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Dad at Work Repairing Antique Furniture

There was always a way; a way he knew

to map an idea out of the landscape

lying before him like an unfinished 

puzzle; some way to reshape creation

with a simple jig. His mind danced about

the problem, as he rose and sat, sat and 

rose to walk across the yard cursing his 

thoughts for not seeing it: so simple, so

obvious. He’d lumber back to the bench,

pick up the pieces of wood and begin

to cast the abstract into the concrete.

Beneath his broken hands, he would divine 

a new pattern from the pattern inscribed 

in the broken palimpsest of the wood.

(September 26, 2021)

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Happiness

Happiness

—after Jim Harrison

The wine and whiskey, I am certain,

do not compliment the anti-depressants,

as well as I wish they would; yet, “all this time

counting the mind, counting crows”—

I pour a new glass with a touch of ice

to begin this conversation:

Hell has come to us as a heaven

we will never know, like Sappho’s apple

dangling slightly beyond our fingers

which grasp only at still air.

Where do we go when things fall apart?


In 1978, Buddha’s birthday

was three days after my eighteenth.

I was a crumpled bag of emotion:

my father had died two months earlier;

I was in love (and still am) with the girl

I would marry. I moved, two months later, 

125 miles to the north, leaving my hometown 

forever, yet still trailing all my doubts and fears

behind like crows along a fence line

who caw and flutter, marking

their constant presence with darker eyes.


We think we can escape ourselves,

ignoring the crows flying in and out

between the twisted oaks nearby.

We flee burning madly as we go;

yet, we can only be ourselves,

and, most days, that is not enough

to keep our fears balanced tightly

like circus clowns spinning plates

atop long fragile poles through the night.

(September 15, 2021)

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Negation

I’m lucky not to drown,

second by second, as I 

walk down the street—

what with all the lies

and recriminations

I mouth, then swallow,

like a gluttonous beast

devouring itself wholly.

Perhaps it’s fate not luck

which keeps me afloat? But that

requires some god to blame,

and explain the curses directed

daily over rosary beads, like 

mendicants to a self long lost.

(September 5, 2021)

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Map a Return Into the Ocean’s Lost Metaphor

There is no causality, no maze

to transcribe into memory,

simply a chance to breathe

near the bottom of the stairs;

and, like a mouth singing 

arias, I crack open the bones

in my chest to find a way

into the warm flesh, to dip

my worn fingers slowly in,

to feel the heart’s contours

define the next last moment,

to map another return into 

the ocean’s lost metaphor.

(August 25, 2021)

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Teaching in a Time of Covid

Tomorrow I go back on contract for my 33rd year of teaching. Last year was one of the worst years because of distance learning and the lack of contact with my students. The Students are always the best part of teaching, and for the last eight years (starting my 9th) at Ann Richards, I have had the best students ever, every year. Last year it was important that we teach remotely. The students, their families, my fellow teachers, my family and friends were at risk to this horrible deadly disease. We stayed at home and did what we could through a screen full of little boxes, because we had to. This year there is a more deadly, more virulent version of the same disease, and even with the vaccine, which a too large group of people refuse to take, and with no vaccine for the under 12 group…. which means ELEMENTARY CHILDREN….. It is more dangerous than ever to go back. Yet, here we are.. going back into the classroom. Cases are already being reported at my school, and the district where my wife teaches, and across Travis county.  I fear for what will happen over the next few weeks and months, as we go full bore back into the schools.I fear for my students.  I fear for my grandchild who is starting in a pre-k program. I fear for my family. And all of this is not necessary, we could stay remote. At the very least the elementary schools should stay remote, until the under 12 children can be vaccinated. I don’t understand what is the end game of the politicians like the Texas Governor, who seem to want children to die. What is the benefit to them? I want to believe in a hell, so the people who are forcing this to happen have some place to go.

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Always a Model Nearby

“Props and other disinherited

paraphernalia are never enough.”

—Susan Howe

My hands cradle my face,

covering my dead eyes. 

Worn thin like ragged cloth,

I am tired of my life:

Before sunrise I wake,

slowly move down the stairs,

and start again. Morning 

rituals of coffee

keep the old dramas near,

private. I want to wail,

long howls into the dark.

Instead, I feed the dog,

whose tail wags happily

as she eats her kibble.

(August 9, 2021)

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Campfire Story

A nostalgic old man,

whose whispers adhere

to the flames’ tongue,

tells his one story again.


You are charmed.

