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Permissable Topics (108)

we cannot talk about some things

because that causes them to happen


We cannot talk about sex

or death or injustice


because they do not exist


we cannot talk

of our experience


because it contradicts others


we cannot speak to each other

because that could build bonds


we cannot speak of the voices

that await us at school

at home and in our heads


we cannot speak

we cannot talk


we are not allowed

(January 21, 2021)

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which simple metaphor shapes my day (104)

a different time with new shadows

wraps the light in different patterns

more random more abstract less fragile

less likely to crack like a beetle’s

carapace beneath my careless boots


I roam between my vacant days

then disappear easier than I thought

between quick ire and old resentments

like broken branches slip easily

with the river’s froth across smooth rocks


despite all the engrained justifications

despite the comprised and contradictory

narratives despite the feral rage

I am who I am stripped of language

laid down since birth like shrouds

(January 15, 2021)

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Slow Read

A few days ago I read about a thing called a Slow Read. You choose a book of poetry by a single author (I added in not a collected works), then each day you read one poem out of that book several times during the day. The next day you do the same with the next poem in the book, and continue until the book is finished. ( I also added in the further restrictions that it had to be a book I had not read yet, and it had to be by a woman). I am starting today. I am going to slow read the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner in poetry: Versed by Rae Armantrout.

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shadows near shadows far away (103)

as if trapped in a net of shadow

afternoon light through the window

struggles on the opposite wall 

to form a coherent pattern where

a difference may be discerned

between shadows near and far away


outside the oak and elm stand mute

allowing the air to whisper for them

allowing easy cliches to answer

decades of hardened blood

to answer questions never asked

to form opinions from shadow

as old palimpsests below the scars

re-inscribe the day hour by hour

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Reflection’s Projections

“the other is the figure of my truth, and cannot be imprisoned in any stereotype (which is the truth of others).”

                        –Roland Barthes

He is no more this, than she

Permits outside the walls

He hides behind. No trope

To be conjured within, she

Vaguely files her nails,

And thinks of him less

Than what to have done

At the spa. He knows

Her as he imagines,

Not as she is told. She

Believes she does not

Change outside herself,

As much as he desires

Her to be more than both.

(June 15, 2017)

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what silence waits to give voice

how much must be

etched across the glass

like ice across the lake

before I can hear

the ravens in the wood

caw out their hunger

before the dark wings’

fluttered descent disguises

the sharp peck and pull

that is my final vision

what silence waits

as an echo’s first reflection

before it wraps itself again

around the trees like snow

(December 24, 2020)

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to divine the past (102)

from any chance moment

wherever you happen to be

like light and dark dancing

across the forest floor

memory without warning

will step out from a phrase

to raise the ancient dead 

the way dust devils 

on cool autumn afternoons 

will twirl lifeless leaves into the air 

like moon-pale bacchants 

arms twisting above their heads

then within your next thought

let fall still trembling to the ground

leaving you ashamed for some act 

of cowardice or petty remorse 

at best remembered less if at all 

and then only as a trace of flame 

flickering shadows upon a wall

(December 21, 2020)

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continuous balm (101)

“but little thought”

—W. Wordsworth

today as I drive past sorghum fields

on my way to work I recall

a train in the Netherlands

decades ago moving through tulip fields

long strides of red and yellow

that stepped toward the horizon

(December 8, 2020)

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ambient fear (100)

on the edge of a field a rabbit

sits still as a new wind stirs her fur

with the resonant dangers nearby

thus the day’s anxieties flow

through my skin as if I were a net

tossed into the ocean’s pulse to collect

the bits of how I am defined

by everyone but me

the deeper I drop  the darker it becomes

and I am too tired all the time

to watch my last breath rise

in swirling bubbles like butterflies

lifting as one from a field of flowers

(December 6, 2020)

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high mountain lake (99)

“where absent-minded prophets come to drown”

—Benjamin Peret

near the water’s edge he sat

as if waiting for something

momentous to occur


although the sun shimmered

brightly across the water

the mountain air was cold


for a moment he sensed someone

watching from the trees

he turned but nothing waited there


far away his life changed

as he watched the light

dance along the water’s surface


he swam out slowly

to the middle of the lake

and sank into the dark


(December 3, 2020)

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how much self-denigration must occur (96)

if i gnaw out my fragile heart

canines slavering through flesh

the way wolves trapped

will desperately gnaw off 

a leg to escape the hunter

will I be free with only a blood 

limped trace dropped like roses

through freshly fallen snow

to mark my passage like stale crumbs

scattered across the frozen forest floor

a vaguely cogent sentence fragment

to parse a meaning into salvation

will I see in time the breach

open wide enough to squeeze

rock against chest between

tightly held breaths balanced

on a desperate fear that I have

lost the best bits of myself

(December 1, 2020)

