. And our relationship is the most complicated. This week he started middle school in a new town where he knows no one. He brought home a writing assignment tonight. I'd like to share it.
All night she's coughing
getting up to use the bathroom
pacing, coughing, pacing
she wants you to listen to the noise
inside the walls
afraid she's being poisoned
all the time
she'd like to trust you
she wants to smoke
but can't have her cigarettes
until 6 am, until then
she passes the time
coughing, pacing, coughing
using her inhaler
keeping her distance
afraid of everything
in the world
It'd be nice if some one some day plays quiet Mexican guitar with you in mind - a kind of tribute, because at last you became someone worth remembering. Maybe someone at the bar will raise a glass, staring down the years, understanding just what you meant. We deserve a soundtrack, all of us, with exclusive rights to the final edit.
Working late while they're out
looking at potential new lives
and I'm trying to jam the summer fun
into one eight hour block tomorrow
while one little boy gets jealous of the other
and the rain is coming down like it hasn't
for the last several months threatening
the whole plan to kayak around a
reservoir in a state park before going off to my second job.
This is better than the picture
of a cool blue drink on the bar
sweetly exotic promising
to drown you painlessly.
Exiled to a child's too small bedroom
it's no wonder they don't like it in here
but I'm already drowsy
with the drone of the fan
and the rhythm of cricket chirps.
Listening to the music of longing
without really feeling it,
Write what you know, what you've seen,
a story of a brown skinned girl looking down from
her prisoner's window
or five drug addicts stuck in the car next to you
sweating with the windows down,
swearing fiercely at each other in the most desperate way,
and the strange civility of their stillness and
in using each other's first names.
Write something that can take us out of here,
something set to music and sung sensuously-
slow as smoke
by someone like Sade
Hearing numbers you thought you knew repeated years later
they mean something they didn't back then
the magnitude, you have more of a sense of it,
but still can't imagine it with any real clarity
sadly, you know enough now for it
no longer to be unbelievable
There's a burned bed in the median
hardly more than metal springs, black char, and grey ash
disconnected from any memory of whatever purpose it once served.
The call about the owl didn't come in today,
the suicidal one that flew out in front of the family van,
the bird I was willing to forsake if not for a child urging
his father to seize upon an opportunity to become a hero.
Thirty minutes after impact, we find the bird in the headlights
flat on it's back, wings spread wide, motionless.
It's dead, I say, disgusted.
It's midnight and, like any working man off the clock,
I want to relax not mess around with dead birds, lost causes.
When I step out onto the road though,
the owl leaps to its feet and looks at me drunkenly
through one open eye.
Uncertain, I drop a blanket on it and gently lift it into a cardboard box.
The owl offers no resistance thinking, perhaps, that I am the reaper come to take it home.
We drive thirty miles to the 24 hour emergency room at the school of veterinary medicine
which is different from emergency rooms that treat humans in that it's not very busy
and the staff are polite, humane and like their jobs.
The receptionist asked us to complete an information card which inquired
as to whether we wanted to be included in the release of the animal when it was fully mended,
and I thought what a great family moment that would be - to see the despondent owl cured and liberated, soaring strings in the background...we, beaming skyward.
But that call didn't come in,
and I have this fear that the poor owl
may have hung himself in his cage
while the staff were laughing and having pizza.
I'm looking for this story for you,
really paging through volumes,
trying to find the one in which
the world is a safe place
and all the predators are in the zoo
happy now and taken care of, a place
where wild is just a ride on a roller coaster
not tooth and claw and red.
I want to read to you
this story in which
people are who they say they are
set in a place where it is really
bad to lie, cheat, steal
and hurt each other.
I want to tell you a story about
a place where people are free
where the weak, sick, old, young
the less fortunate
are taken care of
because it's the right
thing to do.
I'm looking for that story now,
maybe I should call you when I find it?
In the photograph
he looks like a painter
from another age
Van Gogh or someone
capable of suffering at that level
and a moment of something ecstatic
swirling stars, everything wrapped in light
Of course you hear suicide in his lyrics now,
not that you or anyone else did fuck-all about it.
What are those men doing?
down there in the depleting river
with the water level shrinking daily
and less life visible
There's an old couch on the bank now
and a muskrat trying to pretend there is enough
water to swim in
in more than just a few spots
This creeping drought
we are tinder
and madness swirls around us like hungry horseflies
like bullets at the movies cracking over your head
and leaving someone else dead
We can't believe it because we can't and so we
try thinking of bare shoulders, sun-browned skin,
try thinking of your children and you watching a movie in bed
and your small boy, happy, telling you that you smell like wine
even though you've had none,and that you are the best dad he's ever had
You're glad water still comes out of the tap.