So the chains slip

into your veins,

your heart, your lungs.


The air thickens your breath,

until every song you hear

is the only song you hear,

then you can no longer dance.


And the fire burns down,

for nothing’s left to say.

(August 6, 2021)

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The Fire Consumes Us All

Yes, poetry burns in feral anger—

a knife flash fast at the shadowed church door

cuts through a dank cassock’s folded black cloth,

twisting quickly below the priest’s fat rib.

Yet, the mundane’s slow-etched eddy of truth

leaves its testament in the margins

of the more violent rush and tumble

relevance churning in the crowed streets.

My life is easily enough dismissed

with the trivialities of the day

dropping their dead petals across my path

like roses in ecstatic agony.


Yes, poetry burns in feral anger—

and burns and burns throughout the dullest day.

(July 26, 2021)

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Night Terror (a reading)

Night Terror

“When are we not in a dream?

…when are we not skeletons?”

—Sy. Hoahwah

I don’t remember 

the dream before,

I cracked my head hard

against the wooden night stand;  

the fine grained ephemera, 

which held the dream together, 

burned like flash paper into the air.

A lightning ball exploded 

my darker vision, as the dream,

too agile to cradle, threw me 

deftly from sleep onto the floor.

Not existing fully in the fluidity

of sleep, nor the concrete warmth

of the morning window’s light,

I held my head in my hands,

eyes shut, as the lightning flash

faded, leaving only the muscles

in my neck to burn like trees

broken during the night’s storm.

(July 16, 2021)

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Night Terror

“When are we not in a dream?

…when are we not skeletons?”

—Sy. Hoahwah

I don’t remember 

the dream before

I cracked my head hard

against the wooden night stand;  

the fine grained ephemera, 

which held the dream together, 

burned like flash paper into the air.

A lightning ball exploded 

my darker vision, as the dream,

too agile to cradle, threw me 

deftly from sleep onto the floor.

Not existing fully in the fluidity

of sleep, nor the concrete warmth

of the morning window’s light,

I held my head in my hands,

eyes shut, as the lightning flash

faded, leaving only the muscles

in my neck to burn like trees

broken during the night’s storm.

(July 16, 2021)

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Acceptance

(after J. Ruth Gendler)

Acceptance makes hot tea

for you on cold blustery days.

Acceptance waits for you 

to decide who you are—

She makes no judgement

based on arbitrary rules.

Acceptance knows she is stronger,

because she knows the difference

between herself and Acquiescence,

who is too afraid to be different.

Acceptance sits near an open chair

knowing you will find a way home.

She likes to listen to your voice

as you take delight in new ideas.

She does not care they are not hers.

With the gentle reassurance of love,

Acceptance takes your hands

as if they were fresh cut flowers.

(July 1, 2021)

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A Space Opened Into Absence Like the Sea

Where words we would have said

were swallowed, like sailors sacrificed

to the waves, possibility slipped shut.

If only we could have heard the words

we sang in secret to each other;

if only we had not died there,

feeding like fabled monsters

upon our embittered flesh;

if only we had relented

to the siren’s cold seductions,

then the screams in the waves

which smashed upon the sea wall

would not be lost to the blind pulse 

of froth and spume across the wreck.

(June 30, 2021)

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then, an ever present now (a reading)

then, an ever present now

The shuttlecock flits nimbly across the loom with a soft clacking beat. “For every time I’ve told this tale, I’ve told it twice again,” she implies with a sigh as she begins. She speaks of patience and home, and slow unsolicited seductions, as time unravels across the floor like red pools of forgetfulness at her feet.

He watches her hands shift the threads as if playing upon a lyre. He thinks, “There are so many ways through the woods; so many rivers and creeks to cross;  so many hollows and caves to wander lost, always different, always the same as the ones crossed before.”

For years and years as he wandered, he watched the waves pulse repetitive hallucinations and horrors towards a horizon he could no longer see. Unearthly monsters churned the waters feeding one upon the other; the past devoured the past with a ceaseless hunger for more. While elsewhere late at night, she walked the halls without a light, leaned against a shuttered door, and listened to the incessant voices muttering their plots and plans for a life she abhorred.

As the story faltered to its close, there was no soft landfall upon the strand, no wreck scattered upon a beach; no violence in their reunion, nor familial embrace. What had grown between them, tangled like olive tree roots upon a cliff, could not be troubled enough to be called love, if it could be called anything at all.

