Thursday, January 31, 2008

January Poems #31: Would

I don't think anyone has ever asked me, "Of all of the poems you've ever written, which one is your favorite?" If anyone had put the question to me, though, this would be the one I'd choose. I think it's the mixture of sadness and longing tempered by optimism--hope, even--that explains my affection for it. It makes me smile. And anything that makes me smile, even after all these years, can't be too bad.

Wherein an angel
who would never

have known me in
my Pretty Boy Days
and would be content

to throb for me
now would never

have existed since
I never had any
Pretty Boy Days

I don't doubt that
there is someone

--not necessarily
an angel--who'd like
to have someone

--not necessarily
me--as a hobby.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

January Poems #30: The Seams

When I originally wrote this poem, it looked like one long paragraph of incredibly dense language; it was exhausting to get from one end of it to the other. After I presented it in class, Lorri Jackson made a suggestion: She liked the words and hated the form, so she thought shorter lines would make it easier to digest and give the words more weight. She was right. I even went a step further and broke the poem into stanzas--small islands of wire-tight verse for the reader to skip across. Sometimes, it's not what you say; it's how you say it.

Time spent sniffling
the turpentine years,
the slipslide hours of
grace and aptitude that

rattle the ends, that
set off the winky little
in-jokes about moving

through this vast
velvet space with
coffee breath and
no urge to find

God, don't get
tacked on the way
knotted shoelace days

waiting to be greased
and relieved do. The
corners hold gently, but
the in-between crumbles

like Jimmy Cagney
tight-fisted screaming
"I made it, Ma!
Top of the world!" And
this doesn't settle a
thing. Too bad the nights
are so real, so bolted:

Horns seen by streetlight
that've never been fingered;
boomerang moon dipping

behind a cloud to run
the Hail Mary Pattern;
cups filling and dropping
over like laughter at

a wedding. There are
worries about how tight
the stitching should be,

about working on pages
for an untitled breakdown
whose meanings are
turtled by too much

study, by never coming
to terms with broken
July or the ashes of

heartbeaten weekends. But
things still make their
presence known, creeping
desperation into the

fever dream, making
it all whipped-puppy
wasted. Knowledge of

"Making the Juicy," of
lacing words together for
impressions sake isn't
demanded here like knowing

that "Yes" and "Yes"
are opposites when one
means "Maybe" or that

open-ended curiosity is
fatal are. But being
dead is the easy trip:
Don't have to thirst

after smooth minutes to
fold into tiny squares
and tuck behind my

MasterCard and favorite
poet--don't have to decide
how many women won't
be spoken to today.

Baseball cards mark
the chapters like
divider's in a magician's

trick, but the studies
slog on, making me
scoop air with my
tongue for the sake

of heaving, making me
settle on the floor and
tear myself to sleep.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

January Poems #29: Spare Change

"Pray for what you want, work for what you need," the old saying goes. Sometimes you can do both, with equally unimpressive results. At least in this instance, I was able to buy groceries with what was left behind.

You once told me
that Abe Lincoln's
profile didn't have
to be eyeing sky
for a penny to be
lucky so whenever
I found one on
the ground and
took Abe's head
between unpolished
forefinger and thumb
I rubbed and rubbed
and wished for you
no matter which
way Abe was facing.
I didn't wind up with
you but did get jar
after cracking jar
of spare change.

Monday, January 28, 2008

January Poems #28: A Roger Corman Love Story

I grew up with a love of horror and science-fiction movies, with a particular affection for the low-budget, yet endlessly inventive and peculiar, films of Roger Corman. This poem is a a companion of sorts to "Untitled Novel--written around the same time and in a similar style, but with my childhood fancy hand-in-claw with my then (and now) aversion to love stories.

A beach at
ocher, littered
with interesting
bones--is moved
on by The Couple,
Stosh and Vicki,
whose study of
fingers warmly
knotted together
is the talk of
the Medical
Universe. They
walk until they pause,
draw Lover-I-Want-
You-Now close,
and are about to
taste when they
are persued back
across the sand and
skeletons and, as
the last horizon
light fades and cold
blue stars bejewel
its wake, are
consumed by giant
papier macheĊ½ crabs.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

January Poems #27: Wendy O. Williams Is Dead

The death of a celebrity always carries with it a certain level of sureality. Consider the passing last week of actor Heath Ledger--it was one of those stories that you hope is a horrible mistake and wait for a retraction that never, ever comes. When Wendy O. Williams, former porn star and lead singer for the Plasmatics, committed suicide, it didn't seem real--perhaps because she never seemed real. But she was. And her death surprised me.