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parenthesis (95)

with an accent slightly different

than any dialect spoken here

 a hole opens around us like an amoeba

and we are contained within 

an other’s misinterpretation

as if we were not a part

of the conversation like a rock

is not a part of the river

which erases incrementally

shaping the rock as it surges past

oblivious like memory to the change

as each remembrance rises

to take dominion everywhere

if only for the moment it takes

to speak and then to unhear

all the patterns which brought us here

(November 19, 2020)

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only mine (94)

I cannot see much of life

beyond the ragged hedgerow

I’ve grown from broken thorns

scattered like blood

across still water

unless the walls fall

and all the little boxes

open like rain misting

the tightly trimmed

topiary with ice

and the cold parenthesis

cracks like cicadas’ wings 

as i slip from myself 

a worm through earth’s minutia

feeding on the remains

and fragments that were mine

(November 13, 2020)

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an assumed direction (93)

this labyrinth has no end

no center in which to be eaten

no twine to trace an origin


just a blind turn toward hope

a quick glance back toward despair


one cannot be lost without direction

yet our angled descent is certain


I can see the sun before it sets

listen to the fuss of squirrel and jay

or be consumed in worry’s fire


there is no clear path to happiness

we are always here

(November 5, 2020) 

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No Answers (85)

As the old world swirls

in laconic siroccos of doubt

flinging sand adroitly

into a warm Mediterranean air

how do I stand still with silence

aware only of this moment’s breath

how do i ignore the nattering pedants

who brandish their wet cliches

like limp wands twined from roses

as petulant proof of their originality

how do i negotiate the spaces

i must traverse without

slagging off chunks of flesh

until the sinews abandon my bones

(October 26, 2020) 

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Anger is an Energy

A disheartening day. upon opening my email this morning, I found out that one of the founding teachers at ARS was resigning because of the covid return polices at AISD. Then, this afternoon just before 5, i got another email from the principal announcing that yet another long time math teacher at ARS had resigned. In one day the heart of the math department was ripped out. Ann Richards is an all-girl STEM school, having not just good math teachers, but fantastic female (role model) math teachers is essential. We had two of the best. Had. Math teachers are already hard to find, but math teachers of the caliber of these two are impossible to replace. The covid return policies trickling down from DeVoss/Trump, to Abbott and the TEA, to AISD and surrounding districts is directly responsible for the loss of these two teachers. There will be more resignations and retirements across the district and the state. These policies are causing irreparable harm to education in Texas, which will echo for years after the pandemic subsides. It does not have to be this way. There is no reason that TEA has to cut funding, which is the club they are using to force the schools to open. There is no reason that everyone has to return. There is no reason to put so many people at increased risk of a terrible and deadly disease. There is no Reason. Just Madness.

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the rime grows thick (83)

you walk home

it’s late 

the snow falls

as thick as your dreams

when suddenly you think

you’re lost and the wood

nearby is strangely

far from home


the bright lights flash

patterns on the snow

like christmas lights

in the village square


the sheriff interrupts you

to say no that yes it is

a normal amount of blood

for a woman that size


you laugh at the absurdity

of dying so close to your home

what was the point of leaving

when you had nowhere to go

(October 12, 2020)

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What Have We Become?

In a few days I will return to work. I am a teacher. I have been working from home since mid-March. The spring was rough and non-productive; as soon as the seniors figured out that grades stopped on the day before they were sent home, they stopped working. I do not blame them. They are driven and smart. And by that point they had all been accepted to college. I do blame the lack of national, state, and local leadership for what has happened since March. There has been so much left undone, which could have been done to prevent so much illness and death. But here we are.

My wife’s parents in their 80’s are in Ft. Worth with her sister right now. Her sister moves to Atlanta sometime after the New Year. My in-laws will come back to live with us after that. Our jobs could kill them. Since my wife has gone back to work in her building two weeks ago, we have not been able to see our grandson. In about six weeks my son’s wife will have another boy, who we will not be able to see because of the risk of Covid. The choice between incomes/careers and the safety of our families is truly fucked. I am not a front-line worker. I am an English teacher. I talk about poetry, and literature, how to write an argument.. to find wisdom in the art of the past.