You hope you are cancer free.
You pray to a storybook illustration
that the light on the good things stays on.
Sweat-bathed on the East River's edge,
dog walking on a dog day
these people who will not even make eye contact
with each other on the street
are quick to do so, even smile,
with the dogs the others walk.
In the dog parks the people
seem easy in their exchanges
about each other's dogs,
even touch them unreservedly.
Drowsy in the mid-afternoon
just about the same time every day
one might think your youth has run out
and being the half-empty type of homeboy
that you are, you'd be inclined to agree, but
you know all that shit is relative, cousin.
Let me know if you think the sun is getting stronger
because that's another thing you noticed lately
how much it beats you down, those heavy rays,
and you are hardly butter down here.
Close your eyes
lie down on the floor
it's all going to pass, no,
it's all passing, I mean right now,
which is why you'd better get up
Hard, you think
as the road goes up and on
in the form of another hill
past cows and vistas of green
mountains in the near distance
strong sun and a constant breeze
your feet complain
your mind is already unreliable
the real battle is in the heart
the true field of victory
My shoelaces are too long - replacements,
and my pants don't fit well
as I now remember this guy, like a sour preacher,
who wore essentially a black uniform-
polyester pants, ankle high boots-
every day and a certain something about him,
beyond his pan-Asian prejudice,
that signified evil and wrong-headedness.
I guess I should wear the black pajamas of the Viet Cong.
Because I am a bad dresser
does not mean that I am a bad man,
there is more to it than that,
maybe a smell or an aura that only
dogs and people on drugs can detect.
You know it when it's there. Hard to miss.
Today I listened to a man whose experience
can only be described as
everything at once
all the time.
He doesn't get a lot of rest,
and there's nothing funny about it
He's aware of my incongruous laces,
but he has bigger fish to fry.
Today I saw another person on crack
holding his body in a strange pose
who heard my thoughts and saw me first.
We are, all three, in spiritual darkness
and thankfully, I guess,
I can only see about a foot
in front of my face.
The man who perceives it all at once
is just out of jail for the eighth time today.
He tells me he knows the darkness in his consciousness
and he keeps it there, tightly confined in his skull,
never allowing it to infect his heart.
There are no babies at the fireworks display this year
groups of teenagers roving, some smoking, swearing
awkward in front of families
and small children
You watch the back of his head watching the explosions
and the three of you jug eared lay next to each other on
Your teen aged daughter returns to the group
missed and a little testy after a week away
with friends on vacation,
so good to have her home,
everyone feels it,
you get the message
and mark the time
Later you sweat on the lawn in the dark
graceless but determined
there's a small river flowing
by my place of work in an old mill town
where the mills that once choked
the river are no longer industrious and
there isn't much for people there now
but the river is alive again
every day I walk by and stand for a minute
on the high bank
to try to see beneath the surface
of the brown water
today I watched a snapping turtle hunting
yesterday, a crayfish scuttling from my sudden presence,
and before that a swimming muskrat,
black birds and a squirrel at play,
small darting fish.
Bat-eared under summer hair cut
straight across the forehead,
he wants to climb a mountain, read ten books,
go to a wrestling match, learn all there is to know
about superheroes - all of them -
and the powers they possess.
Training run today and it's
sunny and bright and hot.
The woods are filled with horseflies
which change the tone of this outing
from recreational to spiritual trial.
Becoming a blood offering and
watching them dizzily orbiting my head
growing in numbers, finally biting
right between my shoulder blades
just beyond my reach.
and so must I.
So I take to the road,
and now it's oblivious cars threatening
and hot pavement beating the soles
of my feet.
But on this trip I come upon a brown snake on a dirt road
close to a Great Blue Heron's long feather and a
a smallish box turtle, withdrawn, except for its watching head,
a dead porcupine, perfectly intact, lying on its side as if only asleep.
I run as softly as I can.
There are many empty pint
and half-pint peppermint schnapps bottles
strewn along the roadside
mile after mile.
Someone in this town has a serious problem.
Imagining him drinking,
bottle kept low in his lap,
driving slowly, searching,
My problem, however, is a 100 mile race
with a start and a finish and the question are you enough?
Out of water now,
stopping to drink from a cemetery spigot,
and no one there takes offense.