Wendy O. Williams is dead
and this morning seven
gnats bobbed to the surface
of my dark morning cup
of Guatemalan brew and
were scooped out with a
disgusted spoon while
the smooth-voiced man
on the all-news station
on the black shower radio
on the white tile floor
of my still-humid bathroom
delivers weather and
sports and farms reports
and also the news that
Wendy O. Williams is dead.

Wendy O. Williams is dead,
shot herself in the head in
the woods in Connecticut
where I never pictured her
living much less dying
but I have to admit that
when the smooth-voiced woman
on the all-news station on
my shower radio announced
that the first story after
"Traffic and Weather on the Eights"
would be about a deceased
"Punk Rock Queen" I thought,
"Wendy O. Williams is Dead."

Wendy O. Williams is dead
and all the news article said
in my morning Sun-Times was
that the Plasmatics hadn't
toured in several years, which
was about ten years after
Wendy O. had worn whipped
cream for a bra up in
Milwaukee where she was
busted for indecency but
I'd be way surprised to
hear that there wasn't
at least a little sadness
up there when whatever
smooth-voiced announcer on
a Milwaukee all-news station
playing on somebody else's
shower radio declared that
Wendy O. Williams is dead.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

January Poems #26: The Democrat

As I've noted before, one can see and hear the most fascinating things on the buses and trains of the CTA. There really was a guy like this on the Chicago Avenue bus one afternoon, along with an Elvis impersonator on his way to a gig. Most of the quotation are made up--the last one, though, is direct from the man's mouth.

He preaches to mothers too young
to look so old dragging children
and wedding bands, holding court
in the arc of a palm, and to
the drunk young man staring
at the Elvis impersonator further
up the bus, jumpsuit swinging
back and forth on the handrail,
buttons of concert photos pinned
to his second-hand royal heart.
"I always had respect for the King,"
he says, "even if Nixon did
make him an honorary narc.
Gave his access to all them drugs
--uppers, downers, sidewinders. A
Republican conspiracy to demoralize
the Common Man. Did the same to
JFK when they hired the Mob to
hit him like they did in Dallas."
He turns just once from his pupil
as they cross the Chicago Avenue
Bridge to look at Goose Island.
He doesn't recall ever seeing any
geese, any industry ever since
the Republican insurgence drove all
the life away, since the city fathers
considered razing the factories and
building an amusement park there,
Disneyland North, where they'd dress
the rodents up warm and feed all
the mutations cotton candy and cheddar.
The Democrat turns back, sets aside
his placards (Where are we going?
THINK about it!
) which have drilled
his palms with splinters and truths
and balls his fists into tight
crucifixions for the benefit of
the pupil. "Don't listen to anybody.
Don't. Not even yourself.
'Cause if you'll listen to yourself,
you'll listen to just about anybody.
That's what they teach you
in Military Intelligence."

Friday, January 25, 2008

January Poems #25: Stone Wall-Age Man

The idea was to take a line from someone else's poem--in this case, my good friend Dee--and grow my own poem from it. Of course, that meant spinning it my own way, with many of my pet devices (pop-culture references, obsession with loneliness, etc.) coming out to play. It also mean ending with an optimism rare for me (on this particular subject, anyway).

"Only lovers can claim each other with the bend of a finger."
Diane Williams

The thought of always opening up
my chest and hoping to find
something heart-shaped thuds
there is a peeling myth like
thinking that wolverines gentle
if I hand them cheese or that
Cisco and Pancho have something
hot. I'm not an expert on
arm-crossed desire or on that
feel of cuddling with that
I hold my blood safe in a lead-lined
desk drawer where everyone can
see it (and hence never find it),
where it'll never be freezer-burned
by old-fashioned lust, where talk
of icicles, flaming spears and
melting mounds of sherbet will
never bruise it. I'm insecure in
my bovinity and I don't care who
knows it. I don't mind saying
this stone-wall age scares me,
kids--that whenever I crack my
door to look at shoulder-length
women I backpedal faster than
Curly Howard ever did. I don't
answer the unasked breakdowns
or find the glue to clasp me down
and thrill me beyond repair.
I'm the waiting type whose ass
is engraved with past flimflams,
whose fingers are unbent to
hook the fingers of someone else.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

