Important lessons for these contentious times.
with passionate people
are large and
with a network of scars
on their knuckles
have a black belt
and various other oriental
schools of mayhem
have a weapon
and know how to use it
know the password
online banking account
are so drunk
they are beyond
were not as drunk
at the last office party
and have the photos
to prove it
what you said about your wife
when you were in high school
and about to ask her
for a first date...
I pass on to you
I recommend them
New poems this week as usual. My old poems are from my last poetry eBook, New Days & New Ways
, a collection from 2011. I published a book of very short stories before this book and a "flash fiction fable" after it. Both books sought to create an extended narrative through short prose pieces that together told a story.
And poems from my library.
to do my part
Gustavo Perez Firmat
a mid-winter poem
clarity of the addled hours
ah ah ah
Aus einem April
Saturday night live
all brothers to all brothers
fat lady with parasol passes
II (from "Spider Woman")
I could be racing
what robots can never do
My first new poem for this week, from last week.
to do my part
on a dim, misty Saturday morning,
standing on the Jones Street Bridge
watching the river flow...
where, under the bridge, recorded
bird song plays day and night
on a continuous loop...
if it was darker,
I could imagine myself
standing amid a lock of tens of varied
bird-species, all singing,
the sun in its difficult rise
on such a wet, overcast day...
with that job done, the birds would
turn their attention to me, encouraging
me to rise to the occasion, calling me
to rise and cast my light through the murk,
calling me to do my part
to keep the world
First from my library this week is from the anthology, American Diaspora, Poetry of Displacement
, published by University of Iowa Press in 2001.
The poem is by Gustavo Perez Firmat
. Born in Cuba and raised in Miami, the poet earned his Ph.D in Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan. He taught at Duke University from 1979 to 1999 and currently is professor of Humanities at Columbia University.
We are called broken
because we do not humor the age,
mask our distemper, dress our disdain
in vests and valentines.
We are called broken
because we do not settle,
we roil, we wrack, we wreck
ourselves and our wives and our children,
ourselves and our friends and their children,
ourselves and our wives and their friends.
Truths and trouble we tell them,
hurts and hatreds we tell them,
how it all began and how it will end,
who did what to whom and for what reason,
who's to blame and what the punishments should be.
We spare them nothing.
We tell them todo
, then go on to more.
We break them with our brokenness
until they are broken too.
First from New Days & New Ways
. The book is divided into five sections, poems in each section intended an elaboration on the section's title. The first section is titled, "Passages."
a mid-winter poem
I have the feel
of a string running out,
a slackness in my lifeline,
all that I am reduced to
I've done many things in my life,
good and worthwhile things,
though none lasted longer than
it took for my shadow
to fade around the corner
my proudest legacies
remembered only by me -
like clouds blown apart
by the wind, so much more fragile
than I had imagined
when doing them
and now the line
that anchored me to the future
has gone slack and I feel just another
of the world's many forgettable
These poems are by my second favorite French poet from the turn of the 19th-20th century, Guillaume Apollinaire
. Though born in Rome in 1880, Apollinaire's adult life was centered in Paris, where came to know well many of the young artists of the new Modernist movement, giving "cubism" its name in the process. The poem is from the book Alcools
He served France in World War I and was seriously wounded, undergoing two skull operations. He died of Spanish influenza in 1918.
The collection of poems was published in 1995 by Wesleyan University Press, with translation by Donald Revell
On High Street in Cologne
She came and went all night
Whoring her tiny her pretty
Board in streetlight
Drunk in cellars
Rescued in Shanghai
En route to Formosa
Apprenticed to poverty
For love of a pimp
Who stank of garlic
I've known all kinds of people
Unequal to their fates
Uncertain as the fallen leaves
Eyes like dampened fires
Hearts like gaping doors
In the sky angels angels
One is an officer
One is a poulterer
The rest sing
Handsome sky-blue officer
A long time after Christmas spring
Awards the Legion of the Handsome Sun
The Handsome Sun
The poulterer plucks geese
Fall! I have
No beloved in my arms.