Austin teachers return to their buildings on October 5th, ironically enough, World Teacher day. The majority of the students will stay home, and continue to do school through their computers.  I have been teaching my students for the last three weeks virtually from home. I will continue to teach my students virtually from a room in the very old building where I usually teach my students in person. I, along with two other teachers, will rotate into a room where 9 or so seniors and juniors, who are coming back into the building for various reasons, will be learning in the room using their computers to access their teachers who are teaching virtually from other rooms in the building, or, if the teacher has qualified for ADA or FMLA, from their homes. The students in the building will stay in the room with me and the other two teachers all day.

Do not misunderstand me. I miss seeing my students every day that I am on the computer with them. My students are the absolute best. I wish that I was in the room with them, listening to them talk to each other about poetry and literature. Watch them as they have first encounters with some of the great literature from the last few hundred years. They need little encouragement to engage with deep thoughts with complete delight, making connections to their lives and obsessions, which usually concern topics of social justice. A topic which has become foremost in all of our lives because of Covid. However, I do not want any of them to become ill with this horrible virus, and possibly die. They do not have to be that close to the harshness of life which poetry and literature unfolds for many of us.

And that is the rub, the elephant in the room, the one fact that no one talks about: people are going to die because of a rash decision to open the schools. People are going to die. Say that again: people are going to die. It could be  staff at the school, teachers, librarians, principals. It could be students, someone’s child, who dies. It could be the parents or grandparents at home who are infected by the children they love.  Now, here is where I fail to understand: why are the powers-that-be willing to risk the death of so many people. Nothing has changed since March when everything closed down. There is not a vaccine; the numbers of infected are still setting record numbers, and people are still dying, lots of people are still dying. 

Is remote learning as effective as face to face in the classroom? No, it is not. Is it safer for everyone? Yes it is. Are we that desperate to return to the way things were that we are willing to sacrifice large numbers of our family and neighbors? If so, then I hate to think that anyone thought normal meant willingly allowing death to roam the streets so that we can go have a beer at the local brewery. There must be something more pernicious in play. I fear for us all.

(September 29, 2020)

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Here

“there is no absence that cannot be replaced”

—Rene Char

this patch of ground

where i must mend

my old wounds,

this is where I stand.

Minute by minute,

I replace

who I was

with who I am,

then sweep

the ash

into a pile.

I grow small within

this defined space

discarding bits of flesh,

and memory

like an old man

feeds birds

in the park,

alone and silent.

(September 24, 2020)

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It’s a Familiar Enough Lie (a reading)

It’s a Familiar Enough Lie

With a headful of sighs,

I move from room to room,

stand in the doorway, then turn,

followed by dark regrets

which waited to slither back 

from all the obvious corners.



I promise myself again

as I slip further away: 

it will only be a moment;

then days, then years vanish

before the wait will stop,

before I walk out the door.

(September 19, 2020)

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It’s a Familiar Enough Lie

With a headful of sighs,

I move from room to room,

stand in the doorway, then turn,

followed by dark regrets

which waited to slither back 

from all the obvious corners.

I promise myself again

as I slip further away: 

it will only be a moment;

then days, then years vanish

before the wait will stop,

before I walk out the door.

(September 19, 2020)

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As in the Last Days of Pompeii (a reading)

As in the Last Days of Pompeii

In these next darker days,

Shadows walk in laughter

upright and self-righteous,

and we have no where to hide.

Ash floods the bitter sky

filling the streets, the rooftops,

our lungs with  thick death.

With no time to cast bones,

our glazed eyes watch

the portents unfold into heaven.

Panicked, we rage in the street,

or cower next to a wall,

 a silent witness to the fall.

(September 17, 2020)

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As in the Last Days of Pompeii

In these next darker days,

Shadows walk in laughter

upright and self-righteous,

and we have no where to hide.

Ash floods the bitter sky

filling the streets, the rooftops,

our lungs with thick death.

With no time to cast bones,

our glazed eyes watch

the portents unfold into heaven.

Panicked, we rage in the street,

or cower next to a wall,

 a silent witness to the fall.

(September 17, 2020)

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there is no life outside of this

this body holds no answers

other than its own


I listen to its stories

all the iterations

the looped variations


as if razors inscribe each word

labyrinths within labyrinths

a slow-cut scratch through skin

to bleed heal and cut again


until what is true

what is believed

what is said

intermingle


their incestuous scars

like runes carved

across cave walls


and I have nowhere to go

and nothing left to say

(September 9, 2020)

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What I Imagine When Someone Explains my Poetry to Me

He stands on a small rock

in the middle of a river;

the water rushes past

an obvious metaphor.

He ignores the danger,

and leaps the gap to land

on the next wet stone

barely within his compass;


And there, as he teeters,

searching for his balance,

he hears the falls hunger,

then is neither here, nor there,


but lost in the churning froth

of some other’s creation.

(September 6, 2020)