January Poems #24: My Evening with the Xiucutil

I was once in love with a coworker who loved William S. Burroughs. One day, I bought a copy of Naked Lunch and read it at my desk between assignments. She noticed that I was reading it and said something about it--what, I can't remember, though it was probably something like, "Wow, that's cool! Did you know that I love Burroughs?" Another coworker knew that she loved Burroughs. That coworker also understood basic math, and was able to add two to two and come up with four, something the woman herself never did. (And yes, that's my own damn fault. However, the next guy she met after I fell for her wound up being the man she eventually married--not the first or last time that's happened. Keep this in mind: Having me fall in love with you guarantees the next guy you meet will be your true love.) Anyway...In Naked Lunch, Burroughs describes the Xiucutil as a "big grasshopper" reputed to be an aphrodisiac so powerful that if one lands on a man’s head, he must find a woman immediately or die. And that inspired this poem.

At some point my lungs
lose the ability to suck
in any more air and
therefore screaming in
ecstasy is no longer an
option and my throat
starts to make the most
excruciating delicious
wet noises just before
my forty-first orgasm
knocks more plaster off
the ceiling and satisfied
that my fate is now
pretty much sealed, my
green Colombian guest
takes flight from atop my
sopping head and doesn’t
wait around for the
chalk outline to arrive.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

January Poems #23: Falling Through the Ice

This is a fairly typical poem for me from my post-graduation period: references to my childhood, to my fear of ending up alone, to my being too "nice" for my own good. (If you gathered all the women who've told me how "nice" I am in one place, you could probably fill Wrigley field to capacity.) Come to think of it, it's pretty typical for me now.

Never believed in being
the Wild One crammed
with miles of flame,

the young urban lion in
piss-stained sunglasses

who knows the value of
something whispered deep
at night: "Kiss me, my

rollercoaster. I am Ravage,
and you will love me."

Never could escape the fear
of being sole, put it on
ice to be better handled

than a country-western tune
sung in Middle English or

a look/look away across a
not-wide enough crowded room.
Never believed in being

anything but the starer at
setting landscapes, smoke

on the rocks, windows dark
yawning velcro vaginas not
allowing recalled flashes of

tight denim across morning
thighs and clocks wound just

right until I collapse,
a monster model of paste
and hope that stands only

long enough to be praised.
Too many levels hold firm,

a never-ending string of
minds too determined to be
packed away with the first

touch of a warm woman
in a sweater or the dry

memory of my first crewcut.
No more surprises here.
No more devastation here.

The hills and lines get cleared
and sterilized by a descent to

safer ground, where the first
shades of a cracking sunrise can
find their melting way home.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

January Poems #22: Chant

I've taken a lot of late-night train and bus rides in my life. Travel on public transportation gives one a lot of time to read. Or think. Or, for someone like me, compose in my head and later commit to paper later. (My handwriting is bad enough without trying to write with any clarity on a moving vehicle.)

Some nights, I have
the need. I lean in
the underground, letting
the hard air get me,
cars tugging in with
ghostly breaths to
stretch me home. I
ask no one to amaze
me, to drive me to
my backyard shirtless,
chest fuzz knowing
the cold all over
without anyone to
tell me what great
meaning this has.
Even when the sky is
annoying and dark,
there’s fear in the
curve of my lips, but
no study of blackness
is needed here. No
bitching is needed
here. The snap of
sunlight still moves
me, but some nights
I have the need to be
elemental and closed.

Monday, January 21, 2008

January Poems #21: Three Short Poems

Not all poems are meant to be epics. As I've gotten older, I've gotten past the need to make every poem "important." Some poems are just meant to be nothing more than brief bursts of verse or slight observations of life around me. Here are three such bursts, all written within the last six months and extracted from my journal.

In the SuperCuts at
Broadway and Berwyn
Shirley the stylist
runs the No. 4 guard
over the foliage
curling uncontrolled
fore and aft on
my head and more
silver sails down
the front of my
gown to the cold
white tile floor
than ever before.

Olivia waits, yellow
eyes knowingly
narrow, clawless
paws tucked under
calico torso on
the warped hardwood
of the darkend
hallway for
opportunity to
pad close enough
for pounching.