I picked this sprig of heather
Autumn has died you must remember
We shall not see each other ever
I'm waiting and you must remember
Time's perfume is a sprig of heather
Just because I don't know now doesn't me I didn't use to know how.
clarity of the addled hours
I have moments of clarity,
usually when they don't do me any good,
like at 4:30 a.m. when all the world
but me is in deepest sleep, and
even if it was revealed to me
all the secrets of solving the world's problems
it would d no good since
there's no one else around to tell it to...
honesty if poetry - I know that's not true,
all I've written above nothing
but just plain old poet hooey, a poet
pushing words on an incline, hoping
gravity will do its job and push a poem
downhill to a semi-respectable
my clarity at 4:30 a.m.
is a semi-sleep mirage, ideas
making sense only because the mind's
still clouded by secret dreams and desires
of an old man, spinning fantasy tales
and impossible promises to himself
and besides that,
the old man is not alone in the world
or even in his neighborhood and should
a true revelation actually strike him
there are plenty of people around to share it
the mother down the street walking
a colicky baby, other old men roaming
the dark halls of home in stocking feet,
swaddled in thick sweaters, cold
as old men are always cold...
police cars cruising through the mid-night
city, the diner down the street,
fry cooks and foot-weary waitresses
feeding young night owls, pulling
the covers over a bacchanal night, EMTs
drinking coffee, trying to stay awake
for the inevitable calls of
early-morning heart attacks,late night
crashes on the interstate, the bleeding dead
and barely alive in their twisted wrecks,
the twisted family sedan, the note three years
before paid-off, cab drivers on their way
to the airport to harvest early morning arrivals, boys
washing dishes at hotels, taking room service orders
to sex-scented rooms, cashiers and midnight stockers
at all-night groceries...
I have been in these places in my life, one
of the dark denizens of street-lit life,
working the late shift, drinking until bars close,
going home drunk, hungover, or just job-
exhausted, finishing a shift with the first rising
of new-day sun, days with the false clarity
of the insomniac...
and despite what I said at the beginning of this,
that's the closest I've ever come to clarity, those
false promises of addled ours when we all
from our earliest nights were meant to
Next, here's Charles Bukowski
, from the collection, Open All Night
. The book was published by Ecco in 2000.
ah, ah, ah
I suppose what disturbs me about the sages,
the great minds,
is that they are so sure of what they
yet I have to forgive them.
I admire their energy.
(I too have energy but it's not for
instead of knowing more and more
I know less and less.
instead of becoming more comfortable
I become more
jesus, I am beginning to sound like
one of those philosophy books in the library
that runs around in circles
like a dog chasing its
I suppose that what I liked about the libraries
back when I was young
were the old bums
shitting in the crappers and washing their hands and faces
and then falling asleep over a book
their noses inside the books
and they were asleep
and the flies circled them
as the binding of 100,000 dull books
stared at me
all the sages
all the years
The second section of New Days & New Days
is about the problem we poem-a-day poets have in coming up with a new poem every day, and how we fall back on uninspired days to writing about not being able to write.
And sometime, we just punt, producing some of my personal favorite poems.
The section's title is "Perils & Pitfalls of Poem a Day Poets."
is called killing
this slack dumbstruck
on my face
like a cow facing his stockyard
executioner is actually a sign of intense mental
will emerge in good time a poem
for the ages
a poem of the
an old poem
full of old excuses and yesterday's words
until there is at least
or maybe two
killed in the killing
such an astrophysically
result it is, this killing
much more significant in this
than any little morning poem
about which the gods would shrug
as time runs out
to stasis, entropy
the end my
This poem is by Frank O'Hara
, taken from his book Meditations in an Emergency
. The book was published by Grove Press in 1957, my copy, a second edition in 1967.
Aus einem April
We dust the walls.
and of course we are weeping larks
falling all over the heavens with our shoulders clasped
in someone's armpits, so tightly! and our throats are full.
Haven't you ever fallen in love at Christmas
and didn't it move everyone who saw you?
isn't that what the tree means? the pure pleasure
of making weep those whom you cannot move by your flights!
It's enough to drive one to suicide.
And the rooftops are falling apart like the applause
of rough, long-nailed, intimate, roughened-by-kisses, hands.
Fingers more breathless than a tongue laid upon the lips
in the hour of sunlight, early morning, before the mist rolls
in from the sea; and out there everything is turbulent and green.
Another from last week. It is a wild, pulse-pounding life I lead.
