Showing posts from 2013

"Eating Freedom," with art by Doug Minkler

Your most basic process
that you may still control
when all other choices
get taken from you, pulled
off like skin or voice, is

picking up the morsel,
putting it in your mouth.
Chew, chew, chew and swallow.
You are hungry. Outside
of that fact, your actions

are yours. Maybe. Without
that freedom, what are you?
A can with two snout holes
gasping for some human
prayer of peace within hell.

We trust our wills to be
sacred, but check YouTube.

"All adds up," illustrated by Dianne Romaine

Now hear how musicians transcend maya
(or the illusions of self we each have).
Orchestras synthesize trembling mana,
and honey rises from the nascent hive.
Harmony is the honey of many.

To fuse in unison so as to live—
then to lose oneself—that’s life’s best honey.
Your strings ooze into the communal line
of woven sweet. Then the whole great world hones
its taste on this one music. It’s zany

how the swarm of cells inside a bee’s bones,
and the million details that make a home—
plus all your memories dumped from boxes—
don’t make a mess. A clear lyric has come—
chaos looping and closing in a link,

that fits into a geometric comb
in the sweet, cellular, symphonic womb.

Check out my experimental rhyme scheme based on "Word Golf."

"Hold fast, hold fast," illustrated by Tony Millionaire

How can I save the pieces
when more pieces keep falling
off? Times like these, I’m a sea-
eaten clipper in a squall.
Hatten down the batches! Please,

sea, see me to safe landfall.
Ropes and rivets rattle, drop
off to dissolve on the calm
floor. Why shouldn’t this whole ship
of self descend into peace?

Then all my pieces could sleep
where they rest, in one black bed
where slow, deep monsters would keep
me together, finally rid
of this wearing need to sail…

Yet when the ocean goes dead,
I don’t look down, but ahead.

Engineered furnishings, illustrated by Reza Farazmand

Happy Birthday to Me!

And here's one of my funniest poems, illustrated by the very funny Reza.
Get some chuckles today at his site Poorly Drawn Lines. And read below.

In case the poetry thing doesn’t work out
for me, you’ll be relieved to know I have skills.
I build bookshelves, dressers, closets, cabinets,
and other furniture from prefab pieces.
I am a craftsman of only the finest

particle boards and composites. I have tools,
the complete set: a hammer, and not one but
two screwdrivers. I’ve also amassed some screws
and several Allen wrenches (now safely kept
behind the dryer. If I need them, I’ll get

a magnet and string.) I can read Swedish charts
more or less, and I can construct a brand new
night stand in fewer than four goddamn-fuck-its.
If I start at sunrise, by midafternoon
I’ll have one new shelf and a few new BandAids.

Engineered furnishing. It’s a train: fast, smooth
and streamlined. And I’m the engineer—choo-choo!

Jungle revival, illustrated by Kyle Trujillo

Even after watching him smack face first
into countless trees over endless days,
the ape named Ape had still not fully guessed
the depths of his friend George’s naiveté—
not until George’s “Doggie,” Shep traversed

the ancestral passage to the graveyard
of elephants. George continued calling
for Shep at dusk and setting out huge plates
of chow insisting he would be hungry
when he came home. George’s mate Ursula

and Ape both tried to explain what dying
was, but George would open a breadfruit and
shout, “Here, Shep!” Ape was awed at the Living
Saint of Primal Innocence; and he left
to live with his ape tribe. He was afraid

of seeing George laid on his own deathbed.
Meanwhile, George still lives, calling his dog, Shep.

No one moves, illustrated by Roz Chast

Roz Chast! I just have to say before the feature poem begins: I am backflippingly thrilled to have Roz Chast's art in my book. Besides having loved her panels for years, she's also in a book that provided early inspiration for my current project: What The Songs Look Like, illustrated lyrics of Talking Heads. See more of Roz Chast's wonderful, funny, subtle art at her website. And now...