The flakes fat and
juicy fly sideways
across Montrose Avenue
and fade as soon
as they drop to
the sidewalk, but
there's no one
there to see it
except for me
the three teenage girls
hopping the Montrose bus
to a mall they don't
know is closed.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

January Poems #20: The Levee

This poem, along with the updates from the 18th and the 19th come from a folder on my home hard drive called "Fever Poems," which contains all the love peoms I've written over the years--or, rather, the ones I chose to retain, mostly because they had enough merit as poems that knowledge of the women that inspired them wasn't necessary. Because of that, sometimes I forget which woman a given poem was written about. Sometimes, that's not a bad thing.

Prayers spoken after midnight in
low Gregorian tones and quarters
flipped high and hard into Chinese
restaurant fountains can't save you
at the point of saturation, where
her walking past you makes every
molecule in your body scream at
the tops of their tiny lungs except
for those involving your mouth;
where love songs on your radio
make you want to whip it out your
window without opening it first;
where you can be doing something--
tying your shoes, winding your
watch, drawing a blade across
your morning stubble, breathing--
and the taste of her name on your
tongue runs twenty-four frames a
second of your thumb and index
cupping her chin, lips tumbling
hers, pulse touching hers, eyes
opening to find that whatever you'd
been trying to do up to that
moment has been swept downstream
by the current along with any
pretensions, intentions, sleights
of hand, thought or voice to keep
the sandbags propped in place
long enough for a running start.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

January Poems #19: Act Five

This poem wasn't written aabout the same woman as yesterday's effort, but might as well have been, since the situation played itself out the same way. The title refers to the last act of a tragedy--dramatic, no? Except the emotional entanglements don't always end just because you tell them to--I'm pretty sure I wrote two or three more poems about her after this one.

Most mornings, light subtles
through my room, around
aloe vera and cactus, over
piles of semi-clean blue jeans
and infatuations until my bed is
warmed by something other than
my hand inspecting, smoothing
the space of linen where you've
never been, close, enfolded
by long arms longing to be
softened from beneath by
content breathing, needed, actions
speaking louder than verse in
notebooks, whispers to friends
on corners, each dawn an autopsy
of what never went down. Hand
stops. The shamrocks in the window
incline toward the sky which isn't
indigo yet but will soon be
almost comparable to you and
the calluses on my palms, the
lava between my shoulders know
when to release the rope--let go.

Friday, January 18, 2008

January Poems #18: Letting Go

I haven't written very many love poems. Rather, I've written poems about love--or, even more accurately, poems about the emotionat state you find yourself in when you're in love with someone who isn't in love with you and, in most cases, would never have been under the best of circumstances. This is one of those poems, written more about me and my mind than about the woman in question, who thought I was a perfectly nice guy, but...there's always a "but," isn't there?

I just don't have the grape
of things today or even
yesterday but maybe three
weeks from next Tuesday
I will 'cause the strangest
stuff always happens on
Tuesdays like solar eclipses
or best friends getting
canned from jobs they loathe
or hip-tripping stuntman
backwards right into a
someone you want/need/can't
grieve about before or after
or during the feather of
memories just being built
with flickered eyes, light
woven fingerfalls applied just
before sunrise and circling
words 'round each other like
"Your collar's messed up" or
"I missed you last night" or
"I think about your mother
every time I make ice."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

January Poems #17: Untitled Novel

Before I shifted my focus to poetry, I wrote a lot of fiction, including two novels--one in elementary school (which I no longer have a copy of) and one in high school (which I do have a copy of...somewhere). Both were horrid. Sometimes, my fiction and poetry selves crossed paths and spat at each other. This is the result of one such spitting match. You decide who, if anyone, came out the winner.

A day,
suddenly new,
is avoided through
the dedication of
Thelma and Ricardo,
the only
available saviors
who study to be
foot doctors by
day and engrave
their eyelids with
made-up languages
at night,
thus confusing
everyone and preventing
solo thought.
This, however,
does not last.
Ron E. Paisley
and his manager,
known only as
plant Frenchness,
perfectly understood,
deep in the retinas,
hence causing
clarity and,
of course,
pristine destruction.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

January Poems #16: Haunted House Dream #2

I've encountered ghosts in real life (most benign, some not so much), but more often in dreams, where the undead (spirits or zombies, choose your flavor) like to play with alarming frequency. This is one such dream. (And for the curious--yes, there is a "Haunted House Dream #1," but I have no idea where it is as the moment--at the bottom of some storage container in La Casa del Terror, I'll wager.)