Saturday night live
having a late coffee
at my diner
the two young guys
in the booth in front of mine,
a black guy and a Latino, potential
gangster portraits, talking
the intricacies of their favorite
video games, clearing out thee hood,
bam bam ratatatatatat
an older man and woman
across the way, not talking
the way long-married don't talk,
chit-chat topics hashed, re-hashed
and buried fifteen years ago -
catfish special for each of them,
one wants catfish for their fries,
the other holds out for tartar sauce...
a couple, younger marrieds, he tall
and muscular, walks ahead, she,
a short dumpling of a woman, walks
behind,not married so long as to
run out of chit-chat, but past the years
when they walked together, he
holding her arm...
further down, two young couples,
double-dating, cheap dates, hamburger and
fries, then a movie, one couple
lost in each other's eyes, the others
barely looking at each other, one of the
fellas will have a good night, the other,
not so much...
the table of cops, coffee break,
radios crackling on the table...
the sign-slinger, the old man
with short gray beard, used to dance an
wave his arms, doing intricate, flutter9ig
waves with his hands, these days,
no dancing, can barely walk, but his fingers
still dance as his feet cannot -
coffee and a scrambled egg before he
slowly and painfully crosses
the parking lot to the furniture store
whose sign he slings, where the owner has
given him a crib to sleep in...
the older woman, eats her dinner
here every night, not sociable like
diner people often are, doesn't talk
to anyone, doesn't want to be talked to,
hunched over her dinner, straight mousy
gray hair, makes me think of an old
English teacher, she is always buried in a book
as she eats, a lonely woman without
the company of her books
and Frank, an old man with straight
fly-away hair and beard, sits at the counter
by himself, lonely now too since his
service dog, Frank Jr., passed on and is no
longer sitting patiently beside him..
I entertain a brief fantasy, a movie ending
where the two lonely diner people, Frank
and the old English teacher happen
to catch each other's eye and, as the music
swells they dance together across
the parking lot, the sign-slinger joins them
Donald O'Connor to their Fred and
a glorious full moon rises
outside over the rumble of a
storm approaching from the west...
warm and dry tonight, wet and
unreasonably cold in the early
spring-forward morning tomorrow...
it's another Saturday night live for a wild
and crazy life like the one I lead
bed time approaching
on sleepy cat feet
The next poem is by Cathy Song
, taken from her book Picture Bride
, winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award in 1982. The book was published by Yale University Press. She has published four additional collections of poetry since then.
Song, born in Hawaii in 1955, was educated at Wellesley College and Boston University.
We speak of naming our daughters,
inside you. Still inside me.
Separate, moist, quiescent.
Our meetings are conspiracies.
I bring the water,
you prepare for hunger.
I portion out the spirits,
the ritual of breaking bread.
You part the water,
come flying back to me
on boneless wings,
The third section of my eBook, New Days & New Ways
, is titled "Human Is As Human Does." This poem is from that section.
all brothers to all brothers
I talk to my animals...
who can't hear me,
but she can see my lips move
and know she's on my mind, like
the blind cat knows she is not alone in the dark
when I stroke her head as I pass,
like the friendly nod I exchange with people
I pass on the street because we all need
to know we are not alone in the dark -
such an acknowledgement of our shared passage
we should pass on to the creatures around us -
balm to repair the primordial weld that has bound
us all since creation, the weld that is separating now
as all become remote from the others...
if you believe in God, remember that he created us all
as part of his plan and it is not our place to redraw
the blueprints of his creation;
if you do not believe in God, remember instead
that we are all creatures at base of common offspring,
basic elements that give us all, as our relatives,
the snake, the bird, the fish in the ocean, the lion
in the field, our neighbor across the fence, the
daffodil growing wild as any creature on the meadow,
the earth beneath our feed and the stars that shine overhead,
all brothers of all brothers in our most basic
Here are two short poems by Jim Carroll
, from his book Void of Course, Poems 1994-1997
. The book was published by Penguin Poets in 1998.
Best known for his book, The Basketball Diaries
, Carroll published his first collection of poetry in 1973. The poet, an autobiographer, and punk musician, was born in 1949 and died (at his writing desk, it is said) in 2009.
Not big on titles, apparently, all the poems in this book are simply titled "Poem." Personally, I find that to be an affectation and a disservice to readers.
Vertigo, discord and certain trees
Formed the matrix for all alphabets.
Each letter is true
Every word is false
in that cabinet lives the salamander
Which I mentioned
With her entourage of fireflies.
