When the haunted house catches fire: a moment of indecision. The house was, after all, built on bones, and blood, and bad intentions. Everyone who enters the house feels that overwhelming dread, the evil that perhaps only fire can purge. It's tempting to just let it burn. And then I remember: there are children inside. ~Kyle Tran Myhre [via Rob Brezsny]
The sun finally dropped behind the tree line on an October evening still warm from the day's golden light and I'm thinking of Rod McKuen poet and voice of a hundred fall nights who showed up when I needed him and stuck around, silly man, in a slender collection of anguish and love poems fragrant now with the dusty spores of a long-ago life I saw him last in a thrift store down on Riverside, nestled with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and Andy Williams in the crate of albums nobody wants anymore, this poet who sold more books in a single year than Alan Ginsberg sold in fifty, but it is Howl we remember and not A Cat Named Sloopy, alas, recalled from the randomness of a day in October and the light on my screen and the story that appeared, just like the poet, when I needed it most.
Children of Ozymandias
The Princes hoist their flags above the Capitol dome, fist-bumps for all the children of Ozymandias, they inherit the crumbling empire, sandblasted from sea to shining sea, limestone and lithium, dust in all their mouths. The incoming tide laps the shores of an eastern seaboard retreating inland like an ill-fed army, one giant gated fiefdom of chipboard and hot glue, PVC-wrapped porch columns gone akimbo in the infernal heat, even the termites aren’t interested. We learned to build sets all summer in the theater; from the orchestra pit they were so convincing. Look now on our Potemkin Land of the Free, and despair! Everyone is wealthy on TV. There are rifles for all but no food in the kitchen, surprise! A car for every parking space and all the tanks are empty. A wrinkled lip, a sneer of cold command: Close the borders! Never mind. No one’s going anywhere, anyway. Cargo ships run aground in the land between the two Americas, and all the shelves at Target are empty, while high overhead the satellites collide and veer off into orbits no one thought to calculate. What are we to do? I read somewhere we could shoot them down with lasers. But how then will we stream the next season of The Gilded Age?
Just In Time
I'm a just-in-time poem, sitting offshore in a shipping container on an uneasy ocean waiting, waiting, waiting for the crane to hoist me high and swing me to the ground, for the door to open and the sky to appear, I will fly free like the miseries from Pandora's box, beat my wings against the windows of an indifferent world, until I settle at last in some poor poet's soul and live out my days in the sweet mercy of endless supply and not a single demand.
History Is Not Inanimate
This past Wednesday a Tennessee legislator stood up in the Tennessee chambers and stated that the Civil War has not ended. That it is still going on, and that the South is winning.
He was making a bollocks economic argument, which the linked story does a fair job dismantling, but it reminded me that I wrote something not too dissimilar just a few weeks ago (sans the bollocks argument). Which led me to consider all the ways in which the past is fluid, unfixed and open to revisiting.
In the Long Now, the State Senator may be right. The brackets we put around historical events are rather arbitrary. There is always a before and an after in any story, and those are a part of the story, too, the concentric circles that radiate outward until all their energy has dissipated into, has been absorbed by, lives on within, the ecosystem.
Performer Niko Case writes:
“History” is a place I linger and look for because it comforts me; it’s a bit of a habit. It has the most beautiful wallpaper and I have to make sure I don’t live there full-time. After all, history is not inanimate either and the past changes behind us. The wake from a ship on the ocean is a movement that never stops moving. It is a “forward” also.NIko Case, Entering The Lung
History clings to us, like a shadow at our heel. It’s a thing we cast, and it attenuates with the sun, with our changing perspective. How much of it is the thing that happened, and how much of it is us, squinting into the light, trying to discern the boundaries?
Realizing there are no boundaries.
It reminds me of a poem I wrote a few years ago about where and when you draw a line around a thing, and call it good or not good, call it done, say “this is a part of it” and “this is not.” It’s not a poem about history, but it feels like part of the same conversation, ongoing.