No one moves

Public chess set in the Galleria
with 4-foot kings and queens: I’ve never seen
anybody play. You’d have to be a
chess player to suggest putting one in.
Maybe some assistant set it via

the mall manager. I know that a queen
can be moved by a pawn—but nobody
plays, far as I’ve seen, as I eat frozen
yogurt, listening to podcasts at three.
Watching a match would seem hilarious

in San Francisco’s stylishly stifled
downtown daylight. I imagine someone
putting lipstick on the kings or stacking
the castles in a pyramid pattern
after hours, after the stodgy sun

has gone. But the mall get…

After the party, illustred by Ann Sheng

My friends visit, and I feast, storing up
memories, storing up memories for
when they’re gone and I stand by the cupboard
with my hands, with my hands talking over
each other like they do when thoughts rupture

so fast over my head. If forever
were mine, I would be still as a painting
and reach the exquisite end of wonder.
Wonder why. Now my hands are recalling
their American faces. I suppose

we’re the same around the world—but being
understood at last! Mother, I’ll return.
Mother, I’ll return, but first I’m knitting
this unforgettable, missing garment
from the way my friends are no longer here.

My hands knitting in the Sri Lankan sun,
knitting what’s gone, knitting what’s not yet gone.

This poem was published with the illustration by Ann Sheng
in Wisdom Crieth Without, issue 10.

First and last stand, illustrated by Heather Wilcoxon

I had an Armageddon dream. The terrible
explosion nearby sent its heat-maddened shrapnel
scudding from a cloud like a decorative bottle.
City center transformed into a great candle.
Then the mind’s innate drive toward its own survival

shifted the dream’s setting into a new panel.
In this segment, I was recording the prior
end-of-days scenario into my journal.
This dreamself explored the symbology of fire
in futures untouched by the Ragnarok fractal.

In the later dream, I told you of the terror
we felt standing in the hot hail of the world’s fall,
now passed into the safe angst of a dream’s prior
dream; but your face fell, and fell away, the final
bell of the morning’s first alarm. I want to call

life a blessing, shadows and all. But today, you’ll
please treat me to your soft voice and a tender smile.

Who wept at the romance, illustrated by Healther Wilcoxon

Who wept at the romance

    for Ginsberg and so for Solomon

The moon yacketayakking,
all over the street, danced on
boxcars. Boxcars racketing
over the rooftops. Storefront
Moloch, whose ear is smoking,

wandered around and around
seeking jazz or sex or soup,
trying to giggle, but wound up
with a sob—animal soup
intelligent and shaking.

The archangel of the soul
will never return your soul,
faded out in vast sordid
movies. Holy Istanbul
vanished into nowhere Zen.

Midnight streetlight smalltown rain
ended fainting on the wall.

What’s Cooking, illustrated by Aisha Rahim

My grandmother called this “Snare-a-husband.”
She never wrote out the recipe but
made me memorize it before she died.
I’m humming the song of ingredients,
stirring around your name, my bowl, my bird.

Yet your freedom’s what I love most, my heart,
and I’m far too giddy to bake a trap
even if I wanted to. When we part
tonight with our bellies full, night will wrap
its separate dreams around us. My David,

will you dream of me? Earthy smells rise up
layering the edible atmosphere
held steaming beneath the coal-crusted tarp
of stars. If you will be mine, then we’re here
for that purpose. Eat, my friend. Fill your plate.

Two birds told me about the weight you bear.
Swallow that bite then share, please, share your thoughts.

Queron 18 illustrated by Mark Hammermeister

Shall I compare thee to a Winter’s day? Thou art more still and far more temperate. Rough winds do shake the manor’s windowpanes, and Winter’s lease hath all too short a date. But thy eternal Winter shall not fade
so long as in the virgin’s blood you bathe nor lose possession of that fair thou owest; nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade, when in eternal crimson-thirst thy ghost administers its soul-suck to thy prey.
And yet in aerial din cold Death may boast his servant to the Netherworlds beguiles. Innocent, I laid near thee, Twilit Host, but, O, thy soul within a nadir lie. By dawn we both drank deep the salt of Fate.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can cry, so long we shun the light, we canst not die.

Tócame, illustrated by Gitty Duncan

Tócame After Karl Frost

Anticipation butters my skin like a hot skillet jumping garlic. You’re going to touch me and take me in. How slowness makes our thoughts come so quick! When our bodies meet—what will happen?
We cook a harmonious conflict: If chilies strike, honey blocks. Who wins? Never mind. Measuring’s an ape trick. Instead, let’s will the soup to simmer. I’ve pushed the meat back and seen the bone.
Your shades were parted, and your windows stood clear. Then, through my reflected face, I saw your greenest wishes glinting as my shadows passed inside your space. Your truth is true, my dear heretic:
We’re ready to slough the carapace and let our whole bodies take the feast.