Ask your question
The moment I open those doors
The stand back quickly
She answers with flames
And don't dare underestimate
The distance of her fire
Your spirit was deep
It suffused grace surely as amber
Now it's a small sick bird
That pins around the gravel
No flying, no color, now warmth for a hand
Another from last week.
dark and misty
at 7 a.m.
the sound of hammers
in the shrouded morning
as workers begin the day
on the condominium construction
across the river
I can't hammer a straight nail
in full, mid-day sunshine, easily intimidated
by those who can do it seven stories up
in the dark
it's hard to be ambitious
on a day like this,
the clock running ahead
making twilight zone
mornings, making eyes-open,
feet on a shifting
daunting to many of us
with misspent early life
inspired by flickering, snowy television reality,
infecting us with visions inspiring,
the day starts
according to uncommon agreement
and I suppose
it's going to be a clear, sun-shining day,
has to be, I say,
after I spent $10 on a car wash
The next poem is by my poet-friend Charles Levenstein
, taken from his book Poems of World War III
. His book was published by Lulu Press in 2006.
Chuck is Professor Emeritus of Work Environment Policy at the University of Massachusetts. In addition to his poetry, he is editor of New Solutions Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health Policy
and author of numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals as well as several non-poetry books.
Old people remember December 7,
I don't even though I was branded
like a stray calf, Don't Fence Me In,
song on our lips later
when we angled to contain
stuffed our brand new stuffing
in ship and shore containers,
peddled store-bought turkeys
to the hungry world. Cowboys
and cattle from Texas to Alaska,
sent Union Pacific into space,
never neglecting, but never forgot
Butch Cassidy in Central America,
fruit, coffee and cows all the way
to Argentina, American gauchos and
good friends fought rustlers and
horse thieves, helped good folks
of Chile, the good folks of El Salvador,
I can't even remember how the cowboys
brought down the Sandinista,
something about a truck drivers' strike
after years and years of raids -
More sheepherders and farmers trying
to steal our grazing land.
Not to mention the empire of black gold,
the King Ranch of the Middle East,
cowboys and skull caps,
just like Texas,
Sam Houston against all those Mexicans
(who were descended from Spain
who got their looks from North Africa
so you get the connection).
Our oil, our oil.
Now we have a new date
to brand on kid's behinds,
You better believe that blood
will mix with oil in Casar's salad.
September 11 - a familiar ring.
This piece is from the fourth section of New Days & New Ways
, "Life on the Fifty Planet."
fat lady with a parasol passes
then fire truck
then another ambulance
becomes morning parking lot
four lanes across
crash on the interstate
with a parasol
on a bicycle
fat feet pumping
on the pedals
so I guess it's over
This poem is by Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan
. It is taken from her book, Winner of the Four Way Books Intro Prize in Poetry, Shadow Mountain
, published in 2008.
Born in Santa Monica and raised in Los Angles, the poet earned her MFA in poetry at the University of Virginia and her Ph.D. in literature and creative writing at the University of Houston. She teaches at Houston Community College.
Terzanelle: Manson Riot
This is a poem with missing details,
of round gouging each barrack's windowpane,
sand crystals falling with powder and shale,
where silence and shame make adults insane.
This is abut a midnight of search lights,
of ground gouging each barrack's windowpane,
of syrup on rice and a cook's big fight.
This is the night of Manzanar's riot.
This is about a midnight of searchlights,
a swift moon and a voice shouting, Quiet!
where the revolving search light is the moon.
This is the night of Manzanar's riot,
windstorm of people, rifle powder fumes,
children wiping their eyes clean of debris,
where the revolving searchlight is the moon,
and children still line to use the latrines.
This is a poem about missing details,
children wiping their eyes clean of debris -
sand crystals falling with powder and shale.
Again from last week. A day begins and ends.
the day begins
of the coffeehouse crowd
the morning light
the day begins
a beautiful day
caught pink at the top
by the setting
flights of grackles
on the moving
The next poem from my library is by Devreaux Baker
, taken from her book Red Willow People
. The book was published by Wild Ocean Press in 2010.
Her poetry has been widely published in journals and in her own books, Baker taught poetry in schools for many years and is a therapist who combines poetry and creative writing in her therapy.
(from "Spider Woman"
Your skirt is old as wind before she had a name,
when she was a thought floating
through the mind of the sky,
and birds were the long slow syllables
of her tongue.