A female friend (whom I don't really
recall as being someone in my life,
now or not) gives me a tour of her
new apartment, which is on the first
floor of what had, at one time, been
the house of a prominent Chicago
family. The house is reputed to be
haunted, presumably by the ghost
of a servant girl who'd died on
the grounds, which include a garden
with large, square concrete steps. As
we move from room to room, I'm
surprised that I don't feel any sort of
presence, either good or bad.
We step outside to have a look
at the garden,but are interrupted in
our tracks when the screen door
suddenly flies open and we are
pushed aside--not violently, but
as if by someone in a great hurry.
We're startled, of course, but that
becomes fascination when we
see the fleeing figure of a young
redheaded woman, skin porcelain,
dressed in a kimono rushing through
the garden. We follow. She literally
bounds down the concrete steps,
arcing high into the air with each step.
We presume her to be the spirit
of the dead servant and her kimono
to have been borrowed (stolen?) from
her mistress (for a rendezvouz with a
lover?). The redheaded young woman
reaches the final step, bounces higher
than ever before, and plummets below
the step to some sort of empty
concrete pond or swimming pool,
screaming horrifically all the way
down. We recoil, but not enough.
The young woman rises, floating on
a tarp, lying on her side, the red of
her hair had been replaced by
another shade entirely. We turn, only
to find a display set up by some
enterprising ghost hunter, detailing
the haunting and the young servant's
demise, including a replica of the tarp
on which her bloodied body had been
dragged from the premises. Behind us,
the dead woman still floated, screaming.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

January Poems #15: Landscape

For a while, I was fascinated with Gerard Manley Hopkins's concept of "inscape." I spent a lot of time and effort constructing verse that somehow represented inner turmoil or peace or whatever, many times casting those "sound engines" as internal lanscapes to be explored--or, in some cases, avoided or even escaped. The title of this poem is the most obvious nod in the direction of Hopkins, the contents an attempt to follow his twisting path.

No thoughts that would be
of interest to being--
to holding up days skylit
and raw snapped off by

dread winds and apple-crisp
air--are slicing through
the chunk of things now.
The quaint endings of

fired interest that're
supposed to jolt care
about like are lined up,
thick and heaving, to

sketch out definitions of
what I'm supposed to be:
Be cool cat, be tweedy
firm, be alive for

technical purposes only,
awkward outlines on
bedside notepad, cancerous,
delicious, scalding clear...

Be What! There's not much
lasting about those splintered
nights with the warmth of
a Maureen O'Hara handshake

or a sidewise smile well
nerved. The point of
moving past people who
see animation assuming

spark is there just slaps
at where I'm not now--
where there always seems to
pop those windows breathing

darker shades I dig with
shredded nails to taste,
flipping up happy dampness
undemanded for thought.

Monday, January 14, 2008

January Poems #14: Daley Plaza

I hate taking down Christmas trees. It seems, for some reason, like an admission of defeat, even if it must be done sometime. The latest I've ever left a Christmas tree up was Valentine's Day. The City of Chicago doesn't tarry so. Usually in the second week of January, workers start taking it down. Last week, I walked past Daley Plaza, where our city tree stands, and saw the sight below.

In Daley Plaza a
small complement of
sweating city workers
are busy dissecting
the mammoth municipal
Christmas tree which
isn't really a single
tree at all but a
whole grove of deep
green pines bround
together and covered
with color and pretty
noise to for a tall
shiny strap-on for
Chi-Town to splinter
itself with straight
through the birthday
of God's only son into
the blinding New Year.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

January Poems #13: Sunday Morning

I've been here. Likely, you have, too--coming home so late that it's early, but too early for the headache to have started yet. Nothing looks right, but everything is at least somewhat familiar. Even hands and feet look borrowed, maybe even stolen--by whom or why isn't known and probably shouldn't be.