The maple trees along my street hold on to green leaves that ought to be red by now and yellow like the sun that won't stop warming us, I mowed the yard one last time before putting the machine away for the season, optimist about almost nothing beyond the end of yard work, believing it must surely be at hand, short days ahead and long nights meant for novels that last through all the cold months, I will unpack my favorite sweater, turn away from the news, pay attention to how the sky looks just before the snow comes, if it comes at all, if the grass will ever stop growing, if the leaves will only turn red.
The life coach wants twenty-two hundred dollars to talk to me on Voxer, meet with me on Zoom, to share the keys to the internet kingdom with me, she will unlock the secrets to a life less disaffected, but I will have to do the work, she says, as if it were a choice, as if doing the work was not what I’ve done since putting on a uniform at sixteen years to dump French fries into paper sleeves, disposable then as now, I was fired for telling what I knew was the truth to a harried woman at the counter rooting for change in her coin purse, that what filled her cup was not a milkshake, that it contained no milk, just an oily ersatz that didn’t quite cross the threshold of authenticity, and what did you learn at work today, dear girl? I learned that getting fired is not the worst thing, that selling yourself for pence and pounds can be a greater magnitude of worse, you called me a child then for learning the wrong lesson, call me failed and naïve even now and I agree: all I ever wanted was to write my stories and ride a horse through the hills above Attica where I could see the concrete wall of the prison on a clear day, we rode together, once upon a time when we were young and I knew the secrets of your heart, bound up then as now in knots, for we told each other everything, even when we were afraid, I know you wanted to ride your own horses and tell your own stories, before they taught you otherwise, before they handed you a piece of paper and led you to a cubicle with a motivational poster in place of a window, no view of your own horizon, I know you wanted those things, too.
God Plays Pool
We are born of collision, objects in motion meeting objects at rest, God may not play dice with this universe, but he plays pool, marking each day on the green baize, blue chalk dust, cosmic cue of ash and inlay, he breaks us with every dawn, birds fall silent, the sky cracks, see how we scatter.
Much like my commitment to this blog, my practice of writing a daily poem begins with good intent at the start of each year, only to founder in a few months on the rocks of “good gods and goddesses, these are awful.”
When I was younger I used to send poems to an English teacher friend of mine for critique, poems full of sadness and grief. Once I sent him a more joyful batch; I’d been reading Whitman and was trying to emulate the exuberance of Leaves of Grass. My teacher friend wrote back that he liked the dark ones better.
So do I, apparently.
Padlock I found the keys in the junk drawer along with the post-its and bottle caps and other reminders of days I must have lived through while I waited for the world to change, knowing it could not, that it could only always be what it is, the sum of all its parts, trees and beetles and milkweed and kissing bugs, the people who loved, the people who would never love, the train I rode to the end of the tracks, the dog I met there who followed me home, we shared a package of hot dogs from the quickmart as I rummaged through the lost voices and empty refrains of too many seasons spent in the same place, the lock on the shed is rusted now but perhaps one of these keys will fit and the tumbler will turn and the shank will lift and the door will swing open, perhaps it’s not too late to step inside, find what was lost, all those ways I meant to be.
Three of my poems are now up on David Onan’s online poetry blog, Fevers of the Mind. They were previously included in a Fevers anthology and in a collection of poems inspired by Leonard Cohen (thank you, David.) Two are from my own 2017 collection, The Breakup Poems.
Supply Side Managers
The man in the interview was trying his best to make supply-side management sound like something you would choose to do with your one precious life, while the show host wondered if students today were prepared for such complex work upon completing their four-year college degrees after six years of secondary school and six more of primary school and two of pre-k, eighteen classroom years and still they ask if the students are ready, if there is not more to be done to assure a steady supply of supply-side managers, and I thought of Derrick Jensen, explaining how long it takes to break the will of a child, when twelve years of compulsory schooling is insufficient, four more in service to the gatekeepers may do the trick, "for the exceedingly obstinate there is graduate school," after which they are prepared for almost nothing beyond the tower and a continued allegiance to the beloved institution, alas, it overflows with adjuncts now, devaluing everything, though perhaps with their multiple doctorates they might one day land a plum job at Google, entangling algorithms into AI that will make us all obsolete. One can only hope.