On Election Day

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]

Rod McKuen

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

Teocallis at Chichen-Itza, Frederick Catherwood [source]

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.


Lady Plomer’s Palace, John Thomas Smith [source]
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. 

Life Coach

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.

Junk Drawer

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.


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.