Hold that time, illustrated by Gitty Duncan

Hold that time

“Meet me in St. Louis, Louis…” If my seven-year-old daughter were a U.S. year, she would be 1947. Summer. While the movie’s a slog to me,
she is transported on Garland’s Technicolor eyes to a time cradled tenderly in the arms of a later time that used film as a salve and an opiate.
Maybe she won’t find out how glum Judy became. The plot’s struggles, in retrospect, are quick to dim. When we watch the “Making of…” reel, it opens with clips of bombers.
Instead we steer on Google to The Fair and Liza Minnelli.

We agree, illustrated by Ben Walker

-for L

Bring our wedding cake topper onto The Antique Road Show. The expert will turn it on a felt-topped folding table with restrained enthusiasm about its monogram, filigree, pedigree and, at last, its je ne sais quoi. Though we’re amateurs, the verdict’s dramatic: Best In Show.
Yes, look at us now: in bed watching TV on a Tuesday, adrift in tea, blankets and the broad seas of regular passing among office, practice and kindergarten days. Far from the wedding where we wept our joy, we land weary with few words some nights, some nights a slight furrow in the brow.
The patina deepens on the worthy thing we have here in the flats and troughs equally as in the barnburners and breakers. By now we know we’ll look, and it will appear on the altar where we tend to it, sprouted and burnished, ever the bright prize we seized together before the gray.
Under its still, resounding presence, think of all we’ve born. It’s always here, dear, our golden little tabernacle.

The Half Of It illustrated by Joe Kowalczyk


Post-apocalypse for dummies, illustrated by John Yoyogi Fortes


Musical Pins, illustrated by BIll Griffith! REVISED

Musical Pins

Which silly songs should I sing to my offspring? Which among the endless favorites do I frame in fleeting windows of cultural training, training, bo-baining—banana, fana fame? The Ministry of Silly Walks. Ning Nang Nong.
Everything on YouTube is, in ways, the same. Which silly songs will my offspring sing to me? Will they loop It’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time behind some failed candidate’s concession speech? I dig it’s a catchy spoof, though I’m aging
with the standards in my organ’s memory. To share is share enough! We have in common maps, spots, sing-alongs, phrenological peaks. The specific GIFs, luckily there, carry our closeness closer in true and skewed rhymes—so
Sing the Beer Barrel Polka, that peppy air, or make something up over Scarborough Fair.

Baba, an American Woman, illustrated by Angelin Miller


Warts and all, illustrated by Angelin Miller

Warts and all

At the marketplace, my eggs sell themselves. My basil’s gone by nine, and my rhubarb pies fetch a creamy price, so my walk back’s weightless. It’s just me and my empty cart. You see? It doesn’t matter that my face
scares bats. By day, my visage stays downward on dirt, scales and coins, but my nose lifts up ambling back with a jingle as the stars glint like tavern lamplights off raised ale cups. If I can jingle, who could say I’m cursed?
I was foul and fourteen when my pop-pop pulled me bodily out to the garden, bent my stubborn knees beside the turnips, gave me a trowel, looked in me and said: “Start. Warts and all. Start.” My body sprouted warm.
That day I became apprentice to dirt. It never kills me that their comments hurt.

Soham what I am illustrated by Tony Speirs

Soham is Sanskrit for “I am That,” i.e., I am existence.

Some people one can’t satisfy however one marshals one’s force. The liar fells you with a lie. The idler borrows hamburgers. You tilt your hat forward to try
‘til trying becomes your life’s course, and victories define your qi, and conflict forms your universe— and to struggle, then, is to be. One day my self asked, “What am I?”
One eye to see the one great sea. One pipe to smoke the traveling sky. One swing to turn an enemy, one mouthful of spinach close by. My self bowed to the Sea Hag—hers
the crone’s wisdom, the typhoon’s eye. We mean at last to still the storm, atone the fight. My soul sings aye. To blow myself down—this I am— seeking the Sea Queen’s single peace.
Breathing the wet air—ham soham— we’ve woven from the warp a calm.