Your hair is long as the mountain's face
hollowing blue rock into bare soil down and down.
Your fingers are as quick as light slipping through
the eyelids of the world, each fracture a quick seam
of yellow that escapes and flies out as kernels of corn,
as tears from earth's echo, her great volcanic heart,
her mountain mind.
Around your throat, a necklace of silver fish dreaming.
This is from "As Is or Ought to Be," section five from New Days & New Ways
I could be racing
I could be racing my Stutz Bearcat
through the high mountain passes
of Abrakzam, if I wanted to, or trading
tequila shots with the Duchess de Whirl...
I could do that...
or I could be riding hell for leather
across the rocky steppes of Kerikombati,
eating roast pig on the pristine white sands
of Jazmaka de Mir, or attending a Hollywood premier
with the bountifully bodacious Hungarian star of the evening,
I could go hang gliding over the deep red canyons
of Tashtaganskastan, if I wanted, or I might pilot my jumbo
Lear jet to a birthday bash for the Prince of Crisco-Ferlinghetti...
lots of other stuff like that I could be doing today..
but I have a poem to write first, then the new Harry Potter
movie that opened just last night, I could take my niece to that,
and there's my geraniums that need some watering, and a whole
drawer full of socks needing emergency organizational attention,
real life stuff that proves I'm living
and not just part of someone else's Stutz Bearcat dream
And finally this last piece from New Ways & New Days
, this one from the sixth section, simply titled "Out There."
and blazing clear
dark and cold,
on a field
anther creature of nights and days
looks to the dark above
his indeterminate head and sees
the brilliant mark of mine
among the billions in the canvas
of his sky,
just as I see above me
the fire that warms his night
and lights his day...
the other -
the universal divide,
the furthermost reaches
of nights and
but no longer lonely
Here it is, the last for the week.
what the robots can never do
my house is
two houses down
from a little two-lane road
left over from long ago when it was just
a country lane, before it became a busy thoroughfare
in the 1970s, bringing people like me home,
crossing Apache Creek, rising and falling
over the rolling ridges that gave our neighborhood
the old country road, in the country no more,
is being widened now, its two lanes
becoming five, a major project, begun
early last year, scheduled to complete late this year...
for 30 years I worked with all types of workers and employers
and learned early to appreciate good bosses
and skilled workers
like the heavy equipment operators working on my street
the way a motor grader operator can, with delicacy
and precision, shave an inch off a roadbed at exactly the right angle
to give the road the exact grade it will need for
proper drainage, ad the large excavator, its long flexible arm
and large, heavy bucket maneuvered through tight spaces, scooping up
just the right amount of earth to fit the engineers' plan...
it is exciting to watch these small men and women atop
these great rumbling machines, guiding them like couples
doing the two-step at the VFW Hall Saturday night dance
on a smaller scale,
my favorite of all the skilled trades are the bricklayers, like those
working on the condominium across the river
from my coffeehouse, bricklayers, climbing floor by floor
to lay bricks, precisely, spreading the exactly correct amount
of mortar, placing one brick at a time atop the mortar,
tapping it softly with the end of their trowel to settle each brick
in exactly as it should be, perfectly even and level, creating a will,
in this case, seven floors of perfect and level bricks, the art
of the true craftsman leaving us to see for years the beauty of a
finely layered wall...
I worked with people for many years, work that required
the same precision and delicacy as any craftsman, but without
the pleasure at the end of seeing beautiful walls, the work
of my hand never obvious when the work was finished..
I think that might be why Winston Churchill, after all his years
of accomplishing great things in this world, took up masonry
in his retirement, building a stone wall at his country estate,
laying stone by stone, day after day, building a wall
that went nowhere, enclosed nothing -
but what a great thing to look at, standing straight and tall
for him as he sat and watched with his cigar and whiskey,
hard evidence of creation and success, from his own hand, form
the hand of a man...
robots will someday build our walls and lay our stones
as well or better as any craftsman can do
but never will they stand back when done, enjoying
their cigar and whiskey, and admire their work
it is why we are better than them - we can understand
the beauty of our creation
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New Days & New Ways
Places and Spaces
Goes Around Comes Around
Pushing Clouds Against the Wind
And, for those print-bent, available at Amazon and select
coffeehouses in San Antonio
Seven Beats a Second
Sonyador - The Dreamer
Peace in Our Time