My feet hurt already at only three hours in
and my calf muscles twinge and ripple with activity
that I've come to understand as pre-cramps
caused maybe by a lack of salt.
Must learn to manage
and dreading the science of the damn thing.
Experimenting with different ratios of running and walking:
15 minutes running/5 minutes walking, 10/5, 5/5,
and sticking to the plan of not allowing myself to walk
more than five minutes at a time,
of not falling into the dirge,
the death march.
When it hurts,
trying to think about staying upright
relaxing my body
controlling my breath,
Trying to avoid thinking about how tired
I will be running ten times this distance
or how much that effort will cost in pain.
Gently instructing my mind
that it will get done
and to go.
You'd have us believe we are sicker than we are,
though I will concede we are pretty sick,
all this reportage of eating one another
but the fact remains
there are many varieties of madness,
and it has always been circling us,
there is nothing special about now
just the laws of supply and demand
someone creating desire
and making a
Kindergarten curriculum night,
just he and I,
he shows me the sum total of his work,
his progress of a year
from the scrawl and scribble of his first day
to a clearly printed name with all the letters
pointed in the right direction and
drawn faces with features and bodies attached.
It means something to him that I am here,
and it means something to me too.
Standing in the road, seemingly oblivious,
unseen until the last moment,
sharp right turn, hit the breaks hard,
too fast, too late, and impact
but it doesn't end up under the wheels
the brown coyote standing still in the middle of my lane staring straight ahead
not even looking at me as I hit him
what had its attention?
I turn the car around expecting to find
it broken and dying on the roadside
but my headlights catch him running
apparently without a limp,
back to the side of the road
from whence he came.
A seat in a bar I've heard spoken of as a good place
pine panneled, well-lit, the usual temple shrine of bottles
smokers in an outdoor sitting area sounding drunk even though it's only 9
bartender's cautious, never seen me around here before, gets my beer
and it's not long before he probes discretely with a question or two
artfully revealing a mutual friend, a regular, who sometimes comes in just after closing
and they talk, drink and listen to jazz until early morning...
A patron in his sixties cracks a joke about nurses,
moves in closer, tells me he was a tunnel rat in Vietnam,
and he's got a girlfriend with a smart-ass son in his 30s
who thinks it's funny to jump out and startle him at every opportunity
this last time he did so with a kitchen knife in hand which prompted
my new friend to go out to his car and get his Ka-Bar
which he then brought back into the house and asked sonny boy
if he wouldn't like to be killed with it,
his girlfriend apparently didn't understand.
At the same time, two guys are arguing down the bar, "She's got MS, asshole. That's a terrible disease." "Yeah? She's got BS too. You should stay the fuck away from her" "Your talking shit about someone with a disability" "Look, just because she's disabled doesn't mean she's not an asshole" "You been drinking Jack and Cokes for six hours. I can tell by your mood"...
Turns out sonny boy drowned in a rip tide
off a Boston area beach soon after, a risk taker,
some people just don't understand what they're fucking with,
and the bartender fills me in on his brush with the Russians in Germany
during the Cold War 70's and he tosses out the names of several other people we
know in common between pouring his customers drinks and weighing in on the
character of the chick with MS.
I've been here 20 minutes.
We three shake hands, I've got to go pick up my daughter.
will just roll over it all, fuck you,
your small faces, your homes and keepsakes,
dreams and treasures, secrets,
your favortite things, your loves,
all you worship and adore
will lay waste and leave ruins
blood, tears, terror, and loss
that will echo
down the years
will crush your heroes and your hopes,
make a mockery of all you hold sacred
and brutalize your idols leaving them
staggering naked in the street
drugged, raped and pathetic,
painted up silly,
rubber tires hanging
around their necks
you can join us,
or you can join them,
but the choice isn't really yours,
you can bear witness or
you can be dumb enough
to try to pick up the pieces
and tend to the wounds,
if you're still
Distracting myself in that god-awful gym
running on a treadmill and looking at the TV screen:
it's some food show on the Travel Channel
and I can't help noticing as they show
one family after another
happily eating and talking to the camera
that one of the moms is reaching to dip
some food item into another
while in mid-nod on opiates,
probably prescribed and abused.
Fat, bored, sick, addicted,
entertained unto oblivion
and rich enough to have time to
think about it.
I've always loved the driving quality of this song. I think it might still be close to perfect with just the rhythm section and the rain. No disrespect to you, Jim. Or to the unstable guy with the squirming-toad-brain. Or to the Jazzy keyboards, which I like so well right at the end.