You don't look much like
my city this a.m., Chicago,
gray hangover streets still
slopped over with Saturday
night's transgressions--syllables
hissed too close to ears tipped
redly with heartbeats and lies;
fingers rummaged through
hair curling north and east
and wherever it wants in
the humid; feet just barely
above a shuffle stalking
their Stoli way back.
Maybe the lack of yellow
and blue above is just
the way of whatever's
in charge saying "It's
okay. Really. It'll all
still be here when you
open your eyes again."

Saturday, January 12, 2008

January Poems #12: Sheridan Road Saturday Night

Some poems really aren't poems at all, but observations of life as it happens around me. Such is the case here--I witnessed the scene below on a bus ride to JB's place. It's not often one sees a theological discussion break out on the CTA, much less among children. Maybe that's why it stuck with me long after I got off the bus. Maybe that's why I wrote it down later.

The Sheridan Road bus passes a
parked van at Wilson Avenue. On
its side is multi-colored lettering:
"There is no other God but Allah."
Three children on the east side of
the bus read the words and repeat
them--aloud, slowly. "Allah is just
their word for God," the eldest
of the three says, stretching her
neck to keep the van in sight for
as long as her eyes could see it.
"But it says there's no other
God but Allah," the youngest
answers. "Doesn't that mean
that is the only version of
God that's right?" The middle
child shakes her head. "They
just don't understand. Nobody
knows for sure which God is
the only God. That truck is
wrong." The eldest leans back
as far as she can to catch one
last glimpse of the van, but
slumps back in her seat again
when she figures out it's gone.
"But if nobody knows for sure,
the sign back there could be right."
Across the aisle, a little boy who
had been chanting "California!
California!" now inclines against his
mother, singing "Mommy, I know
Allah! Mommy, I know Allah!"

Friday, January 11, 2008

January Poems #11: A Night Without Reign

When I was in college, going to bed before 3 a.m. was rare, even if I needed to be in class first thing in the morning. One night, I worked straight through, one term paper flowing into another and into another still. I went to school, dropped them all off, and went back home to sleep it off. (I got A's on all three, mostly though the well-hones skill of making it sound like I know what I'm talking about whether I actually do or not.) This poem was written about such a time of day, when mind and body are given over to a state of being above--or below, if more appropriate or entertaining--what the light of day might bring.

Tonight the theories
of why or why not we
are or are not stand

out demonic and ghostly
against heads who talk
about where it all leads

without ever saying what
it is while I try to recall
people's names by

the shapes of their mouths.
It's frightening--more
creepy than teeth clattering

down an assembly line
could ever be--to stand
under a sky so big that

madness is inevitable,
even tasty, in a world
gone ashtray. And I crave

accordance with all,
desperate release, a
sudden flash of eyes

to stop the hours from
dancing to dead. But I know
that ain't likely. So give me

new blood minus gore--
give me more dark like
this when importance

seems unlikely; when I
know that I'm real because
I can cause pain.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

January Poems #10: The Primate House

Once, JB challenged me to write a poem using the word "monkey." I don't remember why--maybe because, in our daily lives, we kept seeing people going well out of their way to avoid using their brains and practically embracing their animal instincts, which weren't quite as deep-down as everyone likes to assume. At least that's how I interpreted the challenge below.

Charlie Darwin was wrong
about evolution elevating
Peoplekind above our tree-
bound brethren. The only
difference since our tails
fell off is the distance
we get to travel before we
hit the ground running on
all fours. Adam and Eve
didn't munch on an apple
in Eden. It was a bunch
of bananas and we've been
slipping on the peels ever
since: More intelligent but
not smarter, not better,
not above chattering and
scratching and waiting for
someone to miss a branch,
snap a vine, turn an oh-
so-appealing back just long
enough for the tails to
sprout out, the fur to fly
along with whatever else
can't be eaten and the
paws to be licked clean
in damp anticipation of
another's slip, slide or
ignorance of the facts
that some are born stupid,
some work incredibly hard
at it and some have not
forgotten how to go monkey.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

January Poems #9: The Cartographer

I'm a Taurus. We tend to be rather set in our ways. Any variation from the norm can throw us off. This is not a good thing. We should be able to roll with whatever/whomever wants to roll with us. That would be more fun. The poem below contemplates this.