"I got a pair o' dice" illustrated by Matt Weatherford

Yes, I plainly see what’s sacrilegious (having recently hiked Mt. Diablo) about suggesting paradise is this: shooting craps at Joker’s Wild Casino, my old posse and I against the house.
It’s not the industrial-strength deco, nor the band exhuming Grandmaster Flash. It’s being with the boys and letting go of everything except one little wish: for two cubes to land on two perfect twos.
Paradise comes in simple attention with all distraction transformed by vermouth. Supplicate from the pass line—a vision of sweet deliverance—holy pay out. Rattle them bones, and come out, Little Joe!
You can be anywhere without a doubt and reach heaven in a triumphal shout.

Where does that hallway lead? Illustrated by Jerad Walker


Fairy Panic, illustrated by Lauren Ari

My kid emerges crying from her room. Figure it’s another grumpy rising. Muster pre-coffee patience for drama. Wonder what’s the plot. Favorite socks missing? Honey spread too thin? No, she’s deep in gloom—
Her tooth—fuck me! Her front tooth was waiting all night long for a distracted fairy. No cash, not even a note this morning! The resident spirits negligently fell asleep before their task was performed.
She sobs into the shirt she pulls on. We, meanwhile, hurriedly collect three singles in a red envelope, calligraphy sign, hot potato it to the fishbowl. Lauren cries, “Look! By the fish—there’s something.”
She comes, wipes her eyes, collects her windfall. “So weird,” she sniffs. “They ignored my pillow.”

That good ol’ boy would not stay down, illustrated by Rachell Sumpter

One summer three kids drowned under Jotunheim Falls. They warned, “Don’t horse around. The stream might look small, but the force can shove you down.”
In the spray, we always watched where the water hit. Sean, most coltish of all, would swim up and tease it. He made us be grown-ups.
One steaming day, Sean went higher than our jump spot— then higher—holy shit! He fetched the Bunyan top— then leapt. The wide world stalled.
Our earthbound hearts stopped. Stopped. He was lost. Mist. Then—pop!

The inches between, illustrated by Allan Peterson

When we joked as kids about improbable fates we chose meteor strikes. This was before the Web. Our sense of distance suited analog date stamps. We clicked our tongues each day for the hostages kept four hundred. Americans had someone to hate.
This morning, maybe the jogger’s curvy rear end shook the workaday rhythm of the crossing guard, and timing failed. I jumped on the brake. Momentum spun my briefcase to the floor—but another car arrowed through, interlocking like a gear’s tooth straight
into the gap between clockwork tick and murder. And today in Iran, Nigeria, Boston, and yesterday in Somalia, Syria… Meteors really did fall on Russia. Newtown… What was I saying? Let me check the Internet.
It’s dizzying to fall wide open and listen and human to forget that we’re falling humans.

Break at touch, illustrated by Carol Aust

I dance to keep my body limber so
I can be opened like a treasure box.
My body moves its musts through staccato
shakes and strikes, shedding my stiff stuff, old rocks
of muscle to meet the practice gung ho—

then all this jammed, blocked up sadness unlocks
to waterfall on any loving shore.
The manmade lake refuses the dam’s locks—
surprised fish flop on a wetslick dancefloor.
It’s all because my two friends let me know:

I’m home here. Their hands make front and back doors
blowing catharsis through me—sluicing storm—
unpent torrent of the self-made monster
roaring through canyons, erasing all forms,
weeping to reconstruct from the wreckage—

because my child forces me to transform,
because this dancing life’s lost every norm.

Extra thoughts:
first, I so love that Carol makes her living making art.  
Mudita: joy at another's joy. Thinking of Carol and her family, poet/photographer Ed Aust, and their amazingly talented and creative kids Noah and Sophie makes me feel inspired.

Second: this poe…

4.5mm feedback

Carlton gave his grandson a BB gun— a real rifle. It had a caliber. “After breakfast I’ll show you how it’s done.” “Oh, boy!” Dad was blasé. Mom got angry. “I thought we had an agreement, Carlton.”
“It comes with safety lessons, don’t worry,” he winked at the boy, “taught by the master.” “He’s too young.” “You’re too protective, mother.” “Ralph?” Mom turned, but dad was in another room, a vote in absentia. “Not funny!”
Carlton barked at the boy who’d said “Pweee!” with the sight to his eye, aiming at Buck, the old retriever drowsing on the hearth. “You’re responsible now for protecting your family and yourself.” But his daughter,
when he glanced at her, looked livid. “Go back to L.A.,” she thought. “Have a heart attack.”