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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)

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No One Watches the Train Fall From the Broken Bridge (a reading)

His problem has nothing to do with the train which travels steadily through the night. Everyone is content, if not happy, on the train, reading opinions they already agree with, drinking champagne, eating delicacies imported from foreign countries. They pretend they do not like the food, but wish they could eat as well at home.  All of the people on the train are facing the same direction, which gives them all a strange comfort.  A few of them look out the windows, but it is too dark to see the trees in the forest. It all follows along so logically, like a math problem in high school where rats scuttle east over well-polished wing-tips at a variable rate of three feet per second. They stop randomly to nibble on discarded bread crumbs dropped with nonchalance by the passengers on the train. Meanwhile the train travels south at a consistent seventy-three miles per hour directly toward the crumbled bridge which once traversed a chasm one thousand feet deep and a mile wide. There is no question at the end that one must answer. However, there is an answer; there is always an answer. No one watches the train fall from the broken bridge. No one hears the explosions as it crashes into the rocks below, or the last cries for help of those who are momentarily still alive.  

On a trail nearby the train tracks, a monk moves through the dark as if he has been here before, thinking vaguely of other things. He pauses, peers into the dark, then wanders off along his way. The monk’s tangentially wandering mind is not enough to mark the train’s passing beyond the silence which lingers in the mountains for several hours after the sun has risen again.

(July 6, 2018)

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Structures and Forms

I started a serial poem back at the beginning of January. The plan was to write 140 poems, each poem’s length pre-determined by a random number generator, ranging from 3-140 syllables. It was to follow vaguely the rules of a renga, where each poem grew out of the one before it somehow, whether through theme, pun, image, or a reply. The number of poems was determined by the number of syllables in a sonnet. 

I have reached 80 poems in this series. I hit 40 back at the end of March. I have 60 more to go. I would like to finish this by the end of December, which means I should speed up a bit. LOL.  I have never really written under a deadline except for required essays in grad school. However, 80 poems in 7 months is a fairly phenomenal pace for me.

I will now begin to move forward with the third ‘stanza’ while collecting and tightening sections 1 and 2, in hopes that as I reread and work over the first two sections, the third stanza will continue the conversations, if you will, that began in the first two “stanzas,” and the themes and images will continue to echo and grow organically in section three. 

A little obsessive, but then what about life is not.

(July 27, 2020)

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Fear Lies

“Why aren’t you bold and free of all your fear?”

-Dante Alighieri, Inferno, Canto III

as smoke 

infuses itself

throughout the house

long after the fire’s extinguished

so fear 

circulates in silent eddies

flowing like ravenous minnows

nibbling sharply at our toes

.

my fear lies

within doubt

it breeds

in the crevices

in the misunderstood word

in the scene not played out

it’s brood hatches

hungry needing to feed

skittering along memory

like spiders alive to every

web strand’s tingle

it descends to attend

to the fly’s quick dispatch

(July 21, 2020)

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a darker shape was always present

from a work in progress: “process, not a journey” (78)

after the worst of summer’s heat

we’d sit in the grass

beneath the pecan and cottonwoods

away from the radiant streets and sidewalks

the adults spoke of friends 

far away or long dead

they’d laugh and tell stories

which we were not a part of yet

we ran wild through the night

afraid of nothing

(July 18, 2020)

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templates

from a work in progress: “process, not a journey” (76)

so many boundaries

are employed

in any definition


the outlines cut

from what is not

are as important 

as what remains


a pattern

even with

a patch

bears a pattern

if not original in intent


with care I fold my words

into this conversation

like origami cranes

from crisp white paper


(July 14, 2020)

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Metaphor’s Threat

from a work in progress: “process, not a journey” (74)

It is hard to hear 

what must be said

easy to fall 

into cliche

a pair of shoes 

softly worn old

they know the way 

to take you home

as cows wear down

 a simple path

between one place

 and another

no difference

 really matters

our thoughts carve out

 the same channels

and run like rats

 trapped in a maze

never pausing

 to look for more

than what was there

 the last time here

repetition 

a common thread

comforts us all

 with old ideas

and traps us too

with such fools as I

(July 11, 2020)

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even now I hear them (a reading)

even now I hear them

from a work in progress: process, not a journey (72)

“Sea, I am like you, filled with broken voices”

—Guillaume Apollinaire

insistent demanding attention

soft whispers curl at my feet

like cats they claw at me

with their sharp reminders

lightly pulling at my skin

until the ground is awash

in the blood of memory

and then slightly below the surface

small phrases embedded in dead

conversations rise like tattered faces

from the sea to mouth their silent

vowels like fish dying in the sand

until the raw scraps of language

in which I am tangled 

are cast out in a storm surge

far out among the dark waves

and I drown choking 

with nothing to say

(July 6, 2020)

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even now I hear them

from a work in progress: process, not a journey (72)

“Sea, I am like you, filled with broken voices”

—Guillaume Apollinaire

insistent demanding attention

soft whispers curl at my feet

like cats they claw at me

with their sharp reminders

lightly pulling at my skin

until the ground is awash

in the blood of memory

and then slightly below the surface

small phrases embedded in dead

conversations rise like tattered faces

from the sea to mouth their silent

vowels like fish dying in the sand

until the raw scraps of language

in which I am tangled 

are cast out in a storm surge

far out among the dark waves

and I drown choking 

with nothing to say

(July 6, 2020)

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there’s no time

from a work in progress: “process, not a journey” (71)

some time after sunrise I wake

go downstairs book notebook

pen in hand make coffee take

my meds check various

social platforms eat some thing

shower get dressed

sometimes read sometimes write

sometimes nap wake

cook dinner wash the dishes

watch TV listen to music and

then after some time go to sleep

(July 2, 2020)