I don't improvise well.
I never throw the covers
off my skin in the late
morning unless my course
for the day has been
thoroughly plotted from
lunch to midnight snack.
I hold conversations with
friends, strangers, former
and future lovers in my
self long before words
ever bar my teeth apart.
Can't even take a shit
without planning it with
deep affection for weeks in
advance. But Bobbie Burns
was right of course about
the schemes of rodents and
their two-legged cousins.
Things happen: Detours,
rewrites, ad-libs, diarrhea
raining down on me until
I stoke the funeral pyre,
lay the blueprints upon
it and let the detailed
flames singe off any signs
of motive or direction
until everything flakes

away to reveal nothing
more or less than me.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

January Poems #8: Stand

This is one of those poems that means something differnt to me every time I read it. Sometimes, it's a plea for more plain speaking in poetry. Sometimes, it's a rallying cry for when I lack backbone in any endeavor. Sometimes, it's a reproach for not being more bold. Sometimes, it means nothing at all.

Let's not have any
talk about blood or
hearts here today.

No. Too frequent to
invent a hiatus that
causes real calm, that

looks out for quiet
corners to whole in.
Yes. Comfort is more

required, more welcome
than the urge to
cup it all and feast

long and hard on
something choked with
mama. But I digress.

Movement with the spark
of nerve would be more
fine and dandy than the list

of absolute beauties:
Pens that always run
out in the middle of

the word you wanted to
start with; lips in a
Virginia Madsen Curve;

knowing tweed never dies.
No. What is not too
tight in me is here,

unpoemed mechanism,
wet sails spread over
bodies dear for all to

examine and nod at. But
life props me up again,
peachy ass in the air,

cuffing me past worlds
of flattened-out life that
I call my own creation.

Monday, January 7, 2008

January Poems #7: The Corner

One evening, while on the Western Avenue bus, I saw something you don't see much in Chicago anymore: Two old friends standing on a street corner talking. I imagined that they did so frequently, so familiar did they seem, and wondered what they might be talking about. Then I wrote the following.

Every evening at
eight forty-five
two elderly men
in windbreakers and a rottweiler in a spiked collar gather outside the used car lot at the corner of Western and Byron to solve the problems of the world, only to find that, by the time they cluster their heads once more at eight forty-five the following night, the world has filled the cup back up to overflowing again.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

January Poems #6: Ode to a Really Cute Pair of Ankles

It's surprising what will sometimes catch your attention about someone you find attractive. Eyes? Sure. Smile? You bet. T and A? Yes and yes. But ankles? Really? Really. Too bad the woman in question didn't really know what I felt, because I couldn't articulate it in any way but this. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I know of a woman with a beautiful brain,
lyrical name and curling dust hair--yet
I like her ankles! The echo of spring
days that drive in like railroad spikes:
Staking me down, filling my senses with
faint grins. I wish they were my ankles.
Mine are so swollen; they crackle like
plaster. But hers could hold up infinity
with ease; their flexing could stop time
warmly. I'll never know those ankles by
touch, only by sight across a bright room,
miles it seems--crossing and waving to me
with their twisting, never swimming across
with their companion, the woman, who will
never know what I feel for her joints.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

January Poems #5: Ministry of Sound

No, this isn't some new governmental body created by the Bush administration (although I'm sure that if they could figure out a way to censor sound, they'd do it). It's what I used to call a "sound engine"--a poem that really doesn't have any particular meaning, but the words sound good together. At least to my ear, they do.

The discovery of quiet is rare.
Days press on and press until
the noiseness is all and now:
headaches ringing to the shins;
yawning to the point of tears;
hearts sloshing on Valentine's Day.
All tone isn't speaking too down
today. Its immediacy drums at
the rib cage, prays at the alter of
marrow and meat, and gets the body,
has the body, knows its scent,
tastes its sensibilities, worms
its desire. That's how the dreams
sometimes burn: "It's the street,
man, it's the street. You know it
true, man. Don't you know it...."
Happens that way sometimes when
the search for discovery converts
to a dinky series of soul spanks
and the rarity of quiet sends
telegrams that say only "Chill."

Friday, January 4, 2008

January Poems #4: Henry the Thread

One day in Advanced Poetry, Lorri Jackson pulled a loose thread from her black button-up sweater and let it fall to the classroom carpet. I picked it up, said it was a nice thread and asked her its name. "Henry," she said. And so the name stuck to the thread, as the thread itself stuck to the back of one of the pages of my ragtag collection of her poetry (and remains there to this day). The poem that follows has nothing to do with Lorri (even in light of the concluding lines), nor even the thread, though it was the point of inspiration.