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then, an ever present now

The shuttlecock flits nimbly across the loom with a soft clacking beat. “For every time I’ve told this tale, I’ve told it twice again,” she implies with a sigh as she begins. She speaks of patience and home, and slow unsolicited seductions, as time unravels across the floor like red pools of forgetfulness at her feet.

He watches her hands shift the threads as if playing upon a lyre. He thinks, “There are so many ways through the woods; so many rivers and creeks to cross;  so many hollows and caves to wander lost, always different, always the same as the ones crossed before.”

For years and years as he wandered, he watched the waves pulse repetitive hallucinations and horrors towards a horizon he could no longer see. Unearthly monsters churned the waters feeding one upon the other; the past devoured the past with a ceaseless hunger for more. While elsewhere late at night, she walked the halls without a light, leaned against a shuttered door, and listened to the incessant voices muttering their plots and plans for a life she abhorred.

As the story faltered to its close, there was no soft landfall upon the strand, no wreck scattered upon a beach; no violence in their reunion, nor familial embrace. What had grown between them, tangled like olive tree roots upon a cliff, could not be troubled enough to be called love, if it could be called anything at all.

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Constructs

To connect to some constellation,

we curve toward our angle of light,

intwine our limbs

across any lattice we find.

For only in reflection

are lines straight,

a simple step followed by another,

where all our lies are justified

into sclerotic prison walls.

We turn our faces to the sun

like mirrors tracking distant stars,

where there are no explanations

for our desires, where absences

appear unanticipated

like the sadness of angels

momentarily entering a room

only to leave without speaking.

How do we know

to stand before the door

knowing it will open?

How do we know

the door is there?

(June 17, 2021)

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I Move Slowly Toward an Understanding

The mud thickness

on my shoes,

as I plod along

singing.


I bend slowly

into the earth;

my voice swallowed

by the wind.


Except for names

of the dead faces,

I remember most

versions of the past;


the storied details

reassure me

that what I knew,

I know. 


Despite other’s 

revanchist revisions,

I hold to a path

which will lead me home.


(June 8, 2021)

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The Whispers Drive the Narrative

The wild mustang grape vines

its way along the fence line,

further obscuring boundaries

between what is said, 

and what is perpetuated.


The past is of no consequence

beyond familiar stories to bolster

today’s latest interpretation,

which momentarily coalesces

to cloak in ambiguity

the Absence as it festers

in vague nostalgic shadows.

(May 30, 2021)

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Old Age

Along convoluted back trails

misted in vague familiarity,

we wonder in our ruins,

grown strange and inevitable

across dry rivers and dead grass.

Former landmarks fall to rubble,

become base for new towers,

new ways, not ours.

Then as if by accident,

as if with purpose,

we arrive each moment,

near-sighted and deaf

to regale in our misfortune,

repeating yet another iteration

of the story we all wear,

like chains forged from dust.

(May 20, 2021)

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as the world burns (137)

the turn was not a turn

you saw with my eyes

I blinked it vanished


she said no it was

not as you said

the way I knew it to be


the ragged lines spoke

with stranger accents

skewed cognates


the way was only 

the way here

the sole path here


the sky cleared

the sky stormed

the rain was dry


the way here was

the only way here

only me here now


I only know

this language

the words come to me


by birth

by chance

by god


she said yes but

not as you said

only what I said


it was the way

I knew the way

the way I said

(May 3, 2021)

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how history begins (136)

maps do not speak 

as vaguely blurred 

vowels along riverbanks 

where second cousins 

two counties removed 

slur to their mates 

nor sift for finer 

details in pap’s 

bourbon tongue 

(April 26, 2021) 

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forgive us this day (135)

“lesser christs of dim aspirations”

—Apollinaire

as an early spring front approaches

and dark clouds push across an empty sky

the first line begins the separation

from who I once was to what I’ve become

the slow dissolve from silence

into a momentary resistance 

to the callow acquiescences

and the nodding submissions 

imbued in these day to day devotions

this moment turns without motion

without thought as though it were

not there as though I was not ever there

as i was not the day before nor after

but only now in a field arms outstretched

the cold rain washing softly over me

(April 25, 2021)

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neither knowing nor unknowing (#134)

there in the day

to day constancy


there in the grain

of our tongues


as we speak

each to each


of the most

trivial things


there is where

the how arrives


on soft cat feet

oblivious of the night


there is the story

you said then said


along the seams

between dark and light


the story we heard

the story we tell


stitching our scars

along calloused lines


one strangled knot

woven into another


an embroidery

of nooses


until we’re hardened

to brittle words


which shatter all

we once were


thin crystal slivers

from a broken glass 


scattered like stars

across the floor

(April 19, 2021)