He's tired of stroking
pastoral cityscapes deep
with hills and seepage

with brushes dipped in
urine samples, wants
nothing more or less

than less hunting through
sticky stone dream maps
scowered and harvested

for shiny new tools,
better textures, lower
sub-basements to plant

flags of conquest in that
also mark his way back.
He's wired for rising

arms akimbo just to
shoot down whatever
birds are left singing so

he can hear the traffic
clear, the steady deciduous
strafing of a town shaken

to life for yet another
day's nails to be driven.
But Henry doesn't even

own a hammer, doesn't
want one, can't handle
any more cranking of

eyelids in the well-known
curl of early light so his
canvases can be splattered

with old news, moldy
aches, alliterations in
beading swarms: A Spine

in Decline? A Collection
of Rejection? A corpse
in a Copse? Magicians'

slights of hand more than
slightly out of date when
nightfall is the fabric of

choice spread over windows
and sockets of lofts, cellars,
blackened bars to establish

nicer lines of hiphopness
without actually having any
vision. Doesn't matter. The

pictures of brick facades
eaten over by fiberboard
and snow, dead weeds and

char, are noosed around him,
arranged by date of birth and
death, volume of plasma

sprayed, gallons of too
personal pronouns spat
up for the sake of carving.

They cover the holes in
the panelling, show him
where he's been and will

not be going to, even on
autumn evenings when he
fetals under his quilts,

shaves in thunderstorms
and makes himself a god
who can't stand pierogies

and only bathes on Saturday
nights 'cause there's nothing
on TV that's just above

lousy. Henry circles his
wagons, his rooms, his
angles, simply to touch

all his walls at least once
and even rip squares out
of nine or ten frames to

plaster together another
second hand for the
first-hand floor plan

always growing up and
out, never over or under
to become something other

than a sun-faded member
of the union of shadows,
an ever-blending memory

of sheets pretending to be
lucid. No majority of blight,
no emotions flipped out to

slice, no wall-outlet electrical
impulses translated into
Swedish will set up the

substantial threat of his
being understood and hence
less worthy to be a baret

bearer on the front lines,
digging his fox holes beyond
the point of breathing,
the duty of all avant-garde
gophers intent on living
until importantly dead.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

January Poems #3: Cricket Hill

I'm not a morning person. Never have been. But on Sunday mornings when Dad wanted to go fishing, I pretended to be one. One of the places along Chicago,'s lakefront where he liked to spincast for perch was Montrose Harbor. That's where Cricket Hill is, giving a panoramic view of the harbor and much of the lakeshore. It's a nice place to sit and think, or to nap--especially if you're really not a morning person.

This morning the land
doesn’t force my breath
shallow with its green,
deep largeness or dull

glare. Mist grips close
to the weeds, the clover,
makes shapes out of
bridges, boats, runners

parting the spray, shifting
small mounds of cinder
squatting like Pennsylvanian
hills. The sparrows and bats

fighting for the sunrise
insects over Montrose Harbor,
over me, are soundless, one
body twisting and spinning

with the squareness of a
strange baptismal rite.
And the grass stabbing
through tight white
cotton and brushing
muscle, bone, stretching
skin, almost makes me
believe in permanence.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

January Poems #2: Four Walls

This was based on a nightmare in which I was trapped in one room for what seemed like an eternity. You know how dreams are--an whole virtual lifetime can go by in the space of a 20-minute nap. Now imagine that said lifetime is spent as described below. Not so appealing, that.

Hell is relative, is a
small square room
full of old ladies

in paisley who scent
of cat-worn couches
who go on for hours

and days and years
without ever getting
near the point or maybe

it's the same room but
with lots of windows
that won't open in July

won't close in December
won't let you remember
anything save for how

uncomfortable your own
skin is if only you
could just slip it off

just strip it down to
something moist and
motionless and gone.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

January Poems #1: Vigil

This was one of those middle-of-the-night poems. You know the kind--the words work through your head and keep on working until you put them on paper and they finally leave you alone. Maybe.

The quiet that
comes when my
veins are all I

hear, when my
lack is on high
is here now--big

and flabby as
Sunday morning
lies. I wait

the long wait
for someone--
even my Petrarchan

me--to lean
close, press the
way no one

does, and say
"You are unnerving
in your beauty"

and mean it.