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palimpsest (132)

tension slips between

skin and flesh

as skillful as a fishmonger’s

blade slices down

the length of an eel

with one stroke

a practiced motion

without thought

like a priest at prayer

each wooden bead rolled

over fingertips in sync

with the slow muttered vowels

one patterned moment

moving toward the next

with endless patience

as the next ritual waits

for the candle to be lit

the words to flow

less with meaning

than as a balm

to still disquiet

(April 14, 2021)

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Pentecostal Ash (130)

within a multitude of soft tongues

a flame whispers accusations

around the kindling at your feet

and with a puff from her lips

it flourishes like angelic trumpets

curling toward a blackening sky

then soon enough

the fire fades 

to a boredom

akin to sadness

it’s not there

in its absence

as sadness pervades

each need

with lackadaisical ease

(April 5, 2021)

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what’s to be done but misunderstand (129)

SONY DSC

with a thousand toes to step upon

scattered across the ballroom floor

he negotiates with a nonchalance

reserved for sinister seductions

each phrase she said like a rabbit 

testing the air for the slightest sound 

to announce the wolf’s ragged debut

yet the wolf is off in some other forest

tracking that red-caped girl and

the wind carries sounds 

from some other tale as 

everything we once knew

crumbles into sullen ash

(April 2, 2021)

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like televisions in empty rooms (128)

at night a window becomes a mirror

where I see through my face 

floating upon the glass like ghosts
outside the trees glow in moonlight

I open another door and walk out

across the grass mixing my shadow

with the night’s mottled shadows

as if dark lace woven into the earth

I turn back to watch what I’ve left behind

the figures in the house move silently

from room to room like actors 

rehearsing how they will say what they say

(April 1, 2021)

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there again as if never there (127)

the rose belies death’s presence 

its slow decay into transcendence 

like words we almost knew 

but failed to say somehow 

only to be troubled for years 

rehashing conversations 

as if our world would change 

if we could only stay on script 

hearing each cue clearly without 

improvisation to distract 

from the offerings of love  

burning upon a broken stone 

as if some deity would take pity 

on creatures who could create 

no better god than themselves 

(March 25, 2021)

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side note

indecisive and insecure 

I am on an edge 

no cliff nor rooftop 

from which to leap 

more marginal  

more like myself 

a collection of questions 

laced down a ragged page 

I take a moment 

to pull myself close 

to gather myself 

into a tighter pile 

of misunderstandings 

to tie myself to a series 

of questionable knots 

strung across the night 

with a sense of frivolity 

like lights at a garden party 

or a noose in a lonesome room 

swinging beneath a bare bulb 


(March 25, 2021)

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I am not You (126)

“a border is never neutral”

—Jaques Derrida

on a map it is a line drawn

in color across the landscape


it’s arbitrary except for words

which no longer make sense


when placed abstractly on trees

and through creek beds


no one sees them except 

the ones who kill ones


who speak their vowels

elongated or shortened

(March 11, 2021)

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with each glance a horizon forms (125)

to form a new line

just out of reach


like desire

and all we remember

we fall away

from ourselves like rain


leaving clouds

to float on the horizon


too tired to speak

too heavy to hold the sky


we move down a road

always approaching a line


if we cross we’re freed

into a new chain


a new destruction

a new circle to close


like blood squeezed

along sclerotic veins


until the heart seizes

at what remains


a lost kiss a touch

one last word


(March 8, 2021)

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Start the Way You Intend to Go

from “an untitled serial poem”

grey and cold all day

the year begins again

cedar pollen drifts wildly

I can feel the shredded bark

deeply behind my eyes

trying to cut a way out

I’m not surprised but fear

all that has changed enough

to become a normal day

as wolves claw and slaver

at the door

(January 2, 2020)

note: I am starting a series of 140 poems, the length of each poem will be a set number of syllables determined by a random number generator. each poem/stanza will organically arise from the previous poem/stanza in the series in the manner of a renga without following the traditional renga’s syllable parameters. Additionally there is another requirement put upon every tenth poem/stanza in the series which will connect it to another “ten” poem/stanza following abstractly the traditional rhyme pattern of a Shakespearian sonnet. This is the second time I have written a longer poem following this self-imposed system. The first was called “Sonnet: a rengaThis is the beginning poem/stanza of the new series.